Related topics

Tapes of LBJ Conversations Released

October 12, 1996

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Newly released tapes of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s telephone conversations in early 1964 reveal an administration struggling to form a Vietnam policy while keeping quiet about the escalating death toll.

More than 80 hours of Johnson’s telephone conversations from the White House, spanning January to March of 1964, were released Friday on tapes and transcripts by the National Archives and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.

At the time of the conversations, the government’s Vietnam strategy included U.S. advisers and training for the South Vietnamese army, rather than fighting by American troops. Yet clearly, Johnson is concerned and confused about the future of U.S. involvement.

``There may be another coup, but I don’t know what we can do. If there is, I guess that we just _ What alternatives do we have then? We’re not going to send our troops in there, are we?″ Johnson asks aide McGeorge Bundy in a conversation on March 2, 1964.

Johnson continued to demand answers on Vietnam later the same day from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, telling him: ``I’ve got to have some kind of a summarized, logical, factual analysis of it, and I believe that you could give it to me better than anyone else.″

``I would like to have for this period, when everybody is asking me, something in my own words, and say, `Here are the alternatives, and here’s our theory, and here’s what we’re basing it on,′ and we don’t say we are going to win. We don’t know. We’re doing the best that we can,″ Johnson said.

Johnson also told McNamara that he didn’t want to disclose figures showing that 20,000 Vietnamese on both sides had been killed in fighting in 1963, compared to 5,000 in 1962.

``I’m not going to give out your figures on 20,000 killed last year compared to 5,000 ... but on the situation in Vietnam ... I’d like for you to say that there are several courses that could be followed,″ Johnson told McNamara.

Johnson asked, ``Do you think it’s a mistake to explain what I’m saying now about Vietnam and what we’re faced with?″

McNamara responded: ``Well, I do think, Mr. President, that it would be wise for you to say as little as possible. The frank answer is we don’t know what’s going on out there.″

Six months later, the Gulf of Tonkin incident prompted a congressional resolution authorizing greater U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and McNamara became a proponent of U.S. involvement in the war.

Last year, McNamara released his memoirs saying he left office convinced the war was a terrible mistake.

The tapes also revealed Johnson’s thoughts on Russia and other matters:

_ On relations with Russian leader Nikita Khruschev, Johnson told Bundy he was tired of responding with few details to Khruschev’s proposals for peace between the two nations.

``I would like for you all to sit down and think and be some wise men, and see if you can’t come up with some proposals besides just having him run me in the corner and me dodge like a Mexican bullfighter,″ Johnson said on Jan. 2, 1964.

``I don’t like every day when I wake up in the morning to see Khruschev has sent me another communication for peace,″ Johnson continued. ``It makes me appear like a warmonger and when I talk about peace, I have nothing to talk about. I want to be proposing something.″

_ Shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson told Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff just how heavily the presidency weighed on him.

``I’ve had 56 days in this job,″ Johnson said, ``and they’ve been the most miserable 56 I’ve ever had.″

Update hourly