Document 1: Lyndon Johnson, taped conversations with Richard Russell and McGeorge Bundy

Date: May 27, 1964

Senator Richard Russell and President Lyndon B. Johnson, 12/07/1963,  National Archives and Records Administration

McGeorge Bundy and President Lyndon Johnson, 08/23/1967, National Archives and Records Administration

Senator Richard Russell and President Lyndon B. Johnson , 12/07/1963,
National Archives and Records Administration

McGeorge Bundy and President Lyndon Johnson, 08/23/1967, National Archives and Records Administration

Conversation with Senator Russell (10:55am) (Who was Senator Russell?)

You may listen to the conversation here.

LBJ: What do you think of the Vietnam thing? I'd like to hear you talk a little bit.

RR: It's the damn worst mess I ever saw.... I knew we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don't see how we're ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in the rice paddies and jungles.... I just don't know what to do.

LBJ: That's the way I've been feeling for six months.

RR: It appears that our position is deteriorating. And it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less they're willing to do for themselves.... If it got down to...just pulling out, I'd get out. But then I don't know. There's undoubtedly some middle ground somewhere. If I was going to get out, I'd get the same crowd that got rid of Diem to get rid of these people and get some fellow in there that said he wished we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out....

LBJ: How important is it to us?

RR: It isn't important a damn bit, with all these new missile systems.

LBJ: Well, I guess its important to us -

RR: From a psychological standpoint.

LBJ: I mean, yes, from the standpoint that we are party to a treaty. And if we don't pay attention to this treaty, why, I don't guess they think we pay attention to any of them.

RR: Yeah, but we're the only ones paying any attention to it!

[Shortly, Johnson describes his own sense of the situation.]

LBJ: I spend all my days with Rusk and McNamara and Bundy and Harriman and Vance and all those folks that are dealing with it and I would say that it pretty well adds up to them now that we've got to show some power and some force, that they do not believe - they're kinda like MacArthur in Korea - they don't believe that the Chinese Communists will come into this thing. But they don't know and nobody can really be sure. But they're feeling is that they won't. And in any event, that we haven't got much choice, that we are treaty bound, that we are there, that this will be a a domino that will kick off a whole list of others, that we've just got to prepare for the worst. Now I have avoided that for a few days. I don't think the American people are for it. I don't agree with [Wayne] Morse [Senator from Oregon] and all he says, but -

RR: No, neither do I, but he's voicing the sentiment of a hell of a lot of people.

LBJ: I'm afraid that's right. I don't think the people of the country know much about Vietnam and I think they care a hell of a lot less.

[Later in the conversation, Russell expresses his fears.]

RR: It's a tragic situation. It's just one of those places where you can't win. Anything you do is wrong.... I have thought about it. I have worried about it. I have prayed about it.

LBJ: I don't believe we can do anything -

RR: It frightens me 'cause it's my country involved over there and if we get into any considerable scale, there's no doubt in my mind but that the Chinese will be in there....

LBJ: You don't have any doubt but what if we go in there and get 'em up against the wall, the Chinese Communists are gonna come into it?

RR: no sir, no doubt about it.

LBJ: That's my judgment, and our people don't think so....

[Later, Johnson expresses concern over the political pressure from Republicans.]

LBJ: ...All the Senators, Nixon, Rockefeller and Goldwater all saying let's move, let's go into the North.... Lodge, Nixon, Rockefeller, Goldwater all say move. Eisenhower -

RR: Bomb the North and kill old men, women, and children?

LBJ: No, they say pick put an oil plant or pick out a refinery or something like that. Take selected targets. Watch this trail they're coming down. Try to bomb them out of them, when they're coming in.

RR: Oh hell! That ain't worth a hoot. That's just impossible....

LBJ: Well, they'd impeach a President though, that would run out, wouldn't they? I just don't believe that - outside of Morse - everybody I talk to says you got to go in, including Hickenlooper [Republican Senator from Iowa], including all the Republicans.... And I don't know how in the hell you're gonna get out unless they tell you to.

[The conversation ends soon thereafter.]

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At 11:24am the same day, Johnson has a conversation with his National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy. (Who was McGeorge Bundy?)

You may listen to the conversation here.

LBJ: I'll tell you the more that I stayed awake last night thinking of this thing, the more I think of it, I don't know what in the hell - it looks like to me we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there with, once we're committed. I believe that the Chinese Communists are coming into it. I don't think we can fight them ten thousand miles from home.... I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out. It's just the biggest damned mess that I ever saw.

MB: It is. It's an awful mess.

LBJ: And we just got to think about - I was looking at this sergeant of mine this morning... and I just thought about ordering his kids in there and what in the hell am I ordering him out there for? What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country? No we've got a treaty but, hell, everybody else's got a treaty out there and they're not doing anything about it. Of course if you start running from the Communists, they may just chase you right into your own kitchen.

MB: Yeah, that's the trouble. And that is what the rest of that half of the world is going to think if this thing comes apart on us. That's the dilemma.

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