A Major Policy Review, 1966
. . . JOHNSON: Would you please begin, Bob.
[McNamara summarized the Pentagon recommendation to plan to support 200,000 troops in Vietnam by the first of 1966 by calling up the same number of reserves. By mid-1966 approximately 600,000 additional men would be available.]
BALL: Isn't it possible that the VC will do what they did against the French-stay away from confrontation and not accommodate us?
WHEELER: Yes, that is possible, but by constantly harassing them, they will have to fight somewhere. . . .
BALL: Mr. President, I can foresee a perilous voyage, very dangerous. I have great and grave apprehensions that we can win under these conditions. But let me be clear. If the decision is to go ahead, I am committed.
JOHNSON: But, George, is there another course in the national interest, some course that is better than the one McNamara proposes? We know it is
dangerous and perilous, but the big question is, can it be avoided? . . .
BALL: Take what precautions we can, Mr. President. Take our losses, let their government fall apart, negotiate, discuss, knowing full well there will be a probable take-over by the Communists. This is disagreeable, I know. . . .
LODGE: There is not a tradition of a national government in Saigon. There are no roots in the country. Not until there is tranquility can you have any stability. I don't think we ought to take this government seriously. There is simply no one who can do anything. We have to do what we think we ought to do regardless of what the Saigon government does. . . .
BALL: We cannot win, Mr. President. This war will be long and protracted. The most we can hope for is a messy conclusion. There remains a great danger of intrusion by the Chinese. But the biggest problem is the problem of the long war. . . . As casualties increase, the pressure to strike at the very jugular of North Vietnam will become very great. I am concerned about world opinion. . . . If the war is long and protracted, as I believe it will be, then we will suffer because the world's greatest power cannot defeat guerrillas. Then there is the problem of national politics. Every great captain in history was not afraid to make a tactical withdrawal if conditions were un- favorable to him. The enemy cannot even be seen in Vietnam. He is indigenous to the country. I truly have serious doubt that an army of Westerners can successfully fight Orientals in an Asian jungle. . . . The least harmful way to cut losses in SVN is to let the government decide it doesn't want us to stay there. There- fore, we should put such proposals to the SVN that they can't accept. Then, it would move to a neutralist position. I have no illusions that after we were asked to leave South Vietnam, that country would soon come under Hanoi control. . . .
RUSK: If the Communist world finds out we will not pursue our commitment to the end, I don't know where they will stay their hand. I have to say I am more optimistic than some of my colleagues. I don't believe the VC have made large advances among the Vietnamese people. It is difficult to worry about massive casualties when we say we can't find the enemy. I feel strongly that one man dead is a massive casualty, but in the sense that we are talking, I don't see large casualties unless the Chinese come in.
LODGE. I feel there is a greater threat to start World War III if we don't go. Can't we see the similarity to our own indolence at Munich [the Munich conference of 1938 when Hitter, with the acquiescence of the West, seized part of Czechoslovakia]. I simply can't be as pessimistic as Ball. We have great seaports in Vietnam. We don't need to fight on roads. We have the sea. Let us visualize meeting the VC on our own terms. We don't have to spend all our time in the jungles. If we can secure our bases, the Vietnamese can secure, in time, a political movement to, one, apprehend the terrorist, and two, give intelligence to the government. . . . The Vietnamese have been dealt more casualties than, per capita, we suffered in the Civil War. The Vietnamese soldier is an uncomplaining soldier. He has ideas he will die for. . . .
JOHNSON: Doesn't it really mean that if we follow Westmoreland's requests we are in a new war? Isn't this going off the diving board?
MCNAMARA: If we carry forward all these recommendations, it would be a change in our policy. We have relied on the South to carry the brunt. Now we would be responsible for satisfactory military outcome. . . .
JOHNSON: But I don't know how we are going to get the job done. There are millions of Chinese. I think they are going to put their stack in. Is this the best place to do it? We don't have the allies we had in Korea. Can we get our allies to cut off supplying the North?
MCNAMARA: No, sir, we can't prevent Japan, Britain, and the others from chartering ships to Haiphong [the North Vietnamese port].
JOHNSON: Are we starting something that in two or three years we simply can't finish?
BROWN: It is costly to us to strangle slowly. But the chances of losing are less if we move in. . . .