It is my observation that at this point in your administration you are enjoying considerable latitude with the American public. Your overwhelming victory in the recent election has illustrated your popularity. The platform on which you ran promised the American public that our boys would not be sent to die in Vietnam. If you are going to act on your word, and end the war in Vietnam, the time is now.
It is also my observation that your top aides having been overwhelming you with advice in the opposite direction. Your beloved Robert McNamara, whose opinion you value deeply, has made this war his personal project. He is guaranteeing that the war can be won within two and a half years. He has stated that there is no risk of a catastrophe. He and General Westmoreland feel confident that the war can be won. However, they have continually been asking for more and more troops since mid-1964. You have already agreed to send more marines and authorize offensive operations. If there is no limit set on the number of troops, it becomes easier and easier to keep sending them.
What is our clear military objective? Do our military leaders have a strategic plan for victory? Again in June, General Westmoreland has asked for more troops. After McNamara was sent in July to assess the situation in Saigon, he returned with the request to raise the American presence from 75,000 to 175,000 with a possible 100,000 more to follow. Does this sound like the promises you have made to the American public? The goals of your administration, the Great Society, will have to be halted and perhaps never completed should you lose the support of the public and Congress.
In your recent meeting on July 21st with your top aides, it is evident that you feel you are continuing down the right path towards escalation. George Bundy has become militant in his stance, and is urging you to escalate and not to be deterred by the risk of a ground war with China. Dean Rusk is finally embracing the bombing and the dispatch of troops, stressing the importance of doing whatever was needed “to throw back Hanoi-Viet Cong aggression without a major war if possible.” McNamara, to whom fell the responsibility for overseeing this new American conflict seems of two minds. He has bemoaned the heavy military emphasis on the operation and even expressed an interest in putting the Vietnam issue before an international forum for discussion. But now, he has become impatient for getting down to the details of winning and feels that abandoning Vietnam would produce “a complete shift in the world balance of power” and would have bad domestic repercussions, including “a disastrous political fight” and even an erosion of political freedom. On the other hand, saving Vietnam would, he argued, have a range of benefits, including setting the stage for efforts at economic development and population control in a “gigantic arc from South Vietnam to Iran and the Middle East, … proving the worth of a moderate, democratic way of growth for societies.”
Favoring my position is Undersecretary of State George Ball. He has been perhaps the most persistent critic of escalation, and has repeatedly stressed the implications involved in sending American troops. They would go into Vietnam as foreigners lacking local cooperation and good intelligence in fighting in unfavorable jungle terrain. On July 21st, Ball one last time warned you that for the United States as with France earlier, “a long protracted war will disclose our weakness, not our strength.” American troops would be fighting in a hostile environment on terms to be decided by the enemy for survival of a weak and unstable government that would constantly run the risk of Chinese intervention. President Johnson you are worried about the loss of national credibility if you do not honor the repeated commitments made to South Vietnam. The worst blow would be that the mightiest power in the world is unable to defeat guerillas.
It must feel natural to continue at this point of the war. You have public approval for the bombing and escalation. Congress has proved their support by the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and has confirmed its intentions in May by offering overwhelming support for additional appropriations to intensify efforts in Vietnam. Congressional leaders have given you their backing. Even the media has played a consensus-building role by picturing Vietnam as this administration sees it: as part of the Cold War struggle.
Mr. President, I need not remind you how fickle the American public has been on this issue. Before the Tonkin Gulf clash, almost two-thirds of the public knew little about Vietnam, and those who did were deeply divided. After the February 1965 bombing, several influential Americans and critics in the Senate began to speak out. By March, college campuses had broken out into protests with faculty teaching out against your policy. You have seen the effects of the Korean War on Truman’s presidency. We have learned that the public has no taste for Asian land wars. If you choose to continue, you will be falling into your own portrayal of Senator Barry Goldwater whom you ruthlessly depicted as a man leading the American troops into a dangerous conflict.
Mr. President, I realize that you are a man who rises to meet challenges and does not accept defeat. I also realize that in your role as president you feel obligated to continue on with the Cold War policies that have long given shape to U.S. Vietnam policy. I encourage you to reassess this policy and not feel obligated to continue down the wrong path. There are power stakes involved here, Mr. President, and quite frankly if you do not succeed by escalating, your presidency will become under fire, and you will never achieve your goals of the Great Society.
I am recommending that we follow Ball’s recommendation of permitting the Vietcong to campaign in the free elections. We would not agree to any arrangement worked out on these terms without insisting that the Viet Cong units in the South be broken up and that the Viet Cong be absorbed into the national life of the country. The free elections would pose a problem, but if we asked intermediaries (Sweden, the Soviets, etc.) to make clear to Hanoi that we would accept this position, it could have a chance for negotiations. There would need to be a pause in the bombing, in order to send a representative to discuss the matter. The pause would assure Hanoi that we are serious in negotiating. It is critical that our position be articulated and understood by the Viet Cong, so no confusion and misinterpretation result.
I understand the situation in Saigon is critical, and you must act quickly. I urge you not to do anything rash without pursuing these options. We are an elite and prosperous nation. We will not fall from our throne should you decide not to extend our commitment. The United States may face some immediate repercussions in the global community, but in my opinion the security of the United States will not be compromised in this act. While the threat of Soviet expansionism is first and foremost on everyone’s minds, we must listen to the wishes of the public whom you have been elected to represent. You have been elected because you vowed not to send American soldiers to die in Saigon. As a man of integrity I urge you to follow through on your word. Vietnam is a struggle for social injustice and national sovereignty. These people are not going to give up for any reason whatsoever. There are deep nationalistic ideologies at the heart of the Vietnamese people that will not be conquered no matter what scale invasion the U.S. plans. Put your personal implications aside and consider the implications for the nation as a whole.
You are the leader of this country; your advisors are not. Remember that these men are the men of Jack Kennedy’s circle. You were not in the position to appoint your own advisers, and this must be remembered when listening to their advice. We are not losing the war by not escalating. You will earn the respect of the American people in the long run, and will be able to focus more attention on your great love, the Great Society.