Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973

By Robert Dallek | Go to book overview
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Last Hurrahs

IN the fall of 1967, more than anything, Johnson wanted to end the uncertainty over Vietnam. The "most important decision" we now have, the President told Rostow in October, was a "strategy for the next 12 months on Vietnam--military, political, negotiating." There had been "too much vague talk," Johnson complained. 1

It was clear to Johnson that the North Vietnamese "simply are not yet ready to quit," and a fresh look at the war was now in order. He asked the "Wise Men"--Dean Acheson, General Omar Bradley, George Ball, Mac Bundy, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Murphy, and Max Taylor--to meet with him on November 2. As a prelude, the President asked McNamara, Buzz Wheeler, and George Carver, the CIA's expert on Vietnam, to brief them.

At lunch with the "Wise Men" on October 31, McNamara gave vent to his growing doubts about the war. "Perhaps everything I and Dean Rusk have tried to do since 1961 has been a failure," McNamara said. He also declared that "continuation of our present course of action in Southeast Asia would be dangerous, costly in lives, and unsatisfactory to the American people."2

McNamara's anguish over the war found fuller expression in a memo he gave the President on November 1. Because he was proposing a change of course on Vietnam, which might be "incompatible with" LBJ's view, McNamara withheld the paper from other administration officials. He foresaw our present course as leading to U.S. troop increases in 1968 and a doubling of casualties, which would further erode popular support. Instead, McNamara urged Johnson to announce "a policy of stabilization": a cap on U.S. ground forces at 525,000; a unilateral and indefinite halt to bombing the North, which was gaining us little, if anything; and a transfer of greater responsi


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