Lens of History (27)

STEC Archives, Print Document Division
Curator signature: Jer
Format: Textual Record
Object: Correspondences to Lyndon B. Johnson, from New Jersey; Text transcript of conversation
Location: the White House
Time (if known): September 15th, 1965

NJ: Mr. President, if you’ll permit me for making light of the situation, leaving a paper trail like this and asking advice openly isn’t like you. Furthermore, in light of the situation we have on hand, and STEC’s own operational policy, I am by no means suggesting that this is the only way.

LBJ: Oh, I wish you wouldn’t be so diplomatic.

NJ: Things are different this time around. They may very well be again.

LBJ: Jer, I have thought about this a great deal. I’ve been thinking about this since the day I was made aware of the terrible threat we now all face. The thought that I’ll go down in history as a poor president terrifies me to no end. You’ve seen me at my best, and certainly my, ah, not best.

This is not a war that we can win. Not if we want to win against the Abyssals. I see no way out of this that counts as winning. The Viet Congs are as tenacious of a people as we are, and I don’t think they’re ever going to just quit like that.

NJ: They aren’t, but they, too, can be reasoned with. That was our initial aim, was it not? To let the fighting, ah, in his words, “do the talking for us?”

LBJ: So my options are to continue on an unwinnable war or to have people skewer me for being soft on communism.

NJ: Yes.

LBJ: … You know, I can see why Ike got along with you fine. You really don’t mince your words, do you?

NJ: Some people I get along with fine. Others, not so much. You know who I’m talking about. I make a fine devil’s advocate, after all.

LBJ: I do.

I know.

This is a decision that I have to make, isn’t it.


You know if I go forward with this my legacy may very well be in tatters. I’ll be eviscerated by the press, the Republican opposition, troublesome elements in my own party, the American people, the world at large…

NJ: Yes.

LBJ: If we can’t secure peace in Vietnam it may fall. Communism may break out like a great red wave and wash out countless countries. We’re certainly going to lose France then. Then the rest of Europe. Maybe Japan goes with it too. Southeast Asia.

NJ: Probably.

LBJ: So, is this really something I have to do? I’m only going to be here for another four years. Can’t I drag it out, hand it off to the next man, and be at peace?

CAJ: Honey. I didn’t invite Jer here so that you could mope, you know.

LBJ: I know, but sometimes I wish I didn’t.

NJ: Oh, I could be nice and breezy. You want a yes-man? I could do that.

CAJ: You’re surrounded by yes-man half the time and people that want something out of you the other half. You don’t need yes-men any more than the three drinks you had last night.

LBJ: …

NJ: Thought you two had a deal already laughs

CAJ: He needs to watch his heart and his blood pressure, and the political situation definitely isn’t helping either. But he’s here. He’s the man in the White House. Lyndon knows what he needs to do.

LBJ: I know, I know! You two have brought it up enough times already! chuckle

I just wish sometimes it’s not, not so hard.

Truth of the matter is that I’m afraid. Afraid of the consequences. Afraid of what would happen if I did one thing and it turned out the other way.

I know – feels like it’s for a fact – that defending the corrupt regime in Saigon isn’t gonna win us the confrontation with the Soviets. It’s something that we get nothing if we do well, and we’ll lose everything if we don’t.

If we lose Vietnam we lose more than Vietnam. We lose national identity. We lose confidence. It’ll be a defeat of a sort we haven’t experienced in our nation’s history.

But I really am damned if I do and damned if I don’t, aren’t I? Half this country think we should escalate and the other half think we should back down.

NJ: What do you think?

LBJ: I think we should back down.

I predict we’ll lose in Vietnam if we continue on like this. It probably isn’t worth it. There are other ways to keep the peace without having our boys bleed on their behalf. But I can’t just make that decision. There are too many things at stake. The war’s a delicate matter. Its success and failure’s tied to too many other things in this country.

But, the hawks could be right. Maybe my instincts are wrong. Maybe I really aren’t reading the world correctly. On occasions like these I don’t know if I actually know enough to reach a decision that’ll be the best for this country.

Which is why I have to go out there and level with the people. They put me into this office. They need to decide if this is something they want.

NJ: So then?

LBJ: I hate dealing with the media. They’re going to hound me for days.

CAJ: laughs Like they don’t do so already.

LBJ: Yes… But this time I don’t know if there are many that’ll be sympathetic.

We’ll see.

We’ll see if ends up being the right thing to do.