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DEAN RUSK ORAL
HISTORY INTERVIEW I PREFERRED CITATION
Rusk Oral History Interview I, 7/28/69, by Paige E. Mulhollan, Internet
Copy, LBJ Library.
Date: July 28,
M: That's fairly clear.
Why do you think that Mr. Johnson never either agreed to, or allowed his
subordinates such as yourself, to really go out and sell the Viet Nam policy?
R: Oh, I don't think
that he imposed limitations on us in that regard. I made more speeches
than any Secretary of State.
M: At his instructions?
R: Well, with his
knowledge and consent. I did a good deal of that on my own. What we did
not do was to take steps to create a war psychology in the United States.
guess that's what I meant.
R: Now, that was
an important decision. It was not made all at once, but it was a matter
that we talked about on a number of occasions. We did not lay on big military
parades. We did not put on big bond drives or [have] movie actors going
around the country whooping up war-fever, and things of that sort. The
reason we didn't was because there's too much power in the world to let
the American people become too mad. Public opinion could get out of hand
if you went too far down that trail, and with nuclear weapons lying around
it's better not to have that happen. One of the important things to reflect
upon, as far as Viet Nam is concerned, is that we were trying to do a kind
of police job to fend off this aggression against South Viet Nam, but to
do it calmly and, in effect, in cold blood. Our objective was peace. It
was not to let the situation go down the chute--the chute into a larger
war. Some day we'll have to evaluate whether that decision was right.
M: But it was a clear-cut
decision not to take this kind of action?
R: That's right.
M: And Mr. Johnson
R: That's right.
M: That was what
I meant by selling, I guess.
R: We did not go
out to whip up the anger of the American people over Viet Nam. In retrospect
that needs examination. It might be that we should have done more of that
than we did, but we deliberately did not do that.
M: Once the dissenters
became vocal and fairly numerous, you acted frequently as the Administration
spokesman to them. Did you find that you could reach them at all--that
they'd listen, even?
R: Well, some would;
some would not. Some people had the view that somehow the United States
unilaterally could make peace in Viet Nam, regardless of what Hanoi did.
That on the face of it is an absurdity, but it's not apparent as an absurdity
to some critics. We never really were able to get North Viet Nam seriously
interested in sitting down and making peace in that situation, and the
present Administration has not yet been able to do that either. But we
had very little
pressure during the Johnson Administration to
withdraw from Viet Nam, regardless of the consequences. We can get into
this later in discussing Viet Nam.
M: Did the dissenters
have the knowledge to be responsible; or did they act frequently out of
simply not having the classified material available to them that might
have changed their minds?
R: Well, a good deal
of it was wishful thinking, hoping that somehow the problem would just
go away if we got out of it--that maybe Laos and Viet Nam and Cambodia
and Thailand would survive whether we did anything about it or not; that
Ho Chi Minh was just a good old Nationalist and that all he was wanting
to do was to set up a kind of Yugoslavia out there, free from China, and
free from the Soviet Union. A lot of wishful thinking of that sort that
entered into some people's consideration of the matter.
M: It was not a matter
of you having possession of certain secret information that led you to
one conclusion and the dissenters not having it?
R: No. The basic
facts on which opinion could be formed were well-known to the public, and
there were very few secrets that had any direct bearing on the major decisions
affecting the war. Let's bear in mind that there are some specifically
organized groups who are committed to opposing what we are doing in Viet
Nam. The Communists are very active, working through innocent organizations.
The confirmed pacifists like the Quakers, for whom I have the highest regard,
are going to oppose something like Viet Nam, just as they opposed the war
in Korea, and just as they've opposed other things. So some of this is
highly organized. Then as the war dragged on, and it was a slow-bleed,
there was no clear indication that the war was going to come to a finite
conclusion. So some people just got weary of the war and wanted to bring
it to an end and to bring the casualties to an end, and that led them to
embrace points of view that in calmer moments they would not have embraced.
M: Did the press
contribute, you think, importantly to this wishful thinking atmosphere,
or this irresponsibility of viewpoint?
R: Some elements
in the press, the New York Times , for example. I sent the New York Times
a copy of the editorial which they had written at the time of the conclusion
of the SEATO Treaty. On that occasion they said that the SEATO Treaty was
a great diplomatic triumph for President Eisenhower and Secretary of State
Dulles. I got back a tortured thirty-page memorandum from them trying to
explain that what they were saying in 1967 and '68 was consistent with
what they had said back when the SEATO Treaty was formed.
M: But you think
there was a real element in the Eastern press that was particularly critical
in this regard? Was it partly the Eastern press's disillusion with Johnsonian
that led them. This is kind of confused in my own mind here, what I'm trying
R: I think some of
it was just confusion among the editorial boards of some of the newspapers.
I think it was confusion in the New York Times , for example. They never
laid out clearly what their major premises were. Now, Senator [Wayne] Morse
would get up on the Senate floor and say that Southeast Asia is not worth
the life of a single American soldier.
M: That's clear enough.
R: I disagreed with
him, but I respected his saying that because then you would know how to
read other things that he was saying about Viet Nam. The New York Times
would never lay out clearly its major premises about Viet Nam. It didn't
say that it wanted to withdraw regardless of the consequences, but intermediate
steps which it would support were simply steps in that direction.
M: Favoring policies
without consideration of outcome?
R: That's right.
DEAN RUSK ORAL
HISTORY INTERVIEW II
Rusk Oral History Interview II, 9/26/69, by
Paige E. Mulhollan,
Internet Copy, LBJ Library.
M: Going back to my old
standard question here, had dissent against what we were doing in Viet
Nam become widespread at all in the executive branch by, say, early 1966?
Were there beginning to be opponents in high places by that early?
R: The historian
will want to look at some of the oral histories done by some of those who
were supposed to be dissenters to check on this, but it was my impression
that there was much less dissent than the newspapers were reflecting. In
the case of George Ball, for example, he did not argue vigorously inside
the government fora substantially different point of view. He was named
by the President as the Devil's Advocate to take an opposing point of view,
in order that the President would have in front of him different considerations
so that the President would be sure that all aspects of the matter were
in front of him when he made his decisions.
M: Named by the President?
R: Named by the President.
He was asked by the President to be a Devil's Advocate, and it may be that
George Ball convinced himself in the process. But George Ball didn't come
into my office every other day saying, "Look, we've got to do something
radically different in Viet Nam." He was extraordinarily helpful in working
out the details of these various peace maneuvers and contacts and procedures
and things of that sort. He managed those very well.
M: I guess things
like the [Edmund A.] Gullion mission were pretty much his operation, weren't
they? He was the--
R: Yes, in general
the senior advisers to the President were generally unanimous in their
recommendations to the President on matters involving Viet Nam.
M: And that still
R: Once in awhile
the President would have to make a decision. For example, there might be
differences of view about whether a particular target should be taken under
M: A tactical matter.
sort of thing, and whether a particular factory or particular bridge near
a populated area, or something of that sort should be hit. But on the larger
questions, the President's advisers were generally unanimous. On that point,
the historian will want to look carefully through the notes of the Tuesday
because those meetings were crucial in terms
of the decisions that were made about Viet Nam. Long before historians
get to this particular record, they will know all about those Tuesday Luncheon
meetings because they undoubtedly will appear in books and things of that
sort. There the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman
of the [Joint] Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of Central Intelligence
Agency, and the President's Special Assistant on National Security
matters--Walt Rostow and before that McGeorge
Bundy--would sit down at the table and talk in complete confidence and
candor about the matters that were up for decision. They were invaluable
occasions because we all could be confident that everyone around the table
would keep his mouth shut and wouldn't be running off to Georgetown cocktail
parties and talking about it, and so great candor was possible. We had
a good deal of very lively discussion and the notes on those discussions
will be extremely helpful to the historian in making judgments about who
advised what and what the issues were.
M: About that same
time period, say early 1966, at least in your own mind what were the prospects?
How did things look at that point? Did it look like we were going to be
able to accomplish still with a reasonable investment of resources the
goals that you'd set out to accomplish five years earlier?
R: I never had any
doubt about our ability to deny Hanoi a forcible seizure of Viet Nam. I
never had any fear about the possibility that the North Vietnamese armed
forces could achieve a military victory in the South, nor did I believe
that the North Vietnamese would be able to generate real support among
the South Vietnamese people. There were many reasons for that view. One
was simply a military judgment about who had the muscle to accomplish what
they were trying to do, but I was impressed with the fact that we had thousands
of Americans in South Viet Nam out in the countryside in groups of ones
and two and threes and fours living among the South Vietnamese people and
completely at their mercy. While I was Secretary of State I don't think
I can recall a single incident of treachery on the part of the South Vietnamese
people with respect to those Americans. I don't recall that any of them
were turned over to the Viet Cong by their South Vietnamese colleagues.
If the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese were making any headway among
the people of South Viet Nam, or if the South Vietnamese people really
wanted what Hanoi was trying to do to them, you were bound to get a lot
of incidents of treachery with respect to these Americans that were living
out in the countryside completely at their mercy, and this just didn't
M: These were civilian
Americans too--not armed--
R: Civilian Americans,
not armed, and just wholly dependent upon the South Vietnamese people in
the countryside for their own personal security. We did find it necessary
to build up our forces out there as the North Vietnamese built up theirs.
And there could have come a time in 1965 and '66 when the North Vietnamese
might have had enough force in the country to achieve their purposes had
we not built up our own forces, and had not the South Vietnamese not built
up their forces
M: I think one of
the things that has bothered some of the critics maybe had been the fact
that the government always seemed to see the situation in terms as you've
described, and the non-official reports from South Viet Nam always were
so much more pessimistic. Did you ever try to find out why your information
and the information that the press got didn't seem to be the same, or why
they interpreted it differently? Did the government take into consideration
this other kind of intelligence that was coming back from nonofficial sources?
R: One of our leading
publishers, a man of great reputation, visited South Viet Nam and came
back shaking his head about the reporters out there. He said that there
were too many reporters out there playing the role of Secretary of State.
M: We had lots of
Secretaries of State during your years.
R: There were too
many reporters who had their own view as to Viet Nam and the outcome and
who did not accept the basic commitment of the United States and the basic
interest of the United States in an independent Southeast Asia. Also, bad
news makes more news than good news. If you had two thousand acts of kindness
on the parts of South Vietnamese to American soldiers in the course of
a day, and you had one instance where an American sergeant in a bar would
get into a scuffle with somebody, it would be the American sergeant's scuffle
that would be reported rather than any one of these two thousand acts of
in the nature of news that the negative is more
news than the positive, and so we did have some problems about the nature
of the reporting out there from time to time.
M: But you were confident
enough in your own sources that you were pretty sure that what you were
getting was accurate in contrast to what the public was being sometimes
R: Well, in the middle
of a war there are always problems of marginal inaccuracies in terms of
casualties, in terms of the extent of pacification, and things of that
sort. You always were in the position of leaving a margin for error of
five or ten percent, or whatever it might be. But the general accuracy
of our official reporting, I think, is well-founded, and the historian
will find that it was in good shape.