INT: Afterwards, was it felt that the Diem coup was a good thing or a bad thing?
RH: I would say that among the military, American military, where they had no sense of the politics of the country... (unintelligible) an illustration. One of the times that McNamara sent people out there, he sent out General Cruak and so I sent one of my fellows out there, Mendelhome and the General Cruak visited the military, Vietnamese military and the State Department fellow visited the civilian leaders. And when they came back, they reported to Kennedy and one of them said the war is going well, General Cruak, and the other one said that the civilians are collapsing and the war won't last more than a couple ofmonths. And it's a little... you know, it was that, thatthe last to know that you're beaten are the people in the field, the military, they're always the last to know. When a country collapses in let's say, World War One when Germany collapsed or when Hitler collapsed, the generals are the last to realize what's happening and that was the case here. so you had a split in the American government, where the people who really were military and only military, very narrow focused, they thought we could win eventually, where the political people and the State Department and everybody politically, thought it was impossible, we'd never win. We... it was perfectly true, you know, that if, you know, you could atomic bomb Vietnam and kill every Vietnamese North and South, that would not be a very big problem. you could occupy the country, both countries, North and South, with American troops. The minute you turned your back, ten years, twenty years, fifty years, you know, it would have been gone and that was the situation. Sure, you could win a battle, but that's not winning a war.
INT: When Johnson came in, he expanded the war really. What's your view on why he did that?
RH: Well, what Johnson did was, he did one thing before he expanded the war and that is he got rid of one way or another all the people who had opposed making it an American war. Averill Harriman, he was Under Secretary of State, he made him roving ambassador for Africa so he'd have nothing to do with Vietnam. Bobby Kennedy, he you know, he told Bobby Kennedy that he ought to run for governor of Massachusetts, you see. Bobby confounded him by running for the Senate but Averill Harriman and in may case, he wanted to get rid of me, Lyndon Johnson did. Well, Johnson's a very clever man. when he wanted to get rid of Grenowski, who was the Post-Master General, he offered him the chance of being the first American ambassador to Poland. he offered me... he found out that I'd spent part of my childhood in the Philippines, and he tried to persuade me to become ambassador to the Philippines, but that was just to keep me quiet, you see and so instead I went to Columbia University, where I could criticize the war from outside. Johnson was a very clever man, so the first thing he did was he nullified or got rid of all the people - and he knew as well, he knew who were the hawks and who were the doves. He systematically rid the top layers of the American government of the doves and interesting enough, by the way, Bob McNamara's book, he accuses Harriman Lodge, me etcetera, etcetera of losing the Vietnam War, he never mentions that we were opposed to... we were doves you see...
INT: Could the war in Vietnam have every been won? What was your experience from your time in Burma, for instance?
RH: Well, I'll tell you. I kept hoping that if we could persuade Ngu Dinh Diem to adopt a strategic hamlet program, not to try to just kill Vietcong, but to you know have an oil block of secure areas, I always hoped that it might some day be possible. the (unintelligible) was though that I think that Diem was a ardent Catholic in a country that's ninety five per cent Buddhist. He surrounded himself with Catholics, but also they happened to be northerners who had fled the North when the Communists took over. So he was surrounding himself by zealots, you see, anti-Communist Catholic zealots. He was out of touch with his own... with the people of Vietnam and you know maybe if there had been a guy like Max Isai in the Philippines, he was killed, but he defeated the Communist (unintelligible) by a sort of strategic hamlets sort of program before he was killed, it's conceivable. But the one thing that I realized and hoped against hope that it wasn't true was that Ngu Dinh Diem and the then leaders of Vietnam just could not possibly win, no matter you know... they were so cut themselves off from the... the mass of the people they were... At the end, Ngu Dinh Diem was talking to nobody but his brother Nu, he wasn't consulting anybody except the people he knew would say yes to him. So it was a hopeless situation and Kennedy came to this conclusion and, you know, as I said, and his decision was to get the American advisers out, there were only sixteen thousand five hundred there and he removed the first one thousand and had an approved plan for removing the rest within a matter of two or three months. it was hopeless.
INT: Before we started this interview, you said - I think you said, that your advice to Johnson which he didn't like, was something like, yes we have to occupy the country for a hundred years. Is that right, could you elaborate on that or...
RH: Well, what I said was that if you... Of course the United States is the greatest military power in the world. If you went in there with, you know, five hundred thousand men and atomic bombs and all the rest, of course you could conquer the country, You'd kill an awful lot of people, we did kill a lot of people to no avail, but sure, I mean, you know, if you put the whole of the American military and industrial might into the struggle we could have won, of course we could have won. But it would have done no good. Every time an American walked by an alleyway he'd get a knife in his back. if we'd stayed ten years, we could probably by police work and military work keep it from going Communist, but sooner or later we would turn our back or withdraw or reduce and it would immediately go Communist. It was a hopeless situation.
INT: Let me just ask you a question on the China side of things. When Kennedy was elected and he realized that China was now a Communist country and was going to stay that way, it's often said that in the Vietnam War or at that time the Chinese wanted better relations with the United States. Why did the United States not do anything about that?
RH: Well, the United States did do something about it. what happened was when Kennedy first came in, he decided to recognize Communist Mongolia. Now this was a ploy, by recognizing Communist Mongolia you recognized the Communist regime. then you can work your way up to recognizing Red China, Communist China. This was what his intention... Of course the situation was you see you had Taiwan, a non-Communist, anti-Communist former government of that and a lot of American supporters for the Taiwan government. So his first steps was to recognize Communist Mongolia and then follow this by recognizing China. What happened was that the anti-Communist factions in the Congress immediately in effect said, you recognize Mongolia, we can't prevent you from doing that, but all your cherished aid to Africa and aid to South America... we will cut it off, there will be no aid. So he backed down. Now, what then happened was, in the summer of '62, John Vasheur in Formosa, said, this is the year of the tiger this is the year when we ought to invade and with American help invade China. Well, what we did was Eisenhower had given John Vasheur two U-2s, but we'd not given him permission to use them. Well, (unintelligible) said all right, use them and see what you find out. Well, what they found out of course was that they landed some parachute teams there too, they were rolled up within a matter forty eight hours and by the end of the summer of '62, John Vasheur decided that they could not invade, that there was no sympathy for them on the mainland. And he sent his son, John Gajeur to America and we talked with Kennedy and so on and so forth and they said, OK, we're not going to invade. The year of the tiger is over. So I said to Kennedy, his Assistant Secretary for Far East, now is the time to make an attempt to normalize relations with Red China. So I made a speech, which was called the Open Door Speech in San Francisco. there's a tragedy here. With Kennedy's approval, I made it at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, which is the traditional place for China speeches, and it called for a normalization of relations with China. unfortunately Kennedy was killed about a week before that, so I said to Johnson, President Johnson, look, let me make the speech. If the right wing and the isolationists jump all over me, you csay, well, he's a Kennedy man and he's leaving anyway or somethilike that. But if you don't get much reaction, why this will give you an opportunity of more freedom. So Lyndon Johnson said, go ahead and make the speech. Well, I made the speech and it got favorable newspaper comment, not only in all American newspapers, but in most world press, with sole exception of Taiwan and Red China. And so, you know, this was the opportunity and if we had normalized relations with China there wouldn't have been no Vietnam War, we'd have stopped that. But Johnson was so enamoured with the war that he didn't do anything about this, you see, he didn't follow up with recognition, it took Nixon to do that, but Nixon finally followed up with Kissinger.
INT: So that was perhaps a serious error by Johnson not following up on the China...
RH: (Interrupts) Oh, I think so. But his most serious error was making Vietnam an American war.
INT: Yet, one of the things that I think is said often, and McNamara certainly said it is that the United States didn't know enough about South East Asia, didn't know anything about Vietnam, didn't know anything about China. What you're suggesting is that it did.
RH: Of course it did... That's very self-serving of McNamara as is many things in his book. You know, he says that we didn't have any experts on Vietnam. Well, Lew Savice who'd been desk officer for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for Vietnam for twenty some odd years knew a great deal about Vietnam and he wrote a memo and McNamara got so angry that he called Rusk and said, don't permit that man to write any more memos. In other words, he didn't want to hear from the experts, he killed the experts. Jack Kennedy, since Jack Kennedy didn't know anything about, Jack Kennedy visited Vietnam as a young congressman, knew a lot more about Vietnam than McNamara did. McNamara's talking really about himself, but we had lots of experts on Vietnam. The problem was that McNamara wouldn't listen to them, he refused to read the stuff they wrote and everything else, he...
INT: So between them, McNamara and Johnson really froze out people who did know about...
RH: ... and Johnson literally transferred, fired, drove out of government all the people that were really knew something about Vietnam and were opposed to the war. Harriman, me.
INT: Just going back to the beginning, to what extent was the attitude towards Vietnam a consequence of the domino theory and just how isolated was the United States in viewing Vietnam that way?
RH: Well, first of all the domino theory is a newspaper cliché and it had no bearing whatsoever on anything. Kennedy once used it, but he was using it in terms of foreign aid and you know, if you think about it for a minute, it was an Eisenhower expression. If Vietnam goes, you know the domino theory is that Thailand goes, Indonesia goes and they're barking on the shores of California. Bull. If Vietnam goes, Thailand is going to make every possible effort you know, including inviting American troops in, so that's just nonsense.
INT: How much do you think the United States was isolated in prosecuting the conflict with Vietnam?
RH: Well, it isolated itself. It persisted under Johnson in making it an American war when the French had withdrawn, the British said they wanted nothing to do with it. the Australians, Clark Clifford who replaced McNamara, came... Johnson picked him because he was a hawk, so Clark Clifford comes in as Secretary of Defense and decides that he's going to get the Australians to bear a bigger part of the burden. So he goes out there to Australia and they had one battalion, you know, in Vietnam and they give him every excuse in the world and Clark Clifford says, well, look, you know, here you're sitting on the doorstep of South East Asia and you don't seem to be worried about a Communist Vietnam, what the hell are we doing there, you know? And he came back and decided that it was all a terrible mistake and so the great hawk that Lyndon Johnson thought he was buying turned out to be a big dove after he learned a little bit about it. And then Johnson did something that... you know, when McNamara finally decided the war was a mistake, which was two years after they bombed the North, you see, took him a long time, when he finally decided it was a mistake, why he told Johnson he thought it was a mistake, but he never said another word, he didn't do anything to... and in his book he gives this impression that it would have been unconstitutional for him to have opposed the President. Bull!