INT: ... What were your own thoughts about that there might be the so-called "crossover point" when more people wouldn't come then - did you ever think this was seriously likely to happen?
RM: Well, the strategy, as it evolved, became a strategy of attrition, that the South, with US assistance, would inflict such losses on the North, that the flow of supplies and personnel from the North would be unable to replenish it, and the crossover point would come, where the forces of the North and the Vietcong in the South would become weaker and weaker and weaker, because they could not be reinforced, the losses could not be replaced from the North. Others amongst us believed that crossover point would never come. It never did.
INT: There are lots of comments in many, many of the books about the whole question of the body count and the statistics, and were they accurate or weren't they accurate. Do you feel the military was under almost a psychological pressure to look optimistically... (Overlap)
RM: (Overlap) No. No, no, no. No, no, no.
INT: Tell me about your own... (Overlap)
RM: (Overlap) No, no, I don't believe the military was...
INT: Sorry - I was crossing over. Tell me about the figures.
RM: Well, let's stop just a second...
INT: How did you attempt to measure the success or otherwise of the military activities? How did the military do it, and were you successful in the way in which you approached it?
RM: We have been charged with excessive quantification in respect to measurement of progress in Vietnam. And I have no apologies whatsoever for attempting to measure progress. Any military commander, or any in a sense secretary of defense in any war, would surely wish to be prepared at any time to answer the question "Are you winning or not?" and wish to have measures of whether they're winning or not. In a conventional war, it's relatively easy. You have front lines; they're either moving forward in the enemy's territory, or you're being forced back further into yours, so you know whether you're winning or not. This was not that kind of a war. The question was: are we winning? what are the proper measures? are we getting the right information with respect to those measures? We didn't choose the proper measures, and we weren't getting the correct information. That was the problem. It wasn't an erroneous objective - i.e. determining whether you're winning - it was an erroneous judgment of whether you were or not.
INT: So, you are a man with a career of assessing and trying to work things out, and trying to quantify... The military itself is a very skilled organization. How come you couldn't get that right?
RM: This was much more a civil war than a war of aggression. I'm not arguing that there wasn't an element of aggression in it; I'm not arguing that the Chinese and the Soviets might not have tried to use South Vietnam as a launching pad to knock over the dominoes of Malaysia and Thailand and Indonesia and whatever. But what I am arguing is that the conflict within South Vietnam itself had all of the characteristics of a civil war, and we didn't look upon it as largely a civil war, and we weren't measuring our progress, as one would have in what was largely a civil war.
INT: In your period of time, do you think the war could have been prosecu, in quotes, "more aggressively" than was done, successfully?
RM: It is said that the military operated with one hand tied behind their backs. To the extent that that refers to a restriction on land invasion by US forces on North Vietnam, that's true. But today, General Westmoreland who was the commander in Vietnam at the time, says that while at the time he felt he was constrained, he now understands that that was an effort by the President to prevent the US coming into open conflict, military conflict with China and the Soviet Un. And Westmoreland says, "Thank God we avoided that. That was a correct policy at the time." Could more military pressure have been applied, in the sense of more bombing of the North? In one sense, no. We dropped two or three times as much bombs in North and South Vietnam as were dropped by all Allied Forces throughout World War II against all enemies. It was a tremendous air effort. But there are certain things bombing can't accomplish. They can't break the will of people under certain circumstances. They didn't break the will of the North Vietnamese. And it cannot stop the movement of the small quantities of supplies that were necessary to support the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese forces in the South. They didn't, and it couldn't; and no additional amount of money... bombing could have.
INT: ... In the years '65, '66 and '67, can you tell me something generally about the press and the public, and the way in which they overwhelmingly looked at the war? If you look at the papers now, everybody seems to be against the war. Was this the situation?
RM: That was not the situation at the time. There was a very interesting response to my book, when I published it about a year or so ago, one of the responses was: well, everybody at the time knew that the US shouldn't be involved in Vietnam. And that led, in turn, to several writers saying that just wasn't the case. "We, the press, were there at the time. We saw the majority of the public, the majority of the press, the majority of the Congress, was in favor of the US intervention." And, said one of these writers, Richard Harwood of the Washington Post, there was a very thoughtful and comprehensive study by a political scientist - I believe he said at the University of Illinois - published after the war, which studied the polls and the attitudes of the public, press and Congress, and said that throughout that period, 1961-2-3-4-5-6-7, up until early 1968, the majority of the press, public and Congress favored the US policy in intervention. Not all, by any means - there was a strong vocal minority against - but the majority favored it. Now that does not, in my opinion, relieve those of us who were in the leadership - Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Secretaries of State and Defense and National Security Advisers - that does not relieve us of the responsibility to have let the nation out of the war, prevented its intervention and/or let it out. Our job was not to follow the polls, even though they favored what we were doing. Our job was to determine where the interests of the nation lay and move the nation in that direction. And I think we failed in that respect.
INT: It's very easy to come up with all sorts of queries and almost critical questions, but it seems at this time the policy was going nowhere, and that the policy kept on rolling forward, and you have the sort of bombing, and then there would be a pause, and then there would be bombing, and then there would be a pau(se). What was this supposed to achieve? It seems almost like a tap was being turned on and off.
RM: As early as December 1965, I reported to the President that I believed there was no more than a one-in-three chance - at best a one-in-two chance - that we could achieve our political objectives, i.e. avoiding the loss of South Vietnam, by military means; and I strongly urged, therefore, we increased our efforts on the political track, that we tried to move to negotiations with the North, to avoid the fall of the dominoes; and that, to stimulate a move toward negotiation, we stop the bombing. This was a very controversial move at the time. And we eventually did: we stopped for a month, in December 1965. It was one of about seven different attempts to move to negotiations, to stop the war to negotiate a solution that would yield a satisfactory outcome for the West, which was simply to avoid the loss of all Southeast Asia. Those efforts were unsuccessful. I don't know why. I have proposed to Hanoi that today next year, if you will, that we engage in examining what I think were missed opportunities for each of us, for them and us, to have avoided the war or to have terminated it earlier, with less loss of life, without any adverse effects on the geopolitical situations of either one of us. I very much hope those discussions will take place. We have much to learn from them that can be applied to the world of today and tomorrow. How to avoid these conflicts is something the human race has to learn. This century will go down as the bloodiest century in all of human history. We'll have lost 160 million people, killed by conflict. Is that what we want in the 21st century? I don't think so. If we want to avoid it, we have to learn from our mistakes in this century. Vietnam was one of those.
INT: One of those mistakes, I think you said earlier, was you didn't read the enemy correctly. ... It seems, looking back... it makes me almost wide-eyed that a nation as intelligent actually got the enemy so wrong. Do you have any reason at all...?
RM: Oh, we're doing it today. We in this country don't understand the Chinese today, we don't understand the Muslim Fundamentalists today, we don't really understand the Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia today. But then, the US had relatively little knowledge at senior levels of the Vietnamese and the Chinese, in part because many of our senior specialists, in particularly China, had been forced out of the State Department during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. In any event, the fact is that at the senior levels of the Government we did not have a deep understanding of the peoples that we were involved with; we didn't know their history, their culture, their politics, their personalities. And that ignorance was reflected in the national intelligence estimates, which were the bible by which the Secretaries of State, Defense, National Security Advisers and the Presidents behaved.
INT: Our series is primarily about, in quotes, "the Cold War", which in the main is about US and Soviet relations. How did the Vietnam War affect US and Soviet relations in the main, or didn't it?
RM: I'm not certain it had... a major effect. Let's start all over again.
INT: OK, I'll ask you the question again. What effect did the Vietnam War have on American/Soviet relations?
RM: We made some advances during the Vietnam [War] in our relations with the Soviets. For example, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was negotiated with the Soviets during the middle of the war, and that was a very, very important... very controversial, but a very, very important step at the time. We also began the negotiations that led to the Anti-ballistic Missile Defense Treaty and the limitations on nuclear arms. All of those negotiations took place in the face of the Vietnam War and in the face of the Soviet support of the Vietnamese. But at the same time, we were continuing to expand our nuclear forces, in the face of the Soviet threat. We interpreted the Soviet support of Vietnam as a clear indication that they continued their policy of putting pressure on the West at every vulnerable point. So I think that the Vietnam War in one sense stood in the way of lessening the tensions which might otherwise have occurred.
INT: ... Moving on more domestically - each year, Sir, the anti-War protests grew. Did they have any effect in fact on the policies of yourself and on LBJ? Did they do anything?
RM: Oh, I think certainly they did. Well, this is a part that I just don't want to get in... we're going far beyond what I'd anticipated. I really...
RM: Yeah. And when we're talking about this, let's be sure it's not part of the tape that's made available to... There are certain subjects... Let me...
RM: Let me just rephrase my point...
RM: Yeah. Just let me rephrase my point.
INT: ... they're broader than Vietnam, they're outside of Vietnam. Was the Cold War necessary? What did it achieve? ... What was the most dangerous point? These are overall, they're not Vietnam questions, they're questions... We have a program on conclusions. So, if we can turn over.
RM: No, wait a minute.
INT: No? OK.
RM: Just as Castro anKhrushchev believed we intended to invade Cuba, when we had no intention to invade Cuba, I think Khrushchev believed the West threatened the East more than we did threaten. And secondly, I believe, or my hypothesis is, that they did not threaten us as much as we thought they did. But when you face Vietnam and Cuba and the Middle East, and you damn near come to war over it, you have some reason for thinking that. But still... and in a sense you could say: how do I reconcile the statement that we came close to war on three occasions, with my other statement that I think we may have exaggerated the threat of the Cold War? What did George Kennan say to that, just...?
INT: It was done last week, the George Kennan [interview], and I do not know how he has... Most people have said the Cold War was inevitable, that the two line-ups of Marxist Leninism and democracy in the West, that they were going to face themselves off, and they would have to face themselves off...
INT: No, no...
RM: I'll bet you that Kennan didn't say that.
INT: No, no, no, sure. I'm saying what most people...
RM: Yeah. Most... Well, you see, I would disagree with most people, but I was not then, and I'm not today, enough of a scholar to be... and particularly, I haven't had access recently to the most recent scholarly thinking, to be certain of my conclusions. So I don't want to answer it at all.
INT: No problem. You've answered(?) us very fully on all the things that... We can wrap up(?) now, gentlemen.