INT: You say.. you mentioned 1963, at some point, the Administration decided that Diem was.. well, perhaps not a liability but possibly a liability. Did you support the Hillsman Lodge attempts to...?
WR: (overlap) I was totally out of that. I was in this.. I was in the.. planning, I was in charge of the planning in the state, having a gorgeous time with the second job attached to it that.. namely the Alliance (unintelligible) job, because as you know, my field has been development in the under-developed countries. So that I was totally, as it were, out of the circuit. Uh, and I don't know what Hillsman and Harriman had in mind, ...(unintelligible)... George Bull Walsdorf or anybody else in that. But I do know, right from.. and from personal knowledge, that Diem was a very difficult character and I left Vietnam very somber.
INT: During the Tonkin Gulf, how significant was the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to the war?
WR: (overlap) Well, you must understand the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It arose from the experience with Eisenhower that LBJ had been.. he was the majority leader in the Senate and Eisenhower had asked for freedom of action under existing treaties on two occasions -- the Middle East Resolution and then the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Came right here... I'm sorry, the in the Formosa Straits, Taiwan Resolution. And he carried out the operations which he did carry out in those two circumstances in the Middle East and the Tonkin Gulf on the basis of resolutions of the Congress which gave him freedom of action. Now of all the options open to him, which he considered -- he considered for example declaring war on North Vietnam and so on -- he did not declare war because 2 men raised a very important question. One was Rusk and the other was Ambassador Thompson. The question they raised were what treaty arrangements did Hanoi have with Peking at that time? And so they advocated more of the same under exactly the arrangements which we had. But the Tonkin Gulf Resolution freed LBJ's hands just as the Middle East and Taiwan Straits Resolutions had freed Eisenhower. That was the background to it.
INT: Well why was Johnson so keen to.. escalate the war? Kennedy had not escalated the war.
WR: (laugh) Well, he.. well, he had increased the number of.. divisions. He wasn't keen to expe.. (laugh) You have no idea!
INT: Well, I..
WR: (overlap) You have no idea of how tough it is for a President to send Americans.. off to fight. The reason was.. the situation was disintegrating and it was disintegrating because.. primarily because.. they decided in nineteen-'64 to send regular North Vietnamese troops south. This started in the summer and it ran right through the election and all through that terrible time -- there was about a year, you know, between the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the decision of LBJ to put troops in. So he was not keen. (laugh) But the truth was, putting into the South of regular North Vietnamese units, which began in the summer and autumn of 1964, was the reason this thing came to a crisis and Secretary MacNamara and (unintelligible) Bundy wrote a joint memorandum to the President in which they said 'you have these options'. Either you can get out immediately, even get out.. in a month we can't guarantee that your troops won't get.. be crossed if they stay another month. Or you can wait and fight a war. And that's what.. the options which he was given by the two advisers he had. But he had come.. I mean, this was not overnight. This was clearly a disintegrating situation.
INT: I don't think he was really keen to escalate the war but.. there was a certain keenness it seemed to get the Tonkin Resolution passed.
WR: Well, that was during the campaign, that was a year earlier. But it was under the same circumstances. He wanted to get that passed as I told that you... because he felt it was time to free his hands, just so Eisenhower had asked him to put the Resolution to the Senate which freed.. Eisenhower's hands in the Middle East and then in the Taiwan Straits.
INT: What finally precipitated the agreement to bomb the North?
WR: What precipitated it was the victory that was underway with the putting of these North Vietnamese regulars into South Vietnam.
INT: Was it the Playkew incident?
WR: Well, that was an incident in this whole process, yes. There was no given incident Johnson as President faced a waning situation which was.. I referred to in my earlier memo in the course of '64 and '65 and he puts the troops in with the greatest reluctance possible. (laugh) He tried everything else but that was.. his options were to take defeat get the boys out as best he could, Americans, or go in.
INT: There was an unfortunate coincidence in that.. more or less at the time bombing started, Kosygin was in Hanoi, wasn't he.
WR: That was only regarded an unfortunate incident. He was there because he felt that with the entrance of the American bombers entered the war, that it was a chance for the Russians to get even with the Chinese and to be its chief supplier of arms. It was not a benign Russian intervention for peace. It was making arrangements to bring Russians in to run the anti-aircraft in.. and to supply anti-aircraft -- which the North Vietnamese didn't have in Hanoi. So that passage in your questions was.. it was quite wrong, (unintelligible), factually wrong. But we know Kosygin was there to tie up the military arrangements with Hanoi.
INT: Yes, I didn't suggest that he was there to.. prosecute peace but that's what of course he was claiming.
WR: I (unintelligible).. that's fine.. people did say that ..(unintelligible)..
INT: What was the actual.. the military purpose of Rolling Thunder. What was it designed to do?
WR: Rolling Thunder was a very clumsy operation in my own view. In the second World War was a professional target man for.. Air Force. It was a clumsy effort to exact a toll, a percentage loss, of the infiltration, and it was pretty well run by the military, not.. independent strategic campaign. The one time they used that force, the Rolling Thunder force, intelligently, they used it very intelligently was under General Monmyre when he was in command and they.. at Kaysam, air power was used very effectindeed against the North Vietnamese. And he stayed on and from.. I mean, he carried out an intelligent use of air power all through the up to.. April when we had this negotiation for peace started seriously.
INT: But if Rolling Thunder wasn't quite successful, there was...
WR: (interrupts) No.. let me get it straight. Uh, it was successful in that it imposed a certain tax. It could've been much more effective I think. But I took the view from the beginning that given the nature of the Ho Chi Minh trails - it was.. modal trails - that we could only block them, not from the air but by sending, say, 2 American divisions into Laos, and that would've been a splendid place to fight because no civilians lived there. We could block those trails on the ground but we couldn't block them from the air.
INT: Why do you think that advice wasn't taken?
WR: Well, the reason.. I've often wondered about that and I think that Westmoreland and I have very much the same view. LBJ undertook this war with a very heavy heart, as I say, but with a great responsibility that it not lead to a nuclear war. He thought he was facing two -- the nuclear powers, Russia and China -- and he was very careful. For example, he never laid down a blockade if I thought ..(unintelligible).. successfully and he never used the B-52s except for very special targets in the North. But I think that it was.. the other side of the responsibility of an American president at that stage to avoid a nuclear war and to do nothing that would justify the other side from using nuclear weapons. He had plenty of nuclear weapons but he saw that it was not in the American interest -- and above all, it was not in the global interest -- and that was a very deep thing. And because of that, I think that if it was that consideration.. After all, he was elected president, I wasn't elected.. I wasn't elected by anybody. I was an adviser, I gave him my best advice. I thought the situation was that say you could.. we'll put ground forces across the trails in Laos. But he was elected, not I, to make the decision. I stayed with it to the last day.
INT: Was there any serious discussing about using nuclear weapons?
WR: No. That never came to the President and I can't vouch for whether or not there were any military contingency plans but and Kennedy had to be President of the United States when the nuclear issue was very hot. They both felt their responsibilities very vividly and I understood that very well and there was another.. you asked me a good question. There was another factor which I think should be, at this stage, brought into it. Both LBJ and Rusk had lived through the Korean War in positions of responsibility and both feared that any movement of US forces outside of the boundaries of South Vietnam might lead to the same kind of Chinese intervention which (unintelligible) surprised people that shook them up in the Korean War. And I thought that was a false analogy, that they.. it's one thing to go to Yalu and Manchuria with ...(unintelligible).. close by, and another to go.. ..(unintelligible).. Vietnam and go into Laos and the boon-docks. This was the end of the line in China. But, be that as it may, you asked me.. why he drew this line and I'd say, one, there's nuclear responsibilities and, two, his desire to avoid a larger war with China.