INT: The.. bombing targets which were chosen were.. limited, weren't they. Why was Hanoi never targeted?
WR: Oh, it was targeted but very very carefully. Parts around Hanoi were decided upon, among other things, at the Tuesday lunches. They came to the President but the rest ...(unintelligible).... a more or less free hand. It was not very well organized, in my view, as the.. use of air power against technical targets. That's now news to people, that ...(unintelligible)..... and I kept it out of the newspapers, but I took that view.
INT: Can you sort of enlarge on that, that the Tuesday lunches.. making.. the...
WR: Not at all. The President.. the JCS would bring him the list of targets they proposed for the next week, the next 2 weeks, around Hanoi and Haiphong and the President would go over and ask 3 questions. First, how many planes we would lose, how many Americans we've lost, what would be the civilian losses in Hanoi, and, three, what was the military content of the targets. And.. occasionally he would say 'I wouldn't do that one..' but the notion that air power was run from the White House is wrong.
INT: But that... (break in tape).. (banging sounds) they were quite large..
WR: Well, they were substantial. They weren't large by (unintelligible) air force standards in the Second World War but they were.. we had lost a number of planes.
INT: What, were you surprised at how well equipped the North Vietnamese must have been with air defense?
WR: No, we knew quite a lot about the constitution of their aircraft forces and they were pretty good, ..(unintelligible).. You know, it's like ..(unintelligible)...
INT: What.. was going to be the crossover point at which.. the United States would clearly.. be seen to be winning the war?
WR: Well, I can tell you the only crossover point that I ever saw there were 2 crossover. In the early.. 1967 -- '66 was a very good year, we had elections -- we found a document, a very good document, which said that they'd lost more than a million people under their control in '66, and '67 we were making progress. President Johnson said 'it's not progress like this, it's progress like this' and he had.. -- in the press conference -- and it was at that stage when he had us vote just to go base ...(unintelligible).... and we were obviously on a winning crack, that the military asked permission to go into Laos and they were turned down. That. that was one of the only 2 occasions when I stood up and expressed a view in the presence of Cabinet ministers and it wasn't that I was shy. I didn't think it proper to start a debate with them but there were 2 occasions when I did that. So the military were.. cleanly turned down in May '67 on going into Laos. The second occasion in which ..(unintelligible).. might have taken place was in '68 after Tet. There were the.. gradually it was very interesting to watch it because it was an area in which first no intelligence, had a little intelligence and a lot of intelligence - and you would trace that out in the President's book incidentally - but it became clear to us that we'd won a tremendous military victory at Tet and.. Rusk came in one day to a small meeting -- with the President and myself -- and said 'I've been getting noises through the.. diplomatic channels of a kind I've never gotten before' and I knew that they had (unintelligible) quite seriously to negotiate with us and they would negotiate.. this was a tremendous thing because they were willing to negotiate with ..(unintelligible).. and place. And that was sealed in a communiqué. A communication we.. received on April 4th, 1968. I remember the date because that was the date that Bobby Kennedy came in and a very civil conversation we had that day. Mainly how.. about whether Johnson would get him if he ran for office. That.. Johnson said 'no, I want you.. you're perfectly free as far as I'm concerned. I may support Humphrey - who's been an A-plus Vice President, he said, to.. the Senator, he said 'Senator, don't you go for vice president. You and I are (unintelligible) by this vice presidents but Humphrey was A-plus and I may support him but I will promise not to take after you.'
INT: (Starts mid-sentence) ... is that not right?
WR: No, there was a typical negotiating ploy in October. In October they agreed a formula by which they'd sit down at the table with Chu and he present and advisers they would have... the advisers on their side would be the Communists of South Vietnam. Then they backed away from that formula, then we brought them back to the table and they (unintelligible) they wanted to test us to see if we were serious. But there was no bombing at all in that period of North Vietnam, becathey were serious negotiations which framed it and they didn't attempt to start bad trouble inside South Vietnam. Meanwhile, Abrahams received an order from the President to roll up the... the Communists in South Vietnam and he did. We turned the thing over to Nixon in verygood shape now, more than ninety per cent of the country was clear of the Communists by that time.
INT: I just want to go back. You were talking about China. China was very worried the prospect of American bombing in the North, what do you think would have happened if China had decided to attack American aircraft?
WR: Well, they didn't want a war with the United States. They were embroiled with Russia. We now know... I think we knew then too, pretty well how the Russian Chinese relationship had become very acute indeed and it took place very early. It took place in 1957-58. Mao went to Moscow, only his second trip outside of China, after Sputnik was launched. At that time he was told by the Russians that he would get nuclear weapons and he sent an order down to this troops, we were going to get modern weapons, nuclear weapons, that'll abandon reliance on guerrilla warfare, etcetera. Then they got the Soviet contract for these nuclear weapons, which was in fine print. They would send in Russian troops to control the warheads, exactly the same formula which they used against Castro in Cuba. And that really blew it with Mao and that was the period where they began to pour buckets of slop on each other. That was early 1958. And so they struggled, there was a struggle all through this period which some people we were too dumb to see, between the Russians and the Chinese, but the reason they got the clearance... the Vietnamese got the clearance to attack in the South with the Russians and the Chinese was that neither one was willing to veto. But they were fighting against each other and the Chinese, I think, didn't want to fight us at this time, because they had the Russians on their neck.
INT: But there was, I remember, something called a 'Hot Pursuit Strategy', which the Chinese were worried about, weren't they, that US planes might...
WR: (Interrupts) They didn't react very much to that. They did react to our putting bombs in the... in the water at Haiphong, in the port, and the Russians approached them to transit China to North Vietnam with supplies and that they were kept waiting for three months before they did that they finally (unintelligible) it. But they wanted to remind Hanoi, with whom they had to live with the (unintelligible), which was not the Russians, but the Chinese. Made a very deep impression on the North Vietnamese.
INT: But the... Johnson was presumably fearful that under certain circumstances the Chinese would join...
WR: (Interrupts) Or the Russians would come in and so on. The Russians, after all, took over Kamon Bay in time, they finally got out of it, but Johnson didn't want to bomb, let's say put mines in the harbor, because he was afraid he would start, using his own phrase, he remembered the main psychology in Moscow, which is the blowing up of nationalism around an incident of that kind if a Russian ship was hit. I didn't agree with him on that, but as President, he was very, very careful. He knew the middle strategy he was following in Vietnam was not popular, he followed (unintelligible) very carefully. But he was... I've never admired him more as a man, as a President than pursuing this unpopular line, because he felt it was right.
INT: Right then, back to China. John Kay-Fairbanks in his book, Great Chinese Revolutions - I think that's what it's called - claims that Mao felt free to embark on the cultural revolution in the happy knowledge of, safe in the knowledge that the United States would not intervene. There was not going to be any war between the United States and China, therefore Mao felt free to go ahead with the...
WR: I don't see it quite that way. We did not have any communication with Mao till the very end, when Mauer, the Foreign Minister of Romania, came to Washington, said he was going on to Peking and he wondered whether President Johnson had anything to say to Mao. And Johnson said him, that China now was a nuclear power, the United States was a nuclear power and we had responsibilities to our own people and to the world, the peace, weapons would not be fired in anger. And instead of meeting him in the Hall of Cultural (unintelligible) or whatever it was at Warsaw, which was given by Stalin to the poor Poles, and anyone could hear on a transistor radio in a taxi cab what was being said, it was ridiculous, we ordered the quietly, the serious matters which concerned us both. He said he would deliver that message. Now he went to Moscow and we heard that he had delivered it and shortly after that the Chinese said to us, let's meet in our own embassies, in turn, where we can have security, we think it's time to talk of these questions. Now this was after... Mao was still alive, but the cultural revolution was over, which we followed very closely. And then came the announcement that Johnson would run and they let us know that they thought it better really to await the American elections and open this dialogue in the Embassy. So we were able to turn over to Nixon and Kissinger this channel. What they did with it, I don't know, is another story. But that was a great turning point and I don't think that we had any communications with Mao of which I was aware in that period. It was a wild and woolly period and it was very much tied up with inner Chinese politics. When he was ill early in the sixties, in the... yes...