INT: Walt, you were telling me about the fact that you handed over to Nixon and Kissinger or Johnson handed over to Nixon and Kissinger a very good working relationship with China, but there hadn't actually been many detailed discussions with Mao.
WR: With Mao and the... Mao after the cave-in of the great beat forward in '58, became ill, I believe, that was rumored and a whole group of more pragmatic characters, like Cho En Li and so on, moved in when he was ill. Then he recovered and as part of the process, political process of regaining power, he started the Cultural Revolution. He evoked these people who were against gradualism and reforms and so on to get back to the old-time religion and he was going to ride back to power on that. And the Cultural Revolution ended in a most curious way. The military men descended on Peking, without being invited by Mao, called on Mao and said, you will tear the country apart, they away it was torn apart by the war lords, when Sejent Sin was successful in the Revolution but lost control of China. And that's very much on their minds and it was the military men that ended the Cultural Revolution. They were not going to have a civil war in China and they were not going to have China break up. And it was in that period that we sent this message and got this reply.
INT: Then even earlier than that, China started to regard the Russians as the sort of (unintelligible) empire, hadn't it?
WR: (Interrupts) That's right. That was after the Sputnik and the break with Moscow which came in the year 1958.
INT: Sure. But I mean, from that point on, the Chinese, I think, would have been quite interested to develop better relationship with the US.
WR: Well, it took some time, but the ultimately they did. we had...
WR: We went through various stages of the message of Mauer and Ping-Pong diplomacy and we sent Scottie Ressen, he had the appendix taken out by classical Chinese means and so on.
INT: But why do you think that say in 1964, 1965 there weren't attempts to improve relationships...
WR: Well, I don't think we could have got through. The Chinese wanted to see how the war came out.
INT: You don't think they were interested in...
WR: They were interested in going far South. They had a line... a road which went through Laos, but they decided not to play that.
INT: But you don't think they were interested in getting better relations with the US at that time?
WR: Not at that time. No. I think it was a slow... they had to deawith their military men and so on and get a due orientation and they got that, I think, through Ping-Pong diplomacy and the visit of Kissinger and the visit of Ressen and so on and gradually the stage was set for a resumption. Then they had the Shanghai-Kennedy (unintelligible) of course.
IN: Changing the subject to the Johnson, you became National Security Adviser in 1966.
WR: Well, the job was split between Mac Bundy and myself in Kennedy's first year. Kennedy wanted me to be the head of the Policy Planning Council and then towards the end of that year, there was a big shake up of the State Department and I was sent over there.
INT: But the way Mac Bundy left and you were sort of...
WR: (Interrupts) Mac Bundy...
INT: In 1966, yes, he'd left and you were in sole charge...
WR: (Interrupts) I was told that I was (unintelligible) that job.
INT: Do you remember what was your first act?
WR: My first act?
INT: Yeah, your first...
WR: On being told? Well, it was very funny, because I was in Peru seeing (unintelligible) and in negotiation with him, the President of Peru and word came down, I'm going out to Honolulu - this was President Johnson - can you join a plane and meet me in Honolulu? And we fussed round and finally had to go back to Washington, I went home and took a shower, hugged my wife and got on a plane and it was the... newspaper (unintelligible) plane and by that time I was tired and I went to sleep on the floor and slept all the way to Honolulu. And he took me aside in Honolulu and said, I've been talking with Ladybird and we think that you ought to take this job as National Security Adviser. And this was very true with Johnson, that when he took you in, he took you in as a member of the family and we've been very close with the family, with the children, with Ladybird right to this present door. She lives next door to where we live.
INT: I was going to ask you a bit... You got on very well with Johnson, do you have a sort of favorite Johnson story, a favorite Tuesday lunchtime meeting...
WR: (Interrupts) Well my favorite story with Johnson was absolutely true. I had kept out of all appointments, because we had a very good arrangement and the last thing they needed was the National Security Adviser being a third wheel. And so the President called me up one day and he said, well, I've finally been able to fill Tom Mann's job at the State Department. I said, fine sir. And he said, well, George Ball likes him, Dean Rusk likes him and he's got very good credentials. Oh, that's fine. And he said... would you call him up? It's your brother. And, I said, well, do you think he'll come? I said, well, we were brought feel that if the President asked us, our inclination is to say yes, why don't you ask him yourself? He said, well, he's ten years he's been dealing with the Law School at Yale and his wife is getting new curtains and she's going to take over a college and why should he come down here? He said, say, do you know the story about go and get your brother? And I said, no I don't that. And he said, well, boy about ten standing by the railroad tracks and sees a train coming down the tracks at a hundred miles an hour, he looks the other way and he sees a train coming about a hundred miles an hour and the man said, what do you do under those circumstances? And he says I go and get my brother and he says, why would you go and get your brother? He said, he's never seen a train wreck! And I said, oh we're not... in that kind of state, I'll call my brother and find out and I did. He did, and he came, yes, lot of fun. But that's my favorite Johnson story.
INT: Right, right, great. Going back to serious matters, in 1967 the reports coming back about Vietnam were increasingly gloomy. Now you've been accused of ignoring the gloomy bits and...
WR: That was not true. That's one of the things that I think that's wrong in your questions. In the autumn of 1967, they began pressing on the frontiers to position themselves for the attack and they count them and play cool or attack and so on. And then we got very good evidence from a briefing of the cadres in the South that they planned a major attack on the cities of Vietnam, the Tet. Now this was the end of November, early December. I sent a cable, back channel, to (unintelligible), who was the deputy Ambassador. I said, I want to have for the White House not merely your judgement as to this maximum effort they're going to make, will it be a Tet, but they're saying to the cadres, they will have a negotiation at that time, this is the last hurrah, the Americans will be defeated, they will get a red carpet (unintelligible), the exact quotation, and, well, the popular front government, afterwards we would have taken over the popular front government. A very detailed exposition. They were telling their own cadres in the South. And I said, oh what chances are there that they are in a situation where they would want to negotiate shit seriously?, Westmoreland sent an answer to this request for a cable as of Christmas 1967 and the fifteenth of December, they weighed in from Saigon. I sent on to the CIA for comment and their comments were rather dull, you know, I thought unimaginative, but it went, of course, the President, along with the CIA evaluation. But we knew to the day when this attack was coming and that it would be... the only surprise in that attack was that they went into two hundred or so provincial capital cities and they were picked up by the police and thrown into jail, they weren't much... The only place, city in which they did serious damage was Hwai, where they had marines of the North Vietnamese came into the citadel and they were finally thrown out by American marines and a division of South Vietnam (unintelligible). There was real fighting in a way, there was no fighting in Darnang, and they got down to the racetrack at Saigon and that's all. But people did come into Saigon from the countryside, refugees, and Ki and a fellow named Robert Komer did a heroic job of getting them fed and looked after and we didn't know what happened in the countryside and a lot of people said that the Communists had taken over everything you've gained over the last three years and so on. There was nobody in the countryside. There were a lot of peasants getting their spring crops in order and very peaceful and they took a terrible beating.