INT: But it's not me who's saying this, there were people coming back in 1967, like Ellsberg and like Van and MacNamara started losing heart, so it's not me. I mean, other people saying that it wasn't very...
WR: (Interrupts) Well, Ellsberg got yellow jaundice and was in a hospital over at Tet and he wrote his famous memorandum, which was taken seriously in the Pentagon from a sick bed in Honolulu and MacNamara has a long... I mean a long history of disillusion with the war and feeling he was boxed in by it and had family problems too. Anyone who has really studied this period has come to the conclusion... For example, the Strategic Studies Institute in London put out their report for the year and later on they took the view that we had turned a victory into defeat. But there were quite objective reporters of that period.
INT: I understand what you're saying about Tet, that militarily it was a defeat for the South, but I'm talking about before that, in 1967, before Tet happened, there were a lot of people coming back.
WR: Well, Ellsberg I know, MacNamara I know, because I read his memorandum, and they were each, you know, they took a pessimistic view based on everything they had seen, but they were not following it closely from day to day and what you had in '67 was against the background of gradual losses on the Communist side, they threw (unintelligible), they threw everything. We took that and the net result was the defeat of the military defeat in Vietnam, political defeat in Vietnam, a great victory over public opinion in the United States.
INT: Well, we'll come on to that. In 1967, Westmoreland asked for two hundred thousand more troops...
WR: (Interrupts) Well, he... let's be very... very careful, that came from Wheeler and Wheeler was very much worrieabout the running down of the forces at NATO and he wanted those two hundred thousand extra men, not so much to (unintelligible) Westmoreland, 'cos Westmoreland by that time, the two hundred thousand (unintelligible) was in good shape. Part of that was a very interesting thing. M16 machine guns and it wasonly then that we in the White House found out that we were short. We had a hundred and sixty thousand, something like that, and Chu knew which way the guns are shooting, he got his young men, he got two hundred thousand extra men and they... a hundred and sixteen thousand of them were given them and the President said, I'd much rather that these be in the hands of Vietnamese than Americans. But I don't, you know, don't believe the general view of '67 was a pessimistic view. It was (unintelligible) view, tempered of course by the fact they decided to throw a (unintelligible) and they lost.
INT: What was the impact of journalism, particularly television on the assessment...
INT: What was the impact of journalism and particularly television on the war, particularly of Tet?
WR: Well, there's contrary reporting of that. Peter Brastrip, who was a Washington Post reporter, as an act of conscience has done a wonderful study of two (unintelligible) of a big story of the Tet and its reporting. And he thinks that it was not a policy of the publishers, but in fact it was distorted reporting. On the other hand, the response to Tet in the polls was that sixty per cent announced themselves as Hawks and wanted us (unintelligible) in the North.
INT: But do you see the television pictures as something that were very...
WR: (Interrupts) Well, I studied that and I would have said that they were influential. But the polls don't show them as influential and people said these bastards up in the North have hit us, our side must hit them back. I mean, that was the view, I think, of Americans and having grown up in public schools and played semi-pro ball and so on, I think that that's the reaction of most Americans.
INT: But you had Walter Kronkite going on...
WR: (Interrupts) I know, he put on the helmet, he (unintelligible) combat. He was funny as a three-dollar bill. But he belonged, I think, to the intellectuals. The intellectuals took that view, I think they did. But that was because it suited their view of the war and I think took seriously their view of the war and took part in maybe, oh any number of sessions with young people, who were antagonistic to our policy and never less than five hours and it usually went longer than that. But it wasn't that I didn't take their argument seriously, they were not a significant proportion, like twenty five per cent of the people. But the general polls showed that sixty per cent of the people announced themselves as Hawks still, after Tet. The disabuse came later, when there was... partly it was that we... it seemed safe after Tet and people got sick of it. But partly also that playing around with China, people took the view why have this miserable war - which it was a miserable war too - why go on with it if we're getting on with China? People always felt that the Chinese were behind the war in Vietnam and some day I think someone'll stand back from that whole period, perhaps you, and do what Tolstoy did for the invasion Russian and when Napoleon did it. But the story of it is very complicated, because it does involve the first glimmerings of a détente with China.
INT: So what actually turned Johnson against the war?
WR: Well, he didn't turn against the war, he turned it... he decided he would not run and he decided this in '67. Well, he told us that he'd decided that. He said, if I were to make my decision now, I will not run. I do not want any one of you to make a decision about your own dispositions on this assumption that I will run. I will not rule out my running, because I want to keep my options open. But that's... and he never deviated from that until the last day when he announced he wasn't going to run. He almost said he wasn't going to run in the State of the Union message of 1968, which is mid-January I think, but he... as so much of the Congress, he, at the end of it he said, I'd feel very foolish if I stood up and I had to say, I won... you all do this and I won't run. So he said, he asked George Christian to give him the date that Truman had chosen the last date of that other Democratic candidates should have and the date that Truman had was the twenty seventh of March and he let fly on the thirty first.
INT: Clark (unintelligible) on the record as claiming that he persuaded the President not to talk of extending the war in Vietnam, but trying to break the peace in Vietnam.
WR: Well, whatever Clark said is his own business, but the way it happened was that Dean Rusk came in and told the President - and I was present at this - that the noised coming to him for the first time seemed to him to indicate that Hanoi was serious. And the President's reply was, get on your horse, Dean, give me a formula and I'll put it into a speech. And he said, I don't want any leak beforehand, so Rusk had an aide or two work with him on this formula. Rusk took the view that the war was in good shape, that what we want to do is stop bombing in the North, period. They were bellyaching about that, we gave into them. They were in a very weak position, let me see what they'll do. Dean... the tapes when they're published will show that Clifford said, no we can't do that, we got to get something for it and so on and he had great trouble persuading Clifford the best formula and finally we stopped bombing, I think, North of the Eighteenth Parallel. In any case, it was completely in Rusk's hands.
INT: Clifford claims that he went to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and said, you know, what is your plan to win the war, how are you going to do it, you know, what are the specific aims? And he came back saying, well, they don't have any specific aims, they don't know how to win the war, what's your version of that?
WR: Well, that's what he kept saying all the time. He said that irrespective of the evidence after Tet, because the evidence after Tet was overwhelming that they'd taken a terrible beating and it was recognized as such by all around the world, except among the people who were against the war. But the reason why I said that you have to pull back the camera and have a Tolstoyian view of this whole situation, was because playing it and complicating it and affecting a great many people was, well, we're getting on with China now, what is there to fear and let's get this war off our necks.
INT: So the military situation being much more positive to the US, is that the reason why Nixon kept going, rather than...
WR: (Interrupts) Yes, I think so. And there's something that's not known and you have a great chance to do it, in 1972, after we had withdrawn all our American ground troops, but we still had air power and sea power there, the Russians gave Hanoi a million dollars of arms, very good tanks, better tanks, better artillery than our people had in the South, and there was a hell of a fight in the year 1973 and the people of the South won it on the ground with the help of the US air power, but mainly they had done it by... And at the end of that, Hanoi was breathing heavily, but they negotiated in '73 this agreement, which they violated in '75 and so on. But it's a highly dynamic story. The South Vietnamese were gradually getting better, they were, according to Abrahams who was teaching them, very uneven, the divisions were. They were... I think their first division was the equal of any American division, but they also had bad divisions, they couldn't do much. And they were coming along, but my view of Vietnam was if they were a post- colonial country in an early stage of growing up, maturing, had great possibilities in the vibrancy of the people, of which I saw a good deal, and I had great faith in their making a success of it and off-loading the Communists some day.
INT: What were the sort of consequences of the Vietnam War?
WR: Well, the consequences here was that it was… the military were took the that never again would the United States go into war unless it was totally prepared, but above all, they rebuilt the American military. People like Colin Powell, that was in bad shape at the end of the war and the fellows that rebuilt it were the veterans of Vietnam and it's now, as you know, a volunteer army and it's in pgood shape and the...
INT: But what about the consequences of the war for South East Asia?
WR: Well, for South East Asia it's turned out to be fine, because at last Indonesia has gone in to take off very fast, seven per cent now, and Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea are doing fine, even Philippines is coming along. So, South East Asia is... Lyndon Johnson achieved what he was after in South East Asia. You know, one thing I want to put on the record here, didn't come through in your questions. When Lyndon Johnson went around Asia, at about '67, in the autumn, he spoke at every place that he... at Bango-Bango and New Zealand and Australia and so on, and we were in Malaysia, so and he spoke ninety nine per cent of the time about the need for this part of the world to put together. He didn't speak about Vietnam except a small proportion of the time he spent. That's what his policy was towards Asia and that is indicated pretty well. As a development economist I have to say, when a country does well, like South Korea or Taiwan or something, it's because of the people in the country, otherwise you're pushing on a string. But we did play a very useful part in helping them. It's amazing, but in this period of 1960 to, what 1975, '80, they were going on average at eight per cent a year for wages. That means they more than doubled in ten years. So they're four times the size, as it were, GNP per capita at the end of this period and the beginning. They were different countries.
INT: Your thesis, if I understand it, is that by the Vietnam War delayed the Communist take-over by a period long enough so that the whole of South East Asia was able to grow economically.
WR: Yes, that is a view of the South East Asia...
INT: (Interrupts) Could you put it to me...
WR: I see. Well, I think that from the point of view of Lyndon Johnson, as he said in his alumni speech, the war in Vietnam held...
INT: (Interrupts) Let's just stop there...
WR: From the point of view of Lyndon Johnson, what, he regarded the battle in Vietnam as containing Communist aggression in South East Asia. And he used that interval while... he started there in the started, he used that interval for a growth of the GNP per capita of four times in South East Asia and so that South East Asia, which in 1965 was in very bad shape, so much so that at least one of the legions of governors of South East Asia told me he was ready to flee to the West, if we backed away and is now the center of dynamism in the world economy and the world politics as well. So that the strategic objective of Lyndon Johnson was indeed obtained and that was what the South East Asia treaty of 1954-55 was all about.
INT: So that was the achievement of Viet...
WR: (Interrupts) And I don't for a moment deny that we got sick of the war, pull our troops out. I don't for a moment deny that Vietnam was a miserable war and it was very tough on the veterans and their families and all the rest of it. But the United States was not denied... unhappy experiences as a nation. At the convention at Hertford of the North East States, they wanted to get out the Union at the war of 1812 because we were fighting Canada and the Mexican War was hard... the civil... we fought a hell of a Civil War and so it was one of the tough passages in American history. I would only say that I do agree with the view that Lyndon Johnson and his colleagues, that his strategic objective was obtained and that was not a view exposed to the new (unintelligible) to which he devoted an awful lot of time and effort.
INT: Just going back to a couple of things about Johnson. He was very concerned... it hurt him very badly that men were dying in the war. He said, he counted the numbers, he took it... Can you describe your...
WR: (Interrupts) Well, I think any President, he would take very personally the men that he himself sent over. I went on a trip with him to California, I guess, to say good-bye to many of the...
INT: You remember going to San Francisco... to California.
WR: Oh yes. He was a very personal President. It was not an abstract thing to him, money bags and all, these are real people, and he was sending these young people off to fight in a tough war and he felt it very strongly. Quite aside from the fact that his two sons in law of that period were in Vietnam and fighting. So it was tough personally for him but this was he felt part of his duty as President.