The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. [I.] Tom1 will have copies made of this statement and distribute it to you later, so you don't need to take it verbatim. You may want to take notes as you go along. It is very brief. Then I will take any questions that may occur to you from it.
1 Wyatt Thomas Johnson, Jr., Assistant Press Secretary to the President.
STATEMENT ON THE SITUATION IN VIETNAM
We have known for several months, now, that the Communists planned a massive winter-spring offensive. We have detailed information on Ho Chi Minh's order governing that offensive. Part of it is called a general uprising.
We know the object was to overthrow the constitutional government in Saigon and to create a situation in which we and the Vietnamese would be willing to accept the Communist-dominated coalition government.
Another part of that offensive was planned as a massive attack across the frontiers of South Vietnam by North Vietnamese units. We have already seen the general uprising. General Westmoreland's headquarters report the Communists appear to have lost over 10,000 men killed and some 2,300 detained. The United States has lost 249 men killed. The Vietnamese, who had to carry the brunt of the fighting in the cities, lost 553 killed as of my most recent report from the Westmoreland headquarters.
There were also a number of attacks on United States airfields throughout the country. We have confirmed the loss of 15 fixed-wing aircraft, and 23 helicopters were destroyed. A good many more were damaged but will be returned to service.
This is a small proportion of our aircraft and helicopters available in that area. Secretary McNamara, General Westmoreland, and the joint Chiefs of Staff do not think that our military operations will be materially affected.
The biggest fact is that the stated purposes of the general uprising have failed. Communist leaders counted on popular support in the cities for their effort. They found little or none. On the other hand, there have been civilian casualties and disruption of public services. lust before I came into the room, I read a long cable from Ambassador Bunker which described the vigor with which the Vietnamese Government and our own people are working together to deal with the problems of restoring civilian services and order in all of the cities.
In the meanwhile, we may at this very moment be on the eve of a major enemy offensive in the area of Khe Sanh and generally around the Demilitarized Zone.
We have known for some time that this offensive was planned by the enemy. Over recent weeks I have been in close touch with General Westmoreland, and over recent days in very close touch with all of our Joint Chiefs of Staff to make sure that every single thing that General Westmoreland believed that he needed at this time was available to him, and that our Joint Chiefs believe that his strategy was sound, his men were sure, and they were amply supplied.
I am confident in the light of the information given to me that our men and the South Vietnamese will be giving a good account of themselves.
As all of you know, the situation is a fluid one. We will keep the American people informed as these matters develop.
Now, I will be glad to take any questions.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH HANOI
[2.] Q. Mr. President, in your State of the Union Message, you said we were exploring certain so-called offers from Hanoi and as soon as you could you would report to the people on that.
Is there anything you can tell us today about the status of possible peace negotiations with them?
THE PRESIDENT. NO. I would think that that statement is about as good as I could make on that general subject. That accurately describes what has been going on and what is going on. But I do not have any success or results to report on it.
ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM
[3.] Q. Mr. President, does this present rampage in South Vietnam give you any reason to change any assessment that you have made previously about the situation in South Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I am sure that we will make adjustments to what we are doing there.
So far as changing our basic strategy, the answer would be no. I think that there will be changes made here and there as a result of experience that comes from efforts such as they have made. Our best experts think that they had two purposes in mind.
First was a military success. That has been a complete failure. That is not to say that they have not disrupted services. It is just like when we have a riot in a town or when we have a very serious strike, or bridges go out, or lights--power failures and things. They have disrupted services. A few bandits can do that in any city in the land.
Obviously, they have in the Vietcong hundreds and thousands, so it is nothing unexpected to anticipate that they will try in cooperation with their friends from the North to coordinate their activities.
The ferocity and the violence, the deception and the lack of concern for the basic elements that appeal to human beings--they may have shocked a lot of people in that respect.
But the ability to do what they have done has been anticipated, prepared for, and met.
Now so much for the military movements. This is not just a civilian judgment. This is the judgment of the military men in the field for whatever that judgment is worth to us back here as experts--Monday morning quarterbacks.
That is the judgment of the best military advice I have here. I met with them yesterday at lunch at some length. I had General Ridgway 2 come down and spend some time with me and talked to him.
2 Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, USA (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific (1951) and in Europe (1953) and Army Chief of Staff (1953-55).
I have spent a good deal of time talking to General Taylor.3 I had all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in yesterday. We explored and discussed what had happened, what was happening, what might happen, and so forth.
3Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, USA (Ret.), Special Consultant to the President.
I have talked to the Pentagon this morning, very early, and have been in touch with Secretary McNamara before his testimony.
Their general conclusion is that as a military movement it has been a failure.
Now, their second objective, obviously from the--what you can see from not only Vietnam but from other Communist capitals-even from some of our unknowing people here at home--is a psychological victory.
We have to realize that in moments of tenseness and trial--as we will have today and as we have had in the past days--that there will be a great effort to exploit that and let that substitute for military victory they have not achieved.
I do not believe when the American people know the facts, when the world knows the facts, and when the results are laid out for them to examine, I do not believe that they will achieve a psychological victory. I do not want to be interpreted as unduly optimistic at all. I would rather wait and let the facts speak for themselves because there are many things that one far removed from the scene cannot anticipate.
In all of the battles, there are many disappointments for the commanders and even the commanders in chief.
So I think that at this very critical stage I would much prefer to be played low key than to give any false assurances. I can only say this: that based on the best military advice that I have, I feel confident that the men will give a good accounting of themselves.
Now, Sarah,4 let's get yours, and we'll get through with that if you want.
4Mrs. Sarah McClendon, representative of several Texas newspapers.
THE "PUEBLO" AND ITS CREW
[4.] Q. Sir, I was going to shift from that question in view of what you just said to another question.
THE PRESIDENT. Go ahead.
Q. Have you any news on the crew of the Pueblo?
THE PRESIDENT. We understand from neutral nations and from reports from North Korea that the men are being treated well; that those who have suffered wounds are receiving treatment; that the body of the man who died is being held. We have received those reports and examined them. That is about the extent of the information we have on it.
Q. Did you say "men" or "man", sir, who died?
THE PRESIDENT. Man.
Q. Mr. President, are you confident that we can get back both the ship and the crew?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I am not. I don't want to hold out any hopes on information that I have that is not justified. All I can say is that these things take time.
The most comparable incident, I am told by the military people, to this one was the RB-47 that went down in 1960 and it took some 7 months of negotiations to get our pilots back.5
5 See "Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960-61," Item 231; and "Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1961," Item 8.
We are exploring every diplomatic means that is available to us. We have our best military men reviewing all that happened and, as I said in my statement to you and to the country some time ago, we are taking such precautionary steps as we may think the military situation justifies.
THE SAN ANTONIO FORMULA
[5.] Q. Clark Clifford's6 testimony before the Armed Services Committee has raised some questions about the San Antonio formula.
THE PRESIDENT. Only in the press, not with anyone in the administration. Mr. Clifford said what I have said, what Mr. Rusk has said, what everybody has said, so far as the San Antonio formula is concerned. The country should know once and for all this morning that Mr. Clifford said just what I said at San Antonio.
6Clark M. Clifford, former Naval Aide and Special Counsel to the President (1946-1950), who took office as Secretary of Defense on March 1, 1968 (see Item 104).
POSSIBILITY OF NEED FOR ADDITIONAL TROOPS
[6.] Q. Mr. President, is it possible that these developments in Vietnam that you had outlined, plus the imminence of this major offensive, could lead to deployment of additional American combat troops in Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I would not want to make predictions. Of course it is possible. The answer is yes. I wouldn't want your lead to say though, "Johnson predicts possibility of troops" because that is not anticipated. We see no evidence of that.
Yesterday I saw that George 7 said that of course we would consider calling up specialists or, of course we could consider some of these things. I must emphasize to you that lots of things would be considered, but so far as adding additional men, we have added the men that General Westmoreland has felt to be desirable and necessary.
7 George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President.
There is nothing that has developed there that has caused him to change that estimate. We have something under 500,000. Our objective is 525,000. Most of the combat battalions already have been supplied. There is not anything in any of the developments that would justify the press in leaving the impression that any great new overall moves are going to be made that would involve substantial movements in that direction.
I would not want to foreclose any action in a matter like this. Anything can happen on a moment's notice. But we have constantly under advisement various things that we would want to anticipate. And after reviewing them now for several days, I have not seen the requirement or the necessity, nor have the Joint Chiefs, of making any additional requests to the Congress at this time involving additional authority.
It would be desirable, as it was last year, to have legislation a little more generous in one respect or two, or maybe more funds appropriated for military assistance that were reduced. We may have to get some adjustments in those fields, but there is nothing that is imminent at this moment.
THE "PUEBLO" INCIDENT AND VIETNAM
[7.] Q. Mr. President, how much, if any, definite information do you have on the connection between the Pueblo incident and what is happening now in Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I do not have evidence that would say that they are definitely, positively one and the same here because I cannot prove that. Practically every expert I have talked to on Korea and North Vietnam and the Communist operation--all of them, I think without exception, believe there is a definite connection.
I would have you know, though, that that is based on their opinion and not on hard evidence that I could establish to CBS's satisfaction in a court of law.
NORTH VIETNAMESE PEACE FEELERS
[8.] Q. Mr. President, in light of what has happened in the last few days, or going back to the Pueblo incident, do you have any reason to believe that in the last 2 years there have been any genuine peace feelers put cut by the North Vietnamese or other Vietnamese Communists, or have they been phony, except when they were winning in '64?
THE PRESIDENT. We have tried to explore every suggestion made by enemy and friend. I must say that in retrospect I do not think we have overlooked anything, and I do not think that we have found anything that would give an impartial judge reason to be encouraged.
VALIDITY OF BASIC ASSUMPTIONS
[9.] Q. Sir, do you see anything in the developments this week in these attacks in Vietnam that causes you to think you need to reevaluate some of the assumptions on which our policies, our strategy there has been based? I am thinking in terms of the security ratings, amount of population that is considered under Government control? Do you think the basic assumption is still valid?
THE PRESIDENT. We do that every week. I see nothing that would indicate that that shouldn't be done. We must do it all the time to try to keep up, and to be sure we have not made errors and mistakes. If you are saying, have we felt that what happened could not happen, the answer is no. As a matter of fact, Mr. Bailey,8 if you have seen any of the intelligence reports, the information has been very clear that two things would happen:
8Charles W. Bailey 2d of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.
One is that there would be a general uprising, as I stated.
Two, there would be a general invasion and attempt to secure military victory, and that the objective would be to get a military victory and a psychological victory.
That is one of the great problems the President has to deal with. He is sitting there reading these information reports while his own people, a good many of the best intentioned, are supplying him with military strategy, and the two do not fit in.
So you have to be tolerant and understand their best intentions while you are looking at the other fellow's hole card. That is what General Westmoreland has been doing while all of these Monday morning quarterbacks are pointing out to him that this is the way he should move, or this is the way he should move.
This is a part of what happens when you look at history. It may be that General Westmoreland makes some serious mistakes or that I make some. We don't know. We are just acting in light of the information we have. We believe we have information about what they are trying to do there. We have taken every precaution we know of. But we don't want to give you assurance that it will all be satisfactory. We see nothing that would require any change of great consequence.
We will have to move men from this place to that one. We will have to replace helicopters. Probably we had 100-odd helicopters and planes seriously damaged and we will have to replace them.
Secretary McNamara told me he could have that done very shortly.
We will have to replace the 38 planes lost, but we have approximately 5,900 planes there. We anticipate that we will lose 25 or 30 every month just from normal crashes and so forth.
EVALUATION OF THE SITUATION
[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you believe, sir, their winter-spring offensive and their call for an uprising and their attempt to impose a coalition government is based on their belief that they are taking military punishment that they cannot sustain for a long time?
In short, sir, are we still winning the war?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I see nothing in the developments that would indicate that the evaluation that I have had of this situation throughout the month should be changed. I do think that the second phase is imminent. What we have expected is upon us. We have gone through the first phase of it. We will have to see what happens in the second phase. If it comes out as expected, I think I can give you a better answer to your question when it is over with.
I do not want to prophesy what is going to happen, although we feel reasonably sure of our strength.
[11.] Q. Mr. President, one of the problems people seem to be having in making up their minds on the psychological importance of this goes back to our reports that the Vietcong were really way down in morale, that they were a shattered force.
Now people ask: Well, how, then, can they find the people who are so well-motivated to run these suicide attacks in so many places in such good coordination?
Some people say: Well, that proves they know they are licked and this is their dying gasp. And some people say: Well, it proves that we underestimated their morale. How do you feel, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. I haven't read those reports about underestimating all their morale, and their being out of it, and no more problems, and so forth. That hasn't been the information the Government has received.
We do think that we have made good progress there. We are for that. We don't want to overplay it or play it in high key. We just want to state it because we believe it is true.
But no one in authority has ever felt-that I know anything about--that you could not have an uprising of this kind, particularly when they have ordered it and predicted it and we have been expecting it.
As I view history, I think that you have things of this type replete throughout. You can expect it. I see it even in domestic problems. The fact that people's morale may be suffering and they may be having great difficulty doesn't keep them from breaking glass windows and shooting folks in a store or dashing into your home or trying to assassinate somebody. That goes with it. That is a part of the pattern.
Now whether they are doing this from a position of greater strength or greater weakness--I would say neither. I don't think that they are as weak as you picture them in your straw man that you place up there--that the Government has this feeling. I don't think we feel that way.
I think we know that a march on the Pentagon can disrupt traffic and tie up things and cause problems here. I think we can see what happened in Detroit. I think we can see what happened in Saigon.
I think there are times when a few highly energetic and courageous people could seize National Airport. But, could they hold it? Does it endure? Is it a victory? Do they pay more than it is worth and so on and so forth? Those are the things you have to evaluate.
Now, I am no great strategist and tactician. I know that you are not. But let us assume that the best figures we can have are from our responsible military commanders. They say 10,000 died and we lost 249 and the South Vietnamese lost 500. Now that doesn't look like a Communist victory. I can count. It looks like somebody has paid a very dear price for the temporary encouragement that some of our enemies had.
We have approximately 5,900 planes and have lost 38 completely destroyed. We lost 100-odd that were damaged and have to be repaired. Maybe Secretary McNamara will fly in 150 shortly.
Now, is that a great enemy victory?
In Peking today they say that we are in panic. you have to judge that for yourself. In other Communist capitals today they say that we have definitely exhibited a lack of power and that we do not have any military strength. You will have to judge that for yourself.
But General Westmoreland--evaluating this for us and the Joint Chiefs of Staff reviewing it for me--tell me that in their judgment it has not been a military success.
I am measuring my words. I don't want to overstate the thing. We do not believe that we should help them in making it a psychological success.
We are presenting these reports daily to the Armed Services Committee of the Senate where the Secretary of Defense is testifying and will be through a large part of next week.
There will be moments of encouragement and discouragement. And as things go on ahead, we can't estimate them, but they will be given to the committees who have jurisdiction.
Since the Armed Services Committees help draft our people and raise our armies and provide the equipment and so forth, the Secretary is appearing there morning and afternoon. He will be giving periodic reports that will be much more in detail and will supplement what I have said to you.
TALKS BETWEEN SOUTH VIETNAM AND NLF
[12.] Q. Mr. President, do you still support talks between the South Vietnamese and the NLF? 9
THE PRESIDENT. I have not changed the viewpoint that I expressed when I quoted the statement of President Thieu of South Vietnam in my interview with the correspondents.
9National Liberation Front, political arm of the Vietcong.
RELATIONS WITH THE SOVIET UNION
[13.] Q. Mr. President, in your judgment, did the interview Premier Kosygin gave to Life's editors reflect any deterioration in our relations with Russia since the Glassboro talks?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't care to weigh and speculate on the developments in the Soviet Union. We just tabled last week a nonproliferation agreement with them. We have other plans for exchanges of thoughts on various subjects.
We would always like to improve our relations with the Soviet Union and with all nations where we can do that consistently.
PROPOSED CIVIL RIGHTS MARCH ON WASHINGTON
[14.] Q. Mr. President, some people interested in civil rights, including Martin Luther King, are planning a massive march on Washington this spring. There is some talk that they would like to stop the wheels of Government.
Are you planning to try to talk them out of this? Would you assess that for us?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know what their plans are. I am not sure that they have developed them yet.
Of course, I would be hopeful that our energies, our talents, and our concerns could be directed in a more productive and a more effective manner.
I would hope that some of these people who are leaders of the causes could recognize that the Congress is having hearings every day on subjects of vital importance to their cause.
By coming there and following constitutional methods, presenting their evidence to the Congress and persuading the Congress, it would be more helpful than just trying to stop the functioning of the Government who is also trying very much to help their cause to eliminate discrimination, get more jobs, and improve housing. Whatever time and attention the Government has to give to these things is taken away from things that they could be doing to help them.
So we will do all we can to work with all groups in this country to see that their views are heard, considered, and acted upon with promptness and understanding.
RELATIONS WITH SOUTH KOREA
[15.] Q. Mr. President, the Pueblo incident appears to have put a certain strain on relations between Washington and Seoul. Some political figures in South Korea are saying that the United States appears more interested in getting back the 83 men than in doing something about North Korean incursions into South Korea.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know which political figures you refer to. I can't comment on that.
We are in very close touch with the President of that country. I think he understands how we feel.
I would be less than frank if I didn't tell you I was deeply concerned about 83 Americans, as I am sure the President of Korea is.
I am also deeply concerned about the situation in South Korea and the obligation we have there. We are going to be equal to that obligation. We are going to be true to our commitment.
We have some 50,000 men there. We are going to see that not only are they adequately informed and supplied, but that all of our plans take into consideration the recommendations of that Government that we have found to be not only a friendly Government but an effective one--and one of our best allies.
I have great respect for the President of South Korea and his judgments. They are being received, considered, and acted upon every day.
I see nothing in any of these developments to justify a concern on the part of South Korea or America that there is a strain in our relations. I think that is largely talk and speculation and so-called reports.
MEETINGS WITH NORTH KOREA
[16.] Q. Are we now trying to arrange talks with North Korea at Panmunjom or has there been a meeting since yesterday there?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, there has been a meeting between representatives of North Korea and the United States. We hope there will be additional meetings.
These meetings have not produced any satisfactory results as far as the United States is concerned.
I know of nothing that I should add to that statement. And I don't plan to.
Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Johnson's one hundred and eighteenth news conference was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House at 12:05 p.m. on Friday, February 2, 1968.
Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237293