As American involvement in Vietnam deepened, President Lyndon Johnson railed against the "bunch of commies" running The New York Times and complained about the newspaper's criticism of the war, according to taped phone conversations released Friday.
The recordings, released by the LBJ Library, covered August to December 1966. Johnson had many of his calls from the Oval Office and his Texas ranch recorded on Dictabelt equipment.
In one conversation, Johnson blasted the "commies" he said ran the Times.
"They want to get out of Vietnam and yield it to them, and I don't think I can quite do that," the president said.
At the time, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reported, there were 400,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam.
In another conversation, McNamara suggested waiting until after the midterm elections to announce a cap on the U.S. troop commitment in Vietnam. Johnson said little during that part of the conversation.
Johnson asked McNamara about the defense budget and supply shortages. McNamara told him there were shortages of a "new rifle" called the M-16 and shortages of some ammunition and rounds used to illuminate areas for night fighting. But McNamara said there were plenty of bombs — 265,000 tons of them, either in Southeast Asia or on the way.
‘Snow the place under with bombs’
"Frankly, we're going to just snow the place under with bombs," McNamara said. "And I'm doing it purposely to make them cry, `Stop.'"
In a discussion about the war with former President Dwight Eisenhower, Johnson said he was "trying to win it just as fast as I can in every way that I know how." He added: "I need all the help I can get."
Eisenhower, who was president in the 1950s during the tail end of the Korean War, told Johnson that Vietnam was different: "Here is a war that is the most nasty and unpredictable that we've ever been in, and it's just as much political as military."
Friction over civil rights
In the midterm elections, the Democrats suffered numerous defeats in the House but maintained control of Congress.
Johnson sounded irritated with his lack of support among Southern governors, attributing it to his pursuit of civil rights legislation. He said 11 Southern states, including his home of Texas, were against him.
"I've got a good record, and I'm rather proud of it," Johnson said. "The South is against civil rights. But I even think they think I've got to do it."