Thursday, April 8, 1971 - 10:06pm - 10:15pm
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone


President Nixon: Yeah?

Operator: We have Dr. [Henry] Kissinger. On the line, sir.

President Nixon: Hello, Henry?

Henry Kissinger: Mr. President.

President Nixon: You out to dinner someplace?

Kissinger: I was—I had dinner with the board of directors of the Rand Corporation and I raised a little hell with them.

President Nixon: Oh, fine. Did you? [Laughs.]

Kissinger: Yes.

President Nixon: Well, that's good. They're—it probably shook them up a little, didn't it?

Kissinger: Well, they had some people, you know, they had some bankers and Bill [William R.] Hewlett, [David] Packard's partner—

President Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: And so . . . and [William] Webster from the New England—

President Nixon: Yeah,

Kissinger: —Electric, head of New England Electric.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: So I talked mostly about Vietnam.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: And they were generally positive.

President Nixon: Yeah. I'm going tell you, we had a—this Illinois group tonight. Boy, they were about 40 business guys and, incidentally, [Senator Charles H.] Percy [R-Illinois] was there, as you know, and [Richard B.] Ogilvie.

Kissinger: Oh, yes.

President Nixon: And they were, almost to a man, had seen this and were really quite moved by the broadcast. They were—

Kissinger: Well, that was the reaction of my group, too, tonight.

President Nixon: They were . . . and, shows [unclear] . . . and in my little talk I proceeded to talk a little about SST and say I understand why some oppose it, but I said, let's not let this be a pattern of turning away from exploring the unknown, turning inward, not meeting our responsibilities in the world, and so forth and so on.1 I just thought, I just couldn't let Percy sit there without—

Kissinger: No, I think that was important.

President Nixon: Yeah. Another interesting little thing. Mrs. [Mamie D.] Eisenhower called tonight. She said that—the—she was, of course, [unclear] she was—she told Julie that they had Mrs. Taylor and little Kevin on one of the news shows tonight.

Kissinger: Oh, yes.

President Nixon: Yeah. Did you know that?

Kissinger: I didn't, but somebody at the dinner told me.

President Nixon: Uh-huh.

Kissinger: And that she mentioned that I had called her—

President Nixon: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: —and how honored she had been by your speech. That's what they told me.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well. That's, of course, the best kind of a follow-up we could have on it. Better than having some senator or congressman praising it is to put that thing on and remind the people again of the, you know, of the thing that they remember about it, you know?

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: And, you know, it's—

Kissinger: Well, I heard Eric Sevareid tonight at the tag end of the news.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: And he said, well, the President squarely put it up to Congress. If they want to assume responsibility, they can have it.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: But he didn't think there would be many takers. [Both chuckle.]

President Nixon: He didn't or, or I didn't.

Kissinger: No, Sevareid didn't think there'd be many takers in Congress.

President Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: Well, it shows the tremendous power of the presidency if it is used with courage and wisdom.

President Nixon: Yeah, and sometimes it—particularly with the medium of television, where you can go directly to the people, not through the press, just whack it right out there. They . . . it'll, it'll give this press a little pause.

Kissinger: That's right. So far, I think the treatment has been enormously respectful.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well, they'll hack away now about the time and do we had a date in mind and all that sort of thing and—

Kissinger: I think we shouldn't answer that, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I told [White House Press Secretary Ronald L.] Ziegler today that he should just, in the future, not give—say, “Look, the President is not going to—he stated his position. I'm not going to go beyond it, gentlemen, period.”

Kissinger: Exactly. Exactly.

President Nixon: And if any congressman or senator thinks that we've got a date in mind, fine. But we're not going to say, because the point is, we may have a date in mind, but I have—but I'm keeping the option open of changing my mind in November.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: That's the point, see? And that's what we keep the enemy.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Exactly, but I wouldn't, because if you say too much, or if we say too much about the date, the next thing is, we're abandoning the prisoners. That's going to drive the wives out of the war.

President Nixon: Oh, hell, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kissinger: But I think it is now very well positioned.

President Nixon: But we just keep right where we are.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Don't move and don't . . . I'd—I'm going to tell Ron in the morning not to take any more questions on it.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: And just say that we've covered the situation and that we've stated a position and we're not going to talk any more about it. We've made an announcement that runs through December 1st and at that time the President will have another announcement.

Kissinger: Yeah, but—

President Nixon: He'll make it at that time depending upon the circumstances then. And let them . . . Well, will it be at this rate? It will depend on the circumstances then. Well, do we have a date in mind? That'll depend on the circumstances then.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: And just—that's the way to play it, play a little [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, I think—and all—we have found that whatever we give, the doves will just go on to another position.

President Nixon: Isn't that the truth. Every time, don't they? You know, it didn't really make any difference whether we—we could have gone to 90,000 and it wouldn't have made any difference much.

Kissinger: Wouldn't have made any difference.

President Nixon: As it turns out. Or we could have put in a 100,000 in January, the same . . . Oh, it was a little better to have it [unclear] it was.

Kissinger: No, well—

President Nixon: It showed progress.

Kissinger: It showed progress, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But if we had gone up to 16,000, they still would have found fault with it.

President Nixon: Oh, sure. Wouldn't have helped us a bit. Wouldn't have made a bit, not a bit. And that's just not going to be the way it's being played—going to play it. We—I must say, we've, some way or other, you've got to get [Secretary of Defense Melvin R.] Laird in sort of pipe down a little bit, too, about [unclear].

Kissinger: Right. I've scheduled a lunch with him next week. I'm going to get Laird quieted up.

President Nixon: Just say, “Now, look Mel, it isn't going to do any good, we've”—and just say, might say, “Look, there is a chance for negotiation here. Now, let's don't spoil it now.”

Kissinger: Yeah. The only trouble is, if he believes it, he'll try to hog it.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I'll get him quieted down by other methods. I'm just going to tell him he'll get himself into such unbelievable trouble.

President Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: Because I think he's shaken up a bit.

President Nixon: Do you? Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: Yeah. Mel is basically not a bad fellow.

President Nixon: He shouldn't—he should also pipe down on the Calley thing.2

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: We're—we've got that in the right position. We're not defending Calley and we're gonna let it run its course. And the . . . and if he turns out the way we expect it to, he'll—we'll just handle it that way. But this . . let it drag on a while.

Kissinger: I think that's right. And I think the judicial process should now take its normal course there.

President Nixon: That's right.

Kissinger: And after that, you can decide in the light of all the information that will then have been developed.

President Nixon: That's right. Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: So . . . and that public furor had to be quieted down.

President Nixon: That's right.

Kissinger: —before it got completely—

President Nixon: It's really—it was such an amazing sort of a public furor. It surprised us all, surprised the press and all the rest. But it was probably a good thing that the country had that little spasm.

Kissinger: That's right.

President Nixon: It—get them a chance to pop off steam and then we came on and cooled it off a little, then came on with an announcement. We gained a little initiative, I think, as a result of it, don't you think?

Kissinger: Oh, yes. And it, no matter what they say now, no one can construe that outburst as a dove outburst, even if it took the form, perhaps, of wanting to get out of the war. It was the frustration of the people who are not committed to win the war.

President Nixon: That's right.

Kissinger: And—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: That's quite a different thing.

President Nixon: Exactly, and I think the liberals really know this. They—

Kissinger: Deep down, the liberals know this.

President Nixon: They are in shock by it, because, they were sort of hoping that the whole nation would, you know, sort of say, “Well, now, we'll punish these”—

Kissinger: That's right. What they wanted was a feeling of revulsion against the deed. In fact, the deed itself didn't bother anybody.

President Nixon: No, they, matter of fact, the people said, “Sure, he was guilty, but by God, why not?” [Both laugh.]

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Well, anyway, we'll let it ride.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, I think you've done it again, and—

President Nixon: Well, we [unclear]. But now the main thing is to try to hold our horses, see if the congressmen and senators come back from Easter vacation a little quieter. They may be.

Kissinger: I think they will be.

President Nixon: They might be. We'll see. OK, Henry, thank you.

Kissinger: Right. Good night, Mr. President.


1 The acronym SST stands for supersonic transport. Boeing was developing a new passenger aircraft which, like the Anglo-French Concorde being developed at the same time, could travel faster than the speed of sound. Congress had struck the project's budget the previous month. Environmentalists had raised concerns about the environmental impact of the sonic boom such an aircraft would make when it broke through the sound barrier. (↑)

2 Lieutenant William L. Calley Jr. was court martialed for murder in the My Lai massacre. (↑)

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.