Exclusive: The notion of Wall Street bankers meeting in private to discuss profiting off a plot to extend the Vietnam War and risk the lives of thousands of American soldiers may sound like a conspiracy movie script, but it is a tragic reality reflected in once secret White House documents, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
As I pored over documents from what the archivists at Lyndon Johnson’s presidential library call their “X-File” chronicling Richard Nixon’s apparent sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968 I was surprised by one fact in particular, how Johnson’s White House got wind of what Johnson later labeled Nixon’s “treason.”
According to the records, Eugene Rostow, Johnson’s Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, got a tip in late October 1968 from a Wall Street source who said that one of Nixon’s closest financial backers was describing Nixon’s plan to “block” a peace settlement of the Vietnam War. The backer was sharing this information with his banking colleagues to help them place their bets on stocks and bonds.
In other words, these investment bankers were colluding over how to make money with their inside knowledge of Nixon’s scheme to extend the Vietnam War. Such an image of these “masters of the universe” sitting around a table plotting financial strategies while a half million American soldiers were sitting in a war zone is a picture that even the harshest critics of Wall Street might find hard to envision.
Yet, that tip about Nixon’s Wall Street friends discussing his apparent tip on the likely course of the Vietnam War was the first clear indication that Johnson’s White House had that the sudden resistance from South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to Paris peace talks may have involved a collaboration with Nixon, the Republican candidate for president who feared progress toward peace could cost him the election.
On Oct. 29, Eugene Rostow passed on the information to his brother, Walt W. Rostow, Johnson’s national security adviser. Eugene Rostow also wrote a memo about the tip, reporting that he had learned the news from a source in New York who had gotten it from “a member of the banking community” who was “very close to Nixon.”
Eugene Rostow’s source said the conversation occurred among a group of Wall Street bankers who attended a working lunch to assess likely market trends and to decide where to invest. Nixon’s associate, who is never identified in the White House documents, told his fellow bankers that Nixon was obstructing the peace talks.
“The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion about the future of the financial markets in the near term,” Eugene Rostow wrote. “The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem as he did the Fortas affair to block.
“They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait. Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more casualties) a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and the bond market. NVN [North Vietnamese] offensive action was a definite element in their thinking about the future.”
(The reference to Fortas apparently was to the successful Republican-led filibuster in the Senate to block Johnson’s 1968 nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Earl Warren as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.)
In other words, Nixon’s friends on Wall Street were placing their financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson’s peace initiative was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother’s source, who disclosed this strategy session, as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of Lehman Brothers.)
A separate memo from Eugene Rostow said the unidentified speaker at the lunch had added that Nixon “was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he [Nixon] took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’”
So, according to the speaker, Nixon was trying to convince both the South and North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal if they stalled Johnson’s peace initiative.
In a later memo providing a chronology of the affair, Walt Rostow said he got the news about the Wall Street lunch from his brother shortly before attending a morning meeting at which President Johnson was informed by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker about “Thieu’s sudden intransigence.”
Walt Rostow said “the diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance,” leading to an FBI investigation ordered by Johnson that uncovered the framework of Nixon’s blocking operation. [To read that Rostow memo, click here, here and here.]
The Rostow memos are contained in a file with scores of secret and top secret documents tracing Nixon’s Vietnam peace-talk gambit as Johnson tried frantically to stop Nixon’s blocking operation and still reach a peace agreement in the waning days of his presidency.
After Nixon narrowly prevailed in the 1968 election and as Johnson was leaving the White House without a peace agreement in hand, the outgoing President instructed Walt Rostow to take the file with him. Rostow kept the documents in what he called “The ‘X’ Envelope,” although the archivists at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, have dubbed it the “X-File” after the once popular TV series.
Rostow’s “’X’ Envelope” was not opened until 1994, which began a process of declassifying the contents, some of which remain secret to this day.
After Johnson’s peace initiative failed, the Vietnam War dragged on another four years, leading to the deaths of an additional 20,763 U.S. soldiers, with 111,230 wounded. An estimated one million more Vietnamese also died.
[For a much more detailed examination of what Johnson called this “sordid story,” see Consortiumnews.com’s “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’”]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.
To H. Puckett: Did you forget, or was it incovenient to your point of view. Dwight D. Eisnhower commited our “combat advisors” to Viet Nam. Also, every “Nut” Iv’e met who told me that 9/11 was a government conspiracy was spewing right wing points of view. By the way I am a pissed off middle of the road type who hate both variety nut jobs equally.
All of this finger pointing that is going on with this site about Nixon and profiting off of the war in Vietnam with the Wall Street Bankers makes me disgusted.All of this talk would not be happening if our beloved Kennedy had not sent 20,000 men over there in the early sixties or Johnson with his escalating of the war by increasing the number of military from 20,000 to over 600,000 by 1968. If those two Wonderful persons had kept the US out of Vietnam and brought home the military advisers that Eisenhower sent over there to help with the South Vietnamese Government, then we would not be having this discussion about Nixon and the Wall Street Bankers profiting off of that war.Maybe you Super Sleuths can find the time to spread your hate of the right wing/Republican party to the left wingers/Democratic party.Oh that’s right you left wingers would never do anything like what you are complaining about that Nixon is being accused of.Oh you conspiracy people who still think that 911 was a government made attack on this country need to get a life.
To quote Simone Weil: â€œWhether the mask is labeled Fascism, Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Proletariat, our great adversary remains the Apparatusâ€”the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier or the battlelines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothersâ€™ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this Apparatus, and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.â€
Parry has been a great exposer of lies, obfuscation and disinformation by government and by those in power. It is difficult to believe that he failed to devote his enormous intelligence and analytical powers to the greatest and most despicable false flag event of all time – the tragic events of 9/11. He will forever live in shame as a result.
Thank you for uncovering the Wall Street complicity. Kissinger’s role in this has also been cited, given that while he was an advisor to the Johnson Administration, he was a protege of the Rockefellers, and said to have been secretly feeding confidential information to the Nixon camp. Moreover, there were many others- whether corporate military contractors or allies such as Taiwan and Japan- who had benefited from the Vietnam war and would benefit that much more if it were extended- and the China Lobby through Anna Chenault did its part to assist in the conspiracy. Also, absent a rapprochement with China, the U.S. had remained inflexibly wedded to a strategy designed to contain Soviet and Chinese influence, which included keeping a major military presence in Japan and South Korea, encouraging a resurgence of the Japanese economy, and preventing Japan’s source of raw materials, including South Korea and South East Asia from falling into Soviet and Chinese hands. (Unfortunately, our government ignored the democratic aspirations of the South Koreans and supported their repression two years before the outbreak of the Korean War, and also marginalized those in our State Department who had recommended an accommodation with the PRC 25 years before it happened. A more pragmatic foreign policy might have avoided the tragedies of both the Korean and the Vietnam Wars.)
I wonder if Johnson’s reluctance to expose Nixon had anything to do with Humphrey’s early opposition to the Vietnam war which embarrassed Johnson.
I completely concur with F.G. Sanford’s comment above.
The collusion between many of our “elected representatives” and their facilitators continues unabated to this day. Our political process has deteriorated to one of cronyism and corruption that serves private interests over the majority common good and will of our citizens.
And I’ll bet the same banksters are colluding in regards to Iran, with Israel and the U.S. I knew the young men who returned from Vietnam, destroyed in body and soul, and for what? It always, always had the stench of made-up war and it forced me to emigrate elsewhere. Now the insanity (doing the same thing with the same results, Einstein said) continues….
This account of extending the Nam War has another episode to it. Let us not forget the role of Henry Kissinger in helping prolong that war so that 20,000 plus more lives could be lost and over 100,000 plus casualties (And that is just our side). Kissinger, at the Paris Peace talks argued with the N Vietnamese for 2 years or so as to whether the talks should be held at a “round, square or rectangular table”. That is what I call stupidity run rampant. Did Kissinger think the decision to stop the war would be different if the shape of the table was more to our liking? That is stupidity to the umteenth degree.
When our “lamestream” news reports, “The economy is improving,” they have eyes only for Casino, Wall Street. The wold’s economy has fallen into the hands of addicted gamblers. Like all manifestations of compulsive behavioral syndrome (alcoholism, drug addiction and such), the victims, if allowed to, will take the entire human family down with them. Unfortunately, the Mobias double right-wing political system attracts those who also enjoy the thrill of winning. We watch amazed at how candidates play foot loose and fancy free with the Truth placing their bets on creating an electable image. One responsibility of the U.S. Congress is to collect taxes and create a budget. What fun! I guess when ones entire life revolves around money, morality takes a back seat.
Yes, Nixon and Kissinger sold our troops out, Vietnamese as well as U.S. lives sacrificed to “save face”. However, just can’t give Johnson a free pass either. I watched a PBS episode about JFK’s assassination. When Johnson got the news his shock was so great he forgot about the recorder, “Explitive! I better get rid of my Halliburton stock!”
Has anyone read some of the recent mainstream media articles denigrating “conspiracy theory” believers as mentally ill? Or vilifying them as potential domestic terrorists? It seems as though there has been an ongoing, tireless and coordinated Orwellian effort to continually raise the proverbial bar on what constitutes malfeasance in public office. The Johnson administration’s hesitation to “blow the whistle” on Nixon’s treason pales in comparison to a Democratic Congress unwilling to prosecute Bush administration war crimes. Failure to prosecute bank fraud appears to be paving the way for another financial collapse, a recipe for the banksters to once again get something for nothing. Watergate, by today’s standards, wouldn’t merit a back page blurb in a local paper. And then, as now, the preferred method of intimidation is to paint the skeptic as “mentally ill”. Why else would the ‘White House Plumbers’ break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office? Crime after crime after crime, and the commission of such when two or more people are involved is, by definition, conspiracy. When a misdeed occurs in a military setting, the first question any Soldier rightly asks is, “Who was in charge?” That’s a question the American public had better start asking. It sure isn’t us. The conservative dolts who go along with this, “My country, right or wrong” blind allegiance, with, as Adolf Hitler put it, “the certainty of a sleepwalker”, had better wake up. We’re headed for another train wreck. Thanks, Mr. Parry, for your
unflagging commitment to real journalism. You are a Great American.