121. Report by Vice President Johnson1


In submitting my recommendations, I wish to place special emphasis on my confidential discussions with Chancellor Adenauer and Mayor Brandt,2 for they point to the fundamental facts which must be considered in making future decisions.

Chancellor Adenauer told me that he believes the best economic minds should undertake a thorough review of the possibilities of economic sanctions as a matter of extreme urgency. He himself has felt that we should apply sanctions and more recently has become a strong convert to this idea, but he recognizes that a proposal of this kind must be carefully considered in all its ramifications. I listened without making any commitments beyond the promise that I would place his views candidly and fully before the President.

We then discussed the issues raised by Mayor Brandt’s letter3 to which the President had replied in a letter I was taking to West Berlin.4 I explained that we took the position that we had already made great sacrifices but we were prepared to make more sacrifices in cooperation with our allies. I added that the United States had acted decisively in the present situation as can be seen from the President’s policy of sending the Vice President and General Clay to Bonn and Berlin, and directing that additional reinforcements, with their equipment, should be sent to West Berlin. Our arrival, and the arrival of the men and machines, would be almost simultaneous.

I emphasized the importance to us all of receiving greater support and assistance from the British, the French and the Germans. I said I realized that in days past the Germans had operated under a good many [Page 355] restrictions—economic, fiscal, legal and military—but it was necessary now to consider this whole problem in a new context.

I said there was great wisdom for us in our present predicament in remembering the proverb which tells us that where there is a will, there always is a way. We must have the will and we must find the way.

Chancellor Adenauer listened to my statement of this case with the utmost attention. He then told me that he was prepared to extend the period for military conscription in West Germany but the announcement of this new policy would come after the election. He also said he would agree to increase the number of Germans in military service, provided some of the restrictions mentioned by me could be removed. He explained that Defense Minister Strauss had discussed some of these questions in detail with Mr. McNamara.

I replied that the American people would support our commitments with all our national power and all our national resources if only they did not feel that they were being asked to bear an unfair and totally disproportionate burden. They would resent being placed in a position in which there would in effect be a unilateral American commitment when there should be a common determination to carry a shared burden.

Chancellor Adenauer understood this point very clearly. I then explained to Chancellor Adenauer that some of President Kennedy’s major problems now arose over the struggle for funds for the mutual security program. An important part of these funds were directly related to Berlin and to the German situation. I added that some of the strongest criticism of the President’s program came from the rather sizable group in this country that were opposed to the American people doing so much more than other nations.

I said that anything more which could be done by Germany, France and Britain should be done; and it should be done quickly. I suggested that one immediate measure which would be helpful would be to increase the number of West German police and to give them additional training.

Chancellor Adenauer said he recognized that Germany could not expect America to carry a bigger burden without herself being ready for greater sacrifices.

On Saturday, August 19, I addressed the House of Representatives of West Berlin. Immediately following that address I had my most significant private discussion with Mayor Brandt.

He was somewhat apologetic about his letter to the President and regretted that its contents had been given unauthorized publication in the Federal Republic, a disclosure for which he said he was not responsible. I said it did not add luster to our cause to have our own allies writing [Page 356] critical letters to the President of the United States and putting him to the public question. I then remarked that I had not come to Berlin to debate the past but to reason together with him in quiet co-operation.

Mayor Brandt responded quickly to this approach and I got the clear impression that he was a chastened person, subject to one important exception; he seemed convinced that his letter, with all its faults, had at least moved American policy off dead center.

I told Mayor Brandt that all the points in his letter had been most carefully and sympathetically considered in Washington, even when it had proved impossible to agree with them, and the American policy was set forth clearly and candidly in the President’s reply. He appreciated this candor.

I took this occasion to emphasize that the United States could not accept his proposal to abandon the four power treaty and replace it with a three power arrangement. He agreed that the consequences of any such action might go beyond what he had anticipated.

We then turned to the question of bringing the Berlin issue before the United Nations. I explained that it was our judgment that it was very unlikely that this approach would yield any helpful result, particularly when the General Assembly was entangled in the complications of the Bizerte affair.

I acknowledged that everyone in Washington fully appreciated the deep emotions aroused in West Berlin by the division of the city by concrete wall and barbed wire and armed soldiers. We have been aware of this threat for some time, and had responded to it not with words but with actions.

Three times in the last few months the President had taken significant and far-reaching decisions. He had added two billion dollars to the defense budget earlier this year as the Communist challenge became more clearly defined. Then, in a national appeal to the American people and in a special message to Congress, the President added another five billion to the defense program, called up many thousands of young Americans to active duty, lengthened the period of military service, and authorized other painful and costly programs for the protection of the free world and the national interest.

Many of these expenditures and decisions by the President and the Congress were directly related to the situation in Berlin. Now, in a third measure, the President has sent the Vice-President and General Clay to Berlin, and had strengthened their presence in the divided city by the dispatch of additional American troops and military equipment.

After listening to this review of America’s actions, which plainly impressed him, Mayor Brandt conceded the force of my argument that it was essential for the people of West Berlin to do far more for their own [Page 357] defense. It was impossible for the United States to carry the load by itself, or to ask Britain and France to do more, if the people of West Berlin failed to make a prompt and adequate contribution to their survival in freedom.

West Berlin has a large and vibrant population; it has important economic resources; and it has the respect of the free world as it faces the Communist challenge. I urged Mayor Brandt to use the strength of West Berlin more comprehensively lest that respect be compromised as others began to do more for the divided city than the citizens were willing to do for themselves. I said it would be very helpful if we could have more British and French soldiers marching in front of the American tanks—but it would be much easier to obtain these allied contributions if West Berlin stood in the front line of its own defense.

He agreed with the broad principles of this analysis, and with the necessity of working out arrangements that would lead to a greater Berlin contribution as a course of action infinitely more preferable than public debates about past mistakes. Mayor Brandt in short was co-operative as well as chastened.

The morale of West Berlin, badly shaken and nervous, has now been restored. As important as the presence of our mission in the restoration of German respect for and confidence in American policy was the arrival of the American troops.

The single most important element in this process of restoring good relations was, beyond question, the sight of the American tanks. The impact would have been immeasurably more significant if the tanks had been new and shining models of our latest and best equipment, fully symbolic of America’s power in this jet age.

I returned from Germany with new pride in America’s leadership but with an unprecedented awareness of the responsibility which rests upon this country. The world expects so much from us, and we must measure up to the need, even while we seek more help from our allies. For if we fail or falter or default, all is lost, and freedom may never have a second chance.

Since Berlin is basically one battle—even though an important battle—in the world wide struggle between Communism and freedom, there is no single solution to the situation which confronts us. However, there are certain steps which I would recommend as a result of any conversations with leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany and with our officials who are on the scene:

It would seem imperative that we urge the other nations of the Western alliance—and specifically England, France and Germany itself—to make a greater contribution to the defense of West Berlin. This is of great importance not only because of the need for strength in that [Page 358] area but because of its effect on promoting a higher degree of unity in the Western alliance.
Plans should be made now for increasing the strength of the military forces in Berlin at intervals calculated to bolster morale which must inevitably in the months that lie ahead sag at times. In this connection, it would be extremely helpful for some of our newest and most modern tanks and other forms of “heavy” equipment such as howitzers to be brought into Berlin. The enthusiasm of the Berliners while reviewing the entry of our combat group into the city on Sunday although high at all times was noticeably higher when a few tank carriers went by.
As a further step in maintaining morale of Berliners it would be well for the countries of the Western alliance to plan now to send other high officials into Berlin for visits at appropriate times. The people of Berlin obviously feel that this is one evidence of the good faith of their allies.
Chancellor Adenauer’s unusual interest in a study of the imposition of economic sanctions should lead to a “new look” on our part at this tactic.
Every encouragement should be given to increase the West German police and adding to their training.
Careful consideration should be given to the fact of lifting some of the remaining restrictions on German military forces—possibly in progressive steps timed to serve as counter measures for Communist moves.
It would be well for the United States to quietly discourage any participation in the Leipzig Fair and to impose greater restrictions upon passes used to travel from the East into the Western zone. These steps while not important in themselves should be undertaken simply because failure to do so might give the impression that the United States is not serious in its commitments to Berlin.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Vice Presidential Security Files, VP Travel, Berlin. Secret. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 2868. For two other reports on the trip, see ibid., 1978, 209 A and 301 B. The Vice President also reported on his trip in a meeting with the President, Taylor, Rusk, Clay, Bohlen, and Bundy on August 21. A memorandum for the record of this meeting is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin. For three other accounts of the visit to Berlin, see Cates, The Ides of August, pp. 404-413 and 423-436; Bohlen, Witness to History, pp. 483-486; and Begegnungen und Einsichten, pp. 30-33.
  2. For a memorandum of Johnson’s conversation with Adenauer on August 19, see Declassified Documents, 1983, 2514; for memoranda of his conversations with Brandt on August 20, see ibid., 1976, 258 B, and 1983, 2515.
  3. See Document 117.
  4. Document 120.
  5. On August 21 Bohlen sent Secretary Rusk his report on the trip stressing that the effect on Berlin morale “was extraordinary and excellent.” (Memorandum to the Secretary; Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/8-2161; printed in part in Bohlen, Witness to History, pp. 485-486)