Did Holt intend to withdraw troops from the war in Vietnam?
Holt had met Lyndon B Johnson in Melbourne in 1942 before either man had become leaders of their respective countries. Holt’s trip to the United States in June 1966 led to a close personal relationship with Johnson who had become President. It was in a speech at the White House that Holt enthusiastically declared, ‘All the way with LBJ’, which may have played well with Americans but not with those back home in Australia who found it servile and cringe-worthy. While Menzies had wedded Australia to Great Britain, Holt had his mind towards America.
In the lead up to the only Federal election Holt would face, Johnson visited Australia to show his support. It was the first time that a US President had made the trip and Johnson was met with Vietnam War protesters who threw paint and lay in front of the President's car. Liberal stalwart Robert Askin, who was riding with Johnson, famously said, 'Run the bastards over’.
But this groundswell of protest had yet to reach its peak. Consequently, despite Holt supporting the US in the war, he still won a landslide victory against Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, who had said he would pull troops out of the conflict if elected.
As 1967 drew to a close casualty rates had almost doubled from the previous year. With no end in sight, public unrest had grown. In this clip, William McMahon and Don Chipp state that they believed Holt was considering withdrawing troops. If this was true it would not have gone down well with President Johnson’s administration. This led to the conspiracy theory that Holt had been assassinated by the CIA on Cheviot Beach.
This clip is from the documentary, The Harold Holt Mystery (1985).