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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Johnson Administration > Volume V
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume V, Vietnam 1967
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 171-186

171. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, May 10, 1967, 1230Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received at 12:37 a.m. and passed to the White House. The notation "L" on the covering note from Rostow transmitting a copy of the telegram to the President on May 11 indicates that he saw it. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, NODIS Vol. VI) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 8-15.

25260. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my second weekly telegram.

A. General

1. With the arrival of Bob Komer and General Abrams, the past week has been one of further consolidation of the Mission organization. General Westmoreland has informed me that he proposes to have General Abrams devote a major part of his time and energies to working with the Vietnamese armed forces. I think this is a wise decision and I am sure it will bear fruit. In my most recent talks with both Thieu and Ky, each has indicated certain dissatisfactions with the leadership and performance of ARVN and this in itself is a hopeful sign. Consequently, I think General Abrams can anticipate a cooperative attitude on the part of the GVN.

2. After thoroughgoing discussions with General Westmoreland and Bob Komer, I have come to the conclusion that we can most efficiently and effectively perform our role in support of pacification through a merging of the civil and military organizations under a single manager concept as embodied in NSAM 362/2/ which you have approved. With the responsibility for the program placed in COMUSMACV, and with Bob Komer as deputy for pacification, I think we should have a first rate team and should be able to achieve a maximum utilization of resources. I intend to announce these changes tomorrow and it will make it clear that I regard all official Americans in Viet-Nam as part of one team and not as part of competing civilian and military establishments; that the integrity of OCO will be maintained; and that I intend to see that the civilian part of the U.S. effort is not buried under the military. In many instances, soldiers will be working for civilians as well as the reverse; and that I intend to keep fully informed personally about all developments in this field and to hold frequent meetings with General Westmoreland and Ambassador Komer for the purpose of formulating policy (Saigon 25029)./3/

/2/Document 167.

/3/Dated May 5. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S)

3. On the political scene tensions had continued to build up. Because of the developing strain in relations between Thieu and Ky, I felt that the time had come when we might have to move into the situation in a more definite way than simply by insisting on the absolute necessity for unity among the armed forces. In this connection, as a preliminary, I asked General Westmoreland to see Thieu last Sunday./4/ He had a very good talk with Thieu (Saigon 24952)/5/ and in the meantime over the weekend leaders of the armed forces had moved into the situation themselves. As a result, the Minister of Defense, General Vien made an announcement to the press last Monday stating that the armed forces were not a political party and would have no Presidential candidate. In talks which I subsequently had with both Thieu and Ky, each expressed himself as highly pleased with the announcement (Saigon 25083 and 25233)./6/ Ky took the further step, apparently on General Vien's advice, of talking to Thieu and telling him of his intention to become a candidate./7/ These events have served to lower tensions and if the position stated by General Vien is adhered to and respected, hopefully could prove a constructive development. On the other hand, as I shall point out in more detail, it does not guarantee that we are out of the woods. The situation will have to be carefully watched and nursed.

/4/May 7.

/5/Document 163.

/6/See footnote 4, Document 166.

/7/Ky officially announced his candidacy on May 12.

B. Political

4. As I have mentioned the past week saw a rapid crystalization of the question of a military candidate for President and the related problem of the future political role of the Vietnamese military. It had become apparent that the rivalry between Thieu and Ky was undermining the unity and stability of the armed forces and a group of leading Generals decided that the issue had to be rapidly settled. An attempt to get General Thieu to withdraw was not successful and the leading Generals, including Ky but not Thieu, decided that the ARVN should not put forward a military candidate as such, for the Presidency.

5. This decision was announced by General Vien, the Chief of the Joint General Staff, on May 8. In a conversation with me on May 9, General Thieu affirmed his support for General Vien's statement. Later that day, General Ky described to me a long and frank talk that he had had the same morning with General Thieu which seems to have cleared the air somewhat. Thieu was obviously concerned about his position among "the Generals" but Ky said he reassured him of their loyalty should Thieu choose to return to a military career. Ky assured me once again that there would be no split among the military, and if the conversation with Thieu went as described, we can perhaps be more hopeful that this will not occur.

5. Ky made clear that he will be a candidate and that he will attempt a "social revolution" for Viet-Nam, which he considers vital to its future. He is obviously confident that he can win and thinks that it will be by a very respectable mandate. His comments about civilian candidates and the civilian role were not encouraging, however, since he made clear his already known skepticism regarding their motivation and capabilities. I reiterated the importance of having strong civilian representation in any slate in order to increase the votes, and provide a broader mandate particularly from the viewpoint of world opinion, and he said that he was giving this serious thought. Despite his obvious feeling about civilian candidates I am sure he got my point.

6. In trying to assess these fast-moving developments in a preliminary way, I think we can draw certain satisfaction from them. We must, however, recognize that there are many problems ahead and many potential pitfalls in the situation. The decision against having a "military" candidate represented a face-saving formula for Thieu and a means for Ky to announce his candidacy. It also without doubt represented a genuine desire on the part of some of the leading Generals to keep the army detached from the political struggle so that it can pursue its own extremely important and urgent goals. The whole sequence of events is still, to a degree, a papering-over process, however, and good will on the part of both Thieu and Ky, and their supporters, will be required to make it last. It is naturally my hope that Thieu will find satisfaction in a primarily military role in the future, but he has reserved his final position and it cannot be excluded that he may decide to team up with a civilian candidate.

7. I will be following this situation very closely and using my influence as needed to avoid serious splits either among the military or between the military and civilian elements. If we can, in fact, achieve a truly apolitical role for the armed forces during this critical period ahead, it will represent a major and positive achievement. But we must bear in mind that the biggest prize is at stake, and reason and moderation have not been the primary qualities of Vietnamese leaders in the recent past. I am always conscious of the vital importance you place on a satisfactory political outcome here and will of course continue to keep you closely informed as developments occur./8/

/8/In his third weekly report to the President, telegram 25937 from Saigon, May 17, Bunker noted that the political situation in Vietnam was continuing to deteriorate. "As you know, factionalism has long been the curse of Viet-Nam's political life and a major reason for the strength of the Communists. While part of this present process is the natural fermentation involved in sorting out new political groupings and alliances in preparation for the coming Presidential contest, many experienced observers have the impression that Viet-Nam is at least for the moment farther from a national consensus than it was even a few months ago. I think that we must have patience and do what we can quietly to influence the principals on the stage and see that these maneuvers and discussions do not go too far or too deep." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 16-21.

8. In general terms political tension in Saigon rose during the past week, with the question of the military candidate threatening divisions in the armed forces and relations between the government and the Assembly strained by several key issues in the electoral law. The uncertainty of the political situation has been increased by efforts of the militant An Quang Buddhists to exploit the peace issue.

9. The fluidity of the political situation would be cause for grave concern if it were not that virtually all of the political activity is focused on one objective--the coming elections--and also that most if not quite all of the activity is taking place roughly within the bounds of the legal constitutional framework. The new institutions are fragile, but they are already working to the extent that they are giving direction and limits to current political activity.

10. Containing political conflict within a legal frame is a basic problem here. It was the absence of such a legal frame which caused much if not most of the political instability after the fall of Diem. His government was based on a complex system of personal relationships. When the top was cut off that governmental pyramid, the whole pyramid collapsed. In our situation, in case of a similar catastrophe, our governmental structure remains intact because it is based on solid and essentially impersonal institutions; here the whole government disappears until a new complex of personal relationships can be painfully constructed--and tested--over period of time. We have here now the beginning of a governmental structure that must be made capable of surviving such disasters as the death of a chief of state.

[Here follows discussion of electoral provisions, the press campaign, political groups, the military situation, revolutionary development, economic policies, casualties, and the Chieu Hoi program.]



172. Memorandum From the President's Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 11, 1967.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Taylor Report on Overseas Operations & Misc. Memos. Secret. In a May 11 covering note to the President, Rostow wrote: "Herewith General Taylor volunteers in his own way views close to those now emerging from your other advisers." There is an indication on Rostow's note that the President saw the memorandum.

Mr. President:

I seem to sense a new wave of pessimism regarding Viet-Nam pervading official circles in Washington, apparently arising from renewed doubts about the bombing of the North and increased concern over future troop requirements to carry on the ground war in the South. For what they are worth, in this paper I would like to give you my current thoughts on the bombing.

I gather that some of your advisors, like Rice in Hong Kong,/2/ are beginning to feel that we are dangerously close to a collision with Peking or Moscow or both as a result of the escalation of our bombing. At the same time, while these risks are being run, we see no sign of "give" on the part of our opponents in Hanoi. Hence, they ask--where are we going with our bombing and where do we come out in the end?

/2/For Rice's comments, see Document 153.

These are, of course, old questions and old fears but always valid ones. Final answers are never possible since they must be based on estimates of future events and are inevitably influenced by subjective attitudes and biases. I have a lot of the latter and, hence, hold strong views on the subject.

We tend to forget our own words used in the past when we express doubts about the justification of our bombing of the North. We have said repeatedly that we have never expected the bombing to stop infiltration, only to limit it--yet in our private councils I hear the results criticized on the score that infiltration continues in spite of all our efforts and, hence, that the game really is not worth the risks and international heat which it generates.

As for the effectiveness of the bombing in restraining infiltration, I rest the case on the pictures of the Tet logistic activity showing the feverish efforts in North Viet-Nam to take advantage of a lull in the bombing. These pictures show what our bombing holds back. I do not see for the life of me how we could be justified in relaxing this brake which restrains the forces which can be brought against our men in the South. We should remind ourselves that General Westmoreland's requirement for troops assumes a continuation of the bombing and would undoubtedly increase if the bombing stopped without a compensatory reduction of enemy action.

Having defended the need for continuing the bombing, I must say that I would be cautious in extending the target system much farther. Some of our bombing advocates still think in terms of World War II and forget another fact conceded in past discussions--that there is really no industrial target system in North Viet-Nam worthy of the name and no war-supporting industry which, if destroyed, will bear importantly on the outcome of the war. Similarly, the transportation system, though subject to intermittent interruption, can never be damaged to such a point that the minimum supply requirements of combat can not reach the South.

Under these conditions, I do not think that it is worth the lives of our pilots, the loss of our planes or such political risk as may be entailed to enter heavily defended areas and strike or restrike targets which do not have a clear relationship to our bombing objectives. It would be most timely to decide what targets are truly of that class and, hence, need to be put out of action and kept out of action.

But first we have to know our objectives. I assume them still to be the restraint of infiltration and the imposition of a mounting cost on Hanoi for the continuation of the aggression in the South. But while adhering to these objectives, rather than run unreasonable political risks and accept mounting losses in pilots and planes, I would be inclined to remain at about the present level of effort and seek to increase the pressure on the enemy more by the implacable duration of the pain rather than by raising its momentary intensity. One can "escalate" in a variety of ways--expansion of targets, employment of new weapons and tactics, the accumulative increased effect of repetition. The latter form is the one I favor as we run out of clearly remunerative targets--remunerative in the sense that they contribute to our objectives without too great a cost in men and planes.

In summary, I suggest a review of all targets, those struck and those still untouched, to determine which clearly contribute to our bombing objectives as defined above--then I would direct our efforts to this remunerative target system without further thought of pausing, relenting or turning back. We must pass this test of persistence--if we do not, we will be expected to give way at every other point on every other front in this conflict. It is concession which will make the enemy tougher--not the bombing, as some of the critics allege. If we yield on the bombing issue, we can be quite sure of no future "give" by Hanoi on any important point.

Maxwell D. Taylor


173. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 15, 1967, 6:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXI. Top Secret.

Mr. President:

With respect to the Hanoi TPP:

1. Sect. McNamara is anxious that we permit attack by the four aircraft with Walleye at the earliest possible time. He fears that if we don't conduct the attack immediately, we will get into George Brown's visit to Moscow on May 18,/2/ then Buddha's birthday;/3/ etc. As you know, he is quite prepared for a cutback in our targeting pattern; but he feels that it will be very difficult to hold unless the Hanoi TPP is out, and he can claim with the JCS that all the truly significant targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area have been hit.

/2/British Foreign Secretary Brown planned to visit Moscow May 19-26. Brown told Rusk that he did not think that the Soviets would be amenable to engaging in further peace moves, especially the resumption of their role as Geneva Co-chairman, at the present time. (Memorandum of conversation, May 10; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 7 UK) In telegram 4879 from Moscow, May 12, Ambassador Thompson also agreed that any such initiative would be "unlikely" to appeal to the Soviet leadership. (Ibid., POL 27-14 VIET S) However, in a May 12 memorandum to Rusk, Cooper recommended that Brown be authorized to submit a "revised, more elastic version" of the formula to bring about talks that specifically related Hanoi's cessation of infiltration to an end in the U.S. troop build-up (and not to the initial step of a bombing halt). Rusk approved the measure. (Ibid.) On May 15 the request was transmitted to Bruce for delivery to Brown in telegram 194946 to London. (Ibid.)

/3/A military stand-down did occur on Buddha's birthday, May 23.

2. I do not know what position Sect. Rusk will take, but I do know they have been trying in the State Department to work up a way of using our cutback in targets to put some kind of direct or indirect pressure on the Russians to move us towards a settlement of the war. Such an effort does not necessarily imply that we should hold attack on the Hanoi TPP; but there could be argument that we hold that target as a "hostage." Therefore, we face tomorrow two decisions:

--Should we attack the Hanoi TPP immediately?

--What, if anything, do we tell the Russians--and when--about our proposed change in bombing pattern?

3. If we take out the Hanoi TPP, there would be some virtue in discussing with them our proposed change in bombing pattern soon thereafter, if we talk to them at all. The reason: so they read it correctly as the end of one phase of our attack on North Viet Nam and not as a symbol of a new round of escalation. Dobrynin, incidentally, is not expected back until the end of the week at the earliest.

4. The central problem in talking with the Russians is that if we tell them that we've run out of good targets and are going to stand down, generally speaking, to the 20th parallel, they may simply heave a sigh of relief that some of the pressure is off them and go about their business. They will also tell Hanoi--which is having a quite rough time--and they will also relax (see attached report)./4/ What the Russians are afraid of is a confrontation that might arise from mining Haiphong or other operations in the North that would increase the pressure on them from Hanoi and from the demonstration of their relative impotence to defend a Communist country.

/4/Not found.

5. If we say anything to them, it might be that we propose to do this for a while. We obviously cannot stop bombing unconditionally and permanently, given what is happening across the DMZ; but they have a certain amount of time in hand in which to demonstrate what they can do to bring peace without serious bombing in the Hanoi/ Haiphong area. We will be watching their efforts with interest.

In any case, I wanted you to have some feel for the issue that will be before you tomorrow at lunch.


/5/Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.


174. Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, May 16, 1967.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret.

Immediate Bombing Decisions and Disclosure to the Russians

We face the immediate issue whether to carry out an attack on the Hanoi power station, and also the immediate issue whether our bombing program thereafter will be along the lines of concentration on supply routes south of the 20th parallel, with only limited re-strikes to the north.

This memorandum deals with alternative situations or actions with or without hitting Hanoi Power.

A. If We Do Not Hit Hanoi Power

If we do not do this, but do decide to cut back along the lines stated above, we believe that word of our change in policy should be conveyed to the Russians at once./2/ This word would both describe the general nature of the program we intend to follow and contain general language urging the Soviets to use their influence to peace over the next few months. (This appeal would not be in terms of immediate action, which we believe would be less effective and in any event extremely unlikely.)

/2/In a May 15 memorandum to Rusk and the President, Harriman also strongly recommended informing the Soviets of the decision on the bombing proposal, since not to do so would undermine any incentive on the part of the Soviets to influence Hanoi toward accommodation. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Amb. Harriman-Negotiations Comm.) In a May 16 memorandum to Rusk, Kohler objected to the new round of aerial assault as he saw "no justification of this Hanoi target in which the disadvantages do not clearly outweigh the advantages" and thus advocated that the power plant be dropped permanently from the approved list. In addition, he opposed sending a "Pen Pal" letter to the Soviets explaining the motivation behind the bombing since their "immediate" reply would be a request to cease bombing. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

As to the method of communicating to the Russians, the minimum would appear to be Thompson to Kuznetsov or Gromyko. But we might consider urgently a personal letter from the President to Kosygin, which we believe might be stronger and tend to fortify the position of those in Moscow who may be in a more moderate frame of mind. In either case, the action should be taken at once, so that it registers in Moscow during the deliberations of this week and prior to Dobrynin's return, which we now understand will not be until early next week at the earliest.

B. If We Do Hit Hanoi Power

If this action stands alone during the Soviet deliberations of this week, we would have major concern that it would solidify the Kremlin in a harder line on Vietnam and perhaps other issues. Moreover, if this harder line is then registered here by Dobrynin, any subsequent change in policy would have the most undesirable effect in appearing to be a yielding to pressure. Finally, George Brown's mission to Moscow would be seriously undercut, and the results could be serious on our relationship to Brown and the British, which must now be considered progressively more shaky and worrisome. (Brown arrives in Moscow Friday.)/3/

/3/May 19.

To meet all these points, we urge the following actions to accompany any decision to hit Hanoi Power:

1. The attack should be carried out just as rapidly as possible, and indeed the authority might be limited to the next 2-3 nights.

2. Concurrent with the decision, the firm decision should be reached to cut back thereafter along the lines stated above.

3. Based on this pair of decisions, we should plan to notify the Soviets and Brown of our intended future course of action, not later than Friday.

a. Message to the Soviets. In the context of an immediately preceding attack on Hanoi Power, we do not believe that it would be useful to urge the Soviets in this message to take action toward peace. Such a message would be left to the conversations with Dobrynin on his return. The reason is that we believe a message immediately after the attack would contain an element of immediately preceding threat to the Soviets. Thus, the Friday message to the Soviets would be confined to a statement of the course of action we propose to follow, which we thought they should know for their information.

b. For Brown. For the more general purpose of keeping Brown and the British under control, we believe they should be informed of the two decisions either at once, or at least immediately after the Hanoi strike is executed. This could mean Brown being told of the second decision before the Soviets, and we would of course tell him that we were not giving him this information to pass to the Soviets, but expected to do this ourselves on Friday prior to his talks.

4. From a public standpoint, we have always considered that the new policy might be made clear and public in any event. On the timing of this, we must consider Senator Cooper's line in the Senate yesterday, which may well be much reinforced once we hit Hanoi Power. Moreover, there is the further element that the Pacem in Terris meeting takes place in Geneva on May 28-31./4/ If this meeting--with U Thant in a leading role--takes place against a backdrop of a Hanoi Power strike and no indication of change in our policy, it could result in really major noises, joined in by many responsible leaders present, to have us stop the bombing altogether. Hence, this argues strongly for a clear public disclosure of the new policy early next week at the latest.

/4/This convocation of leading international figures and scholars convened on May 29 in order to discuss the easing of international tensions and was especially concerned with the peaceful resolution of the Vietnam war. See Ashmore and Baggs, Mission to Hanoi, pp. 88-99.

C. If We Decide To Hit Hanoi Power, But Are Not Able To Do So May 17-19, Vietnam Time

The Brown visit and the Pacem in Terris meeting seem to us to pre-

sent a truly serious political picture if we should hit Hanoi Power at any time between the 20th and the 31st, Vietnam time. These are not simply normal political events, but could involve repercussions having the most serious effect on our relations with the Soviets, with the British, and with wide circles in this country and abroad.

In a nutshell, if we hit Hanoi Power while Brown is in Moscow, without notice to him, he would regard his whole mission as nullified and destroyed, and the adverse British reaction generally would be doubled in volume and in its serious implications for the whole UK position. We have to reckon with possible dramatic psychological negative effects on British decisions East of Suez. The effect of the Hong Kong crisis is less clear, but it could add a further touch driving the British into a totally "hands-off" and even neutral position on Vietnam and Asia.

The danger from Pacem in Terris is more general, and if that factor stood alone it might not be decisive. But it adds a further element affecting the dates between the 28th and 31st. If we hit during that time, the Geneva meeting would undoubtedly turn into a boiling debate on our bombing, with sharply adverse judgments from U Thant and many others, under the klieg lights of the world press.

In short, we believe Hanoi Power simply must be deferred at least until after the 31st if it cannot be carried out between May 17 and May 19, Vietnam time. If the strike should be carried out after the 31st, we should by then have received Dobrynin's message, and could then consider our disclosure to the Russians of the new policy in the light of that message. We would have lost the advantage of anticipating Dobrynin's return, and the best we could do would be to say that Hanoi Power was part of a total package of attacks, long deferred while we thought there was some possibility of movement in Hanoi and the exercise of Russian influence. We could try to the maximum to depict our decisions as logical and consistent, and thus not in response to any hard tone in Dobrynin's message. But the effect on the Soviets would certainly be more mixed, and any possibility of their taking constructive action in the next few months would be at least reduced./5/

/5/Presumably the decision to authorize the RT 56 bombings occurred at the regular Tuesday Luncheon held from 1:10 p.m. through 3:25 p.m. The President, Rusk, Rostow, McNamara, Humphrey, Helms, Wheeler, and Christian were in attendance. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found.

W. P. Bundy/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that indicates Bundy signed the original.

175. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, May 19, 1967.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret.

Bombing Policy and Possible Communication with the Soviets

On bombing policy, the issue remains whether to cut back to the supply routes, with only enough strikes to the North to keep AA in place and to hit really key targets. Secretary McNamara last night told me that he would define the re-strike situation as applying only to those targets that become newly important or that have come back into operation. No one can say what it would take to keep the AA pinned down; General Wheeler has given the judgment that a move south would start at once if we let our policy become known and even if it emerged only by deeds. I come out that we have a reasonably clear picture of what "limited re-strikes" would mean, and that this is sufficiently clear for any communication we make to the Russians, even though it may need somewhat further refinement among ourselves.

The Wheeler alternative, explained this morning,/2/ would be as follows:

/2/Wheeler, Eugene Rostow, Vance, Helms, Bundy, and Walt Rostow met to discuss the cutback as proposed in the McNamara-Vance memorandum of May 9, Document 169. Eugene Rostow sent a memorandum to Rusk on the same day describing the meeting. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

a. Much heavier armed reconnaissance in Route Package 6.

b. Continued attacks on fixed targets, including bridges, road and rail lines, depots, dumps, and POL--but not including "marginal fixed targets" such as chemical and cement plants. General Wheeler does agree that we have "run out of big targets," so that to this extent the hitting of fixed targets would have less dramatic public impact.

c. For both armed reconnaissance and previously struck fixed targets, Wheeler would reduce the present 30-mile circle around Hanoi to ten miles and the present 10-mile circle around Haiphong to four miles. This would open up road and rail lines in these areas to armed reconnaissance attacks, and would permit re-strikes on previously struck targets without express authorization. Within the 10- and 4-mile limits, express authorization would continue to be required. General Wheeler appears to believe that there will not be many requests for targets within the new "envelopes" and said at one point that he would not urge re-strikes within these areas unless there were specific military activity.

d. In view of the heavy activity necessarily involved in this program, General Wheeler insists that it must include heavy attacks on all airfields, including Phuc Yen and Gia Lam.

In addition, as a possible expression of his maximum desires, General Wheeler urges:

e. A combination of mining and bombing against Haiphong. He stated that the over-all program of attacks on road and rail lines "makes less sense" unless we also hit Haiphong.

Analysis of Wheeler Alternative

Excluding the Haiphong element (e.), the program would have significantly less dramatic impact than the major target strikes of the past month. Nonetheless, hard attacks on airfields would cancel this out, and create a continuing impression that we were hammering away hard. The program really equates, without Haiphong, to Option B in my previous analysis, which I attach for its listing of factors against that Option./3/

/3/Document 170.

The discussion this morning did not sound as though General Wheeler and the JCS could quickly be brought to accept the program we have all been considering. Secretary McNamara strongly wants a decision if one can be made. You will wish to talk with him, I think, as to how you and he might present the matter. The major difficulty I see in the Wheeler alternative, apart from its sheer volume, is that General Wheeler regards attacks on the airfields as absolutely essential, and these are what most of all would contribute to a general impression that we had not cut back at all.


General Wheeler argues the following:

a. A marked cutback would be "an aerial Dien Bien Phu," tending away from peace especially in terms of Hanoi's attitude.

b. High losses in attacks on the North are more than compensated by the value of the targets there.

c. AA will move south at once when the program becomes clear.

d. Any cutdown in LOC attacks anywhere increases the flow.

e. The focus is already in the South (7300 out of 9000 sorties in the past two months), and any increased effort would encounter dispersal and increased defenses so that it would have marginal effectiveness.

e. A clear cutdown would have a serious adverse reaction among our military forces on the ground, and especially among our pilots, and he believes would have the same effect on the American people.

In reply, we have pointed out:

a. Heavy attacks on the road and rail lines (which Wheeler concedes are now limited because Sharp and others simply do not think they are worth it unless we hit Haiphong) simply cannot really cut the flow of the needed quantities of matériel to the south. At most such attacks make Hanoi pay a steady price in terms of effort and dislocation.

b. Even though a cutback does not have much immediate chance of producing any move toward peace by the Soviets or Hanoi, it could at least make less likely any marked additional Soviet decisions. At some point, the climate would exist for constructive Soviet effort.

c. The generalized costs at home and abroad in terms of criticism.

The counter-arguments are of course spelled out in clear detail in my earlier memorandum, and the capability factors are covered in Secretary McNamara's memorandum.

On timing, we have two new elements. George Brown is delaying his departure from London for at least 48 hours (this is from the Embassy this morning). And Dobrynin has told Thompson that he might not be back until just before Thompson arrives here on June 1.

The first of these means that we could hit Hanoi power again tonight, and DoD seems resolved to do this. The second of these means that we might have a few more days in which to affect the Soviet decision-making process.

If a decision is reached on the cutback program today, we could then foreshadow this to Brown in any event, and we could consider whether to tell the Soviets./4/ On the latter, I find Thompson's cable enigmatic./5/ Certainly it argues against putting much emphasis on Soviet action for peace into our message. Thompson appears to come out in favor of a simple information message, through a letter from the President to Kosygin.

/4/ In telegram 197662 to Moscow, May 18, the Department requested Thompson's opinion on how to deal with the Soviet reaction to the impending air strikes, noting that it was considering conveying to the Soviets that the intended raid was an anomaly. The United States had held off such attacks in order to give North Vietnam a chance to move closer to negotiations, but since Hanoi's response to the overtures in April had been negative, the United States felt that it had no choice but to resume. However, the United States afterwards would not launch attacks above the 20th parallel. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

/5/Thompson replied in telegram 5009 from Moscow, May 19, that he agreed with restricting the bombing to south of the 20th parallel, but informing the Soviets while Brown was in Moscow would cause them to believe that the attack was "another case of our using initiative for peace to cover escalation." He advocated a direct letter from the President to Kosygin, whether or not the power plant was to be hit. Thompson questioned whether the target justified the risk. (Ibid., POL 27-14 VIET/SUNFLOWER) At lunch with Thompson the next day, Dobrynin described his inability to explain why the United States had resumed bombing, especially given Kosygin's statements in London, which in his opinion were "not made out of thin air." Thompson replied that the concentration of NVA troops at the DMZ was "one important reason." (Telegram 5015 from Moscow; ibid.) The letter from Johnson to Kosygin calling on the Soviet Premier to join with the President in addressing pressing issues such as Vietnam, the Middle East, Cuba, deployment of ballistic missiles, and the nonproliferation treaty, is in telegram 198583 to Moscow, May 19. (Ibid., POL US-USSR)

Accordingly, I attach as Tab C/6/ a revision of the Rostow draft, incorporating your own changes and including additional language stating the new bombing policy.

/6/Not found.

If the bombing policy decision is not reached this afternoon, the Kosygin letter might still stand, but without the additional material.

If we hit Hanoi power again tonight, Thompson would say not to send the letter at once. I would think Monday/7/ was right in this event, and perhaps in any case.

/7/May 22.



176. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 19, 1967, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 2EE Primarily McNamara Recommendations. Top Secret; Literally Eyes Only. An attached covering note indicates that the President wanted the memorandum placed into his night reading; the notation "L" on the note indicates that the President saw this memorandum.

Mr. President:

The bombing issue is item 3 at 5:00 p.m./2/ It is, as you well know, both an emotional and technical issue. There are dangerously strong feelings in your official family which tend to overwhelm the strictly military factors.

/2/The President met with Rusk, McNamara, and Rostow (with Christian taking notes), 5:38-6:59 p.m., to discuss Vietnam. (Ibid., President's Daily Dairy) No notes of the meeting have been found, but presumably a decision was reached to attack the Hanoi power station and the Van Dien Army Supply Depot.


Sect. Rusk feels the diplomatic cost of bombing Hanoi-Haiphong overwhelms whatever the military advantage might be; but has not devised--nor can he guarantee--a diplomatic payoff for moving the bombing pattern to the south.

Sect. McNamara feels the domestic and diplomatic cost is enormous; and believes Hanoi-Haiphong bombing is not cost-effective, if effectiveness is measured against Communist operations in the South. And that is how he thinks it should be measured.

General Wheeler feels a withdrawal from Hanoi-Haiphong bombing would stir deep resentment at home, among our troops, and be regarded by the Communists as an aerial Dien Bien Phu. He argues there is net military advantage in hitting Hanoi-Haiphong targets; but finds it hard to make a firm, lucid case because none of us really knows what the cumulative and indirect effects of the bombing are around Hanoi-Haiphong, except that they are making one hell of a military and political effort to try to make us stop. General Wheeler wants to keep the pressure up via armed recce in the North plus attacks on airfields.

In a curious way, all three are arguing negatively: Sect. Rusk to avoid diplomatic costs; Sect. McNamara to avoid (primarily) domestic political and psychological costs; Gen. Wheeler to avoid a different set of (primarily) domestic political and psychological costs.


So much for sentiments. The question is what kind of scenario can hold our family together in ways that look after the nation's interests and make military sense.

I propose the following.

1. After we have taken out Hanoi TPP,/3/ we cut back radically on attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong area for several weeks.

/3/ The Hanoi thermal power plant, the largest in North Vietnam producing 20 percent of national capacity and only a mile from Hanoi's center, was bombed on May 19. The initial strike failed to destroy the facility. Within 3 days all strikes within the Hanoi restricted zone were prohibited; a day-long stand-down occurred on Buddha's birthday (May 23). In addition to the air escalation, Operation Hickory, involving search-and-destroy operations into the southern side of the DMZ, began on this date. Additional documentation on Operation Hickory is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Operation Hickory. Also, on May 18 U.S. and ARVN forces entered into the southern portion of the DMZ to conduct search-and-destroy operations.

2. At that time, picking up from Soviet pressure on this issue (illustrated, for example, by Tommy's lunch with Dobrynin, reported in the attached message),/4/ we tell Moscow:

/4/Thompson's discussion with Dobrynin is reported in telegram 4590 from Moscow, April 25. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

--We shall not be doing Hanoi-Haiphong bombing for a little while, but we must, of course, continue bombing north of the DMZ;

--We shall enter no commitments about the future; but they have a matter of, say, 2 or 3 weeks to deliver something by way of negotiations.

3. We would do this in greatest confidence with the Soviet Union. At home we might say we are concentrating in support of the DMZ operation; but without attacking airfields, we might continue some armed recce outside the Hanoi-Haiphong circle (which Bus Wheeler is willing to accept), in order to keep down speculation.

4. In this interval we do careful planning and analysis, reexamining all the intelligence, and decide how we should continue to bomb most economically and effectively in the northern part of North Viet Nam, should nothing come of diplomacy in this interval.

5. We should include, in this period of study and reflection, both the mining of the ports (and attack on other import routes) at one extreme; and we should look also at the policy of not resuming attacks in the northern part of North Viet Nam. And, of course, we should also look at all the possibilities in between. At the minimum we must provide for sufficient pressure for them not to shift anti-aircraft South or to rebuild the power grid.

6. By that time we should be close to the period when Bob McNamara and Bus Wheeler return from Viet Nam with whatever manpower recommendations they may then have. We could then reexamine our future bombing policy in the light of the total policy you then adopt towards the next phase of the war in Viet Nam.

7. Comment: This scenario would give:

--Sect. Rusk and Sect. McNamara a break in what they feel is a dangerous pattern of progressive bombing escalation;

--Sect. Rusk and the State Department a chance to prove if they can buy anything important to us through diplomacy at this time.

--General Wheeler would get a temporary rather than a permanent change of bombing pattern, with the opportunity to refine his case and make it to you in, say, a month's time.

8. It is at about that stage--when both manpower and bombing recommendations might be coming to you--that you might wish to call in McCloy, Bundy, etc., as you suggested the other day.



177. Draft Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 19, 1967.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 2EE Primarily McNamara Recommendations. Top Secret. Prepared by McNaughton. A notation indicates that the President saw the memorandum. A typed disclaimer at the top of the first page reads: "first rough draft; data and 'estimates' here have not been checked." The Draft Presidential Memorandum (DPM) was a bureaucratic mechanism for circulating ideas and eliciting views and opinions from senior policymakers. Omitted portions of this DPM are printed in The Pentagon Papers, The Senator Gravel Edition, Vol. IV, pp. 477-489.

Future Actions in Vietnam

General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharp have requested 200,000 additional men (100,000 as soon as possible with the remainder probably required in FY 1969) and 13 additional tactical air squadrons for South Vietnam. The program they propose would require Congressional action authorizing a call-up of the Reserves, the addition of approximately 500,000 men to our military forces, and an increase of approximately $10 billion in the FY 68 Defense budget. It would involve the virtual certainty of irresistible pressures for ground actions against "sanctuaries" in Cambodia and Laos; for intensification of the air campaign against North Vietnam; for the blockage of rail, road, and sea imports into North Vietnam; and ultimately for invasion of North Vietnam to control infiltration routes. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that these operations may cause the Soviet Union and/or Red China to apply military pressure against us in other places of the world, such as in Korea or Western Europe. They therefore believe it essential that we also take steps to prepare to face such hostile military pressures. The purpose of this paper is to examine the recommendations of our military commanders and to consider alternative courses of action./2/

/2/In a memorandum the next day, McNamara requested that the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretaries of the Navy and Air Force analyze the alternatives he had presented (concentrating bombing in the panhandle of North Vietnam or expanding strikes against lines of communication while restricting attacks against unassociated fixed targets and possibly limiting importation capabilities through the ports) especially in terms of their respective impacts upon interdiction, aircraft and pilot loss, and the risk of furthering Soviet or Chinese involvement. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Reading File, May 13-18, 1967) In a May 20 memorandum to the President, Rostow described the DPM as "a reaction against the JCS position as he understands it and projects it--a reaction that goes a bit too far." He lauded the emphasis on the internal security situation in South Vietnam but believed that additional manpower would be necessary; he also favored continued bombing in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 2EE Primarily McNamara Recommendations) In a May 22 memorandum to Helms, Vance, and Bundy, Rostow described an "intermediate strategy" between the positions of the JCS and that put forth in the DPM. He recommended more troops specifically to secure the demilitarized zone and to assist pacification by operating against Communist forces at the provincial level. His program would include a bolstered anti-infiltration effort and greater selectivity in the bombing of the North, as well as the creation of a contingency reserve force. (Ibid., Vol. LXXI, Memos (A))

This memorandum is written at a time when there appears to be no attractive course of action. The probabilities are that Hanoi has decided not to negotiate until the American electorate has been heard in November 1968. Continuation of our present moderate policy, while avoiding a larger war, will not change Hanoi's mind, so is not enough to satisfy the American people; increased force levels and actions against the North are likewise unlikely to change Hanoi's mind, and are likely to get us in even deeper in Southeast Asia and into a serious confrontation, if not war, with China and Russia; and we are not willing to yield. So we must choose among imperfect alternatives.

This memorandum will first assess the current situation; second, analyze the military alternatives that seem to be open to us in connection with General Westmoreland's request for more troops and in connection with military action against North Vietnam; third, consider the diplomatic and political options available to us; and, finally, make recommendations.

[Here follows a brief table of contents.]


A. United States

The Vietnam war is unpopular in this country. It is becoming increasingly unpopular as it escalates--causing more American casualties, more fear of its growing into a wider war, more privation of the domestic sector, and more distress at the amount of suffering

being visited on the non-combatants in Vietnam, South and North. Most Americans do not know how we got where we are, and most, without knowing why, but taking advantage of hindsight, are convinced that somehow we should not have gotten this deeply in. All want the war ended and expect their President to end it. Successfully. Or else.

This state of mind in the US generates impatience in the political structure of the United States. It unfortunately also generates patience in Hanoi. (It is commonly supposed that Hanoi will not give anything away pending the trial of the US elections in November 1968.)

B. South Vietnam

The "big war" in the South between the US and the North Vietnamese military units (NVA) is going well. We staved off military defeat in 1965; we gained the military initiative in 1966; and since then we have been hurting the enemy badly, spoiling some of his ability to strike. "In the final analysis," General Westmoreland said, "we are fighting a war of attrition." In that connection, the enemy has been losing between 1500 and 2000 killed-in-action a week, while we and the South Vietnamese have been losing 175 and 250 respectively. The VC/NVA 287,000-man order of battle is leveling off, and General Westmoreland believes that, as of March, we "reached the cross-over point"--we began attriting more men than Hanoi can recruit or infiltrate each month. The concentration of NVA forces across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the enemy use of long-range artillery are matters of concern. There are now four NVA divisions in the DMZ area. The men infiltrate directly across the western part of the DMZ, and supplies swing around through the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The NVA apparently plans to nibble at our forces, seeking to inflict heavy casualties, perhaps to stage a "spectacular" (perhaps against Quang Tri City or Hue), and/or to try a major thrust into the Western Highlands. They are forcing us to transfer some forces from elsewhere in Vietnam to the I Corps area.

Throughout South Vietnam, supplies continue to flow in ample quantities, with Cambodia becoming more and more important as a supply base--now of food and medicines, perhaps ammunition later. The enemy retains the ability to initiate both large- and small-scale attacks. Small-scale attacks in the first quarter of 1967 are running at double the 1966 average; larger-scale attacks are again on the increase after falling off substantially in 1966. Acts of terrorism and harassment have continued at about the same rate.

The over-all troop strengths of friendly and VC/NVA forces by Corps Area are shown in Attachments I and II./3/

/3/Not printed are attachments comprised of charts of enemy and friendly strength, combat battalions of both sides, and projected troop deployments.

All things considered, there is consensus that we are no longer in danger of losing this war militarily.

Regrettably, the "other war" against the VC is still not going well. Corruption is widespread. Real government control is confined to enclaves. There is rot in the fabric. Our efforts to enliven the moribund political infrastructure have been matched by VC efforts--more now through coercion than was formerly the case. So the VC are hurting badly too. In the Delta, because of the redeployment of some VC/NVA troops to the area north of Saigon, the VC have lost their momentum and appear to be conducting essentially a holding operation. On the government side there, the tempo of operations has been correspondingly low. The population remains apathetic, and many local government officials seem to have working arrangements with the VC which they are reluctant to disturb.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) continues to control large parts of South Vietnam, and there is little evidence that the revolutionary development program is gaining any momentum. The Army of South Vietnam (ARVN) is tired, passive and accommodation-prone, and is moving too slowly if at all into pacification work.

The enemy no doubt continues to believe that we will not be able to translate our military success in the "big war" into the desired "end products"--namely, broken enemy morale and political achievements by the Government of Vietnam (GVN). At the same time, the VC must be concerned about decline in morale among their ranks. Defections, which averaged 400 per week last year, have, until a slump near the end of April, been running at more than 1000 a week; very few defectors, however, are important people.

[Here follows discussion of Vietnamese politics and rice imports.]

C. North Vietnam

Hanoi's attitude towards negotiations has never been soft nor open-minded. Any concession on their part would involve an enormous loss of face. Whether or not the Polish and Burchett-Kosygin initiatives had much substance to them, it is clear that Hanoi's attitude currently is hard and rigid. They seem uninterested in a political settlement and determined to match US military expansion of the conflict. This change probably reflects these factors: (1) increased assurances of help from the Soviets received during Pham Van Dong's April trip to Moscow; (2) arrangements providing for the unhindered passage of matériel from the Soviet Union through China; and (3) a decision to wait for the results of the US elections in 1968. Hanoi appears to have concluded that she cannot secure her objectives at the conference table and has reaffirmed her strategy of seeking to erode our ability to remain in the South. The Hanoi leadership has apparently decided that it has no choice but to submit to the increased bombing. There continues to be no sign that the bombing has reduced Hanoi's will to resist or her ability to ship the necessary supplies south. Hanoi shows no signs of ending the large war and advising the VC to melt into the jungles. The North Vietnamese believe they are right; they consider the Ky regime to be puppets; they believe the world is with them and that the American public will not have staying power against them. Thus, although they may have factions in the regime favoring different approaches, they believe that, in the long run, they are stronger than we are for the purpose. They probably do not want to make significant concessions, and could not do so without serious loss of face.

D. International

Most interested governments and individuals appear to assume that the possibility of initiating negotiations has declined over the last several months. Following the failure of Kosygin's efforts while in London, the Soviets apparently have been unwilling to use whatever influence they may have in Hanoi to persuade North Vietnam to come to the conference table while the bombing continues.

The dominant Soviet objectives seem to continue to be to avoid direct involvement in the military conflict and to prevent Vietnam from interfering with other aspects of Soviet-American relations, while supporting Hanoi to an extent sufficient to maintain Soviet prestige in International Communism.

China remains largely preoccupied with its own Cultural Revolution. The Peking Government continues to advise Hanoi not to negotiate and continues to resist Soviet efforts to forge a united front in defense of North Vietnam. There is no reason to doubt that China would honor its commitment to intervene at Hanoi's request, and it remains likely that Peking would intervene on her own initiative if she believed that the existence of the Hanoi regime was at stake.

Whether, apart from Vietnam, China is or soon will be a military threat in the Far East is an interesting question. The current chaos in China certainly bears on the point, as does an analysis of China's history, interests and capabilities. This point is addressed below at page 17./4/

/4/On page 17, not printed, McNamara contended that the Chinese threat to the region and Asia in general had been met. As a result, he foresaw little difficulty in containing Chinese expansionism in the future.


Against North Vietnam, an expansion of the bombing program (Rolling Thunder 56) was approved mid-April. Before it was approved, General Wheeler said, "The bombing campaign is reaching the point where we will have struck all worthwhile fixed targets except the ports. At this time we will have to address the requirement to deny the DRV the use of the ports." With its approval, excluding the port areas, no major military targets remain to be struck in the North. All that remains are minor targets, restrikes of certain major targets, and armed reconnaissance of the lines of communication (LOCs)--and, under new principles, mining the harbors, bombing dikes and locks, and invading North Vietnam with land armies. These new military moves against North Vietnam, together with land movements into Laos and Cambodia, are now under consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For South Vietnam, General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharp have requested 200,000 additional men (4-2/3 divisions, or 42 additional maneuver battalions; one-half as soon as possible with the remainder required probably in FY 1969) and 13 additional tactical air squadrons. The previously approved program--Program 4--called for General Westmoreland to have 87 maneuver battalions (460,000 men) by December of this year, with late arrivals bringing the number of troops to 470,000 by June 1968. (The "approved" and requested forces are shown in detail in Attachment III.)

The new request would increase the total of US forces in Vietnam to 670,000 and the total in the area to 770,000. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have acted on one-half of this request, recommending that it be approved immediately; they are now addressing the second half and the possibility of additional deployments and force increases beyond the 200,000 requested by General Westmoreland. It is the opinion of the JCS that fulfillment of half or all the request would require calling up Reserves, probably in August of this year. Taking account of the fact that Reserves must be returned to civilian life in a short period of time and that Reserves or their equivalent are needed as insurance against trouble elsewhere in the world, we would at the time of the Reserve call-up have to start immediately to add approximately 200,000 to the active forces to serve as replacements for the Reserves, and approximately 100,000 to the forces needed to train and support the additional forces. The impact of deploying the 200,000 additional troops to Vietnam, therefore, would mean a Reserve call-up, an eventual increase of approximately 500,000 in military strength (from 3,600,000 to 4,100,000), and an increase in the Defense budget for FY 1968 of approximately $10 billion.

In this setting, we have two alternative military courses of action:

Course A. Grant the request and intensify military actions outside the South--especially against the North. Add a minimum of 200,000 men--100,000 (2-1/3 divisions plus 5 tactical air squadrons) would be deployed in FY 1968, another 100,000 (another 2-1/3 divisions and 8 tactical air squadrons) in FY 1969, and possibly more later to fulfill the JCS ultimate requirement for Vietnam and associated world-wide contingencies. Accompanying these force increases (as spelled out below) would be greatly intensified military actions outside South Vietnam--including in Laos and Cambodia but especially against the North.

Course B. Limit force increases to no more than 30,000; avoid extending the ground conflict beyond the borders of South Vietnam; and concentrate the bombing on the infiltration routes south of 20 degrees. Unless the military situation worsens dramatically, add no more than 9 battalions to the approved program of 87 battalions. This course would result in a level of no more than 500,000 men (instead of the currently planned 470,000) on December 31, 1968. (See Attachment IV for details.) A part of this course would be a termination of bombing in the Red River basin unless military necessity required it, and a concentration of all sorties in North Vietnam on the infiltration routes in the neck of North Vietnam, between 17 degrees and 20 degrees.

A. Analysis of Course A

Course A would be chosen with a view to bringing additional military pressure to bear on the enemy in the South while continuing to carry out our present missions not directly related to combating enemy main-force units. It would involve accepting the risk--the virtual certainty--that the action, especially the Reserve call-up, would stimulate irresistible pressures in the United States for further escalation against North Vietnam, and for ground actions against "sanctuaries" in Cambodia and Laos.


Proponents of the added deployments in the South believe that such deployments will hasten the end of the war. None of them believes that the added forces are needed to avoid defeat; few of them believe that the added forces are required to do the military job in due course; all of the proponents believe that they are needed if that job is to be done faster. The argument is that we avoided military defeat in 1965; that we gained the military initiative in 1966, since then hurting the enemy badly, spoiling much of his ability to strike, and thus diminishing the power he could project over the population; and that even more-vigorous military initiative against his main forces and base areas will hurt him more, spoil his efforts more, and diminish his projected power more than would be the case under presently approved force-deployment levels. This, the argument goes, will more readily create an environment in South Vietnam in which our pacification efforts can take root and thrive; at the same time--because of our progress in the South and because of the large enemy losses--it will more rapidly produce a state of mind in Hanoi conducive to ending the war on reasonable terms.

Estimates by the proponents vary as to how long the job will take without, and with, the additional forces. General Westmoreland has said that without the additions the war could go on five years. He has said that with 100,000 more men, the war could go on for three years and that with 200,000 more men it could go on for two. These estimates are after taking account of his view that the introduction of a non-professional force, such as that which would result from fulfilling the requirement by calling Reserves, would cause some degradation of morale, leadership and effectiveness.

[Here follows discussion of five issues in the form of questions and answers. McNamara did not expect the enlargement of the military through an expanded draft and reserve call-up in order to obtain the 200,000 reinforcements for Vietnam, and the attendant casualties, to lead to "massive civil disobedience." A more efficient use of troops already in country would not provide sufficient numbers to make unnecessary the additional deployment. The new troops would not be able to make a significant difference in the military situation since the enemy controlled the pace of battle. In addition, the North Vietnamese could match any U.S. build-up. Last, a large deployment would generate "irresistible domestic pressures" for an expansion of the war.]

Bombing Purposes and Payoffs

Our bombing of North Vietnam was designed to serve three purposes:

--(1) To retaliate and to lift the morale of the people in the South who were being attacked by agents of the North.

--(2) To add to the pressure on Hanoi to end the war.

--(3) To reduce the flow and/or to increase the cost of infiltrating men and matériel from North to South.

We cannot ignore that a limitation on bombing will cause serious psychological problems among the men, officers and commanders, who will not be able to understand why we should withhold punishment from the enemy. General Westmoreland said that he is "frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing program." But this reason for attacking North Vietnam must be scrutinized carefully. We should not bomb for punitive reasons if it serves no other purpose--especially if analysis shows that the actions may be counterproductive. It costs American lives; it creates a backfire of revulsion and opposition by killing civilians; it creates serious risks; it may harden the enemy.

[Here follows McNamara's argument that the current program of bombing had failed to break the will of North Vietnam to carry out its struggle or to reduce the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam. An escalation of the air attacks, mining North Vietnamese harbors, or invading the North would only bring more American pilot losses and create a devastating public image of the U.S. Government. This expansion of the war would likely bring a reaction from the Communist bloc, not only in Southeast Asia but in other trouble spots of the world.]

Those are the likely costs and risks of Course A. They are, we believe, both unacceptable and unnecessary. Ground action in North Vietnam, because of its escalatory potential, is clearly unwise despite the open invitation and temptation posed by enemy troops operating freely back and forth across the DMZ. Yet we believe that, short of threatening and perhaps toppling the Hanoi regime itself, pressure against the North will, if anything, harden Hanoi's unwillingness to talk and her settlement terms if she does. China, we believe, will oppose settlement throughout. We believe that there is a chance that the Soviets, at the brink, will exert efforts to bring about peace; but we believe also that intensified bombing and harbor-mining, even if coupled with political pressure from Moscow, will neither bring Hanoi to negotiate nor affect North Vietnam's terms.

B. Analysis of Course B

As of March 18, 1967, the approved US Force Structure (Program 4) for Southeast Asia provided for 87 maneuver battalions, 42 air squadrons, and a total strength of 468,000 men. Based on current forecasts of enemy strength, under Course B it should not be necessary to approve now for deployment more than 9 of the 24 available maneuver battalions and none of the air squadrons--a total of approximately 30,000 men including appropriate land and sea support forces (see Attachment III).

This approach would be based, first, on General Westmoreland's statement that "without [his requested]/5/ forces, we will not be in danger of being defeated, . . . but progress will be slowed down," and General Wheeler's support of that view. General Wheeler added, "We won't lose the war, but it will be a longer one." It would be based, second, on the fact that no one argues that the added forces will probably cause the war to end in less than two years. Course B implies a conviction that neither military defeat nor military victory is in the cards, with or without the large added deployments, and that the price of the large added deployments and the strategy of Course A will be to expand the war dangerously. Course B is designed to improve the negotiating environment within a limited deployment of US forces by combining continuous attacks against VC/NVA main force units with slow improvements in pacification (which may follow the new constitution, the national reconciliation proclamation, our added efforts and the Vietnamese elections this fall) and a restrained program of actions against the North.

/5/Brackets in the source text.

This alternative would give General Westmoreland 96 maneuver battalions--an 85 per cent increase in combat force over the 52 battalions that he had in Vietnam in June of last year, and 22 per cent more than the 79 we had there at the beginning of this year. According to this report, we have already passed the "cross-over point," where the enemy's losses exceed his additions; we will soon have in Vietnam 200,000 more US troops than there are in enemy main force units. We should therefore, without added deployments, be able to maintain the military initiative, especially if US troops in less-essential missions (such as in the Delta and in pacification duty)/6/ are considered strategic reserves.

/6/[Omitted here is a footnote in the source text in which McNamara pointed out that the bulk of the first 100,000 troops would be assigned to the pacification effort in the Mekong Delta region. He questioned the necessity for employing American troops in an area where there was no external threat to the GVN's security since almost all of the enemy force there consisted of indigenous insurgents.]

The strategy of proponents of Course B is based on their belief that we are in a military situation that cannot be changed materially by expanding our military effort, that the politico-pacification situation in South Vietnam will improve but not fast, and that (in view of all this) Hanoi will not capitulate soon. An aspect of the strategy is a "cool" drive to settle the war--a deliberate process on three fronts: Large unit, politico-pacification, and diplomatic. Its approach on the large-unit front is to maintain the initiative that "Program 4-plus" forces will permit, to move on with pacification efforts and with the national election in September, and to lay the groundwork by periodic peace probes, perhaps suggesting secret talks associated with limitation of bombing and with a view to finding a compromise involving, inter alia, a role in the South for members of the VC.

This alternative would not involve US or Vietnamese forces in any numbers in Laos or Cambodia, and definitely not in North Vietnam. Since the US Reserves would still be untapped, they would still be available for use later in Asia, or elsewhere, if it became necessary.

Bombing Program

The bombing program that would be a part of this strategy is, basically, a program of concentration of effort on the infiltration routes near the south of North Vietnam. The major infiltration-related targets in the Red River basin having been destroyed, such interdiction is now best served by concentration of all effort in the southern neck of North Vietnam. All of the sorties would be flown in the area between 17 degrees and 20 degrees. This shift, despite possible increases in anti-aircraft capability in the area, should reduce the pilot and aircraft loss rates by more than 50 per cent. The shift will, if anything, be of positive military value to General Westmoreland while taking some steam out of the popular effort in the North.

The above shift of bombing strategy, now that almost all major targets have been struck in the Red River basin, can to [enables] military advantage [to] be made at any time. It should not be done for the sole purpose of getting Hanoi to negotiate, although that might be a bonus effect. To maximize the chances of getting that bonus effect, the optimum scenario would probably be (1) to inform the Soviets quietly that within a few days the shift would take place, stating no time limits but making no promises not to return to the Red River basin to attack targets which later acquire military importance (any deal with Hanoi is likely to be midwifed by Moscow); (2) to make the shift as predicted, without fanfare; and (3) to explain publicly, when the shift had become obvious, that the northern targets had been destroyed, that that had been militarily important, and that there would be no need to return to the northern areas unless military necessity dictated it. The shift should not be huckstered. Moscow would almost certainly pass its information on to Hanoi, and might urge Hanoi to seize the opportunity to de-escalate the war by talks or otherwise. Hanoi, not having been asked a question by us and having no ultimatum-like time limit, would be in a better posture to answer favorably than has been the case in the past. The military side of the shift is sound, however, whether or not the diplomatic spill-over is successful.


[Here follows McNamara's discussion of the fact that both sides believed in their cause while the rest of the world lined up in a variety of ways. The current decision had to place the war in the larger context of U.S. interests in the Far East. McNamara suggested that the original goal for intervention, the "perceived need to draw the line against Chinese expansionism in Asia," had already been met and could be consolidated by following Course B. The only objective the United States had in Vietnam was a limited one, in his view: The U.S. Government was committed to allowing the South Vietnamese people the freedom to determine their own future. The U.S. commitment would cease at the point when the South Vietnamese themselves no longer strived toward this goal.]

D. Suggested Strategy

The strategy that is suggested by the present situation has seven parts;/7/

/7/We should not even rule out, as part of the strategy, changing key subordinates in the US Government to meet the charge that "Washington is tired and Washington is stale." [Footnote in the source text.]

(1) Now: Not to panic because of a belief that Hanoi must be made to capitulate before the 1968 elections. No one's proposal achieves that end.

(2) Now: Press on energetically with the military, pacification and political programs in the South, including groundwork for successful elections in September. Drive hard to increase the productivity of Vietnamese military forces.

(3) Now: Issue a NSAM nailing down US policy as described herein. Thereafter, publicly, (a) emphasize consistently that the sole US objective in Vietnam has been and is to permit the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future, and (b) declare that we have already either denied or offset the North Vietnamese intervention and that after the September elections in Vietnam we will have achieved success. The necessary steps having been taken to deny the North the ability to take over South Vietnam and an elected government sitting in Saigon, the South will be in position, albeit imperfect, to start the business of producing a full-spectrum government in South Vietnam.

(4) End-May: Concentrate the bombing of North Vietnam on physical interdiction of men and matériel. This would mean terminating, except where the interdiction objective clearly dictates otherwise, all bombing north of 20 degrees and improving interdiction as much as possible in the infiltration "funnel" south of 20 degrees by concentration of sorties and by an all-out effort to improve detection devices, denial weapons, and interdiction tactics. (The shift might be tied to the May 23 Buddha's birthday standdown. We might talk to the Russians on May 20, make the shift to the funnel on May 21, and go even further by offering to continue the May 23 total stoppage of bombing if North Vietnamese military movements between 17 degrees and 20 degrees are stopped or significantly reduced.)

(5) July: Avoid the explosive Congressional debate and US Reserve call-up implicit in the Westmoreland troop request. Decide that, unless the military situation worsens dramatically, US deployments will be limited to Program 4-plus (which, according to General Westmoreland, will not put us in danger of being defeated, but will mean slow progress in the South). Associated with this decision are decisions not to use large numbers of US troops in the Delta and not to use large numbers of them in grass-roots pacification work.

(6) September: Move (force, if necessary) the newly elected Saigon government well beyond its National Reconciliation program to a political settlement with the non-Communist members of the NLF--to try to arrange a ceasefire and to reach an accommodation with the large number of South Vietnamese who are under the VC banner; to accept the non-Communist members of the NLF as members of an opposition political party and, if necessary, to accept their individual participation in the national government--in sum, a settlement to transform the members of the VC from military opponents to political opponents.

(7) September: Explain the situation to the Canadians, Indians, British, UN and others, as well as nations now contributing forces, requesting them to contribute border forces to help make the inside-South Vietnam accommodation possible, and--consistent with our desire neither to occupy nor to have bases in Vietnam--offering to remove later an equivalent number of US forces. (This initiative is worth taking despite its slim chance of success.)

E. Analysis of the Strategy

The difficulties with this approach are neither few nor small: There will be those who disagree with the circumscription of the US commitment (indeed, at one time or another, one US voice or another has told the Vietnamese, third countries, the US Congress, and the public of "goals" or "objectives" that go beyond the above bare-bones statement of our "commitment"); some will insist that pressure, enough pressure, on the North can pay off or that we will have yielded a blue chip without exacting a price in exchange for our concentrating on interdiction; many will argue that denial of the larger number of troops will prolong the war, risk losing it and increase the casualties of the American boys who are there; some will insist that this course reveals weakness to which Moscow will react with relief, contempt and reduced willingness to help, and to which Hanoi will react by increased demands and truculence; others will point to the difficulty of carrying the Koreans, Filipinos, Australians and New Zealanders with us; and there will be those who point out the possibility that the changed US tone may cause a "rush for the exits" in Thailand, in Laos and especially inside South Vietnam, perhaps threatening cohesion of the government, morale of the army, and loss of support among the people. Not least will be the alleged impact on the reputation of the United States and of its President. Nevertheless, the difficulties of this strategy are fewer and smaller than the difficulties of any other approach.

Operationally, it may not be easy to get the Saigon government to talk with the VC. Just as we have had great difficulty in getting them to treat prisoners well, to deal with Chieu Hoi ralliers properly, and to make the Reconciliation Proclamation, we will have difficulty getting them to take steps to permit the VC to play a role in the election process or in the government. Of course, Saigon may surprise us in this regard, depending on the kind of government that is chosen in September. But in the past, the problem has been that Saigon clearly was unwilling to talk from weakness. It is possible, but doubtful, that the post-September government will feel strong enough to fly from the nest. We will probably have to push them. Furthermore, the VC may refuse to talk with the Saigon government. So, the fruits of our effort will necessarily be slow in coming. The chances exist, though, of an accommodation government's being agreed to; and, if our efforts in that direction are total, we can probably make it happen.

Here are contingencies for which we must be prepared in pursuing the recommended strategy:

1. Hanoi will continue efforts to take over South Vietnam by force. This is to be expected. Indeed, even if we have a negotiated arrangement with Hanoi, we should expect them to struggle on, as Communists are wont to do.

2. The Saigon government might collapse under the strain. We would then have to decide whether to snip a piece of stem, plant it, nurture it, and start over again with the VC excluded, or to follow the example of the Dominican Republic and, to the extent that we could, to force a compromise under our own auspices. The situation would be messy, but, in the eyes of the world, our course would have been honorable and our commitment upheld. We have certainly done enough in fulfilling our commitment to give us the right to knock a few heads together! (We need a contingency plan covering the case of the GVN and perhaps the ARVN falling apart.)

3. No progress might be made toward the accommodation government. This would put us in no worse, and probably in a better, position than we now are. If the scenario is faithfully carried out, the "rules of the game" will have been changed by then; the definition of "success" will have been changed. Attention will more and more be focused on Saigon's attempt to produce a working consensus of South Vietnamese people, with the US (and hopefully other countries) role more and more that of fending off or canceling out interference from outside, letting the chips inside fall where they may.

4. An accommodation government might be formed, but it might choose to go neutral or otherwise to ask us to leave. We should leave, maintaining the guarantee if the government wished it. This might mean we had a "Finland" or a "Cambodia" in South Vietnam.

5. The accommodation government might go Communist. This could happen, but would almost certainly take some time--perhaps 3 to 5 years. This is a bad outcome because it is unlikely the result would be a "Yugoslavia." "Yugoslavias" are created by countervailing force, e.g., NATO, of which there is "none" in Southeast Asia. Instead, a Communist-dominated SVN would probably join with North Vietnam to carry on subversive attacks on Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. (There is less likelihood that North Vietnam would be a puppet of China under this scenario than under one in which we try to press North Vietnam to capitulation. For Hanoi has made clear that, while it dislikes the Chinese, it prefers a Chinese invasion to an American invasion.) How much this case would appear to be a "defeat" for the US in, say, 1970 would depend on many factors not now foreseeable.

The question arises as to how long the Course B strategy can be continued if progress in South Vietnam is slow and there is no movement by Hanoi toward settlement. Could the President stick at less than 550,000 men in South Vietnam and to a bombing program limited to south of 20 degrees? It would not be easy. But, if Course B is chosen, it must be made clear to political and military leaders alike that the troop limit is firm and, short of an imminent military defeat, will not be breached--the objective will be to make progress, even though it be slow, without the risks of Course A.


The war in Vietnam is acquiring a momentum of its own that must be stopped. Dramatic increases in US troop deployments, in attacks on the North, or in ground actions in Laos or Cambodia are not necessary and are not the answer. The enemy can absorb them or counter them, bogging us down further and risking even more serious escalation of the war.

Course A could lead to a major national disaster; it would not win the Vietnam war, but only submerge it in a larger one. Course B likewise will not win the Vietnam war in a military sense in a short time; it does avoid the larger war, however, and it is part of a sound military-political/pacification-diplomatic package that gets things moving toward a successful outcome in a few years. More than that cannot be expected. No plan can be fashioned that will give a better chance of success by 1968 or later. Attempts to do so not only produce dangerous plans but also are counterproductive in that they make us look overeager to Hanoi.

We recommend Course B because it has the combined advantages of being a lever toward negotiations and toward ending the war on satisfactory terms, of helping our general position with the Soviets, of improving our image in the eyes of international opinion, of reducing the danger of confrontation with China and with the Soviet Union, and of reducing US losses.

Robert S. McNamara


178. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, May 20, 1967, 1220Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Received at 9:03 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA at 9:15 a.m. Rostow sent a copy of the telegram to the President, who saw it. On a covering memorandum for that copy, Rostow described the Thieu-Ky rift as "serious." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXI, Memos (A))

26231. Subject: Thieu-Ky. Ref: Saigon 26200./2/

/2/In telegram 26200 from Saigon, May 19, Bunker reported that Do told Calhoun that Thieu had definitely decided to become a Presidential candidate. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S)

1. Since dispatch reftel we have been sorting out various reports of what has and has not transpired regarding Thieu's candidacy. It is clear that he has made statements to his colleagues and to two or more journalists that he has decided to run, but he has not made a formal announcement of his candidacy. It is not clear when he may make such a declaration or perhaps even that he will make it, although most indications suggest that he will do so at some stage. It remains possible, however, that his present maneuvers are designed in the first instance to block Ky's path and perhaps secondarily to lay groundwork for an alliance between himself and a civilian candidate.

2. Since Thieu's actual intentions and Ky's possible reactions are not now known, we are planning to take a number of soundings with persons close to both of them, making evident our grave concern at these most recent developments and the effect they may have on our position here and support back home for our effort in Viet-Nam.

3. I had made an appointment with Ky for Saturday morning/3/ to present Senator Case,/4/ but this was cancelled the same morning, and my office was informed that he would be out of town for the day. Following these initial soundings, I am planning to see both Thieu and Ky, either separately or together depending on what seems best at the time, to state our views very plainly regarding the unacceptability of personal political maneuvers which may split the armed forces beyond repair and further fragment the already divided and competing political groups in this country. I will make plain that we cannot have our enormous investment of men, money, and world prestige put into question by such personal rivalry./5/

/3/May 20.

/4/Senator Clifford P. Case (R-NJ).

/5/In telegram 198950 to Saigon, May 21, Rusk noted that he and the President wanted Bunker to make these points "forcefully" to Thieu and emphasize the promise about unity that he had made at Guam. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S) In turn, Bunker advised in telegram 26466 from Saigon, May 23, that if asked, the President should confirm to the press that he had heard of the rivalry but "express his confidence that they will continue to show the excellent spirit of unity which has prevailed in Vietnam over the past two years." (Ibid.)

4. As a footnote to these events, a conversation with National Police Director Loan at mid-day Saturday is perhaps worth noting. It is being reported in greater detail through CAS channels. In brief, Loan said that, if Thieu announced his candidacy, Ky would withdraw, and he and the principal Generals in the Directorate (Thang, Tri, both Viens, and Khang of II Corps were mentioned) would resign on the grounds that Thieu could not win the race for the Presidency, and such a loss would be a serious and unacceptable loss of prestige for the armed forces. While Loan's versions of events, both past and future, must always be taken with a large grain of salt and they are no doubt motivated by a desire to influence our own actions, it is possible that such threats might be contemplated by this group.



179. Editorial Note

On May 21, 1967, the Department of State instructed Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson to deliver a message from President Johnson to Soviet Premier Kosygin. The purpose of the message was to consider concerted action necessary to address issues of common interest, including Vietnam, the Middle East, Cuba, and arms control. A summary of the main points, as transmitted in telegram 198947 to London, May 21, reads:

"The increasingly large scale of NVN forces moving through the DMZ, the increased use of Laotian territory for the movement of men and arms to the south, and the growing use of Cambodian territory by NVN forces create dangers of widening the already dangerous hostilities in SEA. We have (1) restated our desires to have 1962 Accords fully carried out; (2) reaffirmed our belief that the 1954 Accords provide an adequate basis for peace insofar as North and South Vietnam are concerned; (3) we have urged that international action be taken to assist Prince Sihanouk in maintaining neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia. Furthermore, we and others have made numerous proposals designed to lead to de-escalation of conflict in Vietnam. We have also taken number actual steps in this direction without any response from Hanoi. We have been disappointed but will try probe such a possibility further. Therefore, Kosygin is urged once again to help bring conflict to close by exercising fully his prerogatives as the Co-chairman of Geneva Conferences." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)

In telegram 5033 from Moscow, May 20, Thompson noted the importance of giving Kosygin an indication of the U.S. Government's developing policy on bombing. He suggested adding the following sentence: "For our part we are currently giving urgent consideration to what steps we could take unilaterally to reduce the danger of widening the conflict and hopefully to initiate a reciprocal reduction of violence." (Ibid.) Telegram 198889 to Moscow, May 20, drafted by Secretary of State Rusk, instructed Thompson to add the following statement orally after Kosygin had read the letter:

"I know that my government has been disappointed by a number of efforts which have been made to de-escalate the violence in Southeast Asia. Some of these efforts have been through discussions, others have been through action taken on the ground. For example, as you know, we have only recently held our hand for four months in an area of more than 300 square miles in and around Hanoi. This was done without any quid pro quo but with an indication to Hanoi that we would be impressed if they should take some corresponding action de facto. We also indicated to them that this type of move on our part could be expanded if there was an interest in de-escalation. I know that my government was hopeful that a way can be found to stimulate a reduction of violence and serious movement toward peace; and any indication along these lines would be met on our part by simultaneous reciprocal steps that would reduce the danger of widening the conflict." (Ibid.)

Ambassador at Large Harriman believed that the President's "pen pal letter" to Kosygin presented an opportunity. The Soviets wanted de-escalation but were in a difficult situation, given Chinese intransigence toward negotiations. The Soviet Union had to exert greater influence in Hanoi, and could only do so with continued strong support to North Vietnam. The United States could "strengthen the hand" of Kosygin and others who wanted peace in Southeast Asia by informing them of what Harriman surmised to be the administration's impending decision on restraint in bombing and troop augmentation. Harriman believed that East European and other nations that could help indirectly in inducing conciliation should also be briefed. (Memorandum from Harriman to the President and Rusk, May 22; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Subject Files, Johnson, Lyndon 1967)


180. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 22, 1967.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 3F. Secret; Sensitive. In a memorandum Helms sent to McNamara on June 1, while noting the differences that existed between the two bombing strategy options put forth in the DPM (Document 177) in terms of pilot and aircraft losses and the impact on the Communist bloc, he concluded that neither option would significantly curtail nor deter Hanoi's aggression against the South and its ability to maintain or increase the level of insurgency. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, CIA Proposals for Alternative Programs for Bombing NVN, June 1, 1967) For denunciations of the U.S. Government's apparent escalation of the war by the DRV on May 21 and by the PRC on May 22, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 936-938.

North Vietnam Bombing

1. This morning (22 May) I called in my dozen most experienced, knowledgeable officers who work on the Vietnam problem for a general discussion on the bombing of North Vietnam. This discussion focused on two questions:

(a) Does bombing harden the will of the North Vietnamese people?

(b) What bombing attack pattern will produce results most favorable to US interests?

2. The consensus opinion on the first question was:

(a) A distinction must be drawn between the will of the Hanoi leadership and that of the North Vietnamese people.

(b) The bombing has produced a net decline in the morale of the people, but not to the point where popular attitudes exert political pressure on or pose political problems for the Hanoi leadership.

(c) The bombing has probably hardened attitudes of Hanoi's leaders, i.e., the Politburo of the Communist Party. There is no bombing attack pattern which, of itself, will force the Politburo to change its strategy because of the cost inflicted on North Vietnam. Hanoi's leaders view the war as a test of wills in which they believe that, politically, they can outlast the US.

3. On the second question, my officers' consensus judgments were:

(a) Any suspension, or termination, of the bombing would be regarded by Hanoi as a victory and would intensify Hanoi's determination to persist in the struggle. It would harden Hanoi's position and would not make Hanoi more amenable to negotiation or settlement.

(b) A new attack pattern concentrating almost exclusively on targets south of the twentieth parallel would also be construed by Hanoi as a victory and produce consequences similar to those outlined above. Furthermore, North Vietnam would be able to concentrate its anti-aircraft capabilities in the southern part of the country and reprogram human and material assets now tasked and programmed to repair bomb damage north of the twentieth parallel.

(c) Even if our entire effort were devoted to infiltration-associated communications lines and targets in route packages 1, 2 and 3, we would only augment the actual interdiction effect on infiltration (over that inflicted by present attack patterns) by a factor of about ten percent. Aerial bombardment cannot stop infiltration or reduce route capacities below the relatively small amount required to support the war in the south.

(d) The optimum attack pattern would involve concentration on infiltration-associated targets in southern North Vietnam with random attacks in the northern part of the country sufficient to prevent major redeployment of assets and restrikes on particular targets already hit whenever these show evidence of significant reconstruction or repair.



181. Editorial Note

In a series of intelligence reports of May 23 and 26, 1967, the Central Intelligence Agency predicted the probable consequences of an expanded military effort in Indochina. In Intelligence Memorandum No. 0646/67, entitled "Reactions to Various US Courses of Action," May 23, the CIA examined combinations of approaches that could be taken and assessed what result might occur from each. It concluded that the only action that would seem to have a moderating impact on Hanoi would be a restriction of the bombing south of the 20th parallel, which correspondingly would generate a reduction in domestic criticism in the United States. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, CIA Intelligence Memorandums--The Status of NVN)

CIA analysts also focused on the lack of deterrent impact of the bombing campaign, in spite of extensive destruction, on the continued resolution of the North Vietnamese to pursue the war. In Intelligence Memorandum No. 0649/67, "Consequences of Mining the Seaports and Water Approaches to North Vietnam and Bombing the Northern Railroads and Roads," May 23, the CIA concluded that an expanded effort against North Vietnam would have "serious economic consequences, but it would not be likely to weaken the military establishment seriously or to prevent Hanoi from continuing its aggression in the south." (Ibid.) In Intelligence Memorandum No. 0647/67, "The Reaction of the North Vietnamese to the Stepped-up Air Attacks," May 23, the CIA described a psychologically "very tough" North Vietnamese people whose capacity to endure the war had been actually strengthened by the raids. (Ibid., CIA Intelligence Memorandums--Rxn NVNese--5/23/67) Intelligence Memorandum No. 0648/67, "The Effectiveness of the Rolling Thunder Program," May 23, confirmed suspicions that the bombing campaign had not lived up to expectations:

"Despite the increased tempo of the air war during the last 10 weeks, the Rolling Thunder program has made only limited progress in meeting two of its current objectives: to limit or raise the cost of sending men and supplies to South Vietnam and to make North Vietnam pay a price for its aggression against the South. The damage to economic and military targets has not degraded North Vietnam's ability to support the war sufficiently to affect current levels of combat in the South. There are no signs that the determination of the regime to persist in its aggression has abated and despite increasing hardships, the morale of the populace has not eroded to a point where widespread apathy and war weariness are threatening the control of the Hanoi regime. The recent expansion of the bombing program has, however, badly damaged the modern sector of the North Vietnamese economy and has increased the disruption of orderly economic activity." (Ibid., CIA Intelligence Memorandums--The Status of NVN)

On May 25 President Johnson asked McNamara for an appraisal of the damage to key North Vietnamese supply sectors. In response to a request from McNamara, the CIA prepared two memoranda subsequently sent to the President. No. 0651/67, "The Status of North Vietnam's Electric Power Industry as of 25 May 1967," May 26, stated that in fact 87 percent of the country's power generating capacity already had been lost due to the bombing campaign, and No. 0650/67, "The Status of North Vietnam's Petroleum Storage Facilities as of 25 May 1967," May 26, stated that 85 percent of North Vietnam's major storage capacity had likewise been destroyed. This major destruction had not impaired Hanoi's military capability. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXII)


182. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, May 23, 1967, 1120Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Received at 8:37 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA at 9:52 a.m.

26467. Ref: State 198956./2/

/2/Dated May 21. (Ibid.)

1. We are in general agreement with the observations in your 198956 concerning the need for a real contest and the importance of convincing all factions that they must conduct a fair election and unite behind the winner. We have made these points repeatedly to all concerned and will continue to do so.

2. We also agree that an ideal solution would be for both Ky and Thieu to run as members of two major political groups which would include the chief civilian contenders. This does not seem to be a practical possibility, however. In the first place, the civilian candidates see the rivalry between Ky and Thieu as their golden opportunity. Huong's reported decision to run and his apparent decision not to join forces with Ky is probably a direct result of his observation that his own chances of victory are much enhanced by the division within the military. Neither Huong nor Suu are likely to make an alliance with the military if they think they can win without making any specific deal that would dilute their own freedom of action after the elections.

3. More important, we continue to fear the possible results of such a split in the military. The stability which we have had for the past two years has rested on a degree of military unity which is fragile and now already subject to very heavy strains. If this fragile unity is further subjected to the tensions of a hard-fought election campaign, we think the risk of seriously undermining military discipline is very great. We continue to doubt that as a practical matter the officers involved can isolate their political role and attitudes from their military activities, although this would be the best solution if it could really be achieved. If they break on political grounds, we fear they will not be able to perform their vital fighting and pacification roles effectively thereafter. We also fear that the losing faction in the political struggle will be sorely tempted to try to redress the balance with the military resources at their disposal. This of course raises the spectre of coups and counter-coups that plagued Viet Nam for so long after Diem was overthrown.

4. We therefore continue to think that the best way to post-election national unity and stability is for the military to back a single candidate who will team up with strong civilian leaders who complement the military candidate. If such a ticket is offered it will tend to gather support from those who want to be on the winning team. It will also offer the best prospect of a true military-civilian partnership capable of prosecuting the war and pacification with singleness of purpose and eventually capable of negotiating an acceptable peace.

5. At some point we may find it necessary to throw our weight behind Ky or Thieu in order to force a resolution of the conflict between them. Certainly the present maneuvering is beginning to be destructive of military unity. It would be much better, however, for both military unity and our future relations with the new government if this were not necessary, since the resulting ticket will inevitably become identified as an American one. We believe that there is at this time still room to hope that Thieu and Ky will come to terms without our interference. Bui Diem's role, as reported separately,/3/ may be helpful. They are certainly aware that if they both run, the prospects for either winning are much reduced. They must also recognize that splitting the military may endanger their country's future. If we can persuade them that they cannot enlist us on the side of either faction, they are more likely to compose their differences. Moreover, there is the real possibility that nothing we could say or do would force one or the other to withdraw from the contest at this time. We are therefore inclined for the present to continue our policy of taking the side of neither in a clear way while urging both, directly and indirectly, to get together and work out a compromise./4/

/3/See footnote 4, Document 183.

/4/In his weekly telegram to the President, telegram 26566 from Saigon, May 24, Bunker described the approach that he would take if the impasse continued: "If it is necessary to move in, I intend to make it very clear to both Thieu and Ky that political maneuvers which may split the armed forces and further fragment the competing political groups in this country are entirely unacceptable. I will make it plain that the welfare of the country must come ahead of personal rivalries and that we cannot have our enormous investment of men, money and world prestige put at risk by such rivalries." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 22-28.



183. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, May 25, 1967, 8:55 p.m.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Drafted and approved by Unger.

202559. Ref: (a) Saigon's 26460;/2/ (b) Saigon's 26467./3/

/2/Bunker reported on the efforts of Bui Diem to mediate between Thieu and Ky in telegrams 26460, May 23, and 26561, May 25. (Ibid.)

/3/Document 182.

1. We very much appreciate analysis contained reftel (b) and efforts reported reftel (a) and in other communications to get as clear a picture as possible of private views and behind-the-scenes actions of principal actors, military and civilian, in the current pre-election maneuvers. Continue to keep us posted as closely as you can, including the role of all the significant military figures beyond Ky and Thieu.

2. Like you, we continue to fear the results of a split in the military and your efforts should therefore continue to be aimed at avoiding this. Surest way to avoid a split is through Ky-Thieu agreement that only one of them will run and prompt decision on which it will be. While our efforts to date have met with little success we agree you should nevertheless continue to press hard on this point, citing numerous expressions made directly to both of them from highest levels US Government and also pointing out consequences of rift, some of which are already beginning to become evident at least behind the scenes. Even Ky and Thieu themselves have begun to descend to exchanges of personal criticisms which could be forerunner of sharp split if they do not promptly resolve their differences.

3. We realize that what we are asking you to accomplish is much easier said than done. There is temptation to consider turning to what on the surface would appear to be relatively easy way out, namely for US to intervene to force decision by making a choice, which would presumably be for Ky. We continue to believe, however, that we are not obliged at this time to make a choice and we continue to regard it as unwise to do so. There would be no keeping secret the fact that the US had made a choice and in so doing we would thus have alienated temporarily at least some significant military leaders. The very act of making a choice would also be taken as clear evidence of the controlling role of the U.S. on domestic Vietnamese matters, would make it doubly difficult for any government associated with us to shake off the puppet label and would quite possibly precipitate the withdrawal from the coming elections of some or all of the civilian candidates. The victory of a military presidential candidate has advantages and disadvantages both within Viet-Nam and in the US and world opinion but such a victory if it takes place through a reasonably free and open contest is certainly one of the possible if not likely results of the election process, and an acceptable one. The victory of a military presidential candidate bearing a US stamp of approval and elected in such fashion as to raise serious question about whom he represents would undo much of last year's progress on the political front and is a course which we are not now ready to adopt even if the alternatives were also unattractive.

4. A related consideration is that our making a choice now would rule out Thieu as a candidate (if in fact our intervention was successful, which is not by any means assured) and we would regret ruling out at this stage this and other alternative possibilities.

5. Under these circumstances our policy for the present should continue to be an even-handed one between Thieu and Ky, concentrating our efforts on having them decide which of them will be the military candidate. Meanwhile we will have to remain continuously alert so that we can reconsider our position if it appears that military unity seriously risks being jeopardized. Otherwise we will be hoping that events themselves may impose a choice on Thieu and Ky or may create a situation in which we could precipitate a choice without taking the onus for it.

6. Meanwhile it is important to keep before the military two other principles which they must support, namely the proper conduct of the elections and a commitment to accept their outcome if properly held and to support the resulting government.

7. Your comments are invited./4/

/4/In telegram 26779, May 25, Diem told Bunker that Thieu had stated that "his personal prestige gave him no alternative but to stay in the race," especially since his relations with the other Generals had soured his chances to become Chief of the Vietnamese Joint General Staff. Ky later told Diem that the Generals would apologize to Thieu if necessary in an effort to encourage him to not become a Presidential candidate and instead to assume the leadership of the military. Bunker praised Diem's role and recommended that "we should continue to let the Vietnamese carry the ball in trying to resolve this problem." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S) On May 26 Bunker reported that based upon reassurances to him as well as to Bui Diem, Thieu "gave reason to hope that he will not seek to aggravate the feelings that have already been aroused." (Telegram 26790 from Saigon, May 26; ibid.)



184. Editorial Note

On May 25, 1967, Chester L. Cooper, Ambassador Harriman's Special Assistant, submitted to Under Secretary of State Katzenbach a memorandum entitled "A Settlement in Vietnam." Written under guidelines set forth by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bundy, it was a comprehensive examination of the myriad of steps by which the peace process would evolve into a final settlement and what that would portend for South Vietnam.

In describing the current peace initiatives of the U.S. Government, Cooper noted the difficulties the administration faced in convincing other countries, the American public, and most importantly the leadership of North Vietnam of its earnestness for peace. While the reticence of the administration to soften on its objectives in Vietnam in conjunction with increased military pressure in the field reflected resolve, such a stance was unlikely to improve the overall position in potential negotiations with the North Vietnamese for at least the next 18 months. Since military action was not making the DRV Politburo any more pliable, Cooper argued, there was no reason to refrain from beginning direct talks as soon as possible. In turn, some sort of quasi-recognition of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and a bombing halt would induce flexibility in Hanoi and cause the North Vietnamese to enter into serious negotiations. Aside from direct contacts, Cooper believed that the best channel through which to generate the opening of peace talks remained the Soviet Union. The perceived leverage that the Soviets had over the DRV might compel Hanoi to seek a political solution and not a military one, provided the United States demonstrated its earnestness through its actions.

The settlement model Cooper developed consisted of the following terms:

"1. Closely-Meshed in Time with NVN/VC Actions, and Under Mutually Agreed-Upon International Supervision, the U.S. and the GVN Agree To:

"a. Halt bombing and other military actions against North Vietnam.

"b. Halt additional U.S. and allied military reinforcements to Vietnam.

"c. Plan for the phased withdrawal of all outside forces.

"d. Undertake a cease-fire in South Vietnam.

"e. Effect an early token withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces.

"f. Proceed with the first tranche in the phased withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces (subsequent withdrawals will take place by predetermined arrangement throughout the remaining part of the scenario).

"g. Guarantee the safety of personnel opposing South Vietnamese and allied forces in South Vietnam, and assist in the elaboration and execution of a general amnesty between opposing forces.

"h. Develop a South Vietnamese Government representing all shades of South Vietnamese opinion, with that government exercising effective authority over the entire territory of South Vietnam. This government is to be chosen on the basis of free democratic elections.

"i. Respect and abide by the wishes of the South Vietnamese Government regarding its political and foreign policy orientation, including the pursuit of a genuinely neutral policy.

"j. Encourage the early establishment of relations between North and South Vietnam and/or of such forms of mutual association as both may desire.

"k. Complete force withdrawals and close out U.S. military bases after forces are withdrawn.

"l. Welcome North Vietnam participation in any regional economic benefits contemplated now or in the future.

"2. Closely-Meshed in Time with US/GVN Actions, and Under Mutually Agreed-Upon International Supervision, Hanoi and the NLF Must Agree To:

"a. Halt the flow of North Vietnamese personnel and military supplies to South Vietnam as well as to Laos and Cambodia.

"b. Present a schedule for the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam to their home territory.

"c. Cease all forms of terror in South Vietnam.

"d. Undertake a cease-fire in South Vietnam.

"e. Effect an early token withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces.

"f. Proceed with withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces.

"g. Agree to and implement a general exchange of prisoners.

"h. Respect and abide by the results of the political arrangements in South Vietnam.

"i. Respect and abide by the wishes of the South Vietnamese Government regarding its political and foreign policy orientation, including the pursuit of a genuinely neutral policy.

"j. Complete force withdrawals."

These terms could be presented as a "package" or negotiated on a separate basis. Due to a "negotiations-shy" North Vietnamese leadership as a result of their disappointment at the 1954 Geneva conference, substantive discussions might occur in private contacts before formal settlement talks (although they were just as likely to come only after the convening of the conference). The most difficult issues included the modalities of a bombing halt, southward infiltration, troop withdrawals, and a political role for the NLF. The projected future for South Vietnam likely would involve a Saigon regime based upon an "uneasy coalition." The situation would "probably be tolerable" for both the United States and the NLF. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET)

Contrasting advice existed among the military command. A cease-fire plan requested by JCS Chairman General Earle Wheeler was submitted to him by his staff in memorandum DJSM-664-67, May 29. The premise of the JCS plan was that "the highest probability of achieving an adequate settlement in Vietnam will be generated by continuing our offensive operations until the main elements of a settlement have been agreed upon." It set forth the mechanics of a cessation of hostilities in the event of a cease-fire prior to the implementation of a settlement in Vietnam. The memorandum assessed the critical impact of the following stipulations:

"a. Formal Agreements for Cease Fire and Withdrawal. A meaningful lasting peace which gives a reasonable assurance for the achievement of South Vietnam objectives cannot be attained through negotiations unless North Vietnam will act in good faith. From this it follows that throughout the development of the cease fire agreement and any subsequent withdrawal agreement, the North Vietnam participants and any NLF observers present must indicate their good faith by adaptable attitudes, constructive proposals and a lack of intransigeance. Such a demonstration by communists in this situation would be novel, and US/GVN actions would have to be carefully weighed to maintain our bargaining position in an atmosphere of unprecedented cooperation. On the other hand, such cooperation is considered improbable. We will more likely have to counter domestic and international pressures to relax from a strong bargaining position so that some kind of agreement can be negotiated.

"b. Temporary Freeze Areas. Any concept of 'temporary freeze in-place' or 'general stand-still truce' is not only impractical due to the lack of precise interpretation of such terms, but would tend to militate against the achievement of US objectives in SVN. They should be avoided in specifying details of any cease fire arrangement for these reasons:

"(1) They tend to inhibit the conduct of essential unrestricted US/GVN reconnaissance throughout SVN.

"(2) They are unlikely to restrict the VC/NVN freedom of action.

"(3) They may inhibit possible withdrawals of VC/NVA main force units.

"(4) They do not realistically consider the likely possibility that VC local and irregular forces will continue unrestricted hostile functions separate from any actions by main force elements. Because of these considerations, the attached plan does not provide for 'freeze areas' but rather refers to secure and contested areas as zones for defensive postures before the initiation of verification sweeps into VC controlled areas.

"c. Points of Egress and Safe Passage during Withdrawal. It is highly improbable that NVN will be a party to any formal agreement on withdrawal of NVA units and any Viet Cong wishing to accompany them. To do so would reverse their repeated denials of having any troops in the south. Moreover, they would not trust the allies to keep quiet about any secret agreement which would relieve them of any requirement to publicly admit that NVA units would withdraw. In view of this an acceptable withdrawal or relocation scheme may be to specify routes and egress points back along the NVN infiltration routes to their base areas with safe passage guaranteed. It would be preferable to specify routes leading to the sea for ship transit to NVN or to Route 1 for transport to the DMZ in order to keep main force units out of Cambodia and Laos, but this would involve overt movements probably too exposed for NVN to accept. During withdrawal of any sort, it would be preferable to prohibit resupply into SVN from NVN, Laos, or Cambodia. If medical or food supplies are required by any enemy unit withdrawing, the allies could offer to supply these on request in order to eliminate any opportunity for malfeasance on the part of the enemy. However, there is little point in prohibiting resupply, because enforcement of such a prohibition would be extremely doubtful. In addition, there is little likelihood that enemy main force units would agree to withdraw to any locales unless they included access to resupply routes. Obviously, the attached plan cannot include details on these matters because the military situation existing at time of preliminary talks will dictate the preferred solutions.

"d. Detection and Verification Measures. There is the ever present danger that initial talks with Hanoi and subsequent conferences and negotiations will hinge on the inclusion of some sort of international supervision of the cease fire and any withdrawal agreements. There is no case since World War II where an international peacekeeping organization has been fully effective in maintaining the peace. Moreover, in view of past patterns of communist intransigeance, subversion and obstructionist tactics, there is serious doubt that any form of an international control commission can be effective in Vietnam. The best way of assuring effective verification is unilateral inspection and policing of the truce by the belligerents themselves. This is particularly true during the period of negotiations. In this way, each side would be required to rely primarily on its unilateral intelligence capabilities to detect violations of the plan. For US/Government of Vietnam/Free World Military Assistance Forces, such activities would include: patrolling and unlimited access to all parts of South Vietnam, including the southern portion of the demilitarized zone; air reconnaissance and surveillance over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos, as well as other forms of intelligence collection, to include coastal surveillance of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Cambodia, and covert operations in Laos and Cambodia to detect any attempts by North Vietnam/Viet Cong to infiltrate personnel and matériel into those countries and from them into South Vietnam. Under a formal agreement each side could exchange Military Liaison Missions (MLMs). These missions should have free access to all parts of South Vietnam. They would be tasked to verify compliance and to investigate complaints of violations of the agreements. Each side would be responsible to its own authorities. The ability of the mission's team to move freely in the investigating role would provide a test of the good faith of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, although the nature of the problem would permit the enemy to attempt a great deal of hoodwinking with associated propaganda fallout. Even if the inspection procedures should fail to accomplish the desired purpose, the framework would provide a military communications link which could aid our continuing unilateral efforts to inspect and verify the withdrawal or relocation of NVA/VC main units from SVN while ferreting out the Viet Cong irregulars and political infrastructure.

"e. National Reconciliation. This is included in the attached plan as a portion of psychological operations. Ralliers under this program will be administratively handled and processed in existing and expanding Chieu Hoi facilities. Detailed GVN plans for managing substantial numbers of National Reconciliation ralliers from the VC middle and high-level structure are not yet formulated and will require additional intergovernmental planning in Saigon. We definitely want to increase the enthusiasm of the GVN for Doan Ket and Chieu Hoi programs and to strengthen their resolve to make them work."

The memorandum added the corollary that the assumptions relating to potential peace talks were "unrealistic" if the North Vietnamese refused to make any meaningful concessions before they began. (Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/305 (15 Apr 67) IR 1139)


185. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas/1/

Washington, May 28, 1967, 1528Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXII. Secret. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 11:12 a.m. The notation "L" on the telegram indicates that the President saw it. The President was in Texas May 28-30. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Jorden and McPherson were in Vietnam May 22-June 3 to assess field operations and RD activities. (Telegram DEPSECDEF 3536, May 15; ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXI)

CAP 67464. Herewith a lucid account from Bill Jorden of an interview with Ky.

Harry McPherson and I had long and very candid talk last night with PM Ky. He was friendly and open. We made standard points on fair elections, civil-military cooperation, need for mandate, etc. Highlights of Ky's position follow:

On politics--He will run; expects to win; guesses he will get between 35 and 40 percent of vote.

Thieu is puzzle. Ky doesn't know what he wants. Suggested Thieu may want simply to cut into Ky's support and make sure latter doesn't win.

Or he may want increase his bargaining power for other post in new government. It not clear what job he wants.

Huong and Suu are too old; can't cut it; too weak for real leadership. If Suu elected, there would almost certainly be military coup.

Only a military man can provide the leadership this country needs now to move forward--and he clearly meant himself.

All the candidates will probably come up with programs, but they will all sound alike. Question is: who can convert a program into action.

On problem of mandate, he expects good vote. In addition will offer major posts to all other candidates. "Then we will have one hundred percent of the vote represented in the government."

He was utterly frank on problem of corruption. It is real; it is serious; it is major source of discontent. And many people in high places undoubtedly involved. He has moved against some--General Co, Quang, others. But it takes times to gather solid evidence. He will move against many others when (not if) he is elected.

Americans sometimes inconsistent on this question. They want Vietnamese to have democracy--and equal justice and no arbitrary police actions. But when they talk of corruption and graft, they want us to "move fast" and not worry about technicalities. We can't do both.

"If I have hard facts, I am prepared to move fast. But we can't act only on rumors and suspicion."

I told Ky of a judge in Long An who was allegedly releasing VC suspects for "lack of evidence"--after receiving extensive bribes from VC.

"If I have facts, I will remove him tomorrow."

Ky displayed surprising flexibility on matter of negotiations and dealing with Liberation Front.

He said Vietnamese generally were nervous about dealing with the Front now. Army especially was concerned, and if a civilian tried to open contact, there would be fear of a "sellout"--especially among army men.

Only a military man could undertake this matter because his colleagues in the army would know he would not give up South Vietnam's independence. Ky had openly said he was ready to talk with Ho. There would have been serious trouble--and real worry--if a civilian had said same thing.

With time, many things would be possible. In a year, Ky would be prepared to consider all kinds of things that not possible to work on now--talks with the Front, coalition, etc.

(Note: This first mention of possible coalition by any Vietnamese leader to my knowledge.)

There is concern that now Vietnamese politics not stable enough to let NLF function as political group. Also it is dominated by Communists.

Ky indicated his readiness to contact non-Communist Front elements and "bring them over."

In answer to fairly blunt question, Ky said he would not consider serving as Vice President or PM under a civilian.

He noted that power of PM was weak. He could not get done the things he wanted to do unless he had power of the Presidency.

If civilian were elected, "I will go back to my air force."

I got the impression that if he did return to air force, a civilian President had better sandbag the roof of the Presidential palace.

Ky gave strong assurances election would be fair and honest.

He was confident of wide support. He said problem would not be getting a large vote, but perhaps in trying to see that his vote didn't get too high.

The voting would not be rigged, but if the vote was too one-sided many people would just assume it had been.

Ky spoke eloquently and with deep feeling about his role in Vietnam.

"I could make a lot of money, but I haven't. I could go off as Ambassador to Paris or Morocco and have a good life. I know how to enjoy things and how to spend money. I can make money when I leave this job. And I will.

"But now my work is here. This is my country; these are my people. And I want to help them. I want them to live well, to have the things they want. That is what is important to me."

Harry and I felt positive he meant every word of it.


186. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, May 30, 1967, 0530Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Received at 3:19 a.m. Repeated to Bangkok and to CINCPAC for POLAD. Rostow sent a copy of this telegram as CAP 67494 to the President at the LBJ Ranch, where it was received at 11:47 a.m.

27074. 1. In conversation with PM Ky on Monday,/2/ I emphasized the great importance we attached to the evolution of the constitutional process and the forthcoming elections through which we hoped and expected the free will of the people would be expressed. I said that as I had mentioned to him before we believed the establishment of a freely elected, stable constitutional government would be the best kind of demonstration to the Viet Cong and NVN that South Viet Nam was here to stay and would represent an extremely important psychological factor in the successful outcome of the struggle. I added that it was essential that the elections be carried out fairly and honestly not only from the viewpoint of domestic reaction here but also that of world opinion as well. It was therefore important that acts of repression and indiscriminate use of press censorship should be avoided. A further absolutely essential factor was the maintenance of the integrity and unity of the armed forces. I reminded the PM of the assurances both he and Thieu had given to the President at Guam, assurances which had been repeated to me also on every occasion in which I had seen either of them.

/2/May 29.

2. I said that I had, of course, seen the reports of General Thieu's possible candidacy and had had a very frank talk with General Thieu last Friday on the question of armed forces unity should there be two military candidates./3/ While I came away with the impression General Thieu had not yet definitely made a decision to run he had assured me that should he decide to do so, he felt that unity of the armed forces would not be affected and that General Vien would be able to carry through with his determination to keep the military aloof from politics. I also said that I had the impression that General Thieu felt somewhat isolated and that his feelings had been hurt by what he considered to be something less than considerate treatment by some of his colleagues.

/3/See footnote 4, Document 183.

3. Ky replied that he was aware of this, but the fact was that General Thieu had been unable to make up his mind and because of this inability, Ky's colleagues had insisted that he come forward as a candidate. He had informed General Thieu that he proposed to run, and Thieu had interposed no objections. He felt, however, that there was some danger that with two military candidates in the field, the unity of the armed forces might be affected and that this, of course, must be avoided. He realized that Thieu did feel somewhat isolated and that his feelings had been hurt and he, therefore, proposed to talk with Thieu this week to try to find out what he really wanted and see whether he could not come to some satisfactory arrangement with him. I encouraged Ky to do this and said that I felt it would be a most constructive step.

4. I referred again to the importance of seeing that the elections process was carried out fairly for all candidates and the need to avoid pressure tactics, the discriminatory use of censorship and the making of ill considered statements which could be easily misconstrued, such as the one he was reported to have made that he would use whatever means he thought necessary to oppose a civilian candidate whose policies he did not agree with. Statements such as these could give rise to criticism in the US as well as in other countries. He agreed that this was so and said that he proposed to see that elections were conducted fairly. With reference to the statement he was quoted as having made, he said some correspondent asked him a silly question such as, what would you do if a Communist was elected? He said this was in the same category as someone asking, what would you do if Mr. Kosygin were elected President of the U.S.?

5. He referred to further matters in connection with elections. The first was in regard to the recommendations of the Directorate to the Assembly for changes in Article 10 and in reverting to the dates originally proposed for the elections. He said that some members of the Directorate had wanted to take a hard line with the Assembly. He persuaded them that this would be very unwise as it might result in the resignation of the Assembly and they would be back where they started from. As an alternative, he got together at lunch on Monday with about 70 members of the Assembly and talked to them about the suggestions of the Directorate and secured their agreement to accept them.

6. His second point was an account of the long talk he had with Huong at Vung Tau on May 18, in which he said they came to a complete understanding. According to Ky, Huong said that he expected Ky to win, but thought it was important that he himself should run as a civilian candidate. He would, however, agree to cooperate with Ky in the government after the elections. The net result of their talk was that whoever was the winner would employ the services of the loser. Ky went on to say that if elected he proposed to ask the cooperation not only of Huong, but of other candidates and thus he would be able to establish a stable regime representing a broad spectrum of the voters./4/ This was the essential thing, what the country needed and wanted was a strong regime rather than a strong man. He disclaimed any desire to set up anything resembling a dictatorship.

/4/In telegram 204933 to Saigon, May 30, Rusk suggested that Bunker attempt to get all of the Presidential candidates to pledge to allow the people to determine the candidate and to support a "government of national unity" after the election. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 VIET S)

7. As we had heard reports that General Thang was again considering giving up direction of the pacification program in order to run Ky's campaign, I asked him about Thang's present status. Ky said that Thang had again expressed some doubt as to his ability to work with our new organizational setup and again had suggested that he appoint General Vien to head up the pacification program. I said that this really didn't make sense to me, it would be like making Secretary McNamara responsible for our part of the pacification program. Ky agreed, said that General Vien had too much on his hands already and had told Thang that he must continue with pacification program. If Thang should attempt to run his campaign, Ky would be accused of putting his own personal fortunes ahead of the country's interest. I told Ky that he should reassure General Thang that I was certain he would find the new organization more efficient and effective and easier to work with. He assured me that Thang would stay with the pacification program.

8. As I left Ky said, "Don't worry, I know how to handle the situation. It is like a western movie, it will come out all right in the end."

9. Comment: Ky talked in a serious vein, but as in his conversation with McPherson and Jorden,/5/ exhibited confidence not only to his ability to win the election but also to handle the difficult pre-election problems. I hope he is right and that the happy ending of the western movie which he envisages will not be preceded by the gun play which is a normal part of every western./6/

/5/See Document 185.

/6/On May 31 Bunker reported to the President in his weekly message as transmitted in telegram 27204: "If both Thieu and Ky can be as reasonable with one another as they sound when talking with me, a talk between them may still offer hope of opening the way to a mutually acceptable compromise. I cannot be overly sanguine, however, as Vietnamese seem constitutionally incapable of really frank, straightforward talks on such personal and political matters. The date for filing of candidacies is now a little over a month away. As we approach that date, the pressure for some kind of decision will mount, but at the moment the heat of the issue has gone down, and in the next few weeks there should be opportunities for the principals to work out an arrangement. I will do my best to encourage both to move in this direction." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 29-36. On a covering memorandum attached to this telegram, which the President saw, Rostow wrote: "Herewith Amb. Bunker's weekly with great deal on Ky as a campaigner. Ky really is a learner." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, NODIS Vol. VI) The President and Thieu exchanged personal messages on the occasion of Memorial Day; for text of these messages, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 938-939.


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