Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense on "Courses of Action for South Vietnam" by Earle Wheeler, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 9 September 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 563-564


9 September 1964


Subject: Courses of Action for South Vietnam

1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the draft paper prepared by Assistant Secretary William Bundy, subject as above, and have expressed the views set forth in subsequent paragraphs.

2. De Soto patrols--These patrols should be resumed shortly after the return (two to three days) of Ambassador Taylor to Saigon. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the first De Soto patrol should complete its operation and clear the Gulf of Tonkin before MAROPS are resumed. Rules of engagement, attached hereto, should be consonant with those earlier established to deal with hostile acts by DRV military forces.

3. MAROPS--Marine operations should be resumed as set forth above.

a. The Chief of Staff Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Chief of Staff Air Force, and the Commandant Marine Corps consider that MAROPS should not be made overt (legitimized) until these operations and De Soto patrol operations become so intertwined that they can be associated, or until the US is prepared openly to support MAROPS militarily.

b. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not agree with a above. He considers that failure to legitimize MAROPS until the circumstances postulated above are realized could cause us to limit the scope and thereby the effectiveness of MAROPS and could inhibit the United States as to the nature and extent of our response to hostile attack on US forces on or over the high seas. In making this judgment, the Chairman considers that the fact the GVN is conducting maritime operations in the Gulf of Tonkin must not inhibit the mounting of De Soto patrols in those waters.

4. Air and ground operations in Laos--The JCS consider that the proposed actions should be somewhat expanded as follows: GVN air and ground operations should be undertaken in the near future against the VC LOC in the Laotian corridor to include attacks against staging bases and infiltration routes. US armed aerial reconnaissance flights should be used to supplement the foregoing actions. We should attempt to gain Thai participation in ground action in this area.

5. Response to attack--The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the term "tit for tat" could be interpreted to limit too narrowly our response to an attack on US units or any specific DRV/VC action against SVN. This action should be rephrased to state, "We should be prepared to respond as appropriate against the DRV in the event of any attack on US units or any special DRV/VC action against SVN."

6. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree that the present in-country pacification plan, including the foregoing actions, is not enough in itself to maintain national morale or to offer reasonable hope of eventual success. Military action by GVN and US forces against the DRV will be required.

7. The Chief of Staff Air Force and Commandant of the Marine Corps believe that time is against us and military action against the DRV should be taken now. They concur that the American public should support any action taken by the United States Government against the DRy. They consider that, linked to the next significant incident, we should comence a retaliatory GVN and US air strike program against the DRV in accordance with the 94 target plan. In this regard, they consider that a battalion-size VC attack on South Vietnam should be construed as "significant."

8. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Staff, Army, and Chief of Naval Operations consider that, based upon Ambassador Taylor's recommendations, we should not purposely embark upon a program to create an incident immediately but that, as indicated above, we must respond appropriately against the DRV in the event of an attack on US units.

Rules of Engagement,
De Soto Patrol

Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff

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