Ambassador Taylor's Comments on Plans for Action Against North Vietnam, 3 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 590-591

Nov. 3, 1964




REF. DEF. 1342.

In compliance with request of DOD, I submit the following personal comments to JCSM 902-64 dated October 27, 1964. SNIE 53-2-64 is not RPT not available in Saigon and hence has not influenced my views. I assume that a political/psychological scenario is being prepared to support the military actions considered in the JCS study.

As indicated in EMBTEL 465 and elsewhere, I am in complete agreement with the thesis that the deteriorating situation in SVN requires the application of measured military pressures to DRV to induce that government to CEUE (sic) to provide support to VC and to use its authority to cause VC to cease or at least to moderate their depredations. The evidence of increased infiltration cited in EMBTEL 1189 [words missing] and effective action. The Bien Hoa incident of November 1, 1964 poses an even more pressing requirement for action under the retaliatory principle confirmed in NSAM 314.

EMBTEL 1357 contains the response to the Bien Hoa action which Embassy-MACV recommended. In effect, this recommendation is for retaliation bombing attacks on selected DRV targets by combined US/VNAF air forces and for a policy statement that we will act similarly in like cases in the future. If this recommendation is not RPT not accepted, I would favor intensifying 34-A operations and initiating air operations against selected targets as an interim substitute for more positive measures.

With ref to the JCS recommendations for the first five courses of action of Appendix A, they are all being implemented but the implementation has been weak in direct proportion to the ineffectiveness of the local government. This situation not RPT not likely to change for the better in time to effect the situation in the short term. The new government in its likely composition appears to have potentialities for improvement but it will be composed largely of men without governmental experience who will have to learn their trade on the job. It will take three to four months under favorable circumstances to get it functioning well.

Item 6 is new and I would have trouble in justifying it. It amounts to a departure for no RPT no clear gain from the principle that the Vietnamese fight their own war in SVN. Added air strength in-country is not RPT not going to have a significant effect on the outcome of the counterinsurgency campaign.

Under Appendix B, I see no RPT no advantage in resuming Desoto patrols [words missing] if we are seeking an excuse for action, it is to our interest to strike Hanoi for its malefactions in SVN and not RPT not for actions in the Bay of Tonkin against the US Navy. We need to tie our actions to Hanoi support of the VC, not RPT not to the defense of purely US interests. Hence, the excuse for our actions should ideally grow out of events in SVN and LAOS. Such events are available for our exploitation now in the form of infiltration activities in the Laotian Corridor and the DRV, the Bien Hoa incident and the increasing sabotage by the VC of the Saigon-Danang RY. With these [words missing] there is no RPT no need to seek others in the Tonkin Gulf where the second incident developed in such a way as to reduce our ability to use subsequent episodes as a credible basis for action.

Similarly, I see nothing but disadvantage in further stirring up the Cambodian border by implementing hot pursuit. We don't often catch the fleeing VC in the heart of SVN; I see little likelihood of doing better in Cambodia. Sihanouk does not RPT not have much in the way of ground forces but a few counter-incursions from his side could be very awkward in requiring the diversion of further ARVN to cover the frontier. We are presently short of trained SVN manpower and need to conserve it for essential purposes. The present unfriendly frontier is much preferable to one actively hostile.

With regard to low level reconnaissance probes, they are not RPT not needed as signals of intentions as, as I hope, we launch forth on a bombing program, overt or covert, against the north. In the latter case, low level RECCE should be flown [words missing]

Actions 7, 8, and 10 I tend to view as a package for concurrent implementation. In the aggregate, these actions constitute an attack on a coherent target system all of which may need to be progressively destroyed if infiltration is to be checked. [words missing] At some point, both would probably merge into a single pressure vector on the DRV.

As a final word, it is well to remind ourselves that "too much" in this matter of coercing Hanoi may be as bad as "too little." At some point, we will need a relatively cooperative leadership in Hanoi willing to wind up the VC insurgency on terms satisfactory to us and our SVN allies. What we don't want is an expanded war in sea and an unresolved guerrilla problem in SVN.


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