Section 1, pp. 106-157
The first half of 1964 saw the unfolding of an intensive debate and planning effort within the Johnson Administration concerning the desirability, limitations, and risks of mounting major military pressures against North Vietnam. Actual U.S. involvement in SEA increased only slightly during this period.
The single notable element of actual increased U.S. involvement during this period was a program of covert GVN operations, designed to impose "progressively escalating pressure" upon the North, and initiated on a small and essentially ineffective scale in February. The active U.S. role in the few covert operations that were carried out was limited essentially to planning, equipping, and training of the GVN forces involved, but U.S. responsibility for the launching and conduct of these activities was unequivocal and carried with it an implicit symbolic and psychological intensification of the U.S. commitment. A firebreak had been crossed, and the U.S. had embarked on a program that was recognized as holding little promise of achieving its stated objectives, at least in its early stages. Thus, a demand for more was stimulated and an expectation of more was aroused.
The demands came--mostly from U.S. officials in Saigon and Washington and mostly
because of the felt need to do something about a deteriorating situation in
SVN--to increase the intensity of the covert operations and to change from covert
to overt action. The Khanh government, it should be noted, opposed these demands
on the grounds that it would expose the vulnerable GVN to greater pressures
from the enemy. With each successive "crisis"--recognition of insufficient
intelligence on the nature and scope of the infiltration (December through May),
realization of dramatic communist gains in SVN (February), threats of major
communist advances in Laos (late May)-the demands were redoubled and intensified.
The basic assumption underlying these demands was that the DRV, faced with the
credible prospect of losing its industrial and economic base through direct
attack, would halt its support of the insurgencies in Laos and South Vietnam.
Beginning in early February, a series of valuable studies and planning exercises were undertaken, with participation of all national security agencies, to examine the whole panoply of problems--objectives, options, effects, costs, and risks--of mounting overt coercive pressures against the North. The planning effort served to develop consensus on some issues, including the recognition that punitive action in the North would be, at best, complementary to successful counterinsurgency in the South. It also surfaced significant differences among the participants in the planning effort and in the broader debate that ensued, in their respective approaches to "pressure planning" as well as in the substantive content of their recommendations. Thus, the JCS viewed the planning task as preparation of an action program for near-term implementation, and their recommendations tended toward immediate and forceful military measures. The StateISA planning group, on the other hand, viewed it as a contingency planning exercise and its scenarios and recommendations stressed a more deliberate, cautious approach, carefully tailoring proposed U.S. actions in SEA to the unique political context of each country. Ambassador Lodge, in turn, developed yet a third "carrot and stick" approach, stressing a diplomatic effort at persuasion, i.e., combining a threat of punitive strikes with an offer of some economic assistance to the DRV. These divergences in approach and concept persisted, though varying in degree and emphasis, throughout the planning period.
By June, with increasing recognition that only relatively heavy levels of attack on the DRV would be likely to have any signoficant compelling effect, with a greater awareness of the many imponderables raised by the planning effort, and with the emergence of a somewhat more hopeful situation in SVN and Laos, most of the President's advisers favored holding off on any attempts to pressure North Vietnam through overt military operations. Only the JCS, Ambassador Lodge, and Walt Rostow continued to advocate increased military measures, and even Rostow qualified his recommendations with the claim that a firm public stance, and supporting actions giving the impression of increased military operations, would be the best assurance of avoiding having to employ them. Moreover, most of the advisers recognized the necessity of building firmer public and congressional support for greater U.S. involvement in SEA before any wider military actions should be undertaken.
Accordingly, with the political conventions just around the corner and the election issues regarding Vietnam clearly drawn, the President decided against actions that would deepen the U.S. involvement by broadening the conflict in Laos, Cambodia or North Vietnam. In his view, there were still a number of relatively mild military and intensified political actions in the South open to him that would serve the national interest better than escalation of the conflict.
During the spring and summer of 1964, there was disquiet about the situation in South Vietnam and disillusion with on-going U.S. actions to right that situation. During the third quarter of 1964, a consensus developed within the Johnson Administration that some form of continual overt pressures mounting in severity against North Vietnam soon would be required. The purpose of these pressures was twofold: (1) to effect DRV will and capabilities in order to persuade and force the leadership in Hanoi to halt their support and direction of the war in the South; and (2) to induce negotiations at some future point in time on our terms after North Vietnam had been hurt and convinced of our resolve. This consensus was in an early formative stage--it had become an idea, not a program for action; it was a belief, not as yet fully staffed and considered. Because of this and because of important tactical considerations (the impending U.S. elections, the instability of the GVN, and the need to produce further evidence of VC infiltration into the South) implementation of such a policy was deferred. Nevertheless, the groundwork was being laid. The Tonkin Gulf reprisal constituted an important firebreak, and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution set U.S. public suport for virtually any action.
Since the fall of Diem in November 1963, the political situation in South Vietnam had been deteriorating. The Khanh Government had succeeded Minh in January 1964, but had demonstrated only greater capacity for survivability, not more capacity for reversing the trend toward collapse. In the wake of the Tonkin Gulf reprisals, when South Vietnamese morale was still temporarily inflated, Khanh made a bold bid to consolidate his personal power and impose semi-dictatorial rule. He was brought to heel, however, in less than a month by the military junta which continued to operate behind the scenes. By September, the most salient aspect of the confused political situation in South Vietnam was the likelihood that it would continue its downward slide into the foreseeable future.
In this setting, a program of covert military pressures against. North Vietnam already had been set in process. These were basically of three kinds: (1) low level recce with armed escort over Laos; (2) Dc Soto patrols within 4 n.m. of the NVN coast to acquire visual, electronic, and photographic intelligence; and (3) Oplan 34-A which included a variety of anti-infiltration, sabotage, and psywar measures. The portent of these actions was being conveyed to the North Vietnamese through private and public channels. A Canadian, Blair Seaborn, was sent to Hanoi to state that U.S. objectives were limited but that our commitment was deep, and that "in the event of escalation the greatest devastation would of course result for the DRVN itself."
Neither the situation in SVN nor the failure of Hanoi to acquiesce to our threats diminished the basic U.S. commitment. NSAM 288 expounding the need to do what was necessary to preserve an "independent non-communist South Vietnam" was the guiding policy document. At no time in this period was the NSAM 288 commitment brought into question. Rather, American concern was focused on how the U.S. could retrieve the situation. The usual palliatives--more aid, more advice, more pressure on the GVN to reform, and more verbal threats to Hanoi--were no longer seen as satisfactory. Nor did it appear to U.S. decision-makers that we faced a stark choice between complete U.S. withdrawal from the struggle or a large scale introduction of U.S. ground forces. Nor did the leadership in Washington believe that a massive bombing campaign against the North need be seriously considered--although such a program was proposed by the JCS. With all these alternatives implicitly ruled out at this time, the choice was both obvious and inevitable. Although it did not take the form of decision, it was agreed that the U.S. should at an unspecified date in the future begin an incremental series of gradually mounting strikes against North Vietnam. The only real questions were precisely what actions should be taken and when? None of these early fall discussions in Washington really confronted the hard issues of what a bombing campaign would buy and what it would cost. These hardheaded discussions, to some extent, took place in the last few months of 1964.
The key events in this period were the Tonkin Gulf incidents of August 2nd and 4th and the U.S. reprisal on North Vietnam PT boats and bases on August 5th. The explanation for the DRV attack on U.S. ships remains puzzling (perhaps it was simply a way of warning and warding off U.S. patrols close to North Vietnam borders). The swift U.S. reaction was to be expected. While there was some momentary uncertainty about the actuality of the second attack on August 4th, confirming evidence of the attack was received before the U.S. reprisal was launched. The U.S. reprisal represented the carrying out of recommendations made to the President by his principal advisers earlier that summer and subsequently placed on the shelf. The existence of these previous recommendations with planning down to detailed targeting made possible the immediate U.S. reaction when the crisis came.
At the same time as U.S. reprisals were taken, President Johnson decided to act on another recommendation that had been under consideration since at least May--a Congressional resolution of support for U.S. policy. Whereas in the earlier discussions, such a resolution had been proposed as a vehicle for mobilizing Congressional and public support behind an escalating campaign of pressures against the North, the President, in the midst of an election campaign, now felt impelled to use it to solidify support for his overall Vietnam policy. On August 5th he sent a message to Congress on the Tonkin incidents and asked for passage of a joint resolution endorsing his policy. The resolution itself was one prepared by the Administration and introduced on its behalf by the Chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committees in the two Houses. It was passed with near unanimous support on August 7th.
The net effect of the swift U.S. reprisals and the Congressional Resolution was to dramatically demonstrate, publicly state and formally record the commitments to South Vietnam and within Southeast Asia that had been made internal U.S. policy by NSAM 288 in March 1964. They were also conceived and intended as a clear communication to Hanoi of what it could expect if it continued to pursue its current course of action. They were portents of the future designed to demonstrate the firmness of U.S. resolve and the direction its policy was tending. The psychological impact of the raids on the Administration and the American public is also significant. They marked the crossing of an important threshold in the war, and it was accomplished with virtually no domestic criticism, indeed, with an evident increase in public support for the Administration. The precedent for strikes against the North was thus established and at very little apparent cost. There was a real cost, however. The number of unused measures short of direct military action against the North had been depleted. Greater visible commitment was purchased at the price of reduced flexibility.
But, a worried Administration went to some lengths to insure that the strikes did not bind or commit it to any future policies or actions and to have it understood that the strikes had been pure and simple reprisals of the one of a kind variety. Yet, for all these reasons, when a decision to strike the North was faced again, it was much easier to take.
The Tonkin reprisals were widely regarded within the Administration as an effective, although limited demonstration of the firmness of American resolve. However, they also served to stiffen that resolve and to deepen the commitment. Several officials within the Administration, including Ambassador Taylor, felt that to have any lasting impact this demonstration of resolve would have to be followed up by other continuing actions, in an increasing tempo. The positive short-term effect of the reprisals in raising South Vietnamese morale was noted as an important by-product of the strikes and offered as one justification for continuing pressures against the North. Also figuring importantly in calculation of resolve and intent was the appreciable improvement in our position in Laos as a result of the vigorous spring offensive by Laotian Government forces. This improvement had led us to oppose a 14-nation conference on Laos for fear of placing the new gains in jeopardy, and convinced many that only military measures were unambiguously understood by Hanoi's communist rulers. This, however, was tempered by a countervailing concern not to provoke by U.S. action any communist military escalation in Laos.
Quite another set of arguments for strikes against the North were advanced by Walt Rostow, then Counselor of the State Department, in a paper that circulated widely through the Administration in August 1964. The "Rostow Thesis" argued that externally supported insurgencies could only be successfully dealt with by striking at their sources of support and neutralizing them. The objective of such attacks would be psychological rather than purely military. They would be designed to alter the aggressor's calculation of interests in supporting the insurgency through the fear of further military and economic damage, the fear of involvement in a wider conflict, the fear of internal political upheaval and the fear of greater dependence on a major communist power. Any incidental improvement in morale in the country troubled by insurgency or improvement in bargaining leverage were to be regarded as bonuses. To achieve the desired effect, a carefully orchestrated series of escalating military measures, coupled with simultaneous political, economic and psychological pressures was called for. The "thesis" was articulated in general terms, but the immediate case in everyone's mind was, of course, Southeast Asia.
A thorough critique of Rostow's paper was prepared in OSD/ISA with inputs from State's Policy Planning Council. This analysis argued that the validity of the "thesis" would depend on two variables: (1) the extent of the commitment of the nation supporting the insurgency; and (2) the degree to which vital U.S. interests were at stake in the conflict. The latter question having been settled with respect to South Vietnam by NSAM 288, the remaining problem was whether the kinds of actions Rostow recommended could succeed given the level of determined commitment of the North Vietnamese. For the Rostow approach to succeed, the DRV would have to he persuaded that: (1) the U.S. was taking limited action to achieve limited goals; (2) the U.S. commitment was total; and (3) the U.S. had established a sufficient domestic consensus to see the policy through. If the DRV was not so convinced, the approach would fail unless there were a major U.S. military involvement in the war. The critique concluded that the public opinion problems of such an approach, both domestic and international, would be very great, and that in view of the inherent problems of implementing and managing such a discriminating policy, it had poor chances of success. These reservations notwithstanding, the outlook embodied in the "Rostow thesis" came to dominate a good deal of Administration thinking on the question of pressures against the North in the months ahead.
All of the pressures-against-the-North thinking came to a head in the strategy meeting of the principals on September 7th. It appears that a rather narrow range of proposals was up for consideration. One program proposal came from the JCS. It was a repeat of the 94-target list program which the JCS had recommended on August 26th. The JCS called for deliberate attempts to provoke the DRV into taking acts which could then be answered by a systematic U.S. air campaign. The JCS argued that such actions were now "essential to preventing complete collapse of the U.S. position in the RVN and SEA," because "continuation of present or foreseeable programs limited to the RVN will not produce the desired result." The Chiefs were supported by ISA in their provocation approach. For ISA, ASD McNaughton argued that our acts and the DRV response "should be likely to provide good grounds for us to escalate if we wished." McNaughton's approach was for a "gradual squeeze," not simply a tit-for-tat contingency and unlike the quick, all-out proposals of the JCS.
The principal conferees at this September meeting did not believe that deliberate acts of provocation should be undertaken "in the immediate future while the GVN is still struggling to its feet." However, they apparently reached a consensus that they might recommend such actions-"depending on GVN progress and communist reaction in the meantime"-by early October. This deferral decision was strongly supported by Mr. McCone of the CIA and Ambassador Taylor. Ambassador Taylor, revising his previous position, believed that the conflict should not be escalated to a level beyond South Vietnamese capacities to manage it. He opposed overt actions against North Vietnam as too risky and urged instead that further measures to strengthen the GVN be taken first. Similarly, Secretary McNamara affirmed his understanding that "we are not acting more strongly because there is a clear hope of strengthening the GVN." McNamara went on to urge, however, that the way be kept open for stronger actions even if the GVN did not improve or in the event the war were widened by the communists. In notes taken at this meeting the President asked: "Can we really strengthen the GVN?"
It is important to differentiate the consensus of the principals at this September meeting from the views which they had urged on the President in the preceding spring. In the spring the use of force had been clearly contingent upon a major reversal--principally in Laos--and had been advanced with the apparent assumption that military actions hopefully would not be required. Now, however, their views were advanced with a sense that such actions were inevitable.
The results of the September meeting were recorded in NSAM 314. The actions that were approved against the DRV for the next three month period were highly limited and marginal in character. They included resumption of the offshore U.S. naval patrols, resumption of covert GVN coastal operations against the North, limited air and ground operations in the Laotian corridor, and a preparedness to respond to any further DRV attacks on a tit-for-tat basis.
From the September meeting forward, there was little basic disagreement among the principals on the need for military actions against the North. What prevented action for the time being was a set of tactical considerations. The President was in the midst of an election campaign in which he was presenting himself as the candidate of reason and restraint as opposed to the quixotic Barry Goldwater. Other concerns were the aforementioned shakiness of the GVN, the uncertainty as to China's response to an escalation, the desire not to upset the delicate Laotian equation, the need to design whatever actions were taken so as to achieve the maximum public and Congressional support, and the implicit belief that overt actions at this time might bring pressure for premature negotiations--that is, negotiations before the DRV was hurting. In summary, the period saw the development of the consensus on military pressures against the North and the decision to defer them for temporary reasons of tactics.
November 1964-January 1965
In the late fall of 1964, President Johnson made a tentative decision in favor of limited military pressures against North Vietnam. He acted on the consensus recommendation of his principal advisors, a consensus achieved by a process of compromising alternatives into a lowest-common-denominator proposal at the sub-cabinet and cabinet level, thereby precluding any real Presidential choice among viable options. The choices he was given all included greater pressures against North Vietnam. The Presidential decision itself was for a limited and tightly controlled two-step build-up of pressures. The first phase involved an intensification of existing harassment activities with reprisals; the second, which was approved in principle only, was to be a sustained, slowly escalating air campaign against the North. The spectrum of choice could have run from (a) a judgment that the situation in the South was irretrievable and, hence, a decision to begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces; to (b) a judgment that the maintenance of a non-communist South Vietnam was indispensable to U.S. strategic interests and, therefore, required a massive U.S. intensification of the war both in the North and in the South. The extreme withdrawal option was rejected almost without surfacing for consideration since it was in direct conflict with the independent, noncommunist SVN commitments of NSAM 288. The opposite option of massive involvement, which was essentially the JCS recommendation at an early point in these deliberations, was shunted aside because both its risks and costs were too high.
Short of those extremes, however, were two other alternatives that were briefly considered by the Working Group as fallback positions but rejected before they were fully explored. While both came into some conflict with the commitments to South Vietnam of NSAM 288, they could have been justified as flowing from another long-standing U.S. conviction, namely that ultimately the war would have to be won in the South by the South Vietnamese. These fallback positions were outlined in the following manner:
1. To hold the situation together as long as possible so that we have time to strengthen other areas of Asia.
2. To take forceful enough measures in the situation so that we emerge from it, even in the worst case, with our standing as the principal helper against Communist expansion as little impaired as possible.
3. To make clear . . . to nations, in Asia particularly, that failure in South Vietnam, if it comes, was due to special local factors that do not apply to other nations we are committed to defend.
In operational terms the first would have meant holding the line-placing an immediate, low ceiling on the number of U.S. personnel in SVN, and taking vigorous efforts to build on a stronger base elsewhere, possibly Thailand. The second alternative would have been to undertake some spectacular, highly visible supporting action like a limited-duration selective bombing campaign as a last effort to save the South; to have accompanied it with a propaganda campaign about the unwinnability of the war given the GVN's ineptness and; then, to have sought negotiations through compromise and neutralization when the bombing failed. Neither of these options was ever developed.
The recommendation of the Principals to the President left a gap between the maximum objective of NSAM 288 and the marginal pressures against the North being proposed to achieve that objective. There are two by no means contradictory explanations of this gap.
One explanation is the way in which pressures and the controlled use of force were viewed by the Principals. There is some reason to believe that the Principals thought that carefully calculated doses of force could bring about predictable and desirable responses from Hanoi. The threat implicit in minimum but increasing amounts of force ("slow squeeze") would, it was hoped by some, ultimately bring Hanoi to the table on terms favorable to the U.S. Underlying this optimistic view was a significant underestimate of the level of the DRV commitment to victory in the South, and an overestimate of the effectiveness of U.S. pressures in weakening that resolve. The assumption was that the threat value of limited pressures coupled with declarations of firm resolve on our part would be sufficient to force the DRV into major concessions. Therefore, the U.S. negotiating posture could be a tough one. Another factor which, no doubt, commended the proposal to the Administration was the relatively low-cost-in political terms- of such action. Furthermore, these limited measures would give the GVN a temporary breathing spell, it was thought, in which to regroup itself, both politically and militarily should stronger action involving a direct confrontation between the two Vietnams be required at some future date. And lastly, it was the widely shared belief that the recommendation was a moderate solution that did not foreclose future options for the President if the measures did not fully achieve their intended results. The JCS differed from this view on the grounds that if we were really interested in affecting Hanoi's will, we would have to hit hard at its capabilities.
A second explanation of the gap between ends and means is a more simple one. In a phrase, we had run out of alternatives other than pressures. The GVN was not reforming, ARVN was being hit hard, further U.S. aid and advice did not seem to do the trick, and something was needed to keep the GVN afloat until we were ready to decide on further actions at a later date. Bombing the North would fit that bill, and make it look like we tried.
The President was cautious and equivocal in approaching the decision. Indicative of his reluctance to widen the U.S. commitment and of his desire to hedge his bets was the decision to make phase II of the new policy contingent on GVN reform and improvement. Ambassador Taylor was sent back to Saigon in December after the White House meetings with the understanding that the U.S. Government did not believe:
that we should incur the risks which are inherent in any expansion of hostilities without first assuring that there is a government in Saigon capable of handling the serious problems involved in such an expansion and of exploiting the favorable effects which may be anticipated.
As with the discussions of the preceding six months, the decisions at the end of 1964 marked another step in the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The following is a summary of the November-December, 1964 and January, 1965 deliberations.
On the eve of the November election, and after the decision not to retaliate against the North for the VC attack on the Bien Hoa airbase on November 1, the President appointed an inter-agency working group and asked it to conduct a thorough re-examination of our Vietnam policy and to present him with alternatives and recommendations as to our future course of action. That such a review should have been undertaken so soon after the policy deliberations and decisions of September is at first glance surprising. The President, however, was now being elected in his own right with an overwhelming mandate and all the sense of opportunity and freedom to reconsider past policy and current trends that such a victory invariably brings. In retrospect, there appears to have been, in fact, remarkably little latitude for reopening the basic questions about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam struggle. NSAM 288 did not seem open to question. In Vietnam, our now substantial efforts and our public affirmation of resolve to see the war through to success had failed to reverse either the adverse trend of the war or the continuing deterioration of South Vietnamese political life. The September deliberations had produced only a decision against precipitate action and had done nothing to redress the situation. Significantly, however, they had revealed the existence of an Administration consensus that military pressures against the North would be required at some proximate future date for a variety of reasons. Now, in November, with a new electoral mandate and the abundant evidence of the inadequacy of current measures, the President was once again looking for new ideas and proposals--a low-cost option with prospects for speedy, positive results.
The Working Group's first job had been to examine U.S. interests and objectives in South Vietnam. This subject stirred some of the most heated debate of the entire Working Group Project. At the outset, the maximum statement of U.S. interests and objectives in South Vietnam was accompanied by two fallback positions--the first a compromise, the second merely rationalizations for withdrawal. The JCS representative took testy exception to including the fallback positions in the Group's paper and cited JCS Memoranda on the critical importance of South Vietnam to the U.S. position in Asia. His forceful objections were effective and they were downgraded in the final paper which, while also pointedly rejecting the "domino theory" as over-simplified, nevertheless, went on to describe the effect of the fall of South Vietnam in much the same terms. Specifically pointing up the danger to the other Southeast Asian countries and to Asia in general, the paper concluded:
There is a great deal we could still do to reassure these countries, but the picture of a defense line clearly breached could have serious effects and could easily, over time, tend to unravel the whole Pacific and South Asian defense structures.
In spite of these concessions, the JCS refused to associate itself with the final formulation of interests and objectives, holding that the domino theory was perfectly appropriate to the South Vietnamese situation.
One of the other important tasks assigned to the Working Group was the intelligence assessment of the effectiveness of measures against the North in improving the situation in the South. The initial appraisal of the intelligence community was that "the basic elements of Communist strength in South Vietnam remain indigenous," and that "even if severely damaged" the DRV could continue to support a reduced level of VC activity. While bombing might reduce somewhat the level of support for the VC and give the GVN a respite, there was very little likelihood that it would break the will of Hanoi. The estimate was that Hanoi was confident of greater staying power than the U.S. in a contest of attrition. These views were challenged by the JCS member who stressed that the military damage of air strikes would appreciably degrade DRV and VC capabilities. In deference to this view, the final Working Group estimate gave greater emphasis to the military effectiveness of strikes, although it was pessimistic about the extent of damage the DRV leaders would be willing to incur before reconsidering their objectives. It concluded with the assessment that there was very little likelihood of either Chinese or Soviet intervention on behalf of the DRV if pressures were adopted by the U.S.
As the Working Group toiled through November in its effort to develop options, it focused on three alternative courses of action. Option A was essentially a continuation of military and naval actions currently underway or authorized in the September decisions, including prompt reprisals against the North for attacks on U.S. forces and VC "spectaculars." It also included a resistance to negotiations until the North had agreed in advance to our conditions. Option B augmented current policies with systematic, sustained military pressures against the North and a resistance to negotiations unless we could carry them on while continuing the bombing. Option C proposed only a modest campaign against the North as compared with option B and was designed to bring the DRV to the negotiating table. If that occurred the pressures were to be suspended--although with the threat of resumption should negotiations break down.
In the course of the month, these options converged and the distinctions between them blurred. In particular, option A was expanded to include some low-level pressures against the North; the negotiations element of option B was, in effect, dropped and the pressures were to be applied at a faster, less flexible pace; and option C was stiffened to resemble the first incarnation of option B--the pressures would be stronger and the negotiating position tougher. Thus, by the end of the month when the Working Group's proposals were presented to the NSC Principals for consideration before a recommendation was made to the President, all options included pressures against the North, and, in effect, excluded negotiations in the short-run, since the terms and pre-conditions proposed in all three options were entirely unrealistic. The policy climate in Washington simply was not receptive to any suggestion that U.S. goals might have to be compromised. And, in proposing pressures against the North, the Working Group was conscious of the danger that they might generate compelling world-wide pressure on the U.S. for negotiations. How large a role the specific perception of the President's views, validated or unvalidated, may have played in the Working Group's narrowing of the options is not clear. It seems likely, however, that some guidance from the White House was being received.
During the last week in November, the NSC Principals met to consider the Working Group's proposals. They were joined on November 27 by Ambassador Taylor. Taylor's report on conditions in South Vietnam was extremely bleak. To improve South Vietnamese morale and confidence, and to "drive the DRV out of its reinforcing role and obtain its cooperation in bringing an end to the Viet Cong insurgency," he urged that military pressures against the North be adopted. His report had a considerable impact on the Principals and later on the President. As the discussions continued through the several meetings of that week, opinion began to converge in favor of some combination of an "extended option A" and the first measures against the North of option C.
In the end, the Principals decided on a two-phase recommendation to the President. Phase I would be merely an extension of current actions with some increased air activity by the U.S. in Laos and tit-for-tat reprisals for VC attacks on U.S. forces or other major incidents. During this period, the GVN would be informed of our desires for its reform and when these were well underway, phase II, a campaign of gradually escalating air strikes against the North, would begin. This proposal was presented to the President on December 1. He approved phase I and gave assent, at least in principle, to phase II. In approving these measures, the President appears to have been reluctant to grant final authorization for phase II until he felt it was absolutely necessary.
If a consensus was reached within the Administration in favor of military pressures against the North, it certainly reflected no commonly held rationale for such action. Generally speaking the military (MACV, CINCPAC, JCS) favored a strong campaign against the North to interdict the infiltration routes, to destroy the overall capacity of the North to support the insurgency, and to destroy the DRV's will to continue support of the Viet Cong. The State Department (with the exception of George Ball) and the civilian advisors to Secretary McNamara favored a gradually mounting series of pressures that would place the North in a slow squeeze and act as both carrot and stick to settling the war on our terms. As would be expected, State was also concerned with the international political implications of such steps. Bombing the North would demonstrate our resolve, not only to the South Vietnamese but also to the other Southeast Asian countries and to China, whose containment was one of the important justifications of the entire American involvement. Walt Rostow, the Chairman of State's Policy Planning Council, took a slightly differently view, emphasizing the importance of pressures as a clear signal to the North and to China of U.S. determination and resolve and its willingness to engage the tremendous power at its disposal in support of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva agreements. Ambassador Taylor supported strikes against the North as a means of reducing infiltration and as a way of bolstering South Vietnamese morale.
As is readily apparent, there was no dearth of reasons for striking North. Indeed, one almost has the impression that there were more reasons than were required. But in the end, the decision to go ahead with the strikes seems to have resulted as much from the lack of alternative proposals as from any compelling logic advanced in their favor. By January, for example, William Bundy, while still supporting the pressures, could only offer the following in their favor:
on balance we believe that such action would have some faint hope of really improving the Vietnamese situation, and, above all, would put us in a much stronger position to hold the next line of defense, namely Thailand. [And it would put us in a better position in our Asian relations] since we would have appeared to Asians to have done a lot more about it.
It is interesting to note that during the deliberations of September one of the preconditions to such strikes had been generally acknowledged as a unity of domestic American opinion in support of such Presidentially authorized action. During the November debates, this is no longer an important factor. Indeed, it is openly conceded that such action is likely to evoke opposition in both domestic and international public opinion. Another interesting aspect of this policy debate was that the question of Constitutional authority for open acts of war against a sovereign nation was never seriously raised.
Phase I of the newly approved program went into effect in mid-December. The BARREL ROLL "armed recce" by U.S. aircraft in the Laotian panhandle began on a limited scale on December 14. It had been foreseen that the number of sorties would slowly increase with each succeeding week. However, once the first week's level of two missions of four aircraft each was determined by Secretary McNamara, it became the guideline for the remainder of December and January. Covert GVN operations along the North Vietnamese coast were continued at about the level of the previous months and JCS proposals for direct U.S. air and naval support were rejected. Furthermore, the public disclosure of information on DRV infiltration into the South was deferred at the request of Secretary McNamara. On December 24, the Viet Cong bombed a U.S. officers' billet in Saigon killing two Americans. MACV, CINCPAC, the JCS, and Ambassador Taylor all called immediately for a reprisal strike against the North of the kind authorized under phase I. For reasons still not clear, the Administration decided against such a reprisal. Thus, in purely military terms, the phase I period turned out to be little more than a continuation of measures already underway. (The BARREL ROLL activity apparently was not differentiated by the DRV from RLAF strikes until well into January.)
One of the explanations for this failure to fully implement the December 1 decisions was the political crisis that erupted in South Vietnam. Ambassador Taylor had returned to South Vietnam on December 7 and immediately set about getting the GVN to undertake the reforms we desired, making clear to both the civilian and military leaders that the implementation of phase II was contingent on their efforts to revive the flagging war effort and morale in the South. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a military purge of the civilian government in late December and rumored threats that he would be declared persona non grata. The political crisis boiled on into January with no apparent solution in sight in spite of our heavy pressure on the military to return to a civilian regime. And, while Taylor struggled with the South Vietnamese generals, the war effort continued to decline.
At the same time that Taylor had been dispatched to Saigon a vigorous U.S. diplomatic effort had been undertaken with our Asian and NATO allies to inform them of the forthcoming U.S. intensification of the war, with the expected eventual strikes against the North. The fact that our allies now came to expect this action may have been a contributing reason in the February decision to proceed with phase II in spite of the failure of the South Vietnamese to have complied with our requirements. In any case, it added to the already considerable momentum behind the policy of striking the North. By the end of January 1965, William Bundy, McNaughton, Taylor and others had come to believe that we had to proceed with phase II irrespective of what the South Vietnamese did.
Clear indication that the Administration was considering some kind of escalation came on January 25. Ambassador Taylor was asked to comment on a proposal to withdraw U.S. dependents from Saigon so as to "clear the decks." Previously, this action, which was now approved by the JCS, was always associated with pressures against the North. While there is no indication of any decision at this point to move into phase II, it is clear that the preparations were already underway.
[End of Summary]
11 May 63 NSAM 52
Authorized CIA-sponsored covert operations against NVN.
9 Sep 63 CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63
JCS approved this program for non-attributable "hit and run" GVN covert operations against NVN, supported by U.S. military advisory materiel and training assistance.
1 Nov 63 Diem overthrown
Military junta led by General Minh assumed control.
20 Nov 63 Vietnam Policy Conference, Honolulu
During high-level USG discussions of the probable consequences, political and military, of Diem's downfall, conferees agreed military operations against the Viet Cong had not been and would not be particularly upset by the changed political situation. Development of a combined MACV-CAS program for covert operations against NVN was directed.
23 Nov 63 President Kennedy Assassinated
26 Nov 63 NSAM 273
Authorized planning for specific covert operations, graduated in intensity, against the DRV.
11 Dec 63 State Department Views on Operations in Laos
State (and ISA) opposed overt military operations in Laos. Extension of CIA-sponsored covert activity in Laos was okayed: this neither threatened Souvanna's sovereignty nor openly violated the Geneva Accords which State termed basic to eventual political stability in the region.
19 Dec 63 OPLAN 34A Submitted by CINCPAC
The MACV-CAS plan providing a "spectrum of capabilities for the RVNAF to execute against North Vietnam" was forwarded to the JCS with CINCPAC's comment that only air attacks and a few other "punitive or attritional" operations were likely to achieve the stated objective of convincing Hanoi to cease supporting insurgents in SVN and Laos.
30 Dec 63 Memo for the Director, CIA
Assessing "Probable Reactions to Various Courses of Action with Respect to North Vietnam" the Board of National Estimates studied 13 proposed covert operations. The BNE did not think any would convince NVN to change its policies. Hanoi's reaction to them was forecast as mild.
2 Jan 64 Krulak Committee Report
"Least risk" activities drawn from the 2062 in OPLAN 34A formed the basis of a 12-month, three-phase program of covert operations. MACV would exercise operational control, CAS and CINCPAC would train and equip the GVN or third-nation personnel involved. Phase One (February-May) included intelligence collection (through U-2 and special intelligence missions), psychological operations and some 20 "destructive" undertakings. Similar operations would be increased in number and intensity during Phases Two and Three; destructive acts would be extended to targets "identified with North Vietnam's economic and industrial well-being." Committee members reasoned that Hanoi attached great importance to economic development, that progressive damage to the economy--or its threatened destruction--would convince Hanoi to cancel support of insurgency. But the committee cautioned, even successful execution of the program might not induce Hanoi to "cease and desist."
22 Jan 64 JCSM 46-64
Criticizing "self-imposed restrictions" on operations in Laos, arguing that Laotian security depended on that of South Vietnam, the JCS requested authority to initiate reconnaissance operations over and into Laos. Without them the task in Vietnam was made "more complex, time consuming . . . more costly."
30 Jan 64 Coup in Saigon
Minh's junta was ousted by one headed by General Khanh.
Early Feb 64 Situation in Laos and South Vietnam
NVA troop influx into Laos rose significantly and a similar rise was feared in SVN; Viet Cong terrorism continued to increase.
1 Feb 64 OPLAN 34A
Phase One of the covert activities program began.
20 Feb 64 Lodge Msg. to McGeorge Bundy
Ambassador Lodge urged adoption of a "carrot and stick" approach to North Vietnam (first presented to Governor Harriman on 30 October 1963). Lodge envisaged secret contact with Hanoi to demand NVN cease supporting the Viet Cong. In exchange the U.S. would offer economic aid (especially food imports). If Hanoi refused the offer, previously threatened punitive strikes would be initiated. The U.S. would not publicly admit to the attacks.
20 Feb 64 NSC Meeting
President Johnson ordered more rapid contingency planning for pressures--covert and overt--against North Vietnam and ordered pressures shaped to produce the maximum credible deterrent effect on Hanoi.
This decision reflects the convergence of (1) fear that the Laos situation could get worse; (2) knowledge that this would affect U.S. operations and policies in Vietnam; (3) recognition that more U.S. military assistance to the GVN was required to execute OPLAN 34A; (4) and the increasing articulation by policy makers (JCS, SecState) of a direct relationship between the challenge of halting NVN assistance to insurgents and broader U.S. strategic interests. Together, these factors increased the attractiveness of proposals for punitive, overt actions against NVN.
25 Feb 64 Draft Presidential Memorandum
State recommended 12 F-100's be deployed to Thailand to deter further NVN activity in Laos and to signal U.S. determination.
26 Feb 64 JCSM 159-64
"Steps to Improve the Situation in Southeast Asia with Particular Reference to Laos" asked authority to initiate low-level reconnaissance flights over Laos for intelligence collection and to visibly display U.S. power. The JCS argued the "root of the problem is in North Vietnam and must be dealt with there," but if operations
against NVN had to be ruled out, operations in Laos must not be. They urged that Laos and South Vietnam be treated as an integrated theatre.
29 Feb 64 Director, DIA Memorandum for the Secretary
Reporting on "North Vietnamese Support to the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao," DIA said certain "intelligence gaps" related to kinds and amounts of arms, supplies and men infiltrating SVN through Laos. The JCS favored closing such gaps by overt military operations; State opposed.
1 Mar 64 Interim Report: "Alternatives for the Imposition of Measured Pressure against NVN"
An Interagency Study Group under State's Vietnam Committee listed these as U.S. objectives: make Hanoi cease support of the Viet Cong; strengthen GVN and Asian morale and reduce VC morale; prove to the world U.S. determination to oppose Communist expansion.
Military means to attain those objectives were explored-ranging from the air defense of Saigon and US/GVN cross-border operations to the massive deployment of U.S. ground troops and air strikes against North Vietnam. The group believed unilateral U.S. actions would not compel Hanoi to call off the Viet Cong (and
doubted Hanoi could do that anyway); operations against NVN were termed no substitute for successful counterinsurgency in SVN.
However, expanded activity could demonstrate U.S. power, determination and restraint to the world, reduce somewhat NVN support to the Viet Cong, cause "some reduction" Viet Cong morale, and possibly improve the U.S. negotiating position. "New U.S. bolstering actions" in South Vietnam and considerable improvement of the situation there were required to reduce VC activity and make victory on the ground possible, according to the report.
1 Mar 64 Embassy Vientiane Message 927 for SecState
Reasoned that if current USG policy toward Laos is changed (e.g., if the Geneva Accords were openly violated), large numbers of U.S. troops will eventually be required to enforce political stability.
2 Mar 64 JCSM 168-64
Requesting "Removal of Restrictions for Air and Ground Cross Border Operations," the Joint Chiefs said direct action had to be taken to convince NVN the U.S. was determined to eliminate the insurgents' Laotian sanctuary. ". . . The time has come to lift the restrictions which limit the effectiveness of our military operations."
2 Mar 64 JCSM 174-64
The Chiefs recommended direct strikes against North Vietnam. In line with their view (JCSM 159-64) that the root of the problem was North Vietnam, the JCS justified the need for overt action against NVN on two grounds: first, to support the short-term policy objective of stopping Hanoi's aid to the insurgents; second, to support the long-range objective of forcing a change in DRV policy by convincing Hanoi the U.S. was determined to oppose aggression in Southeast Asia.
15 Mar 64 Lodge Msg. for the President (State 1757)
Reiterating his preference for the "carrot and stick" approach to Hanoi, Lodge opposed initiation of overt actions against North
16 Mar 64 SecDef Memo for the President
Reporting on his recent trip to Honolulu and Saigon, McNamara recommended against overt actions (U.S. or GVN) against NVN "at this time" because of the problems of justification, communist escalation and pressures for premature negotiations. McNamara felt the practical range of overt actions did not allow assured achievement of practical U.S. objectives. (Like the Interagency Group, the Secretary distinguished between the stated aim of eliminating Hanoi's control of the Viet Cong and the practical objective of building the morale of the Khanh regime while eroding VC morale.)
The Secretary did favor military action against NVN in Laos. He recommended initiation by GVN forces of "hot pursuit" and small-scale operations across the Laotian border, plus continuation of U.S. high-level reconnaissance flights over Laos. He recommended the U.S. prepare planning for 72-hour readiness to initiate Laos and Cambodian border control actions and prepare plans for "retaliatory actions" (overt high and/or low level reconnaissance flights, "tit-for-tat" bombing strikes, commando raids) against NVN. He also recommended planning for 30 days' readiness to initiate the "program of Graduated Overt Military Pressure" against North Vietnam. *
* Here McNamara probably referred to the various plans for graduated pressure against NVN then being discussed; no actual "program" had yet been finalized or approved.
17 Mar 64 NSAM 288
Approved Mr. McNamara's report and his twelve recommendations to improve the military situation. Planning was to "proceed energetically."
17 Mar 64 President's Message to Lodge (State 1454)
On North Vietnam, the President indicated agreement with Lodge's "carrot and stick" approach and said he had reserved judgment on overt U.S. measures against NVN.
On Laos, the President said he was reluctant to inaugurate overt activities unless or until he had Souvanna's support and a stronger case had been made for the necessity of overt operations. Otherwise the President felt such action ". . . might have only limited military effect and could trigger wider Communist action in Laos."
17 Mar 64 Lodge Message to SecState (State 1767)
Reported GVN-RLG agreement on political and military issues. Diplomatic relations had been reestablished. Laos granted free passage into southern Laos to GVN forces, the right to bomb infiltration areas with unmarked T-28s and to conduct hot pursuit, commando raids and sabotage operations "without limit" into Laotian territory to combined RLG-GVN units. A combined Laotian-Vietnamese staff was to be created.
18 Mar 64 JCS Message 5390 to CINCPAC
The JCS directed CINCPAC to begin "Planning Actions, Vietnam" in line with Recommendations 11 and 12 of NSAM 288. The program was to "permit sequential implementation" of three actions (border controls, retaliatory cross-border operations with 72-hour responsiveness, graduated overt military pressures against NVN with 30-days responsiveness).
20 Mar 64 President's Message to Lodge (State1484)
Confirmed that actions with North Vietnam as the target mentioned in NSAM 288 were regarded strictly as contingency planning and that interagency study was so oriented.
31 Mar 64 State/ISA Draft Scenarios
State/ISA planners presented three papers. The first was a scenario for current actions (political steps to increase Congressional and international understanding of U.S. aims plus continued military action by GVN with U.S. advisory assistance). The second scenario called for overt GVN/covert U.S. action against NVN (characterized by the GVN-USAF FARMGATE operation); it emphasized political initiatives which would surface in Saigon and thus retain credibility for GVN sovereignty. The third scenario--associated with overt U.S. response to DRV-CHICOM escalation--also included diplomatic and political preparations for overt U.S. activity.
13 Apr 64 J-5 Memorandum for the ASD(ISA)
Commenting on the 31 March scenario, the Joint Staff outlined a continually intensifying program of military pressures-and gradually increasing U.S. military involvement. J-5 urged the 31 March scenario be fused with OPLAN 37-64 and border control operations be moved into the scenario for the current time period. Approximate time-phasing of the draft's then separate scenarios was recommended.
8 and 17 Apr 64 Scenario Drafts
Reflecting the JCS influence toward development of a continuous scenario, current political activities were treated in a separate section, "Steps Which Should be Taken Now." The other political-military scenarios included increased FARMGATE operations, separate Laotian and Cambodian border control actions, separate GVN retaliatory actions against NVN, and graduated overt U.S. military pressures against NVN. The detailed scenario for GVN/ FARMGATE operations was given D-Day minus X time-phasing; apparently it was the basis for discussions held in Saigon on 19- 20 April.
18-20 Apr 64 Saigon Conference
Scenarios and other issues were discussed by Lodge, William Bundy, Rusk, Wheeler, and others. Lodge objected to planning for-or adopting-massive publicity and massive destruction actions before trying a well-reasoned, well-planned diplomatic effort to convince Hanoi to "call off the VC." His "carrot/stick" approach was expanded: Lodge suggested a third country interlocuteur be selected to tell Hanoi of U.S. resolve, that the threat of air strikes be combined with an economic assistance offer and that as part of the "carrot" the U.S. offer to withdraw some personnel from South Vietnam.
Rusk wanted the extent of NVN infiltration and support to be satisfactorily proved to U.S. citizens, allies and neutrals; he wanted Asian military support for the U.S. Rusk did not think China would intervene militarily without Soviet support and thought we could pressure the Chinese economically through our allies. He doubted elimination of DRV industrial targets would have much adverse impact on any NVN decision to stop aiding the insurgency.
Results: Canada would be asked to act as interlocuteur. Also, Secretary Rusk recommended the U.S. seek "more flags" to support the GVN, deploy a carrier task force to Cam Ranh Bay to establish a permanent U.S. Naval presence, initiate anti-junk operations to "inch northward" along the coast and enlist SEATO support in isolating the DRV from economic or cultural relations with the Free World.
23 Apr 64 SecDef Memorandum to CJCS
This forwarded the 20 April scenario which contained three stages: uncommitting steps to be taken now; graduated overt pressures on the DRV (FARMGATE); and a contingency plan for overt U.S. response to DRV/CHICOM escalation. The first stage could stand alone, but stage two could not be launched unless the U.S. was prepared to take the third step-perhaps within 10 days of the previous "D-Day."
23 Apr 64 Rostow Memorandum for SecState
Reasoning that deterioration in Laos and SVN would make it very difficult to win Hanoi's adherence to the Geneva Accords and predicting deterioration was imminent, Rostow implied necessary (U.S.) actions should be taken soon.
30 Apr 64 Rusk Visit to Ottawa
Set up the Seaborn Mission (interlocuteur) to Hanoi for mid-June.
4 May 64 Lodge to SecState (State 2108)
This reflects the deliberate, cautious approach then dominant. In talking with General Khanh (who suggested putting SVN fully on a war footing and wanted to tell NVN that further interference in GVN affairs would bring reprisals), Lodge urged Khanh to keep cool and asked that McNamara similarly emphasize the need to avoid such drastic measures during his 12 May meeting with Khanh.
7 May 64 Talking Paper for the Secretary
In addition to the Lodge suggestions, McNamara was to tell Khanh the U.S. did "not intend to provide military support nor undertake the military objective of 'rolling back' communist control in NVN."
12-13 May 64 McNamara/Sullivan Trip to Vietnam
Khanh and McNamara met and apparently discussed the issues mentioned above.
16 May 64 JCSM 422-64
JCS criticized the final draft scenario for omitting the immediate actions mentioned in NSAM 288 (border control and retaliatory operations); advocated incorporating retaliatory and overt military pressures against NVN in the second stage, as well as battalion-size border control operations in Laos to include striking bridges and armed route reconnaissance. These were justified in JCS eyes because military operations against the DRV to help stabilize either the Laos or SVN situation involved attacking the same target systems and to a large extent, the same targets. JCS felt attacks would assist ". . . in the achievement of the objective" and offer ". . . the possibility of a favorable long-term solution to the insurgency problem in Southeast Asia."
7 May 64 Pathet Lao Offensive
The Pathet Lao seized a significant portion of the Plaine des Jarres in Laos-a major setback for RLG forces.
19 May 64 JCSM 426-64
Clearly indicating the crisis management aspects of the scene created by Pathet Lao gains, the JCS now called for new, more intensive covert operations during the second phase of OPLAN 34A.
21 May 64 At the UN...
Adlai Stevenson's major speech explaining U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia was the first such U.S. move at the UN.
21 May 64 Baltimore Sun Report
With Souvanna's permission, the U.S. began low-level reconnaissance operations over enemy-occupied areas in Laos.
21 May 64 Rusk Message to Lodge (State 2027)
Rusk said Washington saw the fragility of the SVN situation as an obstacle to further U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. He asked Lodge to suggest ways to achieve greater solidarity in SVN saying, "we need to assure the President that everything humanly possible is being done both in Washington and the Government of Vietnam to provide a solid base of determination from which far-reaching decisions could proceed."
23 May 64 JCSM 445-64
The JCS renewed their plea for prompt "Readiness to Implement NSAM 288." Larger border control and retaliatory operations were called for; prompt consultations with the GVN and immediate joint operations were said to be needed.
23 May 64 Draft Presidential Memorandum
The crisis in Laos had focused interest on but one stage of earlier scenarios: overt operations against NVN. The scenario for steps to be taken now had been dropped (as Rusk explained to Lodge on 22 May--State 2049--because initial attacks without acknowledgement were not feasible; publicity seemed inevitable). The scenario called for 30 days of graduated military/political pressures (including initiatives to enter negotiations with Hanoi). A Congressional Resolution supporting U.S. resistance to DRV aggression was called for; air strikes would continue-despite negotiations-until it was clear that NVN had ceased subversion. Negotiating objectives were: terrorism, armed attack and armed resistance would stop; "communications on networks out of the North would be conducted entirely in uncoded form."
25 May 64 SNIE 50-2-64
An estimate of the likely consequences of actions proposed in the 23 May DPM (discussed by the Executive Committee, or ExCom, on 24, 25 and 26 May). NVN might order guerrillas to reduce "the level of insurrections for the moment" in response to U.S. force deployments or FARMGATE attacks; with Peking and Moscow, Hanoi might count on international actions to end the attacks and stabilize communist gains. If attacks continued, Hanoi might intensify political initiatives and possibly increase the tempo of insurgency. If these failed to bring a settlement and if attacks damaged NVN considerably, the SNIE estimated NVN would lower negotiating demands to preserve its regime-and plan to renew insurgency later. The SNIE saw "significant danger" that Hanoi would fight because (1) NVN did not think the U.S. would commit ground forces and (2) even if U.S. troops were sent, NVN believed they could be defeated a Ia 1954. Affecting the will of NVN leaders was emphasized. None of the actions forecast in the DPM would affect enemy capabilities because the major sources of "communist strength in SVN are indigenous." The SNIE said the DRV must (be made to) understand that the U.S.--not seeking to destroy NVN--is willing to "bring ascending pressure to bear to persuade Hanoi to reduce the insurrections." The report added ". . . retaliatory measures which Hanoi might take in Laos and South Vietnam might make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to regard its objectives as attainable by limited means. Thus difficulties of comprehension might increase on both sides as the scale of action mounted."
25 May 64 McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to Rusk, et al.
The ExCom abandoned the scenario approach-perhaps because entering into escalating conflict might obscure the limited U.S. objectives. The ExCom recommended the President decide that the U.S. will use graduated military force against NVN after appropriate diplomatic and political warning and preparation; evident U.S. determination to act--combined with other efforts--"should produce a sufficient improvement of non-communist prospects in South Vietnam and in Laos to make military action against North Vietnam unnecessary."
OR: The ExCom explicitly assumed that a decision to use force if necessary-backed by resolute deployment and conveyed every way possible ". . . gives the best present chance of avoiding the actual use of such force." Other actions recommended were: communicate U.S. resolve through the Canadian interlocuteur; call a high-level Southeast Asian strategy conference; begin diplomatic efforts at the UN to present the case for DRV aggression; consult with SEATO allies and obtain allied force commitments; seek a Congressional Resolution in support of U.S. resistance to NVN in SEA; deploy forces periodically to the region; consider an initial strike against NVN "designed to have more deterrent than destructive impact" and accompany it by an active diplomatic offensive to restore stability--including an agreement to a Geneva Conference.
5 May 64 Lodge Message to Rusk (State 2318)
Lodge said only firm action against North Vietnam by the U.S. and GVN could lead to a significant improvement in the GVN effort. (A "new wrinkle" in Lodge's view.)
27 May 64 Polish Initiative
Poland proposed a Laos conference format which avoided many undesirable aspects of those formerly supported by communist governments.
29 May 64 State Message to Rusk (TOSEC 36)
The ExCom, preferring to initially treat Laos independently of Vietnam, recommended the President accept the Polish proposal. The U.S. would not be willing to write off Laos to the communists and would assure Souvanna: "We would be prepared to give him prompt and direct military support if the Polish Conference . . ." failed.
30 May 64 JCSM 460-64
Advocating "Air Strikes Against North Vietnam," the JCS felt NVN support to insurgents could be reduced by armed reconnaissance of highways leading into Laos, striking airfields identified with supporting insurgents, striking supply, ammunition and POL storage sites and military installations connected with PL/VC support. The JCS said Hanoi's "military capability to take action against Laos and the RVN" would result from hitting "remaining" airfields, important railroad and highway bridges, depots in northern NVN and from aerial mining and bombing of POL stores in Hanoi and Haiphong. The Chiefs also outlined the capability to effectively destroy the entire NVN industrial base.
2 Jun 64 JCSM 461-64 (CJCS non-concurred)
Recommended the U.S. seek to destroy Hanoi's will and capabilities, as necessary, to support the insurgency. They called for "positive, prompt and meaningful military action"-mainly air strikes-to show NVN "we are now determined that (its support to insurgency) will stop" and to show NVN we can and will make them incapable of rendering such support.
2 Jun 64 SECTO 37
Rusk reported General Khanh's views: Khanh felt the GVN could not win against the Viet Cong without some military action outside its borders; he wanted insurgent forces in eastern Laos cleaned out-by GVN forces and U.S. air support; he recommended selected air attacks against NVN "designed to minimize the chances of a drastic communist response."
1-2 Jun 64 Honolulu Conference
Conferees assessing overall U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia agreed with State that the point of departure ". . . is and must be that we cannot accept (the) over-running of Southeast Asia by Hanoi and Peking." "Operational"-not policy-aspects of air operations against NVN were the main points of discussion, with attention centered on the effect of pressures in Laos, preparatory steps necessary for a Laotian contingency and probable repercussions.
Evaluating possible communist reaction to pressures against NVN, Mr. McNamara said the "best current view" was an appropriately limited attack against NVN, which would not bring CHICOM air or NVN/CHICOM ground forces. Westmoreland felt there was no significant unused capability left to the VC; Lodge said the VC had a major capability for terrorism, even for military action against Saigon. Like Khanh, Lodge also felt selective bombing would build morale and unity in South Vietnam.
Results: The U.S. would seek international (beginning with U.S.- Thai consultations) and domestic support (through a Congressional Resolution) for wider U.S. actions. ("Wider" could mean committing up to seven U.S. divisions and calling up the reserves as the action unfolds.") But actual expansion of the U.S.
role would be postponed for these and other politico-military reasons.
3 Jun 64 William Bundy Memorandum for SecState
The report to the President on Honolulu was probably based on this paper in which Bundy recapped talks there and called for time to "refine" plans and estimates, to "get at" basic doubts about the value of Southeast Asia and the importance of the U.S. stake there.
Mid-Jun 64 Post-Honolulu Military Actions
Mr. McNamara discussed NVN targets, troop movement capabilities with the JCS (8 June); he wanted facts and statistics on Haiphong traffic, existing plans for and estimated impact of mining the harbor, alternative DRV importation facilities. He ordered immediate improvement in effectiveness and readiness plus some expansion of prepositioned stocks in Thailand and Okinawa.
Mid-Jun 64 Post-Honolulu Non-Military Activity
State began gathering information on prevalent public questions about the U.S. in Vietnam, in Southeast Asia; interagency groups studied implications of a Congressional Resolution; Rusk (14 June), President Johnson (23 June) and others spoke publicly on U.S. goals in Asia, U.S. determination to support its Southeast Asian allies.
9 Jun 64 Memorandum for the Director, CIA
President Johnson asked: "Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under NVN control?" The CIA response said Cambodia "might" but no other nation "would quickly succumb." U.S. prestige, credibility and position in the Far East would be profoundly damaged but the
wider U.S. interest in containing overt military attacks would not be affected. All of this was predicated on a clear-cut communist victory in Laos and South Vietnam and U.S. withdrawal from the area. The Agency called results of a "fuzzy" outcome harder to evaluate.
10 Jun 64 SecDef Memorandum to CJCS (Response to CM-1451-64, 5 June 64)
McNamara supported Taylor's criticism of JCSM 461-64 (2 June), agreeing that the two courses of action presented by the Chiefs were neither accurate nor complete. Taylor saw three ways in which air power could be used to pressure NVN--and opted for the least dangerous. He recommended demonstrative strikes against limited military targets to show U.S. readiness and intent to move up the scale if NVN did not reduce insurgent support. Up the scale meant moving from demonstrative strikes to attacks against a significant part of the DRV military target system and ultimately, to massive attacks against all significant military targets in NVN. By destroying them the U.S. would destroy NVN's capacity to support insurgency.
12 Jun 64 William Bundy Memorandum
Called for a Congressional Resolution right away to demonstrate U.S. resolve (especially to Souvanna and Khanh) and provide flexibility for executive action.
15 Jun 64 McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to SecState, SecDef, et a!.
One subject was made the agenda for final talks about a Congressional Resolution: actions still open to the U.S. if both major military operations and a Congressional Resolution are rejected at this time. White House guidance indicated that by taking limited military and political actions, the U.S. could demonstrate firm resistance without risking major escalation or loss of policy flexibility.
McGeorge Bundy suggested these possible limited actions, military: reconnaissance, strike, T-28 operations in all of Laos; small-scale reconnaissance strikes-after appropriate provocation-in NVN; VNAF strikes in Laotian corridors; limited air and sea, more limited ground deployments. (Bundy said major ground force deployments seem more questionable without a decision "to go north" in some form.) Political: "Higher authority" wants a maximum effort to increase allied real and visible presence in support of Saigon; make intensive efforts to sustain Souvanna; rapidly develop province and information programs, strengthen the country team, shift the U.S. role from advice to direction; opposing both aggressive adventure and withdrawal, explain the above lines of action (especially in the U.S.) and leave the door open to selected military actions.
Unless the enemy provoked drastic measures, the ExCom agreed that defense of "U.S. interests . . . over the next six months" is possible within limits. Both a Congressional Resolution and wider U.S. action were deferred.
17 Jul 1964 DESOTO naval patrols off North Vietnam reauthorized
Authority was given to resume the DESOTO destroyer patrols off North Vietnam. They had been suspended since March.
30 Jul 1964 Covert GVN attack on North Vietnam
The night before the USS MADDOX is to resume her patrols off the North Vietnamese coast, South Vietnamese commandos raid two North Vietnamese islands.
31 Jul 1964 USS MADDOX resumes patrol off North Vietnam
After a six month suspension, the USS MADDOX resumed the DESOTO patrols off the coast of North Vietnam.
1 Aug 1964 British seek meeting of three Laotian princes
Acting on Souvanna Phouma's request, the British government urged the ICC members to arrange a meeting among the three Laotian political factions as represented by the three rival princes.
2 Aug 1964 China urges USSR not to resign Geneva co-chairmanship
The Chinese Communists urged the USSR not to carry out its threat to abandon its co-chairman role in the Geneva settlements, apparently viewing such a development as jeopardizing the possibilities of a Geneva settlement of the current Laotian crisis.
DRV PT boats attack MADDOX
Apparently mistaking the MADDOX for South Vietnamese, three DRV patrol boats launched a torpedo and machine gun attack on her. Responding immediately to the attack, and with the help of air support from the nearby carrier TICONDEROGA, the MADDOX destroyed one of the attacking boats and damaged the other two. The MADDOX, under 7th Fleet orders, retired to South Vietnamese waters where she is joined by the C. TURNER JOY.
3 Aug 1964 U.S. protest through ICC
A stiff U.S. protest of the attack on the MADDOX is dispatched to Hanoi through the ICC. It warns that "grave consequences" will result from any future attacks on U.S. forces.
DESOTO patrol resumed
The JCS approved a C1NCPAC request to resume the DESOTO patrol at 1350 hours, ordered the C. TURNER JOY to be added to it and authorized active defensive measures for the destroyers and their supporting aircraft. The President announced the action later that day.
GVN again attacks North Vietnam
The Rhon River estuary and the Vinh Sonh radar installation were bombarded under cover of darkness.
4 Aug 1964 Second DRV naval attack on DESOTO patrol
At about 2140 hours, after several hours of shadowing, a second PT boat attack on the augmented DESOTO task force was launched. This engagement in the dark lasted about three hours and resulted in two patrol boats destroyed.
At 0030 hours (5 Aug 1964 Vietnam time), "alert orders" for possible reprisal air strikes were given to the TICONDEROGA and a second carrier, the CONSTELLATION, that had been steaming toward the area from Hong Kong since Aug 3.
At 1230, Washington time, the NSC convened after a brief meeting of the JCS with the President. The JCS, McNamara and others recommended reprisals against the patrol craft and their bases. This the President approved.
2nd NSC meeting
After a confusing afternoon in which the attacks were double-checked and verified, the NSC met again at 1700, confirmed the reprisal order, and discussed incremental force deployments to the Western Pacific.
At 1845 the President met with 16 Congressional leaders, briefed them on the proposed attacks and informed them of his intention to ask for a joint Congressional resolution of support. None raised objections.
5 Aug 1964 U Thant calls for 14-nation conference on Laos
In an unrelated development, UN Secretary General U Thant called for the rescheduling of the 14-nation conference to deal with the Laotian situation.
Presidential message to Congress
In a formal message to both houses of Congress, the President requested passage of a joint resolution of support for U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Concurrently, identical draft resolutions prepared by the executive branch were introduced in the Senate by Senator Fuibright, and in the House, by Representative Morgan.
6 Aug 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolutions discussed in committee
Both houses heard top Administration officials, including Secretary McNamara, testify in behalf of the pending resolutions.
The additional forces deployments, particularly air forces, begin to move to the theatre.
7 Aug 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution passes Congress
The Tonkin Gulf resolution was passed in both houses by near unanimous vote.
Khanh proclaims himself President
Declaring a state of emergency, General Khanh proclaimed himself President of South Vietnam and claims virtual dictatorial powers.
State message 136, Rusk to Vietiane and others
Concern over not provoking a communist military escalation in Laos, particularly in view of the Tonkin Gulf reprisals, prompted State to defer temporarily approval of air and ground initiatives in the Laotian panhandle.
9 Aug 1964 Embassy Saigon message 363, Taylor to Rusk
Taylor opposes a 14-nation Geneva Conference as likely to undermine the little stability the fragile GVN still has. He further states that the reprisals, while effective in the short run, do not deal with the continuing problem of DRV infiltration which must be confronted. He felt there was need for follow-up action to demonstrate to the DRV that the rules of the game had changed.
10 Aug 1964 U.S. message to Hanoi through Canadian ICC representative
Through the Canadian representative on the ICC, the U.S. communicated its uncertainty about DRV motives in the Aug 4 Tonkin Gulf raids, that additional air power deployed to SEA was precautionary, that U.S. official and public patience was wearing thin, that the Congressional resolution demonstrated U.S. determination in SEA, and that if the DRV pursued its present course, it could expect to suffer the consequences.
11 Aug 1964 William Bundy memo to SecDef, "Next Courses of Action in Southeast Asia"
Assistant Secretary of State Bundy felt that only a continuous combination of military pressure and communication would convince Hanoi that they were facing a determined foe and that they should get out of South Vietnam and Laos.
14 Aug 1964 CJCS memo to SecDef, "Next Courses of Action in Southeast Asia"
Positive assessment of the impact of the reprisal actions was given and a continuation of strikes against the North was recommended.
State message 439 to Vientiane, Saigon, CINCPAC, "Southeast Asia, August 1964"
In opposing both a new 14-nation Geneva Conference on Southeast Asia, and U.S. air operations against the North, State stressed the shakiness of the GVN and the need to shore it up internally before any such actions were started. For planning purposes, the message suggested that Ambassador Taylor's suggested date of January 1, 1965, be used for any sustained U.S. air campaign against the North.
15 Aug 1964 JCS message 7947 to CINCPAC, "Rules of Engagement"
U.S. forces were authorized to attack any vessels or aircraft that attack or give positive indication of intent to attack, and to pursue such attackers into territorial waters or air space of all Southeast Asian countries, including North Vietnam.
16 Aug 1964 COMUSMACV message to C1NCPAC, "Cross-Border Operations"
MACV requested authority to begin the Phase I of the covert cross-border operations into Laos and North Vietnam.
17 Aug 1964 CINCPAC message to JCS, "Next Courses of Action in Southeast Asia"
The positive impact of the reprisals on South Vietnamese morale is noted, and a strong argument made for continuing actions against the North to make clear to Hanoi and Peking the cost of their aggression.
The momentum of the Aug 5 raids must not be lost or the benefits of the initial attacks will disappear.
18 Aug 1964 Embassy Saigon message 465
Taylor reiterates his belief that the reprisals must be followed up with other actions against the North.
21 Aug 1964 Henry Rowen memo to JCS, et al, "The Rostow Thesis"
Initially presented in Dec 1963, the "Rostow Thesis" was recirculated within the Administration in mid-August. Its fundamental argument was that military pressure against the external sources of an insurgency would bring the aggressor to an appreciation of the costs of his interference and he would reduce or eliminate his support for the insurgents. The exercise was primarily psychological, not necessarily strategic. The measures should greatly increase his uncertainty about the consequences of continued support of the insurgency. Rowen's critique raised serious questions about the general validity of the thesis, pointing out the requirement for solid public and political support for such actions, and doubting that anywhere but in Southeast Asia U.S. interests were so critically at stake. Even in that area, it doubted the effectiveness of the proposal.
26 Aug 1964 JCSM-746-64
In response to State's Aug 14 analysis, the JCS proposed a continuous and escalating air campaign against the North designed to both the physical resources and the psychological will to support the insurgency in the South. It called for deliberate attempts to provoke the DRV into actions which could then be answered by a systematic air campaign.
27 Aug 1964 Three Laotian Princes meet
The three Laotian Princes met in Paris as a result of the British initiative to begin discussions on the current crisis.
31 Aug 1964 CINCPAC message to JCS, "Immediate Actions to be taken in South Vietnam"
CLNCPAC reiterates the request for approval of covert cross-border operations.
3 Sep 1964 McNaughton paper, "Plan of Action for South Vietnam"
In anticipation of the 7 September strategy meeting, McNaughton prepared a paper calling for actions that would provoke a DRY response that could be used as grounds for a U.S. escalation.
Khanh reverts to Premiership
His bid for dictatorial power having been rebuffed by the Army with popular support, Khanh reverted to his former title of Premier with greatly reduced power. Minh is to play a larger role.
7 Sep 1964 JCS Talking Paper for CJCS, "Next Courses of Action for RVN"
The JCS repeated its recommendations of 26 Aug and detailed it with a list of 94 targets for air strikes.
White House strategy meeting; decisions in William Bundy memo to SecDe/, et al., "Courses of Action for South Vietnam," 8 Sep 1964
With Ambassador Taylor returned from Saigon, a full dress strategy review of actions against the North is held at the White House. The Pentagon spokesmen, both military and civilian, favored immediate initiation of an escalatory air campaign against the North. But this was rejected on the grounds that the GVN was too weak to sustain the expected intensification of the war in the South it would evoke. This was the view of CIA, State and the White House. But a decision was made to resume the DESOTO patrols, the covert GVN coastal operations against the North, and to authorize limited cross-border operations into Laos when Souvanna approved. It was further agreed that we would respond to any future DRV attacks on U.S. units on a tit-for-tat basis. These latter measures were to bolster GVN morale.
10 Sep 1964 NSAM 314
Formal approval of the 7 September decision was given in NSAM 314.
11 Sep 1964 Saigon meeting on cross-border operations
At a Saigon meeting of representatives of the U.S. missions in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, it was agreed that the air operations in Southern Laos would be carried out by RLAF aircraft for the present. As to ground operations, while their desirability was recognized, they were disapproved because of the flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords they would constitute. This objection by Vientiane was subsequently removed and company-size operations up to 20 kilometers into Laos were approved.
12 Sep 1964 DESOTO patrols resumed
The destroyers USS MORTON and USS EDWARDS resumed the DESOTO patrols off North Vietnam.
18 Sep 1964 3rd Tonkin Gulf incident
On the night of the 18th, the third incident in the DESOTO patrols occurred. The two destroyers fired on radar identified at tackers and apparently scored a number of hits. No return fire was received from the "attackers." Later on the 18th the President suspended the DESOTO patrols which were not to be resumed until February 1965.
30 Sep 1964 CJCS memo to SecDef, "Cross-Border Operations"
The CJCS endorsed the proposals of the mission representatives and requested immediate authority to implement air operations in the Laotian panhandle with RLAF T-28s and U.S. aircraft for suppressive fire and attacking heavily defended targets. Authority for GVN ground intelligence acquisition patrols in the Laotian corridor was also sought.
1 Oct 1964 SNIE 53-2 -64
The deterioration of GVN morale and effectiveness continued unabated and this intelligence estimate did not think that the hoped for civilian government would be able to reverse it. The VC were not, however, expected to make an overt military effort to capture the government.
4 Oct 1964 Covert GVN coastal operations against DRV again authorized
The President authorized reactivation of the covert coastal strikes by the GVN against the DRV, under very tight controls with each action to be cleared in advance by OSD, State and the White House.
6 Oct 1964 Joint State/Defense message 313 to Vientiane
The Embassy is authorized to urge the Laotian Government to begin T-28 strikes as soon as possible against a 22-target list which excluded the Mu Gia pass. Some of the targets were designed for U.S. YANKEE TEAM strikes.
9 Oct 1964 SNIE 10-3-64
In the evaluation of the likely North Vietnamese reactions to the actions approved in the September 7 meeting, CIA concluded that these would probably be limited to defensive and propaganda measures with possibly some scaling down of operations in the South. China was not expected to enter the war as a result of even a systematic U.S. air campaign against the North.
Embassy Saigon message 1068, Taylor to Rusk
Taylor reported that the ARVN would be unable to conduct ground operations in the Laotian corridor in the foreseeable future and therefore U.S. air operations are urged. At a minimum, combat air patrols supporting RLAF strike missions were requested.
13 Oct 1964 Embassy Vientiane message 609, Unger to Rusk and McNamara
U.S. air strikes against four defended targets are requested to accompany RLAF T-28 strikes in the northern panhandle.
Washington approves only combat air patrols
Washington, responding to Unger's request, authorized only U.S. combat air patrols in support of the RLAF operations, not the U.S. strikes. U.S. air strikes against communist LOCs in the panhandle are not authorized until much later.
14 Oct 1964 RLAF makes initial U.S. supported attacks
The RLAF, with U.S. aircraft in combat air patrol support, make the first strikes against the communist LOCs in the panhandle.
16 Oct 64 Embassy Saigon Message, JPS 303, Taylor to the President
Ambassador Taylor reports greatly increased infiltration from the North, including North Vietnamese regulars, and a steadily worsening situation in the South.
21 Oct 64 JCSM 893-64
The JCS urge Secretary McNamara to back military measures to seize control of the border areas of South Vietnam and to cut off the supply and direction of the Viet Cong by direct measures against North Vietnam.
27 Oct 1964 JCSM 902-64
On the basis of the new intelligence on infiltration levels, the JCS again recommend direct military pressures against the North.
1 Nov 64 Viet Cong Attack Bien Hoa Airbase
In a daring strike, the Viet Cong staged a mortar attack on the large U.S. airbase at Bien Hoa, killing four Americans, destroying five B-57s, and damaging eight others.
White House Decides Not to Retaliate
Concerned about possible further North Vietnamese escalation and the uncertainty of the Red Chinese response, the White House decides, against the advice of Ambassador Taylor, not to retaliate in the tit-for-tat fashion envisaged by NSAM 314. As a result of the attack, however, an interagency Working Group of the NSC is established to study future courses of U.S. action under the Chairmanship of William Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs.
3 Nov 64 Civilian Named Premier
Tran Van Huong is named Premier in SVN.
First Meeting of NSC Working Group
The NSC Working Group held its first meeting. Other members are Michael Forrestal and Marshall Green from State, John McNaughton from ISA, Harold Ford for CIA, and Admiral Lloyd Mustin from JCS. Work continues for three weeks.
In a landslide victory, President Johnson is re-elected with a new Vice President, Hubert Humphrey.
4 Nov 64 JCSM 933-64
The JCS place in writing their request for reprisal action against North Vietnam in retaliation for the Bien Hoa attack. Failure to act may be misinterpreted by the North Vietnamese as a lack of will and determination in Vietnam.
14 Nov 64 CGCS Memorandum to SecDef, CM 258-64; and JCSM 955-64
In separate memos to the Secretary, the JCS recommend covert GVN air strikes against North Vietnam and additional U.S. deployments to South East Asia to make possible implementation of U.S. strikes should these be approved.
17 Nov 64 Working Group Circulates Draft "Options" for Comment
The Working Group circulates its draft paper on the "Options" available to the U.S. in South Vietnam. They are three: (A) continuation of present policies in the hope of an improvement in the South but strong U.S. resistance to negotiations; (B) strong U.S. pressures against the North and resistance of negotiations until the DRV was ready to comply with our demands; and (C) limited pressures against the North coupled with vigorous efforts to get negotiations started and recognition that we would have to compromise our objectives. Option B is favored by the Working Group.
18 Nov 64 JCSM 967-64
The JCS renews its recommendation for strikes against the North tempering it slightly in terms of "a controlled program of systematically increased military pressures."
21 Nov 64 Revised Working Group Draft
Having received comments from the different agencies, the Working Group revises its draft slightly, takes note of different viewpoints and submits its work to the NSC Principals for their consideration.
23 Nov 64 Rostow Memo to SecState
Taking a somewhat different tack, the then Director of State's Policy Planning Staff, W. W. Rostow, proposes military pressures against the North as a method of clearly signaling U.S. determination and commitment to the North.
24 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting
No consensus is reached, but Option A is generally rejected as promising only eventual defeat. Option B is favored by the JCS and CIA, while State and OSD favor Option C. No firm conclusion is reached on the issue of sending ground troops to South Vietnam.
27 Nov 64 Taylor Meets with Principals
Having returned for consultations, Ambassador Taylor meets with the NSC Principals and after giving a gloomy report of the situation in South Vietnam, recommends that to shore up the GVN and improve morale we take limited actions against the North but resist negotiations until the GVN is improved and the DRV is hurting. He proposed an extended Option A with the first stages of Option C. This proposal was adopted by the Principals as the recommendation to be made to the President.
28 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting
In a follow-up meeting, the Principals decide to propose a two phase program to the President. The first phase would be a thirty-day period of slightly increased pressure such as the resumption of the DE SOTO patrols and U.S. armed recce on the Laotian corridor while we tried to get reforms in South Vietnam. The second phase would involve direct air strikes against the North as in Option C. William Bundy was charged with preparing a draft NSAM to this effect and an infiltration study was commissioned.
30 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting
Meeting to review the draft prepared by Bundy, the Principals decided not to call it a NSAM. Its provisions are those recommended on 28 Nov. Phase II would be a graduated and mounting set of primarily air pressures against the North coupled with efforts to sound out the DRV on readiness to negotiate on U.S. terms. A recommendation on linking U.S. actions to DRV infiltration is deleted.
1 Dec 64 White House Meeting
While the exact decisions made at this meeting of the Principals with the President are not available, it is clear that he approved in general terms the concept outlined in the Bundy paper. He gave his approval for implementation of only Phase I, however. The President stressed the need for Taylor to get improvement from the GVN and the need to brief our allies on our new course of action, and to get more assistance from them in the conflict.
3 Dec 64 Taylor Meets President
The President meets privately with Taylor and gives him instructions that he is to explain the new program to the GVN, indicate to its leaders that the Phase II U.S. strikes against the North are contingent on improvement in the South, and explain that these will be cooperative efforts.
4 Dec 64 Cooper Report on Infiltration
A thorough study on North Vietnamese infiltration as commissioned by the Principals is submitted to the NSC and later forwarded to Saigon. Decisions on its release are continually deferred.
7 Dec 64 Taylor Meets with Premier Huong
The day after his return to Saigon, Taylor meets with Premier Huong and with General Khanh and outlines the new U.S. policy and states the requirements this places on the GVN.
7-9 Dec 64 Prime Minister Wilson brie/ed
In Washington on a state visit, British Prime Minister Wilson is thoroughly briefed on the forthcoming U.S. actions. On 4 Dec., William Bundy had gone to New Zealand and Australia to present the new policy and seek support. Other envoys were meeting with the remaining Asian allies.
9 Dec 64 Second Taylor-Huong-Khanh Meeting
At a second meeting with Huong and Khanh, Taylor presents a detailed set of actions he desires the GVN to take to improve the situation and receives agreement from the two leaders.
10 Dec 64 Souvanna Phouma Approves U.S. Laos Strikes
The U.S. proposal for armed air recce over the Laotian corridor is presented to Souvanna Phouma who gives his assent.
11 Dec 64 GVN Announces Greater Efforts
Complying with Taylor's request, the GVN announces stepped-up efforts to improve the campaign against the VC and to reform the government.
12 Dec 64 SecDef Approves JCS Proposal for Naval Actions
The Secretary approves a JCS proposal for shore bombardment, naval patrols and offshore aerial recce for the first thirty days. A decision on the Phase II was deferred.
NSC Principals Approve Armed recce in Laos
As planned, the NSC approved armed air recce over the Laotian corridor with the exact number and frequency of the patrols to be controlled by SecDef.
14 Dec 64 BARREL ROLL Begins
The first sorties of U.S. aircraft in the "armed recce" of the Laotian corridor, known as BARREL ROLL, take place. They mark the beginning of the thirty-day Phase I of the limited pressures.
18 Dec 64 Level of Laotian Missions Set
Secretary McNamara sets two missions of four aircraft each as the weekly level of BARREL ROLL activity.
19 Dec 64 NSC Principals Meeting
The NSC Principals approve McNamara's recommendation that BARREL ROLL missions be held at constant levels through Phase I. It is revealed that adverse sea conditions have brought maritime operations against the DRV to a virtual halt. At McNamara's insistence it is agreed that the infiltration study will not be made public.
Khanh Purges Civilian Government
Late in the evening, the military high command, led by Khanh, moved to remove all power from the civilian regime of Premier Huong by dissolving the High National Council. Khanh assumes power.
20 Dec 64 Taylor Meets With ARVN Leaders
In a meeting with the leading South Vietnamese military officers, Taylor once again outlined the actions required from the GVN by the U.S. before Phase II could be started.
22 Dec 64 Khanh Publicly Repudiates Taylor
After having given initial appearances of understanding the difficulty that the military purge placed the U.S. in, Khanh on Dec. 22 holds a news conference and states that the military is resolved not to carry out the policy of any foreign power.
24 Dec 64 Rumors of Taylor's Expulsion
Rumors are received by the Embassy that Khanh intends to have Taylor declared persona non grata. Vigorous U.S. efforts to dissuade him and the use of Phase II as leverage cause Khanh to reconsider.
U.S. BOQ Bombed; Embassy Saigon Message 1939; CJNCPAC Message to ICS, 26 Dec; JCSM 1076-64
In a terror attack this Christmas Eve, the VC bomb a U.S. BOQ in Saigon. Two U.S. officers are killed, 58 injured. Taylor urges reprisals against the North. He is supported by CINCPAC and the JCS.
29 Dec 64 NSC Principals Meeting
At the meeting of the NSC Principals, a decision against reprisals for the barracks bombing is taken in spite of the strong recommendations above. At the same meeting, ISA reported the readiness of the Philippines, ROK, and GRC to send military assistance to South Vietnam.
31 Dec 64 Embassy Saigon Message 2010
Taylor proposes going forward with the Phase II U.S. strikes against the North in spite of the political crisis in the South and under any conceivable U.S. relations with the GVN short of complete abandonment.
CJCS Memo to DepSecDef, CM 347-64
The JCS recommend the addition of several air missions to already approved operations, including two air strikes by unmarked VNAF aircraft against the North, and U.S. air escort for returning GVN naval craft.
3 Jan 65 Rusk TV Interview
Secretary Rusk appears on a Sunday TV interview program and defends U.S. policy, ruling out either a U.S. withdrawal or a major expansion of the war. The public and Congressional debate on the war had heated up considerably since the Army take-over in South Vietnam in December. The debate continues through January with Senator Morse the most vocal and sharpest critic of the Administration.
4 Jan 65 Soviets call for new Conference on Laos
Renewing their earlier efforts, the Soviets call again for a conference on the Laotian problem.
5 Jan 65 NSC Principals Meet
The Principals disapprove the JCS recommendation for VNAF strikes with unmarked aircraft against the North. The JCS voice concern at the failure to begin planning for Phase II of the pressures program. But no decision to go ahead is taken.
6 Jan 65 William Bundy Memo to Rusk
In view of the continued deterioration of the situation in the South and the prevailing view that the U.S. was going to seek a way out, Bundy recommended some limited measures, short of Phase II (i.e. recce, a reprisal, evacuation of U.S. dependents, etc.), to strengthen our hand. There were risks in this course but it would improve our position with respect to the other SEA nations if things got rapidly worse in SVN and we had to contemplate a withdrawal.
8 Jan 65 First Korean Troops Go to South Vietnam
The first contingent of 2,000 South Korean troops leave for South Vietnam.
9 Jan 65 Generals Announce Return to Civilian Government
Under U.S. pressure, the South Vietnamese generals announce that matters of state will be left in the future in the hands of a civilian government. The joint Huong-Khanh communique promises to convene a constituent assembly.
11 Jan 65 US-GVN Aid Discussions Resume
With the return to civilian government, the U.S. resumes its discussions with the GVN on aid and measures to improve the military situation.
14 Jan 65 U.S. Laotian Operations Revealed
A UPI story reveals the U.S. BARREL ROLL armed recce missions in Laos and tells the story of the YANKEE TEAM armed escort for the RLAF.
7 Jan 65 Buddhist Riots
Shortly after the GVN announcement of increased draft calls, Buddhist protest riots break out in several cities against the allegedly anti-Buddhist military leaders. Disturbances continue through the month.
Jan 65 Soviets Affirm Support of DRV
In letters to Hanoi and Peking, Gromyko affirms Soviet support for the DRV struggle against American imperialism.
23 Jan 65 USIS Library Burned in Hue
Rioting Buddhists burn the USIS library in Hue.
Jan 65 McNaughton paper, "Observations re South Vietnam After Khanh's 'Re-Coup'"
The U.S. stakes in South Vietnam were defined as holding buffer land for Thailand and Malaysia and maintaining our national honor. They required continued perseverance in a bad situation, taking some risks such as reprisals. It was important to remember that our objective was the containment of China not necessarily the salvation of South Vietnam. In this effort, however, we should soon begin reprisal strikes against the North. They would not help the GVN much but would have a positive overall effect on our policy in SEA.
Generals Withdraw Support from Huong
The generals under Khanh's leadership act once again to eliminate the civilian government. This time they succeed in their coup and the U.S. only protests.
28 Jan 65 General Oanh Named Premier
General Nguyen Xuan Oanh is named acting Premier by General Khanh.
DECISIONS REGARDING MILITARY PRESSURE AGAINST NORTH VIETNAM
9 Mar 1961
NSAM 28 conveys President Kennedy's instructions that "we make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in Viet-Minh territory at the earliest possible time." SecDef and Director, CIA, asked to furnish views re actions to be taken in the near and "the longer" future periods.
11 May 1961
President Kennedy approves program for covert actions proposed by Vietnam Task Force. Program includes: (1) dispatch of agents into NVN, (2) aerial resupply of agents in NVN through use of civilian mercenary air crews, (3) infiltration of special GVN forces into SE Laos to locate and attack Communist bases and LOC's, (4) formulation of "networks of resistance, covert bases and teams of sabotage and light harrassment "inside NVN, and (5) conduct of overflights of NVN for purpose of dropping leaflets. (NSAM 52)
11 Oct 1961
State Department proposes concept for U.S. intervention in Vietnam/Laos situation. Concept would require deployment of SEATO ground force of 11,000 men along Laos and portion of Cambodian borders, along with options for "hot pursuit" of VC across borders. Proposal sought to achieve political objective of responding to an appeal by Diem to help protect his borders from infiltrated guerrilla forces "inspired, directed and supported from NVN." Supplemental Note, appended to the proposal by OSD/ISA recommended (among other measures) that the U.S. encourage GVN guerrilla action against communist aerial resupply missions in the Tchepone area of Laos, through the commitment of U.S. advisers if necessary. Operation was to include employment of indigenous forces equipped with .50 calibre AA weapons.
13 Oct 1961
President Kennedy directs (among other measures) that we "initiate guerrilla ground action, including the use of U.S. advisers if necessary" against Communist aerial resupply missions in the vicinity of Tchepone. He also directed the Department of State to prepare to publish its White Paper on DRV responsibility for aggression in SVN. (NSAM 104)
8 Dec 1961
Department of State publishes 1st White Paper on DRV aggression in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords.
GVN augments its CIA-sponsored programs of infiltration and ber 1961 covert operations through recruiting candidates "to form an underwater demolition team (to operate) . . . in strategic maritime areas of NVN." ("Status Report on Covert Actions in Vietnam," 21 Dec. '61)
2 Jun 1962
I.C.C. report states that DRV has violated 1954 Geneva Agreement through its encouragement and support of SVN insurgency. GVN also criticized, on two counts.
Signing of Geneva Accords on Laos reduces considerably the scope of covert operations against Communist forces outside SVN.
25 Jun 1963
President Kennedy rejects portion of State Department's plan of actions to deal with a deteriorating situation in Laos, which called for actions to be taken against NVN. While approving two other phases of the proposal (one only for planning purposes), he urges that this final phase be reviewed to determine whether "additional U.S. actions should be taken in Laos before any action be directed against NVN." (NSAM 249)
9 Sep 1963
JCS approve CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63, which called for MACV and CAS, Saigon to provide
advice and assistance to the GVN in certain operations against NVN. Phase I
of the plan was to consist of "Psychological Operations"; Phase II
of "Hit and Run Attacks." The latter included "amphibious raids
UDT/SEAL Team, Rangers, Airborne, and Marine units against selected targets south of the Tonkin Delta having little or no security." Apparently, the plan was not forwarded to the White House by SecDef.
30 Oct 1963
Ambassador Lodge recommends a political-military initiative directed at NVN. In the context of a scheme to "neutralize NVN," he urges "an essentially diplomatic carrot and stick approach, backed by covert military means."
Cross-border operations into Laos reported to be resumed by CAS, Saigon. On 19 November, CAS reported "first results just coming in." (CAS Saigon 2540)
26 Nov 1963
In a review of discussions of Vietnam policy held at Honolulu, 20 November 63, newly installed President Johnson directs (among other measures) that "planning should include different levels of possible increased activity, and in each instance there should be estimates of such factors as:
a. Resulting damage to NVN;
b. The plausibility of denial;
c. Possible NVN retaliation;
d. Other international reaction."
The directive also called for a plan, to be submitted for approval, for military operations "up to a line up to 50 km. inside Laos, together with political plans for minimizing the international hazards of such an enterprise." (NSAM 273)
15 Dec 1963
In response to JCS request of 26 Nov 63, MACV and CAS, Saigon forward a joint plan of combined GVN/USG operations against NVN. Designated OPLAN 34A, the proposal providing "a spectrum of capabilities for RVNAF to execute against NVN" that would "convince the DRV leadership that they should cease to support insurgent activities in the RVN and Laos. It contained 72 actions, many of which were covert and only 16 of which were considered "punitive or attritional." In forwarding letter, CINCPAC urges that Category IV actions, largely air attacks, "appear to have the highest probability of success." (CINCPAC letter to JCS, 19 Dec 63)
Interagency study group chaired by Robert Johnson, Department of State Policy
Planning Council, begins examination of various ways of applying pressure directly
to NVN, as director and supplier of SVN insurgency.
20 Feb 1964
Ambassador Lodge recalls his recommendation of 30 October 63, urging President Johnson to apply "various pressures" to NVN and eliminate the sanctuary for guerrilla support. (Saigon Embassy Msg./State 1954)
21-25 Feb 1964
Both President Johnson and Secretary Rusk (dates respectively) make public statements that "those engaged in external direction and supply [of the SVN insurgency] would do well to be reminded and to remember that this type of aggression is a deeply dangerous game." (Dept. of State Bulletin, March 16, 1964)
15 Mar 1964
Ambassador Lodge urges President Johnson to begin reconnaissance flights over NVN and covert actions against NVN before considering any "overt U.S. measures."
17 Mar 1964
President Johnson approves Secretary McNamara's report resulting from an inspection trip to South Vietnam and culminating an extensive policy review by the Administration. Report recommended against overt military measures directly against SVN for the present and stressed numerous internal actions in support of the GVN's progam to combat the VC insurgency. Report did urge immediate preparation of a capability to "mount new and significant pressures against NVN," to include a 72-hour capability for a full range of SVN "border control" operations and "retaliatory actions against NVN," and a capability to initiate "graduated overt military pressure" within 30 days of notification. It further urged authority for "continued high-level U.S. overflights of SVN's borders," and "hot pursuit" and GVN ground operations into Laos for purposes of border control. (NSAM 288)
17 Mar 1964
President Johnson requests that "political and diplomatic preparations be made to lay a basis for "high- or low-level reconnaissance over NVN" if it seems necessary or desirable after a few weeks." He asks Secretaries Rusk and McNamara to further study and make recommendations in concert on "questions of further U.S. participation and of air and ground strikes against Laos," and reserves judgement on overt U.S. measures against NVN. The President authorizes Ambassador Lodge "to prepare contingency recommendation for specific tit-for-tat actions in the event attacks on Americans are renewed." (White House Msg. to Amb. Lodge/ State 1454)
19 Apr 1964
Secretary Rusk decided to go ahead with plan suggested by Ambassador Lodge to have new Canadian I.C.C. Commissioner selected and briefed, in part, for purpose of conveying to Hanoi the seriousness of U.S. purpose and the limited nature of U.S. objectives in Vietnam. Decision was made in the context of a Saigon conference to discuss the categories of action against NVN developed by the interagency study group. It reflected the Ambassador's feeling that a diplomatic attempt to persuade NVN to call off the insurgency (using the carrot and stick approach) should precede any program involving "massive publicity" or "massive destructive actions."
30 Apr 1964
In Ottawa, Secretary Rusk obtains Canadian agreement to cooperate in the proposed diplomatic initiative toward Hanoi. J. Blair Seaborn named as I.C.C. Commissioner and given preliminary instructions.
14 May 1964
In conversation with Secretary McNamara, General Khanh expresses his concern that the GVN will not be ready for greater actions against the North for some time. However, he states his belief that they will be inevitable at some later date. (Saigon Embassy Msg. to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara/State 2203)
15 May 1964
In answer to President Johnson's query, Ambassador Lodge confirms his backing of the idea to initiate promptly the Hanoi mission of the Canadian I.C.C. Commissioner. Further, he urges that "if . . . there has been a terroristic act of the proper magnitude . . . a specific target in NVN 'should be struck' as a prelude to his arrival."
23 May 1964
Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy (designated as coordinating executive by President Johnson in NSAM 288) presents members of SEA ExCom. with proposed 30-day scenario for exerting graduated military and political pressure on NVN. Involving a planned sequence of diplomatic moves and public statements from both Saigon and Washington, the scenario culminated with GVN, and eventually US, air strikes against NVN war-supporting targets and a call for international conference on Vietnam. Included in the sequence would be a Joint Congressional Resolution affirming the President's freedom of action to use force if necessary in protecting the security of SEA. (Ambassador Lodge had previously expressed strong dissent at the overt nature of the actions included in the scenario.) (Draft Memo for the President)
25 May 1964
ExCom. decided not to recommend the 30-day scenario--apparently because of the estimated high probability of escalation and the countervailing diplomatic image of larger objectives that such escalation would create. Instead, it recommends a Presidential decision to use force if "appropriate diplomatic and political warning and preparation" and "other efforts" fail to "produce a sufficient improvement of non-Communist prospects in South Vietnam and in Laos." Recommendation was based on the premises that included: "that a decision to use force if necessary, backed by resolute and extensive deployment, and conveyed by every possible means to our adversaries, gives the best present chance of avoiding the actual use of such force." The ExCom. further recommends that all parts of Southeast Asia be treated as part of a single problem and that a sequence of diplomatic and public actions similar to those in the scenario and including a well-publicized strategy conference in Honolulu, be set in motion. (Draft Memo to the President)
26 May 1964
Ambassador Lodge cables Secretary Rusk that he is "coming to the conclusion
that we cannot reasonably . . . expect a much better performance out of the
GVN than what we are now getting unless something [like US retaliation for terrorist
acts] is brought into the picture." (State 2318)
31 May 1964
In Saigon, General Khanh tells Secretary Rusk (on way to Honolulu Conference) that SVN can not win against the VC without military actions outside its borders. He urges immediate actions by ARVN, with air support (US or GVN not clear), to eliminate Communist forces in E. Laos and end the VC threat to cut SVN in half across the Highlands. Secretary Rusk tells Khanh "We are purposely giving the Sino-Soviet bloc many indicators that we are about to react to recent aggressions." But that he could say nothing about specific American intentions in the immediate future "because he simply did not know. The Honolulu meeting would produce some firm recommendations to the President and some plans, but ultimately only the President could decide. His decision would be influenced by consideration of all implications of escalation . . ." (CINCPAC Msg. 1 June 64/SECTO 37)
2 Jun 1964
JCS question military adequacy "for the present situation" of the currently dominant objective to "cause the North Vietnamese to decide to terminate their subversive support of activity in Laos and SVN," but agree to it as "an initial measure." They state their opinion that termination of the DRV's support of the insurgencies can be assured only by "military actions to accomplish destruction of the NVN will and capabilities as necessary to compel the DRV to cease providing support." In case national authority opts for the lesser (and former) objective, the JCS propose two target complexes significantly associated with support of the effort in Laos and SVN, the destruction of which can be achieved quickly and precisely and "with minimum impact on civilian populations." (JCSM-47 1-64)
At Honolulu, Secretaries McNamara and Rusk and CIA Director McCone agree "emphatically," in response to Ambassador Lodge's questioning, that a Congressional Resolution was a necessary element in any preparations for wider US participation against. . . NVN. The possibilities of (1) having to deploy as many as seven divisions, (2) having to call up reserves, and (3) having to protect SVN from possible NVN and CHICOM reprisals were cited as reasons why special confirmation of the Presidential authority was needed. Its deterrence effects were also cited. As a result of discussions of current military plans and posture for SEA, the principals acknowledge numerous factors that make prompt military action by the US undesirable. These included: (1) force build-up necessary to support current plans, (2) the possible interference of such build-ups with our intended signal of limited objective, (3) the need for more precise targeting studies, (4) the need for a larger ARVN reserve, (5) the need for a stronger GVN base, (6) the need to prepare allied governments and US public opinion, and (7) the impact of the rainy season, inhibiting offensive operations in the Laos panhandle. (Memo of Record, 3 June 64)
5 Jun 1964
CJCS Taylor sends Secretary McNamara a view contrary to that in 2 June 64 JCS memo, urging three, rather than two, general alternative patterns for putting military pressure on NVN. To alternatives roughly corresponding to the two posed by the JCS he adds a third "demonstrative" alternative "to show US readiness and intent to pass to [the harsher] alternatives." Though stating his preference for the middle alternative, he states feeling "that it is highly probable that political consideration will incline our responsible civilian official to opt for [the mildest] alternative," and that, therefore, the JCS should develop a plan for implementing it.
9 Jun 1964
In answer to the President's question whether control of SVN and Laos by NVN would necessarily mean the loss of SEA, CIA replies negatively. It asserts, however, that such an eventuality "would be profoundly damaging to the US position in the Far East . . . would be damaging to US prestige, and would seriously debase the credibility of US will and capability to contain the spread of Communism elsewhere in the areas [sic] [by later elaboration, the SEA mainland]." The US deterrence posture vis-a-vis overt military aggression by Peking and Hanoi was viewed as not suffering appreciably from such a loss," as long as the US can effectively operate from [its island] bases." The Department of State view agreed and, if different, was slightly more alarmist. (Memo for the Director, CIA)
11 Jun 1964
Laotian Premier Souvanna Phouma reaffirms original agreement (8 June) to US armed escort of reconnaissance flights over "South Laos" and the Plaine des Jarres, with authority to attack ground units first firing on them. Situation in Laos has become fairly stabilized and non-threatening, with the US entered on a "negotiating track" hopefully leading to "the convening of the Polish consultations in the next 3-4 weeks and their continuation over a period of time." This State Department assessment opines, "We do not expect at the present time to move in the near future to military action against NVN." (Memo on the SEA Situation, 12 June 64)
23 Jun 1964
Presidential news conference, cited in State Dept. messages to embassies as "significant and precise statement of the US position in SEA." Previously, military posturing actions including: (1) deployment of a B-57 wing from Japan to the Philippines, (2) reinforcement of military contingency stockpiles in Thailand, and (3) development of a network of new air bases and operational facilities in SVN and Thailand had been given extensive press coverage.
President Johnson directs all government agencies to "seek to identify actions which can be taken to improve the situation in Vietnam: actions which would produce maximum effect with minimum escalation." [words missing]
2-5 Aug 1964
Tonkin Gulf incident and US reprisals against NVN targets.
6 Aug 1964
Congress passes a joint resolution stating that international peace and security in SEA were "vital to" the national interest. The resolution authorized President Johnson "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force," to assist any SEATO "member of protocol state" requesting US help in defending its freedom. (Dept. of State Bulletin August 24, 1964)
In response to Secretary McNamara's request for NVN targets, the JCS submits initial "94-target list."
14 Aug 1964
Department of State cables Saigon and Vietnam embassies and CINCPAC requesting comment on key points in a "tentative high level paper on next courses of action in SEA." In summary of points, is included statement, "the next ten days to two weeks should be short holding phase in which we would avoid action that would in any way take onus off Communist side for escalation." Cable then specifies that DESOTO patrol will not be resumed and new 34A operations will not be undertaken. After sketching "essential elements of the political and military situations in both SVN and Laos, as well as respective strategies re negotiations, the cable then lists proposed "limited pressures" to be exerted on the DRV in Laos and in NVN during the period, "late August tentatively through December." (State Msgs. to Saigon 439; Vietnam 157)
At a meeting at Udorn, Ambassadors Unger and Taylor agree that MACV should work out a division of targets in the Laotian panhandle area between RLAF and RVNAF aircraft and US suppressive strikes. In principle, the concept of cross-border operations into Laos by GVN ground forces, is agreed to within specific limits, for planning purposes.
24 Aug 1964
After re-examining initial targeting proposals, the JCS recommend a course of action for SEA. They call for a "sharp sudden blow" as the most effective way "to bring home . . . the intent of the US "to bring about cessation of the DRV's support of insurgency in the South. They present a revised 94-target list" as the basis for their recommended course of actions. (JCSM 729/64)
Late August through October 1964
Joint State and ISA effort to develop new scenario for graduated pressures against NVN apparently in progress
10 Sep 1964
President authorizes resumption of DESOTO patrols and MAROPS portion of the 34A operations.
18 Sep 1964
President suspends DESOTO patrol operation, in the wake of a third incident (18 Sep 64) involving NVN patrol boat threats to US destroyer in the Tonkin Gulf.
3 Oct 1964
President Johnson authorizes resumption of the MAROPS program, involving (during October) two probes, an attempted junk capture and ship-to-shore bombardment of radar sites.
16 Oct 1964
Ambassador Taylor cables President Johnson regarding increased infiltration and worsening situation in SVN.
27 Oct 1964
The JCS express judgement that "strong military actions are required now in order to prevent the collapse of the US position in Southeast Asia," "making specific reference to SNIE 53-2-64 and the Taylor cable. They recommend a program of actions designed to support a strategy of:
a. Depriving the Viet Cong (VC) of out of country assistance by applying continuously increasing military pressures on the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam (DRV) to the extent necessary to cause the DRV to cease support and direction of the insurgency.
b. Depriving the VC of assistance within SVN by expanding the counterinsurgency effort-military, economic and political-within SVN.
c. Continuing to seek a viable effective government in SVN based on the broadest possible consensus.
d. Maintaining a military readiness posture in Southeast Asia that:
(1) Demonstrates the US will and capability to escalate the action if required.
(2) Deters a major communist aggression in the area."
Further, they request authority "to implement now" six actions within SVN and eight actions outside SVN, including GVN and US FARMGATE, also attacks on the infiltration LOC's in Southern NVN. (JCSM-902-64)
1 Nov 1964
Viet Cong forces attack the US air base and billeting at Bien Hoa.
3 Nov 1964
Assistant Secretary of State Bundy convenes newly established NSC Working Group on SVN/SEA, with membership from State, OSD/ISA, the JCS, and CIA.
Group work allocated into the following categories:
I. The Situation in SVN; II. US Objectives and Stakes in SVN and SEA: III. The Broad Options; IV. Alternative Forms of Negotiations; V. Analysis of Option A; VI. Analysis of Option B; VII. Analysis of Option C; VIII. Immediate Actions in the Period Prior to Decision; IX. Conclusions and Recommendations. Initial drafts of statements covering many of these sections were underway prior to establishment of the group. (Memo to Working Group Members.)
4 Nov 1964
The JCS urge "prompt and strong" military actions in reprisal for the Bien Hoa attacks. The actions include B-52 night strikes on Phue Yen airfield, attacks on Hanoi and Haiphong POL storage and other high-value targets. (JCS 2339/153)
14 Nov 1964
In response to Secretary McNamara's request to examine possible DRV/CHICOM military reactions to US air strikes on NVN, the JCS also reiterate their recommendation for "specific actions" made on 4 Nov 64. They link prepared actions to the "underlying objective . . . of causing the DRV to cease supporting and directing the insurgencies in RVN and Laos" and call them "equally applicable and appropriate for other serious provocations in SEA." (JCSM-955-64)
17 Nov 1964
NSC Working Group circulates draft working papers for each of the topics included in its study to the principal participating agencies for comment. The objective of the group is to prepare recommended courses of action prior to the arrival of Ambassador Lodge for a high-level SEA policy meeting. Papers present three alternative courses of action: A-Continued emphasis on counterinsurgency in SVN with provision for reprisals for provocations like Bien Hoa along with somewhat intensified 34A operations and air operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos; B-Graduated but steadily escalating air operations against LOCs and high-value targets in NVN; C-Graduated but variably paced military actions against infiltration routes in Laos and NVN. C would differ from the others also by including an overt willingness to negotiate a settlement based on the Geneva Accords.
23 Nov 1964
The JCS criticize the NSC Working Group's alternatives and some of its supporting rationale. Arguing that the loss of SEA "would lead to grave political and military consequences in the entire Western Pacific," the JCS urge stronger military options than those of the Working Group. They state that only two of five they describe give promise of achieving the stated US objectives: that recommended in JCSM-967-64, dated 18 Nov 64 and the stronger (and preferred) option recommended in JCSM-955-64, dated 14 Nov 64. (JCSM-98Z-64)
24 Nov 1964
At a meeting of the NSC Principals for SEA, consensus is reached that:
1. If the DRV did withdraw its effort, the security situation in the South could be handled in time if the government could maintain itself. However, the struggle would still be long.
2. The South Vietnam situation would deteriorate further under Option A even with reprisals, but that there was a significant chance that the actions proposed under Option B or Option C would improve GVN performance and make possible an improvement in the security situation.
3. Any negotiating outcome under Option A (with or without US negotiating participation) was likely to be clearly worse than under Option C or Option B.
4. It was not true, as the draft paper states, that Option B, in the light of all factors, has the best chance of attaining our full objectives.
5. The loss of South Vietnam would be somewhat more serious than stated in Section II of the draft paper, and it would be at least in the direction of the Joint Staff view as stated in the footnote to page 7 of the draft.
6. The requirement of Option C-maintaining military pressure and a credible threat of major action while at the same time being prepared to negotiote-could in practice be carried out.
7. Under Option C, our early military actions against the DRV should be determined, but low in scale, but that some higher-damage actions should be included under the reprisal heading.
Other points achieve less than consensus, and various aspects of executing Options B and C are discussed, including the merits of committing ground forces in various roles. (Memo of ExCom Meeting)
27 Nov 1964
At a meeting of the NSC Principals with Ambassador Taylor, consensus is expressed that it would be difficult for the US to continue its policies in SEA "if the GVN collapsed or told us to get out." Westmoreland's advice to delay wider actions for about six months is rejected on grounds that the situation may not hold together that long. Agreement is reached that although stronger action by the US would "have a favorable effect on GVN. . . performance and morale," it may not really improve the situation, and "the strengthening effect of Option C could at least buy time, possibly measured in years." The Principals recommend "that over the next two months we adopt a program of Option A plus the first stages of Option C," and that "we needed a more precise and fully spelled out scenario . . . with or without a decision to move into the full Option C program at some time thereafter." (Memo of Meeting)
1 Dec 1964
President Johnson approves Principals' recommendation to initiate immediate actions like those proposed under Option A. Principals conceive first phase of pressures against NVN as continuing 30 days or more, depending on GVN progress along specified lines. Should such progress be made, they see US entering a second-phase program consisting "principally of progressively more serious air strikes," as in Option C, "possibly running from two to six months." The President also grants US Mission in Saigon authority to work out reprisal plans with the GVN. Ambassador Taylor is instructed to tell the GVN that SVN's national unity and firm leadership are necessary prerequisites to US consideration of second phase operations. (Attach to Memo for SEA Principals, 29Nov64)
14 Dec 1964
JCS order initiation of armed reconnaissance operations in Laos and doubling of MAROPS incident rate-also initiate deployment of WESTPAC force augmentations necessary for reprisal actions (All Phase I operations).
I. FEB-JUNE 1964
A. INITIATION OF COVERT OPERATIONS
On 1 February 1964, the United States embarked on a new course of action in pursuance of its long-standing policy of attempting to bolster the security of Southeast Asia. On that date, under direction of the American military establishment, an elaborate program of covert military operations against the state of North Vietnam was set in motion. There were precedents: a variety of covert activities had been sponsored by the American CIA since 1961. Intelligence agents, resupplied by air, had been dispatched into North Vietnam; resistance and sabotage teams had been recruited inside the country; and propaganda leaflets had been dispensed from "civilian mercenary" aircraft. But the program that began in February 1964 was different, and its impact on future U.S. policy in Southeast Asia was far-reaching.
1. Covert Action Program: Scope and Character
The covert action program beginning in February 1964 was different, first of all, because it was a program. Designed to extend over a period of 12 months, it was divided into three phases distinguished by the character and intensity of their respective operations. The first phase (February through May) called for intelligence collection through U-2 and communications intelligence missions and psychological operations involving leaflet drops, propaganda kit deliveries, and radio broadcasts. It also provided for about "20 destructive undertakings, all within . . . early prospective [GVN] capabilities . . . [and] designed to resuit in substantial destruction, economic loss and harassment." The second and third phases involved the same categories of action, but of increased tempo and magnitude, and with the destructive operations extending to "targets identified with North Vietnam's economic and industrial well-being." Once started, the program was intended to inflict on North Vietnam increasing levels of punishment for its aggressive policies.
The 1964 program was different also because it was placed under control of an operational U.S. military command. Though the program was designed to be carried out by GVN or third country personnel, plans were developed by COMUSMACV and the GVN jointly and given interagency clearance in Washington through a special office under the JCS. CINCPAC and the appropriate CIA station furnished the necessary training and equipment support and COMUSMACV exercised operational control. Since subsequent phases of the covert program were to be based on a continuous evaluation of actions already taken, operation reports were submitted periodically through JCS staff channels for review by various Washington agencies.
Normally such routine staffing arrangements tend to encourage expectations of continued program actions. Moreover, they foreshadow bureaucratic pressures for taking stronger measures should previous ones fail to produce desired results. In the case of the covert operations program, these tendencies were reinforced through the evocation of a GVN policy commitment and the involvement of GVN officials in its implementation.
2. Origins and Development: Presidential Support and Approval
The covert program was spawned in May of 1963, when the JCS directed CINCPAC to prepare a plan for GVN "hit and run" operations against NVN. These operations were to be "non-attributable" and carried out "with U.S. military materiel, training and advisory assistance." Approved by the JCS on 9 September as CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63, the plan was discussed during the Vietnam policy conference at Honolulu, 20 November 1963. Here a decision was made to develop a combined COMUSMACV-CAS, Saigon plan for a 12-month program of covert operations. Instructions forwarded by the JCS on 26 November specifically requested provision for: "(1) harassment; (2) diversion; (3) political pressure; (4) capture of prisoners; (5) physical destruction; (6) acquisition of intelligence; (7) generation of intelligence; and (8) diversion of DRV resources." Further, that the plan provide for "selected actions of graduated scope and intensity to include commando type coastal raids." To this guidance was added that given by President Johnson to the effect that "planning should include . . . estimates of such factors as: (1) resulting damage to NVN; (2) the plausibility of denial; (3) possible NVN retaliation; and (4) other international reaction." The MACV-CAS plan, designated OPLAN 34A, and providing for "a spectrum of capabilities for RVNAF to execute against NVN," was forwarded by CINCPAC on 19 December 1963.
The idea of putting direct pressure on North Vietnam met prompt receptivity on the part of President Johnson. According to then Assistant Secretary of State, Roger Hilsman, it was just a few days before the military-CIA submission that State Department Counselor, Walt Rostow passed to the President "a well-reasoned case for a gradual escalation." Rostow was well-known as an advocate of taking direct measures against the external sources of guerrilla support, having hammered away at this theme since he first presented it at Fort Bragg in April 1961. In any event, on 21 December, President Johnson directed that an interdepartmental committee study the MACV-CAS plan to select from it those least risk." This committee, under the chairmanship of Major General Krulak, USMC, completed its study on 2 January 1964 and submitted its report for review by the principal officials of its various member agencies. The report recommended the 3-phase approach and the variety of Phase I operations described earlier. President Johnson approved the committee's recommendations on 16 January and directed that the initial 4-month phase of the program be implemented beginning 1 February.
3. Concept and Rationale: Convince DRV to Desist by Raising the Cost
In view of program performance and later decisions, the conceptualization underlying the program of covert operations against North Vietnam is particularly significant. JCS objectives for the initial CINCPAC formulation were to increase the cost to the DRV of its role in the South Vietnamese insurgency. The catalogue of operations submitted from Saigon was intended to "convince the DRV leadership that they should cease to support insurgent activities in the RVN and Laos." Although, in its forwarding letter, CINCPAC expressed doubt that all but a few of the 2062 separate operations detailed by MACV-CAS could have that kind of effect. In his view, only air attacks and a few other "punitive or attritional" operations had any probability of success in achieving the stated objectives.
Rationale accompanying the interdepartmental committee's program recommendations, apparently accepted by higher authority, reflected both the coercive objectives and the reservations associated with the earlier documents. Through its recommended program of "progressively escalating pressure," the committee aimed "to inflict increasing punishment upon North Vietnam and to create pressures, which may convince the North Vietnamese leadership, in its own selfinterest, to desist from its aggressive policies." However, it expressed the caution that "it is far from clear whether even the successful conduct of the operations . . . would induce Hanoi's leaders to cease and desist." Still, after enumerating a number of specific risks involved, it expressed the opinion that they were "outweighed by the potential benefits of the actions [it] recommended." In selecting these actions, the committee stated the assumption that the DRV's current strategy was to support the Viet Cong "at little cost to itself and at little risk to its industrial complex, while counting for victory upon U.S. and South Vietnamese war weariness . . ." It calculated:
The importance attached by Hanoi's leaders to the development of North Vietnam's economy suggests that progressive damage of its industrial projects, attrition of its resources and dislocation of its economy might induce a decision to call off its physical support of the Viet Cong. This reaction might be intensified by the traditional Vietnamese fear of Chinese domination, where expanded operations by our side could arouse concern in Hanoi over the likelihood of direct Chinese Communist intervention in North Vietnamese affairs.
Interagency commentary on the proposed operations provides additional insight into the rationale and expectancies associated with the initial 4-month program. After reviewing 13 of these operations, the Board of National Estimates concluded that "even if all were successful," they would not achieve the aim of convincing the DRV to alter its policies. The Board thought it possible that North Vietnamese leaders might view these operations "as representing a significant increase in the vigor of U.S. policy, potentially dangerous to them," but with a likely reaction no more significant than a DRV effort to try to arouse greater international pressure for a Geneva-type conference on Vietnam. In addition, it cautioned that at least three operations proposed for the initial period were too large and complex to be plausibly denied by the GVN. The committee noted this CIA caution but suggested it might provide a psychological advantage "for South Vietnam to acknowledge publicly its responsibility for certain of the retaliatory acts taken against the aggressor." However, the State Department member demurred, urging that only those operations that were covert and deniable by both the GVN and the United States be undertaken. His caution reflected recognition "of the risks and the uncertainty as to whether operations against North Vietnam will materially contribute to our objective of ending the war."
4. Implications: Greater Pressure on Hanoi
Thus, by early February 1964, the United States had committed itself to a policy of attempting to improve the situations in South Vietnam and Laos by subjecting North Vietnam to increasing levels of direct pressure. Despite explicit assessments that the contemplated early steps could not achieve its objectives, it had embarked on a program which demanded a significant commitment for its South Vietnamese allies and which in its expected later stages could expose them to considerable risk. Moreover, by initiating a program recognized as giving little promise of achieving its stated objectives through early actions, it raised expectancies for continued and intensified operations in later stages. It can be concluded that either the Administration (1) intended to continue to pursue the policy of pressuring North Vietnam until these pressures showed some propensity for success, or (2) sought through the covert operations program to achieve objectives different from those anticipated during the initial planning.
B. PLANNING FOR LARGER PRESSURES
As indicated by reservations expressed by an ad hoc interdepartmental committee on "pressures" against North Vietnam chaired by General Krulak, covert operations were seen as possessing several shortcomings with respect to influencing decisions in Hanoi. In appraising these operations, attention was drawn increasingly to the potential for undertaking punitive measures that appeared likely to be more compelling. The Krulak committee assessed the likely North Vietnamese response as follows:
Toughened, as they have been, by long years of hardships and struggle, they will not easily be persuaded by a punitive program to halt their support of the Viet Cong insurgency, unless the damage visited upon them is of great magnitude.
Moreover, the committee rationale reflected the idea generally held that the DRV would be responsive to more damaging actions. For example, Walt Rostow pressed the view on Secretary Rusk that "Ho [Chi Minhi has an industrial complex to protect: he is no longer a guerrilla fighter with nothing to lose."
1. Conceptual Origins and Motivations
In early February, several conceptual elements converged to focus Administration attention on the question of whether U.S. policy should embrace readiness to undertake larger punitive actions against North Vietnam. One element was the realization that the GVN would be incapable of increasing the number or size of its maritime operations beyond the modest "pin pricks" included in the Phase I covert actions program. Should stronger pressures be called for before May or June, they would have to be applied through direct air strikes, probably with USAF/FARMGATE assistance. Another element was the prospect of serious deterioration within Laos and South Vietnam, resulting from recent North Vietnamese troop infiuxes into Laos, fear of similar trends in South Vietnam, and heightened VC activity in the wake of the latest GVN coup of 30 January. Concern within the State Department was such that discussions were held on the desirability of the President's requesting a congressional resolution, drawing a line at the borders of South Vietnam.
A third element was the increasing articulation of a direct relation between the challenge of halting North Vietnam's assistance to the Southeast Asian insurgents and broader U.S. strategic interests. Stopping Hanoi from aiding the Viet Cong virtually became equated with protecting U.S. interests against the threat of insurgency throughout the world. For example, in support of their recommendation to "put aside many of the self-imposed restrictions which now limit our efforts" and "undertake a much higher level of activity" than the covert actions against external assistance to the Viet Cong, the JCS argued:
In a broader sense, the failure of our programs in South Vietnam would have heavy influence on the judgment of Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of the Philippines with respect to U.S. durability, resolution, and trustworthiness. Finally, this being the first real test of our determination to defeat the Communist wars of national liberation formula, it is not unreasonable to conclude that there would be a corresponding unfavorable effect upon our image in Africa and in Latin America.
Similarly, in Secretary Rusk's perception.
We must demonstrate to both the Communist and the non-Communist worlds that the wars of national liberation formula now being pushed so actively by the Communists will not succeed.
2. Interagency Study, February-March 1964
The immediate effect of the heightened interest in causing Hanoi to alter its policies by exerting greater punitive pressures was to stimulate a variety of planning activities within the national security establishment. For example, on 20 February, at a meeting with the Secretaries of State and Defense, CIA Director McCone, CJCS Taylor and members of the Vietnam Committee, the President directed:
Contingency planning for pressures against North Vietnam should be speeded up. Particular attention should be given to shaping such pressures so as to produce the maximum credible deterrent effect on Hanoi.
Underway at the time was a detailed interagency study intended to determine ways of bringing measured pressures to bear against the DRV. Directed by Robert Johnson, of the Department of State Policy Planning Council, the study group was assembled under the auspices of State's Vietnam Committee. Its products were funneled through William Sullivan, head of the committee, to its members and thence to the principal officials of the agencies represented. However, the papers produced by the study group did not necessarily represent coordinated interdepartmental views.
The study examined three alternative approaches to subjecting North Vietnam to coercive pressures: (1) non-attributable pressures (similar to the advanced stages of the covert actions program); (2) overt U.S. deployments and operations not directed toward DRV territory; and (3) overt U.S. actions against North Vietnam, including amphibious, naval and air attacks. In addition, it encompassed a number of "supporting studies" on such subjects as U.S. objectives, problems of timing, upper limits of U.S. action, congressional action, control arrangements, information policy, negotiating problems, and specific country problems. By addressing such a range of subjects, participants in the study came to grips with a number of broader issues valuable for later policy deliberations (e.g., costs and risks to the U.S. of contemplated actions; impact of the Sino-Soviet split; possible face-saving retreats).
In support of this study and in order to permit necessary political evaluations concerning the military alternatives available, the JCS were asked to furnish their views on the following issues: (1) the overall military capabilities of the DRV and Chinese Communists with respect to logistical capacity, geographical areas of operation, time required to initiate operations, and capacity for concurrent reactions in different regions; (2) military actions against NVN, using air and naval power only, which the GVN might undertake alone or which the U.S. might undertake both with and without public acknowledgment; (3) NVN targets, attack on which would be most effective in inhibiting particular DRV military capabilities; (4) course of action likely to bring about cessation of DRV support for the conflicts in Laos and South Vietnam; (5) action most likely to deter communist attacks on various parts of Asia in the event of a large-scale communist reaction to attacks on NVN; (6) the extent to which the United States could counter such reactions, using only air and naval operations and different ordnance combinations; and (7) modifications needed in current contingency plans to provide for U.S. responses depending "primarily upon air activities rather than the intervention of substantial U.S. ground forces."
The work of the study group resulted in an interim report on 1 March 1964,
just prior to Secretary McNamara's and CJCS Taylor's visit to South Vietnam.
This they carried with them in the form of a summary analysis of the group's findings. During a brief stopover in Honolulu, these findings and the issues raised by the Secretary's memorandum to the JCS were discussed. Particular emphasis was given to the possible advantage to be derived from converting the current operations into an "overt Vietnamese program with participation by [the] U.S. as required to obtain adequate results."
3. Study Group Analysis of Proposed Actions
The study group had given considerable attention to overt U.S. actions against North Vietnam. Its analysis was based on a concept of exploiting "North Vietnamese concern that their industrialization achievements might be wiped out or could be defended (if at all) only at the price of Chicom control" and of demonstrating "that their more powerful communist allies would not risk their own interests for the sake of North Vietnam." The actions it proposed were aimed at accomplishing five objectives: (1) induce North Vietnam to curtail its support of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam; (2) reduce the morale of the Viet Cong; (3) stiffen the Khanh government and discourage moves toward neutralism; (4) show the world that we will take strong measures to prevent the spread of communism; and (5) strengthen morale in Asia. However, the study group cautioned that "public justification of our actions and its expressed rationale must be based primarily upon the fact of Northern support for and direction of the war in the South in violation of the independence of South Vietnam." It then outlined a series of public informational, domestic political, and international diplomatic steps desirable for establishing this justification.
In seeking to achieve the objective cited above, the study group suggested military actions with the best potential and raised some vital policy issues. In ascending order of the degree of national commitment, the study group believed each would entail, the military actions were as follows: (1) "deploy to Thailand, South Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere the forces, sea, air and land, required to counter a North Vietnamese or Chicom response of the largest likely order"; (2) "initiate overt air reconnaissance activities as a means of dramatizing North Vietnamese involvement"; beginning with high-level flights and following with low-level missions; (3) "take limited air or ground action in Cambodia and Laos, including hot pursuit across the Cambodian border and limited operations across the Laos border"; (4) "blockade Haiphong," which would "have dramatic political effect because it is a recognized military action that hits at the sovereignty of North Vietnam and suggests strongly that we may plan to go further"; (5) "establish a limited air defense capability around Saigon"; and (6) conduct air strikes on key North Vietnamese LOC's, infiltrator training camps, key industrial complexes, and POL storage. It is important to note that the order of commitment perceived in early 1964 was considerably different from the order which most observers would assign to such actions at the time of this writing. The ground force deployments (Item 1) were primarily deterrent deployments to Thailand, on the model of those made during the 1961-62 Laotian crisis. Blockading (Item 4) was considered a low-commitment, low-risk action through most of 1964. Significantly, the last set of actions "in any number" was cited as implying "a U.S. commitment to go all the way if necessary." Thus, the group cautioned that before embarking on such steps the Administration should consider how far it would be willing to go in the event of possible reactions. For example, how long would we persist "in defiance of international pressures for a cease-fire and conference"? Or, how far would we go, either within the proposed concept or by escalating beyond it, in continuing military pressures if the DRV did not comply--or if it decided to escalate?
Although warning of the need to be prepared "to follow through against Communist China if necessary," the study group estimated that neither China nor the Soviet Union would intervene militarily, other than to supply equipment. In view of these estimates and the study group's basic assumption of DRV sensitivity to industrial losses, its assessments of the likely outcomes of the actions it discussed are significant. Asserting that pressures against North Vietnam were "no substitute for successful counterinsurgency in South Vietnam," the group listed the probable positive gains: (1) U.S. action could demonstrate U.S. power and determination, along with restraint, to Asia and the world at large; (2) U.S. action would lead to some reduction in Viet Cong morale; and (3) U.S. action if carefully planned and executed might improve our negotiating position over what it would otherwise be. (The group saw negotiation as "virtually inevitable.") However, it then countered with the following judgment:
It is not likely that North Vietnam would (if it could) call off the war in the South even though U.S. actions would in time have serious economic and political impact. Overt action against North Vietnam would be unlikely to produce reduction in Viet Cong activity sufficiently to make victory on the ground possible in South Vietnam unless accompanied by new U.S. bolstering actions in South Vietnam and considerable improvement in the government there. The most to be expected would be reduction of North Vietnamese support of the Viet Cong for a while and, thus, the gaining of some time and opportunity by the government of South Vietnam to improve itself.
When he returned from his visit to South Vietnam, Secretary McNamara recommended against either the United States or the GVN undertaking overt actions against North Vietnam "at this time." One compelling reason was General Khanh's expressed wish not to engage in overt operations until a firmer GVN political base had been established, but there were others as well. Mr. McNamara regarded such actions as "extremely delicate . . . both from the military and political standpoints," because of specific problems. These were identified as: (1) the problem of justifying such actions; (2) the problem of "communist escalation"; and (3) the problem of pressures for premature negotiations. Moreover, he stated the judgment that the practical range of our overt options did not permit assured achievement of our practical objectives. In identifying these, he drew a distinction similar to that made by the interagency study group-between the stated objective of eliminating Hanoi's control of the VC insurgency and the "practical" objectives of "collapsing the morale and the self-assurance of the Viet Cong cadres . . . and bolstering the morale of the Khanh regime." [Doc. 158]
What Mr. McNamara did recommend for military actions outside South Vietnam reflected the contemporary concerns over Laos. Prior to his visit, the increased NVA activity in eastern Laos had prompted several recommendations for military measures to thwart new communist territorial gains in that country and to interrupt the flow of men and materiel into South Vietnam along the Laotian infiltration routes. In particular, elements within the Department of Defense urged efforts to lift existing restrictions on cross-border pursuit of engaged forces into Laos, including accompaniment of GVN air and ground forces by U.S. advisory personnel. They also sought authorization for both GVN and U.S. aircraft to overfly Laos for reconnaissance purposes. The JCS urged low-level reconnaissance flights over Laos as advantageous both for collecting badly needed intelligence and for visibly displaying U.S. power. The State Department recommended deploying twelve F-100's to Thailand, with a view toward its potential deterrence and signalling impacts on communist activities in Laos. On his return from South Vietnam, two of the actions for which Secretary McNamara sought Presidential authority dealt with activities affecting Laos: (1) (Recommendation 11) "hot pursuit" and small-scale operations across the Laotian border by GVN ground forces "for the purpose of border control" and "continued high-level U.S. overflights" of the border; and (2) (Recommendation 12) preparations to be ready "to initiate the full range of Laotian and Cambodian border control actions" within 72 hours.
Actions recommended by the Secretary to provide measures aimed directly at North Vietnam (Recommendation 12) fell into two categories: (1) preparation for "retaliatory actions," defined to include "overt high and/or low level reconnaissance flights . . . over North Vietnam" as well as "tit-for-tat" bombing strikes and commando-type raids; and (2) planning and preparations "to be in a position on 30 days' notice to initiate the [sic] program of 'Graduated Overt Military Pressure' against North Vietnam." The wording of the latter recommendation is notable because, at the time, there apparently was no planned overt "program" in existence; the discussion of overt pressures appended to the Secretary's report was considerably less than even a recommendation for such a program. The concept of retaliatory actions was more explicitly defined, but here too, it was apparent that important questions like, "Retaliation for what?" and "Under what circumstances?" had yet to be answered clearly. The scenario described in the report's appended "Illustrative Program" of retaliatory pressure seemed to mix elements appropriate for a continuous program of military actions against North Vietnam with those suitable as tit-for-tat response to specific provocations.
Each of the Secretary's recommendations was approved by President Johnson at a National Security Council meeting on 17 March, with the directive for all agencies "to proceed energetically" in executing them. Subsequent planning activities by different implementing agencies indicate that they did not share a common view of the policy implications and assumptions contained in these recommendations.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 3, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Glossary of Acronyms and Terms
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241
Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency
in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
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