The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 3
Chapter 2, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)

Section 2, pp. 157-206


1. Two Basic Approaches: JCS and State-ISA

The principal planning agencies responding to the President's directive regarding Recommendations 11 and 12 were the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State together with OSD/ISA, and the two efforts took rather different approaches. The JCS responded literally to the instructions and tasked CINCPAC to prepare an action program of border control and retaliatory operations with 72-hour responsiveness and one of "graduated overt military pressure by GVN and U.S. forces" against North Vietnam with 30-day responsiveness. The JCS preparation for near-term implementation of these recommendations went beyond the usual contingency planning as indicated by their instruction that CINCPAC's plan "permit sequential implementation" of the three actions. The JCS approved the CINCPAC submission, as OPLAN 37-64, on 17 April 1964.

The State-ISA planning activity proceeded under the apparent belief that the actions included in Secretary McNamara's Recommendation 12 were approved as contingency options, one or more or none of which might be selected for implementation at some time in the future. In fact, State believed the Secretary's categories of action were not in keeping with likely developments--"that [cross-border] actions against Cambodia and Laos are dependent heavily on the political position in these countries at the time, and that, in general, it seems more likely that we would wish to hold off in hitting Cambodia until we had gone ahead hard against North Vietnam itself . . . there appear to be reasons not to open up other theaters until we have made clear that North Vietnam is the main theater and have not really started on it." Further, it questioned the utility of tit-for-tat retaliatory actions because of (1) the difficulty of responding in kind, or in a fitting manner, to the most likely-terrorist-variety of VC provocations and (2) their inappropriateness for conveying "the picture of concerted and steadily rising pressures that reflect complete U.S. determination to finish the job." Accordingly, the State-ISA effort began by developing a political scenario designed to accommodate only the graduated military pressures referred to in Recommendation 12. These were divided into three major categories: (1) covert GVN action against North Vietnam with covert U.S. support; (2) overt GVN action with covert U.S. support; and (3) overt joint GVN and U.S. action. The two categories involving overt activities were conceived of as possible future developments, contingent upon a Presidential decision that clearly had not been made.

2. Different Approaches: Perceptions of the Strategic Problem in Southeast Asia

The differences in approach taken in the two planning efforts cannot be explanned simply by the obvious military and political division of labor. It is clear from documents of the period that there was considerable coordination between the two groups, with the JCS planners looking to State and ISA for political guidance and the latter group looking to the former for recommendations for appropriate military actions. During the early months of 1964, these are well illustrated in the different approaches taken to the problem of determining the extent and implicationsr of the movement of men and supplies through Laos.

At the end of 1963 and early in 1964, there was general agreement among all Washington agencies that we lacked adequate information concerning the nature and magnitude of whatever movement of men and materiel was occurring along the Laotian infiltration routes. For example, citing the "lack of clarity" on the "role of external intrusion" in South Vietnam, Walt Rostow urged William Sullivan on the eve of his March visit to attempt to "come back from Saigon with as lucid and agreed a picture" as possible on the extent of the infiltration and its influence on the Viet Cong. A few days later, the Defense Intelligence Agency informed Secretary McNamara that "certain intelligence gaps" were "related primarily to the types and amounts of weapons and materiel coming into South Vietnam, [and] the number of Viet Cong personnel infiltrating into South Vietnam . . ." To alleviate this situation, the JCS favored such measures as ground probes into Laos by GVN reconnaissance teams and low-level reconnaissance flights over the trail areas by GVN and U.S. aircraft. The State Department, supported by OSD/ISA, opposed such operations as potentially damaging to our relations with the Laotian government.

In supporting its recommendations and in its comments on State-ISA proposals, the JCS argued that an integrated approach should be taken to the security of Southeast Asia, with our actions in Laos closely related to those taken on behalf of South Vietnam. They saw the key problem for all of Southeast Asia as the DRV's aggressive intent. As they stated, "the root of the problem is in North Vietnam and must be dealt with there." Moreover, they felt that reconnaissance operations into and over Laos were justified because they saw Laotian security as dependent on that of South Vietnam. "Laos," they argued, "would not be able to endure the establishment of a communist--or pseudo neutralist--state on its eastern flank." They criticized our "self-imposed restrictions" as tending to make the task in Vietnam "more complex, time-consuming, and in the end, more costly" and for possibly signalling "irresolution to our enemies." Accordingly, they implied that the United States should convince the Laotian Premier of the need to take direct action against the Viet Minh infiltration through low-level reconnaissance and other cross-border operations--but above all, to carry out these actions in order to impress the DRV with our resolve to deny its insurgents a sanctuary. In the specific context of recommending these kind of actions, they stated "that the time has come to lift the restrictions which limit the effectiveness of our military operations."

The State-ISA policy view also regarded Laos and Vietnam as parts of the overall Southeast Asian problem, but in early 1964 their conception of how U.S. objectives might be achieved extended beyond the need to thwart the communist guerrilla threat. In this view, policy success meant "bolstering the capability of all free countries in the area to resist communist encroachment." This required cooperating with the foreign governments of these countries and being careful not to erode their authority or contribute to their instability. Thus, instead of cross-border ground probes or low-level reconnaissance missions, which might prove politically embarrassing to the shaky regime of Laotian Premier Souvanna Phouma, the State-ISA view favored extending the mission of Laotian ground reconnaissance teams, which had been sponsored covertly by the CIA with the Premier's support. Moreover, this approach to policy included the view that, within the scope of broad regional policy goals, solutions to problems in individual countries should be tailored to the unique political context of each country. Insofar as Laos was concerned, this meant not only being sensitive to Souvanna Phouma's political status, but also adhering to the letter and spirit of the 1962 Geneva Accords, on which it was conceded the structure of a stable political future must be erected. In the State-ISA view, the only alternative to this approach would be an eventual large-scale deployment of U.S. ground forces to drive out the Pathet Lao/NVA forces.

The meaning of these different overall policy conceptions for the planning processes of April and early May 1964 was that the U.S. Government was faced with a dilemma--whether to take remedial military actions which might ease the short-term problems in South Vietnam or whether to dramatize our commitment to all of Southeast Asia with the long-term solution in mind. The dilemma was particularly complex because elements of one alternative were needed to enable progress toward the other. Specifically, three accomplishments were considered vital to our long-term objectives in Southeast Asia: (1) to convince Hanoi, whose direction of the insurgencies was certain, of our resolve to prevent the success of its aggressive policies; (2) to maintain the cooperation of Souvanna Phouma and the Laotian neutralist political structure (which also required the support of the Geneva members) and thereby preserve the framework of the 1962 Geneva Accords; and (3) to build a stable, effective political authority in South Vietnam. Vital to the third accomplishment was our major short-term objective--of permanently reversing the trends in the guerrilla war in South Vietnam. These, in turn, were believed to be sustained in their currently deteriorating direction by the infiltration of men and supplies from North Vietnam. The possibility was recognized that determining the extent of this infiltration and eliminating it, if necessary, might be a decisive element in a solution of the short-term problem.

However, the short-term solution involved potential threats to the long-term policy elements: the most effective measures for obtaining the necessary intelligence involved actions likely to alienate Souvanna and damage the political structure in Laos. Yet, some of this same kind of intelligence would be important in convincing the Premier of the need to permit low-level reconnaissance flights and other kinds of operations. On the other hand, the impact of the infiltration on the war in South Vietnam was far from certain. For example, Ambassador Unger reported in December that the recent use of the Laotian corridor was not extensive enough to have influenced significantly the then intensive VC efforts in South Vietnam. Hence, if the desired military operations were undertaken without Souvanna's approval, and it was discovered that the infiltration was not really crucial to the war in the South, a long-term interest would have been compromised without receiving any real short-term advantage.

To further complicate the picture, direct strikes against North Vietnam were being advocated as a means to obtain both long and short-term goals. On the one hand, overt military actions had been recommended to convince the DRV of our resolve. On the other hand, they were proposed as a means to force Hanoi to stop the flow of material assistance to the South. Moreover, it was generally agreed within policy circles that such actions must be supported by public disclosures of the kind of convincing evidence of Hanoi's support for the VC that the Administration did not yet possess.

By the end of March, one aspect of policy puzzle had been resolved. On 17 March, Ambassador Lodge reported a long conversation between General Khanh and a Laotian representative, with Souvanna's permission, at which a working agreement between military forces of the two governments was obtained. Khanh and Phoumi Nousavan, Laotian rightist military commander, arranged to resume diplomatic relations between the two countries during that week and came to other more specific agreements as follows:

1. Laotians agreed to allow South Vietnam to have free passage in Southern Laos, to create a combined Laotian-Vietnamese staff to use all the bases including Tchepone, and to conduct bombardment with unmarked T-28 planes (in the areas where FAR (Phoumi's) forces were engaged).
2. The 10-kilometer limit on hot pursuit is abrogated; commando raids and sabotage can be undertaken without limit by combined Laotian and South Vietnamese units; South Vietnamese officers will serve the Laotian units to provide added leadership.

Previously, President Johnson had indicated approval of cross-border ground penetrations into Laos "along any lines which can be worked out between Khanh and Phoumi with Souvanna's endorsement." Although asking Secretaries Rusk and McNamara to develop a joint recommendation concerning U.S. participation in air strikes within Laos, the President went on to state a position consonant with that of the State-ISA view:

My first thought is that it is important to seek support from Souvanna Phouma and to build a stronger case before we take action which might have only limited military effect and could trigger wider Communist action in Laos.

3. Planning Overt Actions on Contingency Basis (April-May)

The planning efforts of April and early May attempted to accommodate the remaining contradictory aspects of the policy dilemma. On the same day he signed NSAM 288 approving Secretary McNamara's visit report, the President sent the first of two closely spaced messages to Ambassador Lodge that could have set the tone for the planning ahead. (Presumably the President's views were communicated to the principal officials in the agencies involved in planning for Southeast Asia.) Commenting on Lodge's critique of the McNamara report, he indicated favor for the Ambassador's expressed preference for "carrot and stick" pressures short of overt military action, and specifically "reserve[d] judgment on overt U.S. measures against North Vietnam." Three days later he cabled confirmation that actions being studied with North Vietnam as a target were regarded strictly as contingency planning.

Principal focus for the planning during April was OSD/ISA, with assistance from the Far Eastern Bureau and the Vietnam Committee, in the Department of State, and from the JCS. During the first three weeks of April, it developed three or four versions of scenarios of political actions "to set the stage and to develop support both at home and abroad" for different categories of military action against North Vietnam. Initially, the categories, and their scenarios, were regarded separately, although the first "Covert SVN action against the North (with U.S. covert support)," was recognized as the stage of political-military activity in which the United States was currently engaged. The others, (1) covert U.S. support of overt GVN aerial mining and air strike operations and (2) overt joint U.S. and GVN aerial reconnaissance, naval displays, naval bombardments and air attacks, would necessarily have to follow. In subsequent versions, the planning evolved more explicitly toward a continuous scenario in three sequential phases.

In each version, however, the "current" scenario included such political measures as: (1) a speech by General Khanh stating GVN war aims; (2) a briefing for "friendly" senators and congressmen on our aims in Southeast Asia and the problem of DRV directions of the VC; (3) public explanations of U.S. policy toward South Vietnam; and (4) diplomatic discussions with the United Kingdom and the North Atlantic Council. Each of the second scenarios, which came to be characterized by GVN-USAF/FARMGATE air operations, contained similar actions but placed emphasis on political initiatives that would surface in Saigon rather than in Washington, "so as to maintain the credibility of the sovereignty of the GVN." This stage also included such measures as: (1) another trip to Saigon by Secretary McNamara for the specific purpose of obtaining General Khanh's agreement to begin overt GVN actions against the North; (2) consultations with Thailand and the Philippines; (3) Presidential consultations with key congressional leaders; and (4) public release of a new State Department White Paper on North Vietnamese involvement in the insurgency. Each of the final scenarios, which came to be associated with our overt responses to DRV/CHICOM escalations, included diplomatic and political preparations for direct U.S. actions. Significantly, the scenarios also incorporated initiatives leading to an international conference on Vietnam at Geneva.

The evolution toward a continuous sequential scenario reflects the influence of the JCS. Their response to the 31 March draft: (1) called for approximate time-phasing of the various steps in "the scenario"; (2) urged a fusion of the scenario with CINCPAC operational planning (OPLAN 37/64); and (3) attempted to incorporate Secretary McNamara's requested border control operations into the political actions recommended for the current time period. Moreover, the JCS developed a "political/military scenario" for graduated overt military pressure against North Vietnam, as called for in Secretary McNamara's Recommendation No. 12, 16 March 1964. Within this scenario the JCS included "expanded U.S. overt military pressures" against the DRV. In effect, they outlined a continually intensifying program of military pressures which increasingly involved U.S. military participation.

Complementing the thrust of JCS advice, the next draft, 8 April, removed current political actions from the list of political scenarios and treated them in a section entitled "Steps Which Should be Taken Now." The current scenarios included: (1) GVN,: FARMGATE graduated overt military pressures against North Vietnam; (2) separate Laotian and Cambodian border control actions; (3) separate GVN retaliatory actions against North Vietnam; and (4) overt U.S. graduated military pressures against North Vietnam. The detailed scenario for the GVN/FARMGATE operations was reviewed by Mr. McNaughton with William Sullivan of the Department of State and Michael Forrestal of the White House staff. The scenario version resulting from this conference, contains the JCS-recommended time-phasing, in terms of D-Day minus X approximations. It also incorporates specific military actions recommended by the JCS submission. Apparently, only this scenario and the detailed description of "Steps Which Should be Taken Now" were circulated for comment by other agencies. Apparently, this draft provided the basis for scenario discussions held in Saigon among Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secretary William Bundy, CJCS Wheeler, Ambassador Lodge and certain military and civilian members of the Country Team on 19-20 April 1964.

A later version was prepared on 20 April and forwarded to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on 23 April. Significantly, it contained only three scenarios:
I. "Uncommitting" steps which should be taken now; II. GVN/FARMGATE graduated overt pressures on DRV; III. Contingency Plan for U.S. overt response to DRV/CHICOM reactions. It also carried the following comment concerning their relationship:

It should be noted that carrying out Scenario I does not necessarily commit the U.S. to commence Scenario II; and that Scenario II may be carried out without requiring resort to Scenario III. However, since Scenario II cannot be launched without our being prepared to carry out Scenario III, you should assume that it may be necessary for the D-Day of Scenario III to occur as soon as 10 days after the D-Day of Scenario II. Scenario III is a contingency plan of action which we would contemplate putting into effect only if the DRV's or Chicom's reaction to Scenario II was judged by the President to require overt U.S. response.

At the Saigon meeting, the concerns of the local officials for initiating some immediate measures to relieve the situation in South Vietnam came into conflict with the longer-range scenario approach. Ambassador Lodge "questioned the wisdom both of massive publicity and of massive destruction actions before a well-planned and well executed diplomatic attempt had been made to persuade NVM to call off the VC." He went on to propose communicating to Hanoi, through a third-country "interlocutor," our intent to embark on a "carrot and stick program," combining the threat of increasing air strikes with the granting of some assistance to the DRV. His supporting rationale explicitly cautioned that the VC reaction to large-scale measures against the North might be violent and damaging to the South Vietnamese economy. More significant may have been the fact that the "large-scale measures" proposed in the scenario came quite late in the second stage, a stage that may not have been entered--at least for some time.

What the Ambassador had in mind regarding a carrot and stick approach was not entirely new. It had first been proposed in his memorandum to Governor Harriman on 30 October 1963. It was raised again in cables to the White House on 20 February and 15 March 1964. Initially proposed in the context of a scheme to encourage the neutrality of North Vietnam, the carrot and stick concept envisioned a secret contract with Hanoi at which an ultimatum would be delivered demanding the DRV's cessation of support for the VC insurgency. Rewards for compliance would include our making available food imports, to help alleviate the known shortages affecting North Vietnam in late 1963 (and early '64). In the case of non-compliance, we would undertake previously threatened punitive strikes to which we would not admit publicly. What was new in the proposal of 19 April were: (1) the suggestion for using a third country intermediary and (2) that one element of the "carrot" might be our pledge to withdraw some U.S. personnel from South Vietnam. The latter suggestion was criticized by William Bundy on the basis that we didn't yet know how many and what types of American military personnel were needed in South Vietnam. Lodge countered with the comment that "it would be very hard indeed for Ho Chi Minh to provide a salable package for his own people and for other cornmunist nations unless we can do something that Hanoi can point to, even though it would not be a real concession on our part."

The ensuing discussion, on a variety of points, provided an indication of some of Secretary Rusk's paramount concerns, which may shed important light on later policy decisions. For example, he sought opinions on the likely GVN reaction to a Geneva Conference specifically for Laos. In another context, he stated "his concern that the extent of infiltration and other provisions of support from the North be proven to the satisfaction of our own public, of our allies, and of the neutralists." During a discussion of the availability of other Asian troops to fight in Vietnam, Secretary Rusk stated "that we are not going to take on the masses of Red China with our limited manpower in a conventional war." He also stated the opinion that the Chinese would not opt to intervene militarily unless they felt they could count on Soviet support and that we could bring great economic pressure to bear on the Chinese through our allies. While expressing the opinion that Hanoi's renunciation of the Viet Cong would "take the heart out of the insurgency," he indicated doubt that elimination of North Vietnam's industrial targets would have much of an adverse impact on it. Moreover, the Secretary acknowledged the possibility that such an act "would have fofeited the 'hostage' which we hold in the North . . . without markedly affecting the fight against the Viet Cong, at least in the short run."

The major immediate outcome of the meeting was a decision to go ahead with the suggestion to arrange for the visit of a third country interlocutor to Hanoi. On 30 April, Secretary Rusk visited Ottawa and obtained an agreement from the Canadian Government to include such a mission among the instructions for its new I.C.C. representative. According to the agreement, the new official, J. Blair Seaborn, would: (1) try to determine Ho's attitude toward Chinese support, whether or not he feels over-extended, and his aims in South Vietnam; (2) stress U.S. determination to see its objectives in South Vietnam achieved; (3) emphasize the limits of U.S. aims in Southeast Asia and that it wanted no permanent bases or installations there; and (4) convey U.S. willingness to assist North Vietnam with its economic problems. Other results of the Saigon meeting consisted of a variety of actions recommended by Secretary Rusk. Of these, only four were related to the issue of military pressures against North Vietnam. These were recommendations to (1) engage "more flags" in efforts directly supporting the GVN; (2) deploy a carrier task force to establish a permanent U.S. naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay; (3) initiate anti-junk operations that would "inch northward" along the Vietnam coast; and (4) enlist SEATO countries in an effort to isolate the DRV from economic or cultural relations with the Free World.

4. Conflict of Short and Long Term Views: Caution Prevails

During the last week of April and the early weeks of May, the contention between those urging prompt measures and those counseling a deliberate, cautious pacing of our actions continued. For example, Walt Rostow urged Secretary Rusk to consider how difficult it would be to make a credible case in support of actions to force Hanoi's adherence to the Geneva Accords if political deterioration took place in Laos and South Vietnam. Predicting such an eventuality in the coming months, he implied that the necessary actions should be taken soon. Similarly, Ambassador Lodge continued to advocate prompt implementation of his carrot and stick approach including, if VC provocations warranted, a well-timed reprisal just prior to Commissioner Seaborn's arrival in Hanoi. These views were communicated to Secretary McNamara and William Sullivan during their visit to Saigon, 12-13 May, and confirmed in a cable to the President three days later.

The JCS commented on the final version of the State-ISA political-military scenarios and criticized them for not including the more immediate actions requested in NSAM 288: namely, border control and retaliatory operations. Making a distinction between border operations already arranged for (Recommendation 11) and those intended by Recommendation 12, they advocated incorporating in the second-stage scenario retaliatory operations and overt military pressures against North Vietnam. They also urged including border control operations of battalion-size or larger, low-level reconnaissance by U.S. aircraft, and VNAF air operations in Laos that include strikes on bridges and armed route reconnaissance. In justifying such actions, they stated:

.....military operations against the DRV to help stabilize the situation in the Republic of Vietnam, and other operations planned to help stabilize the situation in Laos, involve the attack of the same target systems and to a considerable extent the same targets. Assistance in the achievement of the objective in the Republic of Vietnam through operations against NVN could likewise have a similar result in Laos, offering the possibility of a favorable long-term solution to the insurgency problem in Southeast Asia.

However, the deliberate, cautious approach continued to hold sway. Secretary McNamara's trip to Saigon, called for early in the second-stage scenario as a means to obtain General Khanh's agreement to initiate overt operations against the North, did not include this purpose. On the contrary, a week prior to the visit General Khanh had raised with Ambassador Lodge the issue of putting his country on a fully mobilized war footing-accompanying it with a declaration that further interference by Hanoi in South Vietnamese affairs would bring reprisals-and Secretary McNamara was instructed to impress upon Khanh that such drastic measures and threatening gestures were unnecessary at the moment. More important, it was stressed that the GVN "systematically and aggressively demonstrate to the world that the subversion of the South is directed from Hanoi," through sending "capable ambassadors to the important capitals of the world to convince governments of this fact." Moreover, while assuring General Khanh that our commitment to his country and Laos "does not rule out the use of force . . . against North Vietnam," the Secretary was advised to remind him that "such actions must be supplementary to and not a substitute for successful counterinsurgency in the South"-and that "we do not intend to provide military support nor undertake the military objective of 'rolling back' communist control in North Vietnam."


1. Laos in Danger: "Pressure Planning"

In mid-May 1964, a new factor entered the policy-shaping process-a factor which cast a shadow of crisis management over the entire decision making environment. On 17 May, pro-communist forces in Laos began an offensive which led to their control of a significant portion of the Plaine des Jarres. On the 2 1st, the United States obtained Souvanna Phouma's permission to conduct low-level reconaissance operations over the occupied areas. For several weeks the offensive threatened to destroy the security of the neutralist-rightist position- and with it the political underpinning of U.S.-Laotian policy. These developments lent a greater sense of urgency to the arguments of those advisers favoring prompt measures to strengthen the U.S. position in Southeast Asia.

The most avid of those urging prompt action were the JCS. On 19 May they had recommended a new, more intensive series of covert operations for the four-month Phase II under OPLAN 34-A. [Doc. 161] On the 23rd, referring to their earlier recommendations to incorporate larger border contol and retaliatoy operations and overt graduated pressures in the next-phase scenario, they expressed opinions on the urgency of preparing for such actions. Particular emphasis was placed on the need to consult with the GVN so that the necessary training and joint operational preparations could take place. The JCS prodded State with the comment, "The Department of State should take the lead on this but as yet has not," at the same time recalling that the operations in question had been provided for under the approved CINCPAC OPLAN 37-64 (17 April 1964). In another plea for prompt implementation, they argued that since these operations were to be plausibly deniable by the United States, "efforts to create the necessary climate of opinion should not be, of necessity, too time consuming."

Figuring prominently in the retaliatory operations and the graduated pressures advocated by the JCS against North Vietnam were air strikes--some by the VNAF alone and some in cooperation with USAF/FARMGATE and other U.S. air units. What they thought these kinds of operations could accomplish varied according to the targets struck and the composition of the attacking force. Assuming an air campaign ordered for the purpose of: (1) causing the DRV to stop supporting the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao and (2) reducing its capability to renew such support, the JCS perceived the following categories of accomplishment: Category A--They believed that undertaking "armed reconnaissance along highways leading to Laos," striking "airfields identified with supporting" the insurgents, and destroying "supply and ammunition depots, petroleum storage and military (installations) connected with PL/VC support" would result in "a reduction of DRV support." Category B--They believed that striking the "remaining airfields," destroying "important railroad and highway bridges" and "depots in northern NVN," conducting aerial mining operations, and bombing "petroleum storage in Hanoi and Haiphong" would result in a reduced "DRV military capability to take action against Laos and the RVN." Category C--They cited the remaining capability for effectively destroying the North Vietnamese industrial base.

In the same appraisal, the JCS went on to estimate the time required to achieve 85% damage against the various target categories, using different force combinations in continuous operations. For Category A, they estimated, it would take the VNAF alone more than seven months, if they could sustain combat operations that long; the VNAF plus FARMGATE B-57's would require over two months. By using, in addition, U.S. land and carrier-based air units readily available in the Western Pacific, they claimed that targets in Category A could be eliminated in only twelve days; those in all categories could be destroyed in 46 days. They added that sustaining this destruction on LOC targets would require restrikes "conducted for an indeterminate period."

The JCS were not the only Presidential advisers to sense the urgency created by the situation in Laos. Referring to "recent steps with regard to bombing operations in Laos and reconnaissance which step up the pace," Secretary Rusk cabled Ambassador Lodge to seek suggestions for ways to achieve greater solidarity in South Vietnam. He explained that in Washington, the fragility of the situation in South Vietnam was seen as an obstacle to further U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. As he stated, "We need to assure the President that everything humanly possible is being done both in Washington and by the government of Vietnam to provide a solid base of determination from which far-reaching decisions could proceed." Lodge's reply reflected a new wrinkle in his usual proposals for prompt, but carefully masked actions. He expressed the attitude that some kind of firm action against North Vietnam by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces was the only way to bring about a significant improvement in the GVN effort. This view complemented an apparently growing belief among Presidential advisers "that additional efforts within South Vietnam by the U.S. will not prevent further deterioration there."

This belief, together with the threat presented by the Pathet Lao offensive, led to a resumption of scenario development. However, in the new "crisis management" atmosphere, several new elements affected the process. One was the fact that the latest scenario was prepared as a draft memorandum for the President. Another was the expectation that it would be presented to and discussed among the principal officials of the participating agencies, serving as an Executive Committee of the National Security Council. And finally, the crisis in Laos apparently had focused advisory interest primarily on one stage--that dealing with overt operations against North Vietnam. The scenario no longer contained a section devoted to "uncommitting steps which should be taken now." The rationale behind this shift of emphasis was explained to Ambassador Lodge, an outspoken critic of both the overt approach and the scenario, by Secretary Rusk:

It is our present view here that [substantial initial attacks without acknowledgment] would simply not be feasible. Even if Hanoi itself did not publicize them, there are enough ICC and other observers in North Vietnam who might pick them up and there is also the major possibility of leakage at the South Vietnam end. Thus, publicity seems almost inevitable to us here for any attack that did significant damage.

2. A New Scenario: 30 Days of Sequential Politico-Military Action

On the same day that the JCS urged that the GVN be consulted regarding preparations for border control and retaliatory operations, the new scenario of political and military actions was completed. The scenario called for a 30-day sequence of military and political pressures coupled with initiatives to enter negotiations with Hanoi (see Table 1). Military actions would not start until after "favorable action on a U.S. Congressional Joint Resolution" supporting U.S. resistance to DRV aggressions in Southeast Asia. Initially, the strikes would be carried out by GVN aircraft, but as they progressed, USAF/FARMGATE and other U.S. air units would join in. These "would continue despite negotiations, until there was clear evidence that North Vietnam had stopped its subversion of the South." The negotiating objectives would be to obtain both agreement and evidence that (1) "terrorism, armed attacks, and armed resistance stop" and (2) "communications on the networks out of the North are conducted entirely in uncoded form."

Presented along with the scenario were assessments of likely communist reactions and the possible U.S. responses to these moves. The most likely military reactions to the scenario actions were seen as expanded insurgency operations, including possible "sizeable infiltration" of North Vietnamese ground forces, and a drive toward the Mekong by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces. The Soviet Union was expected to intensify its diplomatic opposition to U.S. policies and China was expected to (1) augment North Vietnamese air defense capabilities, and (2) successfully dissuade Hanoi from any willingness (particularly after U.S. air operations began) to reduce its support of the Viet Cong. To counter communist reactions, the proposal specified in each contingency that intensified operations against North Vietnam would be the most effective option. In response to intensified insurgency, considered the least intense (though most likely) alternative available to the communist powers, the proposal included provision for augmenting South Vietnamese forces "by U.S. ground forces prepositioned in South Vietnam or on board ship nearby."

The May 23, 1964 scenario read as follows: (Table 1)

1. Stall off any "conference on [Laos Or] Vietnam until D-Day."
2. Intermediary (Canadian?) tell North Vietnam in general terms that U.S. does not want to destroy the North Vietnam regime (and indeed is willing "to provide a carrot"), but is determined to protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam.
3. (D-30) Presidential speech in general terms launching Joint Resolution.
4. (D-20) Obtain Joint Resolution approving past actions and authorizing whatever is necessary with respect to Vietnam.
Concurrently: An effort should be made to strengthen the posture in South Vietnam. Integrating (interlarding in a single chain of command) the South Vietnamese and U.S. military and civilian elements critical to pacification, down at least to the district level, might be undertaken.
5. (D-16) Direct CINCPAC to take all prepositioning and logistic actions that can be taken "quietly" for the D-Day forces and the forces described in Paragraph 17 below.
6. (D-15) Get Khanh's agreement to start overt South Vietnamese air attacks against targets in the North (see D-Day item 15 below), and inform him of U.S. guarantee to protect South Vietnam in the event of North Vietnamese and/or Chinese retaliation.
7. (D-14) Consult with Thailand and the Philippines to get permission for U.S. deployments; and consult with them plus U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan, asking for their open political support for the undertaking and for their participation in the re-enforcing action to be undertaken in anticipation of North Vietnamese and/or Chinese retaliation.
8. (D-13) Release an expanded "Jordan Report," including recent photography and evidence of the communications nets, giving full documentation of North Vietnamese supply and direction of the Viet Cong.
9. (D-12) Direct CINCPAC to begin moving forces and making specific plans on the assumption that strikes will be made on D-Day (see Attachment B* in backup materials for deployments).
10. (D-10) Khanh makes speech demanding that North Vietnam stop aggression, threatening unspecified military action if he does not. (He could refer to a "carrot.")
11. (D-3) Discussions with Allies not covered in Item 7 above.
12. (D-3) President informs U.S. public (and thereby North Vietnam) that action may come, referring to Khanh speech (Item 10 above) and declaring support for South Vietnam.
13. (D-l) Khanh announces that all efforts have failed and that attacks are imminent. (Again he refers to limited goal and possibly to "carrot.")
14. (D-Day) Remove U.S. dependents.
15. (D-Day) Launch first strikes (see Attachment C** for targets). Initially, mine their ports and strike North Vietnam's transport and related ability (bridges, trains) to move South; and then against targets which have maximum psychological effect on the North's willingness to stop insurgency-POL storage, selected airfields, barracks/training areas, bridges, railroad yards, port facilities, communications, and industries. Initially, these strikes would be by South Vietnamese aircraft; they could then be expanded by adding FARMGATE, or U.S. aircraft, or any combination of them.
16. (D-Day) Call for conference on Vietnam (and go to UN). State the limited objective: Not to overthrow the North Vietnam regime nor to destroy the country, but to stop DRV-directed Viet Cong terrorism and resistance to pacification efforts in the South. Essential that it be made clear that attacks on the North will continue (i.e., no cease-fire) until (a) terrorism, armed attacks, and armed resistance to pacification efforts in the South stop, and (b) communications on the networks out of the North are conducted entirely in uncoded form."

The scenario was circulated among members of the ExCom and discussed during their meetings of 24 and 25 May. Apparently, modifications were made in the course of these meetings, as notations in the SecDef files indicate scenario versions of 24, 25 and 26 May. In addition to the assessments that accompanied the scenario proposal, the discussants had available to them an estimate of likely consequences of the proposed actions, prepared by the Board of National Estimates, CIA, with State and DIA assistance, and concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board.

The national estimate agreed essentially with the proposal's assessment of Soviet and Chinese reactions and concluded that Hanoi's would vary with the intensity of the U.S./GVN actions. The national intelligence boards believed that Hanoi "would order the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao to refrain from dramatic new attacks, and might reduce the level of the insurrections for the moment" in response to U.S. force deployments or GVN-USAF/FARMGATE attacks. The expected DRV rationale, supported by Peking and Moscow, would be to bank on "a new Geneva Conference or UN action . . . [to] bring a cessation of attacks" and to stabilize communist gains in Vietnam and Laos. Communist agitation of world opinion would be employed to bring on the conference. If attacks on North Vietnam continued, the intelligence boards saw Hanoi intensifying its political initiatives, but also possibly increasing "the tempo of the insurrections in South Vietnam and Laos." If these tactics failed to produce a settlement "and North Vietnam began to suffer considerable destruction," the boards estimated:

We incline to the view that [DRV leaders] would lower their terms for a negotiating outcome; they would do so in the interests of preserving their regime and in the expectation of being able to renew the insurrections in South Vietnam and Laos at a later date. There would nevertheless be a significant danger that they would fight, believing that the U.S. would still not be willing to undertake a major ground war, or that if it was, it could ultimately be defeated by the methods which were successful against the French.

In its discussion of the problem of compelling Hanoi to halt the VC insurgency, the national estimate emphasized that this depended on affecting the will of the DRV leaders. It stressed that the measures called for in the scenario "would not seriously affect communist capabilities to continue that insurrection," stating that "the primary sources of communist strength in South Vietnam are indigenous." On the other hand, it predicted that withdrawal of material assistance from North Vietnam would badly hurt the Pathet Lao capability. Because of the crucial importance of Hanoi's will, the estimate argued that the DRV "must understand that although the U.S. is not seeking the destruction of the DRV regime, the U.S. is fully prepared to bring ascending pressures to bear to persuade Hanoi to reduce the insurrections." But, while comprehending U.S. purposes in the early phase of the scenario actions, they may "tend increasingly to doubt the limited character of U.S. aims" as the scale of the attacks increases. Fhe report adds:

Similarly, the 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.

3. Rejection of Scenario: "Use Force If Necessary"

At its meeting on 25 May, the ExCom apparently decided not to retain the cenario approach in the courses of action it would recommend to the President. At least, it abandoned the time-phasing aspects of the series of actions contained in the scenario proposal, and it made explicit its purpose not to embark on a series of moves "aimed at the use of force as an end in itself." The available evidence is far from conclusive on the reasons why the scenario approach was cast aside, but it seems clear that the potential for entering into an escalating conflict in which our limited objectives might become obscured weighed heavily in the decision.

In addition to the evidence already cited, a strong indication of the ExCom's desire to avoid the possibility of escalation is contained in the draft memorandum prepared for President Johnson, as a result of the 25 May meeting. In this memorandum, it was recommended that the President decide:

. . . that the U.S. will use selected and carefully graduated military force against North Vietnam, under the following conditions: (1) after appropriate diplomatic and political warning and preparation, (2) and unless such warning and preparation--in combination 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.

The recommendation was based on an explicit assumption "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." Reflecting the influence of the national intelligence boards' rationale concerning "U.S. preparatory and low-scale action," the ExCom also stated the belief that "selective and carefully prepared military action against North Vietnam will not trigger acts of terror and military operations by the Viet Cong which would engulf the Khanh regime." What the ExCom meant by "selective and carefully prepared military actions" is suggested by its request, on the same day, for JCS views on the feasibility of telegraphing intended action through military deployments.

Despite its abandonment of the paced scenario approach, the ExCom proposed that many of the actions incorporated in the scenario be undertaken. Although proposing a particular order for these actions, the committee suggested that the sequence may need to be modified in reaction to specific developments, especially in view of different choices available to the enemy. In addition to the Presidential decision, the recommended actions included: (1) communication of our resolve and limited objectives to Hanoi through the Canadian intermediary; (2) conducting a high-level Southeast Asian strategy conference in Honolulu; (3) diplomatic initiatives at the UN to present the case for DRV aggression; (4) formal and bilateral consultation with SEATO allies, including the question of obtaining allied force commitments; (5) seeking a Congressional Resolution in support of U.S. resistance to communist aggression in Southeast Asia; (6) periodic force deployments toward the region; and (7) an initial strike against North Vietnam, "designed to have more deterrent than destructive impact" and accompanied by an active diplomatic offensive to restore peace in the area-including agreement to a Geneva Conference. Further, the ExCom recommended that in the execution of these actions, all functional and geographic elements "should be treated as parts of a single problem: the protection of [all] Southeast Asia from further communist encroachment."

If all of the decisions and actions contained in the draft memorandum were in fact recommended to the President, all of them were not approved immediately. It is doubtful that the President made the decision to use force if necessary, since some advisers were still urging the same kind of decision on him in the weeks to follow. The plan to convey a message to Hanoi by Canadian channels was carried out on June 18, but it may have been decided on already before the meeting, given the earlier negotiations with Ottawa. The President did approve the calling of a conference in Honolulu "to review for [his] final approval a series of plans for effective action" in Southeast Asia. U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia was explained by Ambassador Stevenson in a major UN speech on 21 May. He did not address the Security Council on this subject again until 6 August, after the Tonkin Gulf episode. It is doubtful if less publicized statements at the UN contained the "hitherto secret evidence" suggested in the ExCom sessions as "proving Hanoi's responsibility" before the world diplomats. It is likely that questions of consulting with SEATO allies, deploying additional forces to Southeast Asia, and requesting a congressional resolution were held in abeyance pending that meeting.

One of the kinds of developments which the ExCom thought would necessitate a flexible approach to its proposed action sequence occurred prior to the Honolulu meeting. Its effect was to remove some of the "crisis management" pressure from further policy deliberations. On 27 May, the Polish Government proposed a conference format for Laos that avoided many of the undesirable features of the Geneva proposals which had been supported by communist governments in the past. After two days of deliberations, during which time Secretary Rusk departed for Nehru's funeral in New Delhi, a policy group composed of several ExCom members determined that the United States should attempt initially "to treat [the] Lao question separately from [the] SVN-NVN problem." Reasoning that "if [a] satisfactory Lao solution [were] not achieved, [a] basis should have been laid for possible subsequent actions that would permit our dealing more effectively with NVN with respect [to] both SVN and Laos," the group decided to recommend to the President that he accept the Polish proposal. Integral to the approach would be a "clear expression of U.S. determination. . . that U.S. [is] not willing [to] write off Laos to [the] communists," and assurances to Souvanna Phouma "that we would be prepared to give him prompt and direct military support if the Polish Conference was [sic] not successful." With respect to our larger objectives in Southeast Asia, the proposed discussions among representatives of Laos, the I.C.C. and the Geneva co-chairmen would have the advantage of permitting Souvanna to continue to insist upon his preconditions for any resumed 14-nation conference, and would avoid the issue of Vietnam.


With the policy line and the courses of action for dealing with Laos deternined, and with the Laotian military situation having become somewhat stabiized, the Administration turned to the broader issues of its Southeast Asian policy. These were among the principal concerns of the Honolulu Conference, 1-2 June 1964.

1. The Honolulu Conference: Defining the U.S. Commitment

The Honolulu Conference was approached with the realization that the "gravest decisions are in front of us and other governments about [the] free world's interest in and commitment to [the] security of Southeast Asia." The State Department saw such decisions focusing on three "central questions": 1) Is the security of Southeast Asia vital to the United States and the Free World? (2) Are additional steps which carry risks of escalation necessary? (3) Will the additional steps accomplish our goals of stopping intrusions of Hanoi and Peking into South Vietnam? The Conference apparently began with the answer to the first question as a basic assumption. Again State:

Our point of departure is and must be that we cannot accept [the] overrunning of Southeast Asia by Hanoi and Peiping.

In addition to considering specific proposals for improving conditions in South Vietnam (Administration officials entered the Conference with another assumption that "we must do everything in our power to stiffen and strengthen the situation in South Vietnam"), the discussions in Honolulu were intended to help clarify issues with respect to exerting pressures against North Vietnam.

2. At Honolulu: Exerting Pressure on NVN

In preparation for the conference, CINCPAC and COMUSMACV had been asked by JCS Chairman Taylor to develop their views on such questions as:

(1) What military actions might be taken in ascending order of gravity to impress Hanoi with our intention to strike NVN?
(2) What should be the purpose and pattern of the initial air strikes against NVN?
(3) What is your concept of the actions and reactions which may arise from the progressive implementation of CINCPAC 37-64 and 32-64? How may NVN and Communist China respond to our escalating pressures?
(4) If at some point Hanoi agrees to desist from further help to VC & PL, how can we verify fulfillment? How long should we be prepared to maintain our readiness posture while awaiting verification?
(5) What help should be sought from SEATO nations in relation to the situation (a) in Laos? (b) in SVN?

Just prior to the conference, the JCS also submitted their views, to which General Taylor did not subscribe. Expressing concern over "a lack of definition" of U.S. objectives, the JCS asserted that it was "their first obligation to define a militarily valid objective for Southeast Asia and then advocate a desirable military course of action to achieve that objective." With its basis identified as "military considerations," they then made the recommendation that:

. . . the United States should seek through military actions to accomplish destruction of the North Vietnamese will and capabilities as necessary to compel the Democratic Government of Vietnam (DRV) to cease providing support to the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos. Only a course of action geared to this objective can assure that the North Vietnamese support of the subversive efforts in Laos and South Vietnam will terminate.

However, the JCS went on to note that "some current thinking appears to dismiss the objective in favor of a lesser objective, one visualizing limited military action which, hopefully, would cause the North Vietnamese to decide to terminate their subversive support . . ." Drawing a distinction between destroying DRV capability to support the insurgencies and "an enforced changing of policy . . . which, if achieved, may well be temporary," they stated their opinion that "this lesser objective" was inadequate for the current situation. They agreed, however, to undertake a course of action to achieve this lesser objective as an "initial measure."

What the JCS proposed as this "initial measure" were a pair of sustained attacks to destroy target complexes directly associated with support of the communist efforts in Laos and South Vietnam. Military installations at Vinh, which served as a major resupply facility for transshipping war materiel into Laos, and a similar facility at Dien Bien Phu were recommended. In support of these operations, which would require U.S. participation to achieve "timely destruction" as necessary to achieve the objectives, the JCS stated a need to demonstrate forcefully that our pattern of responses to Hanoi's aggression had changed. They argued:

We should not waste critical time and more resources in another protracted series of "messages," but rather we should take positive, prompt, and meaningful military action to underscore our meaning that after more than two years of tolerating this North Vietnamese support we are now determined that it will stop.

Aside from the JCS, whose views were not shared by their spokesman at Honolulu, the main voices in support of the idea of attacking the North in early June 1964 seemed to come from Saigon. But this source of advocacy seemed to anticipate short-term impacts on South Vietnam, rather than ultimate effects on the DRV. On the way to Honolulu, Secretary Rusk had talked with General Khanh, who argued that South Vietnam could not win against the Viet Cong without some military action outside its borders. In particular, the General urged clearing out the communist forces in eastern Laos, who might move across the border and attempt to cut South Vietnam in two, with the implication that GVN forces could carry out the task if given air support. He also favored attacks directly on North Vietnam, but said that they "should be selective and designed to minimize the chances of a drastic communist response."

At the conference's initial plenary session, Ambassador Lodge also argued in favor of attacks on the North. In answer to Secretary Rusk's query about South Vietnamese popular attitudes, which supported Hanoi's revolutionary aims, the Ambassador stated his conviction that most support for the VC would fade as soon as some "counter-terrorism measures" were begun against the DRy. He urged "a selective bombing campaign against military targets in the North" and predicted this would "bolster morale and give the population in the South a feeling of unity." When asked by Mr. McCone how the political differences among Vietnamese leaders might be overcome, he stated the opinion that "if we bombed Tchepone or attacked the [NVN motor torpedo] boats and the Vietriamese people knew about it, this would tend to stimulate their morale, unify their efforts and reduce [their} quarreling."

If other comments, either pro or con, were made at the plenary session about the desirability of attacking North Vietnam, they were not reflected in the record. General Westmoreland discussed the "military and security situation" in South Vietnam and apparently did not mention the potential impact of measures against the North. Similar discussions of the military situations in Laos and Cambodia apparently did not include the subject either. The discussion of North Vietnam, as indicated by the record, was limited to assessments of the DRV's military capabilities, particularly its air defenses, and their implications for the feasibility of an air attack. Policy aspects of air operations against the North were not mentioned.

On the second day of the conference, possible pressures to be applied against orth Vietnam were a prominent subject. However, as reported by William Bundy, the main context for the discussion was Laos-what might have to be done in the event the current diplomatic track failed or the military situation deteriorated. Not contemplated, it seems, were initiatives against the North to relieve the current levels of pressure on Laos or South Vietnam. Rather, considerable attention was given to preliminary steps that would need to be taken in order to prepare for actions necessary within the context of a Laotian military contingency.

One such step would be consultation with allies who might contribute to a ground force contingent needed for the defense of Laos. The UK and other SEATO nations were cited as particularly important contributors. The conferees agreed, however, that contingency preparations for Laos should be undertaken outside the SEATO framework. As Secretary Rusk pointed out, "Souvanna Phouma might well call on individual SEATO nations for help, but was less likely to call on SEATO as an organization." Besides, the French and Pakistani were expected to be obstructive and the Philippines Government was regarded as presenting a constant threat of untimely leaks. Consensus was reached that the starting point for our bilateral consultations should be Thailand, since that government's confidence in the sincerity of the U.S. commitment seemed particularly needful of being shored up. At the meeting, Ambassador Martin echoed the themes which he had reported earlier in cables--that the Thais were not convinced that we meant to stop the course in Southeast Asia and probably would not participate in or permit allied troop build-ups in their country without firmer assurances than had been given in the past.

Another preliminary step discussed by the conferees was the desirability of obtaining a Congressional resolution prior to wider U.S. action in Southeast Asia. Ambassador Lodge questioned the need for it if we were to confine our actions to "tit-for-tat" air attacks against North Vietnam. However, Secretaries McNamara and Rusk and CIA Director McCone all argued in favor of the resolution. In support, McNamara pointed to the need to guarantee South Vietnam's defense against retaliatory air attacks and against more drastic reactions by North Vietnam and Communist China. He "added that it might be necessary, as the action unfolded . . . to deploy as many as seven divisions." Rusk noted that some of the military requirements might involve the calling up of reserves, always a touchy Congressional issue. He also stated that public opinion on our Southeast Asian policy was badly divided in the United States at the moment and that, therefore, the President needed an affirmation of support.

Next, the discussion turned to present estimates of communist reaction to attacks on North Vietnam:

General Taylor summarized the present Washington view, to the effect that there would certainly be stepped-up Viet Cong activity in South Vietnam, Communist Chinese air might be sent to North Vietnam, Hanoi itself might send some ground forces south (though probably only on a limited scale), and there was the final possibility that the Communist Chinese would respond with significant military action. As to the last, he made clear that he did not visualize a "yellow horde" of Chinese pouring into Southeast Asia, and that air interdiction could have a significant effect in reducing the number of forces the Communist Chinese could send down and support . . . In any case, he said that the military judgment was that seven ground divisions would be needed if the Communist Chinese employed their full capabilities in the dry season, and five divisions even in the wet season. The needed five-seven divisions could come in part from the Thai and others, but a major share would have to be borne by the U.S. Secretary McNamara said that before we undertook attacks against the North, we certainly had to be prepared to meet threats at the level stated by General Taylor. Mr. McCone agreed with this point, but when on to say that there was a serious question about the effect of major deployments on Communist Chinese reactions. The intelligence community was inclined to the view that the more substantial the deployment, the greater the possible chance of a drastic Communist Chinese reaction. General Taylor commented that under present plans it was not contemplated that we should have deployment of all the potentially necessary forces at the outset. We were thinking along the lines of a brigade to the northern part of South Vietnam, two to three brigades to Thailand, considerable naval deployments, and some alerting of other forces in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even this, however, added up to a significant scale of activity. . .

Secretary McNamara noted that all this planning was on the basis that a really drastic communist reaction was possible, and was not based on any judgment that it was probable. The best current view was that appropriately limited attacks on the North would not bring in Communist Chinese air or North Vietnam or Communist Chinese ground forces. However, it was still essential that we be prepared against these eventualities.

Ambassador Lodge asked whether the Communist Chinese could not in fact mount almost any number of forces they chose. General Taylor and Admiral Felt said they could not do so and support them to the extent required . . . Secretary McNamara then went on to say that the possibility of major ground action also led to a serious question of having to use nuclear weapons at some point. Admiral Felt responded emphatically that there was no possible way to hold off the communists on the ground without the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and that it was essential that the commanders be given the freedom to use these as had been assumed under the various plans. He said that without nuclear weapons the ground force requirement was and had always been completely out of reach. General Taylor was more doubtful as to the existence or at least to the degree of the nuclear weapon requirement, and again the point was not really followed up.

Secretary Rusk said that another possibility we must consider would be the Soviets stirring up trouble elsewhere. We should do everything we could to minimize this risk, but it too must be considered. He went on to stress the nuclear question, noting that in the last ten years this had come to include the possibility of a nuclear exchange, with all that this involved.

General Taylor noted that there was a danger of reasoning ourselves into inaction. From a military point of view, he said that the U.S. could function in Southeast Asia about as well as anywhere in the world except Cuba. Mr. McCone made the point that the passage of the Congressional resolution would in itself be an enormous deterrent. This led to brief discussion of the text of the resolution, which was read by Mr. Sullivan . . .

Discussion then shifted to what the Viet Cong could do in South Vietnam if we struck the North. General Westmoreland thought there was not a significant unused Viet Cong capability, but Ambassador Lodge thought there was a major capability for terrorism and even for military action against Saigon, and that in sum the Viet Cong 'could make Saigon uninhabitable.'

Finally, the conferees dealt with the crucial question of how soon the United States and the GVN would be prepared to engage in wider military actions should the need arise. For several reasons, the consensus seemed to be that such actions should be delayed for some time yet. "Secretary Rusk thought we should not be considering quick action unless the Pathet Lao lunged toward the Mekong." Discussion yielded several things we could do in the interim to strengthen the current government position in Laos (i.e., re-equip Kong Le's neutralist forces as an aid to Phouma's FAR; back Souvanna's demand for preconditions before any reconvening of the Geneva Conference; support the RLAF T-28 operations). General Taylor pointed to the prior need to educate the American public regarding U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. Secretary McNamara thought this would require at least 30 days.

Generals Taylor and Westmoreland then listed a number of military factors that affected the question of timing, although stating that these referred to "an optimum military posture":

1. The additional Vietnamese aircraft would not be available until July for two squadrons and September for another. However, B-57's could be introduced at any time and operated on a FARMGATE basis.
2. There were logistic factors, shipping requirements, and the call-up of some logistic reserve units involved in having five-seven divisions ready for action, and these would take two months to be sorted out properly.
3. It was desirable if not essential to build up military manpower in South Vietnam. He would like to be in a position to have 12 battalions that could be freed for deployment along the Laos border.
4. The rainy season was a factor precluding any substantial offensive in the panhandle area until mid-November.

They added that General Khanh's political base was not as strong as we wished and that it might not be so until the end of the year. This factor was also cited by other conferees as being a reason for delay.

3. The Need to Refine Plans and Resolve Issues

Immediately following the Honolulu Conference, its Chairman, Secretary Rusk, reported to President Johnson, presumably making some recommendations. Although a record of this discussion is not available, Ass't Secretary Bundy's brief to Rusk just prior to his White House meeting may provide a clue to the thrust of the Secretary's remarks. Citing a "somewhat less pessimistic estimate" of conditions in South Vietnam, the "somewhat shaky" but hopeful situation in Laos, and the military timing factors reported above, Bundy counseled taking more time "to refine our plans and estimates." Criticizing CINCPAC's presentation on military planning, he stated that it "served largely to highlight some of the difficult issues we still have." These he identified as: "(1) the likely effects of force requirements for any significant operations against the [Laotian] Panhandle"; (2) the trade-off between the precautionary advantages of a major build-up of forces prior to wider action and the possible disadvantages of distorting the signal of our limited objectives; (3) the sensitivity of estimates of communist reactions to different levels and tempos of a military build-up; and (4) the need for "more refined targeting and a clearer definition of just what should be hit and how thoroughly, and above all, for what objective."

In particular, Bundy emphasized to Secretary Rusk the need for immediate efforts in the information and intelligence areas. These were needed, he said, "both for the sake of refining our plans and for preparing materials to use for eventual support of wider action if decided upon"-particularly to support the diplomatic track in Laos. He called for "an urgent U.S. information effort" to "get at the basic doubts of the value of Southeast Asia and the importance of our stake there . . ." However, noting the problem of "handling the high degree of expectations flowing from the conference itself," Bundy recommended "careful guidance and consideration of high-level statements and speeches in the next two weeks" to assure that our posture appeared firm.

Rusk was accompanied at the White House meeting by other high-ranking Honolulu conferees. Bundy's reactions to Honolulu were forwarded to Secretary McNamara, Mr. McCone and General Taylor prior to the meeting. Events which followed the late afternoon meeting of 3 June provide an indication of the discussion that probably occurred.

4. The Aftermath of Honolulu

The importance of combining appearances of a firm posture with efforts to reduce public doubts on U.S. interests in Southeast Asia apparently struck a responsive chord in the White House. In the military area, the President apparently recognized the need for more and better information, but did not convey a sense of urgency regarding its acquisition. Possibly just following the meeting, Secretary McNamara expressed his wish to discuss North Vietnamese targets and troop movement capabilities with the JCS on 8 June. The following day, he communicated interest to the Joint Staff in obtaining "facts and statistics" on Haiphong harbor traffic; existing plans for mining the harbor; impacts of such operations on different import categories; and alternative DRV importation facilities. On the other hand, non-committing military actions which could improve our image in Southeast Asia were given immediate approval. On the same day he received the request for Haiphong mining information, the Director of the Joint Staff informed the Army of a McNamara directive calling for "immediate action . . . by the Army to improve the effectiveness and readiness status of its materiel prestocked for possible use in Southeast Asia." Specifically, the Secretary ordered (1) augmenting the stockage at Korat, in Thailand, to support a ROAD Infantry Brigade and (2) giving first priority at the Okinawa Army Forward Depot to stocking non-air-transportable equipment required by an airlifted ROAD Infantry Brigade. In keeping with the Administration's current policy rationale, the augmentation of contingency war stocks in Thailand was given extensive press coverage.

In non-military areas, the President apparently encouraged further examination of the vital issues which impacted on national commitment and public support. Soon after the 3 June meeting, work was begun under State Department guidance to assemble information in answer to some of the prevalent public questions on Southeast Asian involvement. For example, on 10 June, the Department of Defense was asked to furnish responses to 27 questions developed in State, as a fall-out of the discussions in Honolulu. Similar questions became a frequent focus for interdepartmental correspondence and meetings in the coming weeks. Paralleling this effort was an examination of the desirability of requesting a Congressional resolution. On the same day that OSD received State's request to furnish information, an interagency meeting was held to discuss the implications which a resolution would have for the U.S. policy position and the public rationale which its acceptance would demand. The relative advantages of having or not having a resolution were also considered.

To supplement recommendations coming from Honolulu, the President apparently sought additional guidance to help sort out the alternatives available to him. Soon after receiving reports from the Honolulu conference, he sent a request to Walt Rostow to prepare a public statement for him, detailing a Governmental view of U.S. policy and commitments in Southeast Asia. As most likely expected, the rationale and discussion which resulted took a more aggressive approach than the prevailing views at Honolulu and were not used. In fact, President Johnson did not deliver a major policy address during the coming weeks, relying on news conferences and speeches by other officials to state the official view. In contrast to the Rostow approach, his news conference of 23 June and Secretary Rusk's speech at Williams College, 14 June, emphasized the U.S. determination to support its Southeast Asian allies, but avoided any direct challenge to Hanoi and Peking or any hint of intent to increase our military commitment.

In addition, the President asked his advisers the basic question, "Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under North Vietnamese control?" On 9 June, the Board of National Estimates, CIA, provided a response, stating:

With the possible exception of Cambodia, it is likely that no nation in the area would quickly succumb to communism as a result of the fall of Laos and South Vietnam. Furthermore, a continuation of the spread of communism in the area would not be inexorable, and any spread which did occur would take time-time in which the total situation might change in any of a number of ways unfavorable to the communist cause.

The statement went on to argue that the loss of South Vietnam and Laos "would be profoundly damaging to the U.S. position in the Far East," because of its impact on U.S. prestige and on the credibility of our other commitments to contain the spread of communism. It did not suggest that such a loss would affect the wider U.S. interest in containing overt military attacks. Our island base, it argued, would probably still enable us to employ enough military power in the area to deter Hanoi and Peking from this kind of aggression. It cautioned, however, that the leadership in Peking (as well as Hanoi) would profit directly by being able to justify its militant policies with demonstrated success and by having raised "its prestige as a leader of World Communism" at the expense of the more moderate USSR.

5. Sources of Moderate Advice

The strength of the Board's warning was weakened by two significant caveats. The first linked the estimate's less-than-alarmist view to a clearly "worst case":

This memorandum assumes a clear-cut communist victory in these countries, i.e., a withdrawal of U.S. forces and virtual elimination of U.S. presence in Indochina, either preceded or soon followed by the establishment of communist regimes in Laos and South Vietnam. The results of a fuzzier, piecemeal victory, such as one staged through a "neutralist" phase, would probably be similar, though somewhat less sharp and severe.

The second indicated that even in the worst case, the United States would retain some leverage to affect the outcome. They argued that "the extent to which individual countries would move away from the U.S. towards the communists would be significantly affected by the substance and manner of U.S. policy in the period following the loss of Laos and South Vietnam."

The largely moderating tone of this estimate of the degree to which U.S. vital interests were in jeopardy in Southeast Asia tended to be reinforced by the views of the President's highest-level advisers on military matters. On his way to the Honolulu Conference, CJCS Taylor had forwarded without detailed comment the JCS recommendation for courses of action in Southeast Asia. On 5 June, after his return, he submitted highly critical comments, together with his preferred alternative to the JCS proposal, to Secretary McNamara. Five days later, the Secretary communicated his approval of General Taylor's views and no doubt conveyed the flavor, if not the details, of them to the White House.

The nature of these views shared by the President's two top military advisers indicates a rejection of the concept of trying to force the DRV to reverse its policies by striking North Vietnam with punishing blows. The JCS had stated the view that only by initiating military actions designed to destroy the DRV's will and capabilities could we reasonably expect to compel it to terminate its support of the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos. But they had expressed their support of certain recommended limited actions as "an initial measure" directed toward causing the DRV "to decide to terminate their subversive support." General Taylor argued that these two alternatives were not "an accurate or complete expression of our choices." He suggested three patterns from which the United States "may choose to initiate the attack on North Vietnam," in descending order or weight:

a. A massive air attack on all significant military targets in North Vietnam for the purpose of destroying them and thereby making the enemy incapable of continuing to assist the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao.
b. A lesser attack on some significant part of the military target system in North Vietnam for the dual purpose of convincing the enemy that it is to his interest to desist from aiding the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao, and, if possible, of obtaining his cooperation in calling off the insurgents in South Vietnam and Laos.
c. Demonstrative strikes against limited military targets to show U.S. readiness and intent to pass to alternatives b or a above. These demonstrative strikes would have the same dual purpose as in alternative b.

Stating a personal preference for the second, he noted the probability that "political considerations will incline our responsible civilian officials to opt for [the third] alternative." Therefore, his recommendation to the Secretary was that the JCS be asked to develop a strike plan based on the assumption that a decision was made to implement the third alternative.

It is clear that the JCS not only preferred the larger attacks--directed against both DRV capabilities and will--but intended that they be implemented in the near future. However, there is no indication that the CJCS urged prompt implementation--even of the limited measures he linked with pressures against DRV will alone. Neither view was supported with an explanation of why it was expected that the preferred course of action might be successful or with any analysis of what lesser results might lead to in the way of next steps by either side or of likely public reactions.

6. The President Decides

The Presidential reaction to these various patterns of advice and the different assessments of national interest is not evident in the available documents. However, it can be surmised from the pattern of events surrounding the effort to obtain a Congressional resolution. As will be recalled, a resolution was recommended to the President in late May as one of a series of events to include the Canadian's mission to Hanoi, the Honolulu Conference, and consultations with allies. It also fit in with the emphasis on public information and a firm posture that stemmed from the Honolulu meeting. Its intended purpose was to dramatize and make clear to other nations the firm resolve of the United States Government in an election year to support the President in taking whatever action was necessary to resist communist aggression in Southeast Asia.

The week of 8 June saw the planning for a Congressional resolution being brought to a head. By 10 June there was firm support for it on the part of most agencies, despite recognition that obtaining it would require a vigorous public campaign, a likely requirement of which would be a "substantial increase in the commitment of U.S. prestige and power to success in Southeast Asia." Therefore, at the meeting held on that day, five basic "disagreeable questions" were identified for which the Administration would have to provide convincing answers to assure public support. These included: (1) Does this imply a blank check for the President to go to war in Southeast Asia? (2) What kinds of force could he employ under this authorization? (3) What change in the situation (if any) requires the resolution now? (4) Can't our objectives be attained by means other than U.S. military force? (5) Does Southeast Asia mean enough to U.S. national interests?

By June 12, after a temporary diversion caused by Souvanna Phouma's withdrawal and reaffirmation of permission to continue the reconnaissance flights, much of the rationale in support of the resolution was formulated. Even though the Administration did not expect "to move in the near future to military action against North Vietnam," it recognized that significant changes in the local situations in both Laos and South Vietnam were beyond our control and could compel us to reconsider this position." Although our diplomatic track in Laos appeared hopeful, and our now firm escorted reconnaissance operations provided an image of U.S. resolve to complement the Polish negotiating scheme, we needed to he able to augment this posture in the event negotiations stalemated. If Souvanna were to become discouraged, or if Khanh were to view our efforts to obtain a Laotian settlement as a sign of willingness to alter our objectives, we would need additional demonstrations of our firmness to keep these leaders from being demoralized. Since additional military actions in Laos and South Vietnam did not hold much promise, actions or the strong threat of actions against the North might need to be considered. For these reasons, an immediate Congressional resolution was believed required as "a continuing demonstration of U.S. firmness and for complete flexibility in the hands of the Executive in the coming political months."

A crucial interagency meeting was held at the State Department on 15 June to hold final discussions on the recommendation for a resolution to he sent to the President. The meeting was scheduled from the White House and included Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, their principal advisers on the subject, and McGeorge Bundy. On the afternoon of the meeting, a memorandum was distributed by Bundy to the participants, which provided a rather clear picture of current White House attitudes toward the resolution--and by implication, of the President's judgment on the issue of preparing to take harder measures against North Vietnam.

The memorandum dealt with one subject only--"actions that would remain open to us in varying combinations in the event that we do not now decide on major military operations against North Vietnam and do not now decide to seek a Congressional resolution." It then listed under the categories of "military" and "political," those actions which were within an acceptable range of U.S. capability, as follows:

Possible military actions
a. Reconnaissance, reconnaissance-strike, and T-28 operations in all parts of Laos.
b. Small-scale reconnaissance strike operations, after appropriate provocation, in North Vietnam (initially VNAF?).
c. VNAF strike operations in Laotian corridors.
d. Limited air and sea deployments toward Southeast Asia, and still more limited ground troop movements. (Major ground force deployments seem more questionable, without a decision "to go north" in some form.)

Political actions
a. Internationally--a continued and increased effort to maximize support for our diplomatic track in Laos and our political effort in South Vietnam. Higher authority particularly desires a maximum effort with our allies to increase their real and visible presence in support of Saigon.
b. Laos--an intensive effort to sustain Souvanna and to restrain the right wing from any rash act against the French. Possible increase of direct support and assistance to Kong Le in appropriate ways.
c. South Vietnam--rapid development of the critical province program and the information program, strengthening of country team, and shift of U.S. role from advice toward direction; emphatic and continued discouragement of all coup plots; energetic public support for Khanh Government.
d. In the U.S.--continued reaffirmation and expanded explanation of the above lines of action, with opposition to both aggressive adventure and withdrawal, and a clear open door to selected action of the sort included in above Possible military actions.

The files contain no record of the discussion that occurred at the 15 June meeting, but in this memorandum, the guidance provided from the White House was evident: Unless drastic measures were provoked from "the other side," there were still a number of political and military actions available which appeared to enable the United States to demonstrate an increasingly firm resistance without the need to risk major escalation. Moreover, such actions would not risk embarking on a depth or direction of commitment in which the United States would sacrifice policy flexibility. As the White House memorandum concluded, the actions were listed with the assumption that "defense of U.S. interests is possible, within these limits, over the next six months."


* A number of pages were missing from the manuscript for Subsections A, B, and C. However, the available material has been included, in spite of these gaps, to give the reader at least the flavor of the material contained therein.


Several forms of pressure were already being applied against North Vietnam by July of 1964. Moreover, contingency plans for other forms--should political and military circumstances warrant a decision to use them--were continually being adjusted and modified as the situation in Southeast Asia developed.

The best known of these pressures was being applied in Laos. Since 21 May, U.S. aircraft had flown low-level reconnaissance missions over communist-occupied areas. In early June Premier Souvanna Phouma both gave and reaffirmed his permission for armed escort of these missions, which included the right to retaliate against hostile fire from the ground. This effort was supplemented at the end of the month when the United States decided to conduct transport and night reconnaissance operations and furnish additional T-28 aircraft and munitions to support a Royal Laotian counteroffensive near Muong Soui. This decision came in response to Souvanna's request, in which he equated the protection of Muong Soui with the survival of the Laotian neutralist army. Air strikes conducted by the Royal Lao Air Force, with T-28s obtained from the United States, were later credited with playing a major role in the success of the RLG's operations.

Other actions obviously designed to forestall communist aggressive intentions were taken in different parts of Southeast Asia. In June, following the Honolulu strategy conference, State and Defense Department sources made repeated leaks to the press affirming U.S. intentions to support its allies and uphold its treaty commitments in Southeast Asia. U.S. contingency ground-force stockages in Thailand were augmented and publicly acknowledged. Revelations were made that USAF aircraft were operating out of a newly constructed air base at Da Nang. Moreover, the base was characterized as part of a network of new air bases and operational facilities being developed in South Vietnam and Thailand. On 10 July, the Da Nang base was the site of a well-publicized Air Force Day display of allied airpower, including aircraft from a B-57 wing recently acknowledged to have been permanently deployed to the Philippines from Japan.

Less known were parallel actions taken within the Government. U.S. resolve to resist aggression in Southeast Asia was communicated directly to North Vietnam by the newly appointed Canadian member of the International Control Commission, Blair Seaborn. Stressing that U.S. ambitions were limited and its intentions were "essentially peaceful," Seaborn told Pham Van Dong that the patience of the U.S. Government was not limitless. He explained that the United States was fully aware of the degree to which Hanoi controlled the Viet Cong.

[Several paragraphs missing]

The next DE SOTO Patrol did not occur until 31 July, on which the U.S.S. Maddox was restricted to a track not closer than 8 n.m. off the North Vietnamese mainland. Its primary mission, assigned on 17 July, was "to determine DRV coastal activity along the full extent of the patrol track." Other specific intelligence requirements were assigned as follows:

(a) location and identification of all radar transmitters, and estimate of range capabilities; (b) navigational and hydro information along the routes traversed and particular navigational lights characteristics, landmarks, buoys, currents and tidal information, river mouths and channel accessibility, (c) monitoring a junk force with density of surface traffic pattern, (d) sampling electronic environment radars and navigation aids, (e) photography of opportunities in support of above. . .

Separate coastal patrol operations were being conducted by South Vietnamese naval forces. These were designed to uncover and interdict efforts to smuggle personnel and supplies into the South in support of the VC insurgency. This operation had first been organized with U.S. assistance in December 1961; to support it a fleet of motorized junks was built, partially financed with U.S. military assistance funds. During 1964 these vessels operated almost continually in attempts to intercept communist seaborne logistical operations. As Secretary McNamara told Senate committees:

In the first seven months of this year [1964], they have searched 149,000 junks, some 570,000 people. This is a tremendous operation endeavoring to close the seacoasts of over 900 miles. In the process of that action, as the junk patrol has increased in strength they [sic] have moved farther and farther north endeavoring to find the source of the infiltration.

In addition to these acknowledged activities, the GVN was also conducting a number of operations against North Vietnam to which it did not publicly admit. Covert operations were carried out by South Vietnamese or hired personnel and supported by U.S. training and logistical efforts. Outlined within OPLAN 34A, these operations had been underway theoretically since February but had experienced what the JCS called a "slow beginning." Despite an ultimate objective of helping "convince the North Vietnamese leadership that it is in its own self-interest to desist from its aggressive policies," few operations designed to harass the enemy were carried out successfully during the February-May period. Nevertheless, citing DRV reactions tending "to substantiate the premise that Hanoi is expending substantial resources in defensive measures," the JCS concluded that the potential of the OPLAN 34A program remained high and urged its continuation through Phase II (June-September).

[Several paragraphs missing]


Several of the pressuring measures recommended to the White House in May or June were implemented in conjunction with or in the immediate aftermath of naval action in the Tonkin Gulf. It is this fact and the rapidity with which these measures were taken that has led critics to doubt some aspects of the public account of the Tonkin incidents. It is also this fact, together with later Administration assessments of the Tonkin Gulf experience, that give the incidents greater significance than the particular events seemed at first to warrant.

1. The First Incident

What happened in the Gulf? As noted earlier, U.S.S. MADDOX commenced the second DE SOTO Patrol on 31 July. On the prior night South Vietnamese coastal patrol forces made a midnight attack, including an amphibious "commando" raid, on Hon Me and Hon Nieu Islands, about 19° N. latitude. At the time of this attack, U.S.S. MADDOX was 120-130 miles away just heading into waters off North Vietnam. On 2 August, having reached the northernmost point on its patrol track and having headed South, the destroyer was intercepted by three North Vietnamese patrol boats. Apparently, these boats and a fleet of junks had moved into the area near the island to search for the attacking force and had mistaken Maddox for a South Vietnamese escort vessel. (Approximately eleven hours earlier, while on a northerly heading, Maddox had altered course to avoid the junk concentration shown on her radar; about six hours after that--now headed South--Maddox had altered her course to the southeast to avoid the junks a second time.) When the PT boats began their high-speed run at her, at a distance of approximately 10 miles, the destroyer was 28 miles from the coast and heading farther into international waters. Two of the boats closed to within 5,000 yards, launching one torpedo each. As they approached, Maddox fired on the boats with her 5-inch batteries and altered course to avoid the torpedoes, which were observed passing the starboard side at a distance of 100 to 200 yards. The third boat moved up abeam of the destroyer and took a direct 5-inch hit; it managed to launch a torpedo which failed to run. All three PT boats fired 50-caliber machine guns at Maddox as they made their firing runs, and a bullet fragment was recovered from the destroyer's superstructure. The attacks occurred in mid-afternoon, and photographs were taken of the torpedo boats as they attacked.

Upon first report of the PT boats' apparently hostile intent, four F-8E aircraft were launched from the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, many miles to the south, with instructions to provide air cover but not to fire unless they or Maddox were fired upon. As Maddox continued in a southerly direction, Ticonderoga's aircraft attacked the two boats that had initiated the action. Both were damaged with Zuni rockets and 20mm gunfire. The third boat, struck by the destroyer's five-inch guns. . .

[Several paragraphs missing]

Vietnamese coastal targets--this time the Rhon River estuary and the Vinh Sonh radar installation, which were bombarded on the night of 3 August. The more controversial of the two, this incident occurred under cover of darkness and seems to have been both triggered and described largely by radar and sonar images. After the action had been joined, however, both visual sightings and intercepted North Vietnamese communications confirmed that an attack by hostile patrol craft was in progress.

At 1940 hours, 4 August 1964 (Tonkin Gulf time), while "proceeding SE. at best speed," Task Group 72.1 (Maddox and Turner Joy) radioed "RCVD INFO indicating attack by PGM P-4 iminent." Evidently this was based on an intercepted communication, later identified as "an intelligence source," indicating that "North Vietnamese naval forces had been ordered to attack the patrol." At the time, radar contacts evaluated as "probable torpedo boats" were observed about 36 miles to the northeast. Accordingly, the Task Group Commander altered course and increased speed to avoid what he evaluated as a trap. At approximately 2035 hours, while west of Hainan Island, the destroyers reported radar sightings of three unidentified aircraft and two unidentified vessels in the patrol area. On receiving the report, Ticonderoga immediately launched F-8s and A-4Ds to provide a combat air patrol over the destroyers. Within minutes, the unidentified aircraft disappeared from the radar screen, while the vessels maintained a distance of about 27 miles. Actually, surface contacts on a parallel course had been shadowing the destroyers with radar for more than three hours. ECM contacts maintained by the C. Turner Joy indicated that the radar was that carried aboard DRV patrol boats.

New unidentified surface contacts 13 miles distant were reported at 2134 hours. These vessels were closing at approximately 30 knots on the beam and were evaluated as "hostile." Six minutes later (2140) Maddox opened fire, and at 1242, by which time two of the new contacts had closed to a distance of 11 miles, aircraft from Ticonderoga's CAP began their attacks. Just before this, one of the PT boats launched a torpedo, which was later reported as seen passing about 300 feet off the port beam, from aft to forward, of the C. Turner Joy. A searchlight beam was observed to swing in an arc toward the C. Turner Joy by all of the destroyer's signal bridge personnel. It was extinguished before it illuminated the ship, presumably upon detection of the approaching aircraft. Aboard the Maddox, Marine gunners saw what were believed to be cockpit lights of one or more small boats pass up the port side of the ship and down the other. After approximately an hour's action, the destroyers reported two enemy boats sunk and no damage or casualties suffered.

In the meantime, two patrol craft from the initial surface contact had closed to join the action, and the engagement was described for higher headquarters- largely on the basis of the destroyers' radar and sonar indications and on radio intercept information.

[Several paragraphs missing]

Returning from this session shortly after 1500, Secretary McNamara, along with Deputy Secretary Vance, joined with the JCS to review all the evidence relating to the engagement. Included in this review was the communications intelligence information which the Secretary reported, containing North Vietnamese reports that (1) their vessels were engaging the destroyers, and (2) they had lost two craft in the fight. In the meantime, however, messages had been relayed to the Joint Staff indicating considerable confusion over the details of the attack. The DE SOTO Patrol Commander's message, expressing doubts about earlier evidence of a large-scale torpedo attack, arrived sometime after 1330 hours. Considerably later (it was not sent to CINCPACFLT until 1447 EDT), another message arrived to the effect that while details of the action were still confusing, the commander of Task Group 72.1 was certain that the ambush was genuine. He had interviewed the personnel who sighted the boat's cockpit lights passing near the Maddox, and he had obtained a report from the C. Turner Joy that two torpedoes were observed passing nearby. Accordingly, these reports were discussed by telephone with CINPAC, and he was instructed by Secretary McNamara to make a careful check of the evidence and ascertain whether there was any doubt concerning the occurrence of an attack. CINCPAC called the JCS at least twice more, at 1723 and again at 1807 hours, to state that he was convinced on the basis of "additional information" that the attacks had taken place. At the time of the earlier call Secretary McNamara and the JCS were discussing possible force deployments to follow any reprisals. On the occasion of the first call, the Secretary was at the White House attending the day's second NSC meeting. Upon being informed of CINCPAC's call, he reports:

I spoke to the Director of the Joint Staff and asked him to make certain that the Commander in Chief, Pacific was willing to state that the attack had taken place, and therefore that he was free to release the Executive Order because earlier in the afternoon I had told him that under no circumstances would retaliatory action take place until we were, to use my words, 'damned sure that the attacks had taken place.'

At the meeting of the National Security Council, proposals to deploy certain increments of OPLAN 37-64 forces to the Western Pacific were discussed, and the order to retaliate against North Vietnamese patrol craft and their associated facilities were confirmed. Following this meeting, at 1845, the President met with 16 Congressional leaders from both parties for a period of 89 minutes. Reportedly, he described the second incident in the Gulf, explained his decisions to order reprisals, and informed the legislators of his intention to request a formal statement of Congressional support for these decisions. On the morning following the meeting, The Washington Post carried a report that none of the Congressional leaders present at the meeting had raised objections to the course of action planned. Their only question, the report stated, "had to do with how Congress could show its agreement and concern in the crisis."

[Several paragraphs missing]

increase pressures for an international conference or that the DRV was testing U.S. reactions to a contemplated general offensive-have lost some credibility. Subsequent events and DRV actions have appeared to lack any consistent relationship with such motives. Perhaps closer to the mark is the narrow purpose of prompt retaliation for an embarrassing and well-publicized rebuff by a much-maligned enemy. Inexperienced in modern naval operations, DRV leaders may have believed that under cover of darkness it would be possible to even the score or to provide at least a psychological victory by severely damaging a U.S. ship. Unlike the first incident, the DRV was ready (5 August) with a propaganda blast denying its own provocation and claiming the destruction of U.S. aircraft. Still, regardless of motive, there is little question but that the attack on the destroyers was deliberate. Having followed the destroyers for hours, their course was well known to the North Vietnamese naval force, and its advance units were laying ahead to make an ambushing beam attack fully 60 miles from shore.

The reality of a North Vietnamese attack on 4 August has been corroborated by both visual and technical evidence. That it may have been deliberately provoked by the United States is belied to a considerable degree by circumstantial evidence. Operating restrictions for the DE SOTO Patrol were made more stringent following the first attack. The 11 n.m., rather than 8 n.m., off-shore patrolling track indicates an intention to avoid--not provoke--further contact. On 4 February the rules of engagement were modified to restrict "hot pursuit" by the U.S. ships to no closer than 11 n.m. from the North Vietnamese coast; aircraft were to pursue no closer than 3 n.m. Given the first attack, the President's augmentation of the partol force was a normal precaution, particularly since both Ticonderoga and C. Turner Joy were already deployed in the immediate vicinity as supporting elements. Moreover, since the augmentation was coupled with a clear statement of intent to continue the patrols and a firm warning to the DRV that repetition would bring dire consequences, their addition to the patrol could be expected to serve more as a deterrent than a provocation.

The often alleged "poised" condition of the U.S. reprisal forces was anything but extraordinary. U.S.S. Constellation was well out of the immediate operating area as the patrol was resumed on 3 August. In fact, one reason for delaying the launching of retaliatory air strikes (nearly 1100 hours, S August-Tonkin Gulf time) was to permit Constellation to approach within reasonable range of the targets. Target lists from which to make appropriate selections were already available as a result of routine contingency planning accomplished in June and July. In preparation for the resumed DE SOTO Patrol of 3-5 August, the patrol track was moved farther north to make clearer the separation between it and the 34-A operations. The ways in which the events of the second Tonkin Gulf incident came about give little indication of a deliberate provocation to provide opportunity for reprisals.

2. Broadening the Impact

[Several paragraphs missing]

bomber squadrons have been transferred from the United States into advance bases in the Pacific. Fifthly, an antisubmarine task force group has been moved into the South China Sea.

It is significant, relative to the broader purpose of the deployments, that few of these additional units were removed from the Western Pacific when the immediate crisis subsided. In late September the fourth attack aircraft carrier was authorized to resume its normal station in the Eastern Pacific as soon as the regularly assigned carried completed repairs. The other forces remained in the vicinity of their August deployment.

Other actions taken by the Administration in the wake of Tonkin Gulf were intended to communicate to various audiences the depth and sincerity of the U.S. commitment. On the evening of 4 August, in conjunction with his testing of Congressional opinion regarding reprisal action, President Johnson disclosed his intention to request a resolution in support of U.S. Southeast Asian policy. This he did through a formal message to both houses on 5 August. Concurrently, identical draft resolutions, the language of which had been prepared by executive agencies, were introduced in the Senate by J. William Fuibright (D., Ark.) and in the House by Thomas E. Morgan (D., Pa.) and co-sponsored by bipartisan leadership. Discussed in committee on 6 August, in response to testimony by leading Administration officials, the resolution was passed the following day--by votes of 88 to 2 in the Senate and 416 to 0 in the House.

Despite the nearly unanimous votes of support for the Resolution, Congressional opinions varied as to the policy implications and the meaning of such support. The central belief seemed to be that the occasion necessitated demonstrating the nation's unity and collective will in support of the President's action and affirming U.S. determination to oppose further aggression. However, beyond that theme, there was a considerable variety of opinion. For example, in the House, expressions of support varied from Congressman Laird's argument, that while the retaliation in the Gulf was appropriate such actions still left a policy to be developed with respect to the land war in Southeast Asia, to the more reticent viewpoint of Congressman Alger. The latter characterized his support as being primarily for purposes of showing unity and expressed concern over the danger of being dragged into war by "other nations seeking our help." Several spokesmen stressed that the Resolution did not constitute a declaration of war, did not abdicate Congressional responsibility for determining national policy commitments, and did not give the President carte blanche to involve the nation in a major Asian war.

Similar expressions were voiced in the senior chamber. For example, Senator Nelson sought assurances that the resolution would not tend to commit the United States further than . .

[Several paragraphs missing]

addition to repeating points made earlier, Seaborn's second message conveyed the U.S. Government's uncertainty over DRV intentions in the 4 August attack and explained that subsequent U.S. deployments of additional airpower to South Vietnam and Thailand were "precautionary." In addition, the new message stressed: (1) that the Tonkin Gulf events demonstrated that "U.S. public and official patience" was wearing thin; (2) that the Congressional Resolution reaffirmed U.S. determination "to continue to oppose firmly, by all necessary means, DRV efforts to subvert and conquer South Vietnam and Laos"; and (3) that "if the DRV persists in its present course, it can expect to suffer the consequences."

Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the provocation handed the U.S. Government in the Tonkin Gulf, the Administration was able to carry out most of the actions recommended by its principal officials early in the summer. By the same token, it was reducing the number of unused measures short of direct military action that had been conceived as available for exerting effective pressure on the DRV. In effect, as it made its commitments in Southeast Asia clearer it also deepened them, and in the process it denied itself access to some of the uncommitting options which it had perceived earlier as offering policy flexibility. Meanwhile, other events were also having the effect of denying options which had been considered useful alternatives to strikes against the North.

C. 1. [Title and several paragraphs missing]

over Southeast Asia and the likelihood that back-corridor discussions of the Vietnamese problem would be an almost inevitable by-product. In time such a procedure might be useful, but for the balance of 1964 it was to be avoided in order to promote GVN stability and encourage a more vigorous GVN war effort.
The pressure for a Geneva-type conference had been building ever since the resumption of fighting in Laos in May. The chief protagonist in the quest for negotiations was France, who first proposed reconvening the 14-Nation Conference to deal with the crisis on 20 May. What made French policy so dangerous to U.S. interests, however, was that its interest in a Geneva solution applied to Vietnam as well. On 12 June, DeGaulle publicly repeated his neutralization theme for all Indo-China and called for an end to all foreign intervention there; on 23 July he proposed reconvening the 1954 Geneva Conference to deal with the problems of Vietnam.

The Soviet Union's return to the 14-Nation formula in July (it had endorsed the original French proposal before indicating willingness to support the 6-Nation approach) indicated solidarity in the communist camp. The call was endorsed by North Vietnam on the following day. Communist China first announced support for a 14-Nation Conference (on Laos) on 9 June, repeating this through notes to the co-chairman calling on the 13th for an "emergency meeting." On 2 August, the Chinese urged the USSR not to carry out its threat to abandon its co-chairman role, apparently viewing such a development as jeopardizing the possibilities for a Geneva settlement.

Great Britain also urged the Russians to stay on, and during the last days of July it attempted to make arrangements in Moscow to convene a 14-Nation assembly on Laos. The negotiations failed because Britain insisted on Souvanna's prerequisite that the communists withdraw from positions taken in May and was unable to gain Soviet acquiescence. However, U.S. leaders were aware that Britain's support on this point could not be counted on indefinitely in the face of increasing pressure in the direction of Geneva.

In the meantime, however, Laotian military efforts to counter the communist threat to key routes and control points west of the Plaine des Jarres were showing great success. As a result of a counteroffensive (Operation Triangle), government forces gained control of a considerable amount of territory that gave promise of assuring access between the two capitals (Vientiane and Luang Prabang) for the first time in three years.

In effect, the government's newly won control of territory and communication routes in central Laos created a new and more favorable balance of power in that country, which in the perceptions of the administration should not be jeopardized.

[Several paragraphs missing]

firmness in the event negotiating pressure should become compelling.

Reactions to this tentative policy change were unfavorable. It was seen as likely to have a demoralizing impact on the GVN. It was also seen as possibly eroding the impression of strong U.S. resolve, which the reprisal air strikes were believed to have created. For example, Ambassador Taylor cabled:

. . . rush to conference table would serve to confirm to CHICOMS that U.S. retaliation for destroyer attacks was transient phenomenon and that firm CHICOM response in form of commitment to defend NVN has given U.S. "paper tiger" second thoughts. . .

In Vietnam sudden backdown from previously strongly held U.S. position on [Plaine des Jarres] withdrawal prior to conference on Laos would have potentially disastrous effect. Morale and will to fight and particular willingness to push ahead with arduous pacification task . . . would be undermined by what would look like evidence that U.S. seeking to take advantage of any slight improvement in non-Communist position as excuse for extricating itself from Indo-China via [conference] route. . . .

Under circumstances, we see very little hope that results of such a conference would be advantageous to us. Moreover, prospects of limiting it to consideration of only Laotian problem appear at this time juncture to be dimmer than ever. . .

2. Concern Over Tonkin Reprisal Signals

Contained in Ambassador Taylor's views was yet another of the Administration's reflections on the impact of the Tonkin Gulf incidents. Officials developed mixed feelings regarding the effect of the Tonkin reprisals for signaling firm U.S. commitments in Southeast Asia. On one hand, it was conceded that the reprisals and the actions which accompanied them represented the most forceful expression of U.S. resolve to date. Improvements were perceived in South Vietnamese morale, and the combination of force and restraint demonstrated was believed effective in interrupting communist momentum and forcing a reassessment of U.S. intentions. On the other hand, they reflected concern that these effects might not last and that the larger aspects of U.S. determination might still be unclear.

Several officials and agencies indicated that our actions in the Tonkin Gulf represented only one step along a continually demanding route for the United States. They expressed relief that if a persuasive impression of firmness were to be created relative to the general security of Southeast Asia, [words illegible]

It should be remembered that our retaliatory action in Gulf of Tonkin is in effect an isolated U.S.-DRV incident. Although this has relation . . . to [the] larger problem of DRV aggression by subversion in Viet-Nam and Laos, we have not (repeat not) yet come to grips in a forceful way with DRV over the issue of this larger and much more complex problem.

Later, he decribed a need for subsequent actions that would convey to Hanoi that "the operational rules with respect to the DRV are changing." Assistant Secretary of State Bundy believed that Hanoi and Peking had probably been convinced only "that we will act strongly where U.S. force units are directly involved . . . [that] in other respects the communist side may not be so persuaded that we are prepared to take stronger action He saw the need for a continuous "combination of military pressure and some form of communication" to cause Hanoi to accept the idea of "getting out" of South Vietnam and Laos. CINCPAC stated that "what we have not done and must do is make plain to Hanoi and Peiping the cost of pursuing their current objectives and impeding ours. . . . Our actions of August 5 have created a momentum which can lead to the attainment of our objectives in S.E. Asia. . . . It is most important that we not lose this momentum." The JCS urged actions to "sustain the U.S. advantage [recently] gained," and later cautioned: "Failure to resume and maintain a program of pressure through military actions . . . could signal a lack of resolve."

What these advisors had in mind by way of actions varied somewhat but only in the extent to which they were willing to go in the immediate future. Bundy stressed that policy commitments must be such that U.S. and GVN hands could be kept free for military actions against DRV infiltration routes in Laos. Ambassador Taylor, CINCPAC and the JCS urged prompt air and ground operations across the Laotian border to interrupt the current (though modest) southward flow of men and supplies. Both Taylor and CINCPAC indicated the necessity of building up our "readiness posture" to undertake stronger actions-through additional deployments of forces and logistical support elements and strengthening of the GVN political base.

The mood and attitudes reflected in these viewpoints were concrete and dramatic expressions of the increased U.S. commitment stemming from the Tonkin Gulf incidents. They were candidly summed up by CINCPAC in his statement:

. . . pressures against the other side once instituted should not be relaxed by any actions or lack of them which would destroy the benefits of the rewarding steps previously taken.

Increasingly voiced by officials from many quarters of the Administration and from the professional agencies were arguments which said, in effect, now that we have gone [words missing] go no further;

[Several paragraphs missing]

destruction of specific targets by aerial bombardment or naval gunfire. They could be supported by such non-destructive military actions as aerial reconnaissance, harassment of civil aviation and maritime commerce, mock air attacks, and timely concentrations of U.S. or allied forces at sea or near land borders. Following a line of reasoning prevalent in the Government during the early 60's, Rostow observed that a target government might well reduce its insurgency supporting role in the face of such pressures because of the communists' proverbial "tactical flexibility."

The thesis was subjected to a rather thorough analysis in OSD/ISA and coordinated with the Department of State. The nature of this review will be discussed on later pages and in a different context.

3. Accompanying Pause in Pressures

The foregoing policy assessments were conducted in an atmosphere relatively free of even those pressure measures that preceded the Tonkin Gulf crisis. Since
the force deployments of 6 August, little military activity had been directed at the DRV. U-2 flights over North Vietnam and reconnaissance of the Laotian Panhandle were continued. Military operations within Laos were limited to the consolidation of gains achieved in Operation Triangle. A deliberate stand-down was adopted for all other activities-including DE SOTO Patrols and the GVN's covert harassing operations. The purpose of this "holding phase," as it was called, was to "avoid actions that would in any way take the onus off the Communist side for [the Tonkin] escalation."

However, during the "holding phase" some of the administrative impediments to wider military action were cleared away. One measure that was taken was to relax the operating restrictions and the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Southeast Asia. This was accomplished in response to JCS urging that attacking forces not be permitted sanctuaries from which to regroup and perhaps repeat their hostile acts. Prior rules had not permitted pursuit of hostile aircraft outside South Vietnam or authorized intercept of intruders over Thailand. Under the revised rules of 15 August 1964, U.S. forces were authorized to attack and destroy any vessel or aircraft "which attacks, or gives positive indication of intent to attack" U.S. forces operating in or over international waters and in Laos, to include hot pursuit into the territorial waters or air space of North Vietnam and into the air space over other countries of Southeast Asia. "Hostile aircraft over South Vietnam and Thailand" could be engaged as well and pursued into North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Another prerequisite to wider military action that was accomplished was the combined GVN-U.S. planning for cross-border ground operations. By 16 August, this had proceeded to such an extent that COMUSMACV believed it necessary to seek approval of the concept. MACV made the request despite explicit comment that the concept was "an overly ambitious scheme." Presumably, he considered it likely to be ineffective militarily, but perhaps important in stimulating more vigorous GVN efforts. Whatever his particular reasons at the time, MACV repeated the recommendations later in the month as part of several measures to be taken inside and outside South Vietnam. These were designed "to give the VC a bloody nose," to steady the newly reformed South Vietnamese government, and to raise the morale of the population. However, the earlier MACV cable had already acknowledged what must have been one of the Administration's key inhibitions against undertaking cross-border actions: General Westmoreland stated, "It should be recognized that once this operation is initiated by the GVN, U.S. controls may be marginal."

The period of the "holding phase" was also a period of significant developments within South Vietnam. Ambassador Taylor's initial report (10 August) made clear that the political situation was already precarious, giving Khanh only a 50-50 chance of staying in power and characterizing the GVN as ineffective and fraught with conflicting purposes. In Taylor's view, the leadership in Saigon showed symptoms of "defeatism" and a hesitancy to prosecute the pacification campaign within South Vietnam. Meanwhile, however, its popular support in the countryside seemed to be directly proportional to the degree of protection which the government provided. In view of this shaky political base, General Khanh seized upon the occasion of post-Tonkin euphoria-apparently with Ambassador Taylor's encouragement-to acquire additional executive authority. On 7 August, announcing the necessity for certain "emergency" powers to cope with any heightened VC activity, he proclaimed himself President and promulgated the Vung Tau Charter. This action, which gave him virtually dictatorial power over several aspects of South Vietnamese life, met with hostile reactions. In late August, Khanh's authority was challenged in the streets of Saigon, Hue and Da Nang, during several days of student protest demonstrations and clashes between Buddhist and Catholic groups. In response to student and Buddhist pressures primarily, he resigned his recently assumed post as President and promised that a national assemblage would be called to form a more popularly based government. On 3 September, Khanh returned to assume the premiership, but clearly with weaker and more conditional authority than before the government crisis.

Meanwhile, as the GVN's lack of cohesion and stability was being demonstrated, the infiltration of communist forces into South Vietnam may have been on the increase. At least, belief in an increase in the rate of this infiltration apparently gained currency in various U.S. agencies at this time. The documents available to this writer from the period neither refute nor substantiate the increase, but several of them contained references to this perception. For example, a State Department memorandum, dated 24 August, acknowledged a "rise and change in the nature of infiltration in recent months." Later analyses confirmed that increases had taken place, but the precise period when this [words illegible].

Possibly influencing the judgments of August was the fact that increased communist movement of men and supplies to the South was expected, resulting in part from a DIA assessment (7 August) of the most likely DRV reactions to the Tonkin reprisals. Moreover, the State Department's analysis of next courses of action in Southeast Asia had made "clear evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the North" an explicit condition for any policy judgment that "systematic military action against DRV" was required during the balance of 1964. And leading officials from several agencies were beginning to feel that such action might be inevitable.

The combined effects of the signs of increased VC infiltration and of continuing upheaval in Saigon caused great concern in Washington. The central perception was one of impending chaos and possible failure in South Vietnam. Among several agencies, the emerging mood was that some kind of action was urgently needed-even if it had the effect merely of improving the U.S. image prior to pulling out. It was this mood that prevailed as the period of "pause" drew to a close.

D. Next Courses of Action

By early September a general consensus had developed among high-level Administration officials that some form of additional and continuous pressure should be exerted against North Vietnam. Though Laos was relatively stabilized, the situation there was recognized as dependent ultimately on the degree of success achieved in solving the problems of Vietnam. Pacification efforts within South Vietnam were regarded as insufficient by themselves to reverse the deteriorating trends in that country. As a result, officials from both civilian and military agencies were anxious to resume and to extend the program of military actions against communist forces outside its borders.

1. Strategy Meeting In September

How to go about this was a problem of great concern to top-level officials (the President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, General Wheeler, Ambassador Taylor, CIA Director McCone) as they assembled in Washington on 7 September. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss with Ambassador Taylor future courses of U.S. and GVN action, particularly as related to the implications of the recent political upheaval in Saigon.

The alternatives presented for discussion were based largely on responses to the tentative analysis circulated by the State Department in mid-August. Replies from CINCPAC and the Saigon and Vientiane embassies had been circulated, and they provided the basis for a number of questions which Ambassador Taylor's party was asked to be ready to discuss. JCS reactions to the analysis and to the earlier replies were submitted to the Secretary of Defense with the specific intent that they be considered at the meeting and presumably were passed to other participating agencies. OSD/ISA views were prepared by Assistant Secretary McNaughton on 3 September and were known at least to Assistant Secretary of State Bundy. [Doc. 188]

Just prior to the meeting, the JCS urged that General Wheeler, their Chairman, propose a course of action involving air strikes against targets in North Vietnam appearing on the JCS-approved, 94-target list. This kind of action had been recommended before--most recently on 26 August, in response to the Department of State analysis--as a means of "destroying the DRV will and capabilities, as necessary, to continue to support the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos." What made this proposal particularly significant was that it called for deliberate attempts to provoke the DRV into taking action which could then be answered by a systematic U.S. air campaign. According to the JCS scheme, the campaign "would be continuous and in ascending severity," with its tempo and intensity varied as required by enemy reactions. Targets would eventually include airfields, bridges, railroads, and military installations.

Whether or not or in what form General Wheeler presented this proposal to the assembled officials on 7 September is not indicated in the documentary sources available. The JCS belief in the necessity of bombing North Vietnam was discussed, as was some of their rationale. Made explicit, for example, was their argument that there was no reason to delay the bombing since (in their view) the situation in South Vietnam would only become worse. That the idea of deliberately provoking a DRV reaction was discussed in some form is indicated in a record of the consensus arrived at in the discussions. [Doc. 191] However, the JCS were not the only officials who favored such an idea. Assistant Secretary McNaughton's "Plan of Action" (3 September 1964) also called for actions that "should be likely at some point to provoke a military DRV response." The latter, in turn, "should be likely to provide good grounds for us to escalate if we wished."

The principal conferees did not believe that deliberately provocative actions 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.

The reasons cited for their opposition to provocative acts were also applied in rejecting proposals for an immediate bombing campaign. The GVN was expected to be too weak for the United States to assume the "deliberate risks of escalation that would involve a major role for, or threat to, South Vietnam." In the discussion, Mr. McCone observed that undertaking a sustained attack on the DRV would be very dangerous, due to the weakness and unpredictability of the political base in South Vietnam. Secretary Rusk stated the view that every means short of bombing must be exhausted. Secretary McNamara affirmed his understanding that "we are not acting more strongly because there is a clear hope of strengthening the GVN." But he went on to urge 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. It is interesting to note that the President asked specifically, "Can we really strengthen the GVN?"

Even though the principals did not accept the JCS proposal and apparently did not agree with their assessment of the chances for improvement in South Vietnam, they did indicate accord with the JCS sense of the gravity of the U.S. predicament. In response to General Wheeler's statements that "if the United States loses in South Vietnam, it will lose all of Southeast Asia" and that its position throughout all of Asia would be damaged, both McCone and Rusk indicated agreement. Ambassador Taylor stated the view that the United States could not afford to let Ho Chi Minh win in South Vietnam. Secretary Rusk added the consideration that the whole world doubted our ability to pull it off.

The meeting resulted in consensus among the principals on certain courses of prompt action to put additional pressure on North Vietnam. The following measures were recommended to the President for his decision:

1. U.S. naval patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin should be resumed immediately (about September 12). They should operate initially beyond the 12-mile limit and be clearly dissociated from 34A maritime operations.
2. 34A operations by the GVN should be resumed immediately thereafter (next week). The maritime operations are by far the most important.
3. Limited GVN air and ground operations into the corridor areas of Laos should be undertaken in the near future, together with Lao air strikes as soon as we can get Souvanna's permission. These operations will have only limited effect, however.
4. We should be prepared to respond on a tit-for-tat basis against the DRV [against specific and related targets] in the event of any attack on U.S. units or any special DRV/VC action against SVN.

The purposes for these measures were conceived as: (1) "to assist morale in SVN," (2) to "show the Communists we still mean business," and (3) "to keep the risks low and under our control at each stage."

2. Implementing Actions

These recommendations (and presumably the purposes) were approved by the President and became the basis for a program of limited (though not continuous) pressures exerted against North Vietnam from mid-September to mid-December 1964. On 10 September, the White House issued a National Security Action Memorandum [Doc. 195] which authorized immediate resumption of the DE SOTO Patrols and prompt discussions with the Government of Laos to develop plans for cross-border operations. It also authorized resumption of 34A operations following completion of the DE SOTO Patrol, with the additional guidance that "we should have the GVN ready to admit that they are taking place and to justify and legitimize them on the basis of the facts of VC infiltration by sea." It is significant that although this order, in effects authorized the initiation of Phase III (October through December) of the covert operations under OPLAN 34A, it specified contrary to the provisions of Phase III that "we should not consider air strikes under 34A for the present."

Naval Operations. The resumption of naval patrol and covert maritime operations off the coast of North Vietnam did not proceed exactly as planned. The destroyers U.S.S. Morton and U.S.S. Edwards embarked on the third DE SOTO Patrol on 12 September. On the night of 14 September [words illegible]
Approximately 40 minutes after first contact and after firing a warning shot, Morton and Edwards opened fire, both scoring hits. Subsequently, on two separate occasions after the target images had disappeared from the radar, new contacts appeared and were fired on at a range of approximately 8,500 yards, hits again being indicated for both vessels. In all, Morton fired 56 five-inch and 128 three-inch rounds; Edwards fired 152 five-inch and 6 three-inch rounds. There were no rounds or torpedoes reported coming from the radar contacts. Later on the 18th (Washington time), President Johnson suspended the DE SOTO Patrols; they were not to be resumed until February 1965.

In the aftermath of the third destroyer incident in the Tonkin Gulf, covert GVN maritime operations were not resumed until October. President Johnson authorized reactivation of this program on the 4th, under very tight controls. The proposed schedule of maritime operations had to be submitted at the beginning of each month for approval. Each operation was approved in advance by OSD (Mr. Vance), State (Mr. L. Thompson or Mr. Forrestal) and the White House (Mr. McGeorge Bundy). During October, these included two probes, an attempted junk capture, and ship-to-shore bombardment of North Vietnamese radar sites. Later, they included underwater demolition team assaults on bridges along coastal LOC's. Unlike the DE SOTO Patrols, these unacknowledged operations continued throughout the year.

Actions in Laos. Operations in the Laotian Panhandle took shape with fewer unpredictable developments. On 11 September, representatives of the U.S. missions in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam met in Saigon to discuss implementation of the NSAM 314 provisions for cross-border air and ground operations. {Doc. 196] Regarding air operations, they agreed that if their primary objective was military in nature, "sharp, heavy" and concentrated attacks would be needed and that U.S. and/or VNAF/FARMGATE forces would be required. If their impact was intended to be primarily psychological (presumably affecting both communists and the GVN), they believed that the operations could be more widely spaced, relying primarily on Laotian T-28s with some U.S. strikes on harder targets. In view of Souvanna Phouma's reported opposition to VNAF strikes in the Panhandle, the representatives conceded that the slower paced operation with RLAF aircraft offered the best course. However, they saw a joint Lao, Thai, RVN and U.S. operation as particularly desirable, were it not for the time required to arrange it. As one means of symbolizing four power support for the operation, they recommended that the Thai Government be approached regarding use of the Korat base by participating U.S. aircraft.

Regarding cross-border ground operations, the representatives agreed that the southern and central Panhandle offered terrain and targets consistent with the available GVN assets. Although it was recognized that accompanying U.S. advisers might be necessary to assure the success of the operations, the planners acceded to Vientiane's objections that such a flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords would endanger the credibility of our political stance in Laos. Subsequent to the meeting, the Vientiane Embassy removed a reservation expressed earlier and cleared the way for company-size penetrations of up to 20 km along Route 9, near Tchepone. At the conference this operation was considered of high priority with respect to infiltration traffic into South Vietnam.

The mission representatives agreed that, once the operations began, they should not be acknowledged publicly. In effect, then, they would supplement the other covert pressures being exerted against North Vietnam. Moreover, while the Lao Government would of course know about the operations of their T-28s, Souvanna was not to be informed of the GVN/U.S. operations. The unacknowledged nature of these operations would thus be easier to maintain. Accordingly, the representatives recommended to Washington that Vientiane be authorized to approach the Laotian Government regarding initiation of T-28 operations. On the other hand, the Administration was asked to approve ground operations in three specified areas of the Panhandle.

Over two weeks passed before these recommendations were acted on. In the meantime, the JCS also submitted proposals for implementing NSAM 314, requesting immediate authority to implement air operations in the Panhandle. Endorsing the main theme of the mission representatives, they called for combined action by RLAF T-28s and U.S. aircraft which would provide "suppressive fire" and attack heavily defended bridges. The JCS also sought authority to initiate GVN ground intelligence collection and target reconnaissance patrols in the Laotian corridor.

On 6 October, authority was given to Vientiane Embassy to urge the Laotian Government to begin T-28 air strikes "as soon as possible." The RLAF targets were to be selected from a previously coordinated 22-target list, a few of which were designed for U.S. YANKEE TEAM strikes, but they were to exclude Mu Gia Pass. The latter mission was known to require U.S. escort and suppressive fire, and a decision on whether to authorize such U.S. operations had not yet been made in Washington. Moreover, neither had the Administration authorized YANKEE TEAM strike missions against the tougher Panhandle targets. [Doc. 204]

Administration rationale on the issue of U.S. participation in the Panhandle air strikes is not clear from the sources available to this writer. Contemporary intelligence estimates indicated the communist responses were likely to be limited to (1) increases in antiaircraft deployments in the area, (2) propaganda attacks and (3) possible sabotage of U.S.,/GVN supporting bases. However, Washington's viewpoint on another Laotian request for air support may be significant. With respect to air strikes against targets along Route 7, in support of the RLG cornpaign to consolidate its holdings west of the Plaine des Jarres, Administration rationale was as follows:

[material missing]

[to} defer decision on Route 7 strikes until we have strong evidence [of] Hanoi's preparation for new attack in [the Plaine des Jarres~l, some of which might come from RLAF operations over the Route.

On 13 October, one day before the initial RLAF attacks, U.S. strikes were again requested on four defended targets near Nape and Tchepone. They were to accompany T-28 strikes on communist military installations and supply points in the northern part of the Panhandle. The significance of these operations, and U.S. participation in them, was indicated a few days earlier in another meeting among representatives of the three missions. It was reported at this time that it was probable "that ARVN will be unable [to] afford detachment [of] any significant ground capability for [the Laotian] Corridor in [the] foreseeable future." Therefore, air operations would offer the only dependable means of corn-batting VC infiltration through Laos. The participants recorded "unanimous agreement that U.S. participation in air operations in [the] corridor is essential if such operations are to have desired military and psychological impact." Emphasizing that the initiative for these operations came from the United States Government, they pointed out that failure to participate could result in loss of control over them and could even jeopardize their continuation. At minimum the group recommended that U.S. aircraft fly CAP (combat air patrol) over the RLAF aircraft, as requested by the Laotian Government and as permitted by a "relatively minor extension" of existing U.S. rules of engagement.

CAP missions were approved, but U.S. air strikes against communist LOCs in the Laotian Panhandle were not authorized until much later in the year. Cross-border ground operations did not receive authorization at any time during the period covered in this study.

3. Negotiating Posture in Laos

One reason for the delay in requesting Laotian air strikes in the Panhandle was the need to await the uncertain outcome of discussions in Paris among leaders of the three Laotian political factions. Since 27 August, when they first met, the three Princes (Souvanna Phouma, Souphanouvang, and Boun Ourn) had reached an impasse on conditions to accompany a ceasefire. Souvanna Phouma insisted on communist withdrawal from positions won in the May offensive and had proposed neutralization of the Plaine des Jarres under I.C.C. supervision. On 15 September, when it seemed that further negotiations had become fruitless, Prince Souphanouvang offered to withdraw communist forces from the Plaine in return for discussions leading to a new 14-Nation Conference. The following day, Souvanna countered with a proposal that a cease-fire begin on 1 October and attempted to verify and make more explicit the mutual concessions. The pro-communist leader balked over stipulated guarantees, such as I.C.C. supervision, that pro-communist forces would in fact withdraw and be replaced by neutralists. However, on the 2 1st, the leaders arrived at [words illegible] and preliminary conditions for reconvening a Geneva conference.

The narrow margin by which the cease-fire agreement failed to come about dramatized the delicate nature of the Administration's diplomatic position in Laos. Having agreed to support the tripartite discussions prior to the Tonkin Gulf incidents and prior to the political upheaval in Saigon, it felt constrained to go along with them-particularly if they served to forestall movement toward a Geneva-type negotiation. However, a Laotian cease-fire was not compatible with current perceptions of U.S. interest even if it resulted in communist withdrawal from the Plaine des Jarres. Ambassador Unger pointed out the contradictory nature of our position in his reply to the State Department's mid- August analysis of future U.S. courses of action. Ambassador Taylor emphasized the need to maintain the option of operations in the Panhandle in his reply also, and the September discussions in Washington confirmed that his view was shared by most of the President's advisors. One could conclude that the United States was fortunate that Prince Souphanouvang was so intransigent on the issue of I.C.C. supervision. It is also possible that in insisting on this provision to the leftist prince Souvanno Phourna "knew his man"--perhaps reflecting perceptive American advice.

Certainly the course of the tripartite discussion followed a pattern commensurate with prior U.S. calculation. In an assessment of future courses of action used as the basis for the policy analysis cabled to affected interested embassies and CINCPAC by the State Department, Assistant Secretary Bundy characterized U.S. strategy with the statement, "We would wish to slow down any progress toward a conference He then referred to a specific negotiating position proposed by Ambassador Unger (a proposal for tripartite administration of the Plaine des Jarres) as "a useful delaying gambit." Significantly, this proposal was advanced at Jaris by Souvanna Phouma on 1 September-illustrating the fact that Souvanna was carefully advised by U.S. diplomats both prior to and during the Paris meetings. Other features of Souvanna's negotiating posture which apparently were encouraged as likely to have the effect of drawing out the discussions were insistence on communist acceptance of (1) Souvanna's political status as premier and (2) unhampered operations by the I.C.C. It will be recalled that the latter point was the issue on which progress toward a cease-fire became stalled.

It is important to note here that the State Department recognized that Souvanna Phouma might well act on his own and feel compelled to move toward a conference, even at the price of a cease-fire. In such an event, our position was to be dependent on conditions in South Vietnam:

[quotation illegible]

It is apparent from this and other documents that GVN stability and morale were perceived by the Administration as the principal pacing elements for Southeast Asian policy in the post-Tonkin period.

4. Anticipation of Wider Action

Through most of the strategy discussions of early autumn, South Vietnam was the main focus of attention. However, with increasing frequency its political and military conditions were referred to in a new way. More and more it was being evaluated in terms of its suitability as a base for wider action. Ambassador Taylor cautioned that "we should not get involved militarily with North Vietnam and possibly with Red China if our base in South Viet Nam is insecure and Khanh's army is tied down everywhere by the VC insurgency." At the September meeting, Mr. McCone criticized the actions recommended by the JCS as being very dangerous because of the current weakness of the GVN base. On 23 September, Walt Rostow wrote to Ambassador Taylor of the need for building a more viable political system in South Vietnam "which will provide us with an adequate base for what we may later have to do."

General Scheme. The kind of operations for which "an adequate base" was increasingly considered essential is evident in a number of strategy discussions of the period. Moreover, it is clear that several officials shared the expectation that these operations would begin early in the new year. It will be recalled that the series of actions recommended to President Johnson by his top advisers at the end of May-most of which had been completed within a few days of the Tonkin Gulf incidents-were intended to culminate, if necessary, in a strike against North Vietnam accompanied by an active diplomatic offensive that included agreement to a negotiated settlement. Further, Phase III of the approved contingency OPLAN 37-64, developed in response to NSAM 288, provided for the application of overt graduated pressures against North Vietnam-primarily air strikes. These were to be carried out by the GVN, but which would also include operations by U.S. air and naval forces. Deployments of additional forces to Southeast Asia in early summer and in the immediate aftermath of the Tonkin Gulf incidents were based on force requirements identified to support this plan. Its perceived significance during the post-Tonkin period was indicated when Ambassador Taylor reported that the objectives of the U.S. Mission in Saigon included preparation to implement OPLAN 37-64 "with optimum readiness by January 1, 1965."

Subsequent strategy discussions reflected the extent to which the new year was anticipated as the occasion for beginning overt military operations against North Vietnam. Both the State Department's mid-August strategy analysis and the working paper on which it was based indicated that the "limited pressures" (subsequently authorized by NSAM 314) would extend "tentatively through December." However, these actions were perceived as "foreshadowing systematic military action against the DRV," which "we might at some point conclude. . .[was appropriate, depending on the] situation in South Vietnam, particularly if there were to be clear evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the north.") Should specific provocations not occur, a contingency target of 1 January 1965 was indicated:

. . .in [the] absence of such major new development [incidents or increased infiltration], we should probably be thinking of a contingency date for planning purposes, as suggested by Ambassador Taylor, of 1 January 1965.

The working paper elaborated more fully than the cable the kind of preliminary actions considered necessary to set the stage. Some of this elaboration was provided in suggested language changes penciled-in by OSD prior to an interagency meeting called to discuss its contents. Referring to air strikes in the Panhandle (proposed to begin in September), a suggested OSD addition stated: "The strike should probably be timed and plotted on the map to bring them to the borders of North Vietnam at the end of December." The main body of the text suggested that the January operations include "action against infiltration routes and facilities" as "probably the best opening gambit." It explained that "the family of infiltration-related targets starts with clear military installations near the borders [and] can be extended almost at will northward." The "next upward move" was suggested to include action against "military-related targets," such as "POL installations and the mining of Haiphong Harbor" and "key bridges and railroads." The purposes perceived for these operations was "to inflict progressive damage that would have a meaningful cumulative effect."

Ambassador Taylor viewed 1 January 1965 as a "target D-Day" before which the U.S. Mission and the GVN should develop "a posture of maximum readiness for a deliberate escalation of pressure against North Viet Nam." The nature of this escalation was perceived as "a carefully orchestrated bombing attack on NVN, directed primarily at infiltration and other military targets." It would consist of

U.S. reconnaissance planes, VNAF1 FARMGATE aircraft against those targets which could be attacked safely in spite of the presence of the MIGs, and additional U.S. combat aircraft if necessary for the effective execution of the bombing program.

He qualified this assessment with the observation, "We must always recognize, however, that events may force [the] U.S. to advance D-Day to a considerably earlier date." The reason for this qualification was Taylor's concern that the GVN might not be able to sustain its authority until January. Thus, in order to "avoid the probable consequences of a collapse of national morale" it would be necessary, he felt, "to open the campaign against the DRV without delay."

Similar assessments of timing in relation to more vigorous military action against North Vietnam were made in OSD,/ISA. The immediate measures proposed in McNaughton's draft "Plan of Action for South Vietnam" (3 September) were conceived not only as means to provoke North Vietnam into responses justifying U.S. punitive actions. They were also believed to make possible the postponement "probably until November or December" of a decision regarding the more serious escalation. In McNaughton's terminology the latter were referred to as "a crescendo of GVN-U.S. military actions against the DRV," but they included a variety of possibilities:

The escalating actions might be naval pressures or mining of harbors; or they might be made up of air strikes against North Vietnam moving from southern to northern targets, from targets associated with infiltration and by-then-disclosed DRV-VC radio command nets to targets of military then industrial importance, and from missions which could be handled by the VNAF alone to those which could be carried out only by the U.S.

It is clear, however, that what was contemplated was a pattern of gradually mounting pressures intended to impress the DRV with the increasing gravity of its situation.
Records of the September conference do not indicate that a decision was made relative to an explicit January contingency date. In several respects they do make clear that the possibility of escalation at the end of the year was considered. For example, hope was expressed that the GVN would grow stronger over the following two to three months--by implication, strong enough to permit "major deliberate risks of escalation" or "deliberately provocative" U.S. actions. Directly related to this hope was the intention of having the GVN admit publicly to its conduct of maritime operations against North Vietnamese coastal installations and communications. The aim was "to justify and legitimize them on the basis of the facts of VC infiltration by sea." It was believed that this step would be useful in establishing a climate of opinion more receptive to expanded (air) operations against North Vietnam when they should become necessary.

Reservations. By October 1964, therefore, there was a general belief among the President's top advisors that it would probably be necessary eventually to subject North Vietnam to overt military pressure. Many were convinced, however reluctantly, that it would not be possible to obtain an effective solution to the problem of DRV sponsorship of the insurgency in South Vietnam or a practical solution to the political strife in Laos without such direct pressure on the instigators of these problems. The earlier views of most of the principal advisors 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. Moreover, they were advanced despite the perspective afforded by a number of critical evaluations of the use of military pressure. In addition to the studies made during the first half of 1964, all of the principal advisory agencies had reviewed a detailed critique of the so-called "Rostow thesis" just prior to the September strategy conference.
The critique was accomplished in OSD/ISA with inputs and coordination from State's Policy Planning Council. The assigned task was to make "a thorough analysis of and report on the Rostow thesis that covert aggression justifies and must be fought by attacks on the source of the aggression." Copies were distributed to the Washington recipients of the Rostow paper, including the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, the JCS and each of the services.

In their summary analysis of the thesis, the critiquers emphasized two variables which would determine its utility: (1) the extent of the commitment of the nation furnishing external support and (2) the extent to which the insurgency affected vital U.S. interests. With regard to the former variable, they described "three fundamental conditions" which would have to exist to achieve success "in cases where the external opponent is committed to the extent of the North Vietnamese." The opponents would have to be persuaded that: (1) the United States was "taking limited actions to achieve limited objectives;" (2) "the commitment of the military power of the United States to the limited objective is a total commitment-as total as our commitment to get the missiles out of Cuba in October 1962;" (3) the United States has "established a sufficient consensus to see through this course of action both at home and on the world scene." Further, unless such an opponent were so persuaded, "the approach might well fail to be effective short of a larger U.S. military involvement."

Essential to creating the necessary conviction of U.S. intent on the part of the opposing government, the analysis argued, was a firm image that the President and the U.S. public were in agreement that vital national interests were at stake. Unless vital interests were clearly at stake,

the limited military actions envisaged would not only involve much greater political costs at home and abroad . . . but there would be much greater risk that the program would not be effective except at high levels of involvement and risk, and that it might be allowed to fall short of such levels.

Assuming that vital U.S. interests were assessed as being at stake by an Administration in some unspecified case, the critiquers went on to outline some additional "conditions for success." First, an Administration would have to present a solid case to the U.S. Congress and public and to our allies that the external support provided by the target nation was instrumental in sustaining the insurgency. In the interest of making its public case conclusive, "the U.S. would have to be prepared to expose intelligence data." Second, it would have to identify enemy targets "such that limited attacks and the threat of further attacks would bring great pressure on him to comply." Third, the U.S. Government would have to be able to communicate its case to the target nation "including the high degree of U.S. commitment and the limited nature of our objective." This would involve controlling both the U.S. and its ally's actions "to convey limited objectives, minimizing incentives to comply." Finally, it would have to be capable of determining enemy compliance with our demands.

The critiquers' analysis included an assessment of the costs and risks to be incurred in applying the thesis and cautioned against its adoption as a general declaratory policy:

Given present attitudes, application of the Rostow approach risks domestic and international opposition ranging from anxiety and protest to condemnation, efforts to disassociate from U.S. policies or alliances, or even strong countermeasures. . .

Currently, then, it is the Rostow approach, rather than the measures it counters that would be seen generally as an "unstabilizing" change in the rules of the game, an escalation of conflict, an increasing of shared, international risks, and quite possibly, as an open aggression demanding condemnation . . . particularly in general terms or in abstraction from a specific, immediately challenging situation.

On the other hand, the controlled, limited military actions implied in the Rostow approach would be far more acceptable to the extent that they were seen to follow from Presidential conviction of vital national necessity in a specific context, and even more to the extent that this conviction were shared by Congress and the U.S. public.

An attempt to legitimize such actions in general terms, and in advance of an emergency situation, would not only be likely to fail, but might well evoke public expression of domestic and allied opposition and denunciation . . . from opponents that would make it much more difficult for the President to contemplate this approach when an occasion actually arose.

They went on to point out that accepting the Rostow thesis as a principle of U.S. declaratory policy would require making it public before applying it. The need to be assured of "Congressional and other public support in carrying through the thesis in a given case" would require this. Therefore, the analysts concluded, "It would be exceedingly unwise to make the Rostow thesis a declaratory policy unless the U.S. were prepared to act on it"--but then only if we were assured of the public commitment and the capability to achieve success.

With regard to the applicability of the thesis to the contemporary situation in Southeast Asia, the critiquers summarized their views as follows:

. . .the situation in Vietnam and Laos is the only one in which a strong case can be made that the two major indications for the Rostow approach are made: the ineffectiveness of alternatives and vital U.S. interests. Even in this case the degree of U.S. interest, the degree and acceptability of the risks, and the potential effectiveness of this approach are subject to question. In particular, the likelihood and the political costs of failure of the approach, and the pressures for U.S. escalation if early moves should fail, require serious examination.

5. Differing Agency Policy Views

In describing the evolution of Administration strategy, this account has previously emphasized the points of general agreement among the President's advisors. Its purpose has been to describe the existence and sense of a policy consensus that had emerged by mid-October. However, significant differences of opinion existed among the various advisory agencies regarding what actions should be taken and how soon they should be initiated. These differences can be discerned with respect to five issues: (1) whether and how soon the GVN maritime operation should be acknowledged; (2) the desirability of tit-for-tat reprisals; (3) how best to cope with enemy reactions to increased pressures on the DRV; (4) the degree of GVN/U.S. readiness required before increasing the pressures; and (5) the relationship perceived between increased pressures and negotiations.

JCS views. Senior military officials differed among themselves on the first three issues. CINCPAC apparently perceived difficulties resulting from official acknowledgments of GVN maritime operations and sugested that press leaks would [words illegible]. General Wheeler [words illegible] operations and thereby enable their scope and effectiveness to be increased. However, he was not supported by the service chiefs. They opposed surfacing the GVN operations until they could become associated with the DE SOTO Patrols "or until the United States is prepared openly to support MAROPS militarily." All of these officials agreed that it was necessary to undertake reprisals for a variety of hostile VC or DRV actions. In particular they wanted U.S. responses to be greater in degree, not necessarily matching in kind, than the provocations. Where they came to differ was on the desirability of deliberately provoking DRV actions to which we could then respond. After the September White House meeting only the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Marine Commandant favored this approach.

Differences with respect to preparation for coping with enemy reactions to harsher pressures centered around the issue of committing greater numbers of U.S. ground forces to South Vietnam. CINCPAC, supporting General West-moreland's request, urged provision for deployment of Marine and Army units to provide security for U.S./GVN operating bases. The JCS disagreed and disapproved a request to make such adjustments in OPLAN 37-64, on grounds that since VC capabilities were still questionable it was preferable not to precommit U.S. forces in the manner urged. At issue concurrently was an Air Force proposal to reduce the number of ground forces provided for in the event of a large scale DRV/CHICOM intervention in Southeast Asia and to reply more heavily on tactical air capabilities. The other chiefs disagreed, but the controversy concerning the relative emphasis on ground and air forces for the defense of Southeast Asia was to occupy JCS attention for several months to come.

Regarding the issue of readiness to increase pressures on North Vietnam and the role of negotiations, the military chiefs were in agreement throughout the period. Soon after the Tonkin Gulf incidents they urged prompt implementation of more serious pressures using U.S. air capabilities. They opposed B-57 training for the VNAF, citing its limited pilot and supporting technical resources which would be needed for counterinsurgency missions. In response to warnings that we should not get deeply involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia until we were surer of the GVN's commitment, they replied that "the United States is already deeply involved." They went on to recommend preparations for deploying the remaining OPLAN 37-64 forces needed for mounting a U.S. air strike program against North Vietnam. While the JCS did not address the subject of negotiations explicitly during this period, their statements implied a lack of interest in a negotiated solution to the Vietnam problem. At every opportunity they reiterated their recommendation that we should attack North Vietnamese will and capabilities as necessary to force a DRV decision to halt its support and direction of the insurgency.

Saigon Embassy views. Ambassador Taylor opposed the views of his former military colleagues on most issues. Prior to the September meeting, he expressed objections to the idea of surfacing or leaking to the press the nature of GVN maritime operations. He also opposed tit-for-tat retaliation bombing for the reason that it was "likely to release a new order of military reaction from both sides, the outcome of which is impossible to predict." He saw enemy ground assaults as a greater threat to U.S. bases in South Vietnam than enemy air attacks and supported the deployment of US. ground force units for base security purposes. This was to occur after the beginning of GVN/U.S. ground and air cross-border operations into Laos. However, not unlike the Chiefs, one of the criteria he employed in shaping his recommendation was the avoidance of a major U.S. ground force commitment.

Ambassador Taylor's views were apparently based on an underlying rationale that actions to counter the VC/DRV aggression should not outstrip the GVN and that if it could be avoided, the conflict should not be escalated to a level beyond South Vietnamese capacities to manage it. Although believing firmly that the United States would have to apply direct pressure against North Vietnam eventually, to force her to abandon her objectives, he felt that the major burden of this effort should be borne by the GVN. Thus, his support for U.S. base security deployment was based in part on concern lest ARVN units be tied down in such roles and, thus, unavailable for more free-ranging combat. Similarly, in August, the Embassy favored immediate initiation of B-57 training for the VNAF to enable it to play a substantial role in the overt air attacks envisioned for 1965.

This training--like Saigon's discouragement of U.S. eagerness to negotiate in Laos--was also advocated for its value in bolstering the GVN's morale and determination to continue fighting against its communist enemies. This same consideration was at the root of the Ambassador's belief that any negotiations which affected South Vietnam should be avoided until North Vietnam was subjected to more forceful military pressures. He also felt that communication with Hanoi should be preceded by a thorough discussion and understanding of our limited war aims with the GVN.

The Ambassador's basic concern that the GVN be capable of and committed to supporting the evolving levels of war effort against the communists was indicated in his response to the political upheaval in Saigon. Earlier, his recommendations had included the option of opening "the [airl campaign against the DRV without delay," in the event of threatened collapse of the Khanh Government. The objective was to have been "to avoid the possible consequences of a collapse of national morale." At the September meeting and subsequently, however, after Khanh had already been forced to step down from GVN leadership once and his new government had [words illegible] the Ambassador opposed overt action [words illegible] urged instead [words illegible].

OSD views. OSD and OSD~ISA views were clearer on some issues than on others. For example, the source documents indicate their consistent support for surfacing the GVN maritime operations. Similarly, it is clear that OSD continually regarded negotiations as a necessary process for terminating the insurgency in South Vietnam and a program of increased pressures against the DRV as a means of improving the U.S. bargaining position. Like other agencies, it saw negotiations as something that should not be entered into until the pressures were hurting North Vietnam, but it emphasized that the pattern of pressures should make clear our limited aims.

Equally consistent but less explicit were OSD views on GVN/U.S. readiness to mount overt attacks on North Vietnam. Secretary McNamara was concerned that too early initiation of air action against North Vietnam might find the United States unprepared to cope with the consequences. At the end of August he directed the JCS to study and report on POL and ordnance stocks available to carry out approved contingency plans to combat a large-scale communist intervention after the expenditures required for the pattern of attacks which they proposed against North Vietnam. He also asked for specific recommendations on next steps to be taken in the event destruction of the proposed JCS targets did not destroy the DRV will and capability to continue. Mr. McNaughton's "Plan of Action" was intended to make unnecessary any decision concerning larger operations until late in the autumn. Morever, it was designed explicitly "to create as little risk as possible of the kind of military action which would be difficult to justify to the American public and to preserve where possible the option to have no U.S. military action at all." In September, OSD/ISA was on record as favoring the initiation of bombing against North Vietnam--after suitable provocation by Hanoi. But by mid-October the OSD view was apparently that overt actions against the North should be held off at least until the new year.

With respect to the other issues, the most consistent aspect of OSD views was their prudence. Its attitudes toward tit-for-tat reprisals are not really clear. Soon after Tonkin Gulf, OSD notified the JCS that the events there precluded any further need for their work on retaliation scenarios in support of NSAM 288. Then, just three weeks later, the McNaughton "Plan of Action" proposed deliberate provocation of DRV actions to permit U.S. retaliation--but as a means to begin a gradual squeeze on North Vietnam, not merely tit-for-tat reprisals. Mr. McNamara's own views do not appear except by implication, in that he did not indicate any opposition to them when shown William Bundy's draft summation of the September meeting consensus. Prudence was again the dominant feature of OSD views on preparations to cope with possible enemy reactions to the harsher pressures. For example, "on several occasions" Secretary McNamara expressed to the JCS his interest in the possibility of countering a massive Chinese intervention in Southeast Asia without the need to introduce large numbers of U.S. ground forces.

[material missing]

proposal to reduce provisional ground force levels for Southeast Asian defense concluded that the issue remained "open." It was critical of that particular study because of its methodology and assumptions. Later, however, Mr. McNamara supported the JCS in their disapproval of the MACV request for allocation of additional ground force units for base security purposes.

State views. Various documents make it clear that there were several different points of view prevalent within the State Department during the period in question. Reflected here are those channeled through the Secretary of State or communicated to the Department of Defense, usually through the Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs. With few exceptions, the courses of action followed by the Administration were those advocated by State. Its proposal for B-57 training for the VNAF was apparently overruled on the basis of JCS recommendations, but otherwise its support for measures to further strengthen the GVN and for pressuring actions other than overt military attacks throughout 1964 prevailed. Its support for the acknowledgement of GVN maritime operations failed to materialize only because of objections on the part of the GVN itself.

State Department views on the other issues, likewise, were reflected in U.S. policy positions. Reprisals for VC acts that could be matched with fitting responses were favored in principle but were not necessarily to be carried out in all instances. Escalation through such responses was seen as useful for purposes of assisting GVN morale, but State did not believe that steps should be taken to bring about such situations just yet. It did, however, acknowledge that deliberate provocations might be useful in the future. Negotiation of a Vietnam solution through an international conference was viewed as inevitable, but it should be permitted only after hurting North Vietnam and convincing South Vietnam of U.S. resolve to achieve its objectives. Moreover, Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secretary Bundy and Counselor Rostow were each known to view avoidance of a commitment of U.S. ground forces to Southeast Asia as an important element in policy.

CIA views. With the exception of Mr. McCone's opinions rendered in the September strategy meeting, available CIA documents provide no policy recommendations. However, they do contain assessments bearing directly on the policy issues discussed previously-particularly with respect to enemy reactions to the measures contemplated. For example, intelligence estimates indicated little likelihood that intensified maritime operations would result in retaliation against GVN naval bases. Similarly, they predicted few serious consequences in response to U.S. limited tit-for-tat reprisal strikes. Rather, the CIA believed that communist responses would be limited to defensive measures, increased propaganda, and additional logistical assistance from China. In the event our reprisal actions were "heavier and sustained," the DRV was expected first to attempt to dissuade the United States through international political moves, [words illegible]

CIA estimates of communist reaction to systematic U.S./GVN air attacks on North Vietnam were less certain. While acknowledging "substantial danger" that the DRV might decide to send its own armed forces on a large scale to Laos and South Vietnam,

("Hanoi might assume that United States would be unwilling to undertake a major ground war, or that if it was, it could ultimately be defeated by the methods which were successful against the French.")

they thought it more likely that Hanoi would choose a more conservative course. They reasoned that "the DRV might calculate that it would be better to stop VC activity temporarily than risk loss of its military facilities and industry," but that they would make no meaningful concessions "such as agreeing to effective international inspection of inifitration routes." In any event, the CIA did not believe that Chinese intervention was likely unless the United States should strike the Chinese mainland or unless U.S./GVN forces should attempt to "occupy areas of the DRV or communist-held territory in Northern Laos." It indicated that both North Vietnam and Communist China wished to avoid direct conflict with the United States and would probably "avoid actions that would in their view unduly increase the chances of a major U.S. response" against them.

Rather than outright military victory in South Vietnam, CIA estimates indicated belief that the communists expected to gain control through a "neutralist coalition government dominated by pro-Communist elements" that would come about "soon." This concern over the threat of neutralism had been voiced at the September meeting by Mr. McCone and was quite prevalent among intelligence discussions of the period. Altogether, it created a rather gloomy impression of GVN readiness to support sustained overt operations against North Vietnam and absorb likely VC countermeasures. In October the picture became even gloomier as a result of an intelligence assessment which described continuing deterioration of the South Vietnamese political situation and predicted even more:

. . .we believe that the conditions favor a further decay of GVN will and effectiveness. The likely pattern of this decay will be increasing defeatism, paralysis of leadership, friction with Americans, exploration of possible lines of political accommodation with the other side, and a general petering out of the war effort.

Go to the Next Section of Volume 3, Chapter 2, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965"

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

Go to 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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