The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 3
Chapter 3, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)

Section 2, pp. 332-388



As has been indicated, ROLLING THUNDER was finally inaugurated, after much delay and postponement, on March 2. On that day, 104 USAF aircraft (B-52's F-100's F-105's and refueling KC-135's) struck the Xom Bang Ammo Depot, while 19 VNAF A-1H's hit the Quang Khe Naval Base. This was the first strike on the North in which USAF aircraft played the dominant role. Although the attack was officially proclaimed "very successful," the loss of four USAF aircraft, three to antiaircraft fire, intensified earlier OSD concern over the effectiveness of the strikes and over the vulnerability of US aircraft.

Shortly after the first two February reprisal raids, the Secretary of Defense had received some disturbing bomb damage assessment reports that indicated that,

. . . with a total of 267 sorties (including flak suppression, etc.) directed against 491 buildings, we destroyed 47 buildings and damaged 22.

The reports caused McNamara to fire off a rather blunt memorandum to the CJCS, dated 17 February 1965, which stated in part:

Although the four missions left the operations at the targets relatively unimpaired, I am quite satisfied with the results. Our primary objective, of course, was to communicate our political resolve. This I believe we did. Future communications of resolve, however, will carry a hollow ring unless we accomplish more military damage than we have to date. Can we not better meet our military objectives by choosing different types of targets, directing different weights of effort against them, or changing the composition of the force? Surely we cannot continue for months accomplishing no more with 267 sorties than we did on these four missions.

The Chairman of the JCS promptly asked his staff to look into the matter and reported back a few days later on some initial points of interest:

(1) We do not have sufficient or timely information about the results of the strikes;

(2) In light of prior detailed study of the targets (94 Target Study), the weight of effort expended against at least two of them is open to question;

(3) The weaponeering [words illegible] open to question. In view of these deficiencies, the CJCS continued,

. . . I intend to ask the Joint Staff, in drafting its proposals for future strikes, to insure that the critical elements of target selection and weight of effort are evaluated as carefully as possible against specific and realistic military objectives. At the same time, I believe the commander of the operating force should have a degree of flexibility with respect to the weaponeering of the strikes and their timing. My concern here is that the operational commander be given adequate latitude to take advantage of his first-hand knowledge of the target and its defenses as well as of the changing conditions of weather and light.

2. I am also asking the Director, DIA, to propose a standardized and streamlined system of after-action reporting so that prompt and responsive analysis of strike results can be made available to those who require it.

Immediately after the first ROLLING THUNDER strike on March 2, Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance convened a meeting attended by Air Force Secretary Eugene M. Zuckert and other USAF officials to consider using the high-flying B-52's for pattern bombing in either North or South Vietnam to avoid Communist ground fire. The Air Staff and SAC recommended reserving B-52's for use against major targets in the North. The idea of B-52 pattern bombing was not again seriously considered until April. On the same date (March 2) Secretary McNamara asked that the Joint Staff prepare as soon as possible an analysis of US aircraft losses to hostile action in Southeast Asia. An expedited review and analysis of this subject was promptly undertaken, covering the experience in YANKEE TEAM (Reconnaissance), BARREL ROLL (Armed Reconnaissance/Interdiction), BLUE TREE (Photo Reconnaissance), PIERCE ARROW (Tonkin Gulf Reprisal), FLAMING DART and ROLLING THUNDER operations. The results were reported to the Secretary of Defense on March 10, and, aside from presenting some early and not too revealing statistical findings, the report urged that consideration be given to several measures that, the Chairman felt, might help minimize loss rates:

(1) Authorize use of NAPALM.
(2) Provide "optimum" strike ordnance not yet available in the theater.
(3) Allow the operational commander flexibility in strike timing and selection of alternate targets so as to minimize weather degradations and operational interferences at target.
(4) Conduct random and frequent weather reconnaissance and medium and low-level photo reconnaissance, over prospective strike areas of North Vietnam to reduce the likelihood of signaling our intentions.
(5) Improve security and cover and deception measures at US/VNAF air bases.

These and other measures were explored in greater depth in a USAF Study Team effort launched on March 15 and reported on in late May. Many of the recommendations to lift restrictions and improve air strike technology were being acted upon during this period and in subsequent days and weeks. For example, the restrictions on the use of FARMGATE and PACOM aircraft were lifted, permitting their use in combat operations in South Vietnam with USAF markings and without VNAF personnel aboard, effective 9 March; and use of napalm against North Vietnamese targets was approved by the President on the same date.


Sharp annoyance over what seemed to him an unnecessarily timid and ambivalent US stance on air strikes was expressed by Ambassador Taylor. The long delays between strikes, the marginal weight of the attacks, and the great ado about behind-the-scenes diplomatic feelers, led Taylor to complain:

I am concerned from standpoint our overall posture vis-a-vis Hanoi and communist bloc that current feverish diplomatic activities particularly by French and British tends to undercut our ability to convey a meaningful signal to Hanoi of USG determination to stick it out here and progressively turn the screws on DRV. Seaborn's estimate of mood of confidence characterizing DRV leadership despite our joint air strikes to date almost identical our estimate . . . It appears to me evident that to date DRV leaders believe air strikes at present levels on their territory are meaningless and that we are more susceptible to international pressure for negotiations than are they. Their estimate may be based in part on activities of "our friends" to which we seem to be active party.
In my view current developments strongly suggest that we follow simultaneously two courses of action: (1) attempt to apply brakes to British and others in their headlong dash to conference table and leave no doubt in their minds that we do not intend to go to conference table until there is clear evidence Hanoi (and Peking) prepared to leave neighbors alone; and (2) step up tempo and intensity of our air strikes in southern part of DRV in order convince Hanoi [words missing] face prospect of progressively severe punishment. I fear that to date ROLLING THUNDER in their eyes has been merely a few isolated thunder claps.

The same general considerations apply re our urging British to undertake further early soundings re Article 19 Laos Accords as Ambassador Martin so cogently states in his EXDIS 1278 to Dept. [in which Martin expresses concern over the risks of moving to the conference table too soon]. Many of the problems which worry him are also applicable to Vietnamese here and I share his reasoning and concern.

It seems to me that we may be in for a tough period ahead but I would hope we will continue to do whatever is required and that we try to keep fundamental objectives vis-a-vis Hanoi clear and simple.

In a separate cable of the same date, Taylor, with General Westmoreland's explicit concurrence, offered his specific recommendations for increasing the tempo and intensity of the air strikes. In effect, he called for a more dynamic schedule of strikes, a several week program relentlessly marching North to break the will of the DRV:

We have a sense of urgent need for an agreed program for the measured and limited air action against military targets in DRV [previously] announced. The rate of once or twice a week for attacks involving two or three targets on each day appears to us reasonable as to frequency, and leaves open the possibility of increasing the effect on Hanoi by adding to the weight of the strikes (in types of ordnance and sorties per target) and by moving northward up the target system. What seems to be lacking is an agreed program covering several weeks which will combine the factors, frequency, weight and location of attack into a rational pattern which will convince the leaders in Hanoi that we are on a dynamic schedule which will not remain static in a narrow zone far removed from them and the sources of their power but which is a moving growing threat which cannot be ignored.

I have seen the JCS proposed eight-week program which has much to recommend it but, I believe, remains too long South of the 19th parallel. [It is] Seaborn's opinion that Hanoi has the impression that our air strikes are a limited attempt to improve our bargaining position and hence are no great cause for immediate concern. Our objective should be to induce in DRV leadership an attitude favorable to US objectives in as short a time as possible in order to avoid a build-up of international pressures to negotiate. But our efforts to date are falling far short of anticipated necessary impact. In formulating a more effective program of future attacks, I would be inclined to keep the rate as indicated, maintain the weight on target as for recent strikes, but begin at once a progression of US strikes North of 19th parallel in a slow but steadily ascending movement. The targets in the area South thereof could be reserved largely for VNAF and FARMGATE. It is true that the MIG threat will grow as we move North but we have the means to take care of it. If we tarry too long in the South, we will give Hanoi a weak and misleading signal which will work against our ultimate purpose.

General Westmoreland concurs.

Taylor's dissatisfaction with the tempo of the air campaign was by no means mitigated by the decision to launch the next scheduled attack, ROLLING THUNDER VI on March 13, as another isolated, stage-managed joint US/GVN operation. Notification of the decision to strike came to him in the following FLASH message:

Decision has been taken here to execute ROLLING THUNDER VI during daylight hours Saturday 13 March Saigon time. If weather precludes effective strike Phu Qui ammo depot (Target 40) on this date, US portion of ROLLING THUNDER VI will be postponed until 14 March Saigon time or earliest date weather will permit effective US strike of Target 40. However if US strike weathered out, VNAF strike (with US support) on its own primary or alternate targets is still authorized to go. Request you solicit Quat's agreement this arrangement.

If joint US/GVN strike goes . . . would expect GVN/US press announcement be made in Saigon. NMCC has furnished time of launch in past and this has proven eminently satisfactory. Will continue this arrangement.

If US strike weathered out and GVN strike goes, recommend that GVN make brief unilateral press statement which would not detract from already agreed US/GVN statement, which we would probably wish use at time of US strike against Target 40. GVN unilateral press announcement should indicate strike made by GVN aircraft supported by US aircraft. Would hope that announcement, although brief, could also mention target, identifying it as military installation associated with infiltration.

Request reply by flash cable.

Washington's anticipation that the strike might be weathered out proved correct, and Taylor's pique at the further delay is reflected in his reply:

As reported through military channels, VNAF is unable to fly today. Hence, there will be no ROLLING THUNDER Mission and no present need to see Quat. I am assured that VNAF will be ready to go tomorrow, 14 March.

With regard to the delays of ROLLING THUNDER VI, I have the impression that we may be attaching too much importance to striking target 40 because of its intrinsic military value as a target. If we support the thesis (as I do) that the really important target is the will of the leaders in Hanoi, virtually any target North of the 19th parallel will convey the necessary message at this juncture as well as target 40. Meanwhile, through repeated delays we are failing to give the mounting crescendo to ROLLING THUNDER which is necessary to get the desired results.

When the strike finally came off, however, on March 14 and 15, it was the most forceful attack on the North launched to date. 24 VNAF Al-H's supported by US flak, CAP and pathfinder aircraft, struck weapon installations, depots, and barracks on Tiger Island, 20 miles off the North Vietnamese coast, and more than 100 US aircraft (two-thirds Navy, one-third USAF) hit the ammunition depot near Phu Qui, only 100 miles southwest of Hanoi. Some of the earlier hesitancy about bombing the North was beginning to wear off.


While attention was being increasingy focused on pressures against the North, disturbing assessments continued to come to the President's attention concerning developments in the South. One such estimate was Westmoreland's analysis, dated February 25, of the military situation in the four corps area. It was essentially in agreement with a grave CIA appraisal issued the same day. Observing that the pacification effort had virtually halted, Westmoreland foresaw in six months a Saigon government holding only islands of strength around provincial and district capitals that were clogged with refugees and beset with "end the war" groups asking for a negotiated settlement. The current trend presaged a Viet Cong 12 months, aithought major towns and bases, with U.S. help, could hold out for years. To "buy time," permit pressure on North Vietnam to take effect, and reverse the decline, he proposed adding three Army helicopter companies, flying more close support and reconnaissance missions, opening a "land line" from Pleiku in the highlands to the coast, and changing U.S. policy on the use of combat troops.

There was now real concern at the highest Administration level that the Vietnamese military effort might collapse in the South before pressures on the North could have any significant impact. On March 2, therefore, the President decided to dispatch Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson to Saigon with a high-ranking team. In an exclusive message for Ambassador Taylor, Secretary McNamara described General Johnson's mission as follows:

After meeting with the President this morning, we believe it wise for General Johnson to go to Saigon to meet with you and General Westmoreland . . . Purpose of trip is to examine with you and General Westmoreland what more can be done within South Vietnam. He will bring with him a list of additional actions which has been developed for your consideration. Would appreciate your developing a similar list for discussion with him. In developing list, you may, of course, assume no limitation on funds, equipment. or personnel. We will be prepared to act immediately and favorably on any recommendations you and General Johnson may make. The President is continuing to support such action against North as is now in progress but does not consider such actions a substitute for additional action within South Vietnam. The President wants us to examine all possible additional actions--political, military, and economic--to see what more can be done in South Vietnam. . .

General Johnson returned from his survey mission on March 14 with a 21-point program which he submitted to the JCS and the Secretary of Defense and which was reviewed by the President on March 15. General Johnson's recommendations included but went beyond Westmoreland's prescriptions. With respect to the use of air power in South Vietnam, he proposed more helicopters and 0_i aircraft, possibly more USAF fighter-bombers (after further MACV evaluation), better targeting, and accelerated airfield expansion. These proposals were in keeping with recommendations that had been made previously by COMUSMACV, and especially insistently by CINCPAC, to expand the use of US airpower in SVN. For example, on February 26, in an exclusive message to General Wheeler, Admiral Sharp had written: ". . . the single most important thing we can do to improve the security situation in South Vietnam is to make full use of our airpower.

For Laos, General Johnson favored reorienting BARREL ROLL operations to allow air strikes on infiltration routes in the Lao Panhandle to be conducted as a separate program from those directed against the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese units. This program was subsequently authorized under the nickname STEEL TIGER (see below, p. 341).

With respect to air action against the North, the Army Chief of Staff made two recommendations (designated as points 5 and 6 in his 21-point program):

5. Increase the scope and tempo of US air strikes against the DRV. This action could tend to broaden and escalate the war. However, it could accomplish the US objective of causing the DRV to cease its support and direction of the Viet Cong aggression. To date, the tempo of punitive air strikes has been inadequate to convey a clear sense of US purpose to the DRV.

6. Remove self-imposed restrictions on the conduct of air strikes against North Vietnam which have severely reduced their effectiveness and made it impossible to approach the goal of 4 missions per week. Restrictions which should be lifted are:

a. Requirement that a US strike be conducted concurrently with a VNAF strike.
b. Requirement that US aircraft strike the primary target only.
c. Ban on use of classified munitions.
d. Narrow geographical limitations imposed on target selection.
e. Requirement to obtain specific approval from Washington before striking alternate targets when required by adverse weather conditions or other local conditions.

After reviewing these recommendations, the President approved most of General Johnson's program. In regard to the air strikes against the North, the President authorized important new actions, as subsequently described by the JCS:

Action (paras 5 & 6): The scope and tempo of air strikes against NVN is being increased in current plans. Depots, LOCs, and air defense ground environment facilities will be stressed in operations in the near future. The requirement for concurrent US-VNAF strikes has been removed. Only prime targets will be designated as primary or alternates for US aircraft, thus lifting restriction in 6b above. Greater timing flexibility will be provided for weather and other delays. Tactical reconnaissance has been authorized at medium level for targets south of the 20th parallel to support the expanded program. Specific recommendations on para 6c, quoted above, are requested. Restrictions in 6d and e, quoted above, have been lifted in ROLLING THUNDER SEVEN and will so remain in subsequent programs.

The Presidential decision marked a major turning point in the ROLLING THUNDER operation. Air action against the North was being transformed from a sporadic, halting effort into a regular and determined program.


The March 15 Presidential guidelines were clearly reflected in the instructions that Washington sent Saigon describing the new character of ROLLING THUN
DER to begin with RT VII [words illegible] the instructions contain at least six novel ideas:

(1) The strikes were to be packaged in a week's program at a time;
(2) precise timing of the strikes were to be left to field commanders;
(3) the requirement for US-VNAF simultaneity was to be dropped;
(4) the strikes were no longer to be specifically related to VC atrocities;
(5) publicity on the strikes was to be progressively reduced; and
(6) the impression henceforth to be given was one of regularity and determination.

Here is the full text of the Secretary of State's message to Ambassador Taylor, describing the new program:

Having in mind considerations raised your reftel [Taylor's Saigon 2889 of March 8th,] and recommendations of General Johnson following his return, longer range program of action against North Viet Nam has been given priority consideration here and program for first week for ROLLING THUNDER VII, has been decided, for execution this week. Details this program which includes one US and one VNAF strike together with one US and two VNAF route armed recce is subject of instructions being sent through military channels. You will note these instructions leave to military commands in field decisions as to specific timing within period covered. Execution of first action under ROLLING THUNDER VII may take place anytime from daylight March 19 Saigon time. Although program contains full measure VNAF participation, requirement that US and VNAF operations proceed simultaneously is dropped.

You are requested to see Pri Min ASAP in order to outline to him this further program we have in mind and to solicit GVN participation as specified therein. You should convey to Pri Min that proposed program, on which you will be providing him with further information in successive weeks, is designed to maintain pressure on Hanoi and persuade North Vietnamese regime that costs of continuing their aggression becoming unacceptably high. At same time Quat should understand we continue seek no enlargement of struggle and have carefully selected targets with view to avoiding undesirable provocation. Further objective is to continue reassure Government and people [words missing] and will continue fight by their side and we expect they will also be making maximum efforts in South Viet Nam where a real setback to Viet Cong would do more than perhaps anything else to persuade Hanoi stop its aggression.

With initiation ROLLING THUNDER VII we believe publicity given US and VNAF strikes should be progressively reduced, although in its place there should be picture of GVN and US pursuing with regularity and determination program against the North to enable South restore its independence and integrity and defend itself from aggression from North. Larger strikes (ROLLING THUNDER VII A and VII B) be announced as before but suggest in future that such announcements not contain references to Viet Cong atrocities, etc. Instead, these matters, which should get full attention, might be subject of separate and perhaps regular press briefings by GVN with full US support.

As regards route recce, we question whether we should take initiative to announce these missions since this could contribute to impression of substantial increase in activity. At same time we presume reporters will get wind of these missions, Hanoi will report them and VNAF may not wish maintain silence. Therefore seems difficult avoid replying to inevitable press questions. Request PlO meeting opening tomorrow Honolulu to look into this one and give us and Saigon its recommendations; possibility it should consider passing off all route recce missions in low key replies to queries as "routine recce."

ROLLING THUNDER had thus graduated to the status of a regular and continuing program. What now remained to be more carefully re-examined--though hardly resolved--was the problem of target emphasis.


Late February and early March, 1965 saw a significant refocusing of target emphasis. Up to that time--in the initial U.S. reprisal strikes and the first ROLLING THUNDER actions--target selection had been completely dominated by political and psychological considerations. Paramount in the Administration's target choices were such complex and often conflicting objectives as boosting the GVN's morale, evidencing the firmness of U.S. resolve, demonstrating the potential for inflicting pain upon the DRV, providing a legal rationale for our actions, and so forth. Relatively little weight was given to the purely physical or more directly military and economic implications of whatever target destruction might be achieved.

With the gradual acceptance, beginning in March, of the need for a militarily more significant, sustained bombing program, serious attention began to be paid to the development of a target system or systems that would have a more tangible and coherent military rationale. The first and most obvious candidate for such a target concept was that of interdicting the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam by striking the lines of communication (LOC's) of the DRV. Since North Vietnamese "aggression" was the principal legal justification for U.S. bombing raids upon the DRV, attacking and impeding the visible manifestations of this aggression--the infiltration--also seemed logical and attractive from this international legality point of view.

The Secretary of Defense's attention was called to this target concept as early as 13 February, when the Joint Chiefs briefed McNamara in the Chairman's office on an analysis of the southern portion of the North Vietnamese railway system. It was pointed out in the briefing that South of the 20th parallel there exists about 115 miles of operable rail systems and that the vulnerable points on this southern portion of the system are five bridges of 300 feet or greater length and the railway classification yards at Vinh. It was argued that the bridges were very lightly defended and that only the rail yards at Vinh would pose any serious anti-aircraft defense problem. The CJCS felt that:

There is no doubt but that the six targets mentioned comprise an attractive, vulnerable and remunerative target system which would hurt the North Vietnamese psychologically, economically and militarily. As regards the latter, the destruction of the southern bridge system would hamper and delay the movement of DRV/CHICOM ground forces to the south and, likewise, would place a stricture on the quantities of materiel and personnel which can be infiltrated through Laos and South Vietnam. A minimum of 201 strike sorties would be required to attack with a high degree of assurance the six targets simultaneously which would be militarily the most desirable timing of attack.

In a follow-up memorandum, the CJCS forwarded to the Secretary of Defense a DIA analysis of VC attacks on the South Vietnamese railway system during
1963 and 1964, and indicated his concurrence with Ambassador Taylor that these attacks justified US/GVN strikes against the rail system in North Vietnam. The
CJCS then added the following recommendation:

As discussed with you on 13 February, while I strongly recommend that we attack the North Vietnamese rail system as soon as possible, I would recommend against first striking the southern elements thereof. Should we do so I would anticipate that the DRV would take both passive and active defense measures to protect rolling stock and bridges and, probably, would start work on train ferries or truck by-passes in order to ameliorate the effects of our strike. As pointed out earlier I would advocate militarily that the entire southern segment of the rail system be struck simultaneously. Should this be politically objectionable, I would recommend that two northern targets--Dong Phuong rail/highway bridge and Thanh Hoa bridge (prestige bridge)--be the first targets attacked in order to trap the maximum quantity of rolling stock south of the 20th parallel where we could destroy it at least.

The Secretary of Defense responded to this recommendation by inviting the JCS to develop a detailed plan for an integrated attack on the DRV rail system south of the 20th parallel, with the option of attacking the targets individually on an incremental basis rather than all at once. This request set in motion a planning effort by the Joint Staff and by U.S. military commands in the Pacific area, and gave rise to spirited discussions and recommendations that culminated at the end of March in the submission of the JCS 12-week bombing program, essentially built around the LOC interdiction concept.

General Westmoreland, with Ambassador Taylor's concurrence, strongly endorsed the interdiction rationale in mid-March. In a LIMDIS cable to Admiral Sharp and General Wheeler, he called attention to the mounting VC attacks on transportation targets in South Vietnam, and argued that:

The Viet Cong's intensive efforts against lines of communications would make strikes against DRV LOC's highly appropriate at this time. In view heavy traffic recently reported moving south, such strikes would also be military desirable. Moreover, these attacks by interrupting the flow of consumer goods to southern DRV would carry to the NVN man in the street, with minimum loss of civilian life, the message of U.S. determination. Accordingly, early initiation of ROLLING THUNDER strikes and armed reconnaissance is recommended against DRV [words missingi

Counter-infiltration operations also received a boost from the recommendation in General Johnson's report to the effect that BARREL ROLL be re-oriented to increase its military effectiveness against Lao Panhandle infiltation routes into South Vietnam. Acting upon that recommendation and upon a Presidential directive to make a maximum effort to shut off infiltration into SVN, a new program, nicknamed STEEL TIGER, was developed, for the conduct of greatly intensified air operations against routes and targets in Laos associated with infiltration.

At about the same time, a Pacific Command study group developed a more comprehensive concept of air operations "to attrit, harass, and interdict the DRV south of 20 degrees." In a lengthy cable to the Joint Chiefs excerpted below, Admiral Sharp described the concept as follows:

The program calls for an integrated strike, armed recce and recce program designed to cut, in depth, the NVN logistic network south of 20 degrees, and to continually attrit and harass by-pass and repair reconstitution efforts.

This program provides for primary bridge/ferry cuts and highway blockage/take out cuts on major long-haul road and rail routes. It additionally cuts the full road network including all feeder and by-pass routes which develop into 4 main entry/funnels to Laos and SVN. All targets selected are extremely difficult or impossible to by-pass. The program also provides for concurrent disruption of the sea-carry to SVN with strikes against suspect coastal staging points supporting end-running shipping into the area, as well as SVN.

LOC network cutting in this depth will degrade tonnage arrivals at the main "funnels" and will develop a broad series of new targets such as backed-up convoys, off-loaded materiel dumps, and personnel staging areas at one or both sides of cuts. Coupling these strikes with seeding and reseeding missions to hamper repairs, wide ranging armed recce missions against "developed" targets, and coastal harass and attrit missions against coastal staging facilities, may force major DRV log flow to sea-carry and into surveillance and attack by our SVN coastal sanitization forces

In summary: recommend concerted attacks against LOC targets recommended herein be initiated concurrently with interdiction targets programmed for ROLLING THUNDER 9-13. Preferentially, recommend a compressed "LOC cut program" similar to my proposal for a "Radar Busting Day." This should be followed by completion of attacks on other than LOC targets in ROLLING THUNDER 10-13, Phase II armed recce would be conducted concurrently with these actions and would be continued indefinitely to make DRV support to the VC in SVN and PL/VM in Laos as difficult and costly as possible.

As these recommendations reached the JCS, the Joint Chiefs were intensely pre-occupied with an interservice division over the issue of the nature and extent of proposed large-scale U.S. troop deployments to South Vietnam, requiring adjudication among at least 10 separate proposals, and among widely differing views of the several Service Chiefs. There were also substantial differences over the future character of the bombing program. On this latter issue, Air Force Chief of Staff General McConnell took a maverick position, opting for a 28-day air program against North Vietnam to destroy all targets on the 94-target list. He proposed beginning the air strikes in the southern part of North Vietnam and continuing at two- to six-day intervals until Hanoi itself was attacked. "While I support appropriate deployment of ground forces in South Vietnam," McConnell wrote, "it must be done in concert with [an] overall plan to eliminate the source of [the} insurgency." McConnell believed that his proposal was consistent with previous JCS views on action against the North and would be a strong deterrent against open Chinese intervention.

General McConnell withdrew his 28-day proposal from JCS consideration when it became apparent that the Joint Chiefs were inclined to accept much of the CINCPAC recommendation for a "LOC-cut program" as summarized above, and to incorporate some of McConnell's concepts in a 12-week air strike program that the Joint Staff was preparing in response to the Secretary of Defense's request and in accordance with his guidance. The JCS 12-week program was briefed to the Secretary of Defense conceptually on March 22 and submitted to him formally on March 27 under cover of a JCS memorandum of that date.

The program is described in a detailed Annex to the memorandum as follows:

1. Concept. The concept, simply stated, is to conduct an air strike program during the remaining 10 weeks of a 12-week program which increases in intensity and severity of damage over the period. The program can be considered in four phases.

a. The initial phase consists of a three-week interdiction campaign against the vulnerable Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) LOCs south of the 20th parallel. The concept of this campaign is to conduct strikes against a number of interrelated but separated choke points which will disrupt the flow of military supplies and equipment and tax the DRV capability to restore these facilities. Essential to the success of this phase is the initial attacks on targets No. 14 and 18. The dropping of at least one span in either and preferably both of these bridges will sever the main north-south railroad and highway routes in sufficient depth for an effective follow-on program. This initial action would be accompanied by an intense armed reconnaissance mission to destroy the isolated transport equipment. Subsequent strikes against choke points throughout the isolated area are designed to make the program effective and to complicate the DRV recovery program. Day and night armed reconnaissance would be conducted at random intervals to harass these recovery efforts and to sustain the interdiction, including armed reconnaissance against junk traffic over sea LOCs. This initial program should bring home to the population the effects of air strikes since consumer good will be competing with military supplies for the limited transport. An effective interdiction in this area will also impede the DRV capability to mass sizeable military forces and to deploy air defense resources. The remaining few installation targets in this area would be left for later strikes by VNAF. Also, the interdiction in this area would be sustained by VNAF as US strikes moved to the north.

b. The second phase, the launching of the interdiction campaign north of the 20th parallel, introduces a consideration which was not a major factor in the campaign in the southern DRV; i.e., the possibility of MIG intervention as strikes are made against targets progressively closer to the Hanoi-Haiphong area. In order to reduce this possibility to a minimum, the first week of air operations north of the 20th parallel includes strikes against the radar net in the delta area to blind or minimize DRV early warning and intercept capability. Following these preparatory attacks, operations against the LOCs north of the 20th parallel are scheduled with the primary objective of isolating the DRV from external overland sources; i.e., rail and highway supply routes from Communist China. Subsequent to cutting these primary LOCs, the initial phase of the interdiction campaign would be completed by striking LOC targets in depth throughout the area of the DRV north of the 20th parallel.

c. Having completed the primary interdiction program in the delta area, a substantially lower effort should maintain its effectiveness. With his overland LOC cut, blocked, and harassed, the enemy can be expected to turn more and more to his port facilities and sea LOC. The ninth week air strikes will include attacks against these port facilities and the mining of seaward approaches to block the enemy from relieving his resupply problems over the sea LOC. Strikes will be initiated during the tenth week against ammunition and supply dumps to destroy on-hand stores of supplies and equipment to further aggravate his logistic problems.

d. In the wind-up phase of the 12-week program (during the eleventh and twelfth week), strikes against on-hand supplies, equipment, and military facilities will be continued, attacking remaining worth-while targets throughout the DRy. As a part of this phase, industrial targets outside of population areas will be struck, leading up to a situation where the enemy must realize that the Hanoi and Haiphong areas will be the next logical targets in our continued air campaign.

2. [The program includes] an anti-MIG strike package; however, as provided in the policy guidance furnished the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this mission will not be executed unless the DRV MIG aircraft are able to impair the effectiveness of the strike forces. Combat air patrol aircraft, in sufficient numbers to deter MIG attack, will accompany all missions and will engage these DRV aircraft as required to protect the force. Strike forces and armed reconnaissance aircraft may persist in their missions but other reconnaissance missions will break off mission to avoid contact with MIG aircraft if feasible. Heavily populated areas will be avoided by both strike and armed reconnaissance missions.

3. Strike sorties for the next ten weeks would total approximately 3,000 or roughly 300 per week. CINCPAC has reported a capability to conduct approximately 1,600 strike sorties per week on a sustained basis. This leaves ample margin for US air support within South Vietnam and Laos and substantial armed reconnaissance to sustain the LOC interdiction

Interestingly, the Joint Chiefs did not endorse the entire air strike program they submitted to the Secretary of Defense. They recommended that only the first phase (third, fourth, and fifth weeks of the program) be approved for execution. They had evidently failed to reach agreement on the later phases (weeks six through twelve), and indicated to the Secretary of Defense that they were still in the process of "considering alternatives for a follow-on program of air strikes beginning with the sixth week. They will advise you further in this regard, taking account of the developing situation, the current policy considerations, and military measures available to us."

As matters developed, however, even the three-week program endorsed by the JCS was not approved by the Secretary of Defense, 'though it strongly influenced the new interdiction-oriented focus of the attacks that were to follow, as well as the particular targets that were selected. But neither the Secretary of Defense nor the President was willing to approve a multi-week program in advance. They clearly preferred to retain continual personal control over attack concepts and individual target selection. Consequently, although the Joint Chiefs strongly urged that "the field commander be able to detect and exploit targets of opportunity ...," action in the air war against the DRV continued to be directed at the highest level and communicated through weekly guidance provided by the Secretary of Defense's ROLLING THUNDER planning messages.



A curious phenomenon concerning the period of late March and early April 1965 was the great divergence among views that were being expressed about the then prevailing state of affairs in South Vietnam. Some quite favorable assessments emanated from Saigon. For example, MACV's Monthly Evaluations for March and April were most reassuring:

March, 1965: Events in March were encouraging . . . RVNAF ground operations were highlighted by renewed operational effort . . . VC activity was considerably below the norm of the preceding six months and indications were that the enemy was engaged in the re-supply and re-positioning of units possibly in preparation for a new offensive . . . In summary, March has given rise to some cautious optimism. The current government appears to be taking control of the situation and, if the present state of popular morale can be sustained and strengthened, the GVN, with continued U.S. support, should be able to counter future VC offensives successfully.

April, 1965: Friendly forces retained the initiative during April and a review of events reinforces the feeling of optimism generated last month. . .In summary, current trends are highly encouraging and the GVN may have actually turned the tide at long last. However, there are some disquieting factors which indicate a need to avoid overconfidence. A test of these trends should be forthcoming in the next few months if the VC launch their expected counter-offensive and the period may well be one of the most important of the war.

Similarly encouraging comments were contained in Ambassador Taylor's NODIS weeklies to the President--e.g., in Saigon 2908, March 11, 1965:

The most encouraging phenomenon of the past week has been the rise in Vietnamese morale occasioned by the air strikes against North Vietnam on March 2, the announcement of our intention to utilize U.S. jet aircraft within South Vietnam, and the landing of the Marines at Danang which is still going on. The press and the public have reacted most favorably to all three of these events.

And in Saigon 2991, March 17, 1965:

With the growing pressure on North Vietnam, the psychological atmosphere continues to be favorable. What is still missing in this new atmosphere is the image of a Vietnamese Government giving direction and purpose to its [words missing].

On the other hand, a much more sobering assessment was contained in General Westmoreland's Commander's Estimate of the Situation in South Vietnam, dated 26 March 1965, which bluntly asserted that RVNAF would not be able to build up their strength rapidly and effectively enough to blunt the coming VC
summer offensive or to seize the initiative from them. The document also estimated that the program of air activity against the North, while it might ultimately succeed in causing the DRV to cease its support of the war, would not in the short run have any major effect on the situation in the South.

The view from Washington was even less hopeful. Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton summed up the situation in the following words:

The situation in general is bad and deteriorating. The VC have the initiative. Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers--especially those with relatives in rural areas. The Hop Tac area around Saigon is making little progress; the Delta stays bad; the country has been severed in the north. GVN control is shrinking to enclaves, some burdened with refugees. In Saigon we have a remission: Quat is giving hope on the civilian side, the Buddhists have calmed, and the split generals are in uneasy equilibrium.

A more complete and balanced overview was prepared by McGeorge Bundy in a memorandum outlining "Key Elements for Discussion" for an April 1 meeting with the President:

Morale has improved in South Vietnam. The government has not really settled down, but seems to be hopeful both in its capacity and in its sense of political forces. The armed forces continue in reasonably good shape, though top leadership is not really effective and the ratio of armed forces to the VC build-up is not good enough.

The situation in many areas of the countryside continues to go in favor of the VC, although there is now a temporary lull. The threat is particularly serious in the central provinces, and the VC forces may be regrouping for major efforts there in the near future.

Hanoi has shown no signs of give, and Peiping has stiffened its position within the last week. We still believe that attacks near Hanoi might substantially raise the odds of Peiping coming in with air. Meanwhile, we expect Hanoi to continue and step up its infiltration both by land through Laos and by sea. There are clear indications of different viewpoints in Hanoi, Peiping, and Moscow (and even in the so-called Liberation Front), and continued sharp friction between Moscow and Peiping. However, neither such frictions nor the pressure of our present slowly ascending pace of air attack on North Vietnam can be expected to produce a real change in Hanoi's position for some time, probably 2-3 months, at best.

A key question for Hanoi is whether they continue to make real headway in the south, or whether the conflict there starts to move against them or at least appear increasingly tough. If the former, even a major step-up in our air attacks would probably not cause them to become much more reasonable; if the latter, the situation might begin to move on a political track--but again in not less than 2-3 months, in our present judgment.


On the diplomatic front, there had been no indication of any desire for talks from Hanoi, Peking, or Moscow. The British Co-Chairmen initiative had been turned down by the Soviet Goverment, which first floated a totally unacceptable counterproposal--in the form of a statement condemning the U.S. "gross violation of the Geneva Accords" and calling on the U.S. "to immediately cease their aggressive acts against the DRV and to withdraw their troops . . ."--and then totally rejected the British proposal. By March 16, when Gromyko met with UK Forreign Secretary Michael Stewart in London, it had become quite clear that the two Geneva Co-Chairmen would not be able to agree on a message sufficiently objective to be mutually acceptable to other members of the Conference. Gromyko had made a public statement after the meeting in London to the effect that the United States would have to deal directly with Hanoi on the Vietnam situation, to which Secretary Rusk had replied.

I agree with Mr. Gromyko that Hanoi is the key to peace in Southeast Asia. If Hanoi stops molesting its neighbors, then peace can be restored promptly and U.S. forces can come home. I regret that the Soviet Union, which was a signatory of the 1954 and 1962 accords, appears disinclined to put its full weight behind those agreements.

A second initiative had been launched by President Tito of Yugoslavia in any March. Tito had written to President Johnson on March 3, urging imiediate negotiations on Vietnam without either side imposing conditions. The resident had replied on March 12, describing the background of our involvement in Vietnam and stating that there would be no bar to a peaceful settlement Hanoi ceased "aggression against South Vietnam."

Tito's concern prompted him to convene a conference of 15 nonaligned nations hich met in Belgrade from March 13 to 18. The resulting declaration blamed foreign intervention in various forms" for the aggravation of the Vietnam tuation and repeated Tito's call for negotiations without preconditions.

Yet another third-party peace initiative came from U.N. Secretary General Thant. U Thant proposed a three-month period in which there would be "a temporary cessation of all hostile military activity, whether overt or covert, across the 17th parallel in Vietnam."

McGeorge Bundy commented on these propositions in his April 1 "Key Elements for Discussion" Memorandum in a manner suggesting that he had very little expectation that any of these initiatives would lead to an early conference:

We think the U Thant proposal should be turned off. (Bunche tells us U Thant will not float it publicly if we reject it privately). It is not clear that the trade-off would be to our advantage, even if it could be arranged, and in any case, we prefer to use U Thant for private feelers rather than public proposals. We can tell U Thant that we have no objection on his sounding out Hanoi on this same point, however, and that if he gets a response, we would ge glad to comment on it.

The 17 nation proposal is more attractive. We are inclined to propose to Quat that both South Vietnam and the U.S. should accept it with a covering statement of our good, firm, clear objectives in any such negotiation. The President has already made it clear that he will go anywhere to talk with anyone, and we think the 17 nation proposal is one to which we can make a pretty clear response. Tactically, it will probably not lead to any early conference, because the position of Hanoi and Peking will be that they will not attend any meeting until our bombings stop. The Secretary of State will elaborate on these propositions.


In mid-morning of March 29, VC terrorists exploded a bomb outside the U.S. embassy in Saigon, killing and wounding many Americans and Vietnamese. It was the boldest and most direct Communist action against the U.S. since the attacks at Pleiku and Qui Nhon which had precipitated the FLAMING DART reprisals. Almost simultaneously, Ambassador Taylor enplaned for talks in Washington--and both cities were instantly abuzz with speculation that the war had entered a new and perhaps critical phase.

Indeed, Admiral Sharp promptly urged the JCS to make a forceful reply to the VC outrage [words missing] spectacular bombing attack upon a significant target in the DRV outside of the framework of ROLLING THUNDER. The plea, however, did not fall on responsive ears. At this point, the President preferred to maneuver quietly to help the nation get used to living with the Vietnam crisis. He played down any drama intrinsic in Taylor's arrival by having him attend briefings at the Pentagon and the State Department before calling at the White House; and he let it be known that the U.S. had no intention of conducting any further specific reprisal raids against North Vietnam in reply to the bombing of the embassy. Instead, he confined himself to a public statement:

The terrorist outrage aimed at the American Embassy in Saigon shows us once again what the struggle in Viet-Nam is about. This wanton act of ruthlessness has brought death and serious injury to innocent Vietnamese citizens in the street as well as to American and Vietnamese personnel on duty." He added that the Embassy was "already back in business," and that he would "at once request the Congress for authority and funds for the immediate construction of a new chancery.

After his first meeting with Taylor and other officials on March 31, the President responded to press inquiries concerning dramatic new developments by saying, "I know of no far-reaching strategy that is being suggested or promulgated."

But the President was being less than candid. The proposals that were at that moment being promulgated, and on which he reached significant decisions the following day, did involve a far-reaching strategy change: acceptance of the concept of U.S. troops engaged in offensive ground operations against Asian insurgents. This issue greatly overshadowed all other Vietnam questions then being reconsidered.


The underlying question that was being posed for the President at this time was well formulated by Assistant Defense Secretary John McNaughton in a draft memorandum of March 24, entitled "Plan of Action for South Vietnam." The key question, McNaughton thought, was:

Can the situation inside SVN be bottomed out (a) without extreme measures against the DRV and/or (b) without deployment of large numbers of US (and other) combat troops inside SVN? And the answer, he believed, was perhaps--but probably no.

To get closer to an answer, McNaughton began by restating U.S. objectives in Vietnam, and by attempting to weigh these objectives by their relative importance:

70% --To avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor).
20% --To keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.
10% --To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
ALSO--To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
NOT--To "help a friend," although it would be hard to stay in if asked out.

McNaughton then proceeded to enumerate some twenty-odd ways in which the GVN might collapse, and noted that in spite--or perhaps precisely because--of the imminence of this collapse and the unpromising nature of remedial action, U.S.policy had been drifting. As he saw it, the "trilemmas" of U.S. policy was that the three possible remedies to GVN collapse--(a) heavy will-breaking air attacks on the DRV, (b) large U.S. troops deployments to SVN, and (c) exit by negotiations--were all beset with difficulties and uncertainties. Strikes against the North, he felt, were balked "(1) by flash-point limits, (2) by doubts that the DRV will cave and (3) by doubts that the VC will obey a caving DRV. (Leaving strikes only a political and anti-infiltration nuisance.)" Deployment of combat forces, he believed, was blocked "by French-defeat and Korea syndromes, and Quat is queasy. (Troops could be net negatives, and be besieged.)" And negotiations he saw as "tainted by the humiliation likely to follow."

McNaughton then proceeded to review in detail the purposes, alternatives, and risks of the bombing program as it then stood, treating the issue more comprehensively and systematically than it has been considered elsewhere. His schematic exposition is, therefore, reproduced here in full:

Strikes on the North (program of progressive military pressure)

a. Purposes:

(1) Reduce DRV/VC activities by affecting DRV will.
(2) To improve the GVN/VC relative "balance of morale."
(3) To provide the US/GVN with a bargaining counter.
(4) To reduce DRV infiltration of men and materiel.
(5) To show the world the lengths to which US will go for a friend.

b. Program: Each week, 1 or 2 "mission days" with 100-plane high damage US-VNAF strikes each "day" against important targets, plus 3 armed recce missions-all moving upward in weight of effort, value of target or proximity to Hanoi and China.

ALTERNATIVE ONE: 12-week DRV-wide program shunning only "population" targets.
ALTERNATIVE TWO: 12-week program short of taking out Phuc Yen (Hanoi) airfield.

c. Other actions:

(1) Blockade of DRV ports by VNAF/US-dropped mines or by ships.
(2) South Vietnamese-implemented 34A MAROPS.
(3) Reconnaissance flights over Laos and the DRV.
(4) Daily BARREL ROLL armed recce strikes in Laos (plus T-28s).
(5) Four-a-week BARREL ROLL choke-point strikes in Laos.
(6) US/'VNAF air & naval strikes against VC ops and bases in SVN.
(7) Westward deployment of US forces.
(8) No DeSoto patrols or naval bombardment of DRV at this time.

d. Red "flash points." There are events which we can expect to imply substantial risk of escalation:

(1) Air strikes north of 17°. (This one already passed.)
(2) First US/VNAF confrontation with DRV MIGs.
(3) Strike on Phuc Yen MIG base near Hanoi.
(4) First strikes on Tonkin industrial/population targets.
(5) First strikes on Chinese railroad or near China.
(6) First US/VNAF confrontation with Chicom MIGs.
(7) First hot pursuit of Chicom MIGs into China.
(8) First flak-suppression of Chicom- or Soviet-manned SAM.
(9) Massive introduction of US ground troops into SVN.
(10) US/ARVN occupation of DRV territory.

e. Blue "flash points." China/DRV surely are sensitive to events which might cause us to escalate:

(1) All of the above "Red" flash points.
(2) VC ground attack on Danang.
(3) Sinking of a US naval vessel.
(4) Open deployment of DRV troops into South Vietnam.
(5) Deployment of Chinese troops into North Vietnam.
(6) Deployment of FROGs or SAMs in North Vietnam.
(7) DRV air attack on South Vietnam.
(8) Announcement of Liberation Government in 1/11 Corps area.

f. Major risks:

(1) Losses to DRV MIGs, and later possibly to SAMs.
(2) Increased VC activities, and possibly Liberation Government.
(3) Panic or other collapse of GVN from under us.
(4) World-wide revulsion against us (against strikes, blockade, etc.)
(5) Sympathetic fires over Berlin, Cyprus, Kashmir, Jordan waters.
(6) Escalation to conventional war with DRV, China (and USSR?).
(7) Escalation to the use of nuclear weapons.

g. Other Red Moves:

(1) More jets to NVN with DRV or Chicom pilots.
(2) More AAA (SAMs?) and radar gear (Soviet-manned?) to NVN.
(3) Increased air and ground forces in South China.
(4) Other "defensive" DRV retaliation (e.g., shoot-down of a U-2).
(5) PL land grabs in Laos.
(6) PL declaration of new government in Laos.
(7) Political drive for "neutralization" of Indo-China.

h. Escalation control. We can do three things to avoid escalation too-much or too-fast:

(1) Stretch out: Retard the program (e.g., 1 not 2 fixed strikes a week).
(2) Circuit breaker. Abandon at least temporarily [words missing] "plateau" them below the "Phuc Yen airfield" flash point on one or the other of these tenable theories: (a) That we strike as necessary to interdict infiltration. (b) That our level of strikes is generally responsive to the level of VC/DRV activities in South Vietnam.
(3) Shunt. Plateau the air strikes per para (2) and divert the energy into: (a) a mine-and/or ship-blockade of DRV ports. (b) Massive deployment of US (and other?) troops into SVN (and Laos?): (1) To man the "enclaves," releasing ARVN forces. (2) To take over Pleiku, Kontum, Darlac provinces. (3) To create a 16+° sea-Thailand infiltration wall.

i. Important Miscellany:

(1) Program should appear to be relentless (i.e., possibility of employing "circuit-breakers" should be secret).
(2) Enemy should be kept aware of our limited objectives.
(3) Allies should be kept on board.
(4) USSR should be kept in passive role.
(5) Information program should preserve US public support.

McNaughton's memorandum dealt in similar detail with the two other forms of remedial action that were then being considered: US troop deployments and exit negotiations. Neither of these, however, is a matter of prime concern within the scope of this paper. It is well to remember, however, that the April 1 Presidential policy review was not confined to the air campaign against the DRV. It embraced the whole panoply of military and non-military actions that might be undertaken in South and North Vietnam, but the main focus was clearly on actions within South Vietnam, and the principal concern of Administration policy makers at this time was with the prospect of major deployments of US and Third Country combat forces to SVN.

Unlike McNaughton's memorandum, the McGeorge Bundy discussion paper of April 1 which set forth the key issues for consideration and decision by the
President, gave only the most superficial treatment to the complex matter of future air pressures policy. In fact, the Bundy paper merely listed a series of action recommendations, seemingly providing little room for debate or for consideration of alternatives. The actions proposed amounted to little more than a continuation of the ongoing modest ROLLING THUNDER program, directed, with slowly rising intensity, at the LOC targets that were then beginning to be hit. Recommendations were not subjected to any searching debate when they were discussed with the President on April 2, since the wording of the President's decision in the NSAM issued on April 6, is verbatim identical with the wording of the McGeorge Bundy recommendation that was circulated to the Principals before the meeting:

Subject to continuing review, the President approved the following general framework of continuing action against North Vietnam and Laos:

We should continue roughly the present slowly ascending tempo of ROLLING THUNDER operations, being prepared to add strikes in response to a higher rate of VC operations, or conceivably to slow the pace in the unlikely event VC slacked off sharply for what appeared to be more than a temporary operational lull.

The target systems should continue to avoid the effective GCI range of MIGs. We should continue to vary the types of targets, stepping up attacks on lines of communication in the near future, and possibly moving in a few weeks to attacks on the rail lines north and northeast of Hanoi.

Leaflet operations should be expanded to obtain maximum practicable psychological effect on the North Vietnamese population.

Blockade or aerial mining of North Vietnamese ports needs further study and should be considered for future operations. It would have major political complications, especially in relation to the Soviets and other countries, but also offers many advantages.

Air operation in Laos, particularly route blocking operations in the Panhandle area, should be stepped up to the maximum remunerative rate.


As has been indicated, the dramatic element in the President's decisions of April 2 was not in the sphere of air strikes against the North, but in the area of the mission of US ground forces in South Vietnam. NSAM 328 promulgated the significant decision to change the role of the Marine battalions deployed to Vietnam from one of advice and static defense to one of active combat operations against the VC guerrillas. The fact that this departure from a long-held policy had momentous implications was well recognized by the Administration leadership. The President himself was greatly concerned that the step be given as little prominence as possible. In NSAM 328 his position in this regard was stated as follows:

The President desires that with respect to (these) actions . . . premature publicity be avoided by all possible precautions. The actions themselves should be taken as rapidly as practicable, but in ways that should minimize any appearance of sudden changes in policy, and official statements on these troop movements will be made only with the direct approval of the Secretary of Defense, in that these movements and changes should be understood as being gradual and wholly consistent with existing policy.

Whether and to what extent there was support or opposition to this step among top Administration advisers is not recorded in the documentation available to this writer. But one interesting demurrer was introduced by the Director of Central Intelligence, John A. McCone, in a memorandum he circulated on April 2 to Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and Ambassador Taylor.

McCone did not inherently disagree with the change in the U.S. ground force role, but felt that it was inconsistent with the decision to continue the air strike program at the feeble level at which it was then being conducted. McCone developed his argument as follows:

I have been giving thought to the paper that we discussed in yesterday's meeting, which unfortunately I had little time to study, and also to the decision made to change the mission of our ground forces in South Vietnam from one of advice and static defense to one of active combat operations against the Viet Cong guerrillas.

I feel that the latter decision is correct only if our air strikes against the North are sufficiently heavy and damaging really to hurt the North Vietnamese. The paper we examined yesterday does not anticipate the type of air operation against the North necessary to force the NVN to reappraise their policy. On the contrary, it states, "We should continue roughly the present slowly ascending tempo of ROLLING THUNDER operations -----," and later, in outlining the types of targets, states, "The target systems should continue to avoid the effective GCI range of MIG's," and these conditions indicate restraints which will not be persuasive to the NVN and would probably be read as evidence of a U.S. desire to temporize.

I have reported that the strikes to date have not caused a change in the North Vietnamese policy of directing Viet Cong insurgency, infiltrating cadres and supplying material. If anything, the strikes to date have hardened their attitude.

I have now had a chance to examine the 12-week program referred to by General Wheeler and it is my personal opinion that this program is not sufficiently severe or [words illegible] the North Vietnamese to [words illegible] policy.

On the other hand, we must look with care to our position under a program of slowly ascending tempo of air strikes. With the passage of each day and each week, we can expect increasing pressure to stop the bombing. This will come from various elements of the American public, from the press, the United Nations and world opinion. Therefore time will run against us in this operation and I think the North Vietnamese are counting on this.

Therefore I think what we are doing is starting on a track which involves ground force operations which, in all probability, will have limited effectiveness against guerrillas, although admittedly will restrain some VC advances. However, we can expect requirements for an ever-increasing commitment of U.S. personnel without materially improving the chances of victory. I support and agree with this decision but I must point out that in my judgment, forcing submission of the VC can only be brought about by a decision in Hanoi. Since the contemplated actions against the North are modest in scale, they will not impose unacceptable damage on it, nor will they threaten the DRV's vital interests. Hence, they will not present them with a situation with which they cannot live, though such actions will cause the DRV pain and inconvenience.

I believe our proposed track offers great danger of simply encouraging Chinese Communist and Soviet support of the DRV and VC cause, if for no other reason then the risk for both will be minimum. I envision that the reaction of the NVN and Chinese Communists will be to deliberately, carefully, and probably gradually, build up the Viet Cong capabilities by covert infiltration on North Vietnamese and, possibly, Chinese cadres and thus bring an ever-increasing pressure on our forces. In effect, we will find ourselves mired down in combat in the jungle in a military effort that we cannot win, and from which we will have extreme difficulty in extracting ourselves.

Therefore it is my judgment that if we are to change the mission of the ground forces, we must also change the ground rules of the strikes against North Vietnam. We must hit them harder, more frequently, and inflict greater damage. Instead of avoiding the MIG's, we must go in and take them out. A bridge here and there will not do the job. We must strike their airfields, their patroleum resources, power stations and their military compounds. This, in my opinion, must be done promptly and with minimum restraint.

If we are unwilling to take this kind of a decision now, we must not take the actions concerning the mission of our ground forces for the reasons I have mentioned.

The record does not show whether this memorandum was ever submitted to or discussed with the President. In any event, the President had already made his decision by the time the above memorandum reached the addressees. McCone, however, persisted in his concern over what he felt was an inadequately forceful air strike program and he did subsequently make his views known to the President, by way of a personal memorandum and a coordinated intelligence estimate he handed to the President on April 28, the date on which his successor, Admiral Raborn, was sworn in. The memorandum itself is not available to this writer, but both the estimate and Admiral Raborn's reaction to the two documents are at hand. They are discussed in Section XIII below.



During the latter half of March and the beginning of April, from near and far more and more brickbats were being hurled at the Administration's position on Vietnam. At home, columnist Walter Lippman raised his voice to observe that U.S. policy "is all stick and no carrot. We are telling the North Vietnamese that they will be very badly hurt if they do not quit . . . But we are not telling the North Vietnamese what kind of future there would be for them and the rest of Indochina if the war ended as we think it should end."

Abroad, in an empty but well-publicized gesture, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre canceled a lecture trip to the U.S. on the ground that Gallup polls indicated most Americans are in favor of the air raids into North Vietnam. "Where contradictory opinions thus have hardened," said the reluctant Nobel Prize winner, "dialogue is impossible." And in a considerably more potent gesture, the government of Charles de Gaulle chose this particular juncture to renew its annual trade agreement with North Vietnam and to extend Hanoi medium-term credits for the purchase of French goods.

Within the Administration there was a growing feeling that somewhere along the line the hand had been misplayed, that somehow the mix of increased military pressure and increased diplomatic efforts for settlement had not been right. In late March, therefore, the President began to try to alter the mix. He began by spending much time on efforts at personal persuasion, talking to Congressmen and other visitors in his office about the restraint and patience he was showing in operation ROLLING THUNDER. Evans and Novak describe one of these sessions as follows:

To illustrate his caution, he showed critics the map of North Vietnam and pointed out the targets he had approved for attack, and to the many more targets he had disapproved. As for Communist China, he was watching for every possible sign of reaction. Employing a vivid sexual analogy, the President explained to friends and critics one day that the slow escalation of the air war in the North and the increasing pressure on Ho Chi Minh was seduction, not rape. If China should suddenly react to slow escalation, as a woman might react to attempted seduction, by threatening to retaliate (a slap in the face, to continue the metaphor), the United States would have plenty of time to ease off the bombing. On the other hand, if the United States were to unleash an all-out, total assault on the North--rape rather than seduction--here could be no turning back, and Chinese reaction might be instant and total.

But despite the full use of his power to influence, the President could not stop the critics. Condemnation of the bombing spread to the campuses and to a widening circle of Congressmen. From many directions the President was being pressed to make a major public statement welcoming negotiations.

Up to this time, the official U.S. position had been unreceptive to negotiations, although the President had paid lip-service to his willingness to "do anything and
inywhere in the interests of peace." Past inaction he blamed entirely on Hanoi. It was, he said, Hanoi that would not talk peace, Hanoi that was subverting South Vietnam, Hanoi that was making it possible for the war to continue by funneling supplies and manpower over the Ho Chi Minh trail. Washington was not to blame. But now the formula no longer seemed adequate, and the President began to look for a more spectacular way of dramatizing his peaceful intent. He found it in three ingredients which he combined in his renowned Johns Hopkins address of April 7th.


Three elements combined to make the President's Johns Hopkins speech an tant initiative: First, a new formulation of U.S. readiness to negotiate, in the shape of an acceptance by the President of the spirit of the 17-Nation Appeal of March 15, which had called upon the belligerents to start negotiations as soon as possible "without posing any preconditions." Here are the words of the speech which the President hoped would satisfy the principal demand of the doves:

We will never be second in the search for . . . a peaceful settlement in Viet-Nam.

There may be many ways to this kind of peace: in discussion or negotiation with the governments concerned; in large groups or in small ones; in the reaffirmation of old agreements or their strengthening with new ones.

We have stated this position over and over again 50 times and more to friend and foe alike. And we remain ready with this purpose for unconditional discussions.

A second key element of the speech was drawn from ideas long propounded by such old Southeast Asia hands as former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kenneth Young, involving a massive regional development effort for the area, based on the Mekong River basin. This was precisely the kind of hopeful and positive gesture the President needed to put a bright constructive face on his Vietnam policy. Painting the picture of a potentially peaceful five-nation area, the President said:

The first step is for the countries of Southeast Asia to associate themselves [words illegible] take its place in the common effort just as soon as peaceful cooperation is possible.

And the President then offered his munificant carrot:

For our part I will ask the Congress to join in a billion-dollar American investment in this effort as soon as it is underway.

And he underlined the grandioseness of the vision by characterizing the effort S being conceived "on a scale to dwarf even our TVA."

There was a third key element to the Johns Hopkins speech which the Presijent added almost literally at the last minute--an illustrious name, a person of unquestioned stature, to lend some credibility and prestige to the somewhat improbable peaceful development gambit in the midst of war. The President found that ingredient in the person of Eugene Black, former President of the World Bank, a figure of high prominence in international finance, and a politician enjoying Congressional confidence and open lines to both Democrats and Republicans. In a whirlwind performance, the President recruited Black just a few short hours before his scheduled appearance at Johns Hopkins, and was able to announce that appointment in his speech.


While the President's speech evoked a good press and much favorable public reaction throughout the world, its practical consequences were meager. It failed to silence the Peace Bloc and it failed to bring the Communists to the negotiating table.

It is worth noting that the President's initiative of April 7 was in accord with the "pressures-policy" rationale that had been worked out in November, 1964, which held that U.S. readiness to negotiate was not to be surfaced until after a series of air strikes had been carried out against important targets in North Vietnam. Significantly, during the two weeks prior to the President's address, ROLLING THUNDER VIII (the "Radar Busting Week") and IX (the first week of the "anti-LOC" campaign) had inaugurated an almost daily schedule of bombing. Thus the U.S. was now attempting to achieve, through a deliberate combination of intensified military pressures and diplomatic enticements, what it had hoped would result from a mere token demonstration of capability and resolve. The carrot had been aided to the stick, but the stick was still the more tangible and visible element of U.S. policy.

But neither pressures nor blandishments succeeded in moving Hanoi. On the day following the President's speech, North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong published his famous "Four Points," recognition of which he made clear, was the sole way in which "favorable conditions" could be created for peaceful settlement of the war. Two days later, in a telling denunciation of the President's Johns Hopkins speech, North Vietnam said that the United States was using the "peace" label to conceal its aggression and that the Southeast Asia development proposal was simply a "carrot" offered to offset the "stick" of aggression and to seek to allay domestic and international criticism of U.S. policy in Vietnam. The following day, an article in a Chinese Communist newspaper denounced President Johnson's proposal for unconditional discussions as "a swindle pure and simple." To complete the rejection of Western initiatives, Hanoi turned down the appeal of the seventeen non-aligned nations on April 19, reiterating that Pham Van Dong's "Four Points" were the "only correct way" to resolve the Vietnam problem; and three days later Peking's Peoples' Daily gave the coupde-grace to the 17-nation appeal, saying that it amounted to "legalizing the United States imperialist aggression" and that "the Viet-Namese people will never agree to negotiations 'without any preconditions.'"


The rejection of the President's initiative had been total. And other Western peace feelers were equally bluntly turned away. British former Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker who sought to visit Peking and Hanoi on a self-appointed peace mission to sound out both governments on the possibilities of negotiations was unceremoniously denied entry to both Mainland China and North Vietnam.

In the light of these developments, the President made another public statement, opening with the words, "This has been a week of tragedy, disappointment, and progress."

"We tried to open a window to peace," the President said, "only to be met with names and slogans and a refusal to talk." But he tried once more:

They want no talk with us, no talk with a distinguished Briton, no talk with the United Nations. They want no talk at all so far. But our offer stands. We mean every word of it

To those governments who doubt our willingness to talk the answer is simple-agree to discussion, come to the meeting room. We will be there. Our objective in Viet-Nam remains the same--an independent South Vietnam, tied to no alliance, free to shape its relations and association with all other nations. This is what the people of South Vietnam want, and we will finally settle for no less.

But this is as far as the President was willing to go in his concessions to the Bloc at this time.

To the clamor from many directions, including from Senator Fulbright and from Canada's Prime Minister Lester Pearson, that the U.S. should pause in its air strikes to bring about negotiations, the Administration responded with a resounding "No." Secretary Rusk made the U.S. position clear on this, in a statement read to news correspondents on April 17:

We have thought long and soberly about suspending, for a period, the raids on North Viet-Nam. Some have suggested this could lead to an end of aggression from the North. But we have tried publicly and privately to find out if this would be the result, and there has been no response. Others say such a pause is needed to signal our sincerity, but no signal is needed. Our sincerity is plain.

If we thought such action would advance the cause of an honorable peace, we would order it immediately, but now our best judgment tells us it would only encourage the aggressor and dishearten our friends who bear the brunt of battle.



By the middle of April, communications between Washington and Saigon were becoming increasingly strained, as it began to dawn upon Ambassador Taylor that Washington was determined, with the President's sanction, to go far beyond the agreements to which Taylor had been a party at the beginning of April and that had been formalized in NSAM 328. From April 8 onward, Taylor had been bombarded with messages and instructions from Washington testifying to an eagerness to speed up the introduction to Vietnam of U.S. and Third County ground forces and to employ them in a combat role, all far beyond anything that had been authorized in the April 2 NSC decisions. Ambassabr Taylor's ill-concealed annoyance at these mounting pressures and progressively more radical proposals changed to outright anger and open protest, when, on April 18, he received another instruction, allegedly with the sanction of "highest authority," proposing seven additional complicated measures having to do with combat force deployment and employment, on the justification that "something new must be added in the South to achieve victory." Taylor's exasperated response to McGeorge Bundy the same day made it clear that meaningful communication between Washington and Saigon had all but broken down and that something needed to be done quickly to restore some sense of common purpose and to provide Taylor with a revised set of instructions.

It was with this background that Secretary McNamara convened a conference in Honolulu on very short notice, bringing together most of the key personalities involved in Vietnam policy-making: Chairman Wheeler of the JCS, General Westmoreland, COMUSMACV, Admiral Sharp, CINCPAC, Ambassador Taylor from Saigon, William Bundy of State, and John McNaughton of Defense.

Precisely what transpired during the one-day meeting in Honolulu on April 20th is not known to this writer. But clearly the meeting was called for the explicit purpose of ironing out differences and smoothing ruffled feathers. The immediate concern was to reach specific agreement on troop deployments; but an underlying objective was to restore a semblance of consensus about assessments and priorities.

The record contains two documents that report on the results of the meeting. (1) The minutes of the meeting prepared by John McNaughton, and (2) a Memorandum for the President prepared by the Secretary of Defense on April 21 which is almost, but not quite, identical with McNaughton's minutes. The differences are significant in that they suggest an effort on McNamara's part to stress even more than did McNaughton the unanimity of view that was achieved at Honolulu.

Sections of the two documents relevant to the air war are quoted below. Where the two texts differ, both versions are shown--McNamara's in brackets [ ], McNaughton's in parentheses ( ):

(Secretary McNamara, accompanied by) Mr. William Bundy (and) Mr. McNaughton [and I] met with Ambassador Taylor, General Wheeler, Admiral Sharp and General Westmoreland in Honolulu on Tuesday, April 20. (The minutes of that meeting follow:)

[Following is my report of the meeting:]

1. (There was consensus that) [None of them expect] the DRV/VC (cannot be expected) to capitulate, or come to a position acceptable to us, in less than six months. This is because they believe that a settlement will come as much or more from VC failure in the South as from DRV pain in the North, and that it will take more than six months, perhaps a year or two, to demonstrate VC failure in the South.

2. With respect to strikes against the North, (it was agreed) [they all agree] that the present tempo is about right, that sufficient increasing pressure is provided by repetition and continuation. All of them envisioned a strike program continuing at least six months, perhaps a year or more, avoiding the Hanoi-Haiphong-Phuc Yen areas during that period. There might be fewer fixed targets, or more restrikes, or more armed reconnaissance missions. Ambassador Taylor stated what appeared to be a (shared) [majority] view, that it is important not to "kill the hostage" by destroying the North Vietnamese assets inside the "Hanoi do-nut." (It was agreed) [They all believe] that the strike program is essential to our campaign--both psychologically and physically--but that it cannot be expected to do the job alone. [They] All considered it very important that strikes against the North be continued during any talks.

3. None of (the participants) [them] sees a dramatic improvement in the South in the immediate future. (The) [Their] strategy for "victory" (proposed by Ambassador Taylor, General Wheeler, Admiral Sharp and General Westmoreland) [however] is to break the will of the DRV/VC by denying them victory. Ambassador Taylor put it in terms of a demonstration of Communist impotence, which will lead eventually to a political solution. They see slow improvement in the South, but all (participants) emphasized the critical importance of holding on and avoiding-for psychological and moral reasons-a spectacular defeat of GVN or US forces. And they all suspect that the recent VC lull is but the quiet before a storm. . .

The documents continue with specific force deployment recommendations that were agreed upon at the meeting. In addition, McNaughton's minutes contain the following concluding item:

It was agreed that tasks within South Vietnam should have first call on air assets in the area [words illegible] necessary tasks, more air should be brought in. Secretary McNamara directed that this policy be implemented at once.

From this evidence, it seems apparent that Honolulu marked the relative downgrading of pressures against the North, in favor of more intensive activity in the South. The key to success, it was now felt, was not to destroy or defeat the enemy, but to frustrate him--"to break the will of the DRV/VC by denying them victory" and, above all, to avoid, for our part, a dramatic defeat. Thus the decision at this point was to "plateau" the air strikes more or less at the prevailing level, relying on "repetition and continuation" to provide increasing pressure, rather than to pursue the relentless dynamic course that had been so ardently advocated by Ambassador Taylor and Admiral Sharp in February and March, or the massive destruction of the North Vietnamese target complex so consistently advocated by the Joint Chiefs. If Honolulu represented more than a "shotgun wedding," if it reflected in fact a relatively uncoerced expression of views, the leading U.S. actors in the Vietnam drama must have undergone, in the intervening weeks, a reordering of expectations with respect to the results that bombing might achieve. Their views at this point, in any event, were strikingly more restrained on the bombing issue than they had been previously.

An alternative--and less charitable--explanation might be that, in the meantime, attention had shifted from the air war to the subject of U.S. combat force deployments, and had thus generated a need to concentrate on issues, arguments and rationalizations that would serve to promote and justify these new actions. Preoccupation with pressures against the North had long been viewed as something of a competitor, something of a distraction, by many advocates of a more forceful U.S. role in the South. Thus it seems logical that, with the decision to begin a major U.S. ground force commitment, the air campaign should have been reduced in rank to second billing.


Along with the levelling-off of the air strikes and a reordering of expectations as to their likely effectiveness came the decision to publicize the fact that "interdiction" was now a major objective of the strikes. It will be recalled that LOC interdiction had become a key element in the U.S. target rationale beginning with ROLLING THUNDER IX (week of April 2). After Honolulu, with the prospective deepening of the U.S. involvement on the ground and the need to justify that involvement in terms of "resisting NVN aggression," it seemed desirable to stress that aspect of U.S. action more explicitly in public. Whereas previously there had been only passing reference to the fact that U.S. air attacks on North Vietnam had been aimed at targets "associated with infiltration," it was now decided to feature interdiction as the objective of U.S. bombing.

Secretary Rusk made first public mention of this on April 23, when he stated:

The bombing is designed to interdict, as far as possible, and to inhibit, as far as may be necessary, continued aggression against the Republic of Viet-Nam.

Three days later, Secretary McNamara gave a special briefing to the press corps at the Pentagon, complete with maps and photographs, driving home the point of massive infiltration from the North:

Now the current [VNAF and U.S.] strikes against North Vietnam have been designed to impede this infiltration of men and materiel, and infiltration which makes the difference between a situation which is manageable and one which is not manageable internally by the Government of South Vietnam.

The air strikes have been carefully limited to military targets, primarily to infiltration targets. To transit points, to barracks, to supply depots, to ammunition depots, to routes of communication, all feeding the infiltration lines from North Vietnam into Laos and then into South Vietnam.

More recently there has been added to this target system railroads, highways, and bridges which are the foundation of the infiltration routes. . .

The strikes have been designed to increase the dependence on an already over-burdened road transport system by denying the use of the rail lines in the South. In summary, our objectives have been to force them off the rails onto the highways and off the highways onto their feet. . .

Supplementing the bridge strikes, armed reconnaissance is being conducted along truck convoy routes against maritime traffic and rolling stock on the rail lines. . .

These carefully controlled rail strikes will continue as necessary to impede the infiltration and to persuade the North Vietnamese leadership that their aggression against the south will not succeed. . .


Now that interdiction was being publicly embraced as a major objective of the bombing, at least one high-ranking Administration official began to realize that insufficient attention had been paid to the U.S. political posture in the event that the DRV became persuaded "that their aggression will not succeed."

As early as April 1, McGeorge Bundy expressed his concern that the eventual bargaining tradeoffs had not received the careful consideration that they deserved. As he saw it:

We have three cards of some value: our bombing of North Vietnam, our military presence in South Vietnam, and the political and economic carrots that can be offered to Hanoi. We want to trade these cards for just as much as possible of the following: an end to infiltration of men and supplies, an end of Hanoi's direction, control, and encouragement of the Viet Cong, a removal of cadres under direct Hanoi control, and a dissolution of the organized Viet Cong military and political forces. We do not need to decide today just how we wish to mesh our high cards against Communist concessions. But we will need to be in such a position soon, if only to exchange views with Quat. On this more general point, we believe more exploratory conversation with the President is needed today. [April 1]

Apparently, however, any exploratory conversation that took place on that other occasions failed to lead to a clarification of what the U.S. and the N could regard as "a satisfactory outcome" in Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy tinued to feel a sense of urgency about beginning discussions with the Saigon 'ernment on this matter. Thus on April 25 he circulated a Memorandum to Principals, lamenting the lack of progress toward such discussions:

We have had a lot of discussion among ourselves and with Embassy Saigon on the negotiating track, but we have not yet had serious discussions with the Republic of Vietnam. Such serious discussions are the necessary preliminary of any substantial improvement in our political posture, because our whole position depends on the legitimacy of that independent government.

But we have had great difficulty in talking to Quat so far because our thinking has focused so sharply on the complexities of the bargaining problem itself:

At what stage would we stop bombing?
At what point and with what guarantees could we begin to withdraw?
What are the real terms of an effective cease-fire?

These are very difficult questions and the truth is that they cannot be answered today. They are precisely the problems which will have to be settled [words illegible] on the ground and hard bargaining. Moreover, it is very hard for us to look these questions in the eye with Quat & Company lest each of us begins to suspect the determination of the other.

It is perhaps worth observing that these very same questions were still as difficult to answer and as devisive in April, 1968 as they seemed to Bundy in April, 1965. But at that time Bundy felt that a different approach might be more productive. Thus the main purpose of his memorandum was:

. . . to suggest that there is a better place to begin on this problem: namely, by getting a clearer and more comprehensive statement of the elements of a good eventual solution inside South Vietnam. We can and should work out with Quat a program whose elements could include:

1. Internationally validated free elections, first locally, than regionally, and finally on a national basis.
2. A broad and generous offer of political amnesty to all who abandon the use of force, coupled with the right of repatriation to the North, or opportunities for peaceful resettlement in the South.
3. A clear opportunity for the people of South Vietnam themselves to express themselves directly on the peaceful presence of Americans and other foreigners in helping with the peaceful progress of Vietnam.
4. Reciprocal guarantees against any border violation with all neighbors of South Vietnam, and a readiness to accept international patrols along these borders.
5. A declaration of intent to work for the unification of all Vietnam by the free choice of its people and a readiness to accept nationwide free elections for this purpose if this position is:

a. Supported by the people of South Vietnam in appropriate constitutional process.
b. Accepted by the Government of North Vietnam, and
c. Validated by effectively guaranteed rights of free political activity for all parties in both parts of the country.

There are other elements to a strong GVN [words missing] our own political position needs now to be built on a clearer and stronger statement of objectives from Saigon itself.

Once this stronger position of Saigon is established, the US could add its own support and its own determination to be guided by the freely expressed wishes of the people of South Vietnam. It could express its readiness to give peaceful help to such a settled country, and it could reaffirm its readiness to participate in appropriate international guarantees. It could also reaffirm its determination to support the GVN until this program is accepted.

But the "strong GVN program" Bundy had in mind clearly did not contemplate any serious compromise with the NLF. It was a politically strengthened, internationally guaranteed, Western-oriented government Bundy was seeking to create--at least in appearance if not in reality. The grinding problem of the ultimate role of the NLF was left unaddressed and in limbo:

The probability is that any such program would and should leave open the exact opportunities open to the Liberation Front and its members in the new politics of South Vietnam. This is as it should be, since this point is precisely the one which can only be settled by events and bargaining.

It is a striking fact that, in April, 1968, three years later, this crucial point was still viewed as one which can only be settled by events and bargaining.



Pressure for some form of bombing halt had mounted steadily throughout April and early May. As early as April 2, Canada's Prime Minister Lester Pearson, on his way to meet with President Johnson, had stopped off to make a speech in Philadelphia in which he suggested that the President should order a "pause" in the bombing of North Vietnam.

Pearson's gratuitous advice was particularly galling to the President because the pause had become the battle slogan of the anti-Vietnam movement. Students had picketed the LBJ Ranch in Texas, demanding a cessation of bombing. A massive teach-in had been scheduled for May 15 in Washington, with academicians who wanted withdrawal of American influence from the Asian mainland, ready to demand as a first step an immediate end of the bombing. Pressure for a pause was building up, too, in Congress among liberal Democrats. The U.N. Secretary General was on a continual bombing pause kick, with a proposal for a three month suspension of bombing in return for Hanoi's agreement to cease infiltration in South Vietnam. U Thant had told Ambassador Stevenson on April 24 that he believed such a gesture would facilitate renewed non-aligned pressure upon Hanoi to negotiate.

Evidently, however, the President was not impressed with the widespread clamor that such a gesture would evoke any response from Hanoi. He had responded favorably to the 17-Nation appeal in his April 7th speech, only to be answered with blunt rejection by Hanoi and Peking. The US. had responded favorably to the idea of a Cambodian Conference that would provide opportunities for "corridor contacts" with Communist powers on the Vietnam problem, but Peking had apparently blocked that initiative. Encouragement had been given to a UK approach to the Soviets in February looking toward consultations under Article 19 of the 1962 Geneva Accords, but no response from the USSR had been received. The Radhakrishnan proposal for a cease-fire along the 17th parallel, supervised by an "Afro-Asian Force" was being favorably considered by the U.S. only to be denounced as a "plot" by Peking and as an "offense" by Hanoi. Publicly, the President was plaintive:

There are those who frequently talk of negotiations and political settlement and that they believe this is the course we should pursue, and so do I. When they talk that way I say, welcome to the club. I want to negotiate. I would much rather talk than fight, and I think everyone would. Bring in who you want us to negotiate with. I have searched high and wide, and I am a reasonably good cowboy, and I can't even rope anybody and bring them in who is willing to talk and settle this by negotiation. We send them messages through allies--one country, two countries, three countries, four or five countries--all have tried to be helpful. The distinguished British citizen, Mr. (Patrick Gordon) Walker, has been out there, and they say, we can't even talk to you. All our intelligence is unanimous in this one point, that they see no need for negotiation. They think they are winning and they have won and why should they sit down and give us something and settle with us.

But while the public clamor persisted and became more and more difficult to ignore, the President was receiving intelligence assessments from Saigon and from Washington that tended to confirm his reading of Hanoi's disinterest in negotiations, but that provided him with a quite different argument for a bombing pause at this time: if the conflict was going to have to be expanded and bombing intensified before Hanoi would "come to reason," it would be easier and politically more palatable to do so after a pause, which would afford an opportunity for the enemy's intentions to be more clearly revealed.

On May 4, in response to an urgent request from Washington, Ambassador Taylor submitted a U.S. Mission "Assessment of DRV/VC Probable Courses of Action During the Next Three Months." The assessment confirmed the Washington view that Hanoi continued to have a very favorable view of its prospects for victory:

. . . Tone of statements emanating from Hanoi since [February and March] indicate that the DRV has not weakened in its determination to continue directing and supporting Viet Cong and seeking further intensification of war in the South.

From DRV viewpoint, outlook is probably still favorable despite air strikes on North. Although their general transportation system in North has been significantly damaged, thus somewhat reducing their infiltration capability, Hanoi may calculate it can accept level of damage being inflicted as reasonable price to pay for chance of victory in South. Viet Cong forces in south retain capability of taking local initiatives on ground, although they must accept cost of heavier losses from tactical air support, and their morale possibly has been reduced by recent developments. GVN force levels still are not adequate to cope with these Viet Cong capabilities. Despite relative longevity of Quat Govt., which marks improvement over previous recent Govts., political situation is still basically unstable. While military and civilian morale has risen, rumblings among generals continue, suspicion among political and religious groups persist and are subject to exploitation by communists. On balance, Hanoi probably believes it has [words illegiblel for expectation that Viet Cong, who were clearly making progress as recently as February, can regain the initiative and, by the application of offensive power, can create an atmosphere in which negotiations favorable to the DRV can be instituted.

Given this situation, the report argued, the most probable course of action that Hanoi would pursue is to continue its efforts to expand its military action in the South, "including covert introduction of additional PAVN units on order of several regiments. This course offers . . . the prospect of achieving major military gains capable of offsetting US/GVN application of air power. Such gains would expand Viet Cong areas of control and might lead to political demoralization in South Vietnam."

A similarly unencouraging assessment had been submitted to the President by the Board of National Estimates on April 22. In a "highly sensitive, limited distribution" memorandum, the leading personalities of the U.S. intelligence community concurred in the prediction that:

If present US policies continue without the introduction of large additional forces or increased US air effort, the Communists are likely to hold to their existing policy of seeking victory in the local military struggle in South Vietnam. They will try to intensify that struggle, supporting it with additional men and equipment. At the same time, DRV air defenses will be strengthened through Soviet and perhaps Chinese aid.

If, however, the U.S. deepens its involvement by increasing its combat role and intensifying its air effort, the intelligence officers believed:

. . . that the Viet Cong, North Vietnam, and China would initially. . . try to offset the new enemy strength by stepping up the insurgency, reinforcing the Viet Cong with the men and equipment necessary. They would likely count on time being on their side and try to force the piecemeal engagement of US troops under conditions which might bog them down in jungle warfare, hoping to present the US with a de facto partition of the country. The Soviet Union . . . would almost certainly acquiesce in a decision by Hanoi to intensify the struggle.

This lack of any real prospect of "give" on the enemy's part was also confirmed by Admiral Raborn, shortly after he had succeeded John McCone as Director of Central Intelligence. On the day of Raborn's swearing-in (April 28), the President had given him a letter from McCone (apparently worded along the lines of his memorandum described in Section IX.E. of this study) which McCone had handed to the President as his last official act. The President had asked Raborn for his own comments on McCone's views. Raborn's comments, circulated to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara on May 6, included the following:

Our limited bombing of the North and our present ground-force build-up in the South are not likely to exert sufficient pressure on the enemy to cause him to meet our present terms in the foreseeable future. I note very recent evidence which suggests that our military pressures are becoming somewhat more damaging to the enemy within South Vietnam, but I am inclined to doubt that this damage is increasing at a rate which will bring him quickly to the conference table.

With particular reference to McCone's recommendation that the US add much heavier air action against the North to its planned combat force deployment to the South, Raborn indicated his agreement, and expressed his belief that such an action would have the following consequences:

The DRV is, in my view, unlikely to engage in meaningful discussions at any time in coming months until US air attacks have begun to damage or destroy its principal economic and military targets. I thus concur with the USIB's judgment of 18 February 1965, that, given such US punishment, the enemy would be "somewhat more likely" to decide to make some effort to secure a respite, rather than to intensify the struggle further and accept
the consequent risks.

And then he added the following advice:

Insofar as possible, we should try to manage any program of expanded bombings in ways which (1) would leave the DRV an opportunity to explore negotiations without complete loss of face, (2) would not preclude any Soviet pressures on Hanoi to keep the war from expanding, and (3) would not suddenly produce extreme world pressures against us. In this connection, timing and circumstances in which the bombings were extended northward could be of critical importance, particularly in light of the fact that there have been some indications of differing views between Moscow, Peiping, and Hanoi. For example, it would probably be advantageous to expand bombings after, not before, some major new VC move (e.g., obvious concentration for imminent attack on Da Nang or Kontum) and after, not before, any current possibilities of serious negotiations have been fully tested. And such bombings should not be so regular as to leave no interval for the Communists to make concessions with some grace. Indeed, we should keep in mind the possibility of a pause at some appropriate time, which could serve to test the Communist intentions and to exploit any differences on their side. (Emphasis supplied)

One other consideration may have entered into the President's bombing pause calculus at this time. On April 5, a TROJAN HORSE photography mission had revealed the first SA-2 SAM site under construction fifteen miles SSE of Hanoi, Confirming the long-rumored shipment of Soviet surface-to-air missiles to North Vietnam. Moreover, the SAMs were only the most dramatic form of considerably increased quantities of modern military equipment beginning to be furnished to the DRV by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was now in the process of becoming visibly committed to assisting North Vietnam in resisting U.S. attacks on its territory, and a more direct confrontation of US and USSR military force was rapidly approaching. Indeed, the Joint Chiefs had indicated, on April 14, their desire to obtain approval for air strikes against the sites on short notice as they become operational, had estimated, on May 6, that the first site construction could be completed by May 15, and had instructed CINCPAC to commence planning to conduct air strikes against that site. A decision involving a major Soviet "flashpoint," therefore, would soon have to be faced, and the President may well have wished to provide a prior opportunity for a quiet Hanoi back-down, before proceeding with more forceful military activity.


On the evening of May 10 the President sent a personal FLASH message to Ambassador Taylor, informing him that he (the President) had decided to call a brief halt to air attacks in the North and instructing him to obtain Premier Quat's agreement to the plan. The text of the message follows:

I have learned from Bob McNamara that nearly all ROLLING THUNDER operations for this week can be completed by Wednesday noon, Washington time. This fact and the days of Buddha's birthday seem to me to provide an excellent opportunity for a pause in air attacks which might go into next week and which I could use to good effect with world opinion.

My plan is not to announce this brief pause but simply to call it privately to the attention of Moscow and Hanoi as soon as possible and tell them that we shall be watching closely to see whether they respond in any way. My current plan is to report publicly after the pause ends on what we have done.

Could you see Quat right away on Tuesday and see if you can persuade him to concur in this plan. I would like to associate him with me in this decision if possible, but I would accept a simple concurrence or even willingness not to oppose my decision. In general, I think it important that he and I should act together in such matters, but I have no desire to embarrass him if it is politically difficult for him to join actively in a pause over Buddha's birthday.

We have noted your [recent cables] but do not yet have your appreciation of the political effect in Saigon of acting around Buddha's birthday. From my point of view it is a great advantage to use Buddha's birthday to mask the first days of the pause here, if it is at all possible in political terms for Quat. I assume we could undertake to enlist the Archbishop and the Nuncio in calming the Catholics.

You should understand that my purpose in this plan is to begin to clear a path either toward restoration of peace or toward increased military action,
depending upon the reaction of the Communists. We have amply demonstrated our determination and our commitment in the last two months, and
I now wish to gain some flexibility.

I know that this is a hard assignment on short notice, but there is no one who can bring it off better.

I have kept this plan in the tightest possible circle here and wish you to inform no one but Alexis Johnson. After I have your report of Quat's reaction I will make a final decision and it will be communicated promptly to senior officers concerned.

Ambassador Taylor promptly relayed the President's plan to Quat, whose objection was to the notion of linking the pause in any way with Buddha's birthday. Taylor reported this objection to Washington and received the followidditional instructions from the Department in return.

We have decided here to go ahead commencing on Thursday [May 13] for period of approximately 5-7 days. Orders through military channels will place stand-down on basis "in order to observe reaction of DRV rail and road transportation systems" and will order increase in photo recce of DRV and bombing within SVN. You should tell Westmoreland true basis for his personal use only so that you and he and Alex Johnson remain the only three Americans in Saigon aboard. We have informed Dobrynin tonight and are instructing Kohler to convey message to Hanoi through DRV Ambassador in Moscow. I will also be telling British and Canadian Foreign Ministers personally tomorrow and we will convey message to Menzies through Embassy here. However, each of these being informed only at highest levels and their Saigon representatives will not repeat not be witting.

You should take following actions:

1. Inform Quat we are going ahead. You should not specify period but let us know if he raises question or still insists on as short a period as 4-S days [words illegible] refrain at all times from associating action with Buddha's birthday and that our initial plan will be to refer all press queries to Washington and to hold as long as possible simply to operational factors as explanation. You should raise with him question of what he will tell generals urging in strongest terms that he tell them only what we are saying through military channel and preferably delay even this until question arises. If Quat raises question of what we are saying to Communist side, you will have copies tonight's talk with Dobrynin and instructions to Kohler by septels and may draw generally on these for his personal use only.

2. To deal with any possibility adverse Catholic reaction you should inform Archbishop and/or Nuncio very privately that any variation in actions in forthcoming period will be USG decisions not related in any way to Buddha's birthday or any appeal or issue connected with it. You may of course also reiterate that any such variations have no effect whatever on our determination as clearly shown in recent months. We leave timing this approach to you but believe it should be done earliest before any speculation arises.

3. At appropriate time you should instruct Zorthian to report simply that no operations other than reconnaissance were conducted on each day and to refer press queries, preferably by indirection, to Washington.

A few hours later, Secretary McNamara, with the concurrence of Secretary Rusk and McGeorge Bundy, sent the following FLASH joint State/Defense message through military channels to Ambassador Taylor, CINCPAC and COMUSMACV:

In order to observe reaction of DRV rail and road transportation systems, bombing (including armed recce and other strike operations) of targets within DRV will cease for several days effective 2400 12 May Saigon time. CINCPAC should issue the necessary instructions to US forces and Ambassador should seek to obtain compliance of VNAF.

During the period in which bombing operations are suspended, photo and eyeball reconnaissance flights over DRy, in so far as they can be carried out without flak suppression escorts and within currently approved rules relating to altitudes and latitudes, will be increased to the level required to permit a thorough study of lines of communication. The bombing sorties which would have been directed against the DRV during this period, to the extent practical, will be targeted against appropriate targets in South Vietnam.

ROLLING THUNDER 15 as outlined in JCS 1736 has been approved. It is to be executed upon receipt of appropriate execution orders.
Press guidance for the period during which bombing operations are suspended will be furnished in a separate message.

Acting on these instructions, Taylor saw Quat in Saigon on the morning of May 12, and reported back as follows:

Along with Alex Johnson, I called this morning to convey to Quat the information contained in Department's instructions. I told him that his views with regard to linking the pause with Buddha's birthday had been accepted and that this element had been removed from the plan. I explained that the pause begins tomorrow (Saigon time) and will continue for several days. As he did not raise any question with regard to the precise duration, I did not elaborate. He liked the military justification for the pause as explained in REFTEL and undertook to remain within this language in dealing with his generals. I assured him that General Westmoreland would do the same in his military contacts.

We explained to Quat how the message was being conveyed to the USSR and Hanoi. He had no comment except to express doubt that any detectable change in DRV conduct will take place during the suspension of attacks.

As for comment to the press, he repeated his intention to ward off queries by references to "Operational Requirements."

While securing Quat's support has been somewhat easier than I had anticipated, I am sure that he and his colleagues will become uneasy very quickly if this pause runs beyond the "four to five days" which Quat has indicated to be acceptable from his point of view. I would hope that our purposes can have been fulfilled within the five day period.

With regard to paragraph 2 [of Department's instructions], Johnson and I feel that it is unnecessary and probably undesirable to approach Archbishop Binh or the Nuncio at this time. We will watch closely the local reaction to the suspension and convey the message to the Catholic leadership, if necessary, at a timely moment.

Much additional attention was lavished by Washington upon maintaining near-absolute secrecy, preserving a plausible front vis-a-vis the press, and other aspects of stage management. On May 12, the operation was given the codeword MAYFLOWER, and all communications on it were thenceforth to be slugged with that indication. [words illegible] Johnson, the only Americans [words illegible] of MAYFLOWER were William Sullivan in Vientiane, Foy Kohler in Moscow, and Winthrop Brown in Seoul--the latter only for the purpose of informing President Park Chung Hee who was about to embark on a state visit to Washington and who, the Department felt, should be forewarned so that he might more effectively fend off press probings.

On the evening of May 11, Secretary Rusk made two moves designed to inform "the other side" of the fact that a bombing halt was being called and of its political purpose:

1. He sent a cable to Foy Kohler in Moscow, instructing him to make urgent contact with the DRV Ambassador in Moscow to convey a carefully prepared message to him, as quoted below. The cable set forth the instructions and rationale as follows:

. . . We are using you as channel to avoid using Soviets as intermediaries and also to insure that message is accurately and directly delivered. We leave appropriate method of arranging contact to you and are not concerned if Soviets should become aware you are making such contact. You should of course make maximum effort avoid any attention by any third party.

Message you should deliver should be oral but confirmed by written piece of paper which you should hand to Ambassador with request he deliver message to Hanoi. Message is as follows:

BEGIN TEXT. The highest authority in this Government has asked me to inform Hanoi that there will be no air attacks on North Viet-Nam for a period beginning at noon, Washington time, Wednesday, May 12, and running into next week.

In this decision the United States Government has taken account of repeated suggestions from various quarters, including public statements by Hanoi representatives, that there can be no progress toward peace while there are air attacks on North Viet-Nam. The United States Government remains convinced that the underlying cause of trouble in Southeast Asia is armed action against the people and Government of South Vietnam by forces whose actions can be decisively affected from North Vietnam. The United States will be very watchful to see whether in this period of pause there are significant reductions in such armed actions by such forces. (The United States must emphasize that the road toward the end of armed attacks against the people and Government of Vietnam is the only road which will permit the Government of Vietnam (and the Government of the United States) to bring a permanent end to their attacks on North Vietnam.) . . . [words illegible] be misunderstood as an indication of weakness, and it is therefore necessary for me to point out that if this pause should be misunderstood in this fashion, by any party, it would be necessary to demonstrate more clearly than ever, after the pause ended, that the United States is determined not to accept aggression without reply in Vietnam. Moreover, the United States must point out that the decision to end air attacks for this limited trial period is one which it must be free to reverse if at any time in the coming days there should be actions by the other side in Vietnam which required immediate reply.

But my Government is very hopeful that there will be no such misunderstanding and that this first pause in the air attacks may meet with a response which will permit further and more extended suspension of this form of military action in the expectation of equally constructive actions by the other side in the future. END TEXT.

2. He summoned Soviet Ambassador Anatol Dobrynin to his office in the State Department and made virtually the same oral statement to him, confirmed by a parallel written version handed to him. Rusk, that same evening described the meeting to Foy Kohler in a second cable, sent immediately after the message quoted above:

I explained we were not indicating any precise number of days, that we retained freedom of action, and that we would convey similar message to Hanoi. I also said we would make no announcement although we expected press pressures, and made clear our action related only to strikes of any sort and not to continued reconnaissance. (Paper itself makes clear action confined to DRV and does not include Laos or SVN.)

I also said we did not know what to expect but that Hanoi knows what it is doing and can find a way to make its response clear.

Dobrynin noted we were merely informing Soviets and was clearly relieved we not asking them to act as intermediary. Asked about my trip to Vienna and indicated there might be further conversations there Saturday with Gromyko. Asked basically whether action represented any change in fundamental US position.

I replied that it did not and that this should be no surprise.

I reviewed recent indications that Cambodia conference blocked by Peiping despite favorable mention in DRV-Moscow communique and that three-party talks on Laos likewise in abeyance apparently following Peiping and perhaps Hanoi pressure. President on April 7 had tried open up discourse but thus far channels blocked. If attacks on DRV were part of problem, Communist response to present action might open up channels.

Dobrynin said he thought we would get some answer but could not predict what.

I underscored importance action not be misunderstood in Hanoi. Hanoi appears to have impression they may succeed, but US will not get tired or be affected by very small domestic opposition or by international pressures, Hanoi cannot rely on Saigon instability. They may have wrong ideas on these points and important they not misunderstand our action.

Dobrynin responded he saw no danger of misunderstanding but problem was to find way.

Parallel with the Secretary's diplomatic moves, the President made a major public address on the first day of the bombing pause, in which he made no reference to the pause, but in which he urged Hanoi to consider a "political solution." The speech, embracing the theme of the "three faces of war" (1. armed conflict, 2. diplomacy and politics, and 3. human need) contained the following passage:

The second face of war in Viet-Nam is the quest for a political solution--the face of diplomacy and politics--of the ambitions and the interests of other nations. We know, as our adversaries should also know, that there is no purely military solution in sight for either side. We are ready for unconditional discussions. Most of the non-Communist nations of the world favor such unconditional discussions. And it would clearly be in the interest of North Vietnam to now come to the conference table. For them the continuation of war, without talks, means only damage without conquest. Communist China apparently desires the war to continue whatever the cost to their allies. Their target is not merely South Viet-Nam; it is Asia. Their objective is not the fulfillment of Vietnamese nationalism; it is to erode and to discredit America's ability to help prevent Chinese domination over all of Asia.

In this domination they will never succeed.


Foy Kohler in Moscow, upon receiving the Secretary's instructions, directed his Deputy Chief of Mission to telephone the North Vietnamese Embassy on the morning of May 12 to request an urgent appointment for Ambassador Kohler with the North Vietnamese Ambassador. The latter declined to receive the American Ambassador "in view of the absence of diplomatic relations between our two countries," and suggested instead that the "important, high level private message" from the US Government which Ambassador Kohler wished to communicate to the NVN Ambassador be sent to the Soviet Government "in its capacity as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference."

Kohler felt it would not be productive to press the NVN embassy further, and cabled the Department for instructions as to which of two alternatives he should pursue: "(1) Transmit message by letter via messenger to NVN ambassador; or (2) seek appointment with Acting Foreign Minister Kuznetsov to convey message."

The Department's reply was as follows:

Believe you should pursue both alternatives urgently, explaining to Kuznetsov (who will by now have heard from Dobrynin) that you recognize reluctance of Soviets to act as intermediary and are asking solely that Soviets transmit message to DRV Ambassador in accordance with DRV suggestion.

Kohler acted promptly on both alternatives. He transmitted the "oral" communication to the DRV Ambassador under cover of a letter signed by Kohier, which read as follows:

In accordance with the suggestion made by a member of your staff today, I am attempting to reach the Acting Foreign Minister tonight.

Since this may not be possible and because of its importance, I enclose the message I had hoped to be able to convey to you personally earlier

However, though hand-delivered by an American embassy employee to a DRV employee, the communication was returned the following morning in a plain envelope addressed simply Embassy of US of A.

At the same time, Kohier sought an urgent appointment with Acting Foreign Miinister Kuznetsov (Gromyko being out of town) but Kuznetsov was not availible and Kohler was able to see only Deputy Foreign Minister Firyubin. The latter, after some temporizing, flatly refused his government's services as an intermediary and lectured Kohler at length upon the US misconception of the real nature of the conflict in Vietnam. Kohler's account of the conversation follows:

I informed Firyubin that as he must know from report of Dobrynin's conversation with Secretary, US Government has made decision which we hoped would be both understood and not misunderstood. I had been informally [words illegible] Soviet agreed that decision we had taken was precisely what was called for but none had been in position to predict reaction. Our purpose in reaching this significant decision was to attempt to ascertain if a way could be found to peaceful solution of current crisis in Southeast Asia. We had hoped we would be able to deliver oral communication conveying this decision to DRV authorities and I had attempted to do so today through DRV Ambassador. Unfortunately Ambassador let it be known that he did not wish to receive me personally and when his embassy was informed that the message I sought to deliver was of extreme importance, it was suggested that we transmit the message through the Soviet Government in its capacity as Geneva Co-Chairman. It was because of these circumstances that I had found it necessary to disturb Mr. Firyubin tonight. I pointed out that although DRV Ambassador had refused to receive me, embassy had succeeded in delivering a copy of oral communication to employee of DRV embassy earlier this evening (2015 Local) who agreed to bring it to attention of Ambassador (communication as set forth in DEPTEL 3103 then translated in full for Firyubin with sole interruption being Firyubin's inquiry if cessation attacks applied only to those from air
--which I confirmed). After receiving confirmation from me that communication was of oral nature, Firyubin said he viewed communication as based on old erroneous conception on which US has proceeded, a conception which precludes US recognizing that the South Vietnamese people are fighting, for their freedom and are struggling against aggression and control by Saigon puppets. Furthermore it indicated to Firyubin that we continued to view the picture incorrectly when we referred again to the struggle in South Vietnam as being organized and directed by the DRV. The absurdity of this view, he said, is obvious and naturally the Soviet Government cannot agree with it as it has made clear in numerous statements. Firyubin could only view the communication as repetition of the threat against the DRV--now a threat of renewed and expanded aggression. This was the only way he could interpret the reference to the risk that a suspension of attacks involved. Obviously we are suffering from a gross misunderstanding if we think that such aggression will go unpunished, without response. The only constructive approach to a peaceful settlement of the situation in South Vietnam was to end the aggression, recall troops from South Vietnam and give the Vietnamese people the right to choose their own form of Government--a choice which can be made freely only if the so-called specialists should be withdrawn and their opportunity of exercising influence on the Vietnamese thus removed. Firyubin said that he well acquainted with the countries and peoples of Southeast Asia; he therefore was aware and could understand the feelings caused by our actions there as well as in many other parts of the world.

I told Firyubin I had asked to see him to put a very simple question to him. Does the Soviet Government agree to transmit the oral communication to the DRV? I said this was the whole purpose of my visit.

Firyubin said the DRV embassy had not put such a request to the Soviet Government. I must agree that for Soviets to act as intermediary between us and DRV is very unusual. Naturally he would report my request to his Government and if the DRV should request this service he would not exclude the possibility of transmitting the communication to the DRV Government. Meanwhile he would be interested in knowing just how the DRV embassy had responded to our approach.

I again described for Firyubin our efforts to deliver the message to the DRV through its embassy in Moscow and told him that the end result was a suggestion by the embassy that we transmit the message through the Soviet Government in its capacity as Geneva Co-Chairman. Firyubin repeated his promise to report my request to his Government and to inform me of the results.

While the conversation continued in this vein, Firyubin had passed a note to a Foreign Office assistant, Kornienko, who attended him, and the latter left the room. After some time, Kornienko reappeared and handed a note to Firyu,in, which the latter read carefully. After reading the note, Firyubin said flatly hat the Soviet Government would not transmit the U.S. Government's message to the DRV, that the DRV embassy had not requested this service and that it was the U.S. responsibility to find a convenient way of passing the message. Kohler's account continues:

I said I wished to understand him correctly. Was he rejecting my request to transmit the communication to the DRV?

He said this was a correct understanding of the Soviet Government position. We must ourselves find the way.

I said that what I was seeking was the cooperation of the Soviet Government and Firyubin's remarks indicated clearly that the Soviet Government was refusing this. Firyubin said, "I am not a postman" and again said we could find our own ways of transmitting messages.

I pointed out to Firyubin that the cooperation I had requested is a well-known and not unprecedented process in international diplomacy. I had great difficulty in reconciling Soviet Government refusal to cooperate with its declaration in support of peaceful settlement of all questions.

Kornienko chimed in that he had recalled statement by both the President and Secretary of State on several occasions that the U.S. Government has channels for transmitting messages direct to Hanoi. On this the conversation ended but it should be noted that Firyubin made no effort to return to me the text of the oral communication which I had handed him at the outset of the conversation.

After further reflection on his meeting with Firyubin, Kohler sent a follow-on message to Washington that afternoon, in which he sought to present the Soviet position with some sympathy and to promote an understanding of the Soviet rebuff in the light of the "rather strenuous nature" of the document we were asking them to transmit. Kohler's comments were as follows:

I came away from my meeting with Firyubin last night with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was annoyed at the apparent Soviet rebuff of an effort to take heat out of admittedly dangerous situation in SEA and impatient with flimsy rationale for Soviet refusal offered by Firyubin. On the other hand, I could understand, if not sympathize with, Soviet sensitivity, given Chicom eagerness to adduce proof of their charges of collusion against Soviets and, frankly, given rather strenuous nature of document they were being asked to transmit to DRV.

Implicit in latter view, of course, is assumption that Soviets in fact want bombing to stop, are genuinely concerned at possibilities escalation, and are interested in working out some sort of modus vivendi which would take heat out of situation while not undercutting their own position in Commie world as loyal socialist ally. We cannot be sure that this is way Soviets view situation, and it entirely possible they so confident our ultimate defeat in Vietnam that no gesture on our part would meet with encouraging response. Believe at this point, however, we lose nothing assuming Soviets have not completely forgotten lesson Cuba and there is some flexibility in Soviet position which we should seek to exploit.

I would hope, therefore, we would not regard Firyubin's reaction last night as evidence conscious hardening of Soviet attitude. It may simply be reflection of bind Soviets find themselves in at moment. Meanwhile, we can feel sure message is already in DRV hands-copies now available thru Dobrynin, Firyubin, and DRV embassy here--and I would suggest we go through with original plan and be on alert, both here and on the scene for any signs reaction from other side. Seen from here, we would lose nothing by doing so; and we gain at least with our friends and the unaligned.

By this time (1:00 p.m. March 13, Moscow time), though Kohier was not aware of it, the bombing pause had already been in effect for seventeen hours. It had gone into effect as planned at 2400 on May 12, Saigon time, and the Department so informed Kohler. The Department also decided, in spite of Kohier's confidence that the U.S. "oral" communication had reached Hanoi, to make doubly sure by asking the U.K. Government to instruct its Consul in Hanoi to transmit the same message, in writing, to his normal contact in the DRV. Informed by the Department that this step was about to be taken, Kohler expressed his dissatisfaction with the character and tone of the communication by recommending that, in any resubmission, the message be shortened and softened:

. . . I would recommend we shorten and revise wording of "oral" communication to DRV if we plan resubmit through British Consul Hanoi. If cast is present form, I think we are simply inviting rebuff, and exercise-Hanoi would prove as fruitless as our efforts in Moscow. Something along lines following would get essential message across:

BEGIN TEXT. The highest authority in this Government has asked me to inform Hanoi that there will be no air attacks on North Vietnam for a period beginning at noon, Washington time, Wednesday, May 12 and running into next week.

In this decision the United States Government has taken account of repeated suggestions from various quarters, including public statements by Hanoi representatives, that there can be no progress toward peace while there are air attacks on North Vietnam.

The United States Government expects that in consequence of this action the DRV will show similar restraint. If this should not prove to be the case, then the United States Government will feel compelled to take such measures as it feels are necessary to deal with the situation in Vietnam.

Kohier's recommendation was not accepted, and the message was transmitted to the DRV by the British Consul in Hanoi in its original form. As in the Moscow case, the message was shortly thereafter returned to the sender, ostensibly unopened.

As a footnote to the "unopened letter" episodes, it may be worth noting that Canadian ICC Commissioner Blair Seaborn, on an early-June visit to Hanoi, was approached by the Czech Ambassador to the DRy, who recounted to him the story of Kohler's unsuccessful effort to deliver the message to the DRV Ambassador in Moscow, with the message having been returned ostensibly unopened. The Czech Ambassador said "everybody" in Hanoi knew the story.


While the Administration expected little in the way of a positive Hanoi response, a watchful eye was kept for any signals or actions that might suggest North Vietnamese or Soviet receptivity to any further diplomatic explorations. Such signals as were received, however, were entirely negative. On May 15 a Hanoi English language broadcast noted Western news reports of the bombing cessation, terming them "a worn out trick of deceit and threat . . ." On the same day, in a conversation with British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart in Vienna, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko indicated the USSR's disinclination to participate in any negotiations on Indochina.

In the meantime, in Saigon, the U.S. Mission was hard at work trying to clarify its own thinking--and that of Washington--on the persuasive, or rather coercive, possibilities of bombing pauses. In particular, the Mission was hoping to link the intensity of US bombing after the resumption closely to the level of VC activity during the pause. The purpose would be to make it clear to Hanoi that what we were trying to accomplish with our bombing was to get the DRV to cease directing and supporting the VC and to get VC units to cease their military activities in the South. In this approach, a downward trend in VC activities would be "rewarded" in a similar manner by decreasing US bombing. Thus it was hoped that, during the bombing pause, the DRV would offer the first step in a series of events which might ultimately "lead to the termination of hostilities on satisfactory [i.e., U.S.] terms, without engaging in formal negotiations."

Ambassador Taylor described this approach to Washington in a lengthy cable concurred in by Deputy Ambassador Johnson and General Westmoreland. The Ambassador recognized that there were one or two minor pitfalls in the scheme, but seemed undaunted in his confidence that US bombing could be designed to have powerful coercive effects. Taylor admitted that:

Any success in carrying out such a scenario [would] obviously depend on a considerable amount of cooperation from the DRV side based on a conviction arising from self-interest that the DRV must accept a settlement which excludes the conquest of SVN by NVN. There is little likelihood that the Hanoi leaders are yet ready to reach such a conclusion, but a rigorous application of air attacks at a tempo related to Hanoi/VC activities accompanied by pressure on the ground to compel the VC to engage in incidents or retreat appears to us to have possibilities. Conceivably, these ground operations might eventually result in herding VC units into "safe havens". . . Whatever its other weaknesses, such a program would eliminate in large measure the danger which we may now be facing of equating our bombing activity to VC initiated incidents .

A quite different approach to a settlement was proposed in a rather puzzling informal contact between Pierre Salinger and two somewhat shadowy Soviet officials in Moscow. On the evening of May 11 (i.e., one full day prior to the inauguration of the bombing pause) Salinger, who was in Moscow at the time on private movie production business, was invited to dinner by Mikhail Sagatelyan, whom Salinger had known in Washington during the Kennedy years as the TASS Bureau Chief, and who was at this time assigned to TASS headquarters in Moscow. Salinger reported his conversation to Ambassador Kohler who related it to Secretary Rusk in a cable as follows:

Sagatelyan probed Salinger hard as to whether he was on some kind of covert mission and seemed unconvinced despite latter's reiterated denials. In any case, Sagatelyan, protesting he was speaking personally, talked at length about Viet-Nam. He wanted Salinger's opinion on hypothetical formula for solution approximatey on following lines:

1. US would announce publicly temporary suspension of bombing DRY;
2. DRV or USSR or both would make statement hailing suspension as step toward reasonable solution;
3. Soviet Union would intercede with Viet Cong to curtail military activities;
4. De facto cease fire would thus be accomplished.
5. Conference would be called on related subject (not specifically VietNam). Viet Cong would not be participant but have some kind of observer or corridor status (this followed Salinger's expression of opinion US Government would never accept Viet Cong as participant in any conference).
6. New agreement would be worked out on Viet-Nam providing for broader-based SVN Government not including direct Viet Cong participation but including elements friendly to Viet Cong.

In a follow-up dinner conversation between Salinger and Sagatelyan two nights later, in which a Foreign Office representative, identified only as "Vassily Sergeyevich" also participated, the Soviet interlocutors generally confirmed the proposal quoted above, modifying points three and four by suggesting that an actual cease fire could take place only after initiation of negotiations and that a cease fire would in fact be the first item on the agenda of any negotiations. Additional items of interest were reported by Kohler as follows:

Soviet interlocutors talked at length about President Kennedy's forebearance post-Cuba period and broadly implied that Soviets now interested in reciprocating such forebearance. It was clear from their remarks that Soviets assume we would welcome some avenue of withdrawal so long as this would not involve loss of American prestige.

Soviets informed Salinger that Soviet Government had received a "Rusk proposal" with regard Vietnam but would not answer proposal or act on it in any way until Soviet Government had some idea as to how current exercise with Salinger would turn out. . .

As to mechanics of carrying on exercise, Sagatelyan suggested Salinger might convey proposal to US Government through embassy Paris and he himself would fly immediately Paris in order receive from Salinger there any official reaction. Alternatively, if Salinger wished to proceed direct Washington, contact could be designated there, probably either Zinchuk (Soviet embassy counselor) or Vadvichenko (TASS Washington Bureau).

Throughout conversation Soviets made clear to Salinger that because of sensitive Soviet position any progress toward political settlement Vietnam problem must be initiated and carried through, at least in preliminary stages, on basis unofficial contacts, clear implication being if leak should occur or if scheme should go awry, Soviet Government would be in position disavow whole affair. At same time, it was clear from remarks as well as presence of Foreign Office representative that proposal by Sagatelyan had official backing.

Salinger had one further contact with Sagatelyan and Vassily the following day, where it became apparent that the Soviet officials' interest in the proposal had waned. By the time Salinger had returned to Washington and saw Ambassador Thompson at the State Department on May 18, the Soviet disinterest in any role for themseves during the current bombing pause had been made clear through other channels, and Salinger's contacts were not further pursued.

Of these other channels, the most important (and also the most casual) was a brief Kaffeeklatsch between Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko at the Austrian Chancelor's residence in Vienna on May 15. The proceedings are described in a Rusk cable to Undersecretary Ball as follows:

Have just returned from Chancellor's lunch for visiting dignitaries. After lunch Gromyko and I [words illegible] were in something of a dilemma about Southeast Asia. We felt there might be some value in a serious exchange of views between our two Governments but that we did not know whether they themselves wished to discuss it.

He commented with considerable seriousness that the Soviets will not negotiate about Viet-Nam. He said there were other parties involved in that situation and that the United States woud have to find ways of establishing contact with them, and he specifically mentioned the DRV. He said they will continue to support North Viet-Nam and will do so "decisively." He then made reference to a fellow socialist country under attack.

I interrupted to point out that the problem was not that a socialist country was subject to attack but that a socialist country was attacking somone else. I said that American military forces are in South Vietnam solely because North Vietnam has been sending large numbers of men and arms into the South.

He denied these facts in the usual ritual fashion but added that in any event it was not up to the United States to be the judge between Vietnamese. I reminded him that he must know by now that a North Korean attack against South Koreans would not be accepted merely because both were Korean. He merely commented that there were important differences between those two situations.

He referred to Dobrynin's talk with me and said that the temporary suspension of bombing was "insulting." I said I could not understand this in view of the fact that Hanoi, Peiping and Moscow have all talked about the impossibility of discussions while bombing was going on.

At this point Chancellor Klaus joined the table to express great happiness that Gromyko and I were sitting together. Neither one of us dispelled his illusion.

I do not know whether Gromyko will pursue the matter further when the four foreign ministers meet briefly with Quaison-Sackey this afternoon or when we all assemble for the opera tonight.

Thompson and I both have the impression that Gromyko's attitude clearly means that the Salinger talk was of little substance and that we should now merely consider what kind of signal we wish to get back by way of Salinger as a part of the closing out process.

I do not believe that we should assume from Gromyko's remarks that we ourselves should not put to Moscow our own most serious views of the situation, whether they are willing to discuss them or not. It is quite clear, however, that Gromyko wanted me to believe that they are not prepared to work toward a settlement in Hanoi and Peiping and that, indeed, unless we abandon our effort in South Viet-Nam there will be very serious consequences ahead.


Having thus been unmistakably rebuffed by Moscow, Hanoi, and Peking, the President determined on the evening of May 16 that the bombing raids should be resumed, beginning on the morning of May 18 Saigon time. In addition to the ROLLING THUNDER XV execute message sent by the JCS to CINCPAC on the 16th, Secretary Rusk sent messages of a political nature to Saigon, London, and Ottawa on May 17, so that the action could be cleared with Premier Quat (which Taylor promptly accomplished), and so that the foreign ministers of the Commonwealth countries would be informed beforehand.

You should see Fon Mm immediately to inform that beginning Tuesday morning, Saigon time, bombing of North Viet-Nam will be resumed by US and South Vietnamese forces, marking the end of a five-day suspension.

You should convey message from me that we regret that the reception of the other side to the idea of a pause was not merely negative but hostile. Gromyko told Rusk that our message to Dobrynin on subject was "insulting." Nevertheless we do not exclude possibility of other such attempts in future.

There will be no public announcement of the resumption of bombing. When press questions are asked, it will be pointed out that there have been and may again be periods when no bombing will take place in response to operational factors and that we do not discuss these operational questions.

Ambassador Kohler, upon receiving word of the resumption, suggested that the US might inform the NATO Council and the 17 non-aligned nations of our actions, in advance of any resumption, to underline the seriousness of the President's response to the Unaligned Appeal. The Department, however, responded negatively to Kohler's suggestion:

There will be no official public statement from here concerning suspension or resumption. Decision at highest levels is to avoid any discussion Project MAYFLOWER [words illegible] concluded, outside of resricted circle designated when Project begun. Despite disappointing response, we wish to keep open channel with Soviets on this subject and we hope eventually with DRV via Soviets. We feel that use of this channel another time might be precluded if we appear to have carried through Project MAYFLOWER solely for credit it might earn us with third parties and public opinion in general. Therefore we would not now wish inform NATO Council and 17 Non-aligned countries.

Only British, Canadians, Australians, UN Secreary General and Korean President Park (here on state visit) were in fact informed in advance of resumption bombing and also of negative outcome of soundings of other side.

In addition to this limited circle of allied intimates, a larger circle of friendly governments was provided with Ambassadorial briefings on the bombing pause after the resumption. An instruction to this effect went out to American ambassadors in New Delhi, Tokyo, Bangkok, Vientiane, Manila, Wellington, and Paris:

You should take first opportunity see Pri. Minister, Fon Mm, or other appropriate high level official to inform him that the U.S. and South Vietnamese Governments suspended bombing against North Viet-Nam for a period of five days which ended on May 18. The initiation of this pause in bombing was accompanied by an approach by us to the Governments of the Soviet Union and North Viet-Nam which took note of repeated calls from that side for cessation of bombing and their statements that discussions could not take place while bombing continued. Unfortunately the reception of our approach was not merely negative but hostile . . . In view of the complete absence of any constructive response, we have decided the bombing must be resumed. Nevertheless we do not exclude possibility of other such attempts in the future.

You should add that the record of the past several weeks is discouraging in that Communists and particularly Peking appear intent on rejecting every effort from whatever quarter to open up contacts and conversations which might lead to a resolution of the Viet-Nam situation. The rejection of President Johnson's April 7 proposals for unconditional discussions, of the appeal of the Seventeen Non-aligned countries and of President Radhakrishnan's proposal all illustrate the point together with Peking and Hanoi's obvious efforts to obstruct the convening of a conference on Cambodia. We will nevertheless continue to explore all possibilities for constructive discussion, meanwhile maintaining with the Government of South Viet-Nam our joint military efforts to preserve that country's freedom.

On the evening of May 16, the DRV Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing the gesture as a "deceitful maneuver designed to pave the way for new U.S. acts of war," and insisted U.S. planes had, since May 12, repeatedly intruded into DRV airspace "for spying, provocative and strafing activities."

Communist China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement May 21 fully endorsing Hanoi's position and denouncing the suspension with characteristic in-temperateness.


A still somewhat ambiguous diplomatic move was made by Hanoi on May 18, shortly after the bombing had been resumed.

It appears that in Paris, on the morning of May 18, Mai Van Bo, head of the DRV economic delegation there, approached the Asian Direction of the Quai d'Orsay to explain the reasons for the DRV's rejection of the Radhakrishnan proposals (involving a cordon sanitaire by Afro-Asian troops along the 17th parallel). More important, however, Bo explained with text in hand that the Pham Van Dong Four Points, enunciated on April 8, should not be isolated from the declaration that had followed the four points. He then softened the language of that declaration by pointing out that the four points constituted the "best basis" from which to find the "most just" solution, and that recognition of these principles would create favorable conditions for a solution of the problem and would open the possibility of convoking a conference.

When asked if Hanoi recognized that realization of its proposed "principle of withdrawal" of American forces would depend upon the "conclusions of a negotiation," Bo responded "exactly," and indicated that if there were agreement on the "bases," the "ways and means" of application of "principles" would be found and in a peaceful manner; the possibilities were many; a way out (porte de sortie) should be found for the US; "our suggestion humiliates no one."

This happening, which occurred on May 18, was first reported by a Quai official to the US Embassy's Political Counsellor in Paris unofficially on May 19, in a highly glossed version, making it appear that the DRV was clearly responding to the bombing pause by a significant softening of its position on "prior conditions." In the official version that Lucet, the Director of Political Affairs of the French Foreign Office conveyed to the DCM on May 20, however, the continued ambiguity of the DRV position--as to whether or not recognition of the four points remained a precondition to talks of any sort--was fully revealed.

This ambiguity was in no sense resolved a few weeks later, when Blair Sea-born raised this question with the DRV Foreign Minister in Hanoi. The U.S. had asked Seaborn in late May to seek a meeting with Pham Van Dong and on its behalf reiterate the March message and U.S. determination to persist in the defense of South Vietnam, to regret that Hanoi had not responded positively to the various recent initiatives, including the bombing pause, and to state that, nevertheless, the United States remained ready "to consider the possibility of a solution by reciprocal actions on each side." If the Vietnamese brought up Pham Van Dong's four points, Seaborn was authorized to endeavor to establish whether Hanoi insisted that they be accepted as the condition for negotiations. On June 3, Seaborn succeeded in gaining an audience with the DRV Foreign Minister (and concurrent Deputy Premier) Nguygen Duy Trinh, who reluctantly heard him Out after stating that the U.S. position was too well known to require restatement. Trinh's reaction to the message was totally negative, and in the exchange preceding its recitation he studiously avoided going beyond the vague statement that Pham Van Dong's four points were the "basis for solution of the Vietnam question."

As there was considerable misunderstanding concerning the Mai Van Bo approach of May 18, and misleading accounts of it were circulating, the State Department informed several U.S. ambassadors (Saigon, Paris, Bonn) of what it considered the true facts in the case.

Facts are that bombing was actually resumed on morning May 18 Saigon time. Subsequently on morning May 18, Paris time, but undoubtedly on antecedent instructions, DRV economic delegate in Paris, Mai Van Bo, approached Quai urgently for appointment. His message was to explain negative Hanoi attitude toward Indian proposal (cessation of hostilities on both sides and Afro-Asian force) but second, and more important, to discuss Pham Van Dong's four points originally stated April 8 and later included in Hanoi statement referring to appeal of 17 Non-aligned nations . . . Bo repeated four points with slight variations from public statements, apparently softening language by indicating that four points might be "best basis" for settlement and apparently insisting less strongly that their recognition was required as condition to negotiations. During course of conversations, French asked whether withdrawal US forces visualized as prior condition or as resulting from negotiations, and Bo responded that latter was correct.

French passed us this message on May 20 (delaying two days) so that we had in fact resumed well before we heard of it. More important, message still left ambiguity whether recognition of four points remained precondition to talks of any sort. Accordingly, we saw no reason to alter conclusion based on Hanoi propaganda denunciation of pause, plus fact that pace of Hanoi-directed basic actions in South had continued and even increased--that Hanoi not ready to respond to pause and that we must resume.

Subsequently, Canadian ICC Representative, Seaborn, visited Hanoi commencing May 31. He himself raised same questions with DRV Foreign Minister and response indicated DRV evasive, and in effect negative, apparently taking position recognition four points, plus some element US withdrawal, were preconditions to any talks.



With the resumption of the bombing at 0600 on 18 May (Saigon time), the arguments over the usefulness and intensity of the U.S. air attacks against the North were taken up again with full energy.

ROLLING THUNDER XV (week of 18-24 May) was designed to attack principally fixed military installations, while continuing the interdiction of LOC's south of the 20th parallel. The attacks were carried out with a weight of effort similar to the pre-pause level, i.e., 40 sorties per day, with a maximum of 200 sorties for the entire week.

It was at this time that Walt W. Rostow, then State Department Counselor and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council, floated a memorandum entitled "Victory and Defeat in Guerrilla Wars: The Case of South Vietnam," in which he argued that a clear-cut victory for the U.S. in Vietnam was a possibility and that what it required mainly was more pressure on the North and effective conduct of the battle in the South. Rostow's memo follows:

In the press, at least, there is a certain fuzziness about the possibility of clear-cut victory in South Viet-Nam; and the President's statement that a military victory is impossible is open to misinterpretation.

1. Historically, guerrilla wars have generally been lost or won cleanly: Greece, China, mainland, North Viet-Nam, Malaya, Philippines. Laos in 1954 was an exception, with two provinces granted the Communists and a de facto split imposed on the country.

2. In all the cases won by Free World forces, there was a phase when the guerrillas commanded a good part of the countryside and, indeed, placed Athens, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila under something close to siege. They failed to win because all the possible routes to guerrilla victory were closed and, in failing to win, they lost. They finally gave up in discouragement. The routes to victory are:

a) Mao Stage Three: going to all-out conventional war and winning as in China in 1947-49;
b) Political collapse and takeover: North Viet-Nam;
c) Political collapse and a coalition government in which the Communists get control over the security machinery; that is, army and/or police. This has been an evident Viet Cong objective in this war, but the nearest precedents are Eastern European takeovers after 1945, rather than guerrilla war cases.
d) Converting the bargaining pressure generated by the guerrilla forces into a partial victory by splitting the country: Laos. Also, in a sense, North Viet-Nam in 1954 and the Irish Rebellion after the First World War.

3. If we succeed in blocking these four routes to victory, discouraging the Communist force in the South, and making the continuance of the war sufficiently costly to the North there is no reason we cannot win as clear a victory in South Viet-Nam as in Greece, Malaya, and the Philippines. Unless political morale in Saigon collapses and the ARVN tends to break up, case c), the most realistic hope of the VC, should be avoidable. This danger argues for more rather than less pressure on the North, while conducting the battle in the South in such a way as to make VC hopes of military and political progress wane.

4. The objective of the exercise is to convince Hanoi that its bargaining position is being reduced with the passage of time; for, even in the worst case for Hanoi, it wants some bargaining position (rather than simply dropping the war) to get U.S. forces radically reduced in South Viet-Nam and to get some minimum face-saving formula for the VC.

5. I believe Hanoi understands its dilemma well. As of early February it saw a good chance of a quite clean victory via route c). It now is staring at quite clear-cut defeat, with the rising U.S. strength and GVN morale in the South and rising costs in the North. That readjustment in prospects is painful; and they won't, in my view, accept its consequences unless they are convinced time has ceased to be their friend, despite the full use of their assets on the ground in South Viet-Nam, in political warfare around the world, and in diplomacy.

6. Their last and best hope will be, of course, that if they end the war and get us out, the political, social, and economic situation in South VietNam will deteriorate in such a way as to permit Communist political takeover, with or without a revival of guerrilla warfare. It is in this phase that we will have to consolidate, with the South Vietnamese, a victory that is nearer our grasp than we (but not Hanoi) may think.

Rostow had long been a strong bombing advocate, and an outspoken proponent of air attack on elements of the North Vietnamese industrial target system. As early as April 1, he had expressed a conviction that Hanoi attaches a high premium to the maintenance of its industrial establishment and that the optimum U.S. bombing objective should be not the destruction, but the paralysis of the DRV's industrial and urban life. By taking out all the major electric power stations, he believed, Hanoi would be presented "with an immediate desperate economic, social, and political problem which could not be evaded."

In the May memorandum, however, he was not confining his confident expertise to the sphere of targeting strategy, but extending it to the much larger sweep of the U.S. policy objectives in Vietnam. Rostow's grand historic perspective of the road to victory, unfortunately, never focused down upon the nagging practical problem of how the U.S. might "make VC hopes of military and political progress wane" when compelled to fight in behalf of a long-besieged, teetering GVN that was, by this time, hopelessly incapable of coping with the military and political tasks required of it. The critical problem of how to preserve and restore political effectiveness in the GVN never engaged Rostow's serious attention nor, for that matter, that of his contemporaries in the administration.


In line with the April decision to give priority to South Vietnam over North Vietnam in the employment of U.S. air power, a major administration decision was taken after the bombing pause to assign saturation bombing missions in the South to SAC B-52 bombers which had long been alerted, but never used, to attack North Vietnam. General Westmoreland, with Ambassador Taylor's political endorsement, presented his case to CINCPAC in the following terms:

1. During recent months firm intelligence has been collected using all possible sources which confirms existence of various VC headquarters complexes and troop concentrations in RVN. Each of these targets (COSVN, NAMBO, Military Region Hqs, VC battalions in jungle assembly areas, etc.) is spread over a relatively large area and consists of groups of buildings or huts, foxholes, trenches, tunnels, etc., connected by trails. General topography is more suitable for area carpet bombing than for pinpoint tactical fighter weapon delivery. In most areas two and three canopy jungle growth hides surface target. Even if accurate coordinates fixed on maps (with inherent map inaccuracies) or photos, solid jungle canopy provides few reasonable aiming points for delivery aircraft.

2. Operation Black Virgin 1 on 15 April 1965 was an attack on the military component of the Central Office South Vietnam (COSVN), (the main VC military headquarters). 443 sorties were applied against an area of approximately 12 square kilometers, dropping approximately 900 tons of ordnance. As a result of this effort, the existence of the target complex was confirmed by the uncovering of over 100 buildings and the occurrence of several large secondary explosions. We have determined that the attack created a drastic effect within the VC military headquarters. Individual components were disrupted for several days, and even though these components now appear to be functioning again, they have not re-assembled into an integrated headquarters complex as they were before the attack. In spite of the apparent success of the attack we still have no information concerning the number of casualties caused and have only fragmentary information concerning other damage accomplished.

3. During the attack the target area became completely covered by smoke and resulting bomb pattern was spotty. BDA photography shows that as a result, the distribution of bombs throughout the target was poor. Some areas received a heavy concentration of bomb impacts while other parts of the target area received no hits. If an attack could have been launched in which the bombs were evenly distributed, results would have been far more effective. An attack compressed into a shorter period of time would also have been much more likely to kill VC before they could evacuate the area and would have allowed ground troops to enter the area the same day.

4. It is essential that we keep these selected VC headquarters and units under attack. We are developing target information on the headquarters of the 325th PAVN Division, Headquarters Military Region V and Headquarters Military Region VII where current reports indicated a large VC troop build-up. We know from interrogation of VC captives and from agent reports that VC fear air attacks. We also know that their plans can be upset by unexpected events. The best way for us to keep them off balance and prevent large-scale VC attacks is to keep them under constant pressure in their base areas.

5. Continued use of tactical fighters for pattern bombing does not get the job done properly; it diverts them from other important work for which they are better suited; it creates an unacceptable drain on ordnance assets; and it disrupts all SEA air programs in and out of country. We will, of course, continue to use tactical fighters as the major punch against tactical targets which constitute the vast majority of the in-country air requirements, but for attacks on VC base areas, we must provide a capability which will permit us to deliver a well planned pattern of bombs over large areas and preferably within a short period of time.

6. The problem has been discussed with representatives of the Strategic Air Command and believe that their conventional bombing tactics based on pattern bombing techniques are ideally suited to meet this requirement. I strongly recommend, therefore, that as a matter of urgency, we be authorized to employ SAC B-52 aircraft against selected area targets in RVN...

Washington first authorized the use of ARC LIGHT B-52 forces for night photography over target areas in the Kontum and War Zone D regions on May 1. A month later, despite the misgivings of the Air Staff and the SAC commander, the first B-52 bombing raid was authorized (ARC LIGHT I, June 18, 1965) attacking the War Zone D VC stronghold near Saigon. On July 4 and 7 further attacks were undertaken, and ARC LIGHT became a regular bombing program in South Vietnam.

As the weight of air attacks increased significantly in South Vietnam, there was also some rise in the level of air strikes in the North. Combined U.S.-VNAF combat sorties totaled about 3,600 in April, 4,000 in May, and 4,800 in June. USAF aircraft flew less than half the mission. But an analysis by JCS Chairman Wheeler on 4 April and another by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) early in July showed that the strikes had not reduced appreciably North Vietnam's ability to defend its homeland, train its forces, and infiltrate men and supplies into South Vietnam and Laos.

But this rising level of attacks did not satisfy the Air Staff. At the end of June, General McConnell continued to stress the need for more air pressure on Hanoi, saying he was:

more convinced than ever that these [air] operations cannot be divorced from and are the essential key to the eventual defeat of the Viet Cong. In November 1964 . . . [the] JCS unanimously agreed that direct, decisive, action against the DRV was needed immediately. This course of action was not adopted and intelligence reports indicate that the current air strike program, while inconveniencing the DRV had done little to curtail or destroy their will and capability to support the insurgency, largely due to the restraints on the air strike program. In fact, the restraints have provided the DRV with the incentive and opportunity to strengthen both their offensive and defensive capabilities.

So [the] C/S USAF considers an intensified application of air power against key industrial and military targets in North Vietnam essential to the result desired. During the period of time required to introduce more forces, any build-up of and support for the Viet Cong offensive should be denied.
Failing this, more serious difficulties and casualties for U.S. and allied troops can be expected.

McConnell urged again that the Air Force be allowed to strike targets in the 94 target list, as well as others.


At the end of July, in response to a Presidential request, Secretary McNamara undertook a review and evaluation of the bombing program against North Vietnam. The results of this review were forwarded to the President in a memorandum, dated July 30, 1965. Since it represents an effective wrap-up, the memorandum is reproduced in full.

1. Rationale for bombing the North. The program of bombing RVN began in an atmosphere of reprisal. We had had the August Tonkin Gulf episode; we had absorbed the November 1 attack on Bien Hoa Airfield and the Christmas Eve bombing of the Brinks Hotel in Saigon. The attacks at U.S. installations at Pleiku on February 7 and Qui Nhon on February 10 were the immediate causes of the first strikes against North Vietnam. The strike following Pleiku was announced as a "response"--a "reprisal"; our strike following Qui Nhon was called a response to more generalized VC terrorism. The major purposes of the bombing program, however, were:

a. To promote a settlement. The program was designed (1) to influence the DRV to negotiate (explicitly or otherwise), and (2) to provide us with a bargaining counter within negotiations.
b. To interdict infiltration. The program was calculated to reduce the flow of men and supplies from the North to the South-at the least, to put a ceiling on the size of war that the enemy could wage in the South. [Author's Note: This is not entirely accurate; interdiction did not become a program rationale within the Administration until late March, and publicaly not until late April (see Sections VIII and XI.B).] Supplemental purposes of the program were (c) to demonstrate to South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the world the U.S. commitment to see this thing through, (d) to raise morale in South Vietnam by punishing North Vietnam, the source of the suffering in the South, and (e) to reduce criticism of the Administration from advocates of a bombing program.

2. Achievement of major purposes. The potential targets, targets struck and per cent of destruction are shown at Tab A. In terms of the purposes of the program, its results have been as follows:

a. To promote a settlement. Obviously, this objective has not yet been attained. We recognized at the start of the program, as we do now, that the influence of the bombing on a settlement would not be great until the North Vietnamese had been disappointed in their hopes for a quick military success in the South. There is no doubt that the bombing program has become an important counter in the current tacit and explicit bargaining process and will be an important counter in any future bargaining.
b. To interdict infiltration. It is believed that regular North Vietnamese units now in South Vietnam (estimated to be one division) require about 4 tons of supplies daily for the "current" level of combat but would require 67 tons of supplies daily for "light" combat. ("Current" levels are operations conducted largely in small units; "light" combat would involve larger elements in action on the average of every third day, with expenditures of one-third of each unit's basic load of ammunition on each action.) It is believed that regular North Vietnamese units and Pathet Lao forces in the Laos Panhandle require about 21 and 51 tons daily respectively for the two levels of combat. Viet Cong arms, ammunition and other supply requirements are estimated at 8 tons daily for "current" combat and 115 tons for "light" combat. The effect of the interdiction program on the movement of supplies is summarized below:

The 440-ton per day rail traffic from Hanoi south to Vinh has been cut off at Ninh Binh (40 miles south of Hanoi). Supplies still move by sea and over the parallel highway system. The latter has been badly damaged and is subject to armed reconnaissance; sea traffic into SVN is under surveillance. At a minimum, supply is slower and less regular and delivered at increased cost in resources and energy expended. Roads into Laos have been subjected to similar interdiction and armed recce. Only limited interdiction has been imposed on the key rail and road net northwest of Hanoi, and none on the railway net northeast of Hanoi; and port destruction has been minimal. Thus, substantially uninterrupted supply continues from China by rail into Hanoi and by sea into Haiphong to meet major North Vietnamese military, industrial and civilian needs.

The effect of the bombing on military operations is estimated to have been as follows:

(1) For regular North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces. The interdiction program has caused North Vietnam increasing difficulty in supplying their units in Laos and South Vietnam. How severe this difficulty is or how stretched North Vietnam's supply capabilities are cannot be estimated precisely. Our interdiction efforts may have either prevented or deterred the North from sending more troops than they already have. The interdiction programs in North Vietnam and Laos also may have influenced a Communist decision to forego a 1965 offensive in Laos.
(2) For Viet Cong forces. Because the VC require significantly less infiltrated arms and ammunition and other supplies than do the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces, the interdiction program probably has had less of an adverse effect on their operations. By raising VC fears concerning adequacy of supplies, however, the program may have caused the VC summer offensive to be less intense, aggressive and unrelenting than it would otherwise have been.

It should be noted that the program has not been a "strategic" bombing program; it has been limited to selected targets of fairly direct military relevance. Populations and targets such as dikes and basic industries have not been struck. Furthermore, the immediate vicinities of Hanoi and Haiphong have been avoided, partly because the targets there are primarily of the "strategic" type and partly because strikes there would involve even more serious risks of confrontations with the Soviet Union and China.

3. Other effects of the program.

a. Deterrence of VC terrorism. There is no evidence that strikes against North Vietnam have affected one way or another the level or kind of VC incidents of terror in South Vietnam.
b. Morale in South Vietnam. Morale in South Vietnam was raised by the initiation of the bombing program (as, later, by the deployment of additional troops). Now-with the bombing programs having become commonplace and with the failure of the situation to improve-morale in South Vietnam is not discernibly better than it was before the bombing program began. In a sense, South Vietnam is now "addicted" to the program; a permanent abandonment of the program would have a distinct depressing effect on morale in South Vietnam.
c. Reduction of criticism of the Administration. Some critics, who advocated bombing, were silenced; others are now as vocal or more vocal because the program has been too limited for their taste. The program has generated a new school of criticism among liberals and "peace" groups, whose activities have been reflected especially in teach-ins and newspaper criticisms.
d. Damage to peaceful image of the US. The price paid for improving our image as a guarantor has been damage to our image as a country which eschews armed attacks on other nations. The hue and cry correlates with the kind of weapons (e.g., bombs vs. napalm), the kind of targets (e.g., bridges vs. people), the location of targets (e.g., south vs. north), and not least the extent to which the critic feels threatened by Asian communism (e.g., Thailand vs. the UK). Furthermore, for a given level of bombing, the hue and cry is less now than it was earlier, perhaps to some extent helped by Communist intransigence toward discussions. The objection to our "warlike" image and the approval of our fulfilling our commitments competes in the minds of many nations (and individuals) in the world, producing a schizophrenia. Within such allied countries as UK and Japan, popular antagonism to the bombings per Se, fear of escalation and belief that the bombings are the main obstacle to negotiation, have created political problems for the governments in their support of US policy.
e. Pressures to settle. More countries are now, as a consequence of the bombing program, more interested in taking steps to help bring the war to an end.
f. Impact on US-Soviet detente. The bombing program--because it appears to reject the policy of "peaceful co-existence," because it involves an attack on a "fellow socialist country," because the Soviet people have vivid horrible memories of air bombing, because it challenges the USSR as she competes with China for leadership of the Communist world, and because US and Soviet arms are now striking each other in North Vietnam--has strained the US-Soviet detente, making constructive arms control and other cooperative programs more difficult. How serious this effect will he and whether the detente can be revived depend on how far we carry our military actions against the North and how long the campaign continues. At the same time, the bombing program offers the Soviet Union an opportunity to play a role in bringing peace to Vietnam, by gaining credit for persuading us to terminate the program. There is a chance that the scenario could spin out this way; if so, the effect of the entire experience on the US-Soviet detente could be a net plus.
g. Risk of escalation. The bombing program--especially as strikes move toward Hanoi and toward China and as encounters with Soviet/ Chinese SAMs/MIGs occur--may increase the risk of escalation into a broader war.

4. The future of the program. Even with hindsight, I believe the decision to bomb the DRV was wise and I believe the program should be continued. The future program should:

a. Emphasize the threat. It should be structured to capitalize on fear of future attacks. At any time, "pressure" on the DRV depends not upon the current level of bombing but rather upon the credible threat of future destruction which can be avoided by agreeing to negotiate or agreeing to some settlement in negotiations.
b. Minimize the loss of DRV "face." The program should be designed to make it politically easy for the DRV to enter negotiations and to make concessions during negotiations. It may be politically easier for North Vietnam to accept negotiations and/or to make concessions at a time when bombing of their territory is not currently taking place.
c. Optimize interdiction vs. political costs. Interdiction should be carried out so as to maximize effectiveness and to minimize the political repercussions from the methods used. Physically, it makes no difference whether a rifle is interdicted on its way into North Vietnam, on its way out of North Vietnam, in Laos or in South Vietnam. But different amounts of effort and different political prices may be paid depending on how and where it is done. The critical variables in this regard are (1) the type of targets struck (e.g., port facilities involving civilian casualties vs. isolated bridges), (2) type of aircraft (e.g., B-52s vs. F-lOSs), (3) kind of weapons (e.g., napalm vs. ordinary bomb), (4) location of target (e.g., in Hanoi vs. Laotian border area), and (5) the accompanying declaratory policy (e.g., unlimited vs. a defined interdiction zone).
d. Coordinate with other influences on the DRV. So long as full victory in the South appears likely, the effect of the bombing program in promoting negotiations or a settlement will probably be small. The bombing program now and later should be designed for its influence on the DRV at that unknown time when the DRV becomes more optimistic about what they can achieve in a settlement acceptable to us than about what they can achieve by continuation of the war.
e. Avoid undue risks and costs. The program should avoid bombing which runs a high risk of escalation into war with the Soviets or China and which is likely to appall allies and friends.

Go back to the First Section of Volume 3, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965," pp. 269-388

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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