Section 1, pp. 1-58
1 Jul 65 Under SecState George Ball memo to the President
Ball argues for "cutting our losses" in Vietnam and negotiating an end to the war. A massive US intervention would likely require complete achievement of our objectives or humiliation, both at terrible costs.
Rusk memo to the President
US had to defend South Vietnam from aggression even with US troops to validate the reliability of the US commitment.
McNamara DPM (revised 20 Jul)
The gravity of the military situation required raising 3rd country troops in SVN from 16 to 44 battalions and intensifying the air war through the mining of Haiphong and other ports, destruction of rail and road bridges from China, and destruction of MIG air fields and SAM sites.
2 Jul 65 JCSM 515-65
The JCS advocate virtually the same air war program as the DPM adding only attacks on "war-making" supplies and facilities. Sorties should increase from 2,000 to 5,000.
13 Jul 65 McNaughton draft memo
Negotiations are unlikely, but even 200,000-400,000 men may only give us a 50-50 chance of a win by 1968; infiltration routes should be hit hard to put a "ceiling" on infiltration.
14-21 Jul 65 McNamara trip to Vietnam
After a week in Vietnam, McNamara returned with a softened version of the DPM.
20 Jul 65 McNamara memo to the President
Backing away from his 1 July views, McNamara recommended mining the harbors only as a "severe reprisal." Sorties should be raised to 4,000. Political improvement a must in SVN; low-key diplomacy to lay the groundwork for a settlement.
30 Jul 65 McNamara memo for the President
Future bombing policy should emphasize the threat, minimize DRV loss of face, optimize interdiction over political costs, be coordinated with other pressures on the DRV, and avoid undue risks of escalation.
4-6 Aug 65 McNamara before Senate Armed Services and Appropriation Comte and HASC.
McNamara justifies the Administration's bombing restraint, pointing to the risk of escalation in attacks on POL, airfields or Hanoi-Haiphong areas.
2 Sep 65 JCSM-670-65
The JCS recommend air strikes against "lucrative" NVN targets--POL, power plants, etc.
15 Sep 65 McNamara memo to CJCS
JCSM 670 is rejected as a dangerous escalatory step.
12 Oct 65 Amb. Thompson memo to McNamara
Thompson, discussing the possibility of a pause, notes need to tell Hanoi we'd resume if the effort failed.
3 Nov 65 McNamara memo to the President
McNamara urges the approval of the bombing "pause" he had first suggested in his 20 Jul memo to test NVN's intentions.
9 Nov 65 State Dept. memo to the President
A State memo to the President, written by U. Alexis Johnson with Rusk's endorsement, opposes a pause at a time when Hanoi has given no sign of willingness to talk. It would waste an important card and give them a chance to blackmail us about resumption.
10 Nov 65 JCSM-810-65
The Chiefs propose a systematic air attack on the NVN POL storage and distribution network.
17 Nov 56 DIA memo to McNamara
General Carroll (Dir. DIA) gives an appraisal of the bombing with few bright spots.
28-29 Nov 65 McNamara-Wheeler trip to Vietnam
McNamara and General Wheeler make a hurried trip to Vietnam to consider force increases.
30 Nov 65 McNamara report to the President
Among other parts of the report, McNamara urges a pause in the bombing to prepare the American public for future escalations and to give Hanoi a last chance to save face.
1 Dec 65 W. Bundy draft memo to the President
Bundy summarizes the pros and cons with respect to a pause and concludes against it.
3 Dec 65 McNaughton memo
McNaughton favors a "hard-line" pause with resumption unless the DRV stopped infiltration and direction of the war, withdrew infiltrators, made the VC stop attacks and stopped interfering with the GVN's exercise of its functions.
6 Dec 65 State Dept. memo to the President
Rusk having apparently been convinced, this new draft by Bundy and Johnson recommends a pause.
8 Dec 65 McNamara memo to the President
McNamara states that he is giving consideration to the JCS proposal for attacking the NVN POL system.
24 Dec 65 State msg 1786 to Lodge
The bombing pause begins. It lasts for 37 days until the 31st of January.
26 Dec 65 CINCPAC msg 262159Z Dec 65
CINCPAC, dissenting from the pause from the outset, argues for the resumption of the bombing promptly.
27 Dec 65 MACV msg 45265
Westmoreland argues that "immediate resumption is essential."
28 Dec 65 Helms memo to DepSecDef Vance
Estimates that neither the Soviets nor Chinese will actively intervene in the war if the POL system is attacked.
12 Jan 66 CINCPAC msg 120205Z Jan 66
Admiral Sharp urges that the bombing be resumed at substantially higher levels immediately.
15 Jan 66 Bundy "Scenario for Possible Resumption"
Bundy urges that the resumption be at a low level building up again gradually before major new targets like POL are struck.
18 Jan 66 JCSM-41-66
". . . offensive air operations against NVN should be resumed now with a sharp blow and thereafter maintained with uninterrupted, increasing pressure." Specifically, the Chiefs called for immediate mining of the ports.
McNaughton draft, "Some Observations about Bombing . . ."
Purposes of the bombing are (1) to interdict infiltration; (2) to bring about negotiation; (3) to provide a bargaining counter; and (4) to sustain GVN morale.
24 Jan 66 McNamara memo to the President
McNamara, drawing on the language of McNaughton's earlier memo, recommends resumption with sorties to rise gradually to 4,000 per month and stabilize. Promises are all cautious.
25 Jan 66 Ball memo to the President
Ball warns that resumption will pose a grave danger of starting a war with China. He points to the self-generating pressure of the bombing for escalation, shows its ineffectiveness and warns of specific potential targets such as mining the harbors.
31 Jan 66 Bombing resumes
After 37 days the bombing is resumed but with no spectacular targets.
4 Feb 66 SNIE 10-1-66
This special estimate states that increasing the scope and intensity of bombing, including attacks on POL, would not prevent DRV support of higher levels of operations in 1966.
19 Feb 66 JCSM 113-66
The Chiefs urge a sharp escalation of the air war with maximum shock effect.
1 Mar 66 JCSM 130-66
Focusing their recommendations on POL, the Chiefs call it "highest priority action not yet approved." It would have a direct effect in cutting infiltration.
10 Mar 66 JCSM 153-66
Again attacks on POL are urged.
late Mar 66 McNamara memo to the President
This memo to the President contained McNamara's bombing recommendations for April which included hitting 7 of 9 JCS recommended POL storage sites.
28 Mar 66 White House Tuesday Lunch
McNamara's POL recommendation is deferred by the President because of political turmoil in SVN.
9 Apr 66 White House Review
A general policy review at the White House includes most of the second-level members of the Administration. Meetings and paper drafting continued until the political crisis in SVN abated in mid-April.
14 Apr 66 JCSM 238-66
The JCS forwarded a voluminous study of the bombing that recommends a much expanded campaign to hit the Haiphong POL, mine the harbors, hit the airfields.
16 Apr 66 Policy debate continues
The high-level policy review continues. Bundy, McNaughton, Carver & Unger draft position papers on the alternatives if the GVN collapses.
26 Apr 66 JCS msg 9326
CINCPAC is informed that RT5O will not include the POL.
27 Apr 66 Taylor memo to the President
General Taylor in a major memo to the President discusses the problem of negotiations describing the bombing and other US military actions as "blue chips" to be bargained away at the negotiation table not given away as a precondition beforehand.
4 May 66 W. Bundy memo to Rusk
Bundy, commenting on Taylor's "blue chip" memo takes a harder position on what we should get for a bombing halt-i.e. both an end of infiltration and a cessation of VC/NVA military activity in the South.
6 May 66 W. W. Rostow memo to Rusk and McNamara
Rostow urges the attack on POL based on the results such attacks produced against Germany in W.W. II.
10 May 66 CINCPAC msg 100730Z May 66
Admiral Sharp again urges the authorization of POL attacks.
22 May 66 MACV msg 17603
General Westmoreland supports CINCPAC's request for strikes on the POL system.
3 Jun 66 UK PM Wilson opposes POL State Dept msg 48 to Oslo.
The President, having decided sometime at the end of May to approve the POL attacks, informs UK PM Wilson. Wilson urges the President to reconsider.
7 Jun 66 Brussels msg 87
Rusk, travelling in Europe, urges the President to defer the POL decision because of the forthcoming visit of Canadian Ambassador Ronning to Hanoi and the possibility of some peace feeler.
8 Jun 66 CIA SC No. 08440/66
It is estimated that the neutralization of the bulk petroleum storage facilities in NVN will not in itself preclude Hanoi's continued support of essential war activities."
14 Jun 66 CJNCPAC msg 140659Z Jun 66
Having been informed of high level consideration of the POL strikes by McNamara, CINCPAC assures they will cause under 50 civilian casualties.
14-18 Jun 66 Ronning Mission
Canadian Ambassador Ronning goes to Hanoi and confers with top DRV leaders. He returns with no message or indication of DRV interest in talks.
22 Jun 66 JCS msg 5003
CINCPAC is ordered to strike the POL at first light on 24 June.
24 Jun 66 POL deferred
Bad weather forces rescheduling of the strikes for 25 June.
25 Jun 66 JCS msg 5311
The POL execute order is rescinded because of a press leak.
28 Jun 66 JCS msg 5414
The POL order is reinstated for 29 June.
29 Jun 66 POL attacks
At long last the POL facilities are struck with initially highly positive damage reports.
8 Jul 66 ROLLING THUNDER Conference in Honolulu
After having been briefed by CINCPAC on the effects of the POL strikes to date, McNamara informs Admiral Sharp that the President wants first priority given to strangulation of the NVNPOL system.
CINCPAC msg 080730Z Jul 66
RT 51 specifies a program for intensive attacks on POL as 1st priority.
24 Jul 66 CINCPAC msg 242069Z Jul 66
As a part of a comprehensive attack on POL storage, Sharp recommends attacks on Kep and Phuc Yen airfields.
1 Aug 66 DIA Special intelligence
70% of NVN's large bulk POL storage capacity has been destroyed along with 7% of its dispersed storage.
4 Aug 66 SNIE 13-66
NVN was using the POL attacks as a lever to extract more aid from the Chinese and the Soviets.
13-14 Aug 66 Westmoreland sees LBJ
General Westmoreland spends two days at the ranch conferring with the President on the progress of the war and new troop requirements.
20 Aug 66 CJNCPAC msg 202226Z Aug 66
CINCPAC emphatically opposes any standdown, pause or reduction in the air war.
29 Aug 66 JASON studies
IDA's JASON Division submits four reports on the war done by a special study group of top scientists who stress the ineffectiveness of the bombing, including POL, and recommend the construction of an anti-infiltration barrier across northern South Vietnam and Laos.
3 Sep 66 McNamara memo to CJCS
McNamara requests the views of the Chiefs on the proposed barrier.
4 Sep 66 CINCPAC msg 042059Z Sep 66
RT is redirected from a primary POL emphasis to "attrition of men, supplies, equipment . . . "
8 Sep 66 CM-1732-66
General Wheeler agrees to the creation of a special project for the barrier under General Starbird, but expresses concern that funding of the program not be at the expense of other activities.
12 Sep 66 Joint CJA/DIA Assessment of POL Bombing
The intelligence community turns in an overwhelmingly negative appraisal of the effect of POL attacks. No POL shortages are evident, and in general the bombing has not created insurmountable transportation difficulties, economic dislocations, or weakening of popular morale.
13 Sep 66 CINCPAC msg 130705Z
CINCPAC ridicules the idea of a barrier
15 Sep 66 McNamara memo to Lt Gen Starbird
Starbird is designated as the head of a Joint Task Force for the barrier.
7 Oct 66 JCSM 646-66
In a report on the US world-wide force posture the Chiefs express grave concern at the thinness with which manpower is stretched. They recommend mobilization of the reserves.
10-13 Oct 66 McNamara trip to Vietnam
McNamara, Katzenbach, Wheeler, Komer, McNaughton and others spend three days in Vietnam on a Presidental fact-finder.
14 Oct 66 McNamara memo to the President
With Katzenbach's concurrence, McNamara recommended only 40,000 more troops and the stabilization of the air war. Noting the inability of the bombing to interdict infiltration, he recommended the barrier to the President. To improve the negotiating climate he proposed either a bombing pause or shifting it away from the northern cities.
The Chiefs disagree with virtually every McNamara recommendation. In addition they urge an escalatory 'sharp knock" against NVN.
15 Oct 66 George Carver memo for Dir., CIA
Carver concurs in McNamara's assessment of the bombing and agrees with its stabilization at about 12,000 sorties per month but urges the closing of Haiphong port.
23-25 Oct 66 Manila Conference
The President meets with the heads of government of all the troop contributing nations and agreed positions on the war and the framework of its settlement are worked out. In a private conference, Westmoreland opposes any curtailment of the bombing and urges its expansion. He seemed to have reluctantly accepted the barrier concept.
4 Nov 66 JCSM 702-66
The Chiefs in forwarding the CINCPAC force proposals add a rationale of their own for the bombing: to "make it as difficult and costly as possible" for NVN to continue the war, thereby giving it an incentive to end it.
8 Nov 66 Off-Year Election
In an off-year election, the peace candidates in both parties are all resoundingly defeated.
11 Nov 66 McNamara memo to CJCS
The President approved only the modest McNamara force increases and ordered a stabilization of the air war.
17 Nov 66 McNamara DPM on Supplemental Appropriations
McNamara describes for the President the failure of the bombing to reduce infiltration below the essential minimum to sustain current levels of combat in SVN. He argues for the barrier as an alternative.
22 Nov 66 JCSMv727-66
The Chiefs once again oppose holiday standdowns for Christmas, New Year's and Tet citing the massive advantage of them taken by the DRV during the 37-day pause.
13-14 Dec 66 Hanoi attacks hit civilian areas
A series of air attacks on targets in Hanoi in early Dec. culminated in heavy strikes on Dec. 13-14. In the immediate aftermath, the DRV and other communist countries claimed extensive damage in civilian areas. The attacks came at a time when contacts with the DRV through the Poles apparently had appeared promising.
23 Dec 66 10-mile Hanoi prohibited area established
In response to the worldwide criticism for the attacks on civilian areas, a 10-n.m. prohibited area around Hanoi was established with a similar zone for Haiphong. Henceforth attacks within it could only be by specific Presidential authorization.
24 Dec 66 48-hour truce
A 48-hour truce and bombing pause is observed.
31 Dec 66 New Year's truce
A second 48-hour truce is observed. Heavy communist resupply efforts are observed during the standdown.
2 Jan 67 MACV msg 00163
Westmoreland opposes the Tet truce based on VC violations of the two truces just completed.
4 Jan 67 CINCPAC msg 040403Z Jan 67
CINCPAC endorses Westmoreland's opposition to the Tet truce.
The Chiefs note the heavy DRV resupply during the two truces and oppose the proposed 96-hour Tet truce.
18 Jan 67 JCSM-25-67
The Chiefs renew their opposition to the Tet truce.
CINCPAC msg 182210Z Jan 67
Admiral Sharp recommends six priority targets for RT in 1967: (1) electric power, (2) the industrial plant, (3) the transportation system in depth, (4) military complexes, (5) POL, (6) Haiphong and the other ports.
25 Jan 67 CINCPAC msg 252126Z Jan 67
Sharp again urges the attack of Haiphong and an intensified overall campaign.
28 Jan 67 RT 53
No new target categories are approved.
1 Feb 67 CINCPAC msg 012005Z Feb 67
Keeping up his barrage of cables, Sharp urges the closing of Xhe NVN ports by aerial mining.
2 Feb 67 Marks (Dir., USIA) memo to Rusk
Marks proposes extending the Tet truce for 12 to 24 hours in an effort to get negotiations started.
The Chiefs propose the mining of selected inland waterways and selected coastal areas to inhibit internal sea transportation in NVN.
3 Feb 67 McNaughton "Scenario"
A handwritten "Scenario" for the pause by McNaughton which notes McNamara's approval calls for extension of the Tet truce to 7 days to get negotiations started.
8 Feb 67 President's letter to Ho Chi Minh
The President invites Ho to indicate what reciprocity he might expect from a bombing halt. The letter is transmitted in Moscow Feb. 8.
8-14 Feb 67 Tet truce
While this truce was in effect frantic efforts were undertaken by UK PM Wilson and Premier Kosygin in London to get peace talks started. In the end these failed because the enormous DRV resupply effort forces the President to resume the bombing after having first extended the pause.
15 Feb 67 Ho Chi Minh letter to President
Replying to the President's letter, Ho rejects the US conditions and reiterates that unconditional cessation of the bombing must precede any talks.
19 Feb 67 Moscow msg 3568
Amb. Thompson indicates the Soviets would react extremely adversely to the mining of Haiphong.
21 Feb 67 Vance memo to Katzenbach
Vance sends Katzenbach a package of proposals for the President's night reading. Eight categories of new targets are analyzed; none can seriously undercut the flow of supplies South.
W. Bundy memo
Bundy notes that mining of the waterways and coastal areas of the DRV panhandle could be approved without the mining of Haiphong.
Maxwell Taylor memo to the President
Taylor again considers the question of ceasefire, political settlement and sequencing of agreements. No direct bearing on the situation.
22 Feb 67 Mining waterways approved
The President approved the aerial mining of the waterways and the attack on the Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel works.
27 Feb 67 1st aerial mining
The first aerial mining of the waterways begins.
10 Mar 67 Thai Nguyen plant struck
The Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel complex is hit for the first time.
Bundy gives Thieu assurances
Bundy in Saigon sees Thieu with Lodge and assures him the President believes that more pressure must be applied in the North before Ho will change his position.
20-21 Mar 67 Guam Conference
The President leads a full delegation to a conference with Thieu and Ky. Questions of constitutional progress and war progress in the South dominate the discussions. During the conference Ho releases the exchange of letters during Tet. A decision to base B-52s in Thailand is also taken.
8 Apr 67 RT 55
RT 55 includes the Kep airfield, Hanoi power transformer and other industrial sites.
20 Apr 67 JCSM 218-67
The Chiefs endorse Westmoreland's request for 100,000 more troops and 3 more tactical fighter squadrons to keep up the pressure on the North.
Haiphong power plants struck
After numerous weather aborts, the two Haiphong power plants are struck for the 1st time.
24 Apr 67 Airfields attacked
Two MIG fields come under first-time attack shortly after their authorization.
R. W. Komer memo
Komer leaves behind some views on the war as he leaves for Vietnam. Negotiations are now unlikely, but bombing won't make Hanoi give in, hence the "critical variable is in the South."
Moscow msg 4566
Amb. Thompson reports the bad effect of the recent Haiphong attacks on Soviet attitudes.
27 Apr 67 Westmoreland sees the President
Back in the US to speak to LBJ about his troop request and address Congress, Westy tells Johnson, "I am frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing. . . ."
1 May 67 W. Bundy memo to Katzenbach
As a part of the policy review in progress since 24 April, Bundy writes a strategy paper opposing more bombing (among other things) because of the likely adverse international effects.
4 May 67 SNIE 11-11-67
Soviets will likely increase aid to the DRV but not help get the conflict to the negotiating table.
McGeorge Bundy letter to the President
Bundy argues for a ceiling on the US effort in Vietnam and no further escalation of the air war, particularly the mining of Haiphong harbor.
5 May 67 CM-3218-67
General Wheeler takes sharp exception to Bundy's views. Haiphong is the single most valuable and vulnerable NVN target yet unstruck. Also explains the rationale for the attack on the NVN power grid.
5 May 67 McNaughton DPM
As a part of the policy review, McNaughton drafts a proposal for cutting the bombing back to 20°. The action was to enhance military effectiveness not improve negotiation prospects, which were dim.
6 May 67 W. W. Rostow memo
After considering three options: closing Haiphong, heavier attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong area and restriction of bombing to the panhandle only, Rostow recommended concentrating on the panhandle while holding open the option to up the ante farther north if we desired later.
8 May 67 W. Bundy memo
Bundy considers five different bombing packages and finally favors levelling off at current levels with no new targets and more concentration on the panhandle.
12 May 67 CIA Memo Nos. 0642/67 and 0643/67
The bombing has not eroded NVN morale, materially degraded NVN ability to support the war, nor significantly eroded the industrial-military base.
16 May 67 Hanoi power plant authorized
As the debate continues, the President approves the Hanoi power plant.
19 May 67 Hanoi power plant bombed
The power plant, 1 mile from the center of Hanoi, is hit for the first time.
McNamara DPM (given to the President)
McNamara considered two courses: approval of the military recommendations for escalation in both North and South; de-escalation in the North (20°) and only 30,000 troops in the South. In spite of unfavorable negotiations climate, the second course is recommended because costs and risks of the 1st course were too
20 May 67 JCSM 286-67
The Chiefs rebut the DPM and call for expansion of the air war to include attacks on all airfields, all port complexes, all land and sea lines of communication in the Hanoi-Haiphong area, and mining of coastal harbors and coastal waters."
McNamara asks CJCS, Dir. CIA, SecNav, and SecAF to analyze (a) cutting back bombing to 20°; and (b) intensifying attacks on LOCs in route packages 6A and 6B but terminating them against industrial targets.
23 May 67 CIA memo 0649/67
CIA opposes the mining of the harbors as too provocative for the Soviets.
26 May 67 CIA memo
With the recent attacks on NVN's power grid 87% of national capacity had been destroyed.
1 Jun 67 JCSM 307-67
The Chiefs take strong exception to the DPM noting its inconsistency with NSAM 288 and the jeopardy into which it would place national objectives in SEA because of the radical and conceptually unsound military methods it proposed, including any curtailment of the bombing.
Helms letter to McNamara
Responding to McNamara's May 20 request for analysis of two bombing options, Helms states neither will cut down the flow of men and supplies enough "to decrease Hanoi's determination to persist in the war."
2 Jun 67 W. Bundy memo
Bundy, like the Chiefs, rejected the reformulation of objectives in the May 19 DPM. He leaves aside the question of the courses of action to be followed.
The Chiefs, replying to McNamara's May 20 request, again reject all suggestions for a cutback in the bombing.
SecNav memo to McNamara
The Secretary of the Navy concluded, in reply to the May 20 request, that the cutback to the panhandle would be marginally more productive than the current campaign.
3 Jun 67 SecAF memo to McNamara
Harold Brown favored the expanded campaign against LOCs in northern NVN in his reply to McNamara's May 20 request.
8 Jun 67 Katzenbach memo to McNamara
Katzenbach favors concentrating the bombing against LOCs throughout the country and abandoning attacks on "strategic" targets.
11 Jun 67 Kep Airfield struck
The Kep airfield comes under attack for the 1st time and ten MIGs are destroyed.
12 Jun 67 McNamara DPM
Three bombing programs are offered: (a) intensified attacl on Hanoi-Haiphong logistical base; (b) emphasis south of 20°; (c) extension of the current program. McNamara, Vance & SecNav favor B; JCS favor A; SecAF favors C.
15 Jun 67 INR memo to Rusk
Hanoi was possibly reconsidering the desirability of negotiations.
17 Jun 67 Saigon msg 28293
Bunker doubts the effectiveness of bombing at interdiction and therefore urges the rapid completion of the barrier.
21 Jun 67 CINCPAC msg 210430Z Jun 67
Sharp argues that results of the bombing in recent months demonstrate its effectiveness and are a powerful argument for its expansion.
23-25 Jun 67 Glassboro Conference
President Johnson meets Soviet Premier Kosygin at Glassboro, N.J. No breakthrough on the war.
3 Jul 67 SecAF memo to McNamara
In a lengthy analytical memo Brown argues for option C, a general expansion of the bombing.
5 Jul 67 JCSM 382 -67
The Chiefs reject a Canadian proposal to exchange a bombing halt for re-demilitarization of the DMZ.
7-11 Jul 67 McNamara trip to Vietnam
During McNamara's five day trip, CINCPAC argues against any further limitation of the bombing.
18 Jul 67 JCS msg 1859
RT 57 will be only a limited extension of previous targets. No cutback is planned.
9 Aug 67 Addendum to RT 57
Sixteen JCS fixed targets are added to RT 57 including six within the 10-mile Hanoi zone.
9-25 Aug 67 Stennis Hearings
The Senate Preparedness Subcommittee hears two weeks of testimony on the air war from Wheeler, Sharp, McConnell and finally McNamara. The committee's report condemns the Administration's failure to follow military advice.
11-12 Aug 67 Hanoi struck
Several of the newly authorized Hanoi targets, including the Paul Doumer Bridge are struck.
19 Aug 67 Attacks on Hanoi suspended
CINCPAC is ordered to suspend attacks on Hanoi's 10-mile zone from 24 Aug to 4 Sep.
20 Aug 67 Largest attack of the war
209 sorties are flown, the highest number in the war to date.
21 Aug 67 US aircraft lost over China
Two US planes are shot down over China after having strayed off course.
1 Sep 67 President's press conference
The President denies any policy rift within the Administration on the bombing.
7 Sep 67 Hanoi prohibition extended
The prohibition of attack in the 10-mile Hanoi zone is extended indefinitely.
10 Sep 67 Campha port struck
For the first time the port of Campha is struck including its docks.
20 Sep 67 CINCPAC msg 202352Z Sep 67
CINCPAC recommends hitting the MIGs at Phuc Yen air field and air defense controls at Bac Mai.
21 Sep 67 CINCPAC msg 210028Z Sep 67
Sharp urges lifting the 10-mile prohibition around Hanoi.
22 Sep 67 CM-2660-67
General Johnson (Acting CJCS) agrees with CINCPAC: hit Phuc Yen and Bac Mai and lift the 10-mile restriction.
29 Sep 67 San Antonio Formula
The President offers a new basis for stopping the bombing in a San Antonio speech: assurance of productive discussions and that no advantage will be taken of the cessation.
6 Oct 67 CM-2679-67
Specific authority to hit the Hanoi power plant is requested.
8 Oct 67 CINCPAC msg 080762Z Oct 67
Sharp again requests authority to strike Phuc Yen.
17 Oct 67 JCSM 555-67
Reviewing the objectives and limitations of the bombing policy for the President, the Chiefs recommended ten new measures against NVN including mining the ports and removal of all current restrictions on the bombing.
20 Oct 67 San Antonio Formula rejected
In an interview with a western communist journalist, NVN's Foreign Minister rejects the San Antonio formula.
21 Oct 67 Pentagon anti-war demonstration
A massive demonstration in Washington against the war ends with a 50,000-man march on the Pentagon.
23 Oct 67 JCSM 567-67
The Chiefs oppose any holiday standdowns or pauses at year's end.
JCS msg 9674
Phuc Yen authorized for attack.
25 Oct 67 Phuc Yen struck
Phuc Yen is hit for the 1st time.
27 Oct 67 CM-2707-67
Wheeler proposes reducing the Hanoi-Haiphong prohibited areas to 3 and 1.5 n.m. respectively.
9 Nov 67 Reduction of Hanoi-Haiphong zones refused
The White House lunch rejects the proposal to reduce the Hanoi- Haiphong prohibited zones.
16 Nov 67 Haiphong bombed
Haiphong's #2 shipyard is hit for the 1st time.
17 Nov 67 Bac Mai hit
Bac Mai airfield near the center of Hanoi is struck for the 1st time.
22 Nov 67 SEACABIN Study
A joint ISA/JS study of the likely DRV reaction to a bombing halt lays stress on the risks to the US.
27 Nov 67 JCSM-663-67
The Chiefs present a plan for the next four months that calls for mining the harbors and lifting all restrictions on Hanoi-Haiphong, except in a 3 and 1.5 n.m. zone respectively. In all, 24 new targets are recommended.
28 Nov 67 McNamara's resignation
McNamara's resignation leaks to the press.
14-15 Dec 67 Hanoi RR Bridge struck
The Paul Doumer island highway bridge in Hanoi is struck again.
16 Dec 67 Rusk-McNamara agreement on new targets
The two secretaries reach agreement on ten of the 24 new targets proposed by the Chiefs in late Nov.
IDA JASON Study
IDA's JASON Division again produces a study of the bombing that emphatically rejects it as a tool of policy.
Noting that the SEACABIN study did not necessarily reflect JCS views, the Chiefs advise against any bombing halt.
22 Dec 67 Pope asks bombing halt
The Pope calls on both sides to show restraint and on the US to halt the bombing in an effort to start negotiations. The President visits him the next day to reject the idea.
24 Dec 67 Christmas truce
A 24-hour Christmas truce is observed.
31 Dec 67 New Year's truce
Another 24-hour truce.
1 Jan 67 CINCPAC msg 010156Z Jan 68
CINCPAC's year end wrapup asserts RT was successful because of materiel destroyed, and manpower diverted to military tasks.
2 Jan 68 COMUSMACV msg 02891
Westmoreland describes the bombing as "indispensable" in cutting the flow of supplies and sustaining his men's morale.
3 Jan 68 ICS msg 6402
Bombing is completely prohibited again within 5 n.m. of Hanoi and Haiphong, apparently related to a diplomatic effort.
16 Jan 68 White House meeting
Two new targets are authorized but the 5 n.m. zones are reaffirmed.
25 Jan 68 Clifford testimony
Clark Clifford in his confirmation hearings states that "no advantage" means normal resupply may continue.
29 Jan 68 Tet truce begins
The Tet truce begins but is broken almost immediately by communist attacks.
31 Jan 68 Tet offensive
The VC/NVA attack all major towns and cities, invade the US Embassy and the Presidential Palace. Hue is occupied and held well into Feb.
3 Feb 68 JCSM 78-68
Citing the Tet offensive, the Chiefs ask for reduction of the restricted zones to 3 and 1.5 n.m.
5 Feb 68 Warnke memo to McNamara
Warnke opposes the reduction of the sanctuary because of the danger of civilian casualties. Reduction not approved.
10 Feb 68 Haiphong struck
After a month of restriction, Haiphong is again struck.
23-25 Feb 67 Wheeler visits Vietnam
Gen. Wheeler at the President's direction goes to Vietnam and confers with Westmoreland on required reinforcements.
27 Feb 68 Wheeler Report
Wheeler endorses Westmoreland's request for 200,000 more men.
Hanoi unlikely to seek negotiations but rather will press the military campaign.
28 Feb 68 Clifford Group
The President asks Clifford to conduct a high-level "A to Z" review of US policy in Vietnam. The Group meets at the Pentagon and work begins. It continues until a DPM is finally agreed
29 Feb 68 W. Bundy memo to Warnke, et al.
Bundy considers several alternative courses including mining the harbors and all-out bombing. Without indicating a preference he indicates no unacceptably adverse Soviet or Chinese reaction to any course except invasion.
Taylor memo to the President
Taylor proposes three possible packages of responses to Tet and Westmoreland's request. All three called for removal of the San Antonio formula and no new negotiating initiative.
1 Mar 68 Moscow msg 2983
Thompson gives his assessment of Soviet reactions to various US actions. ". . . any serious escalation except in South Vietnam would trigger strong Soviet response
3 Mar 68 DPM
The 3 Mar. draft memo rejects any bombing escalation, particularly mining the harbors or reducing the Hanoi-Haiphong restriction circles. It also rejects Westmoreland's troop requests.
Clifford Group meeting
The Clifford Group rejects the DPM's "demographic frontier" tactical concept for SVN and is divided about the bombing. Wheeler is adamant for an escalation.
4 Mar 68 DPM
A new draft is completed and Clifford sends it to the President. It proposes no new peace initiative and includes both the JCS proposal for escalation of the bombing, and the ISA position that it should be stabilized. In transmitting the DPM, Clifford apparently also suggested to the President the idea of halting the bombing north of 20°, an idea discussed in the Clifford group.
4 Mar 68 SecAF memo to Nitze
Brown presents three alternative air war escalations that might produce better results.
5 Mar 68 Rusk "Draft Statement"
A note to Wheeler for information from Clifford transmits a "draft statement" by Rusk announcing a bombing halt north of 20°. An attached rationale does not foresee negotiations resulting but indicates the time is opportune because of forthcoming bad weather over much of NVN.
11 Mar 68 New Hampshire Primary
President Johnson only narrowly defeats Eugene McCarthy in a great moral victory for anti-Administration doves.
16 Mar 68 Kennedy announces
Robert Kennedy, spurred by the New Hampshire results, announces for the Presidency.
An ISA draft memo that never gets SecDef signature proposes the concentration of the bombing south of 20° on the infiltration routes, with only enough sorties northward to prevent relocation of DRV air defenses to the south.
18-19 Mar 68 "Senior Informal Advisory Group"
Nine prestigious former Presidential advisors gather at the White House for briefings on the Vietnam situation. After hearing a report from State, DoD and CIA, they recommended against further escalation in favor of greater efforts to get peace talks started.
22 Mar 68 Westmoreland reassigned
The President announced that Westmoreland would return to become CofS Army in the summer.
25-26 Mar 68 Abrams confers with the President
General Abrams, Dep COMUSMACV, returns unexpectedly to Washington and confers with the President. He is presumably told of his new assignment to replace Westmoreland and of the President's decision for a partial bombing halt.
30 Mar 68 State msg 139431
US Ambassadors to the allied countries are informed of the forthcoming announcement of a partial bombing halt. The likelihood of a DRV response is discounted.
31 Mar 68 The President withdraws
The President announces the partial bombing halt on nationwide TV and ends his speech with the surprise announcement of his own withdrawal as a candidate for re-election.
1. JULY 1965-DECEMBER 1966
A. JULY 1965 TO THE YEAR-END BOMBING PAUSE
1. Introduction--Where We Stood At Mid-Summer
By the summer of 1965, a U.S. campaign of sustained, almost daily air strikes against NVN was well underway, with token GVN participation. Most of the important bombing policy issues had been settled, and the general outlines of the campaign had become clear. Military proposals to seek a quick and decisive solution to the Vietnam War through bombing NVN--proposals which called for an intensive campaign to apply maximum practicable military pressure in a short time--had been entertained and rejected. Instead, what was undertaken was a graduated program, nicknamed ROLLING THUNDER, definitely ascending in tempo and posing a potential threat of heavy bombing pressure, but starting low and stretching out over a prolonged period.
U.S. decision-makers apparently accepted the military view that a limited, gradual program would exert less pressure upon NVN than a program of heavy bombing from the outset, and they apparently granted that less pressure was less likely to get NVN to scale down or call off the insurgency, or enter into reasonable negotiations. They felt, however, that all-out bombing would pose far greater risks of widening the war, would transmit a signal strength out of all proportion to the limited objectives and intentions of the U.S. in Southeast Asia, would carry unacceptable political penalties, and would perhaps foreclose the promise of achieving U.S. goals at a relatively low level of violence.
The decision-makers accordingly elected to proceed with the bombing in a slow, steady, deliberate manner, beginning with a few infiltration-associated targets in southern NVN and gradually moving northward with progressively more severe attacks on a wider variety of targets. The pattern adopted was designed to preserve the options to proceed or not, escalate or not, or quicken the pace or not, depending on NVN's reactions. The carrot of stopping the bombing was deemed as important as the stick of continuing it, and bombing pauses were provided for. It was hoped that this track of major military escalation of the war could be accompanied by a parallel diplomatic track to bring the war to an end, and that both tracks could be coordinated.
By the summer of 1965, bombing NVN had also been relegated to a secondary role in U.S. military strategy for dealing with the war. Earlier expectations that bombing and other pressures on NVN would constitute the primary means for the U.S. to turn the tide of the war had been overtaken by the President's decision to send in substantial U.S. ground forces for combat in SVN. With this decision the main hope had shifted from inflicting pain in the North to proving, in the South, that NVN could not win a military victory there. ROLLING THUNDER was counted as useful and necessary, but in the prevailing view it was a supplement and not a substitute for efforts within SVN. From the first, strike requirements in SVN had first call on U.S. air assets in Southeast Asia.
Nonetheless, ROLLING THUNDER was a comparatively risky and politically sensitive component of U.S. strategy, and national authorities kept it under strict and careful policy control. The strikes were carried out only by fighter-bombers, in low-altitude precision-bombing modes, and populated areas were scrupulously avoided. Final target determinations were made in Washington, with due attention to the nature of the target, its geographical location, the weight of attack, the risk of collateral damage, and the like. Armed reconnaissance was authorized against targets of opportunity not individually picked in Washington, but Washington did define the types of targets which could be hit, set a sortie ceiling on the number of such missions, and prescribed the areas within which they could be flown.
National authorities also closely regulated the rate of escalation by discouraging the preparation of extended campaign plans which might permit any great latitude in the field. They accepted bombing proposals only in weekly target packages. Each target package, moreover, had to pass through a chain of approvals which included senior levels of OSD, the Department of State, and the White House, up to and including the principals themselves.
Within this framework of action the ROLLING THUNDER program had been permitted to grow in intensity. By mid-1965 the number of strikes against targets in the JCS master list of major targets had increased from one or two per week to ten or twelve per week. The geographic coverage of the strikes had been extended in stages, first across the 19th parallel, from there to the 20th, and then up to 20°33' North. The assortment of targets had been widened, from military barracks, ammunition depots, and radar sites at first, to bridges, airfields, naval bases, radio facilities, railroad yards, oil storage sites, and even power plants. The targets authorized for strike by armed reconnaissance aircraft were also expanded from vehicles, locomotives, and railroad cars to ferries, lighters, barges, road repair equipment, and bivouac and maintenance areas; and aircraft on these missions were authorized to interdict LOCs by cratering, restriking, and seeding chokepoints as necessary. The number of attack sorties--strike and flak suppression--had risen to more than 500 per week, and the total sorties flown to about 900 per week, four or five times what they had been at the outset.
This early ROLLING THUNDER program had already scored some immediate political and psychological gains. Prior to the bombing, U.S. authorities were coping with what Presidential Assistant McGeorge Bundy called a "widespread belief" that the U.S. lacked the will and determination to do what was necessary in Southeast Asia. The initiation of ROLLING THUNDER, followed by a series of military actions which in effect made the U.S. a full co-belligerent in the war, did much to correct that belief. The South Vietnamese were given an important boost in morale, both by the show of greater U.S. support and by the inauguration of joint retaliation against their enemy in the North. Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia, which had been watching SVN slide rapidly downhill while the U.S. seemed to be debating what to do, no doubt received the same kind of lift as well.
The bombing had also served several unilateral U.S. interests. It gave a clear signal to NVN--and indirectly to China--that the U.S. did not intend to suffer the takeover of SVN without a fight. It served notice that if pressed the U.S. would not necessarily recognize privileged sanctuaries. And it provided the U.S. with a new bargaining chip, something which it could offer to give up in return for a reduction or cessation of NVN's effort in the South.
Despite such gains, the overall effect of initiating ROLLING THUNDER was somewhat disappointing. The hopes in some quarters that merely posing a credible threat of substantial damage to come might be sufficient "pressure" to bring Hanoi around had been frustrated. U.S. negotiation overtures had been rejected, and Hanoi's position had if anything hardened. Infiltration South had continued and intensified. The signs indicated that Hanoi was determined to ride out the bombing, at least at the levels sustained up to mid-1965, while continuing to prosecute the war vigorously in the South. It was evident that the U.S. faced a long-haul effort of uncertain duration.
Although the real target of the early ROLLING THUNDER program was the will of NVN to continue the aggression in the South, the public rationale for the bombing had been expressed in terms of NVN's capability to continue that aggression. The public was told that NVN was being bombed because it was infiltrating men and supplies into SVN; the targets of the bombing were directly or indirectly related to that infiltration; and the purpose of attacking them was to reduce the flow and/or to increase the costs of that infiltration. Such a rationale was consistent with the overall position which morally justified U.S. intervention in the war in terms of NVN's own intervention; and it specifically put the bombing in a politically acceptable military idiom of interdiction.
This public rationale for the bombing had increasingly become the most acceptable internal rationale as well, as decision-makers sought to prevent runaway escalation and to hold down the bombing in what they thought should be a secondary role in the war. As a venture in "strategic persuasion" the bombing had not worked. The most obvious reason was that it was too light, gave too subdued and uncertain a signal, and exerted too little pain. Hardly any of the targets most valued by Hanoi--the "lucrative" targets of the JCS master list--had been hit. If the main purpose of ROLLING THUNDER was to impose strong pressure on Hanoi's will, the "lucrative" targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, not those in the barren southern Panhandle, were the ones to go after, and to hit hard. Aerial bombardment could then perform in its proven strategic role, and even if the risks of such a course were greater it was precisely because the potential payoff was greater.
If, however, the emphasis could be shifted toward interdiction, it would be easier to confine targets to those of direct military relevance to the VC/NVA campaign in the South, and it would be easier to contain the pressures to escalate the bombing rapidly into the northern heart of NVN's population and industry. A continuing emphasis on the Panhandle LOCs could be defended more easily, if the main purpose was to actually handicap NVN's efforts to support and strengthen VC/NVN forces in the South, and it was less likely to generate adverse political repercussions.
The interdiction rationale had come to the fore by mid-1965, both within the government and before the public. There were still internal and external pressures to proceed faster and farther, of course, because interdiction effects had not been impressive either. Official spokesmen conceded that complete interdiction was impossible: the flow of men and supplies from the North, however vital to the enemy effort in the South, was quite small and could hardly be cut off by bombing alone. They explained that the bombing had "disrupted" the flow, "slowed" it down, and made it "more difficult" and "costly." They showed dramatic aerial photos of bridges destroyed, and implied that the enemy was being forced "off the rails onto the highways and off the highways onto their feet." They could not, however, point to any specific evidence that bombing the North had as yet had any impact on the war in the South. Almost inevitably, therefore, even within the interdiction rationale, the conclusion was that the bombing had been too restrained. It was argued that the predictably gradual pace had allowed NVN to easily adjust to, circumvent, or otherwise overcome the effects of the disruptions and other difficulties caused by the bombing, and that only an expanded bombing program could produce significant material results.
Thus, the outlook in mid-1965 was for some further escalation of the bombing, with a certain amount of tension between pressures to speed it up and counter-pressures to keep it in check. With the debate increasingly forced into the interdiction context, the prospect was for gradual rather than sudden escalation, and strong resistance to going all the way if necessary to break Hanoi's will could be predicted. There was still a gap between those who thought of the bombing as a primarily political instrument and those who sought genuine military objectives, and this would continue to confuse the debate about how fast and far to go, but the main lines of the debate were set.
Still unresolved in mid-1965 was the problem of the diplomatic track. Could the U.S. continue to escalate the bombing, maintaining a credible threat of further action, while at the same time seeking to negotiate? Could the U.S. orchestrate communications with Hanoi with an intensifying bombing campaign? As of mid-1965 this was an open question.
2. The July Escalation Debate
The full U.S. entry into the Vietnam War in the spring of 1965--with the launching of air strikes against NVN, the release of U.S. jet aircraft for close support of ARVN troops in SVN, and the deployment to SVN of major U.S. ground forces for combat--did not bring an immediate turnabout in the security situation in SVN. The VC/NVA may have been surprised and stunned at first by the U.S. actions, but by the summer of 1965 they had again seized the initiative they held in late 1964 and early 1965 and were again mounting large-scale attacks, hurting ARVN forces badly. In mid-July Assistant Secretary McNaughton described the situation in ominous terms:
The situation is worse than a year ago (when it was worse than a year before that). . . . A hard VC push is on. . . . The US air strikes against the North and US combat-troop deployments have erased any South Vietnamese fears that the US will forsake them; but the government is able to provide security to fewer and fewer people in less and less territory, fewer roads and railroads are usable, the economy is deteriorating, and the government in Saigon continues to turn over. Pacification even in the Hop Tac area is making no progress. The government-to-VC ratio overall is now only 3-to-1, and in combat battalions only 1-to-l; government desertions are at a high rate, and the Vietnamese force build-up is stalled; the VC reportedly are trying to double their combat strength. There are no signs that the VC have been throttled by US/GVN interdiction efforts; indeed, there is evidence of further PAVN build-up in the I and II Corps areas. The DRV/VC seem to believe that SVN is near collapse and show no signs of being interested in settling for less than a complete take-over.
Faced with this gloomy situation, the leading question on the U.S. agenda for Vietnam was a further major escalation of troop commitments, together with a call-up of reserves, extension of military tours, and a general expansion of the armed forces.
The question of intensifying the air war against the North was a subsidiary issue, but it was related to the troop question in several ways. The military view, as reflected in JCS proposals and proposals from the field, was that the war should be intensified on all fronts, in the North no less than in the South. There was political merit in this view as well, since it was difficult to publicly justify sending in masses of troops to slug it out on the ground without at least trying to see whether stronger pressures against NVN would help: On the other hand, there was continued high-level interest in preventing a crisis atmosphere from developing, and in avoiding any over-reaction by NVN and its allies, so that a simultaneous escalation in both the North and the South needed to be handled with care. The bombing of the North, coupled with the deployment of substantial forces should not look like an effort to soften up NVN for an invasion.
During the last days of June with U.S. air operations against North Vietnam well into their fifth month, with U.S. forces in South Vietnam embarking for the first time upon major ground combat operations, and with the President near a decision that would increase American troop strength in Vietnam from 70,000 to over 200,000, Under-Secretary of State George Ball sent to his colleagues among the small group of Vietnam "principals" in Washington a memorandum warning that the United States was poised on the brink of a military and political disaster. Neither through expanded bombing of the North nor through a substantial increase in U.S. forces in the South would the United States be likely to achieve its objectives, Ball argued. Instead of escalation, he urged, "we should undertake either to extricate ourselves or to reduce our defense perimeters in South Viet-Nam to accord with the capabilities of a limited US deployment."
"This is our last clear chance to make this decision," the Under-Secretary asserted. And in a separate memorandum to the President, he explained why:
The decision you face now, therefore, is crucial. Once large numbers of US troops are committed to direct combat they will begin to take heavy casualties in a war they are ill-equipped to fight in a non-cooperative if not downright hostile countryside.
Once we suffer large casualties we will have started a well-nigh irreversible process. Our involvement will be so great that we cannot--without national humiliation--stop short of achieving our complete objectives. 0f the two possibilities 1 think humiliation would be more likely than the achievement of our objectives--even after we have paid terrible costs.
"Humiliation" was much on the minds of those involved in the making of American policy for Vietnam during the spring and summer of 1965. The word, or phrases meaning the same thing, appears in countless memoranda. No one put it as starkly as Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, who in late March assigned relative weights to various American objectives in Vietnam. In McNaughton's view the principal U.S. aim was "to avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor) ." To this he assigned the weight of 70%. Second, but far less important at only 20% was "to keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands." And a minor third, at but 10%, was "to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life."
Where Ball differed from all the others was in his willingness to incur "humiliation" that was certain--but also limited and short-term--by withdrawing American forces in order to avoid the uncertain but not unlikely prospect of a military defeat at a higher level of involvement. Thus he entitled his memorandum "Cutting Our Losses in South Viet-Nam." In it and in his companion memorandum to the President ("A Compromise Solution for South Viet-Nam") he went on to outline a program, first, of placing a ceiling on U.S. deployments at present authorized levels (72,000 men) and sharply restricting their combat roles, and, second, of beginning negotiations with Hanoi for a cessation of hostilities and the formation in Saigon of a "government of National Union" that would include representatives of the National Liberation Front. Ball's argument was based upon his sense of relative priorities. As he told his colleagues:
The position taken in this memorandum does not suggest that the United States should abdicate leadership in the cold war. But any prudent military commander carefully selects the terrain on which to stand and fight, and no great captain has ever been blamed for a successful tactical withdrawal.
From our point of view, the terrain in South Viet-Nam could not be worse. Jungles and rice paddies are not designed for modern arms and, from a military point of view, this is clearly what General de Gaulle described to me as a "rotten country."
Politically, South Viet-Nam is a lost cause. The country is bled white from twenty years of war and the people are sick of it. The Viet Cong-as is shown by the Rand Corporation Motivation and Morale Study-are deeply committed.
Hanoi has a Government and a purpose and a discipline. The "government" in Saigon is a travesty. In a very real sense, South Viet-Nam is a country with an army and no government.
In my view, a deep commitment of United States forces in a land war in South Viet-Nam would be a catastrophic error. If ever there was an occasion for a tactical withdrawal, this is it.
Ball's argument was perhaps most antithetic to one being put forward at the same time by Secretary of State Rusk. In a memorandum he wrote on 1 July, Rusk stated bluntly: "The central objective of the United States in South VietNam must be to insure that North Viet-Nam not succeed in taking over or determining the future of South Viet-Nam by force. We must accomplish this objective without a general war if possible." Here was a statement that the American commitment to the Vietnam war was, in effect, absolute, even to the point of risking general war. The Secretary went on to explain why he felt that an absolute commitment was necessary:
The integrity of the U.S. commitment is the principal pillar of peace throughout the world. If that commitment becomes unreliable, the communist world would draw conclusions that would lead to our ruin and almost certainly to a catastrophic war. So long as the South Vietnamese are prepared to fight for themselves, we cannot abandon them without disaster to peace and to our interests throughout the world.
In short, if "the U.S. commitment" were once seen to be unreliable, the risk of the outbreak of general war would vastly increase. Therefore, prudence would dictate risking general war, if necessary, in order to demonstrate that the United States would meet its commitments. In either case, some risk would be involved, but in the latter case the risk would be lower. The task of the statesman is to choose among unpalatable alternatives. For the Under-Secretary of State, this meant an early withdrawal from Vietnam. For the Secretary, it meant an open-ended commitment.
Ball was, of course, alone among the Vietnam principals in arguing for de-escalation and political "compromise." At the same time that he and Rusk wrote these papers, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy and Secretary of Defense McNamara also went on record with recommendations for the conduct of the war. Bundy's paper, "A 'Middle Way' Course of Action in South Vietnam," argued for a delay in further U.S. troop commitments and in escalation of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam, but a delay only in order to allow the American public time to digest the fact that the United States was engaged in a land war on the Asian mainland, and for U.S. commanders to make certain that their men were, in fact, capable of fighting effectively in conditions of counterinsurgency warfare without either arousing the hostility of the local population or causing the Vietnamese government and army simply to ease up and allow the Americans to "take over" their war.
For McNamara, however, the military situation in South Vietnam was too serious to allow the luxury of delay. In a memorandum to the President drafted on 1 July and then revised on 20 July, immediately following his return from a week-long visit to Vietnam, he recommended an immediate decision to increase the U.S.-Third Country presence from the current 16 maneuver battalions (15 U.S., one Australian) to 44 (34 U.S., nine Korean, one Australian), and a change in the mission of these forces from one of providing support and reinforcement for the ARVN to one which soon became known as "search and destroy"--as McNamara put it, they were "by aggressive exploitation of superior military forces . . . to gain and hold the initiative . . . pressing the fight against VC/DRV main force units in South Vietnam to run them to ground and destroy them."
At the same time, McNamara argued for a substantial intensification of the air war. The 1 July version of his memorandum recommended a total quarantine of the movement of war supplies into North Vietnam, by sea, rail, and road, through the mining of Haiphong and all other harbors and the destruction of rail and road bridges leading from China to Hanoi; the Secretary also urged the destruction of fighter airfields and SAM sites "as necessary" to accomplish these objectives.
On 2 July the JCS, supporting the views in the DPM, reiterated a recommendation for immediate implementation of an intensified bombing program against NVN, to accompany the additional deployments which were under consideration. The recommendation was for a sharp escalation of the bombing, with the emphasis on interdiction of supplies into as well as out of NVN. Like the DPM, it called for interdicting the movement of "war supplies" into NVN by mining the major ports and cutting the rail and highway bridges on the LOCs from China to Hanoi; mounting intensive armed reconnaissance against all LOCs and LOC facilities within NVN; destroying the "war-making" supplies and facilities of NVN, especially POL; and destroying airfields and SAM sites as necessary to accomplish the other tasks. The JCS estimated that an increase from the then 2000 to about 5000 attack sorties per month would be required to carry out the program.
The elements of greater risk in the JCS proposals were obvious. The recommendation to mine ports and to strike airfields and SAM sites had already been rejected as having special Soviet or Chinese escalatory implications, and even air strikes against LOCs from China were considered dangerous. U.S. intelligence agencies believed that if such strikes occurred the Chinese might deliberately engage U.S. aircraft over NVN from bases in China. CIA thought the chances were "about even" that this would occur; DIA and the Service intelligence agencies thought the chances of this would increase but considered it still unlikely; and State thought the chances "better than even."
Apart from this element of greater risk, however, intelligence agencies held out some hope that an intensified bombing program like that proposed by the JCS (less mining the ports, which they were not asked to consider) would badly hurt the NVN economy, damage NVN's ability to support the effort in SVN, and even lead Hanoi to consider negotiations. An SNIE of 23 July estimated that the extension of air attacks only to military targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area was not likely to "significantly injure the Viet Cong ability to persevere" or to "persuade the Hanoi government that the price of persisting was unacceptably high." Sustained interdiction of the LOCs from China, in addition, would make the delivery of Soviet and Chinese aid more difficult and costly and would have a serious impact on the NVN economy, but it would still not have a "critical impact" on "the Communist determination to persevere" and would not seriously impair Viet Cong capabilities in SVN, "at least for the short term." However:
If, in addition, POL targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong area were destroyed by air attacks, the DRV's capability to provide transportation for the general economy would be severely reduced. It would also complicate their military logistics. If additional PAVN forces were employed in South Vietnam on a scale sufficient to counter increased US troop strength [which the SNIE said was "almost certain" to happen] this would substantially increase the amount of supplies needed in the South. The Viet Cong also depend on supplies from the North to maintain their present level of large-scale operations. The accumulated strains of a prolonged curtailment of supplies received from North Vietnam would obviously have an impact on the Communist effort in the South. They would certainly inhibit and might even prevent an increase in large-scale Viet Cong military activity, though they would probably not force any significant reduction in Viet Cong terrorist tactics of harassment and sabotage. These strains, particularly if they produced a serious check in the development of Viet Cong capabilities for large-scale (multi-battalion) operations might lead the Viet Cong to consider negotiations.
There were certain reservations with respect to the above estimate. The State and Army intelligence representatives on USIB registered a dissent, stating that even under heavier attack the LOC capacities in NVN and Laos were sufficient to support the war in SVN at the scale envisaged in the estimate. They also pointed out that it was impossible to do irreparable damage to the LOCs, that the Communists had demonstrated considerable logistic resourcefulness and considerable ability to move large amounts of war material long distances over difficult terrain by primitive means, and that in addition it was difficult to detect, let alone stop, sea infiltration. On balance, however, the SNIE came close to predicting that intensified interdiction attacks would have a beneficial effect on the war in the South.
Facing a decision with these kinds of implications, the President wanted more information and asked McNamara to go on another fact-gathering trip to Vietnam before submitting his final recommendations on a course of action. In anticipation of the trip, McNaughton prepared a memo summarizing his assessment of the problem. McNaughton wrote that "meaningful negotiations" were unlikely until the situation began to look gloomier for the VC, and that even with 200,000400,000 U.S. troops in SVN the chances of a "win" by 1968 (i.e., in the next 2½ years) were only 50-50. But he recommended that the infiltration routes be hit hard, "at least to put a 'ceiling' on what can be infiltrated;" and he recommended that the limit on targets be "just short" of populatl?n targets, the China border, and special targets like SAM sites which might trigger Soviet or Chinese reactions.
McNamara left for Vietnam on July 14 and returned a week later with a revised version of his July 1st DPM ready to be sent to the President as a final recommendation. The impact of the visit was to soften considerably the position he had apparently earlier taken. His 20 July memorandum backed off from the 1 July recommendations--perhaps, although it is impossible to tell from the available materials--because of intimations that such drastic escalation would be unacceptable to the President. Instead of mining North Vietnam's harbors as a quarantine measure, the Secretary recommended it as a possible "severe reprisal should the VC or DRV commit a particularly damaging or horhendous act" such as "interdiction of the Saigon river." But he recommended a gradual increase in the number of strike sorties against North Vietnam from the existing 2,500 per month to 4,000 "or more," still "avoiding striking population and industrial targets not closely related to the DRV's supply of war material to the VC."
The urgency which infused McNamara's recommendations stemmed from his estimate that "the situation in South Vietnam is worse than a year ago (when it was worse than a year before that) ." The VC had launched a drive "to dismember the nation and maul the army"; since 1 June the GVN had been forced to abandon six district capitals and had only retaken one. Transport and communications lines throughout the country were being cut, isolating the towns and cities and causing sharp deterioration of the already shaky domestic economy. Air Marshal Ky presided over a government of generals which had little prospect of being able to unite or energize the country. In such a situation, U.S. air and ground actions thus far had put to rest Vietnamese fears that they might be abandoned, but they had not decisively affected the course of the war. Therefore, McNamara recommended escalation. His specific recommendations, he noted, were concurred in by General Wheeler and Ambassador-designate Lodge, who accompanied him on his trip to Vietnam, and by Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Johnson, Admiral Sharp, and General Westmoreland, with whom he conferred there. The rationale for his decisions was supplied by the CIA, whose assessment he quoted with approval in concluding the 1 July version of his memorandum. It stated:
Over the longer term we doubt if the Communists are likely to change their basic strategy in Vietnam (i.e., aggressive and steadily mounting insurgency) unless and until two conditions prevail: (1) they are forced to accept a situation in the war in the South which offers them no prospect of an early victory and no grounds for hope that they can simply outlast the US and (2) North Vietnam itself is under continuing and increasingly damaging punitive attack. So long as the Communists think they scent the possibility of an early victory (which is probably now the case), we believe that they will persevere and accept extremely severe damage to the North. Conversely, if North Vietnam itself is not hurting, Hanoi's doctrinaire leaders will probably be ready to carry on the Southern struggle almost indefinitely. If, however, both of the conditions outlined above should be brought to pass, we believe Hanoi probably would, at least for a period of time, alter its basic strategy and course of action in South Vietnam.
McNamara's memorandum of 20 July did not include this quotation, although many of these points were made elsewhere in the paper. Instead, it concluded with an optimistic forecast:
The overall evaluation is that the course of action recommended in this memorandum--if the military and political moves are properly integrated and executed with continuing vigor and visible determination--stands a good chance of achieving an acceptable outcome within a reasonable time in Vietnam.
Never again while he was Secretary of Defense would McNamara make so optimistic a statement about Vietnam--except in public.
This concluding paragraph of McNamara's memorandum spoke of political, as well as military, "vigor" and "determination." Earlier in the paper, under the heading "Expanded political moves," he had elaborated on this point, writing:
Together with the above military moves, we should take political initiatives in order to lay a groundwork for a favorable political settlement by clarifying our objectives and establishing channels of communications. At the same time as we are taking steps to turn the tide in South Vietnam, we would make quiet moves through diplomatic channels (a) to open a dialogue with Moscow and Hanoi, and perhaps the VC, looking first toward disabusing them of any misconceptions as to our goals and second toward laying the groundwork for a settlement when the time is ripe; (b) to keep the Soviet Union from deepening its military in the world until the time when settlement can be achieved; and (c) to cement support for US policy by the US public, allies and friends, and to keep international opposition at a manageable level. Our efforts may be unproductive until the tide begins to turn, but nevertheless they should be made.
Here was scarcely a program for drastic political action. McNamara's essentially procedural (as opposed to substantive) recommendations amounted to little more than saying that the United States should provide channels for the enemy's discrete and relatively face-saving surrender when he decided that the game had grown too costly. This was, in fact, what official Washington (again with the exception of Ball) meant in mid-1965 when it spoke of a "political settlement." (As McNamara noted in a footnote, even this went too far for Ambassador-designate Lodge, whose view was that "'any further initiative by us now [before we are strong] would simply harden the Communist resolve not to stop fighting.'" In this view Ambassadors Taylor and Johnson concurred, except that they would maintain "discreet contacts with the Soviets.")
McNamara's concluding paragraph spoke of "an acceptable outcome." Previously in his paper he had listed "nine fundamental elements" of a favorable outcome. These were:
(a) VC stop attacks and drastically reduce incidents of terror and sabotage.
(b) DRV reduces infiltration to a trickle, with some reasonably reliable method of our obtaining confirmation of this fact.
(c) US/GVN stop bombing of North Vietnam.
(d) GVN stays independent (hopefully pro-US, but possibly genuinely neutral).
(e) GVN exercises governmental functions over substantially all of South Vietnam.
(f) Communists remain quiescent in Laos and Thailand.
(g) DRV withdraws PAVN forces and other North Vietnamese infiltrators (not regroupees) from South Vietnam.
(h) VC/NLF transform from a military to a purely political organization.
(i) US combat forces (not advisors or AID) withdraw.
These "fundamental elements," McNamara said, could evolve with or without express agreement and, indeed, except for what might be negotiated incidental to a cease-fire they were more likely to evolve without an explicit agreement than with one. So far as the difference between a "favorable" and an "acceptable" outcome was concerned, he continued, there was no need for the present to address the question of whether the United States should "ultimately settle for something less than the nine fundamentals," because the force deployments recommended in the memorandum would be prerequisite to the achievement of any acceptable settlement; "a decision can be made later, when bargaining becomes a reality, whether to compromise in any particular."
In summary, then, McNamara's program consisted of first substantially increasing the pressure on the enemy by every means short of those, such as the bombing of population centers in the North, that would run sizeable risks of precipitating Soviet or Chinese direct intervention in the war, and then seeking a de facto political settlement essentially on US/GVN terms.
The July 20 memo to the President was followed up by two others on specific aspects of the problem before the end of July. On July 28, he replied to a series of eighteen points made by Senator Mansfield with respect to the Vietnam war. In so doing, Secretary McNamara informed the President of his doubts that even a "greatly expanded program" could be expected to produce significant NVN interest in a negotiated settlement "until they have been disappointed in their hopes for a quick military success in the South." Meanwhile he favored "strikes at infiltration routes" to impose a ceiling on what NVN could pour into SVN, "thereby putting a ceiling on the size of war that the enemy can wage there." He warned that a greatly increased program would create even more serious risks of "confrontations" with the Soviet Union and China.
McNamara stated that the current bombing program was on the way to accomplishing its purposes and should be continued. The future program, he said, 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) types of aircraft (e.g., B-52s vs. F-105s), (3) kinds of weapons (e.g., napalm vs. ordinary bombs), (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.
3. Incremental Escalation
Secretary McNamara's 5 principles prevailed. The bombing continued to expand and intensify, but there was no abrupt switch in bombing policy and no sudden escalation. The high-value targets in the Hanoi,'Haiphong area were kept off limits, so as not to "kill the hostage." Interdiction remained the chief criterion for target selection, and caution continued to be exercised with respect to sensitive targets. The idea of a possible bombing pause, longer than the last, was kept alive. The Secretary refused to approve an overall JCS concept for fighting the Vietnam War which included much heavier ROLLING THUNDER strikes against key military and economic targets coordinated with a blockade and mining attack on NVN ports, and he also continued to veto JCS proposals for dramatic attacks on major POL depots, power plants, airfields, and other "lucrative" targets.
The expansion of ROLLING THUNDER during the rest of 1965 followed the previous pattern of step-by-step progression. The approval cycle shifted from one-week to two-week target packages. New fixed targets from the JCS list of major targets, which grew from 94 to 236 by the end of the year, continued to be selected in Washington. The number of these new targets was kept down to a few per week, most of them LOC-related. Few strikes were authorized in the vital northeast quadrant, north of 21° N. and east of 106° E., which contained the Hanoi/Haiphong urban complexes, the major port facilities, and the main LOCs to China. In addition, de facto sanctuaries were maintained in the areas within 30 nautical miles from the center of Hanoi, 10 from the center of Haiphong, 30 from the Chinese border in the northwest (to 106° E.), and 25 from the Chinese border in the northeast.
The scope of armed reconnaissance missions was also enlarged but kept within limits. The boundary for such missions was shifted to the north and west of Hanoi up to the Chinese buffer zone, but it was kept back from the northeast quadrant, where only individually approved fixed target strikes were authorized. The operational latitude for armed reconnaissance missions was also widened. They were authorized to strike small pre-briefed fixed military targets not on the JCS list (e.g., minor troop staging areas, warehouses, or depots) in the course of executing their LOC attacks, and to restrike previously authorized JCS targets in order to make and keep them inoperable. An armed reconnaissance sortie ceiling continued in effect. It was lifted to 600 per week by October, but then held there until the end of the year.
By the end of 1965 total ROLLING THUNDER attack sorties had levelled off to about 750 per week and total sorties to a little over 1500 per week. All told, some 55,000 sorties had been flown during the year, nearly half of them on attack (strike and flak suppression) missions, and three-fourths of them as armed reconnaissance rather than JCS-directed fixed target strikes. Altogether, ROLLING THUNDER represented only 30 percent of the U.S. air effort in Southeast Asia during the year, in keeping with the rough priorities set by decision-makers at the outset.
Although bombing NVN had done much to generate, as Secretary McNamara put it, "a new school of criticism among liberals and 'peace' groups," whose activities were reflected in a wave of teach-ins and other demonstrations during 1965, the bombing also drew abundant criticism from more hawkish elements because of its limited nature. As a result, the Secretary and other officials were frequently obliged to defend the bombing restrictions before Congress and the press.
Most of the hawkish criticism of the bombing stemmed from basic disagreement with an air campaign centered upon a tactical interdiction rationale rather than a punitive rationale more in keeping with strategic uses of air power, a campaign in which the apparent target was the infiltration system rather than the economy as a whole, and in which, as one CIA report put it,
. . .almost 80 percent of North Vietnam's limited modern industrial economy, 75 percent of the nation's population, and the most lucrative military supply and LOC targets have been effectively insulated from air attack.
This kind of criticism of the bombing concentrated on the most conspicuous aspect of the program, the strikes against fixed targets, and it faulted the program for failing to focus on the kinds of targets which strategic bombing had made familiar in World War II--power plants, oil depots, harbor facilities, and factories.
Such "strategic" targets had not been entirely exempted from attack, of course, but they had been exempted from attack where they counted most, in the sanctuary areas. This occasioned some embarrassment in the Administration because any attack on such targets seemed inconsistent with a purely interdiction rationale, while failure to attack the most important of them did not satisfy a strategic bombing rationale. Secretary McNamara was pressed hard on these points when he appeared before the Congressional armed services and appropriations committees in August 1965 with a major supplemental budget request for the Vietnam War. Senator Cannon asked:
I know that our policy was to not attack power stations and certain oil depots and so on earlier. But within the past two weeks we have noticed that you have attacked at least one or more power stations. I am wondering if your policy has actually changed now in regard to the targets. In other words, are we stepping up the desirability of certain targets?
Secretary McNamara replied:
I would say we are holding primarily to these targets I have outlined. This week's program, for example, includes primarily, I would say, 95 percent of the sorties against fixed targets are against supply depots, ammo depots, barracks . . . but only one or two percent of the sorties directed against [one power plant].
I don't want to mislead you. We are not bombing in the Hanoi . . . or the Haiphong area. There is a very good reason for that. In Haiphong there is a substantial petroleum dump [for example]. First, there is question whether destruction of that dump would influence the level of supply into South Vietnam. Secondly, General Westmoreland believes that an attack on that would lead to an attack on the petroleum dumps outside of Saigon that contain eighty percent of the petroleum storage for SVN. Thirdly, there is the real possibility that an attack on the Haiphong petroleum would substantially increase the risk of Chinese participation . . . for all those reasons it seems unwise at this time . . . to attack that petroleum
dump. . .
In defending the policy of not attacking the powerplants and POL sites concentrated in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, the Secretary did not stress the interdiction purposes of the bombing but rather the risks of widening the war. He explained that an attack on the powerplants and POL sites would require also attacking Phuc Yen airfield and the surrounding SAM sites:
I had better not describe how we would handle it but it would be one whale of a big attack . . . this might well trigger, in the view of some, would trigger Chinese intervention on the ground. . . . This is what we wish to avoid.
Before the House Committee on Armed Services two days later, Secretary McNamara stressed both the irrelevance of targets like the POL facilities at Haiphong to infiltration into the South and the risks of Chinese intervention:
At present our bombing program against the North is directed primarily against the military targets that are associated with the infiltration of men and equipment into the South, ammo depots, supply depots, barracks areas, the particular lines of communication over which these move into the South. For that reason, we have not struck in the Hanoi area because the targets are not as directly related to the infiltration of men and equipment as those outside the area. . . . As to the Haiphong POL . . . if we strike that there will be greater pressure on Communist China to undertake military action in
support of the North Vietnamese. . . . We want to avoid that if we possibly can.
On other occasions the Secretary put such stress on the limited interdiction purposes of the bombing that it seemed to virtually rule out altogether industrial other "strategic" targets:
. . . we are seeking by our bombing in North Vietnam to reduce and make more costly the movement of men and supplies from North Vietnam into South Vietnam for the support of the Viet Cong operations in South Vietnam. That's our primary military objective, and that requires that we bomb the lines of communication primarily and secondarily, the ammunition and supply depots. . . . The great bulk of our bombing . . . is directed against traffic moving on roads and railroads, and the other portion . . . is directed against specific targets associated with the lines of communication, primarily supply depots and . . . bridges. . . . We think our bombing policy is quite properly associated with the effort to stop the insurgency in South Vietnam. We've said time after time: It is not our objective to destroy the Government of North Vietnam. We're not seeking to widen the war. We do have a limited objective, and that's why our targeting is limited as it is.
When asked whether the U.S. refrained from bombing NVN's more vital installations because it would escalate the war, the Secretary added:
Well, I'm saying that the other installations you're speaking of are not directly related to insurgency in the South, and that's what we're fighting. And that our targeting should be associated with that insurgency . . . our objective is to show them they can't win in the South. Until we do show that to them it's unlikely the insurgency in the South will stop.
The Secretary's arguments had difficult sledding, however. As 1965 ended, the bombing restrictions were still under attack. The U.S. was heavily engaged in the ground war in the South, and a limited bombing campaign in the North did not make much sense to those who wanted to win it. The hawks were very much alive, and there was mounting pressure to put more lightning and thunder into the air war. At that point, in not very propitious circumstances, the Administration halted the bombing entirely, and for 37 days, from 24 December 1965 to 31 January 1966, pursued a vigorous diplomatic offensive to get negotiations started to end the war.
4. The "Pause"--24 December 1965 to 31 January 1966
a. The Pre-Pause Debate
An important element of the program developed by McNamara and his Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, John McNaughton in July 1965 was a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam. There had been a five-day pause in May, from the 13th through the 18th, apparently inspired by the President himself in an effort to see if the North Vietnamese government-which had previously indicated that any progress towards a settlement would be impossible so long as its territory was being bombed-would respond with de-escalatory measures of its own. Yet the President also saw a pause as a means of clearing the way for an increase in the tempo of the air war in the absence of a satisfactory response from Hanoi. The May pause had been hastily arranged-almost, so the record makes it seem, as if on the spur of the moment-and advance knowledge of it was so closely held, not only within the international community but also within the U.S. government, that no adequate diplomatic preparation could be made. Its most serious shortcoming as an effective instrument of policy, however, lay in its very brief duration. To have expected a meaningful response in so short a time, given the complexity of the political relationships not only within the North Vietnamese government and party, but also between Hanoi and the NLF in the South, and between Hanoi and its separate (and quarrelling) supporters within the Communist world, was to expect the impossible. Therefore, in his 20 July memorandum to the President, Secretary McNamara wrote: "After the 44 US/third-country battalions have been deployed and after some strong action has been taken in the program of bombing the North (e.g., after the key railroad bridges north of Hanoi have been dropped), we could, as part of a diplomatic initiative, consider introducing a 6-8 week pause in the program of bombing the North."
The pause which eventually occurred--for 37 days, from December 1965 until 31 January 1966--was somewhat shorter than the six-to-eight weeks McNamara suggested, but it was clearly long enough to allow the North Vietnamese fully to assess the options before them. They were not very attractive options, at least in the way they were seen in Washington. McNamara summarized them in a memorandum to the President on 30 November:
It is my belief that there should be a three- or four-week pause [note that McNamara himself no longer held to the six-to-eight week duration] in the program of bombing the North before we either greatly increase our troop deployments to Vietnam or intensify our strikes against the North. The reasons for this belief are, first, that we must lay a foundation in the mind of the American public and in world opinion for such an enlarged phase of the war and, second, we should give North Vietnam a face-saving chance to stop the aggression.
In other words, Hanoi should be given the implicit (although, naturally, not explicitly stated) choice of either giving up "its side of the war," as Secretary Rusk often put it, or facing a greater level of punishment from the United States. In an earlier memorandum, dated 3 November, and given to the President on the 7th, McNamara had remarked that "a serious effort would be made to avoid advertising [a pause] as an ultimatum to the DRV," yet Hanoi could scarcely have seen it as anything else. John McNaughton had perfectly encapsulated the Washington establishment's view of a bombing pause the previous July, when he had noted in pencil in the margin of a draft memorandum the words "RT [i.e., ROLLING THUNDER] (incl. Pause), ratchet." The image of a ratchet, such as the device which raises the net on a tennis court, backing off tension between each phase of increasing it, was precisely what McNaughton and McNamara, William Bundy and Alexis Johnson at State, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had in mind when they thought of a pause. The only danger was, as McNamara put it in his memorandum of 3 November, "being trapped in a status-quo cease-fire or in negotiations which, though unaccompanied by real concessions by the VC, made it politically costly for us to terminate the Pause."
McNamara and McNaughton were optimistic that, by skillful diplomacy, this pitfall could be avoided. Rusk, Bundy and Johnson, who had to perform the required diplomatic task, and the Chiefs, who were professionally distrustful of the diplomatic art and of the ability of the political decision-makers in Washington to resist the pressures from the "peace movement" in the United States, were not so sure. The Chiefs (echoing General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharp) were also opposed to any measures which would, even momentarily, reduce the pressure on North Vietnam. The arguments for and against a pause were summarized in a State Department memorandum to the President on 9 November:
The purposes of-and Secretary McNamara's arguments for--such a pause are four:
(a) It would offer Hanoi and the Viet Cong a chance to move toward a solution if they should be so inclined, removing the psychological barrier of continued bombing and permitting the Soviets and others to bring moderating arguments to bear;
(b) It would demonstrate to domestic and international critics that we had indeed made every effort for a peaceful settlement before proceeding to intensified actions, notably the latter stages of the extrapolated Rolling Thunder program;
(c) It would probably tend to reduce the dangers of escalation after we had resumed the bombing, at least insofar as the Soviets were concerned;
(d) It would set the stage for another pause, perhaps in late 1966, which might produce a settlement.
Against these propositions, there are the following considerations arguing against a pause:
(a) In the absence of any indication from Hanoi as to what reciprocal action it might take, we could well find ourselves in the position of having played this very important card without receiving anything substantial in return. There are no indications that Hanoi is yet in a mood to agree to a settlement acceptable to us. The chance is, therefore, very slight that a pause at this time could lead to an acceptable settlement.
(b) A unilateral pause at this time would offer an excellent opportunity for Hanoi to interpose obstacles to our resumption of bombing and to demoralize South Vietnam by indefinitely dangling before us (and the world) the prospect of negotiations with no intent of reaching an acceptable settlement. It might also tempt the Soviet Union to make threats that would render very difficult a decision to resume bombing.
(c) In Saigon, obtaining South Vietnamese acquiescence to a pause would be difficult. It could adversely affect the Government's solidity. Any major falling out between the Government and the United States or any overturn in the Government's political structure could set us back very severly (sic).
(d) An additional factor is that undertaking the second course of action following a pause [i. e., "extrapolation" of ROLLING THUNDER] would give this course a much more dramatic character, both internationally and domestically, and would, in particular, present the Soviets with those difficult choices that we have heretofore been successful in avoiding.
After this summary of the competing arguments, the State paper--speaking for Secretary Rusk--came down against a bombing pause. The paper continued:
On balance, the arguments against the pause are convincing to the Secretary of State, who recommends that it not be undertaken at the present time. The Secretary of State believes that a pause should be undertaken only when and if the chances were significantly greater than they now appear that Hanoi would respond by reciprocal actions leading in the direction of a peaceful settlement. He further believes that, from the standpoint of international and domestic opinion, a pause might become an overriding requirement only if we were about to reach the advanced stages of an extrapolated Rolling Thunder program involving extensive air operations in the Hanoi/ Haiphong area. Since the Secretary of State believes that such advanced stages are not in themselves desirable until the tide in the South is more favorable, he does not feel that, even accepting the point of view of the Secretary of Defense, there is now any international requirement to consider a "Pause."
Basic to Rusk's position, as John McNaughton pointed out in a memorandum to
Secretary McNamara the same day, was the assumption that a bombing pause was
a "card" which could be "played" only once. In fact, McNaughton
wrote, "it is more reasonable to think that it could be played any number
of times, with the arguments against it, but not those for it, becoming less
valid each time." It was this argument of McNaughton's which lay behind
the Defense position that one
of the chief reasons for a pause was that even if it were to produce no response from Hanoi, it might set the stage for another pause, perhaps late in 1966, which might be "productive."
The available materials do not reveal the President's response to these arguments, but it is clear from the continuing flow of papers that he delayed positively committing himself either for or against a pause until very shortly before the actual pause began. Most of these papers retraced old ground, repeating the arguments which we have already examined. A State memorandum by William Bundy on 1 December, however, added some new ones. In summary, they were:
FOR a bombing pause (in addition to those we have already seen):
Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin had "recently urged a 'pause' on McGeorge Bundy and had pretty clearly indicated the Soviets would make a real effort if we undertook one; however, he was equally plain in stating that he could give no assurance of any clear result."
"American casualties are mounting and further involvement appears likely. A pause can demonstrate that the President has taken every possible means to find a peaceful solution and obtain domestic support for the further actions that we will have to take."
"There are already signs of dissension between Moscow, Peking, Hanoi and the Viet Cong. The pause is certain to stimulate further dissension on the other side and add to the strains in the Communist camp as they argue about how to deal with it." Moreover, it would decrease the ability of Hanoi or Peking to bring pressure on Moscow to escalate Soviet support.
"Judging by experience during the last war, the resumption of bombing after a pause would be even more painful to the population of North Vietnam than a fairly steady rate of bombing."
"The resumption of bombing after a pause, combined with increased United States deployments in the South, would remove any doubts the other side may have about U.S. determination to stay the course and finish the job."
AGAINST a bombing pause, fewer new arguments were adduced. Those which we have seen, however, were restated with greater force. Thus it was noted that while Hanoi had said it could never "negotiate" so long as the bombing continued, it had given no sign whatsoever that even with a complete cessation (this, the paper pointed out, and not a "pause," was what the DRV really insisted upon) it would be led to "meaningful" negotiations or to de-escalatory actions. It might, for example, offer to enter into negotiations on condition that the bombing not be resumed and/or that the NLF be seated at the conference on a basis of full equality with the GVN. Both of these conditions would be clearly unacceptable to the U.S., which would run the danger of having to resume bombing in the face of what major sectors of domestic and international opinion would regard as a "reasonable" Hanoi offer: "In other words, instead of improving our present peace-seeking posture, we could actually end up by damaging it severely." And in doing so, the U.S. would "lose the one card that we have which offers any hope of a settlement that does more than reflect the balance of forces on the ground in the South." (Here, it may be noted, was the ultimate claim that could be made for the bombing program in the face of criticism that it had failed to achieve its objective of interdicting the flow of men and materials to the South.)
To these arguments, essentially restatements of ones we have previously seen, were added:
There is a danger that, in spite of any steps we may take to offset it, Hanoi may misread a pause at this time as indicating that we are giving way to international pressures to stop the bombing of North Vietnam and that our resolve with respect to South Vietnam is thus weakening." This danger had recently increased, the paper noted, because of peace demonstrations in the United States and the first heavy American casualties in South Vietnam.
Just as a pause would make it more difficult to cope with the domestic "doves," so it would the "hawks" as well: "Pressure from the Rivers/ Nixon sector to hit Hanoi and Haiphong hard might also increase very sharply. . . "
If a "pause" were in fact to lead to negotiations (with or without resumed bombing), we would then have continuing serious problems in maintaining South Vietnamese stability. We must also recognize that, although we ourselves have some fairly good initial ideas of the positions we would take, we have not been able to go over the ground with the GVN or to get beyond general propositions on some of which we and they might well disagree.
These statements amounted, then, to the contention that just as the United States could not afford to initiate a bombing pause that might fail to produce negotiations and a de-escalation, neither could it afford to initiate one that succeeded.
Bundy's memorandum of 1 December contained no recommendations. It was a draft, sent out for comment to Under-Secretary Ball, Ambassadors Thompson and Johnson, John McNaughton, and McGeorge Bundy. Presumably, although there is no indication of it, copies also went to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara. By 6 December, William Bundy and Alexis Johnson were able to prepare another version, repeating the same arguments in briefer compass, and this time making an agreed recommendation. It stated: "After balancing these opposing considerations, we unanimously recommend that you [i.e., the President] approve a pause as soon as possible this month. The decision would, of course, be subject to consultation and joint action with the GVN." Thus, at some point between 9 November and 6 December (the available documents do not reveal when), Secretary Rusk evidently dropped his objection to a pause.
Getting the agreement of the Ky government to a pause was no easy task. Ambassador Lodge reported that he himself opposed the notion of a pause because of the unsettling effects it would have on the South Vietnam political situation. Only by making very firm commitments for large increases in American force levels during the coming year, Lodge warned, could Washington obtain even Saigon's grudging acquiescence in a pause. This is not the place to describe the process by which the GVN's consent was obtained; it is sufficient to note that nowhere in Saigon, neither within the government nor within the American Embassy and Military Assistance Command, was the prospect of any relaxation of pressure on the North-for any reason-greeted with any enthusiasm.
b. Resumption--When and at What Level?
Implicit ~in the very notion of "pause," of course, is the eventual resumption of the activity being discontinued. Among the principals in Washington concerned with Vietnam, consideration of the circumstances and conditions in which the bombing of North Vietnam would be resumed went hand-in-hand with consideration of its interruption. Relatively early in this process, in his Presidential memorandum of 3 November, Secretary McNamara distinguished between what he termed a "hard-line" and a "soft-line" pause. "Under a 'hard-line' Pause," he wrote, "we would be firmly resolved to resume bombing unless the Communists were clearly moving toward meeting our declared terms. . . . Under a 'soft-line' Pause, we would be willing to feel our way with respect to termination of the Pause, with less insistence on concrete concessions by the Communists."
McNamara himself came down on the side of a "hard-line" pause-a "soft-line" pause would make sense, he noted, only if the U.S. sought a "compromise" outcome. The words "hard-line" and "soft-line" became terms of art, employed by all of the principals in their papers dealing with the question of a pause. Throughout this discussion, it was taken for granted that bombing would be resumed. The only point at issue was how. On 3 December, John McNaughton wrote an "eyes only" memorandum (whose eyes was not specified, but presumably they included those of the Secretary of Defense) entitled, "Hard-Line Pause Packaged to Minimize Political Cost of Resuming Bombing." He specified four conditions, all of which would have to be met by the enemy in order to forestall the resumption of bombing:
a. The DRV stops infiltration and direction of the war.
b. The DRV moves convincingly toward withdrawal of infiltrators.
c. The VC stop attacks, terror and sabotage.
d. The VC stops significant interference with the GVN's exercise of governmental functions over substantially all of South Vietnam.
Clearly it was unlikely that the enemy would even begin to meet any of these conditions, but Hanoi, at least (if not the NLF), might move towards some sort of negotiations. In that event, the resumption of bombing when "peace moves" were afoot would incur a heavy political price for the United States. In order to maintain the political freedom to resume bombing without substantial costs, the U.S. government would have to make clear from the outset that it intended only a pause, certainly not a permanent cessation of the bombing, and that its continuation would depend upon definite actions by the enemy. Yet there was a problem, as McNaughton saw it, as to which definite actions to specify. He recognized that the United States could not easily list the conditions he had put forward earlier in his memorandum. McNaughton expressed his dilemma in the following terms:
Inconsistent objectives. A Pause has two objectives--(a) To influence the DRV to back out of the war and (b) to create a public impression of US willingness "to try everything" before further increases in military action. To maximize the chance that the DRV would decide to back out would require presenting them with an explicit proposal, in a form where some clearly defined conduct on their part would assure them of no more bombings. The truth of the matter, however, is that the hard-line objective is, in effect, capitulation by a Communist force which is far from beaten, has unlimited (if unattractive) reserves available in China, and is confident that it is fighting for a just principle. To spell out such "capitulation" in explicit terms is more likely to subject us to ridicule than to produce a favorable public reaction. It follows that the hard-line objectives should be blurred somewhat in order to maximize favorable public reaction, even though such blurring would reduce the chances of DRV acceptance of the terms.
If McNaughton was reluctant to spell out U.S. "hard-line" objectives, he was nevertheless anxious not to allow a situation to develop where the enemy could make its mere participation in negotiations a sufficient quid pro quo for a continuation of the pause. Regarding negotiations, McNaughton suggested, the American position should be: "We are willing to negotiate no matter what military actions are going on." Moreover, when bombing was resumed, the ending of the pause should be tied to Hanoi's failure to take de-escalatory actions. "People might criticize our Pause for not having been generous," McNaughton wrote, "but they will be unlikely to attack the US for having failed to live up to the deal we offered with the Pause."
McNaughton recommended that the first strikes after a resumption should be "identified as militarily required interdiction," in order to minimize political criticism. "Later strikes could then be escalated to other kinds of targets and to present or higher levels." (At the time McNaughton wrote, the pause had not yet gone into effect.) Similar advice came from William Bundy, writing on 15 January during the pause:
Resumed bombing should not begin with a dramatic strike that was even at the margin of past practice (such as the power plant in December). For a period of two-three weeks at least, while the world is digesting and assessing the pause, we should do as little as possible to lend fuel to the charge- which will doubtless be the main theme of Communist propaganda-that the pause was intended all along merely as a prelude to more drastic action. Moreover, from a military standpoint alone, the most immediate need would surely be to deal with the communications lines and barracks areas south of the 20th parallel. A week or two of this would perhaps make sense from both military and political standpoints. After that we could move against the northeast rail and road lines again, but the very act of gradualness should reduce any chance that the Chicoms [the Chinese Communists] will react to some new or dramatic way when we do so. Extensions of past practice, such as Haiphong POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], should be a third stage.
McNaughton and Bundy were in essential agreement: the bombing should be resumed; it should be resumed on a low key at first; but after a decent interval it should be escalated at least to the extent of striking at the Haiphong POL storage facilities, and perhaps other high-priority targets as well. In their own eyes the two Assistant Secretaries were cautious, prudent men. Their recommendations were in marked contrast to those of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who (as this paper shows in greater detail later) pressed throughout the autumn and winter of 1965-66 for permission to expand the bombing virtually into a program of strategic bombing aimed at all industrial and economic resources as well as at all interdiction targets. The Chiefs did so, it may be added, despite the steady stream of memoranda from the intelligence community consistently expressing skepticism that bombing of any conceivable sort (that is, any except bombing aimed primarily at the destruction of North Vietnam's population) could either persuade Hanoi to negotiate a settlement on US/GVN terms or effectively limit Hanoi's ability to infiltrate men and supplies into the South.
These arguments of the Chiefs were essentially an extension and amplification of arguments for large-scale resumption received from the field throughout the pause. Apparently, neither Lodge, Westmoreland, nor Sharp received advance intimation that the suspension might continue not for a few days, as in the preceding May, but for several weeks. When notified that full-scale ground operations could recommence, following the Christmas cease-fire, as soon as there was "confirmed evidence of significant renewed Viet Cong violence," they were simply told that air operations against North Vietnam would not immediately resume. They were assured, however,
We will stand ready to order immediate renewal of ROLLING THUNDER . . . at any time based on your reports and recommendations.
None of the three hesitated long relaying such recommendations. "Although I am not aware of all the considerations leading to the continuation of the stand-down in ROLLING THUNDER," General Westmoreland cabled on December 27, "I consider that their immediate resumption is essential." He continued,
our only hope of a major impact on the ability of the DRV to support the war in Vietnam is continuous air attack over the entire length of their LOC's from the Chinese border to South Vietnam. . . . Notwithstanding the heavy pressure on their transportation system in the past 9 months, they have demonstrated an ability to deploy forces into South Vietnam at a greater rate than we are deploying U.S. forces. . . . Considering the course of the war in South Vietnam and the capability which has been built up here by the PAVN/VC forces--the full impact of which we have not yet felt--the curtailment of operations in North Vietnam is unsound from a military standpoint. Indeed, we should no[w] step up our effort to higher levels.
Ambassador Lodge seconded this recommendation, and Admiral Sharp filed his own pleas not only that ROLLING THUNDER be resumed "at once" but that his previous recommendations for enlarging it be adopted. The aim should be to "drastically reduce the flow of military supplies reaching the DRV and hence the VC," he argued, adding "the armed forces of the United States should not be required to fight this war with one arm tied behind their backs."
One reason for ignorance in Saigon and Honolulu of the bombing suspension's possible continuation was that the President had apparently never fully committed himself to the timetable proposed by McNamara. Replying to Lodge on December 28, Rusk cabled a summary of the President's thinking. As of that moment, said the Secretary of State, the President contemplated extending the pause only "for several more days, possibly into middle of next week," i.e., until January 5 or 6. His aim in stretching out the pause was only in small part to seek negotiations.
We do not, quite frankly, anticipate that Hanoi will respond in any significant way. . . . There is only the slimmest of chances that suspension of bombing will be occasion for basic change of objective by other side but communist propaganda on this subject should be tested and exposed.
The key reasons for extending the pause, Lodge was told, were diplomatic and domestic. Some hope existed of using the interval to "drive [a] rift between Communist powers and between Hanoi and NLF." Even more hopeful were indications that the government's act of self-abnegation would draw support at home. The latest Harris poll, Lodge was informed, showed 73% favoring a new effort for a cease-fire, 59% in favor of a bombing pause, and 61% in favor of stepping up bombing if the pause produced no result.
The prospect of large-scale reinforcement in men and defense budget increases of some twenty billions for the next eighteen month period requires solid preparation of the American public. A crucial element will be clear demonstration that we have explored fully every alternative but that aggressor has left us no choice.
This message went to Lodge as "EYES ONLY" for himself and Ambassador Porter. To what extent its contents were shared with General Westmoreland or other military or naval personnel, available documents do not indicate. In any case, the Embassy in Saigon had received from the very highest authority the same kind of intimation that opponents of the pause had been given in Washington. If the period of inaction would prepare American and world opinion for more severe measures, it followed that the next stage would see such measures put into effect.
As the pause continued beyond the deadline mentioned to Lodge, military planners in Saigon, Honolulu, and Washington worked at defining what these severe measures ought to be. On January 12, Admiral Sharp sent the Joint Chiefs a long cable, summarizing the conclusions of intensive planning by his staff and that of COMUSMACV.
We began R[olling] T[hunder] with very limited objectives, at a time when PAVN infiltration was of less significance than it is now,
When RT began, there was considerable hope of causing Hanoi to cease aggression through an increasing pressure brought to bear through carefully timed destruction of selected resources, accompanied by threat of greater losses . . . But . . . the nature of the war has changed since the air campaign began. RT has not forced Hanoi to the decision which we sought. There is now every indication that Ho Chi Minh intends to continue support of the VC until he is denied the capability to do so. . . . We must do all that we can to make it as difficult and costly as possible for Hanoi to continue direction and support of aggression. In good conscience, we should not long delay resumption of a RT program designed to meet the changed nature of the war.
Specifically, Admiral Sharp recommended:
1. . . . interdiction of land LOC's from China and closing of the ports [the] northeast quadrant . . . must be opened up for armed recce with authority to attack LOC targets as necessary.
2. Destruction of resources within NVN should begin with POL. Every known POL facility and distribution activity should be destroyed and harassed until the war is concluded. Denial of electric power facilities should begin at an early date and continue until all plants are out of action. . . All large military facilities should be destroyed in Northern NVN. . .
3. We should mount an intensified armed reconnaissance program without sortie restriction, to harass, disrupt and attrit[e] the dispersed and hidden military facilities and activities south of 20 deg[reesl. . . .
These three tasks well done will bring the enemy to the conference table or cause the insurgency to wither from lack of support. The alternative appears to be along and costly counterinsurgency--costly in U.S. and GVN lives and material resources.
Writing the Secretary of Defense on January 18, the Joint Chiefs offered an equally bold definition of a post-pause bombing campaign. The Chiefs argued that the piecemeal nature of previous attacks had permitted the DRV to adapt itself to the bombing, replenish and disperse its stocks, diversify its transportation system and improve its defenses. Complaining about the geographic and numerical restrictions on the bombing, the Chiefs recommended that "offensive air operations against NVN should be resumed now with a sharp blow and thereafter maintained with uninterrupted, increasing pressure. The Chiefs further argued that,
These operations should be conducted in such a manner and be of sufficient magnitude to: deny the DRV large-scale external assistance; destroy those resources already in NVN which contribute most to the support of aggression; destroy or deny use of military facilities; and harass, disrupt and impede the movement of men and materials into SVN.
The shutting off of external assistance would require,
. . . closing of the ports as well as sustained interdiction of land LOCs from China. . . . Military considerations would dictate that mining be conducted now; however, the Joint Chiefs . . . appreciate the sensitivity of such a measure and recognize that precise timing must take into account political factors.
In addition to endorsing the full-scale attacks on POL, electric power plants, large military facilities in northern NVN, and LOC centers and choke points with intensified armed reconnaissance, unhampered by the existing restrictions on sortie number, that CINCPAC has recommended, the Chiefs urged the reduction of the size of the sanctuaries around Hanoi, Haiphong and the China border. More importantly, the Chiefs requested authorization to eliminate the airfields if required and permission for operational commanders "to deal with the SAM threat, as required to prevent interference with planned air operations."
The Chiefs acknowledged the likely adverse response to this sharp escalation in the international community, but urged the necessity of the proposed actions. In dealing with the anxieties about Chinese communist entry into the war, they neatly turned the usual argument that China would enter the war in response to escalatory provocation on its head by arguing that a greater likelihood was Chinese entry through miscalculation.
The Joint Chiefs . . . believe that continued US restraint may serve to increase rather than decrease the likelihood of such intervention [Chinese] by encouraging gradual responses on the part of the Chinese Communists. This is in addition to the probable interpretation of such restraint as US vacillation by both the Communist and Free World leadership.
The Chiefs spelled out their specific proposals in their concluding recommendations:
a. The authorized area for offensive air operations be expanded to include all of NVN less the area encompassed by a ten-mile radius around Hanoi/ Phuc Yen Airfield, a four-mile radius around Haiphong, and a twenty-mile China buffer zone. Exceptions to permit selected strikes within these restricted areas, in accordance with the air campaign described herein, will be conducted only as authorized by the Joint Chiefs. . .
b. Numerical sortie limitations on armed reconnaissance in NVN be removed.
c. No tactical restrictions or limitations be imposed upon the execution of the specific air strikes.
d. The Joint Chiefs . . . be authorized to direct CINCPAC to conduct the air campaign against the DRV as described herein.
On the same day as the Chiefs' Memorandum, and perhaps in reaction to it, John McNaughton set down what he termed "Some Observations about Bombing North Vietnam." It is not clear to whom the paper was addressed, or who saw it. But it comprises perhaps the most effective political case that could have been made for the bombing program in early 1966, by a writer who was intimately involved with every detail of the program and who was fully aware of all its limitations. As such its most important sections are worth extensive quotation here. They were the following:
3. Purposes of the program of bombing the North. The purposes of the bombing are mainly:
a. To interdict infiltration.
b. To bring about negotiations (by indirect third-party pressure flowing from fear of escalation and by direct pressure on Hanoi).
c. To provide a bargaining counter in negotiations (or in a tacit "minuet").
d. To sustain GVN and US morale.
Short of drastic action against the North Vietnamese population (and query even then), the program probably cannot be expected directly or indirectly to persuade Hanoi to come to the table or to settle either (1) while Le Duan and other militants are in ascendance in the politburo or (2) while the North thinks it can win in the South. The only questions are two: (3) Can the program be expected to reduce (not just increase the cost of) DRV aid to the South below what it would otherwise be--and hopefully to put a ceiling on it--so that we can achieve a military victory or, short of that, so that their failure in the South will cause them to lose confidence in victory there? (Our World War II experience indicates that only at that time can the squeeze on the North be expected to be a bargaining counter). And (4) is the political situation (vis a vis the "hard-liners" at home, in the GVN and elsewhere) such that the bombing must be carried on for morale reasons? (The negative morale effect of now stopping bombing North Vietnam could be substantial, but it need not be considered unless the interdiction reason fails.)
4. Analysis of past interdiction efforts. The program so far has not successfully interdicted infiltration of men and materiel into South Vietnam (although it may have caused the North to concentrate its logistic resources on the trail, to the advantage of our efforts in support of Souvanna). Despite our armed reconnaissance efforts and strikes on railroads, bridges, storage centers, training bases and other key links in their lines of communications, it is estimated that they are capable of generating in the North and infiltrating to the South 4500 men a month and between 50 and 300 (an average of 200) tons a day depending on the season. The insufficiency of the interdiction effort is obvious when one realizes that the 110 battalions of PAVN (27) and VC (83) forces in Vietnam need only 20 or so tons a day from North Vietnam to sustain "1964" levels of activity and only approximately 80 tons a day to sustain "light combat" (1/5th of the force in contact once every 7 days using 1/3d of their basic load). The expansion of enemy forces is expected to involve the infiltration of 9 new PAVN and the generation of 7 new VC combat battalions a month, resulting (after attrition) in a leveled-off force of 155 battalions at end-1966. The requirements from the North at that time--assuming that the enemy refuses, as it can, to permit the level of combat to exceed "light"--should approximate 140 tons a day, less than half the dry-season infiltration capability and less than three-quarters the average infiltration capability.
5. The effective interdiction program. The flow of propaganda and military communications cannot be physically interdicted. But it is possible that the flow of men and materiel to the crucial areas of South Vietnam can be. The interdiction can be en route into North Vietnam from the outside world, inside North Vietnam, en route from the North by sea or through Laos or Cambodia to South Vietnam, and inside South Vietnam. It can be by destruction or by slow down. The effectiveness can be prolonged by exhausting the North's repair capability, and can be enhanced by complicating their communications and control machinery. The ingredients of an effective interdiction program in North Vietnam must be these:
a. Intensive around-the-clock armed reconaissance throughout NVN.
b. Destruction of the LOC targets heretofore targeted.
c. Destruction of POL.
d. Destruction of thermal power plants.
e. Closing of the ports.
. . . . It has been estimated (without convincing back-up) that an intensive program could reduce Hanoi's capability to supply forces in the South to 50 tons a day--too little for flexibility and for frequent offensive actions, perhaps too little to defend themselves against aggressive US/GVN forces, and too little to permit Hanoi to continue to deploy forces with confidence that they could be supplied.
6. Possible further efforts against the North. Not included in the above interdiction program are these actions against the North:
f. Destruction of industrial targets.
g. Destruction of locks and dams.
h. Attacks on population targets (per se).
The judgment is that, because North Vietnam's economy and organization is predominantly rural and not highly interdependent, attacks on industrial targets are not likely to contribute either to interdiction or to persuasion of the regime. Srikes at population targets (per se) are likely not only to create a counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home, but greatly to increase the risk of enlarging the war with China and the Soviet Union. Destruction of locks and dams, however--if handled right--might (perhaps after the next Pause) offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided--which we could offer to do "at the conference table."
7. Nature of resumed program against the North. The new ROLLING THUNDER program could be:
a. None, on grounds that net contribution to success is negative.
b. Resume where we left off, with a "flat-line" extrapolation.
c. Resume where we left off, but with slow continued escalation.
d. Resume where we left off, but with fast escalation.
On the judgment that it will not "flash" the Soviet Union or China--we should follow Course d (fast escalation). Failure to resume would serve none of our purposes and make us appear irresolute. A "flat line" program would reduce infiltration (but not below PAVN/VC needs) and would placate GVN and domestic pressures. But this is not good enough. A fast (as compared with a slow) escalation serves a double purpose--( 1) it promises quickly to interdict effectively, i.e., to cut the DRV level of infiltration to a point below the VC/PAVN requirements, and (2) it promises to move events fast enough so that the Chinese "take-over" of North Vietnam resulting from our program will be a visible phenomenon, one which the DRV may choose to reject. There is some indication that China is "smothering North Vietnam with a loving embrace." North Vietnam probably does not like this but, since it is being done by "salami slices" in reaction to our "salami-slice" bombing program, North Vietnam is not inspired to do anything about it. This condition, if no other, argues for escalating the war against North Vietnam more rapidly--so that the issue of Chinese encroachment will have to be faced by Hanoi in bigger bites, and so that the DRV may elect for a settlement rather than for greater Chinese infringement of North Vietnam's independence. The objections to the "fast" escalation are (1) that it runs serious risks of "flashing" the Chinese and Soviets and (2) that it gets the bombing program against the North "out of phase" with progress in the South. With respect to the first objection, there are disagreements as to the likelihood of such a "flash"; as for the second one, there is no reason why the two programs should be "in phase" if, as is the case, the main objective is to interdict infiltration, not "to persuade the unpersuadable."
* * *
9. Criticisms of the program. There are a number of criticisms of the program of bombing North Vietnam:
a. Cost in men and materiel. The program of bombing the North through 1965 cost 100?) airmen (killed and missing or prisoner) and 178 US or South Vietnamese aircraft (costing about $250 (?) million) in addition to the ammunition and other operating costs. The losses and costs in 1966 are expected to be 200 (?) airmen and 300 (?) aircraft.
b. Damage to peaceful image of the US. A price paid for because of our program of bombing the North 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.. . . .
c. 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 seriously strained the US-Soviet detente, making constructive arms-control and other cooperative programs more difficult. . . . 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.
d. Impact on Chicom role in DRV. So long as the program continues, the role of China in North Vietnam will increase. Increased Chinese aid will be required to protect against and to repair destruction. Also, the strikes against North Vietnamese "sovereign territories," by involving their "honor" more than would otherwise be the case, increases the risk that the DRV would accept a substantially increased Chinese role, however unattractive that may be, in order to avoid a "national defeat" (failure of the war of liberation in the South).
e. Risk of escalation. The bombing program--especially as strikes move toward Hanoi and toward China and as encounters with Soviet/Chinese SAMs/MIGs/vessels-at-sea occur--increases the risk of escalation into a broader war. The most risky actions are mining of the ports, bombing of cities (or possibly dams), and landings in North Vietnam.
10. Requirements of a program designed to "persuade" (not interdict). A bombing program focused on the objectives of "persuasion" would have these characteristics:
a. Emphasize the threat. The program should be structured to capitalize on fear of the future. At a given time, "pressure" on the DRV depends not upon the current level of bombing but rather upon the credible threat of future destruction (or other painful consequence, such as an unwanted increased Chinese role) which can be avoided by agreeing to negotiate or agreeing to some settlement in negotiations. Further, it is likely that North Vietnam would be more influenced by a threatened resumption of a given level of destruction-the "hot-cold" treatment-than by a threat to maintain the same level of destruction; getting "irregularity" into our pattern is important.
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 is 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. Thus we shall have to contemplate a succession of Pauses.
* * *
e. Maintain a "military" cover. To avoid the allegation that we are practicing "pure blackmail," the targets should be military targets and the declaratory policy should not be that our objective is to squeeze the DRV to the talking table, but should be that our objective is only to destroy military targets.
Thus, for purposes of the objective or promoting a settlement, three guidelines emerge: (1) Do not practice "strategic" bombing; (2) do not abandon the program; and (3) carry out strikes only as frequently as is required to keep alive fear of the future. Because DRV "face" plays a role and because we can never tell at what time in the future the DRV might be willing to talk settlement, a program with fairly long gaps between truly painful strikes at "military" targets would be optimum; it would balance the need to maintain the threat with the need to be in an extended pause when the DRV mood changed. Unfortunately, so long as full VC victory in the South appears likely, the effect of the bombing program in promoting negotiations or a settlement will probably be small. Thus, because of the present balance in the South, the date of such a favorable DRV change of mood is not likely to be in the near future. . .
11. Elements of a compromise program. There is a conflict between the objective of "persuading Hanoi," which would dictate a program of painful surgical strikes separated by fairly long gaps, and the objective of interdiction, which would benefit from continuous heavy bombings. No program can be designed which optimizes the chances of achieving both objectives at the same time. The kind of program which should be carried out in the future therefore depends on the relative importance and relative likelihood of success of the objectives at any given time. In this connection, the following questions are critical:
a. How likely is it that the Communists will start talking? The more likely this is, the more emphasis should be put on the "pressure/bargaining counter" program (para 10 above). The judgment is that the Communists are not likely to be interested in talking at least for the next few months.
b. How important to the military campaign is infiltration and how efficiently can we frustrate the flow? The more important that preventable infiltration is, the more emphasis should be put on the interdiction program (para 5 above). Unfortunately, the data are not clear on these points.
12. Reconciliation. The actions which these considerations seem now to imply are these, bearing in mind that our principal objective is to promote an acceptable outcome:
a. Spare non-interdiction targets. Do not bomb any non-interdiction targets in North Vietnam, since such strikes are not consistent with either of the two objectives. Such painful non-interdiction raids should be carried out only occasionally, pursuant to the rationale explained in para 10 above.
b. Interdict. Continue an interdiction program in the immediate future, as described in para 5 above, since the Communists are not likely to be willing to talk very soon and since it is possible that the interdiction program will be critical in keeping the Communist effort in South Vietnam within manageable proportions.
c. Study politically cheaper methods. Conduct a study to see whether most of the benefits of the interdiction campaign can be achieved by a Laos-SVN barrier or by a bombing program which is limited to the Laos- SVN border areas of North Vietnam, to Laos and/or to South Vietnam (and, if so, transition the interdiction program in that direction). The objective here is to find a way to maintain a ceiling on potential communist military activity in the South with the least political cost and with the least interference with North Vietnam willingness to negotiate.
McNaughton prepared a second memorandum complementing and partially modifying the one on bombing. It concerned the context for the decision. Opening with a paragraph which warned, "We . . . have in Vietnam the ingredients of an enormous miscalculation," it sketched the dark outlines of the Vietnamese scene:
. . . the ARVN is tired, passive and accommodation-prone. . . . The PAVN/VC are effectively matching our deployments. . . . The bombing
of the North . . . may or may not be able effectively to interdict infiltration (partly because the PAVN/VC can simply refuse to do battle if supplies are short). . . . Pacification is stalled despite efforts and hopes. The GVN political infrastructure is moribund and weaker than the VC infrastructure among most of the rural population. . . . South Vietnam is near the edge of serious inflation and economic chaos.
The situation might alter for the better, McNaughton conceded. "Attrition--save Chinese intervention--may push the DRV 'against the stops' by the end of 1966." Recent RAND motivation and morale studies showed VC spirit flagging and their grip on the peasantry growing looser. "The Ky government is coming along, not delivering its promised 'revolution' but making progress slowly and gaining experience and stature each week." Though McNaughton termed it "doubtful that a meaningful ceiling can be put on infiltration," he said "there is no doubt that the cost of infiltration can . . . be made very high and that the flow of supplies can be reduced substantially below what it would otherwise be." Possibly bombing, combined with other pressures, could bring the DRV to consider terms after "a period of months, not of days or even weeks."
The central point of McNaughton's memorandum, following from its opening warning, was that the United States, too, should consider coming to terms. He wrote:
c. The present US objective in Vietnam is to avoid humiliation. The reasons why we went into Vietnam to the present depth are varied; but they are now largely academic. Why we have not withdrawn from Vietnam is, by all odds, one reason: (1) To preserve our reputation as a guarantor, and thus to preserve our effectiveness in the rest of the world. We have not hung on (2) to save a friend, or (3) to deny the Communists the added acres and heads (because the dominoes don't fall for that reason in this case), or even (4) to prove that "wars of national liberation" won't work (except as our reputation is involved). At each decision point we have gambled; at each point, to avoid the damage to our effectiveness of defaulting on our commitment, we have upped the ante. We have not defaulted, and the ante (and commitment) is now very high. It is important that we behave so as to protect our reputation. At the same time, since it is our reputation that is at stake, it is important that we not construe our obligation to be more than do the countries whose opinions of us are our reputation.
d. We are in an escalating military stalemate. There is an honest difference of judgment as to the success of the present military efforts in the South. There is no question that the US deployments thwarted the VC hope to achieve a quick victory in 1965. But there is a serious question whether we are now defeating the VC/PAVN main forces and whether planned US deployments will more than hold our position in the country. Population and area control has not changed significantly in the past year; and the best judgment is that, even with the Phase hA deployments, we will probably be faced in early 1967 with a continued stalemate at a higher level of forces and casualties.
2. US commitment to SVN. Some will say that we have defaulted if we end up, at any point in the relevant future, with anything less than a Western-oriented, non-Communist, independent government, exercising effective sovereignty over all of South Vietnam. This is not so. As stated above, the US end is solely to preserve our reputation as a guarantor. It follows that the "softest" credible formulation of the US commitment is the following:
a. DRV does not take over South Vietnam by force. This does not necessarily rule out:
b. A coalition government including Communists.
c. A free decision by the South to succumb to the VC or to the North.
d. A neutral (or even anti-US) government in SVN.
e. A live-and-let-live "reversion to 1959." Furthermore, we must recognize that even if we fail in achieving this "soft" formulation, we could over time come out with minimum damage:
f. If the reason was GVN gross wrongheadedness or apathy.
g. If victorious North Vietnam "went Titoist."
h. If the Communist take-over was fuzzy and very slow.
Current decisions, McNaughton argued, should reflect awareness that the U.S. commitment could be fulfilled with something considerably short of victory. "It takes time to make hard decisions," he wrote, "It took us almost a year to take the decision to bomb North Vietnam; it took us weeks to decide on a pause; it could take us months (and could involve lopping some white as well as brown heads) to get us in position to go for a compromise. We should not expect the enemy's molasses to pour any faster than ours. And we should 'tip the pitchers' now if we want them to 'pour' a year from now."
But the strategy following from this analysis more or less corresponded over the short term to that recommended by the Saigon mission and the military commands: More effort for pacification, more push behind the Ky government, more battalions for MACV, and intensive interdiction bombing roughly as proposed by CINCPAC. The one change, introduced in this memorandum, prepared only one day after the other, concerned North Vietnamese ports. Now McNaughton advised that the ports not be closed. Why he did so is not apparent. The intelligence community had concurred a month earlier that such action would create "a particularly unwelcome dilemma" for the USSR, but would provoke nothing more than vigorous protest. Perhaps, however, someone had given McNaughton a warning sometime on January 18 or 19 that graver consequences could be involved. In any case, McNaughton introduced this one modification.
The argument which coupled McNaughton's political analysis with his strategic recommendations appeared at the end of the second memorandum:
The dilemma. We are in a dilemma. It is that the situation may be "polar." That is, it may be that while going for victory we have the strength for compromise, but if we go for compromise we have the strength only for defeat-this because a revealed lowering of sights from victory to compromise (a) will unhinge the GVN and (b) will give the DRV the "smell of blood." The situation therefore requires a thoroughly loyal and disciplined US team in Washington and Saigon and great care in what is said and done. It also requires a willingness to escalate the war if the enemy miscalculates, misinterpreting our willingness to compromise as implying we are on the run. The risk is that it may be that the "coin must come up heads or tails, not on edge."
Much of McNaughton's cautious language about the lack of success-past or predicted-of the interdiction efforts appeared six days later, 24 January, in a memorandum from McNamara for the President. The memorandum recommended (and its tone makes clear that approval was taken for granted) an increase in the number of attack sorties against North Vietnam from a level of roughly 3,000 per month--the rate for the last half of 1965--to a level of at least 4,000 per month to be reached gradually and then maintained throughout 1966. The sortie rate against targets in Laos, which had risen from 511 per month in June 1965 to 3,047 in December, would rise to a steady 4,500, and those against targets in South Vietnam, having risen from 7,234 in June to 13,114 in December, would drop back to 12,000 in June 1966, but then climb to 15,000 in December. By any standards, this was a large bombing program, yet McNamara could promise the President only that "the increased program probably will not put a tight ceiling on the enemy's activities in South Vietnam," but might cause him to hurt at the margins, with perhaps enough pressure to "condition [him] toward negotiations and an acceptable [to the US/GVN, that is] end to the war-and will maintain the morale of our South Vietnamese allies."
Most of McNamara's memorandum dealt with the planned expansion of American ground forces, however. Here it indicated that the President had decided in favor of recommendations the Secretary had brought back from his trip to Vietnam on 28 and 29 November, and had incorporated in memoranda for the President on 30 November and 7 December. These were to increase the number of US combat battalions from 34 at the end of 1965 to 74 a year later, instead of to 62 as previously planned, with comparable increases for the Korean and Australian contingents (from nine battalions to 21, and from one to two, respectively). Such an increase in US combat strength would raise total US personnel in Vietnam from 220,000 to over 400,000. At the same time, McNamara noted in his memorandum of 7 December, the Department of Defense would come before the Congress in January to ask for a supplemental appropriation of $11 billion of new obligational authority to cover increased Vietnam costs.
The Secretary recommended these measures, he said, because of "dramatic recent changes in the situation . . . on the military side." Infiltration from the North, mainly on greatly improved routes through Laos, had increased from three battalion equivalents per month in late 1964 to a recent high of a dozen per month. With his augmented forces, the enemy was showing an increased willingness to stand and fight in large scale engagements, such as the Ia Drang River campaign in November. To meet this growing challenge the previously planned US force levels would be insufficient. Identical descriptions of the increased enemy capability appeared in both McNamara's 3 November and 7 December memoranda. In the former, but not the latter, the following paragraph also appeared:
We have but two options, it seems to me. One is to go now for a compromise solution (something substantially less than the "favorable outcome" I described in my memorandum of November 3), and hold further deployments to a minimum. The other is to stick with our stated objectives and with the war, and provide what it takes in men and materiel. If it is decided not to move now toward a compromise, I recommend that the United States both send a substantial number of additional troops and very gradually intensify the bombing of North Vietnam. Ambassador Lodge, General Wheeler, Admiral Sharp and General Westmoreland concur in this two-pronged course of action, although General Wheeler and Admiral Sharp would intensify the bombing of the North more quickly.
McNamara did not commit himself--in any of these papers, at least--on the question of whether or not the President should now opt instead for a "compromise" outcome. The President, of course, decided against it. He did so, it should be noted, in the face of a "prognosis" from McNamara that was scarcely optimistic. There were changes in this prognosis as it went through the Secretary's successive Presidential memoranda on 30 November, 7 December and 24 January. The first of these stated simply:
We should be aware that deployments of the kind I have recommended will not guarantee success. US killed-in-action can be expected to reach 1000 a month, and the odds are even that we will be faced in early 1967 with a "no decision" at an even higher level. My overall evaluation, nevertheless, is that the best chance of achieving our stated objectives lies in a pause followed, if it fails, by the deployments mentioned above.
In the latter two memoranda, McNamara elaborated on this prognosis, and made it even less optimistic. The versions of 7 December and 24 January were similar, but there were important differences. They are set forward here with deletions from the 7 December version in brackets, and additions in the 24 January version underlined:
[Deployments of the kind we have recommended will not guarantee success.] Our intelligence estimate is that the present Communist policy is to continue to prosecute the war vigorously in the South. They continue to believe that the war will be a long one, that time is their ally, and that their own staying power is superior to ours. They recognize that the US reinforcements of 1965 signify a determination to avoid defeat, and that more US troops can be expected. Even though the Communists will continue to suffer heavily from GVN and US ground and air action, we expect them, upon learning of any US intentions to augment its forces, to boost their own commitment and to test US capabilities and will to persevere at a higher level of conflict and casualties (US killed-in-action with the recommended deployments can be expected to reach 1000 a month).
If the US were willing to commit enough forces--perhaps 600,000 men or more--we could probably ultimately prevent the DRV/VC from sustaining the conflict at a significant level. When this point was reached, however, the question of Chinese intervention would become critical. (We are generally agreed that the Chinese Communists will intervene with combat forces to prevent destruction of the Communist regime in North Vietnam; it is less clear that they would intervene to prevent a DRV/VC defeat in the South.) The intelligence estimate is that the chances are a little better than even that, at this stage, Hanoi and Peiping would choose to reduce their effort in the South and try to salvage their resources for another day. [; but there is an almost equal chance that they would enlarge the war and bring in large numbers of Chinese forces (they have made certain preparations which could point in this direction).]
It follows, therefore, that the odds are about even that, even with the recommended deployments, we will be faced in early 1967 with a military stand-off at a much higher level, with pacification [still stalled, and with any prospect of military success marred by the chances of an active Chinese intervention] hardly underway and with the requirement for the deployment of still more US forces.
On 25 January 1966, before the bombing had yet been resumed, George Ball sent to the President a long memorandum on the matter. Its first page warned:
I recognize the difficulty and complexity of the problem and I do not wish to add to your burdens. But before a final decision is made on this critical issue, I feel an obligation to amplify and document my strong conviction: that sustained bombing of North Viet-Nam will more than likely lead us into war with Red China--probably in six to nine months. And it may well involve at least a limited war with the Soviet Union.
There were, Ball said, "forces at work on both sides of the conflict that will operate in combination to bring about this result."
The Under-Secretary dealt with the U.S. side of the conflict first. The bombing, he wrote, would inevitably escalate; the passage of time, he contended, had demonstrated "that a sustained bombing program acquires a life and dynamism of its own." For this there were several reasons. First was that the U.S. "philosophy of bombing requires gradual escalation." Ball explained:
Admittedly, we have never had a generally agreed rationale for bombing North Viet-Nam. But the inarticulate major premise has always been that bombing will somehow, some day, and in some manner, create pressure on Hanoi to stop the war. This is accepted as an article of faith, not only by the military who have planning and operational responsibilities but by most civilian advocates of bombing in the Administration.
Yet it is also widely accepted that for bombing to have this desired political effect, we must gradually extend our attack to increasingly vital targets. In this way--it is contended--we will constantly threaten Hanoi that if it continues its aggression it will face mounting costs--with the destruction of its economic life at the end of the road.
On an attached chart, Ball demonstrated that in the eleven months of bombing target selection had gradually spread northward to a point where it was nearing the Chinese border and closing in on the Hanoi-Haiphong area, "steadily constricting the geographical scope of immunity."
Just as the geographical extent of the bombing would inexorably increase, Ball argued, so would the value of the targets struck. "Unless we achieve dramatic successes in the South--which no one expects [Ball wrote]--we will be led by frustration to hit increasingly more sensitive targets." He listed four categories of likely operations: (1) the mining of Haiphong harbor, and the destruction of (2) North Vietnam's POL supplies, (3) its system of power stations, and (4) its airfields. Each of these targets had already been recommended to the President by one of his principal military or civilian advisors in Washington or Saigon, Ball noted, and each had "a special significance for the major Cornmunist capitals." The mining of Haiphong harbor would "impose a major decision" on the Soviet Union. "Could it again submit to a blockade, as at the time of the Cuban missile crisis," Ball asked, "or should it retaliate by sending increased aid or even volunteers to North Viet-Nam or by squeezing the United States at some other vital point, such as Berlin?" Would Hanoi feel compelled to launch some kind of attack on crowded Saigon harbor or on U.S. fleet units--perhaps using surface-to-surface missiles provided by the Soviet Union? Similarly, the bombing of North Vietnam's POL supplies might bring in response an attack on the exposed POL in Saigon harbor. Then there were the airfields. Ball wrote:
The bombing of the airfields would very likely lead the DRV to request the use of Chinese air bases north of the border for the basing of North Vietnamese planes, or even to request the intervention of Chinese air. This would pose the most agonizing dilemma for us. Consistent with our decision to bomb the North, we could hardly permit the creation of a sanctuary from which our own planes could be harassed. Yet there is general agreement that for us to bomb China would very likely lead to a direct war with Peiping and would--in principle at least--trigger the Sino-Soviet Defense Pact, which has been in force for fifteen years.
The same process of action-reaction, Ball noted, would also apply to surface-to-air missile sites (SAMs) within North Vietnam. The wider the bombing the greater the number of SAM sites-manned substantially by Soviet and Chinese technicians-the North Vietnamese would install. "As more SAMs are installed, we will be compelled to take them out in order to safeguard our aircraft. This will mean killing more Russians and Chinese and putting greater pressure on those two nations for increased effort." Ball summarized this process in general terms: "Each extension of our bombing to more sensitive areas will increase the risk to our aircraft and compel a further extension of bombing to protect the expanded bombing activities we have staked out."
These risks would be run, Ball observed, for the sake of a bombing program that would nevertheless be ineffective in producing the political results being asked of it. Ten days before sending his memorandum to the President, Ball had asked the CIA's Office of National Estimates to prepare an estimate of likely reactions to various extensions of the bombing, and also an assessment of the effects they would be likely to have on North Vietnam's military effort in the south. He cited the estimate's conclusions in his Presidential memorandum. None of the types of attacks he had specified--on Haiphong harbor, on the POL, or on power stations--"would in itself, have a critical impact on the combat activity of the Communist forces in South Viet-Nam." This was, of course, scarcely a new conclusion. In various formulations it had figured in intelligence estimates for the preceding six months. From it Ball was led to the premises which motivated him to write his vigorously dissenting paper: "if the war is to be won--it must be won in the South," and "the bombing of the North cannot win the war, only enlarge it."
Ball's paper was at its most general (and perhaps least persuasive) in its discussion of "enlargement" of the war. He started from a historical example--the catastrophic misreading of Chinese intentions by the United States during the Korean war--and a logical premise:
Quite clearly there is a threshold which we cannot pass over without precipitating a major Chinese involvement. We do not know-even within wide margins of error-where that threshold is. Unhappily we will not find out until after the catastrophe.
In positing his own notions of possible thresholds, Ball could only reiterate points he had already made: that forcing the North Vietnamese air force to use Chinese bases, by bombing their own airfields, would be likely to escalate into armed conflict between the U.S. and China, and that the destruction of North Vietnam's industry would call in increased Chinese assistance to a point "sooner or later, we will almost certainly collide with Chinese interests in such a way as to bring about a Chinese involvement."
There were, strikingly enough, no recommendations in Ball's memorandum. Given his assumption that "sustained bombing" would acquire "a life of its own," and invariably escalate, the only consistent recommendation would have been that the U.S. should not resume bombing the North, but should instead confine the war to the South. There were no compromise positions. To a President who placed the avoidance of war with China (not to mention with the U.S.S.R.) very high on his list of objectives, and yet who felt--for military and political reasons--that he was unable not to resume bombing North Vietnam, but that, once resumed, the bombing must be carefully controlled, Ball offered disturbing analysis but little in the way of helpful practical advice.
The week including the Tet holidays (January 23-29) saw some final debate at the White House on the question of whether to resume at all in which Ball's memo surely figured. The outcome was a Presidential decision that ROLLING THUNDER should recommence on January 31. The President declined for the time being, however, to approve any extension of air operations, despite the strong recommendations of the military and the milder proposals of the Secretary of Defense for such action.
5. Accomplishments by Year's End
After 10 months of ROLLING THUNDER, months longer than U.S. officials had hoped it would require to bring NVN to terms, it was clear that NVN had neither called off the insurgency in the South nor been obliged to slow it down. Still, decision-makers did not consider bombing the North a failure. While willing to entertain the idea of a temporary pause to focus the spotlight on the diplomatic track they were pursuing, they were far from ready to give up the bombing out of hand. Why not? What did they think the bombing was accomplishing, and what did they think these accomplishments were worth? What did they hope to achieve by continuing it?
As already noted, certain political gains from the bombing were evident from the start. Morale in SVN was lifted, and a certain degree of stability had emerged in the GVN. NVN and other countries were shown that the U.S. was willing to back up strong words with hard deeds. These were transient gains, however. After the bombing of the North was begun, other U.S. actions--unleashing U.S. jet aircraft for air strikes in the South, and sending U.S. ground troops into battle there--had as great or even greater claim as manifestations of U.S. will and determination. Similarly, breaking through the sanctuary barrier had been accomplished, and once the message was clear to all concerned it did not require daily and hourly reinforcement. The acquisition of an important bargaining chip was a gain of uncertain value as yet, since it might have to be weighed against the role of the bombing as an obstacle to getting negotiations underway in the first place. As one high-level group stated in the fall of 1965:
. . . it would be difficult for any government, but especially an oriental one, to agree to negotiate while under sustained bombing attacks.
If this particular chip had to be given up in order to establish what the group called "the political and psychological framework for initiating negotiations," the gain in leverage might be small.
Public opinion about the bombing was mixed. On the hawk side, as Secretary McNamara summed it up for the President:
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.
People who believed that the U.S. was justified in intervening in the war and who identified Hanoi as the real enemy naturally tended to approve of the bombing. People who questioned the depth of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and who feared that the U.S. was on a collison course with China seemed to be more appalled by the bombing than by any other aspect of the war. The peace fringe attacked it as utterly reckless and immoral. Abroad, in many countries, the U.S. was portrayed as a bully and NVN as a victim. Even U.S. allies who had no illusions about Hanoi's complicity in the South were unhappy with the bombing. As McNamara viewed it:
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 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 support of US policy.
Bombing NVN, the Secretary added, had also complicated US-Soviet relations, mostly for the worse though conceivably--barely so--for the better:
The bombing program--because it appears to reject the policy of "peaceful coexistence," 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 difficult. How serious this effect will be 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.
In addition, the Secretary continued, more countries than before were "more interested in taking steps to bring the war to an end." The net effect of this, however, was generally to increase the international pressures on the U.S. to seek an accommodation, not Hanoi, so that it was hardly an unmixed blessing.
Immediate gains and losses in the domestic and international political arenas were less important, however, than the overall influence of the bombing on the course of the war itself. Short-term political penalties were not hard to bear, at home or abroad, if the bombing could materially improve the prospects for a favorable outcome. This did not necessarily mean that the bombing had to contribute to a military victory. ROLLING THUNDER was begun at a time when the war was being lost and even the minimum task of preventing an outright defeat was far from assured. Almost any military contribution from the bombing could be viewed as a boon.
It was not easy to assess the contribution of ROLLING THUNDER to the war as a whole. Decision-makers like Secretary McNamara received regular monthly reports of measurable physical damage inflicted by the strikes, together with a verbal description of less readily quantifiable economic, military and political effects within NVN, but it was difficult to assess the significance of the results as reported or to relate them to the progress of the war in the South. Reports of this kind left it largely to the judgment or the imagination to decide what the bombing was contributing to the achievement of overall U.S. objectives.
CIA and DIA, in a joint monthly "Appraisal of the Bombing of North Vietnam" which had been requested by the SecDef in August, attempted to keep a running tabulation of the theoretical cost of repairing or reconstructing damaged or destroyed facilities and equipment in NVN. According to this, the first year of ROLLING THUNDER inflicted $63 million worth of measurable damage, $36 million to "economic" targets like bridges and transport equipment, and $27 million to "military" targets like barracks and ammunition depots. In addition to this measurable damage, the bombing was reported to have "disrupted" the production and distribution of goods; created "severe" problems and "reduced capacity" in all forms of transportation; created more "severe problems" in managing the economy; reduced production; caused "shortages" and "hardships"; forced the diversion of "skilled manpower and scarce resources" from productive uses to the restoration of damaged facilities and/or their dispersal and relocation; and so on.
In terms of specific target categories, the appraisals reported results like the following:
Power plants. 6 small plants struck, only 2 of them in the main power grid. Loss resulted in local power shortages and reduction in power available for irrigation but did not reduce the power supply for the Hanoi/Haiphong area.
POL storage. 4 installations destroyed, about 17 percent of NVN's total bulk storage capacity. Economic effect not significant, since neither industry nor agriculture is large user and makeshift storage and distribution procedures will do.
Manufacturing. 2 facilities hit, 1 explosive plant and 1 textile plant, the latter by mistake. Loss of explosives plant of little consequence since China furnished virtually all the explosives required. Damage to textile plant not extensive.
Bridges. 30 highway and 6 railroad bridges on JCS list destroyed or damaged, plus several hundred lesser bridges hit on armed reconnaissance missions. NVN has generally not made a major reconstruction effort, usually putting fords, ferries, and pontoon bridges into service instead. Damage has neither stopped nor curtailed movement of military supplies.
Railroad yards. 3 hit, containing about 10 percent of NVN's total railroad cargo-handling capacity. Has not significantly hampered the operations of the major portions of the rail network.
Ports. 2 small maritime ports hit, at Vinh and Thanh Hoa in the south, with only 5 percent of the country's maritime cargo-handling capacity. Impact on economy minor.
Locks. Of 91 known locks and dams in NVN, only 8 targeted as significant to inland waterways, flood control, or irrigation. Only 1 hit, heavily damaged.
Transport equipment. Destroyed or damaged 12 locomotives, 819 freight cars, 805 trucks, 109 ferries, 750 barges, and 354 other water craft. No evidence of serious problems due to shortages of equipment.
What did all of this amount to? The direct losses, in the language of one of the monthly appraisals,
. . . still remain small compared to total economic activity, because the country is predominantly agricultural and the major industrial facilities have not been attacked.
The "cumulative strains" resulting from the bombing had "reduced industrial performance," but' "the primarily rural nature of the area permits continued functioning of the subsistence economy." The "economic deterioration so far has not affected the capabilities of North Vietnam's armed forces, which place little direct reliance on the domestic economy for material." The bombing had "still" not reduced NVN capabilities to defend itself from attack and to support existing NVA/VC forces in Laos and SVN, but it had "limited" "freedom of movement" in the southern provinces, and it had "substantially curtailed" NVA capabilities to mount "a major offensive action" in Southeast Asia. Altogether, however, "the air strikes do not appear to have altered Hanoi's determination to continue supporting the war in South Vietnam."
An evaluation which had to be couched in such inexact and impressionistic language was of little help in coming to grips with the most important questions about the bombing: (1) How much "pressure" was being applied to NVN to scale down or give up the insurgency, and how well was it working? (2) In what ways and to what degree was the bombing affecting NVN's capacity to wage war in the South? Whether the bombing program was viewed primarily as a strategic-punitive campaign against Hanoi's will or a tactical-interdiction campaign against NVN's military capabilities in the South--or, as some would have it, both--these were the questions to address, not the quantity of the damage and the quality of the dislocations.
In dealing with the above questions, it had to be recognized that NVN was an extremely poor target for air attack. The theory of either strategic or interdiction bombing assumed highly developed industrial nations producing large quantities of military goods to sustain mass armies engaged in intensive warfare. NVN, as U.S. intelligence agencies knew, was an agricultural country with a rudimentary transportation system and little industry of any kind. Nearly all of the people were rice farmers who worked the land with water buffaloes and hand tools, and whose well-being at a subsistence level was almost entirely dependent on what they grew or made themselves. What intelligence agencies liked to call the "modern industrial sector" of the economy was tiny even by Asian standards, producing only about 12 percent of a GNP of $1.6 billion in 1965. There were only a handful of "major industrial facilities." When NVN was first targeted the JCS found only 8 industrial installations worth listing on a par with airfields, military supply dumps, barracks complexes, port facilities, bridges, and oil tanks. Even by the end of 1965, after the JCS had lowered the standards and more than doubled the number of important targets, the list included only 24 industrial installations, 18 of them power plants which were as important for such humble uses as lighting streets and pumping water as for operating any real factories.
Apart from one explosives plant (which had already been demolished), NVN's limited industry made little contribution to its military capabilities. NVN forces, in intelligence terminology, placed "little direct reliance on the domestic economy for material." NVN in fact produced only limited quantities of simple military items, such as mortars, grenades, mines, small arms, and bullets, and those were produced in small workshops rather than large arsenals. The great bulk of its military equipment, and all of the heavier and more sophisticated items, had to be imported. This was no particular problem, since both the USSR and China were apparently more than glad to help.
The NVN transportation system was austere and superficially looked very vulnerable to air attack, but it was inherently flexible and its capacity greatly exceeded the demands placed upon it. The rail system, with single-track lines radiating from Hanoi, provided the main link-up to China and, via the port of Haiphong, to the rest of the world; it was more important for relatively long-haul international shipments than for domestic freight. The latter was carried mostly over crude roads and simple waterways, on which the most common vehicles were oxcarts and sampans, not trucks or steamers. The system was quite primitive, but immensely durable.
Supporting the war in the South was hardly a great strain on NVN's economy. The NVA/VC forces there did not constitute a large army. They did not fight as conventional divisions or field armies, with tanks and airplanes and heavy artillery; they did not need to be supplied by huge convoys of trucks, trains, or ships. They fought and moved on foot, supplying themselves locally, in the main, and simply avoiding combat when supplies were low. What they received from NVN was undoubtedly critical to their military operations, but it amounted to only a few tons per day for the entire force--an amount that could be carried by a handful of trucks or sampans, or several hundred coolies. This small amount did not have to be carried conspicuously over exposed routes, and it was extremely difficult to interdict, by bombing or any other means.
In sum, then, NVN did not seem to be a very rewarding target for air attack. Its industry was limited, meaningful targets were few, and they did not appear critical to either the viability of the economy, the defense of the nation, or the prosecution of the war in the South. The idea that destroying, or threatening to destroy, NVN's industry would pressure Hanoi into calling it quits seems, in retrospect, a colossal misjudgment. The idea was based, however, on a plausible assumption about the rationality of NVN's leaders, which the U.S. intelligence community as a whole seemed to share. This was that the value of what little industrial plant NVN possessed was disproportionately great. That plant was purchased by an extremely poor nation at the price of considerable sacrifice over many years. Even though it did not amount to much, it no doubt symbolized the regime's hopes and desires for national status, power, and wealth, and was probably a source of considerable pride. It did not seem unreasonable to believe that NVN leaders would not wish to risk the destruction of such assets, especially when that risk seemed (to us) easily avoidable by cutting down the insurgency and deferring the takeover of SVN until another day and perhaps in another manner-which Ho Chi Minh had apparently decided to do once before, in 1954. After all, an ample supply of oriental patience is precisely what an old oriental revolutionary like Ho Chin Minh was supposed to have.
For 1965, at least, these assumptions about Hanoi's leaders were not borne out. The regime's public stance remained one of strong defiance, determined to endure the worst and still see the U.S. defeated. The leadership directed a shift of strategy in the South, from an attempt at a decisive military victory to a strategy of protracted conflict designed to wear out the opposition and prepare the ground for an eventual political settlement, but this decision was undoubtedly forced upon it by U.S. intervention in the South. There was no sign that bombing the North, either alone or in combination with other U.S. actions, had brought about any greater readiness to settle except on their terms.
In the North, the regime battened down and prepared to ride out the storm. With Soviet and Chinese help, it greatly strengthened its air defenses, multiplying the number of AAA guns and radars, expanding the number of jet fighter airfields and the jet fighter force, and introducing an extensive SAM system. Economic development plans were laid aside. Imports were increased to offset production losses. Bombed facilities were in most cases simply abandoned. The large and vulnerable barracks and storage depots were replaced by dispersed and concealed ones. Several hundred thousand workers were mobilized to keep the transportation system operating. Miles of by-pass roads were built around choke-points to make the system redundant. Knocked-out bridges were replaced by fords, ferries, or alternate structures, and methods were adopted to protect them from attack. Traffic shifted to night time, poor weather, and camouflage. Shuttling and transshipment practices were instituted. Construction material, equipment, and workers were prepositioned along key routes in order to effect quick repairs. Imports of railroad cars and trucks were increased to offset equipment losses.
In short, NVN leaders mounted a major effort to withstand the bombing pressure. They had to change their plans and go on a war footing. They had to take drastic measures to shelter the population and cope with the bomb damage. They had to force the people to work harder and find new ways to keep the economy operating. They had to greatly increase imports and their dependence on the USSR and China. There were undoubtedly many difficulties and hardships involved. Yet, NVN had survived. Its economy had continued to function. The regime had not collapsed, and it had not given in. And it still sent men and supplies into SVN.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 4, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Glossary of Acronyms and Terms
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241
Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency
in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
Return to Vinnie's Home Page
Return to Vietnam War Page