Section 3, pp. 112-169
2. Alternatives--The Barrier Concept
The fact that bombing had failed to achieve its objectives did not mean that all those purposes were to be abandoned. For an option-oriented policy adviser like McNamara the task was to find alternative ways of accomplishing the job. The idea of constructing an anti-infiltration barrier across the DMZ and the Laotian panhandle was first proposed in January 1966 by Roger Fisher of Harvard Law School in one of his periodic memos to McNaughton. The purpose of Fisher's proposal was to provide the Administration with an alternative strategic concept for arresting infiltration, thereby permitting a cessation of the bombing (a supporting sub-thesis of his memo was the failure of the bombing to break Hanoi's will). He had in mind a primarily air-seeded line of barbed wire, mines and chemicals since the terrain in question would make actual on-the-ground physical construction of a barrier difficult and would probably evoke fierce military opposition. In his memo, Fisher dealt at length with the pros and cons of such a proposal including a lengthy argument for its political advantages.
The memo must have struck a responsive cord in McNaughton because six weeks later he sent McNamara an only slightly revised version of the Fisher draft. McNaughton's changes added little to the Fisher ideas; they served merely to tone down some of his assertions and hedge the conclusions. The central argument for the barrier concept proceeded from a negative analysis of the effects of the bombing.
B. PRESENT MILITARY SITUATION IN NORTH VIETNAM
1. Physical consequences of bombing
a. The DRV has suffered some physical hardship and pain, raising the cost to it of supporting the VC.
b. Best intelligence judgment is that:
(1) Bombing may or may not-by destruction or delay-have resulted in net reduction in the flow of men or supplies to the forces in the South;
(2) Bombing has failed to reduce the limit on the capacity of the DRV to aid the VC to a point below VC needs;
(3) Future bombing of North Vietnam cannot be expected physically to limit the military support given the VC by the DRV to a point below VC needs.
2. Influence consequences of bombing
a. There is no evidence that bombings have made it more likely the DRV will decide to back out of the war.
b. Nor is there evidence that bombings have resulted in an increased DRV resolve to continue the war to an eventual victory. [Fisher's draft had read "There is some evidence that bombings. . . "]
C. THE FUTURE OF A BOMBING STRATEGY
Although bombings of North Vietnam improve GVN morale and provide a counter in eventual negotiations (should they take place) there is no evidence that they meaningfully reduce either the capacity or the will for the DRV to support the VC. The DRV knows that we cannot force them to stop by bombing and that we cannot, without an unacceptable risk of a major war with China or Russia or both, force them to stop by conquering them or "blotting them out." Knowing that if they are not influenced we cannot stop them, the DRV will remain difficult to influence. With continuing DRV support, victory in the South may remain forever beyond our reach.
Having made the case against the bombing, the memo then spelled out the case for an anti-infiltration barrier:
II. SUBSTANCE OF THE BARRIER PROPOSAL
A. That the US and GVN adopt the concept of physically cutting off DRV support to the VC by an on-the-ground barrier across the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the general vicinity of the 17th Parallel and Route 9. To the extent necessary the barrier would run from the sea across Vietnam and Laos to the Mekong, a straight-line distance of about 160 miles.
B. That in Laos an "interdiction and verification zone," perhaps 10 miles wide, be established and legitimated by such measures as leasing, international approval, compensation, etc.
C. That a major military and engineering effort be directed toward constructing a physical barrier of minefields, barbed wire, walls, ditches and military strong points flanked by a defoliated strip on each side.
D. That such bombing in Laos and North Vietnam as takes place be narrowly identified with interdiction and with the construction of the barrier by
1. Being within the 10-mile-wide interdiction zone in Laos, or
2. Being in support of the construction of the barrier, or
3. Being interdiction bombing pending the completion of the barrier.
E. That, of course, intensive interdiction continues at sea and from Cambodia.
(It might be stated that all bombings of North Vietnam will stop as soon as there is no infiltration and no opposition to the construction of the verification barrier.)
Among the McNaughton additions to the Fisher draft were several suggested action memos including one to the Chiefs asking for military comment on the proposal. Available documents do not reveal whether McNamara sent the memo nor indicate what his own reaction to the proposal was. He did, however, contact the Chiefs in some way for their reaction to the proposal because on March 24 the Chiefs sent a message to CINCPAC requesting field comment on the barrier concept. After having in turn queried his subordinates, CINCPAC replied on April 7 that construction and defense of such a barrier would require 7-8 U.S. divisions and might take up to three and one half to four years to become fully operational. It would require a substantial diversion of available combat and construction resources and would place a heavy strain on the logistics support system in Southeast Asia, all in a static defense effort which would deny us the military advantages of flexibility in employment of forces. Not surprisingly, after this exaggerated catalog of problems, CINCPAC recommended against such a barrier as an inefficient use of resources with small likelihood of achieving U.S. objectives in Vietnam. These not unexpected objections notwithstanding, the Army (presumably at McNamara's direction) had begun an R&D program in March to design, develop, test and deliver within six to nine months for operational evaluation a set of anti-personnel route and trail interdiction devices.
At approximately the same time an apparently unrelated offer was made by four distinguished scientific advisors to the Government to form a summer working group to study technical aspects of the war in Vietnam. It is possible that the idea for such a study really originated in the Pentagon, although the earliest documents indicate that the four scholars (Dr. George Kistiakowsky-Harvard; Dr. Karl Kaysen-Harvard; Dr. Jerome Wiesner-MIT; and Dr. Jerrold Zacharias-MIT) made the first initiative with Adam Yarmolinsky, then working for McNaughton. In any case, McNamara liked the idea and sent Zacharias a letter on April 16 formally requesting that he and the others arrange the summer study on "technical possibilities in relation to our military operations in Vietnam." On April 26 he advised John McNaughton, who was to oversee the project, that the scientists' group should examine the feasibility of "A 'fence' across the infiltration trails, warning systems, reconnaissance (especially night) methods, night vision devices, defoliation techniques, and area-denial weapons." In this way the barrier concept was officially brought to the attention of the study group.
During the remainder of the spring, while McNamara and the other Principals were preoccupied with the POL decision, the summer study group was organized and the administrative mechanics worked out for providing its members with briefings and classified material. The contract, it was determined, would be let to the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) for the study to be done through its JASON Division (ad hoc high-level studies using primarily non-IDA scholars). The group of 47 scientists (eventually to grow to 67 with the addition of 20 IDA personnel), representing the cream of the scholarly community in technical fields, finally met in Wellesley on June 13 for ten days of briefings by high-level officials from the Pentagon, CIA, State and the White House on all facets of the war. Thereafter they broke into four sub-groups to study different aspects of the problem from a technical (not a political) point of view. Their work proceeded through July and August and coincided with McNamara's disillusionment over the results of the POL strikes.
b. The JASON Summer Study Reports
At the end of August the Jason Summer Study, as it had come to be known, submitted four reports: (1) The Effects of US Bombing in North Vietnam; (2) VC/NVA Logistics and Manpower; (3) An Air Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier; and (4) Summary of Results, Conclusions and Recommendations. The documents were regarded as particularly sensitive and were extremely closely held with General Wheeler and Mr. Rostow receiving the only copies outside OSD. The reason is easy to understand. The Jason Summer Study reached the conclusion that the bombing of North Vietnam was ineffective and therefore recommended that the barrier concept be implemented as an alternative means of checking infiltration.
Several factors combined to give these conclusions and recommendations a powerful and perhaps decisive influence in McNamara's mind at the beginning of September 1966. First, they were recommendations from a group of America's most distinguished scientists, men who had helped the Government produce many of its most advanced technical weapons systems since the Second World War, and men who were not identified with the vocal academic criticism of the Administration's Vietnam policy. Secondly, the reports arrived at a time when McNamara, having witnessed the failure of the POL attacks to produce decisive results, was harboring doubts of his own about the effectiveness of the bombing, and at a time when alternative approaches were welcome. Third, the Study Group did not mince words or fudge its conclusions, but stated them bluntly and forcefully. For all these reasons, then, the reports are significant. Moreover, as we shall see, they apparently had a dramatic impact on the Secretary of Defense and provided much of the direction for future policy. For these reasons important sections of them are reproduced at some length below.
The report evaluating the results of the U.S. air campaign against North Vietnam began with a forceful statement of conclusions:
Summary and Conclusions
1. As of July 1966 the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam (NVN) had had no measurable direct effect on Hanoi's ability to mount and support military operations in the South at the current level.
Although the political constraints seem clearly to have reduced the effectiveness of the bombing program, its limited effect on Hanoi's ability to provide such support cannot be explained solely on that basis. The countermeasures introduced by Hanoi effectively reduced the impact of U.S. bombing. More fundamentally, however, North Vietnam has basically a subsistence agricultural economy that presents a difficult and unrewarding target system for air attack.
The economy supports operations in the South mainly by functioning as a logistic funnel and by providing a source of manpower. The industrial sector produces little of military value. Most of the essential military supplies that the VC/NCN forces in the South require from external sources are provided by the USSR and Communist China. Furthermore, the volume of such supplies is so low that only a small fraction of the capacity of North Vietnam's rather flexible transportation network is required to maintain the flow. The economy's relatively underemployed labor force also appears to provide an ample manpower reserve for internal military and economic needs including repair and reconstruction and for continued support of military operations in the South.
2. Since the initiation of the ROLLING THUNDER program the damage to facilities and equipment in North Vietnam has been more than offset by the increased flow of military and economic aid, largely from the USSR and Communist China.
The measurable costs of the damage sustained by North Vietnam are estimated by intelligence analysts to have reached approximately $86 million by 15 July 1966. In 1965 alone, the value of the military and economic aid that Hanoi received from the USSR and Communist China is estimated to have been on the order of $250-400 million, of which about $100-150 million was economic, and they have continued to provide aid, evidently at an increasing rate, during the current year. Most of it has been from the USSR, which had virtually cut off aid during the 1962-64 period. There can be little doubt, therefore, that Hanoi's Communist backers have assumed the economic costs to a degree that has significantly cushioned the impact of U.S. bombing.
3. The aspects of the basic situation that have enabled Hanoi to continue its support of military operations in the South and to neutralize the impact of U.S. bombing by passing the economic costs to other Communist countries are not likely to be altered by reducing the present geographic constraints, mining Haiphong and the principal harbors in North Vietnam, increasing the number of armed reconnaissance sorties and otherwise expanding the U.S. air offensive along the lines now contemplated in military recommendations and planning studies.
An expansion of the bombing program along such lines would make it more difficult and costly for Hanoi to move essential military supplies through North Vietnam to the VC/NVN forces in the South. The low volume of supplies required, the demonstrated effectiveness of the countermeasures already undertaken by Hanoi, the alternative options that the NVN transportation network provides and the level of aid the USSR and China seem prepared to provide, however, make it quite unlikely that Hanoi's capability to function as a logistic funnel would be seriously impaired. Our past experience also indicates that an intensified air campaign in NVN probably would not prevent Hanoi from infiltrating men into the South at the present or a higher rate, if it chooses. Furthermore, there would appear to be no basis for assuming that the damage that could be inflicted by an intensified air offensive would impose such demands on the North Vietnamese labor force that Hanoi would be unable to continue and expand its recruitment and training of military forces for the insurgency in the South.
4. While conceptually it is reasonable to assume that some limit may be imposed on the scale of military activity that Hanoi can maintain in the South by continuing the ROLLING THUNDER program at the present, or some higher level of effort, there appears to be no basis for defining that limit in concrete terms or, for concluding that the present scale of VC/NVN activities in the field have approached that limit.
The available evidence clearly indicates that Hanoi has been infiltrating military forces and supplies into South Vietnam at an accelerated rate during the current year. Intelligence estimates have concluded that North Vietnam is capable of substantially increasing its support.
5. The indirect effects of the bombing on the will of the North Vietnamese to continue fighting and on their leaders' appraisal of the prospective gains and costs of maintaining the present policy have not shown themselves in any tangible way. Furthermore, we have not discovered any basis for concluding that the indirect punitive effects of bombing will prove decisive in these respects.
It may be argued on a speculative basis that continued or increased bombing must eventually affect Hanoi's will to continue, particularly as a component of the total U.S. military pressures being exerted throughout Southeast Asia. However, it is not a conclusion that necessarily follows from the available evidence; given the character of North Vietnam's economy and society, the present and prospective low levels of casualties and the amount of aid available to Hanoi. It would appear to be equally logical to assume that the major influences on Hanoi's will to continue are most likely to be the course of the war in the South and the degree to which the USSR and China support the policy of continuing the war and that the punitive impact of U.S. bombing may have but a marginal effect in this broader context.
In the body of the report these summary formulations were elaborated in more detail. For instance, in assessing the military and economic effect of the bombing on North Vietnam's capacity to sustain the war, the report stated:
The economic and military damage sustained by Hanoi in the first year of the bombing was moderate and the cost could be (and was) passed along to Moscow and Peiping.
The major effect of the attack on North Vietnam was to force Hanoi to cope with disruption to normal activity, particularly in transportation and distribution. The bombing hurt most in its disruption of the roads and rail nets and in the very considerable repair effort which became necessary. The regime, however, was singularly successful in overcoming the effects of the U.S. interdiction effort.
Much of the damage was to installations that the North Vietnamese did not need to sustain the military effort. The regime made no attempt to restore storage facilities and little to repair damage to power stations, evidently because of the existence of adequate excess capacity and because the facilities were not of vital importance. For somewhat similar reasons, it made no major effort to restore military facilities, but merely abandoned barracks and dispersed materiel usually stored in depots.
The major essential restoration consisted of measures to keep traffic moving, to keep the railroad yards operating, to maintain communications, and to replace transport equipment and equipment for radar and SAM sites.
A little further on the report examined the political effects of the bombing on Hanoi's will to continue the war, the morale of the population, and the support of its allies.
The bombing through 1965 apparently had not had a major effect in shaping Hanoi's decision on whether or not to continue the war in Vietnam. The regime probably continued to base such decisions mainly on the course of the fighting in the South and appeared willing to suffer even stepped-up bombing so long as prospects of winning the South appeared to be reasonably good.
Evidence regarding the effect of the bombing on the morale of the North Vietnamese people suggests that the results were mixed. The bombing clearly strengthened popular support of the regime by engendering patriotic and nationalistic enthusiasm to resist the attacks. On the other hand, those more directly involved in the bombing underwent personal hardships and anxieties caused by the raids. Because the air strikes were directed away from urban areas, morale was probably damaged less by the direct bombing than by its indirect effects, such as evacuation of the urban population and the splitting of families.
Hanoi's political relations with its allies were in some respects strengthened by the bombing. The attacks had the effect of encouraging greater material and political support from the Soviet Union than might otherwise have been the case. While the Soviet aid complicated Hanoi's relationship with Peking, it reduced North Vietnam's dependence on China and thereby gave Hanoi more room for maneuver on its own behalf.
This report's concluding chapter was entitled "Observations" and contained some of the most lucid and penetrating analysis of air war produced to that date, or this! It began by reviewing the original objectives the bombing was initiated to achieve:
". . . reducing the ability of North Vietnam to support the Communist insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos, and . . . increasing progressively the pressure on NVN to the point where the regime would decide that it was too costly to continue directing and supporting the insurgency in the South.
After rehearsing the now familiar military failure of the bombing to halt the infiltration, the report crisply and succinctly outlined the bombing's failure to achieve the critical second objective--the psychological one:
. . . initial plans and assessments for the ROLLING THUNDER program clearly tended to overestimate the persuasive and disruptive effects of the U.S. air strikes and, correspondingly, to underestimate the tenacity and recuperative capabilities of the North Vietnamese. This tendency, in turn, appears to reflect a general failure to appreciate the fact, well-documented in the historical and social scientific literature, that a direct, frontal attack on a society tends to strengthen the social fabric of the nation, to increase popular support of the existing government, to improve the determination of both the leadership and the populace to fight back, to induce a variety of protective measures that reduce the society's vulnerability to future attack, and to develop an increased capacity for quick repair and restoration of essential functions. The great variety of physical and social countermeasures that North Vietnam has taken in response to the bombing is now well documented in current intellegence reports, but the potential effectiveness of these countermeasures was not stressed in the early planning or intelligence studies.
Perhaps the most trenchant analysis of all, however, was reserved for last as the report attacked the fundamental weakness of the air war strategy-our inability to relate operations to objectives:
In general, current official thought about U.S. objectives in bombing NVN implicitly assumes two sets of causal relationships:
1. That by increasing the damage and destruction of resources in NVN, the U.S. is exerting pressure to cause the DRV to stop their support of the military operations in SVN and Laos; and
2. That the combined effect of the total military effort against NVN--including the U.S. air strikes in NVN and Laos, and the land, sea, and air operations in SVN--will ultimately cause the DRV to perceive that its probable losses accruing from the war have become greater than its possible gains and, on the basis of this net evaluation, the regime will stop its support of the war in the South.
These two sets of interrelationships are assumed in military planning, but it is not clear that they are systematically addressed in current intelligence estimates and assessments. Instead, the tendency is to encapsulate the bombing of NVN as one set of operations and the war in the South as another set of operations, and to evaluate each separately; and to tabulate and describe data on the physical, economic, and military effects of the bombing, but not to address specifically the relationship between such effects and the data relating to the ability and will of the DRV to continue its support of the war in the South.
The fragmented nature of current analyses and the lack of an adequate methodology for assessing the net effects of a given set of military operations leaves a major gap between the quantifiable data on bomb damage effects, on the one hand, and policy judgments about the feasibility of achieving a given set of objectives, on the other. Bridging this gap still requires the exercise of broad political-military judgments that cannot be supported or rejected on the basis of systematic intelligence indicators. It must be concluded, therefore, that there is currently no adequate basis for predicting the levels of U.S. military effort that would be required to achieve the stated objectives-indeed, there is no firm basis for determining if there is any feasible level of effort that would achieve these objectives.
The critical impact of this study on the Secretary's thinking is revealed by the fact that many of its conclusions and much of its analysis would find its way into McNamara's October trip report to the President.
Having submitted a stinging condemnation of the bombing, the Study Group was under some obligation to offer constructive alternatives and this they did, seizing, not surprisingly, on the very idea McNamara had suggested--the anti-infiltration barrier. The product of their summer's work was a reasonably detailed proposal for a multisystem barrier across the DMZ and the Laotian panhandle that would make extensive use of recently innovated mines and sensors. The central portion of their recommendation follows:
The barrier would have two somewhat different parts, one designed against foot traffic and one against vehicles. The preferred location for the anti-foot-traffic barrier is in the region along the southern edge of the DMZ to the Laotian border and then north of Tchepone to the vicinity of Muong Sen, extending about 100 by 20 kilometers. This area is virtually unpopulated, and the terrain is quite rugged, containing mostly V-shaped valleys in which the opportunity for alternate trails appears lower than it is elsewhere in the system. The location of choice for the anti-vehicle part of the system is the area, about 100 by 40 kilometers, now covered by Operation Cricket. In this area the road network tends to be more constricted than elsewhere, and there appears to be a smaller area available for new roads. An alternative location for the anti-personnel system is north of the DMZ to the Laotian border and then north along the crest of the mountains dividing Laos from North Vietnam. It is less desirable economically and militarily because of its greater length, greater distance from U.S. bases, and greater proximity to potential North Vietnamese counter-efforts.
The air-supported barrier would, if necessary, be supplemented by a manned "fence" connecting the eastern end of the barrier to the sea.
The construction of the air-supported barrier could be initiated using currently available or nearly available components, with some necessary modifications, and could perhaps be installed by a year or so from go-ahead. However, we anticipate that the North Vietnamese would learn to cope with a barrier built this way after some period of time which we cannot estimate, but which we fear may be short. Weapons and sensors which can make a much more effective barrier, only some of which are now under development, are not likely to be available in less than 18 months to 2 years. Even these, it must be expected, will eventually be overcome by the North Vietnamese, so that further improvements in weaponry will be necessary. Thus we envisage a dynamic "battle of the barrier," in which the barrier is repeatedly improved and strengthened by the introduction of new components, and which will hopefully permit us to keep the North Vietnamese off balance by continually posing new problems for them.
This barrier is in concept not very different from what has already been suggested elsewhere; the new aspects are: the very large scale of area denial, especially mine fields kilometers deep rather than the conventional 100- 200 meters; the very large numbers and persistent employment of weapons, sensors, and aircraft sorties in the barrier area; and the emphasis on rapid and carefully planned incorporation of more effective weapons and sensors into the system.
The system that could be available in a year or so would, in our conception, contain [sic] the following components:
--Gravel mines (both self-sterilizing for harassment and non-sterilizing for area denial).
--Possibly, "button bomblets" developed by Picatinny Arsenal, to augment the range of the sensors against foot traffic.*
* These are small mines (aspirin-size) presently designed to give a loud report but not to injure when stepped on by a shod foot. They would be sown in great density along well-used trails, on the assumption that they would be much harder to sweep than Gravel. Their purpose would be to make noise indicating pedestrian traffic at a range of approximately 200 feet from the acoustic sensors.
--SADEYE/BLU-26B clusters, for attacks on area-type targets of uncertain locations.
--Acoustic detectors, based on improvements of the "Acoustic Sonobuoys" currently under test by the Navy.
--P-2V patrol aircraft, equipped for acoustic sensor monitoring, Gravel dispensing, vectoring strike aircraft, and infrared detection of campfires in bivouac areas.
--Gravel Dispensing Aircraft (A-i's, or possibly C-123's)
--(Possibly) ground teams to plant mines and sensors, gather information, and selectively harass traffic on foot trails.
The anti-troop infiltration system (which would also function against supply porters) would operate as follows. There would be a constantly renewed mine field of nonsterilizing Gravel (and possibly button bomblets), distributed in patterns covering interconnected valleys and slopes (suitable for alternate trails) over the entire barrier region. The actual mined area would encompass the equivalent of a strip about 100 by 5 kilometers. There would also be a pattern of acoustic detectors to listen for mine explosions indicating an attempted penetration. The mine field is intended to deny opening of alternate routes for troop infiltrators and should be emplaced first. On the trails and bivouacs currently used, from which mines may- we tentatively assume-be cleared without great difficulty, a more dense pattern of sensors would be designed to locate groups of infiltrators. Air strikes using Gravel and SADEYES would then be called against these targets. The sensor patterns would be monitored 24 hours a day by patrol aircraft. The struck areas would be reseeded with new mines.
The anti-vehicle system would consist of acoustic detectors distributed every mile or so along all truckable roads in the interdicted area, monitored 24 hours a day by patrol aircraft, with vectored strike aircraft using SAD-EYE to respond to signals that trucks or truck convoys are moving. The patrol aircraft would distribute self-sterilizing Gravel over parts of the road net at dusk. The self-sterilization feature is needed so that roadwatching and mine-planting teams could be used in this area. Photo-reconnaissance aircraft would cover the entire area each few days to look for the development of new truckable roads, to see if the transport of supplies is being switched to porters, and to identify any other change in the infiltration system. It may also be desirable to use ground teams to plant larger anti-truck mines along the roads, as an interim measure pending the development of effective air-dropped anti-vehicle mines.
The cost of such a system (both parts) has been estimated to be about $800 million per year, of which by far the major fraction is spent for Gravel and SADEYES. The key requirements would be (all numbers are approximate because of assumptions which had to be made regarding degradation of system components in field use, and regarding the magnitude of infiltration): 20 million Gravel mines per month; possibly 25 million button bomblets per month; 10,000 SADEYE-BLU-26B clusters* per month; 1600 acoustic sensors per month (assuming presently employed batteries with 2-week life), plus 68
* These quantities depend on an average number of strikes consistent with the assumption of 7000 troops/month and 180 tons/day of supplies by truck on the infiltration routes. This assumption was based on likely upper limits at the time the barrier is installed. If the assumption of initial infiltration is too high, or if we assume that the barrier will be successful-the number of weapons and sorties [words missing].
appropriately equipped P-2V patrol aircraft; a fleet of about 50 A-i's or 20 C-123's for Gravel dispensing (1400 A-i sorties or 600 C-123 sorties per month); 500 strike sorties per month (F-4C equivalent); and sufficient photo-reconnaissance sorties, depending on the aircraft, to cover 2500 square miles each week, with an appropriate team of photo interpreters. Even to make this system work, there would be required experimentation and further development for foliage penetration, moisture resistance, and proper dispersion of Gravel; development of a better acoustic sensor than currently exists (especially in an attempt to eliminate the need for button bomblets); aircraft modifications; possible modifications in BLU-26B fuzing; and refinement of strike-navigation tactics.
For the future, rapid development of new mines (such as tripwire, smaller and more effectively camouflaged Gravel, and various other kinds of mines), as well as still better sensor/information processing systems will be essential.
Thus, not only had this distinguished array of American technologists endorsed the barrier idea McNamara had asked them to consider, they had provided the Secretary with an attractive, well-thought-out and highly detailed proposal as a real alternative to further escalation of the ineffective air war against North Vietnam. But, true to their scientific orientations, the study group members could not conclude their work without examining the kinds of counter-measures the North Vietnamese might take to circumvent the Barrier. Thus, they reasoned:
Assuming that surprise is not thrown away, countermeasures will of course still be found, but they may take some time to bring into operation. The most effective countermeasures we can anticipate are mine sweeping; provision of shelter against SADEYE strikes and Gravel dispersion; spoofing of sensors to deceive the system or decoy aircraft into ambushes, and in general a considerable step-up of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft capability along the road net. Counter-countermeasures must be an integral part of the system development.
Apart from the tactical countermeasures against the barrier itself, one has to consider strategic alternatives available to the North Vietnamese in case the barrier is successful. Among these are: a move into the Mekong Plain; infiltration from the sea either directly to SVN or through Cambodia; and movement down the Mekong from Thakhek (held by the Pathet Lao-North Vietnamese) into Cambodia.
Finally, it will be difficult for us to find out how effective the barrier is in the absence of clearly visible North Vietnamese responses, such as end runs through the Mekong plain. Because of supplies already stored in the pipeline, and because of the general shakiness of our quantitative estimates of either supply or troop infiltration, it is likely to be some time before the effect of even a wholly successful barrier becomes noticeable. A greatly stepped-up intelligence effort is called for, including continued road-watch activity in the areas of the motorable roads, and patrol and reconnaissance activity south of the anti-personnel barrier.
This, then, was the new option introduced into the Vietnam discussions in Washington at the beginning of September.
Their work completed, the Jason Group met with McNamara and McNaughton in Washington on August 30 and presented their conclusions and recommendations. McNamara was apparently strongly and favorably impressed with the work of the Summer Study because he and McNaughton flew to Massachusetts on September 6 to meet with members of the Study again for more detailed discussions. Even before going to Massachusetts, however, McNamara had asked General Wheeler to bring the proposal up with the Chiefs and to request field comment. After having asked CINCPAC for an evaluation, Wheeler sent McNamara the preliminary reactions of the Chiefs. They agreed with the Secretary's suggestion to establish a project manager (General Starbird) in DDR&E, but expressed concern that, "the very substantial funds required for the barrier system would be obtained from current Service resources thereby affecting adversely important current programs."
CINCPAC's evaluation of the barrier proposal on September 13 was little more than a rehash of the overdrawn arguments against such a system advanced in April. The sharpness of the language of his summary arguments, however, is extreme even for Admiral Sharp. In no uncertain terms he stated:
The combat forces required before, during and after construction of the barrier; the initial and follow-on logistic support; the engineer construction effort and time required; and the existing logistic posture in Southeast Asia with respect to ports and land LOCs make construction of such a barrier impracticable.
. . . . Military operations against North Vietnam and operations in South Vietnam are of transcendent importance. Operations elsewhere are complementary supporting undertakings. Priority and emphasis should be accorded in consideration of the forces and resources available to implement the strategy dictated by our objectives.
To some extent, the vehemence of CINCPAC's reaction must have stemmed from the fact that he and General Westmoreland had just completed a paper exercise in which they had struggled to articulate a strategic concept for the conduct of the war to achieve U.S. objectives as they understood them. This effort had been linked to the consideration of CY 1967 force requirements for the war, the definition of which required some strategic concept to serve as a guide. With respect to the war in the North, CINCPAC's final "Military Strategy to Accomplish United States Objectives for Vietnam," stated:
In the North--Take the war to the enemy by unremitting but selective application of United States air and naval power. Military installations and those industrial facilities that generate support for the aggression will be attacked. Movement within, into and out of North Vietnam will be impeded. The enemy will be denied the great psychological and material advantage of conducting an aggression from a sanctuary. This relentless application of force is designed progressively to curtail North Vietnam's war-making capacity. It seeks to force upon him major replenishment, repair and construction efforts. North Vietnamese support and direction of the Pathet Lao and the insurgency in Thailand will be impaired. The movement of men and material through Laos and over all land and water lines of communications into South Vietnam will be disrupted. Hanoi's capability to support military operations in South Vietnam and to direct those operations will be progressively reduced.
With this formulation of intent for the air war, it is not surprising that the barrier proposal should have been anathema to CINCPAC.
McNamara, however, proceeded to implement the barrier proposal in spite of CINCPAC's condemnation and the Chiefs' cool reaction. On September 15 he appointed Lt. General Alfred Starbird to head Joint Task Force 728 within DDR&E as manager for the project. The Joint Task Force was eventually given the cover name Defense Communications Planning Group to protect the sensitivity of the project. Plans for implementing the barrier were pushed ahead speedily. Early in October, just prior to the Secretary's trip, General Starbird made a visit to Vietnam to study the problem on the ground and begin to set the administrative wheels in motion. In spite of the fact that McNamara was vigorously pushing the project forward, there is no indication that he had officially raised the matter with the President, although it is hard to imagine that some discussion of the Jason Summer Study recommendations had not taken place between them. In any case, as McNamara prepared to go to Vietnam again to assess the situation in light of new requests for troop increases, he made arrangements to have General Starbird remain for the first day of his visit and placed the anti-infiltration barrier first on the agenda of discussions.
c. A Visit to Vietnam and a Memorandum for the President
McNamara's trip to Vietnam in October 1966 served a variety of purposes. It came at a time when CINCPAC was involved in a force planning exercise to determine desired (required in his view) force levels for fighting the war through 1967. This was related to DOD's fall DPM process in which the Pentagon reviews its programs and prepares its budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year. This in turn engenders a detailed look at requirements in all areas for the five years to come. As a part of this process, just three days before the Secretary's departure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had sent him an important memo reviewing force posture the world over and recommending a call-up of the reserves to meet anticipated 1967 requirements. This recommendation as a part of the overall examination of force requirements needed his personal assessment on the spot in Vietnam. Other important reasons for a trip were, no doubt, the ones to which we have referred in detail: McNamara's dissatisfaction with the results of the POL attacks; and the reports of the Jason Summer Study. Furthermore, the off-year Congressional elections were only a month away and the President had committed himself to go to Manila for a heads of state meeting later in October. For both these events the President probably felt the need of McNamara's fresh impressions and recommendations.
Whatever the combination of reasons, McNamara left Washington on October 10 and spent four days in Vietnam. Accompanying the Secretary on the trip were Under Secretary of State Katzenbach, General Wheeler, Mr. Komer, John McNaughton, John Foster, Director of DDR&E, and Henry Kissinger. In the course of the visit McNamara worked his way through a detailed seventeen item agenda of briefings, visited several sections of the country plus the Fleet, and met with the leaders of the GVN.
His findings in those three days in South Vietnam must have confirmed his disquiet about the lack of progress of the war and the ineffectualness of U.S. actions to date, for when he returned to Washington he sent the President a gloomy report with recommendations for leveling off the U.S. effort and seeking a solution through diplomatic channels. McNamara recommended an increase in the total authorized final troop strength in Vietnam of only about 40,000 over Program #3, for an end strength of 470,000. This was a direct rejection of CINCPAC's request for a 12/31/67 strength of 570,000 and marked a significant turning point in McNamara's attitude toward the force buildup. The issue would continue to be debated until the President's decision shortly after the election in November to approve the McNamara recommended total of 469,300 troops under Program #4.
With respect to the air war he stated that the bombing had neither significantly reduced infiltration nor diminished Hanoi's will to continue the fight, and he noted the concurrence of the intelligence community in these conclusions. Pulling back from his previous positions, he now recommended that the President level off the bombing at current levels and seek other means of achieving our objectives. The section of the memo on bombing follows:
Stabilize the ROLLING THUNDER program against the North. Attack sorties in North Vietnam have risen from about 4,000 per month at the end of last year to 6,000 per month in the first quarter of this year and 12,000 per month at present. Most of our 50 percent increase of deployed attack-capable aircraft has been absorbed in the attacks on North Vietnam. In North Vietnam, almost 84,000 attack sorties have been flown (about 25 percent against fixed targets), 45 percent during the past seven months.
Despite these efforts, it now appears that the North Vietnamese-Laotian road network will remain adequate to meet the requirements of the Communist forces in South Vietnam--this is so even if its capacity could be reduced by one-third and if combat activities were to be doubled. North Vietnam's serious need for trucks, spare parts and petroleum probably can, despite air attacks, be met by imports. The petroleum requirement for trucks involved in the infiltration movement, for example, has not been enough to present significant supply problems, and the effects of the attacks on the petroleum distribution system, while they have not yet been fully assessed, are not expected to cripple the flow of essential supplies. Furthermore, it is clear that, to bomb the North sufficiently to make a radical impact upon Hanoi's political, economic and social structure, would require an effort which we could make but which would not be stomached either by our own people or by world opinion; and it would involve a serious risk of drawing us into open war with China.
The North Vietnamese are paying a price. They have been forced to assign some 300,000 personnel to the lines of communication in order to maintain the critical flow of personnel and materiel to the South. Now that the lines of communication have been manned, however, it is doubtful that either a large increase or decrease in our interdiction sorties would substantially change the cost to the enemy of maintaining the roads, railroads, and waterways or affect whether they are operational. It follows that the marginal sorties--probably the marginal 1,000 or even 5,000 sorties--per month against the lines of communication no longer have a significant impact on the war.
When this marginal inutility of added sorties against North Vietnam and Laos is compared with the crew and aircraft losses implicit in the activity (four men and aircraft and $20 million per 1,000 sorties), I recommend, as a minimum, against increasing the level of bombing of North Vietnam and against increasing the intensity of operations by changing the areas or kinds of targets struck.
Under these conditions, the bombing program would continue the pressure and would remain available as a bargaining counter to get talks started (or to trade off in talks). But, as in the case of a stabilized level of US ground forces, the stabilization of ROLLING THUNDER would remove the prospect of ever-escalating bombing as a factor complicating our political posture and distracting from the main job of pacification in South Vietnam.
At the proper time, as discussed on pages 6-7 below, I believe we consider terminating bombing in all of North Vietnam, or at least Northeast zones, for an indefinite period in connection with covert toward peace.
As an alternative to further escalation of the bombing, McNamara recommended the barrier across the DMZ and Laos:
Install a barrier. A portion of the 470,000 troops--perhaps 10,000 to 20,000--should be devoted to the construction and maintenance of an infiltration barrier. Such a barrier would lie near the 17th parallel--would run from the sea, across the neck of South Vietnam (choking off the new infiltration routes through the DMZ) and across the trails in Laos. This interdiction system (at an approximate cost of $1 billion) would comprise to the east a ground barrier of fences, wire, sensors, artillery, aircraft and mobile troops; and to the west-mainly in Laos--an interdiction zone covered by air-laid mines and bombing attacks pin-pointed by air-laid acoustic sensors.
The barrier may not be fully effective at first, but I believe that it can be made effective in time and that even the threat of its becoming effective can substantially change to our advantage the character of the war. It would hinder enemy efforts, would permit more efficient use of the limited number of friendly troops, and would be persuasive evidence both that our sole aim is to protect the South from the North and that we intend to see the job through.
The purpose of these two actions would be to lay the groundwork for a stronger U.S. effort to get negotiations started. With the war seemingly stalemated, this appeared to be the only "out" to the Secretary that offered some prospect of bringing the conflict to an end in any near future. In analyzing North Vietnamese unwillingness to date to respond to peace overtures, McNamara noted their acute sensitivity to the air attacks on their homeland (recalling the arguments of the Jason Summer Study) and the hostile suspicion of U.S. motives. To improve the climate for talks, he argued, the U.S. should make some gesture to indicate our good faith. Foremost of these was a cessation or a limitation of the bombing.
As a way of projective [sic] U.S. bona fides, I believe that we should consider two possibilities with respect to our bombing program against the North, to be undertaken, if at all, at a time very carefully selected with a view to maximizing the chances of influencing the enemy and world opinion and to minimizing the chances that failure would strengthen the hand of the "hawks" at home: First, without fanfare, conditions, or avowal, whether the stand-down was permanent or temporary, stop bombing all of North Vietnam. It is generally thought that Hanoi will not agree to negotiations until they can claim that the bombing has stopped unconditionally. We should see what develops, retaining freedom to resume the bombing if nothing useful was forthcoming.
Alternatively, we could shift the weight-of-effort away from "Zones 6A and 6B"--zones including Hanoi and Haiphong and areas north of those two cities to the Chinese border. This alternative has some attraction in that it provides the North Vietnamese a "face saver" if only problems of "face" are holding up Hanoi peace gestures; it would narrow the bombing down directly to the objectionable infiltration (supporting the logic of a stop-infiltration/full-pause deal); and it would reduce the international heat on the US. Here, too, bombing of the Northeast could be resumed at any time, or "spot" attacks could be made there from time to time to keep North Vietnam off balance and to require her to pay almost the full cost by maintaining her repair crews in place. The sorties diverted from Zones 6A and 6B could be concentrated on the infiltration routes in Zones 1 and 2 (the southern end of North Vietnam, including the Mu Gia Pass), in Laos and in South Vietnam.*
* Any limitation on the bombing of North Vietnam will cause serious psychological problems among the men who are risking their lives to help achieve our political objectives; among their commanders up to and including the JCS; and among those of our people who cannot understand why we should withhold punishment from the enemy. General Westmoreland, as do the JCS, strongly believes in the military value of the bombing program. Further, Westmoreland reports that the morale of his Air Force personnel may already be showing signs of erosion--an erosion resulting from Current operational restrictions.
should in the moves
The Secretary's footnote was judicious. The Chiefs did indeed oppose any curtailment of the bombing as a means to get negotiations started. They fired off a dissenting memo to the Secretary the same day as his memo and requested that it be passed to the President. With respect to the bombing program per se they stated:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff do not concur in your recommendation that there should be no increase in level of bombing effort and no modification in areas and targets subject to air attack. They believe our air campaign against NVN to be an integral and indispensable part of our over all war effort. To be effective, the air campaign should be conducted with only those minimum constraints necessary to avoid indiscriminate killing of population.
As to the Secretary's proposal for a bombing halt:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff do not concur with your proposal that, as a carrot to induce negotiations, we should suspend or reduce our bombing campaign against NVN. Our experiences with pauses in bombing and resumption have not been happy ones. Additionally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the likelihood of the war being settled by negotiation is small, and that, far from inducing negotiations, another bombing pause will be regarded by North Vietnamese leaders, and our Allies, as renewed evidence of lack of US determination to press the war to a successful conclusion. The bombing campaign is one of the two trump cards in the hands of the President (the other being the presence of US troops in SVN). It should not be given up without an end to the NVN aggression in SVN.
The Chiefs did more than just dissent from a McNamara recommendation, however. They closed their memo with a lengthy counterproposal with significant political overtones clearly intended for the President's eyes. In their own words this is what they said:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the war has reached a stage at which decisions taken over the next sixty days can determine the outcome of the war and, consequently, can affect the over-all security interests of the United States for years to come. Therefore, they wish to provide to you and to the President their unequivocal views on two salient aspects of the war situation: the search for peace and military pressures on NVN.
a. The frequent, broadly-based public offers made by the President to settle the war by peaceful means on a generous basis, which would take from NVN nothing it now has, have been admirable. Certainly, no one--American or foreigner--except those who are determined not to be convinced, can doubt the sincerity, the generosity, the altruism of US actions and objectives. In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the time has come when further overt actions and offers on our part are not only nonproductive, they are counterproductive. A logical case [sic] can be made that the American people, our Allies, and our enemies alike are increasingly uncertain as to our resolution to pursue the war to a successful conclusion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff advocate the following:
(1) A statement by the President during the Manila Conference of his unswerving determination to carry on the war until NVN aggression against SVN shall cease;
(2) Continued covert exploration of all avenues leading to a peaceful settlement of the war; and
(3) Continued alertness to detect and react appropriately to withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from SVN and cessation of support to the VC.
b. In JCSM-955-64, dated 14 November 1964, and in JCSM-962-64, dated 23 November 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided their views as to the military pressures which should be brought to bear on NVN. In summary, they recommended a "sharp knock" on NVN military
assets and war-supporting facilities rather than the campaign of slowly increasing pressure which was adopted. Whatever the political merits of the latter course, we deprived ourselves of the military effects of early weight of effort and shock, and gave to the enemy time to adjust to our slow quantitative and qualitative increase of pressure. This is not to say that it is now too late to derive military benefits from more effective and extensive use of our air and naval superiority. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend:
(1) Approval of their ROLLING THUNDER 52 program, which is a step toward meeting the requirement for improved target systems. This program would decrease the Hanoi and Haiphong sanctuary areas, authorize attacks against the steel plant, the Hanoi rail yards, the thermal power plants, selected areas within Haiphong port and other ports, selected locks and dams controlling water LOCs, SAM support facilities within the residual Hanoi and Haiphong sanctuaries, and POL at Haiphong, Ha Gia (Phuc Yen) and Can Thon (Kep).
(2) Use of naval surface forces to interdict North Vietnamese coastal waterborne traffic and appropriate land LOCs and to attack other coastal military targets such as radar and AAA sites.
5. The Joint Chiefs of Staff request that their views as set forth above be provided to the President.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff
(Sgd) Earle G. Wheeler
Such a memo from the Chiefs represents more than a dissent or an alternative recommendation; it constitutes a statement for the record to guarantee that in the historical accounts the Chiefs will appear having discharged their duty. It always comes as a form of political notification, not merely a military recommendation.
The available documents do not show what the reaction at the State Department was (apart from Mr. Katzenbach's apparent endorsement), nor do they indicate the views of the White House staff under W. W. Rostow. McNaughton's files do contain a commentary on the McNamara recommendations prepared by George Carver of CIA for the Director, Richard Helms. Carver agreed with the basic McNamara analysis of the results of the air war but did not think they constituted a conclusive statement about possible results from an escalation. Carver wrote,
We concur in Secretary McNamara's analysis of the effects of the ROLLING THUNDER program, its potential for reducing the flow of essential supplies, and his judgment on the marginal inutility of added sorties against lines of communication. We endorse his argument on stabilizing the level of sorties. We do not agree, however, with the implied judgment that changes in the bombing program could not be effective. We continue to judge that a bombing program directed both against closing the port of Haiphong and continuously cutting the rail lines to China could have a significant impact.
Carver also opposed any halt or de-escalation of the bombing to start negotiations, arguing that we could either pursue negotiations or try to build up the GVN but we could not do both. His preference was to build in the South. Hence, a bombing halt or pause was not required. As to a reduction, he argued that,
Shifting the air effort from the northeast quadrant to the infiltration areas in Laos and southern North Vietnam would be quite unproductive. Such a course of action would not induce Hanoi to negotiate (since it would still involve bombing in the north) and would probably have little effect in changing present international attitudes. Furthermore, a concentration of sorties against the low-yield and elusive targets along the infiltration routes in the southern end of North Vietnam and in Laos would not appreciably diminish North Vietnam's ability to maintain the supply of its forces in South Vietnam.
As for the anti-infiltration barrier, neither the Chiefs nor Carver had a great deal of comment. The Chiefs reiterated their reservations with respect to resource diversion but endorsed the barrier concept in principle. Carver somewhat pessimistically observed that,
In order to achieve the objectives set for the barrier in our view it must be extended well westward into Laos. Air interdiction of the routes in Laos unsupplemented by ground action will not effectively check infiltration.
To no one's surprise, therefore, McNamara proceeded with the barrier project in all haste, presumably with the President's blessing.
3. The Year-End View
a. Presidential Decisions
The President apparently did not react immediately to the McNamara recommendations, although he must have approved them in general. He was at the time preparing for the Manila Conference to take place October 23-25 and major decisions before would have been badly timed. Thus, formal decisions on the McNamara recommendations, particularly the troop level question would wait until he had returned and the elections were over. At Manila, the President worked hard to get the South Vietnamese to make a greater commitment to the war and pressed them for specific reforms. He also worked hard to get a generalized formulation of allied objectives in the war and saw his efforts succeed in the agreed communique. Its most important feature was an appeal to the North Vietnamese for peace based on a commitment to withdraw forces within six months after the end of the war. It contained, however, no direct reference to the air war.
While in Manila, the President and his advisors also conferred with General Westmoreland. As McNaughton subsequently reported to McNamara (who did not attend), Westmoreland opposed any curtailment of the air war in the North, calling it "our only trump card." Unlike the Jason Study Group, Westmoreland felt the strikes had definite military value in slowing the southward movement of supplies, diverting DRV manpower and creating great costs to the North. Rather than stabilize or de-escalate, Westmoreland advocated lifting the restrictions on the program. Citing the high level of aircraft attrition on low priority targets, he warned, "you are asking for a very bad political reaction." He recommended that strikes be carried out against the MIG airfields, the missile assembly area, the truck maintenance facility, the Haiphong port facilities, the twelve thermal power plants, and the steel plant. When McNaughton pressed him on the question of whether the elimination of these targets would have much payoff in reduced logistical support for the Southern war, Westmoreland backed off stating, "I'm not responsible for the bombing program. Admiral Sharp is. So I haven't spent much time on it. But I asked a couple of my best officers to look into it, and they came up with the recommendations I gave you." In any event, he opposed any pause in the bombing, contending that the DRV would just use it to strengthen its air defenses and repair air fields. MsNaughton reported that Westmoreland had repeated these views to the President in the presence of Ky and Thieu at Johnson's request; moreover, he planned to forward them to the President in a memo [not available] at the request of Walt Rostow.
As to the barrier, McNaughton reported that, "Westy seems to be fighting the barrier less (although he obviously fears that it is designed mainly to justify stopping RT [ROLLING THUNDER], at which he 'shudders' Apart from that his concerns about the barrier were minor (although he did propose a NIKE battalion for use in a surface to surface role in support of the barrier).
On his way home from Manila, the President made the now famous dramatic visit to U.S. troops at Cam Ranh Bay. Once home, however, he deferred any major decisions on the war until after the elections. Several "peace" candidates were aggressively challenging Administration supporters in the off-year Congressional contests and the President wished to do nothing that might boost their chances. As it turned out, they were overwhelmingly defeated in the November 8 balloting.
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon the dispute over the level of effort for the air war continued. Even before Manila, the Chiefs had attempted to head off McNamara's recommendation for stabilizing the bombing with a request for a 25 percent increase in B-52 sorties per month. The Secretary, for his part, was showing considerable concern over the high attrition rates of ROLLING THUNDER aircraft. Among other things he questioned the utility of committing pilots to repeated risks when the operational return from many of the missions was so small and the expectations for achieving significant destruction so minimal.
The force level arguments had continued during the President's trip too. On October 20, CINCPAC forwarded his revised Force Planning Program containing the results of the October 5-14 Honolulu Planning Conference to the JCS. In effect, it constituted a reclama to the Secretary's October 14 recommendations. CINCPAC requested U.S. ground forces totalling 493,969 by end CY 1967; 519,310 by end CY 1968; and 520,020 by end CY 1969. But the total by end CY 1969 would really be 555,262 reflecting an additional 35,721 troops whose availability was described in the planning document as "unknown."
With respect to the air war, CINCPAC stated a requirement for an additional ten tactical fighter squadrons (TFS) and an additional aircraft carrier to support both an intensification of the air war in the North and the additional maneuver battalions requested for the war in the South. These new squadrons Were needed to raise sortie levels in the North above 12,000/month in CY 1967. Of these ten TFS, the Air Force indicated that three were unavailable and the Secretary of Defense had previously deferred deployment of five. Nonetheless, the requirement was reiterated. They were needed to implement the strategic concept of the air mission in SEA that CINCPAC had articulated on September 5 and that was included again here as justification. Moreover, the objective of attacking the ports and water LOCs was reiterated as well.
On November 4, the JCS sent the Secretary these CINCPAC force planning recommendations with their own slight upward revision of the troop figures to an eventual end strength of 558,432. In the body of the memo they endorse the CINCPAC air war recommendations in principle but indicated that 3 TFS and the carrier would not be available. They supplemented CINCPAC's rationale with a statement of their own on the matter in appendix A. The two objectives of the air war were to "make it as difficult and costly as possible" for NVN to support the war in the South and to motivate the DRV to "cease controlling and directing the insurgency in South Vietnam." Their evaluation of the effectiveness of the bombing in achieving these objectives was that:
Air operations in NVN have disrupted enemy efforts to support his forces and have assisted in preventing the successful mounting of any major offensives. The NVN air campaign takes the war home to NVN by complicating the daily life, causing multiple and increasing management and logistic problems, and preventing the enemy from conducting an aggression from the comfort of a sanctuary.
Failures to date were attributed to the constraints imposed on the bombing by the political authorities, and the Chiefs again urged that these be lifted and the target base be widened to apply increasing pressure to the DRV
These were the standard old arguments. But on October 6, the Secretary had addressed them a memo with an attached set of 28 "issue papers" drafted in Systems Analysis. One of these took sharp issue with any increase in the air war on purely force effectiveness grounds. The Chiefs atttempted to rebut all 28 issue papers in one of the attachments to the November 4 memo. The original Systems Analysis "issue paper" on air war effectiveness had argued that additional deployments of air squadrons should not be made because: (1) the bulk of the proposed new sorties for North Vietnam were in Route Package I and could be attacked much more economically by naval gunfire; (2) although interdiction had forced the enemy to make greater repair efforts and thereby had diverted some resources, had forced more reliance on night operations, and had inflicted substantial casualties to vehicular traffic, none of these had created or were likely to create insuperable problems for the DRV; and (3) CINCPAC's increased sortie requirements would generate 230 aircraft losses in CY 1967 and cost $1.1 billion while only doing negligible damage to the DRV. The similarity of much of this analysis to the conclusions of the Jason Summer Study is striking.
The Chiefs rejected all three of the Systems Analysis arguments. Naval gunfire, in their view, should be regarded as a necessary supplement for the bombing, not as a substitute since it lacked flexibility and responsiveness. As to the question of comparative costs in the air war, the Chiefs reasoned as follows:
The necessity for this type of air campaign is created by constraints imposed, for other than military reasons, upon the conduct of the war in NVN. These restraints result in maximizing exposure of larger numbers of aircraft for longer periods against increasingly well defended targets of limited comparative values. [sic] The measure of the effectiveness of the interdiction effort is the infiltration and its consequence which would be taking place if the air compaign were not being conducted. The cost to the enemy is not solely to be measured in terms of loss of trucks but in terms of lost capability to pursue his military objectives in SVN. Similarly, the cost to the US must consider that damage which the enemy would be capable of inflicting by infiltrating men and supplies now inhibited by the interdiction effort; this includes increased casualties in RVN for which a dollar cost is not applicable.
Sensing that the thrust of the OSD analysis was to make a case for the barrier at the expense of the bombing, the Chiefs at last came down hard against any diversion of resources to barrier construction. In no uncertain terms they stated:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree that improved interdiction strategy is needed, but such improvement would not necessarily include the barrier operation. As mentioned above and as recommended previously, an effective air campaign against NVN should include closing the ports, destruction of high value military targets, attack of their air defense systems and airfields and the other fixed targets on the target list that have not been struck. These improvements have thus far been denied.
Preliminary information developed by Task Force 728 indicates that the forces and cost for the barrier will be substantial. The concept and equipment for the barrier have not been subjected to a cost analysis study. Its effectiveness is open to serious question and its cost could well exceed the figure of $1.1 billion given for projected aircraft losses in this issue paper.
As already indicated, these issues were all decided upon by the President immediately after the election. On November 11, McNamara sent the Chiefs a memo with the authorized levels for Program #4. CINCPAC's proposed increases in sortie levels were rejected and the McNamara recommendation of October 14 for their stabilization was adopted. As a reason for rejecting expansion of the air war, the Secretary simply stated that such would not be possible since no additional tactical fighter squadrons had been approved. The one upward adjustment of the air war that was authorized was the increase of B-52 sorties from 600 to 800 in February 1967 as proposed by CINCPAC and the JCS.
b. Stabilization of the Air War
With the President's decision not to increase squadrons or sorties for the air campaign in 1967 added to McNamara's strong recommendation on stabilizing the level of the bombing, activity for the remainder of 1966 was kept at about the current level. Among the continuing constraints that was just beginning to alleviate itself was an insufficiency of certain air munitions to sustain higher levels of air combat. The real constraints, however, as CINCPAC and the JCS corrrectly stated were political.
The principle supporters of halting the expansion of the air war, as we have already seen, were the Secretary of Defense and his civilian advisors. The arguments they had used during the debate over Program #4 and its associated program were reiterated and somewhat enlarged later in November in the backup justification for the FY 1967 Southeast Asia Supplemental Appropriation. Singled out for particular criticism was the ineffective air effort to interdict infiltration. The draft Memorandum for the President began by making the best case possible, on the basis of results, for the bombing, and then proceeded to demonstrate that those accomplishments were simply far below what was required to really interdict. The section of the memo in question follows:
A substantial air interdiction campaign is clearly necessary and worthwhile. In addition to putting a ceiling on the size of the force that can be supported, it yields three significant military effects. First, it effectively harasses and delays truck movements down through the southern panhandles of NVN and Laos, though it has no effect on troops infiltrating on foot over trails that are virtually invisible from the air. Our experience shows that daytime armed reconnaissance above some minimum sortie rate makes it prohibitively expensive to the enemy to attempt daylight movement of vehicles, and so forces him to night movement. Second, destruction of bridges and cratering of roads forces the enemy to deploy repair crews, equipment, and porters to repair or bypass the damage. Third, attacks on vehicles, parks, and rest camps destroy some vehicles with their cargoes and inflict casualties. Moreover, our bombing campaign may produce a beneficial effect on U.S. and SVN morale by making NVN pay a price for its enemy. But at the scale we are now operating, I believe our bombing is yielding very small marginal returns, not worth the cost in pilot lives and aircraft.
The first effect, that of forcing the enemy into a system of night movement, occurs at a lower frequency of armed reconnaissance sorties than the level of the past several months. The enemy was already moving at night in 1965, before the sortie rate had reached half the current level; further sorties have no further effect on the enemy's overall operating system. The second effect, that of forcing the enemy to deploy repair crews, equipment, and porters, is also largely brought about by a comparatively low interdiction effort. Our interdiction campaign in 1965 and early this year forced NVN to assign roughly 300,000 additional personnel to LOCs; there is no indication that recent sortie increases have caused further increases in the number of these personnel. Once the enemy system can repair road cuts and damaged bridges in a few hours, as it has demonstrated it can, additional sorties may work this system harder but are unlikely to cause a significant increase in its costs. Only the third effect, the destruction of vehicles and their cargoes, continues to increase in about the same proportion as the number of armed reconnaissance sorties, but without noticeable impact on VC/NVA operations. The overall capability of the NVN transport system to move supplies within NVN apparently improved in September in spite of 12,200 attack sorties.
In a summary paragraph, the draft memo made the entire case against the bombing:
The increased damage to targets is not producing noticeable results. No serious shortage of POL in North Vietnam is evident, and stocks on hand, with recent imports, have been adequate to sustain necessary operations. No serious transport problem in the movement of supplies to or within North Vietnam is evident; most transportation routes appear to be open, and there has recently been a major logistical build-up in the area of the DMZ. The raids have disrupted the civil populace and caused isolated food shortages, but have not significantly weakened popular morale. Air strikes continue to depress economic growth and have been responsible for abandonment of some plans for economic development, but essential economic activities continue. The increasing amounts of physical damage sustained by North Vietnamese are in large measure compensated by aid received from other Communist countries. Thus, in spite of an interdiction campaign costing at least $250 million per month at current levels, no significant impact on the war in South Vietnam is evident. The monetary value of damage to NVN since the start of bombing in February 1965 is estimated at about $140 million through October 10, 1966.
As an alternative method of arresting the infiltration the memo proposed the now familiar barrier, preparatory work on which was proceeding rapidly. No new arguments for it were offered, and its unproven qualities were acknowledged. But it seemed to offer at that point a better possibility of significantly curtailing infiltration than an escalation of the ineffective air war. Its costs were estimated, however, at an astounding $1 billion per year.
While these considerations were dominant at the Pentagon, the air war in the North continued. The only exceptions to the even pattern of air strikes at the end of 1966 were strikes authorized in early December within the 30-mile Hanoi sanctuary against the Yen Vien rail classification yard and the Van Dien vehicle depot. The former was attacked on December 4 and again on the 13th and 14th with extensive damage to buildings but little destruction of rolling stock. The Van Dien vehicle depot was struck six times between December 2 and 14 with some two thirds of its 184 buildings being either destroyed or damaged. Hanoi's reaction was prompt and vociferous. The DRV accused the U.S. of blatantly attacking civilian structures and of having caused substantial civilian casualties. On December 13, the Soviet Press Agency TASS picked up the theme claiming that U.S. planes had attacked residential areas in Hanoi. This brought a prompt State Department denial, but on December 15 further attacks on the two targets were suspended. Three days later there were new charges. This time the Communist Chinese claimed the U.S. had bombed their embassy in Hanoi. On December 17 the Rumanians made a similar allegation. The net result of all this public stir was another round of world opinion pressure on Washington. In this atmosphere, on December 23, attacks against all targets within 10 n.m. of Hanoi were prohibited without specific Presidential authorization.
The most important result of these attacks, however, was to undercut what appeared to be a peace feeler from Hanoi. In late November, the DRV had put out a feeler through the Poles for conversations in Warsaw. The effort was given the code name Marigold, but when the attacks were launched inadvertently against Hanoi in December, the attempt to start talks ran into difficulty. A belated U.S. attempt to mollify North Vietnam's bruised ego failed and formal talks did not materialize. Some significant exchanges between Hanoi and Washington on their respective terms apparently did take place, however.
The controversy over civilian casualties from the bombing continued through the end of the year and into January 1967. Harrison Salisbury, a respected senior editor of the New York Times, went to Hanoi at Christmas and dispatched a long series of articles that attracted much world-wide attention. He corroborated DRV allegations of civilian casualties and damage to residential areas including attacks on Nam Dinh, North Vietnam's third city, and other towns and cities throughout the country. The matter reached a level of concern such that the President felt compelled to make a statement to the press on December 31 to the effect that the bombing was directed against legitimate military targets and that every effort was being made to avoid civilian casualties.
At no time in the fall of 1966 is there any evidence that a second major "pause" like that of the previous year was planned for the holiday period to pursue a diplomatic initiative on negotiations. But as the holidays drew near a brief military standdown was expected. The Chiefs went on record in November opposing any suspension of military operations, North or South, at Christmas, New Year's or the Lunar New Year the coming February. The failure of the initiative through Poland in early December left the U.S. with no good diplomatic reason for lengthening the holiday suspensions into a pause, so the President ordered only 48-hour halts in the fighting for Christmas and New Year's. The Pope had made an appeal on December 8 for both sides to extend the holiday truces into an armistice and begin negotiations, but this had fallen on deaf ears in both capitals. As window-dressing, the U.S. had asked UN Secretary General U Thant to take whatever steps were necessary to get talks started. He replied in a press conference on the last day of the year that the first step toward negotiations must be an "unconditional" U.S. bombing halt. This evoked little enthusiasm and some annoyance in the Johnson Administration.
Thus, 1966 drew to a close on a sour note for the President. He had just two months before resisted pressure from the military for a major escalation of the war in the North and adopted the restrained approach of the Secretary of Defense, only to have a few inadvertent raids within the Hanoi periphery mushroom into a significant loss of world opinion support. He was in the uncomfortable position of being able to please neither his hawkish nor his dovish critics with his carefully modulated middle course.
c. 1966 Summary
ROLLING THUNDER was a much heavier bombing program in 1966 than in 1965. There were 148,000 total sorties flown in 1966 as compared with 55,000 in 1965, and 128,000 tons of bombs were dropped as compared with 33,000 in the 10 months of bombing the year before. The number of JCS fixed targets struck, which stood at 158 at the end of 1965, increased to 185, or 27 more, leaving only 57 unstruck out of a list of 242. Armed reconnaissance, which was still kept out of the northeast quadrant at the end of 1965, was extended during 1966 throughout NVN except for the Hanoi/Haiphong sanctuaries and the China buffer zone, and beginning with ROLLING THUNDER 51 on 6 July was even permitted to penetrate a short way into the Hanoi circle along small selected route segments. Strikes had even been carried out against a few "lucrative" POL targets deep within the circles.
The program had also become more expensive. 318 ROLLING THUNDER aircraft were lost during 1966, as compared with 171 in 1965 (though the loss rate dropped from .66% of attack sorties in 1965 to .39% in 1966). CIA estimated that the direct operational cost of the program (i.e., production costs of aircraft lost, plus direct sortie overhead costs--not including air base or CVA maintenance or logistical support--plus ordnance costs) came to $1,247 million in 1966 as compared with $460 million in 1965.
Economic damage to NVN went up from $36 million in 1965 to $94 million in 1966, and military damage from $34 million to $36 million. As CIA computed it, however, it cost the U.S. $9.6 to inflict $1 worth of damage in 1966, as compared with $6.6 in 1965.
Estimated civilian and military casualties in NVN also went up, from 13,000 to 23-24,000 (about 80% civilians), but the numbers remained small relative to the 18 million population.
The program in 1966 had accomplished little more than in 1965, however. In January 1967, an analysis by CIA concluded that the attacks had not eliminated any important sector of the NVN economy or the military establishment. They had not succeeded in cutting route capacities south of Hanoi to the point where the flow of supplies required in SVN was significantly impeded. The POL attacks had eliminated 76% of JCS-targeted storage capacity, but not until after NVN had implemented a system of dispersed storage, and the POL flow had been maintained at adequate levels. 32% of NVN's power-generating capacity had been put out of action, but the remaining capacity was adequate to supply most industrial consumers. Hundreds of bridges were knocked down, but virtually all of them had been quickly repaired, replaced, or bypassed, and traffic continued. Several thousand freight cars, trucks, barges, and other vehicles were also destroyed or damaged, but inventories were maintained through imports and there was no evidence of a serious transport problem due to equipment shortages. The railroad and highway networks were considerably expanded and improved during the year.
The main losses to the economy, according to the CIA analysis, had been indirect--due to a reduction in agricultural output and the fish catch, a cut in foreign exchange earnings because of a decline in exports, disruptions of production because of dispersal and other passive defense measures, and the diversion of effort to repair essential transportation facilities. On the military side, damage had disrupted normal military practices, caused the abandonment of many facilities, and forced the widespread dispersal of equipment, but overall military capabilities had continued at a high level.
The summary CIA assessment was that ROLLING THUNDER had not helped either to reduce the flow of supplies South or to shake the will of the North:
The evidence available does not suggest that ROLLING THUNDER to date has contributed materially to the achievement of the two primary objectives of air attack--reduction of the flow of supplies to VC/NVA forces in the South or weakening the will of North Vietnam to continue the insurgency. ROLLING THUNDER no doubt has lessened the capacity of the transport routes to the South--put a lower "cap" on the force levels which North Vietnam can support in the South--but the "cap" is well above present logistic supply levels.
The bombing had not succeeded in materially lowering morale among the people, despite some "war weariness." The leaders continued to repeat in private as well as public that they were willing to withstand even heavier bombing rather than accept a settlement on less than their terms. As to the future:
There may be some degree of escalation which would force the regime to reexamine its position, but we believe that as far as pressure from air attack is concerned the regime would be prepared to continue the insurgency indefinitely in the face of the current level and type of bombing program.
A key factor in sustaining the will of the regime, according to the CIA analysis, was the "massive" economic and military aid provided by the USSR, China, and Eastern Europe. Economic aid to NVN from these countries, which ran about $100 million a year on the average prior to the bombing, increased to $150 million in 1965 and $275 million in 1966. Military aid was $270 million in 1965 and $455 million in 1966. Such aid provided NVN with the "muscle" to strengthen the insurgency in the South and to maintain its air defense and other military forces; and it provided the services and goods with which to overcome NVN's economic difficulties. So long as the aid continued, CIA said, NVN would be able and willing to persevere "indefinitely" in the face of the current ROLLING THUNDER program.
The military view of why ROLLING THUNDER had failed in its objectives in 1966 was most forcefully given by Admiral Sharp, USCINCPAC, in a briefing for General Wheeler at Honolulu on January 12, 1967. Admiral Sharp described three tasks of the air campaign in achieving its objective of inducing Hanoi to "cease supporting, controlling, and directing" the insurgency in the South: "(1) reduce or deny external assistance; (2) increase pressures by destroying in depth those resources that contributed most to support the aggression; and (3) harass, disrupt and impede movement of men and materials to South Vietnam." CINCPAC had developed and presented to the Secretary of Defense an integrated plan to perform these tasks, but much of it had never been approved. Therein lay the cause of whatever failure could be attributed to the bombing in Admiral Sharp's view.
The rest of the briefing was a long complaint about the lack of authorization to attack the Haiphong harbor in order to deny external assistance, and the insignificant number of total sorties devoted to JCS numbered targets (1% of some 81,000 sorties). Nevertheless, CINCPAC was convinced the concept of operations he had proposed could bring the DRV to give up the war if "self-generated US constraints" were lifted in 1967.
Thus, as 1966 drew to a close, the lines were drawn for a long fifteen month internal Administration struggle over whether to stop the bombing and start negotiations. McNamara and his civilian advisers had been disillusioned in 1966 with the results of the bombing and held no sanguine hopes for the ability of air power, massively applied, to produce anything but the same inconclusive results at far higher levels of overall hostility and with significant risk of Chinese and/or Soviet intervention. The military, particularly CINCPAC, were ever more adamant that only civilian imposed restraints on targets had prevented the bombing from bringing the DRV to its knees and its senses about its aggression in the South. The principle remained sound, they argued; a removal of limitations would produce dramatic results. And so, 1967 would be the year in which many of the previous restrictions were progressively lifted and the vaunting boosters of air power would be once again proven wrong. It would be the year in which we relearned the negative lessons of previous wars on the ineffectiveness of strategic bombing.
II. JANUARY 1967-MARCH 1968
A. THE ATTEMPT TO DE-ESCALATE--JANUARY-JULY 1967
During the first seven months of 1967 a running battle was fought within the Johnson Administration between the advocates of a greatly expanded air campaign against North Vietnam, one that might genuinely be called "strategic," and the disillusioned doves who urged relaxation, if not complete suspension, of the bombing in the interests of greater effectiveness and the possibilities for peace. The "hawks" of course were primarily the military, but in war-time their power and influence with an incumbent Administration is disproportionate. McNamara, supported quantitatively by John McNaughton in ISA, led the attempt to de-escalate the bombing. Treading the uncertain middle ground at different times in the debate were William Bundy at State, Air Force Secretary Harold Brown and, most importantly, the President himself. Buffeted from right and left he determinedly tried to pursue the temperate course, escalating gradually in the late spring but levelling off again in the summer. To do so was far from easy because such a course really pleased no one (and, it should be added, did not offer much prospect for a breakthrough one way or the other). It was an unhappy, contentious time in which the decibel level of the debate went up markedly but the difficult decision was not taken--it was avoided.
1. The Year Begins with No Change
a. Escalation Proposals
The year 1967 began with the military commands still grumbling about the Christmas and New Year's truces ordered from Washington. Both had been grossly violated by multiple VC incidents, and both had been the occasions of major VC/NVA resupply efforts. The restrictions placed on U.S. forces were felt by the field commands to be at the expense of American life. U.S. military authorities would argue long and hard against a truce for the TET Lunar New Year holiday, but in the end they would lose.
Early in 1967, CINCPAC reopened his campaign to win Washington approval for air strikes against a wider list of targets in North Vietnam. On January 14 CINCPAC sent the JCS a restatement of the objectives for ROLLING THUNDER he had developed in 1966, noting his belief that they remained valid for 1967. Four days later he forwarded a long detailed list of proposed new targets for attack. What he proposed was a comprehensive destruction of North Vietnam's military and industrial base in Route Package 6 (Hanoi-Haiphong). This called for the destruction of 7 power plants (all except the one in the very center of Hanoi, and the 2 in Haiphong included in a special Haiphong package); 10 "war supporting industries" (with the Thai Nguyen iron and steel plant at the head of the list); 20 transportation support facilities; 44 military complexes; 26 POL targets; and 28 targets in Haiphong and the other ports (including docks, shipyards, POL, power plants, etc.). CINCPAC optimistically contended that this voluminous target system could be attacked with no increase in sorties and with an actual decline in aircraft lost to hostile fire.
The proposal was evidently received in Washington with something less than enthusiasm. The Chiefs did not send such a recommendation to the Secretary and there is no evidence that the matter was given serious high level attention at that time. On January 25 in a cable on anti-inifitration (i.e. the much-maligned barrier), CINCPAC again raised the question. He was careful to note (as he had previously in a private cable to Wheeler and Westmoreland on January 3) that, ". . . no single measure can stop infiltration." But he argued that the extraordinary measures the enemy had taken to strengthen his air defenses and generate a world opinion against the bombing were evidence of how much the air strikes were hurting him.
These arguments were reinforced by the January CIA analysis which also made something of a case for a heavier bombing campaign. It considered a number of alternative target systems--modern industry, shipping, the Red River levees, and other targets--and two interdiction campaigns, one "unlimited" and the other restricted to the southern NVN panhandle and Laos, and concluded that the unlimited campaign was the most promising.
On the modern industry target list, CIA included 20 facilities, 7 of them electric power plants. Knocking out these facilities, it said, would eliminate the fruits of several hundred million dollars capital investment, cut off the source of one-fourth of the GNP and most foreign exchange earnings, disrupt other sectors of the economy which used their products, add to the burden of aid required from NVN's allies, and temporarily displace the urban labor force. The loss would be a serious blow to NVN's hopes for economic progress and status, negating a decade of intense effort devoted to the construction of modern industry. This would exert additional pressure on the regime, but would not by itself, CIA believed, be intense enough to bring Hanoi to the negotiating table. Outside aid could no doubt make up the deficit in goods to sustain the economy and the national defense of the North as well as to continue the war in the South.
Aerial mining, provided it was extended to coastal and inland waters as well as the harbors, and especially if accompanied by intensive armed reconnaissance against all LOCs to China, would be very serious. NVN would almost certainly have to reduce some import programs, not sufficiently perhaps to degrade the flow of essential military supplies or prevent continued support of the war in SVN, but enough to hurt the economy.
Bombing the levee system which kept the Red River under control, if timed correctly, could cause large crop losses and force NVN to import large amounts of rice. Depending on the success of interdiction efforts, such imports might overload the transport system. The levees themselves could be repaired in a matter of weeks, however, and any military effects of bombing them would be limited and short-lived.
An "unlimited" campaign against transportation and remaining targets, in addition to attacking industry and mining the harbors and waterways, would greatly increase the costs and difficulties in maintaining the flow of the most essential military and civilian goods within NVN. If the attack on transportation were able to cut the capacity of the railroads by ½ on a sustained basis and roads by ¼, the remaining available route capacity would not be sufficient to satisfy NVN's minimum daily needs:
If an unlimited interdiction program were highly successful, the regime would encounter increasing difficulty and cost in maintaining the flow of some of their most essential military and economic goods. In the long term the uncertainties and difficulties resulting from the cumulative effect of the air campaigns would probably cause Hanoi to undertake a basic reassessment of the probable course of the war and the extent of the regime's commitment to it.
By contrast, according to the CIA analysis, restricting the bombing to the Panhandle of NVN and Laos would tend to strengthen Hanoi's will. The main effect would be to force NVN to increase the repair labor force in southern NVN and Laos by about 30 percent, which could easily be drawn from other areas no longer being bombed. The flow of men and supplies would continue. NVN would regard the change in the bombing pattern as a clear victory, evidence that international and domestic pressures on the U.S. were having an effect. It would be encouraged to believe that the U.S. was tiring of the war and being forced to retreat.
Other considerations, however, were dominant in Washington at the highest levels. In mid-January another effort to communicate positions with the DRV had been made and there was an understandable desire to defer escalatory decisions until it had been determined whether some possibility for negotiations existed. Moreover, the TET holiday at the beginning of February, for which a truce had been announced, made late January an impropitious time to expand the bombing. Thus, on January 28, ROLLING THUNDER program #53 authorized little more than a continuation of strikes within the parameters of previous authorizations.
b. The TET Pause--8-14 February
As noted in the previous section of this paper, the Chiefs had recorded their opposition to any truce or military standdown for the holidays in late November. On January 2, General Westmoreland had strongly recommended against a truce for TEl because of the losses to friendly forces during the Christmas and New Year's truces just concluded. CINCPAC endorsed his opposition to any further truce as did the JCS on January 4. The Chiefs pointed out that the history of U.S. experience with such holiday suspensions of operations was that the VC/NVA had increasingly exploited them to resupply, prepare for attacks, redeploy forces and commit violations. Perhaps of most concern was the opportunity such standdowns provided the enemy to mount major unharassed logistical resupply operations. Thus, they concluded:
Against this background of persistent exploitation of the standdown periods by the enemy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff view the forthcoming stand-down for TET with grave concern. To grant the enemy a respite during a four-day standdown at TET will slow our campaign, allow him time to reconstitute and replenish his forces, and cost us greater casualties in the long run.
This unanimous military opposition was falling on deaf ears. The President and his advisors had already committed the U.S. to a four-day truce and such a belated change of course would have clearly rebounded to the public opinion benefit of the North Vietnamese (who had already, on January 1, announced their intention to observe a 7-day TET truce). Thus, on January 14, Ambassador Lodge was instructed to get the GVN's concurrence to maintain just the 96-hour standdown, but to tell them that the Allies should be prepared to extend the pause if fruitful contacts developed during it. Lodge replied the following day that the proposal was agreeable to the GVN and to the Allied Chiefs of Mission in Saigon.
Acknowledging the political considerations which required a pause, the Chiefs on January 18 proposed the announcement of a set of conditions to the stand-down: (1) that SEA DRAGON countersea infiltration operations continue up to 19°; (2) that CINCPAC be authorized to resume air attacks against major land resupply efforts south of 19°; (3) that operations be resumed in the DMZ area to counter any major resupply or infiltration; and (4) that warning be given that violations or VC/NVA efforts to gain tactical advantage in SVN during the truce, would prompt direct military counteractions. The reaction at State to these new JCS conditions was vigorous. On January 21, Bundy sent Katzenbach a memo urging him to oppose anything that would compromise our suspension of operations against North Vietnam.
. . . I strongly recommend against approving JCS proposals for broader military authority to respond to North Viet-Namese resupply activities in North Viet-Nam. . . . In my view, resupply activities in North Viet-Nam cannot be considered a sufficiently immediate and direct threat to our forces to justify the great political and psychological disadvantages of U.S. air and naval strikes against North Viet-Namese territory during a truce period.
No information is available on McNamara's reaction to the proposed JCS truce limitations, but on the basis of his general position on the bombing at that time he can be presumed to have opposed them. In any case, they were not adopted. The execute order for the suspension of hostilities authorized CINCPAC strikes only in the case of an immediate and direct threat to U.S. forces, and stipulated that, "In the event reconnaissance disclosed major military resupply activity in North Vietnam south of 19 degrees north latitude, report immediately to the JCS." Decisions on how and when to respond to such resupply efforts would be made in Washington not Honolulu. This, then, was the issue whose merits would be the focus of debate at the end of the pause when furious diplomatic efforts to get talks started would generate pressure for an extension.
Even before the holiday arrived pressure to extend the pause had begun to mount. On February 2, Leonard Marks, Director of USIA proposed to Rusk that the truce be extended, "in 12 or 24 hour periods contingent upon DRV and VC continued observance of the truce conditions." The latter included in his definition, ". . . suspension of all infiltration and movement toward infiltration At the Pentagon, at least within civilian circles, there was sentiment for extending the pause too. In the materials that John McNaughton left behind is a handwritten scenario for the pause with his pencilled changes. The authorship is uncertain since the handwriting is neither McNaughton's nor McNamara's (nor apparently that of any of the other key Pentagon advisors), but a note in the margin indicates it had been seen and approved by the Secretary. Therefore it is reproduced below. Underlined words or phrases are McNaughton's modifications.
1. President tell DRV before Tet, "We are stopping bombing at start of Tet and at the end of Tet we will not resume."
2. During Tet and in days thereafter:
a. Observe DRV/VC conduct for 'signs.'
b. Try to get talks started.
3. Meantime, avoid changes in 'noise level' in other areas of conduct--e.g., no large US troop deployments for couple weeks, no dramatic changes in rules of engagement in South, etc.
4. As for public handling:
a. At end of 4 days of Tet merely extend to 7 days.
b. At end of 7 days just keep pausing, making
c. Later say "We are seeing what happens."
d. Even later, say (if true) infiltration down, etc.
5. If we must resume RT, have
reasonsjustifications and start in Route packages 1 & 2, working workNorth as excuses appear (and excuses will
6. If talks start and DRV
& theydemands ceasefire in South or cessation of US troop additions, consider exact deal then.
7. Accelerate readiness of Project 728. [anti-inifitration barrier]
8. Avoid allowing our terms to harden just because things appear to be going better.
(Vance: How handle case if resupply keeps up during Pause?)
In a puzzling marginal note, McNaughton recorded McNamara's reaction to the scenario: "SecDef (2/3/67: 'Agreed we will do this if answer to note is unproductive' (?). Something like this even if productive. JTM." It is not clear what the Secretary may have had in mind in his reference to a "note." The U.S. had exchanged notes with the DRV through the respective embassies in Moscow in late January and he may have meant this contact. Another possibility is that he was thinking of the letter from the President to Ho that must have been in draft at that time (it was to have been delivered in Moscow on February 7 but actual delivery was not until the 8th). In either case, McNamara must have foreseen this scenario for unilateral extension of the pause based on DRV actions on the ground as an alternative if they formally rejected our demands for reciprocity.
Whatever the explanation, the President's letter to Ho reiterated the demand for reciprocity:
I am prepared to order a cessation of bombing against your country and the stopping of further augmentation of U.S. forces in South Vietnam as soon as I am assured that infiltration into South Vietnam by land and by sea has stopped.
The President did, however, tie his proposal to the Tet pause and voiced the hope that an answer would be received before the end of Tet that would permit the suspension to continue and peace talks to begin.
Pressures on the President to continue the pause also came from his domestic critics and from the international community. On the very day the pause began, the Pope sent a message to both sides in the conflict expressing his hope that the suspension of hostilities could be extended and open the way to peace. The President's reply was courteous but firm:
We are prepared to talk at any time and place, in any forum, and with the object of bringing peace to Vietnam; however, I know you would not
expect us to reduce military action unless the other side is willing to do likewise.
Meanwhile the possibility that a definitive suspension of the bombing might produce negotiations became increasingly likely. Premier Kosygin had arrived in London to confer with Prime Minister Wilson on February 6, two days before the truce started. They immediately began a frantic weeklong effort to bring the two sides together. Multiple interpretations of position were passed rirough the intermediaries in London, but in the end, the massive DRV reupply effort forced the U.S. to resume the bombing without having received a final indication from the DRV as to their willingness to show restraint. But this was not before the bombing halt had been extended from 4 to 6 days, and not before the Soviets had informed the DRV of the deadline for an answer.
The factor which took on such importance and eventually forced the President's hand was the unprecedented North Vietnamese resupply activity during the bombing suspension. As already noted, the military had opposed the halt for just this reason and the Christmas and New Year's halts had given warning of what might be expected. By the time the truce had been in effect 24 hours, continuing surveillance had already revealed the massive North Vietnamese effort to move supplies into its southern panhandle. Washington sounded the alarm. On February 9 Rusk held a press conference and warned about the high rate of supply activity. The same day Bundy called Saigon and London with details of the rate of logistical movement and with instructions for dealing with the press. To London he stated:
Ambassador Bruce . . . should bring this story to the attention of highest British levels urgently, pointing out its relevance both to the problems we face in continuing the Tet bombing suspension and to the wider problem involved in any proposal that we cease bombing in exchange for mere talks. In so doing, you should not repeat not suggest that we are not still wide open to the idea of continuing the Tet bombing suspension through the 7-day period or at least until Kosygin departs London. You should emphasize, however, that we are seriously concerned about these developments and that final decision on such additional two- or three-day suspension does involve serious factors in light of this information.
On February 10 DIA sent the Secretary a summary of the resupply situation in
the first 48-hours of the truce. If the pattern of the first 48 hours continued,
DRV would move some 34,000 tons of material southward, the equivalent of 340 division-days of supply.
Thus the pressure on the President to resume mounted. On February 12 when the truce ended, the bombing was not resumed, but no announcement of the fact was made. The DRV were again invited to indicate what reciprocity the U.S. could expect. But no answer was forthcoming. Finally after more hours of anxious waiting by Kosygin and Wilson for a DRV reply, the Soviet Premier left London for home on February 13. The same day, the New York Times carried the latest Harris poll which showed that 67% of the American people supported the bombing. Within hours, the bombing of the North was resumed. The President, in speaking to the press, stressed the unparalleled magnitude of the North Vietnamese logistical effort during the pause as the reason he could no longer maintain the bombing halt. On February 15, Ho sent the President a stiff letter rejecting U.S. demands for reciprocity and restating the DRV's position that the U.S. must unconditionally halt the bombing before any other issues could be considered. Thus, the book closed on another effort to bring the conflict to the negotiating table.
2. More Targets
a. The Post-TET Debate
The failure of the Tet diplomatic initiatives once again brought attention back to measures which might put more pressure on the DRV. CINCPAC's January targetting proposals were reactivated for consideration in the week following the resumption of bombing. In early February, before the pause, CINCPAC had added to his requests for additional bombing targets a request for authority to close North Vietnam's ports through aerial mining. Arguing that, "A drastic reduction of external support to the enemy would be a major influence in achieving our objectives ...," he suggested that this could be accomplished by denying use of the ports. Three means of closing the ports were considered: (1) naval blockade; (2) air strikes against port facilities; and (3) aerial mining of the approaches. The first was rejected because of the undesirable political ramifications of confrontations with Soviet and third country shipping. But air strikes and mining were recommended as complementary ways of denying use of the ports. Closure of Haiphong alone, it was estimated, would have a dramatic effect because it handled some 95% of North Vietnamese shipping. In a related development, the JCS, on February 2, gave their endorsement to mining certain inland waterways including the Kien Giang River and its seaward approaches.
In the week following the Tet pause the range of possible escalatory actions came under full review. The President apparently requested a listing of options for his consideration, because on February 21, Cyrus Vance, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, forwarded a package of proposals to Under Secretary Katzenbach at State for comment. Vance's letter stated, "The President wants the paper for his night reading tonight." The paper Vance transmitted gives every indication of having been written by McNaughton, although that cannot be verified. In any case, it began with the following outline "shopping list" of possible actions with three alternative JCS packages indicated:
|I. Military actions against North Vietnam and in Laos|
|A. Present Program|
|B. Options for incresed military programs|
|1. Destroy modern industry|
|X||X||X||--Thermal power (7-plant grid)|
|X||X||X||--Steel and cement|
|X||X||--Machine tool plant|
|X||2. Destroy dikes and levees|
|3. mine ports and coastal waters|
|X||X||--mine estuaries south of 20°|
|X||--mine major ports and approaches, and estuaries north of 20°|
|4. Unrestricted LOC attacks|
|X||X||X||--Eliminate 10-mile Hanoi prohibited area|
|X||X||--Reduce Haiphong restricted area to 4 miles|
|X||--Eliminate prohibited/restricted areas except Chicom zone|
|X||X||--Elements of 3 ports (Haiphong, Cam Pha and Hon Gai)|
|X||--4 ports (Haiphong, Cam Pha, Hon Gai, and Hanoi port)|
|X||X||--Selected rail facilities|
|X||X||--Mine inland waterways south of 20°|
|X||--Mine inland waterways north of 20°|
|5. Expand naval surface operations|
|X||X||X||--Fire at targets ashoire and afloat south of 19°|
|X||X||--Expand to 20°|
|X||--Expand north of 20° to Chicom buffer zone|
|6. Destroy MIG airfields|
|X||X||X||--All unoccupied airfields|
|X||X||--4 not used for international civil transportation|
|X||--2 remaining airfields (Phuc Yen and Gia Lam)|
|7. SHINING BRASS ground operations in Laos|
|X||X||X||--Delegate State/DOD authority to CINCPAC/Vientiane|
|X||X||--Expand Operational limites to 20 km into Laos, increase helo operations, authorize larger forces. increase frequency of operation|
|X||--Battalion-size forces; start guerrilla warfare|
|X||X||X||8. Cause interdicting rains in or near Laos|
|X||X||X||--Base part of B-52 operations at U-Tapao, Thailand|
|X||X||X||--Fire artillery from SVN against DMZ and north of DMZ|
|X||X||--Fire artillery from SVN against targets in Laos|
|X||X||--Ammunition dump 4 miles SW of Haiphong|
|X||--Aid defense HQ and Ministry of Defense HQ in Hanoi|
|II. Actions in South Vietnam|
|A. Expand US forces and/or their role|
|--Continue current force build-up|
|X||X||X||--Accelerate current build-up (deploying 3 Army bns in 6/67)|
|X||X||--Deploy Marine brigade from Okinawa/Japan in 3/67|
|X||--Deploy up to 4 divisions and up to 9 air squadrons|
|B. Improve Pacification|
The discussion section of the paper dealt with each of the eight specific option areas noting our capability in each instance to inflict heavy damage or complete destruction to the facilities in question. The important conclusion in each instance was that elimination of the targets, individually or collectively, could not sufficiently reduce the flow of men and materiel to the South to undercut the Communist forces fighting the war. The inescapable fact which forced this conclusion was that North Vietnam's import potential far exceeded its requirements and could sustain considerable contraction without impairing the war effort. The point was dramatically made in the following table:
When Option 4 is taken together with Options 1-3, the import and need figures appear as follows:
NORTH VIETNAM'S POTENTIAL FOR OBTAINING IMPORTS BEFORE AND AFTER U.S. ATTACK
(tons per day)
Potential Now Potential After Attack By sea 6,500 650 By Red River from China 1,500 150 By road from China 3,200 2,400 By rail from China 6,000 4,000 TOTAL 17,200 7,200
Without major hardship, the need for imports is as follows (tons per day):
Normal Imports 4,200 If imports replace destroyed industrial production 1,400 If imports replace rice destroyed by levee breaks 600-2,500 TOTAL 6,200-8,100
With respect to crippling Hanoi's will to continue the war, the paper stated:
Unless things were going very badly for them there [in the South], it is likely that the North Vietnamese would decide to continue the war despite their concern over the increasing destruction of their country, the effect of this on their people, and their increasing apprehension that the US would invade the North.
The expected reaction of the Soviet Union and China to these escalatory options varied, but none was judged as unacceptable except in the case of mining the harbors. Here the Soviet Union would be faced with a difficult problem. The paper judged the likely Soviet reaction this way:
. . . To the USSR, the mining of the ports would be particularly challenging. Last year they moved some 530,000 tons of goods to North Vietnam by sea. If the ports remained closed, almost all of their deliveries--military and civilian--would be at the sufferance of Peiping, with whom they are having increasing difficulties. They would be severely embarrassed by their inability to prevent or counter the US move. It is an open question whether they would be willing to take the risks involved in committing their own ships and aircraft to an effort to reopen the ports.
In these circumstances, the Soviets would at least send a token number of "volunteers" to North Vietnam if Hanoi asked for them, and would provide Hanoi with new forms of military assistance--e.g., floating mines and probably cruise missiles (land-based or on Komar boats), which could appear as a direct response to the US mining and which would endanger our ships in the area.
The Soviets would be likely to strike back at the US in their bilateral relations, severely reducing what remains of normal contacts on other issues. They would focus their propaganda and diplomatic campaign to get US allies in Europe to repudiate the US action. They would probably also make other tension-promoting gestures, such as pressure in Berlin. The situation could of course become explosive if the mining operations resulted in serious damage to a Soviet ship.
This confirmed Ambassador Thompson's judgment of a few days before,
Mining of Haiphong Harbor would provoke a strong reaction here and Soviets would certainly relate it to their relations with China. . . . They would consider that we are quite willing to make North Vietnam entirely dependent upon CHINCOMs with all which that would imply.
Thus, while considering a long list of possible escalations, it did not offer forceful arguments for any of them. The copy preserved in McNaughton's materials contains a final section entitled "Ways to Advance a Settlement." A pencil note, however, indicates that this section was not sent to State and presumably not to the President either.
At State, Bundy drafted some comments on the OSD paper which generally supported its analysis. With respect to the proposals for mining North Vietnamese waters, however, it made a significant distinction:
. . . we would be inclined to separate the mining of ports used by Soviet shipping from the mining of coastal waters where (we believe) most of the shipping, if not all, is North Vietnamese. Mining of the waterways would have a more limited effect on Hanoi will and capacity, but would also be much less disturbing to the Soviets and much less likely to throw Hanoi into the arms of China, or to induce the Soviets to cooperate more fully with the Chinese.
The distinction is important because the President the next day did in fact approve the limited mining of internal waterways but deferred any decision on mining the ports. Beyond this, Bundy sought to reinforce the undesirability of striking the sensitive dyke and levee system and to emphasize that the Chinese buffer zone was a more important sanctuary (from the point of view of likely Soviet and/or Chinese reactions) than the Hanoi-Haiphong perimeters.
Several other memos of the same period appear in the files, but it is unlikely they had any influence on the new targets the President was considering. Roger Fisher had sent McNaughton another of his periodic notes on "future Strategy." After rehearsing the failures of the bombing program he suggested that ". . . all northern bombing be restricted to a narrower and narrower belt across the southern part of North Vietnam until it merges into air support for an on-the-ground interdiction barrier." By thus concentrating and intensifying our interdiction efforts he hoped we might finally be able to choke off the flow of men and goods to the South.
A memo from the President's special military advisor, General Maxwell Taylor, on February 20 considered some of the difficulties of negotiations, in particular the sequence in which we should seek to arrange a ceasefire and a political settlement. He argued that it was in the U.S. interest to adopt a "fight and talk" strategy, in which the political issues were settled first and the cease-fire arranged afterwards, hopefully conducting the actual negotiations in secret while we continued to vigorously press the VC/NVA in combat. The President passed the memo on to the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Chairman of the JCS for their comment but since the question of negotiations was for the moment academic it probably had no bearing on the next bombing decisions.
b. A "Little" Escalation
The President approved only a limited number of the measures presented to him, by and large those that would incur little risk of counter-escalation. He authorized naval gunfire up to the 20th parallel against targets ashore and afloat, artillery fire across the DMZ, a slight expansion of operation in Laos, the mining of rivers and estuaries south of 20°, and new bombing targets for ROLLING THUNDER 54. The latter included the remaining thermal power plants except Hanoi and Haiphong, and a reiteration of authority to strike the Thai Nguyen Steel Plant and the Haiphong Cement Plant (initially given in RT 53 but targets not struck). The President was neither ready nor willing, however, to consider the mining of the ports nor, for the moment, the removal of the Hanoi sanctuary. A decision on basing B-52s in Thailand was also deferred for the time being.
CINCPAC promptly took steps to bring the newly authorized targets under attack. On February 24 U.S. artillery units along the DMZ began shelling north of the buffer with long-range 175mm. cannon. The same day the Secretary told a news conference that more targets in the North might be added to the strike list, thereby preparing the public for the modest escalation approved by the President two days before. On February 27 U.S. planes began the aerial mining of the rivers and coastal estuaries of North Vietnam below the 20th parallel.
The mines were equipped with de-activation devices to neutralize them at the end of three months. Weather conditions, however, continued to hamper operations over North Vietnam and to defer sorties from several of the authorized targets that required visual identification weather conditions before strike approval could be given. The Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel complex, for example, was not struck until March 10. The slow squeeze was once more the order of the day with the emphasis on progressively destroying North Vietnam's embryonic industrial capability.
But the President intended that the pressure on the North be slowly increased to demonstrate the firmness of our resolve. Thus William Bundy in Saigon in early March told Thieu on behalf of the President that:
GVN should have no doubt that President adhered to basic position he had stated at Manila, that pressure must continue to be applied before Hanoi could be expected to change its attitude, while at the same time we remained completely alert for any indication of change in Hanoi's position. It was now clear from December and January events that Hanoi was negative for the time being, so that we were proceeding with continued and somewhat increased pressures including additional measures against the North.
The President perceived the strikes as necessary in the psychological test of wills between the two sides to punish the North, in spite of the near-consensus opinion of his advisers that no level of damage or destruction that we were willing to inflict was likely to destroy Hanoi's determination to continue the struggle. In a March 1st letter to Senator Jackson (who had publicly called for more bombing on February 27) he pointed to the DRV's violation of the two Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962 as the reason for the bombing, its specific purposes being:
. . . first . . . to back our fighting men and our fighting allies by demonstrating that the aggressor could not illegally bring hostile arms and men to bear against them from the security of a sanctuary.
Second . . . to impose on North Viet-Nam a cost for violating its international agreements.
Third . . . to limit or raise the cost of bringing men and supplies to bear against the South.
The formulation of objectives for the bombing was almost identical two weeks later when he spoke to the Tennessee State Legislature:
--To back our fighting men by denying the enemy a sanctuary;
--To exact a penalty against North Vietnam for her flagrant violations of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962;
--To limit the flow, or to substantially increase the cost of infiltration of men and material from North Vietnam.
In both instances the President put the psychological role of the bombing ahead of its interdiction functions. There was little evidence to suggest, however, that Hanoi was feeling these pressures in the way in which Mr. Johnson intended them.
c. The Guam Conference and More Salami Slices
Sometime early in March the President decided to arrange a high level conference to introduce his new team for Vietnam (Ambassadors Bunker and Komer, General Abrams, et al.) to the men they were to replace and to provide them comprehensive briefings on the problems they would face. Later it was decided to invite Thieu and Ky to the conference as well. The conference was scheduled for March 20-2 1 on Guam and the President led a large high-level delegation from Washington. Two important events occurred just before the group gathered and in large degree provided the backdrop if not the entire subject matter of their deliberations. First, the South Vietnamese Constituent Assembly completed its work on a draft constitution on March 18 and Thieu and Ky proudly brought the document with them to present to the President for his endorsement. Not surprisingly the great portion of the conference was given over to discussions about the forthcoming electoral process envisaged in the new constitution through which legitimate government would once again be restored to South Vietnam. The second significant development also occurred on the 18th when General Westmoreland sent CINCPAC a long cable requesting additional forces. His request amounted to little more than a restatement of the force requirements that had been rejected in November 1966 when Program #4 was approved. The proposal must have hung over the conference and been discussed during it by the Principals even though no time had been available before their departure for a detailed analysis.
The bombing program and the progress of the anti-infiltration barrier were also items on the Guam agenda but did not occupy much time since other questions were more pressing. Some handwritten "press suggestions" which McNaughton prepared for McNamara reflect the prevalent Guam concern with the war in the South. McNaughton's first point (originally numbered #4 but renumbered 1 in red pen) was, "Constant Strategy: A. Destroy Main Forces B. Provide Security C. Improve lot of people D. Press NVN (RT) E. Settle." As if to emphasize the preoccupation with the war in the South, the Joint Communique made no mention of the air war. But, if ROLLING THUNDER was only fourth priority in our "Constant Strategy," the Guam Conference nevertheless produced approval for two significant new targets--the Haiphong thermal power plants. They were added to the authorized targets of RT 54 on March 22. A related action also announced on March 22 after discussion and Presidential approval at Guam was the decision to assign B-52s conducting ARC LIGHT strikes in North and South Vietnam to bases in Thailand as the JCS had long been recommending. Slowly the air war was inching its way up the escalatory ladder.
During the Guam Conference one of the more unusual, unexpected and inexplicable developments of the entire Vietnam war occurred. Hanoi, for reasons still unclear, decided to make public the exchange of letters between President Johnson and Ho during the Tet truce. The North Vietnamese Foreign Ministry released the texts of the two letters to the press on March 21 while the President, his advisers and the South Vietnamese leadership were all closeted in Guam reviewing the progress of the war. Hanoi must have calculated that it would embarrass the President, make the South Vietnamese suspicious of U.S. intentions, and enhance their own peaceful image. By admitting past contacts with the U.S., however, the DRV assumed some of the direct responsibility for the failure of peace efforts. Moreover, the President's letter was conciliatory and forthcoming whereas Ho's was cold and uncompromising. In any case, the disclosure did the President no real harm with public opinion, a miscalculation which must have disappointed Hanoi greatly. After their return to Washington McNaughton sent McNamara a memo with some State Department observations on other aspects of the disclosure:
Bill Bundy's experts read this into Ho Chi Minh's release of the Johnson-Ho exchange of letters: (a) Ho thereby "played the world harp," thereby "losing" in the Anglo-Saxon world; (b) to Ho's Hanoi public, he "told off the Americans," showing the hard line but simultaneously reiterating the Burchette line (which China did not like); (c) in the process of quoting the President's letter, Ho leaked the fact of previous exchanges, thereby admitting past contacts and preparing the public for future ones; and (d) Ho ignored the NLF.
The most immediate and obvious effect of the disclosure, however, was to throw
cold water on any hopes for an early break in the Washington-Hanoi deadlock.
Shortly after the President's return from the Pacific he received a memo from the Chairman of the JCS, General Wheeler, describing the current status of targets authorized under ROLLING THUNDER 54. While most of the targets authorized had been struck, including the Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel plant and its associated thermal power facility, bad weather was preventing the kind of sustained campaign against the approved industrial targets that the JCS would have liked. The Thai Nguyen complex, for instance, had been scheduled for attack 51 times by March 21, but only 4 of these could be carried out, the rest being cancelled because of adverse weather. Piecemeal additions to the authorized target list continued through the month of April. On April 8, ROLLING THUNDER program 55 was approved, adding the Kep airfield; the Hanoi power transformer near the center of town; and the Haiphong cement plant, POL storage, and ammunition dump to the target list along with more bridges, railroad yards and vehicle parts elsewhere in the country. The restrictions on the Hanoi and Haiphong perimeters were relaxed to permit the destruction of these new targets.
In spite of the approval of these new "high-value" industrial targets that the JCS and CINCPAC had lusted after for so long, the Chairman in his monthly progress report to the President in April could report little progress. Unusually bad weather conditions had forced the cancellation of large numbers of sorties and most of the targets had been struck insufficiently or not at all.
In addition to broadening the NVN target base, increased pressure must be attained by achieving greater effectiveness in destruction of targets, maintaining continuous harassment during periods of darkness and marginal attack weather, and generating surge strike capabilities during periods of visual attack conditions. In view of the increased hostility of NVN air environment, achievement of around-the-clock strike capability is imperative to effect maximum possible degradation of the NVN air defense system which, in turn, will increase over-all attack effectiveness. As radar bombing/pathfinder capabilities are expanded and techniques perfected, the opportunity to employ additional strike forces effectively in sustained operations will improve significantly.
These problems did not deter them from recommending the approval of three additional tactical fighter squadrons (to be based at Nam Phong, Thailand) for the war in the North. The concept of operations under which these and other CINCPAC assigned aircraft were to operate was little more than a restatement of the goals set down the previous fall. The purpose was, "To make it as difficult and costly as possible for NVN to continue effective support of the VC and to cause NVN to cease direction of the VC insurgency." As usual, however, there was no effort to relate requested forces to the achievement of the desired goals, which were to stand throughout the war as wishes not objectives against which one effectively programmed forces.
On the same day the JCS endorsed Westy's force proposals CINCPAC's planes finally broke through the cloud cover and attacked the two thermal power generating facilities in Haiphong. The raids made world headlines. Two days later the specific go-ahead was given from Washington for strikes on the MIG airfields and on April 24th they too came under attack. At this point, with the JCS endorsement of Westmoreland's troop requests, a major debate over future Vietnam policy, in all its aspects, began within the Johnson Administration. It would continue through the month of May and into June, not finally being resolved until after McNamara's trip to Vietnam in July and the Presidential decisions on Program #5. But even while this major policy review was gearing up, the impetus for the salami-slice escalation of our assault on North Vietnam's industrial base produced yet another ROLLING THUNDER program. RT 56, whose principal new target was the thermal power plant located only 1 mile north of the center of Hanoi, became operational May 2. On May 5, at McNamara's request, General Wheeler sent the President a memo outlining the rationale behind the attack on the entire North Vietnamese power grid. In his words,
As you know, the objective of our air attacks on the thermal electric power system in North Vietnam was not . . . to turn the lights off in major population centers, but were [sic] designed to deprive the enemy of a basic power source needed to operate certain war supporting facilities and industries. You will recall that nine thermal power plants were tied together, principally through the Hanoi Transformer Station, in an electric power grid in the industrial and population complex in northeastern North Vietnam. . . . These nine thermal power plants provided electric power needed to operate a cement plant, a steel plant, a chemical plant, a fertilizer plant, a machine tool plant, an explosives plant, a textile plant, the ports of Haiphong and Hon Gai, major military installations such as airfields, etc. The power grid referred to above tied in the nine individual thermal electric power plants and permitted the North Vietnamese to switch kilowattage as required among the several consumers. All of the factories and facilities listed above contribute in one way or another and in varying degrees to the war effort in North Vietnam. For example, the steel plant fabricated POL tanks to supplement or replace fixed POL storage, metal pontoons for the construction of floating bridges, metal barges to augment infiltration capacity, etc.; the cement plant produced some 600,000 metric tons of cement annually which has been used in the rehabilitation of lines of communication.
Wheeler went on to describe the "specific military benefits" derived from the attacks on the two Haiphong power plants,
The two power plants in Haiphong had a total capacity of 17,000 kilowatts, some 9 per cent of the pre-strike national electric power capacity.Between them they supplied power for the cement plant, a chemical plant, Kien An airfield, Cat Bi airfield, the naval base and repair facilities, the Haiphong shipyard repair facilities and the electric power to operate the equipment in the port itself. In addition, the electric power generated by these two plants could be diverted through the electric grid, mentioned above, to other metropolitan and industrial areas through the Hanoi transformer station. All of the aforementioned industrial, repair, airbase, and port facilities contribute to the North Vietnamese war effort and, in their totality, this support is substantial.
Striking the newly approved Hanoi power plant would derive the following additional military advantages, Wheeler argued:
The Hanoi Thermal Power Plant has a 32,500 kilowatt capacity comprising 17 per cent of the pre-strike electric power production. Major facilities which would be affected by its destruction are the Hanoi Port Facility, the Hanoi Supply Depot, a machine tool plant, a rubber plant, a lead battery plant, the Van Dien Vehicle Repair Depot, an international telecommunications site, an international radio transmitter receiver site, the Bac Mai airfield, and the national military defense command center. All of these facilities contribute substantially to the North Vietnamese war effort. In addition, it should be noted a 35-kilovolt direct transmission line runs from the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant to Haiphong and Nam Dinh. We believe that, since the two Haiphong Thermal Power Plants were damaged, the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant has been supplying 3,000 kilowatts of power to Haiphong over this direct transmission line; this quantity is sufficient to meet about 10 per cent of Haiphong's electric power requirements.
Exactly how reassuring this line of argument was to the President is impossible to say. In any case, the long-awaited attack on the Hanoi power facility was finally given the operational go-ahead on May 16, and on May 19 the strike took place. When it did the cries of civilian casualties were again heard long and loud from Hanoi. But the Hanoi power plant was the last major target of the U.S. "spring offensive" against North Vietnam's nascent industrial sector. The CIA on May 26 produced a highly favorable report on the effectiveness of the campaign against the DRV's electric power capacity. In summary it stated:
Air strikes through 25 May 1967 against 14 of the 20 JCS-targeted electric power facilities in North Vietnam have put out of operation about 165,000 kilowatts (kw) of power generating capacity or 87 percent of the national total. North Vietnam is now left with less than 24,000 kw of central power generating capacity.
Both Hanoi and Haiphong are now without a central power supply and must rely on diesel-generating equipment as a power source. The reported reserve power system in Hanoi consisting of five underground diesel stations has an estimated power generating capacity of only 5,000 kw, or less than ten percent of Hanoi's normal needs.
The last phrases of this attack on the North's electric power generating system in May 1967 were being carried out against a backdrop of very high level deliberations in Washington on the future course of U.S. strategy in the war. They both influenced and were in turn influenced by the course of that debate, which is the subject of the next section of this paper. The fact that this major assault on the modern sector of the North Vietnamese economy while highly successful in pure target-destruction terms, had failed to alter Hanoi's determined pursuit of the war would bear heavily on the consideration by the Principals of new directions for American policy.
3. The Question Again--Escalate or Negotiate?
a. Two Courses--Escalate or Level Off
As already discussed, the JCS had transmitted to the Secretary of Defense on
April 20 their endorsement of General Westmoreland's March troop requests (100,000
immediately and 200,000 eventually). In so doing the military had once again
confronted the Johnson Administration with a difficult decision on whether to
escalate or level-off the U.S. effort. What they proposed was the mobilization
of the Reserves, a major new troop commitment in the South, an extension of
the war into the VC/NVA sanctuaries (Laos, Cambodia, and possibly North Vietnam),
the mining of North Vietnamese ports and a solid commitment in manpower and
resources to a military victory. The recommendation not unsurprisingly touched
off a searching reappraisal of the course of U.S. strategy in the war.
Under Secretary Katzenbach opened the review on May 24 in a memo to John McNaughton in which he outlined the problem and assigned the preparation of various policy papers to Defense, CIA, State and the White House. As Katzenbach saw it,
Fundamentally, there are three jobs which have to be done:
1. Assess the current situation in Viet-Nam and the various political and military actions which could be taken to bring this to a successful conclusion;
2. Review the possibilities for negotiation, including an assessment of the ultimate U.S. position in relationship to the DRV and NLF; and
3. Assess the military and political effects of intensification of the war in South Vietnam and in North Viet-Nam.
Katzenbach's memo asked Defense to consider two alternative courses of action: course A, the kind of escalation the military proposed including the 200,000 new troops; and course B, the leveling-off of the U.S. troop commitment with an addition of no more than 10,000 new men. Bombing strategies in the North to correlate with each course were also to be considered. Significantly, a territorially limited bombing halt was suggested as a possibility for the first time.
Consider with Course B, for example, a cessation, after the current targets have been struck, of bombing North Vietnamese areas north of 20° (or, if it looked suffciently important to maximize an attractive settlement opportunity, cessation of bombing in all of North Viet-Nam).
The White House was assigned a paper on the prospects and possibilities in the pacification program. State was to prepare a paper on U.S. settlement terms and conditions, and the CIA was to produce its usual estimate of the current situation.
With respect to the air war, the CIA had already to some extent anticipated the alternatives in a limited distribution memo in mid-April. Their judgment was that Hanoi was taking a harder line since the publication of the Johnson-Ho letters in March and would continue the armed struggle vigorously in the next phase waiting for a better negotiating opportunity. Three bombing programs were considered by the CIA. The first was an intensified program against military, industrial and LOC targets. Their estimate was that while such a course would create serious problems for the DRV the minimum essential flow of supplies into the North and on to the South would continue. No great change in Chinese or Soviet policies was anticipated from such a course of action. By adding the mining of the ports to this intensified air campaign, Hanoi's ability to support the war would be directly threatened. This would confront the Soviet Union with difficult choices, although the CIA expected that in the end the Soviets would avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. and would simply step up their support through China. Mining of the ports would put China in ". . . a commanding political position, since it would have control over the only remaining supply lines to North Vietnam." If the mining were construed by Hanoi and/or Peking as the prelude to an invasion of the North, Chinese combat troops could be expected to move into North Vietnam to safeguard China's strategic southern frontier. As to the Hanoi leadership, the CIA analysis did not foresee their capitulating on their goals in the South even in the face of the closing of their ports. A third possibility, attacking the airfields, was expected to produce no major Soviet response and at most only the transfer of some North Vietnamese fighters to Chinese bases and the possible entry of Chinese planes into the air war.
With a full-scale debate of future strategy in the offing, Robert Komer decided to leave behind his own views on the best course for U.S. policy before he went to Saigon to become head of CORDS. Questioning whether stepped up bombing or more troops were likely to produce the desired results, Komer identified what he felt were the "Critical Variables Which Will Determine Success in Vietnam." He outlined them as follows:
A. It is Unlikely that Hanoi will Negotiate. We can't count on a negotiated compromise. Perhaps the NLF would prove more flexible, but it seems increasingly under the thumb of Hanoi.
B. More Bombing or Mining Would Raise the Pain Level but Probably Wouldn't Force Hanoi to Cry Uncle. I'm no expert on this, but can't see it as decisive. Could it
Whether they will move to negotiate is of course a slightly different question, but we could be visibly and strongly on the way.
If China should go into a real convulsion, I would raise these odds slightly, and think it clearly more likely that Hanoi would choose a negotiating path to the conclusion.
Much of Bundy's sanguine optimism was based on the convulsions going on in
China. He estimated that the odds for another significant Chinese internal upheaval
were at least 50-50, and that this would offset Hanoi's recent promise of additional
aid from the Soviets. He argued that it should be the principal factor in the
consideration of any additional step-up in the bombing, or the mining of Haiphong
harbor. Specifically, he gave the following objections to more bombing:
Additional Action in the North. Of the major targets still not hit, I would agree to the Hanoi power station, but then let it go at that, subject only to occasional re-strikes where absolutely required. In particular, on the airfields, I think we have gone far enough to hurt and not far enough to drive the aircraft to Chinese fields, which I think could be very dangerous.
I would strongly oppose the mining of Haiphong at any time in the next nine months, unless the Soviets categorically use it to send in combat weapons. (It may well be that we should warn them quietly but firmly that we are watching their traffic into Haiphong very closely, and particularly from this standpoint.) Mining of Haiphong, at any time, is bound to risk a confrontation with the Soviets and to throw Hanoi into greater dependence on Communist China. These in themselves would be very dangerous and adverse to the whole notion of getting Hanoi to change its attitude. Moreover, I think they would somehow manage to get the stuff in through China no matter what we did to Haiphong.
In addition to these considerations, however, Bundy was worried about the international implications of more bombing:
International Factors. My negative feeling on serious additional bombing of the North and mining of Haiphong is based essentially on the belief that these actions will not change Hanoi's position, or affect Hanoi's capabilities in ways that counter-balance the risks and adverse reaction in China and with the Soviets alone.
Nonetheless, I cannot leave out the wider international factors, and particularly the British and Japanese as bellwethers. Both the latter have accepted our recent bombings with much less outcry than I, frankly, would have anticipated. But if we keep it up at this pace, or step up the pace, I doubt if the British front will hold. Certainly we will be in a very bad Donnybrook next fall in the UN.
Whatever the wider implications of negative reactions on a major scale, the main point is that they would undoubtedly stiffen Hanoi, and this is always the gut question.
With respect to negotiations, Bundy was guarded. He did not expect any serious moves by the other side until after the elections in South Vietnam in September. Thus, he argued against any new U.S. initiatives and in favor of conveying an impression of "steady firmness" on our part. It was precisely this impression that had been lacking from our behavior since the previous winter and that we should now seek to restore. This was the main point of his overall assessment of the situation, as the following summary paragraph demonstrates:
A Steady, Firm Course. Since roughly the first of December, I think we have given a very jerky and impatient impression to Hanoi. This is related more to the timing and suddenness of our bombing and negotiating actions than to the substance of what we have done. I think that Hanoi in any event believes that the 1968 elections could cause us to change our position or even lose heart completely. Our actions since early December may well have encouraged and greatly strengthened this belief that we wish to get the war over by 1968 at all costs. Our major thrust must be now to persuade them that we are prepared to stick it if necessary. This means a steady and considered program of action for the next nine months.
An SNIE a few days later confirmed Bundy's views about the unlikelihood of positive Soviet efforts to bring the conflict to the negotiating table. It also affirmed that the Soviets would no doubt continue and increase their assistance to North Vietnam and that the Chinese would probably not impede the flow of materiel across its territory.
Powerful and unexpected support for William Bundy's general viewpoint came at about this time from his brother, the former Presidential adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, McGeorge Bundy. In an unsolicited letter to the President he outlined his current views as to further escalation of the air war (in the initiation of which he had had a large hand in 1965) and further troop increments for the ground war in the South:
Since the Communist turndown of our latest offers in February, there has been an intensification of bombing in the North, and press reports suggest that there will be further pressure for more attacks on targets heretofore immune. There is also obvious pressure from the military for further reinforcements in the South, although General Westmoreland has been a model of discipline in his public pronouncements. One may guess, therefore, that the President will soon be confronted with requests for 100,000- 200,000 more troops and for authority to close the harbor in Haiphong. Such recommendations are inevitable, in the framework of strictly military analysis. It is the thesis of this paper that in the main they should be rejected and that as a matter of high national policy there should be a publicly stated ceiling to the level of American participation in Vietnam, as long as there is no further marked escalation on the enemy side.
There are two major reasons for this recommendation: the situation in Vietnam and the situation in the United States. As to Vietnam, it seems very doubtful that further intensifications of bombing in the North or major increases in U.S. troops in the South are really a good way of bringing the war to a satisfactory conclusion. As to the United States. it seems clear that uncertainty about the future size of the war is now having destructive effects on the national will.
Unlike the vocal critics of the Administration, Mac Bundy was not opposed to the bombing per se, merely to any further extension of it since he felt such action would be counter-productive. Because his views carry such weight, his arguments against extending the bombing are reproduced below in full:
On the ineffectiveness of the bombing as a means to end the war, I think the evidence is plain-though I would defer to expert estimators. Ho Chi Minh and his colleagues simply are not going to change their policy on the basis of losses from the air in North Vietnam. No intelligence estimate that I have seen in the last two years has ever claimed that the bombing would have this effect. The President never claimed that it would. The notion that this was its purpose has been limited to one school of thought and has never been the official Government position, whatever critics may assert.
I am very far indeed from suggesting that it would make sense now to stop the bombing of the North altogether. The argument for that course seems to me wholly unpersuasive at the present. To stop the bombing today would be to give the Communists something for nothing, and in a very short time all the doves in this country and around the world would be asking for some further unilateral concessions. (Doves and hawks are alike in their insatiable appetites; we can't really keep the hawks happy by small increases in effort--they come right back for more.)
The real justification for the bombing, from the start, has been double- its value for Southern morale at a moment of great danger, and its relation to Northern infiltration. The first reason has disappeared but the second remains entirely legitimate. Technical bombing of communications and of troop concentrations--and of airfields as necessary--seems to me sensible and practical. It is strategic bombing that seems both unproductive and unwise. It is true, of course, that all careful bombing does some damage to the enemy. But the net effect of this damage upon the military capability of a primitive country is almost sure to be slight. (The lights have not stayed off in Haiphong, and even if they had, electric lights are in no sense essential to the Communist war effort.) And against this distinctly marginal impact we have to weigh the fact that strategic bombing does tend to divide the U.S., to distract us all from the real struggle in the South, and to accentuate the unease and distemper which surround the war in Vietnam, both at home and abroad. It is true that careful polls show majority support for the bombing, but I believe this support rests upon an erroneous belief in its effectiveness as a means to end the war. Moreover, I think those against extension of the bombing are more passionate on balance than those who favor it. Finally, there is certainly a point at which such bombing does increase the risk of conflict with China or the Soviet Union, and I am sure there is no majority for that. In particular, I think it clear that the case against going after Haiphong Harbor is so strong that a majority would back the Government in rejecting that course.
So I think that with careful explanation there would be more approval than disapproval of an announced policy restricting the bombing closely to activities that support the war in the South. General Westmoreland's speech to the Congress made this tie-in, but attacks on power plants really do not fit the picture very well. We are attacking them, I fear, mainly because we have "run out" of other targets. Is it a very good reason? Can anyone demonstrate that such targets have been very rewarding? Remembering the claims made for attacks on [words missing].
In a similar fashion Bundy developed his arguments against a major increase in U.S. troop strength in the South and urged the President not to take any new diplomatic initiatives for the present. But the appeal of Bundy's analysis for the President must surely have been its finale in which Bundy, acutely aware of the President's political sensitivities, cast his arguments in the context of the forthcoming 1968 Presidential elections. Here is how he presented the case:
There is one further argument against major escalation in 1967 and 1968 which is worth stating separately, because on the surface it seems cynically political. It is that Hanoi is going to do everything it possibly can to keep its position intact until after our 1968 elections. Given their history, they are bound to hold out for a possible U.S. shift in 1969-that's what they did against the French, and they got most of what they wanted when Mendes took power. Having held on so long this time, and having nothing much left to lose-compared to the chance of victory-they are bound to keep on fighting. Since only atomic bombs could really knock them out (an invasion of North Vietnam would not do it in two years, and is of course ruled out on other grounds), they have it in their power to "prove" that military escalation does not bring peace-at least over the next two years. They will surely do just that. However much they may be hurting, they are not going to do us any favors before November 1968. (And since this was drafted, they have been publicly advised by Walter Lippmann to wait for the Republicans--as if they needed the advice and as if it was his place to give it!)
It follows that escalation will not bring visible victory over Hanoi before the election. Therefore the election will have to be fought by the Administration on other grounds. I think those other grounds are clear and important, and that they will be obscured if our policy is thought to be one of increasing--and ineffective--military pressure.
If we assume that the war will still be going on in November 1968, and that Hanoi will not give us the pleasure of consenting to negotiations sometime before then what we must plan to offer as a defense of Administration policy is not victory over Hanoi, but growing success--and self-reliance--in the South. This we can do, with luck, and on this side of the parallel the Vietnamese authorities should be prepared to help us out (though of course the VC will do their damnedest against us). Large parts of Westy's speech (if not quite all of it) were wholly consistent with this line of argument.
His summation must have been even more gratifying for the beleaguered President. It was both a paean to the President's achievements in Vietnam and an appeal to the prejudices that had sustained his policy from the beginning:
. . . if we can avoid escalation-that-does-not-seem-to-work, we can focus attention on the great and central achievement of these last two years:
on the defeat we have prevented. The fact that South Vietnam has not been lost and is not going to be lost is a fact of truly massive importance in the history of Asia, the Pacific, and the U.S. An articulate minority of "Eastern intellectuals" (like Bill Fulbright) may not believe in what they call the domino theory, but most Americans (along with nearly all Asians) know better. Under this Administration the United States has already saved the hope of freedom for hundreds of millions--in this sense, the largest part of the job is done. This critically important achievement is obscured by seeming to act as if we have to do much more lest we fail.
Whatever his own reactions, the President was anxious to have the reactions of others to Bundy's reasoning. He asked McNamara to pass the main portion of the memo to the Chiefs for their comment without identifying its author. Chairman Wheeler promptly replied. His memo to the President on May 5 rejected the Bundy analysis in a detailed listing of the military benefits of attacking the DRV power grid and in a criticism of Bundy's list of bombing objectives for failing to include punitive pressure as a prime motive. With respect to Bundy's recommendation against interdicting Haiphong Harbor, the General was terse and pointed:
As a matter of cold fact, the Haiphong port is the single most vulnerable and important point in the lines of communications system of North Vietnam. During the first quarter of 1967 general cargo deliveries through Haiphong have set new records. In March 142,700 metric tons of cargo passed through the port, during the month of April there was a slight decline to 132,000 metric tons. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that in April 31,900 metric tons of bulk foodstuffs passed through the port bringing the total of foodstuffs delivered in the first four months of 1967 to 100,680 metric tons as compared to 77,100 metric tons of food received during all of calendar 1966. These tonnages underscore the importance of the port of Haiphong to the war effort of North Vietnam and support my statement that Haiphong is the most important point in the entire North Vietnamese lines of communications system. Unless and until we find some means of obstructing and reducing the flow of war supporting material through Haiphong, the North Vietnamese will continue to be able to support their war effort both in North Vietnam and in South Vietnam.
But the lines were already clearly being drawn in this internal struggle over escalation and for the first time all the civilians (both insiders and significant outsiders) were opposed to the military proposals in whole or part. At this early stage, however, the outcome was far from clear. On the same day the Chairman criticized the Bundy paper, Roger Fisher, McNaughton's longtime advisor from Harvard, at the suggestion of Walt Rostow and Doug Cater, sent the President a proposal re-orienting the U.S. effort both militarily and diplomatically. The flavor of his ideas, all of which had already appeared in notes to McNaughton, can be derived from a listing of the headings under which they were argued without going into his detailed arguments. His analysis fell under the following six general rubrics:
1. Pursue an on-the-ground interdiction strategy (barrier);
2. Concentrate air attacks in the southern portion of North Vietnam;
3. Offer Hanoi some realistic "yes-able" propositions;
4. Make the carrot more believable;
5. Give the NLF a decidable question;
6. Give local Viet Cong leaders a chance to opt out of the war.
The arguments to the President for applying the brakes to our involvement in this seemingly endless, winless struggle were, thus, being made from all sides, except the military who remained adamant for escalation.
b. The May DPM Exercise
The available documents do not reveal what happened to the option exercise that Katzenbach had launched on April 24. But at this point in the debate over future direction for U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, attention shifted to a draft memorandum for the President written by John McNaughton for McNamara's eventual signature. (A W. Bundy memo on May 30 suggests the Katzenbach exercise was overtaken by Defense's DPM effort.) The DPM at the Pentagon is more than a statement of the Secretary's views, however, it is an important bureaucratic device for achieving consensus (or at least for getting people's opinions recorded on paper). McNaughton began his DPM by stating that the question before the house was:
whether to continue the program of air attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong area or for an indefinite period to concentrate all attacks on the lines of communication in the lower half of North Vietnam (south of 20°).
Short of attacking the ports, which was rejected as risking confrontation with
the USSR, the Memorandum said, there were few important targets left. The
alternative of striking minor fixed targets and continuing armed reconnaissance against the transportation system north of 20° was relatively costly, risky, and unprofitable:
We have the alternative open to us of continuing to conduct attacks between 20-23°--that is, striking minor fixed targets (like battery, fertilizer, and rubber plants and barracks) while conducting armed reconnaissance against movement on roads, railroads and waterways. This course, however, is costly in American lives and involves serious dangers of escalation. The loss rate in Hanoi-Haiphong Route Package 6 [the northeast quadrant], for example, is more than six times the loss rate in the southernmost Route Packages 1 and 2; and actions in the Hanoi-Haiphong area involve serious risks of generating confrontations with the Soviet Union and China, both because they involve destruction of MIGs on the ground and encounters with the MIGs in the air and because they may be construed as a US intention to crush the Hanoi regime.
The military gain from destruction of additional military targets north of 20° will be slight. If we believed that air attacks in that area would change Hanoi's will, they might be worth the added loss of American life and the risks of expansion of the war. However, there is no evidence that this will be the case, while there is considerable evidence that such bombing will strengthen Hanoi's will. In this connection, Consul-General Rice [of Hong Kong] . . . said what we believe to be the case-that we cannot by bombing reach the critical level of pain in North Vietnam and that, "below that level, pain only increases the will to fight." Sir Robert Thompson, who was a key officer in the British success in Malaya, said. . . that our bombing, particularly in the Red River basin, "is unifying North Vietnam."
Nor, the Memorandum continued, was bombing in northernmost NVN essential for the morale of SVN and US troops. General Westmoreland fully supported strikes in the Hanoi/Haiphong area and had even said, as noted before, that he was "frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing rogram," but his basic requirement was for continuation of bombing in the extended battle zone" near the DMZ.
The Memorandum went on to recommend what Roger Fisher had been suggesting, namely concentrating strikes in the lower half of NVN, without, however, turning the upper half into a completely forbidden sanctuary:
We therefore recommend that all of the sorties allocated to the ROLLING THUNDER program be concentrated on the lines of communications--the "funnel" through which men and supplies to the South must flow--between 17-20° reserving the option and intention to strike (in the 20-30° area) as necessary to keep the enemy's investment in defense and in repair crews high throughout the country.
The proposed change in policy was not aimed at getting NVN to change its behavior or to negotiate, and no favorable response from Hanoi should be expected:
But to optimize the chances of a favorable Hanoi reaction, the scenario should be (a) to inform the Soviets quietly (on May 15) that within a few (5) days the policy would be implemented, stating no time limits and making no promises not to return to the Red River basin to attack targets which later acquired military importance, and then (b) to make an unhuckstered shift as predicted on May 20. We would expect Moscow to pass the May 15 information on to Hanoi, perhaps (but probably not) urging Hanoi to seize the opportunity to de-escalate the war by talks or otherwise. Hanoi, not having been asked a question by us and having no ultimatum-like time limit, might be in a better posture to react favorably than has been the case in the past.
The Memorandum recommended that the de-escalation be explained as improving the military effectiveness of the bombing, in accordance with the interdiction rationale:
Publicly, when the shift had become obvious (May 21 or 22), we should explain (a) that as we have always said, the war must be won in the South, (b) that we have never said bombing of the North would produce a settlement by breaking Hanoi's will or by shutting off the flow of supplies, (c) that the North must pay a price for its infiltration, (d) that the major northern military targets have been destroyed, and (e) that now we are concentrating on the narrow neck through which supplies must flow, believing that the concentrated effort there, as compared with a dispersed effort throughout North Vietnam, under present circumstances will increase the efficiency of our interdiction effort, and (f) that we may have to return to targets further north if military considerations require it.
This McNaughton DPM on bombing was prepared as an adjunct to a larger DPM on the overall strategy of the war and new ground force deployments. Together they were the focus of a frantic weekend of work in anticipation of a White House meeting on Monday, May 8. That meeting would not, however, produce any positive decisions and the entire drafting exercise would continue until the following week when McNamara finally transmitted a draft memorandum to the President. Among thoose in the capital that weekend to advise the President was McGeorge Bundy with whom McNamara conferred on Sunday.
Walt Rostow at the White House circulated a discussion paper on Saturday, May 6, entitled "U.S. Strategy in Viet Nam." Rostow's paper began by reviewing what the U.S. was attempting to do in the war: frustrate a communist takeover "by defeating their main force units; attacking the guerilla infrastructure; and building a South Vietnamese governmental and security structure The purpose of the air war in the North was defined as "To hasten the decision in Hanoi to abandon the aggression . . . . ," for which we specifically sought:
(i) to limit and harass infiltration; and
(ii) to impose on the North sufficient military and civil cost to make them decide to get out of the war rather than later.
Sensitive to the criticisms of the bombing, Rostow tried to dispose of certain of their arguments:
We have never held the view that bombing could stop infiltration. We have never held the view that bombing of the Hanoi-Haiphong area alone would lead them to abandon the effort in the South. We have never held the view that bombing Hanoi-Haiphong would directly cut back infiltration. We have held the view that the degree of military and civilian cost felt in the North and the diversion of resources to deal with our bombing could contribute marginally-and perhaps significantly-to the timing of a decision to end the war. But it was no substitute for making progress in the South.
Rostow argued that while there were policy decisions to be made about the war in the South, particularly with respect to new force levels, there existed no real disagreement with the Administration as to our general strategy on the ground. Where contention did exist was in the matter of the air war. Here there were three broad strategies that could be pursued. Rostow offered a lengthy analysis of the three options which is included here in its entirety since to summarize it would sacrifice much of its pungency.
A. Closing the top of the funnel
Under this strategy we would mine the major harbors and, perhaps, bomb port facilities and even consider blockade. In addition, we would attack systematically the rail lines between Hanoi and mainland China. At the moment the total import capacity into North Viet Nam is about 17,200 tons per day. Even with expanded import requirement due to the food shortage, imports are, in fact, coming in at about 5700 tons per day. It is possible with a concerted and determined effort that we could cut back import capacity somewhat below the level of requirements; but this is not sure. On the other hand, it would require a difficult and sustained effort by North Viet Nam and its allies to prevent a reduction in total imports below requirements if we did all these things.
The costs would be these:
--The Soviet Union would have to permit a radical increase in Hanoi's dependence upon Communist China, or introduce minesweepers, etc., to keep its supplies coming into Hanoi by sea;
--The Chinese Communists would probably introduce many more engineering and anti-aircraft forces along the roads and rail lines between Hanoi and China in order to keep the supplies moving;
--To maintain its prestige, in case it could not or would not open up Hanoi-Haiphong in the face of mines, the Soviet Union might contemplate creating a Berlin crisis. With respect to a Berlin crisis, they would have to weigh the possible split between the U.S. and its Western European allies under this pressure against damage to the atmosphere of detente in Europe which is working in favor of the French Communist Party and providing the Soviet Union with generally enlarged influence in Western Europe.
I myself do not believe that the Soviet Union would go to war with us over Viet Nam unless we sought to occupy North Vietnam; and, even then, a military response from Moscow would not be certain.
With respect to Communist China, it always has the option of invading Laos and Thailand; but this would not be a rational response to naval and air operations designed to strangle Hanoi. A war throughout Southeast Asia would not help Hanoi; although I do believe Communist China would fight us if we invaded the northern part of North Viet Nam.
One can always take the view that, given the turmoil inside Communist China, an irrational act by Peiping is possible. And such irrationality cannot be ruled out.
I conclude that if we try to close the top of the funnel, tension between ourselves and the Soviet Union and Communist China would increase; if we were very determined, we could impose additional burdens on Hanoi and its allies; we might cut capacity below requirements; and the outcome is less likely to be a general war than more likely.
B. Attacking what is inside the funnel
This is what we have been doing in the Hanoi-Haiphong area for some weeks. I do not agree with the view that the attacks on Hanoi-Haiphong have no bearing on the war in the South. They divert massive amounts of resources, energies, and attention to keeping the civil and military establishment going. They impose general economic, political, and psychological difficulties on the North which have been complicated this year by a bad harvest and food shortages. I do not believe that they "harden the will of the North." In my judgment, up to this point, our bombing of the North has been a painful additional cost they have thus far been willing to bear to pursue their efforts in the South.
On the other hand:
--There is no direct, immediate connection between bombing the Hanoi-Haiphong area and the battle in the South;
--If we complete the attack on electric power by taking out the Hanoi station-which constitutes about 80% of the electric power supply of the country now operating-we will have hit most of the targets whose destruction imposes serious military-civil costs on the North.
--With respect to risk, it is unclear whether Soviet warnings about our bombing Hanoi-Haiphong represent decisions already taken or decisions which might be taken if we persist in banging away in that area.
It is my judgment that the Soviet reaction will continue to be addressed to the problem imposed on Hanoi by us; that is, they might introduce Soviet pilots as they did in the Korean War; they might bring ground-to-ground missiles into North Viet Nam with the object of attacking our vessels at sea and our airfields in the Danang area.
I do not believe that the continuation of attacks at about the level we have been conducting them in the Hanoi-Haiphong area will lead to pressure on Berlin or a general war with the Soviet Union. In fact, carefully read, what the Soviets have been trying to signal is: Keep away from our ships; we may counter-escalate to some degree; but we do not want a nuclear confrontation over Viet Nam.
C. Concentration in Route Packages 1 and 2
The advantages of concentrating virtually all our attacks in this area are three:
--We would cut our loss rate in pilots and planes;
--We would somewhat improve our harassment of infiltration of South Viet Nam;
--We would diminish the risks of counter-escalatory action by the Soviet Union and Communist China, as compared with courses A and B.
With this analysis of the pros and cons of the various options, Rostow turned to recommendations. He rejected course A as incurring too many risks with too little return. Picking up McNaughton's recommendation for concentrating the air war in the North Vietnamese panhandle, Rostow urged that it be supplemented with an open option to return to the northern "funnel" if developments warranted it. Here is how he formulated his conclusions:
With respect to Course B I believe we have achieved greater results in increasing the pressure on Hanoi and raising the cost of their continuing to conduct the aggression in the South than some of my most respected colleagues would agree. I do not believe we should lightly abandon what we have accomplished; and specifically, I believe we should mount the most economical and careful attack on the Hanoi power station our air tacticians can devise. Moreover, I believe we should keep open the option of coming back to the Hanoi-Haiphong area, depending upon what we learn of their repair operations; and what Moscow's and Peiping's reactions are; especially when we understand better what effects we have and have not achieved thus far.
I believe the Soviet Union may well have taken certain counter-steps addressed to the more effective protection of the Hanoi-Haiphong area and may have decided--or could shortly decide--to introduce into North Viet Nam some surface-to-surface missiles.
With respect to option C, I believe we should, while keeping open the B option, concentrate our attacks to the maximum in Route Packages 1 and 2; and, in conducting Hanoi-Haiphong attacks, we should do so only when the targets make sense. I do not expect dramatic results from increasing the weight of attack in Route Packages 1 and 2; but I believe we are wasting a good many pilots in the Hanoi-Haiphong area without commensurate results. The major objectives of maintaining the B option can be achieved at lower cost.
Although he had endorsed a strike on the Hanoi power plant, he rejected any attack on the air fields in a terse, one sentence final paragraph, "Air field attacks are only appropriate to the kind of sustained operations in the Hanoi-Haiphong area associated with option A."
Two important members of the Administration, McNaughton and Rostow, had thus weighed in for confining the bombing to the panhandle under some formula or other. On Monday, May 8, presumably before the policy meeting, William Bundy circulated a draft memo of his own which pulled the problem apart and assembled the pieces in a very different way. Like the others, Bundy's draft started from the assumption that bombing decisions would be related to other decisions on the war for which a consensus appeared to exist: pressing ahead with pacification; continued political progress in the South; and continued pressure on the North. To Bundy's way of thinking there were four broad target categories that could be combined into various bombing options:
1. "Concentration on supply routes." This would comprise attacks on supply routes in the southern "bottleneck" areas of North Vietnam, from the 20th parallel south.
2. "Re-strikes." This would comprise attacks on targets already hit, including unless otherwise stated sensitive targets north of the 20th parallel and in and around Hanoi/Haiphong, which were hit in the last three weeks.
3. "Additional sensitive targets." North of the 20th parallel, there are additional sensitive targets that have been on our recent lists, including Rolling Thunder 56. Some are of lesser importance, some are clearly "extremely sensitive" (category 4 below), but at least three--the Hanoi power station, the Red River bridge, and the Phuc Yen airfield--could be said to round out the April program. These three are the essential targets included in this category 3.
4. "Extremely sensitive targets." This would comprise targets that are exceptionally sensitive, in terms of Chinese and/or Soviet reaction, as well as domestic and international factors. For example, this list would include mining of Haiphong, ['bombing of critical port facilities in Haiphong,'- pencilled in] and bombing of dikes and dams not directly related to supply route waterways and/or involving heavy flooding to crops.
Bundy suggested that by looking at the targetting problem in this way a series of options could be generated that were more sensitive to considerations of time-phasing. He offered five such options:
Option A would be to move up steadily to hit all the target categories, including the extremely sensitive targets.
Option B would be to step up the level a little further and stay at that higher level through consistent and fairly frequent re-strikes. Specifically, this would involve hitting the additional sensitive targets and then keeping all sensitive targets open to re-strike, although with individual authorization.
Option C would be to raise the level slightly in the near future by hitting the additional sensitive targets, but then to cut back essentially to concentration on supply routes. Re-strikes north of the 20th parallel would be very limited under this option once the additional sensitive targets had been hit, and would be limited to re-strikes necessary to eliminate targets directly important to infiltration and, as necessary, to keep Hanoi's air defense system in place.
Option D would be not to hit the additional sensitive targets, and to define a fairly level program that would concentrate heavily on the supply routes but would include a significant number of re-strikes north of the 20th parallel. Since these re-strikes would still be substantially less bunched than in April, the net effect would be to scale down the bombing slightly from present levels, and to hold it there.
Option E would be to cut back at once to concentration on supply routes. Re-strikes north of the 20th parallel would be limited to those defined under Option C.
To crystallize more clearly in his readers' minds what the options implied in intensity compared with the current effort he employed a numerical analogy:
To put a rough numerical index on these options, one might start by saying that our general level in the past year has been Force 4, with occasional temporary increases to Force 5 (POL and the December Hanoi strikes). On such a rough numerical scale, our April program has put us at Force 6 at present. Option A would raise this to 8 or 9 and keep it there, Option F would raise it to 7 and keep it there, Option C would raise it to 7 and then drop it to 3, Option D would lower it to 5 and keep it there, and Option E would lower it to 3 and keep it there.
Bundy's analysis of the merits of the five that the likelihood of Chinese intervention in case of option A, a probability he considered options began with the estimate the war was slight except in the a major argument against it. Hedid not expect any of the courses of produce a direct Soviet intervention, but warned against the possibility of Soviet pressures elsewhere if option A were selected. He underscored a report from Ambassador Thompson that the Soviets had been greatly concerned by the April bombing program and were currently closeted in deliberations on general policy direction. Bombing of any major new targets in the immediate future would have an adverse effect on the Soviet leadership and was discouraged by Bundy. Option A was singled out for further condemnation based on the views of some China experts who argued that an intensive bombing program might be just what Mao needed to restore internal order in China and resolidify his control.
With respect to the effect of the bombing on North Vietnam, Bundy cited the evidence that strikes against the sensitive military targets were having only temporary and marginal positive benefits, and they were extremely costly in planes and pilots lost. By restricting the bombing to South of the 20th parallel as McNaughton had suggested, the military payoff might just be greater and the psychological strengthening of North Vietnamese will and morale less. The main factor in Hanoi attitudes, however, was the war in the South and neither a bombing halt nor an intensive escalation would have a decisive impact on it one way or the other. In Bundy's estimation Hanoi had dug in for at least another six months, and possibly until after the US elections in 1968. In the face of this the U.S. should try to project an image of steady, even commitment without radical shifts. This approach seemed to Bundy best suited to maximizing U.S. public support as well, since none of the courses would really satisfy either the convinced "doves" or the unflinching "hawks." The bombing had long since ceased to have much effect on South Vietnamese morale, and international opinion would react strongly to any serious escalation. Closing out his analysis, Bundy argued for a decision soon, possibly before the upcoming one-day truce on Buddha's birthday, May 23, when the new program might be presented.
On the basis of this analysis of the pros and cons, Bundy concluded that options A and B had been clearly eliminated. Of the three remaining courses he urged the adoption of D, thus aligning himself generally with McNaughton and Rostow. The specific reasons he adduced for his recommendation were the following:
Option D Elaborated and Argued
The first element in Option D is that it would not carry the April program to its logical conclusion by hitting the Hanoi power station, the Red River bridge, and the Phuc Yen airfield, even once.
The argument against these targets is in part based on reactions already discussed. Although we do not believe that they would have any significant chance of bringing the Chinese into the war, they might have a hardening effect on immediate Soviet decisions, and could significantly aggravate criticism in the UK and elsewhere.
The argument relates above all to the precise nature and location of these targets. The Hanoi power station is only a half mile from the Russian and Chinese Embassies, and still closer to major residential areas. The Red River bridge is the very area of Hanoi that got us into the greatest outcry in December. In both cases, the slightest mistake could produce really major and evident civilian casualties and tremendously aggravate the general reactions we have already assessed.
As to the Phuc Yen airfield, we believe there is a significant chance that this attack would cause Hanoi to assume we were going to make their jet operational airfields progressively untenable. This could significantly and in itself increase the chances of their moving planes to China and all the interacting possibilities that then arise. We believe we have gone far enough to hurt them and worry them. Is it wise to go this further step?
The second element in this strategy is that it would level off where we are, but with specific provision for periodic re-strikes against the targets we have already hit. This has clear pros and cons.
Pros. Continued re-strikes would maintain the concrete results already attained--the lights would stay out in Haiphong for the most part.
Continued re-strikes would tend to keep the "hawks" under control. Indeed, without them, it would almost certainly be asked why we had ever hit the targets in the first place. This might conceivably happen without restrikes, but would be at least doubtful.
Most basically, Hanoi and Moscow would be kept at least a little on edge. As we have noted earlier, fear of ultimate expansion of the war is an element that tends to impel the Soviets to maximize and use their leverage on Hanoi toward a peaceful settlement.
This significant convergence of opinion on bombing strategy in the next phase among key Presidential advisers could not have gone unnoticed in the May 8 meeting, but there being no record of what transpired, the consensus can only be inferred from the fact that the 19 May DPM did incorporate a bombing recommendation along these lines. Intervening before then to reinforce the views of the civilian Principals were several CIA intelligence memos. Together they constituted another repudiation of the utility of the bombing. The summary CIA view of the effect of the bombing on North Vietnamese thinking was that:
Twenty-seven months of US bombing of North Vietnam have had remarkably little effect on Hanoi's over-all strategy in prosecuting the war, on its confident view of long-term Communist prospects, and on its political tactics regarding negotiations. The growing pressure of US air operations has not shaken the North Vietnamese leaders' conviction that they can withstand the bombing and outlast the US and South Vietnam in a protracted war of attrition. Nor has it caused them to waver in their belief that the outcome of this test of will and endurance will be determined primarily by the course of the conflict on the ground in the South, not by the air war in the North.
As to the state of popular morale after two years of U.S. bombing, the CIA concluded that:
Morale in the DRV among the rank and file populace, defined in terms of discipline, confidence, and willingness to endure hardship, appears to have undergone only a small decline since the bombing of North Vietnam began.
* * * * *
With only a few exceptions, recent reports suggest a continued willingness on the part of the populace to abide by Hanoi's policy on the war. Evidence of determination to persist in support of the war effort continues to be as plentiful in these reports as in the past. The current popular mood might best be characterized, in fact, as one of resolute stoicism with a considerable reservoir of endurance still untapped.
Even the extensive physical damage the bombing had done to North Vietnam could not be regarded as meaningfully reducing Hanoi's capacity to sustain the war:
Through the end of April 1967 the US air campaign against North Vietnam--Rolling Thunder--had significantly eroded the capacities of North Vietnam's limited industrial and military base. These losses, however, have not meaningfully by degraded North Vietnam's material ability to continue the war in South Vietnam.
Certain target systems had suffered more than others, particularly transportation and electric power, but throughout capacity for materiel had not been significantly decreased. One of the fundamental reasons was the remarkable ability the North Vietnamese had demonstrated to recuperate quickly from the strikes:
North Vietnam's ability to recuperate from the air attacks has been of a high order. The major exception has been the electric power industry.
* * * * *
The recuperability problem is not significant for the other target systems. The destroyed petroleum storage system has been replaced by an effective system of dispersed storage and distribution. The damaged military targets systems-particularly barracks and storage depots-have simply been abandoned, and supplies and troops dispersed throughout the country. The inventories of transport and military equipment have been replaced by large infusions of military and economic aid from the USSR and Communist China. Damage to bridges and lines of communications is frequently repaired within a matter of days, if not hours, or the effects are countered by an elaborate system of multiple bypasses or pre-positioned spans.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 4, Chapter 1, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Crisis, 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
Return to Vinnie's Home Page
Return to Vietnam War Page