The Pentagon Papers
Chapter I, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)
Section 3, pp. 169-225
c. The May 19 DFM
By the 19th of May the opinions of McNamara and his key aides with respect to the bombing and Westy's troop requests had crystallized sufficiently that another Draft Presidential Memorandum was written. It was entitled, "Future Actions in Vietnam," and was a comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the war--military, political, and diplomatic. It opened with an appraisal of the situation covering both North and South Vietnam, the U.S. domestic scene and international opinion. The estimate of the situation in North Vietnam hewed very close to the opinions of the intelligence community already referred to. Here is how the analysis proceeded:
C. North Vietnam
Hanoi's attitude towards negotiations has never been soft nor open-minded. Any concession on their part would involve an enormous loss of face. Whether or not the Polish and Burchett-Kosygin initiatives had much substance to them, it is clear that Hanoi's attitude currently is hard and rigid. They seem uninterested in a political settlement and determined to match US military expansion of the conflict. This change probably reflects these factors: (1) increased assurances of help from the Soviets received during Pham Van Dong's April trip to Moscow; (2) arrangements providing for the unhindered passage of materiel from the Soviet Union through China; and (3) a decision to wait for the results of the US elections in 1968. Hanoi appears to have concluded that she cannot secure her objectives at the conference table and has reaffirmed her strategy of seeking to erode our ability to remain in the South. The Hanoi leadership has apparently decided that it has no choice but to submit to the increased bombing. There continues to be no sign that the bombing has reduced Hanoi's will to resist or her ability to ship the necessary supplies south. Hanoi shows no signs of ending the large war and advising the VC to melt into the jungles. The North Vietnamese believe they are right; they consider the Ky regime to be puppets; they believe the world is with them and that the American public will not have staying power against them. Thus, although they may have factions in the regime favoring different approaches, they believe that, in the long run, they are stronger than we are for the purpose. They probably do not want to make significant concessions, and could not do so without serious loss of face.
When added to the continuing difficulties in bringing the war in the South under control, the unchecked erosion of U.S. public support for the war, and the smoldering international disquiet about the need and purpose of such U.S. intervention, it is not hard to understand the DPM's statement that, "This memorandum is written at a time when there appears to be no attractive course of action." Nevertheless, 'alternatives' was precisely what the DPM had been written to suggest. These were introduced with a recapitulation of where we stood militarily and what the Chiefs were recommending. With respect to the war in the North, the DPM stated:
Against North Vietnam, an expansion of the bombing program (ROLLING THUNDER 56) was approved mid-April. Before it was approved, General Wheeler said, "The bombing campaign is reaching the point where we will have struck all worthwhile fixed targets except the ports. At this time we will have to address the requirement to deny the DRV the use of the ports." With its approval, excluding the port areas, no major military targets remain to be struck in the North. All that remains are minor targets, restrikes of certain major targets, and armed reconnaissance of the lines of communication (LOCs)--and, under new principles, mining the harbors, bombing dikes and locks, and invading North Vietnam with land armies. These new military moves against North Vietnam, together with land movements into Laos and Cambodia, are now under consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The broad alternative courses of action it considered were two:
COURSE A. Grant the request and intensify military actions outside the South--especially against the North. Add a minimum of 200,000 men--100,000 (2½ division plus 5 tactical air squadrons) would be deployed in FY 1968, another 100,000 (2½ divisions and 8 tactical air squadrons) in FY 1969, and possibly more later to fulfill the JCS ultimate requirement for Vietnam and associated world-wide contingencies. Accompanying these force increases (as spelled out below) would be greatly intensified military actions outside South Vietnam--including in Laos and Cambodia but especially against the North.
COURSE B. Limit force increases to no more than 30,000; avoid extending the ground conflict beyond the borders of South Vietnam; and concentrate the bombing on the infiltration routes south of 20°. Unless the military situation worsens dramatically, add no more than 9 battalions of the approved program of 87 battalions. This course would result in a level of no more than 500,000 men (instead of the currently planned 470,000) on December 31, 1968. (See Attachment IV for details.) A part of this course would be a termination of bombing in the Red River basin unless military necessity required it, and a concentration of all sorties in North Vietnam on the infiltration routes in the neck of North Vietnam, between 17° and 20°.
For the purposes of this paper, it is not necessary to develop the entire DPM argumentation of the pros and cons of the respective courses of action. It will suffice to include the sections dealing with the air war elements of the two options. (It should be noted, however, that the air and ground programs were treated as an integrated package in each option.) This then was the way the DPM developed the analysis of the war segment of course of action A:
Bombing Purposes and Payoffs
Our bombing of North Vietnam was designed to serve three purposes:
--(1) To retaliate and to lift the morale of the people in the South who were being attacked by agents of the North.
--(2) To add to the pressure on Hanoi to end the war.
--(3) To reduce the flow and/or to increase the cost of infiltrating men and materiel from North to South.
We cannot ignore that a limitation on bombing will cause serious psychological problems among the men, officers and commanders, who will not be able to understand why we should withhold punishment from the enemy. General Westmoreland said that he is "frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing program." But this reason for attacking North Vietnam must be scrutinized carefully. We should not bomb for punitive reasons if it serves no other purpose-especially if analysis shows that the actions may be counterproductive. It costs American lives; it creates a backfire of revulsion and opposition by killing civilians; it creates serious risks; it may harden the enemy.
With respect to added pressure on the North, it is becoming apparent that Hanoi may already have "written off" all assets and lives that might be destroyed by US military actions short of occupation or annihilation. They can and will hold out at least so long as a prospect of winning the "war of attrition" in the South exists. And our best judgment is that a Hanoi prerequisite to negotiations is significant retrenchment (if not complete stoppage of US military actions against them--at the least, a cessation of bombing. In this connection, Consul-General Rice (Hong Kong 7581, 5/1/67) said that, in his opinion, 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 said to Mr. Vance on April 28 that our bombing, particularly in the Red River Delta, "is unifying North Vietnam."
With respect to interdiction of men and materiel, it now appears that no combination of actions against the North short of destruction of the regime or occupation of North Vietnamese territory will physically reduce the flow of men and materiel below the relatively small amount needed by enemy forces to continue the war in the South. Our effort can and does have severe disruptive effects, which Hanoi can and does plan on and prestock against. Our efforts physically to cut the flow meaningfully by actions in North Vietnam therefore largely fail and, in failing, transmute attempted interdiction into pain, or pressure on the North (the factor discussed in the paragraph next above). The lowest "ceiling" on infiltration can probably be achieved by concentration on the North Vietnamese "funnel" south of 20° and on the Trail in Laos.
But what if the above analyses are wrong? Why not escalate the bombing and mine the harbors (and perhaps occupy southern North Vietnam)-on the gamble that it would constrict the flow, meaningfully limiting enemy action in the South, and that it would bend Hanoi? The answer is that the costs and risks of the actions must be considered.
The primary costs of course are US lives: The air campaign against heavily defended areas costs us one pilot in every 40 sorties. In addition, an important but hard-to-measure cost is domestic and world opinion: There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one. It could conceivably produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness and in the world image of the United States--especially if the damage to North Vietnam is complete enough to be "successful."
The most important risk, however, is the likely Soviet, Chinese and North Vietnamese reaction to intensified US air attacks, harbor-mining, and ground actions against North Vietnam.
Likely Communist Reactions
At the present time, no actions--except air strikes and artillery fire necessary to quiet hostile batteries across the border--are allowed against Cambodian territory. In Laos, we average 5000 attack sorties a month against the infiltration routes and base areas, we fire artillery from South Vietnam targets in Laos, and we will be providing 3-man leadership for each of 20 12-man US-Vietnamese Special Forces teams that operate to a depth of 20 kilometers into Laos. Against North Vietnam, we average 8,000 or more attack sorties a month against all worthwhile fixed and LOC targets; we use artillery against ground targets across the DMZ; we fire from naval vessels at targets ashore and afloat up to 19°; and we mine their inland waterways, estuaries . . . up to 20°.
Intensified air attacks against the same types of targets, we would anticipate, would lead to no great change in the policies and reactions of the Communist powers beyond the furnishing of some new equipment and manpower.* China, for example, has not reacted to our striking MIG
* The U.S. Intelligence Board on May 5 said that Hanoi may press Moscow for additional equipment and that there is a "good chance that under pressure the Soviets would provide such weapons as cruise missiles and tactical rockets" in addition to a limited number of volunteers or crews for aircraft or sophisticated equipment. Moscow, with respect to equipment, might provide better surface-to-air missiles, better antiaircraft guns, the YAK-28 aircraft, anti-tank missiles and artillery, heavier artillery and mortars, coastal defense missiles with 25-50 mile ranges and 2200-pound warheads, KOMAR guided-missile coastal patrol boats with 20-mile surface-to-surface missiles, and some chemical munitions. She might consider sending medium jet bombers and fighter bombers to pose a threat to all of South Vietnam.
fields in North Vietnam, and we do not expect them to, although there are some signs of greater Chinese participation in North Vietnamese air defense.
Mining the harbors would be much more serious. It would place Moscow in a particularly galling dilemma as to how to preserve the Soviet position and prestige in such a disadvantageous place. The Soviets might, but probably would not, force a confrontation in Southeast Asia-where even with minesweepers they would be at as great a military disadvantage as we were when they blocked the corridor to Berlin in 1961, but where their vital interest, unlike ours in Berlin (and in Cuba), is not so clearly at stake. Moscow in this case should be expected to send volunteers, including pilots, to North Vietnam; to provide some new and better weapons and equipment; to consider some action in Korea, Turkey, Iran, the Middle East or, most likely, Berlin, where the Soviets can control the degree of crisis better; and to show across-the-board hostility toward the US (interrupting any on-going conversations on ABMs, non-proliferation, etc.). China could be expected to seize upon the harbor-mining as the opportunity to reduce Soviet political influence in Hanoi and to discredit the USSR if the Soviets took no military action to open the ports. Peking might read the harbor-mining as indicating that the US was going to apply military pressure until North Vietnam capitulated, and that this meant an eventual invasion. If so, China might decide to intervene in the war with combat troops and air power, to which we would eventually have to respond by bombing Chinese airfields and perhaps other targets as well. Hanoi would tighten belts, refuse to talk, and persevere--as it could without too much difficulty. North Vietnam would of course be fully dependent for supplies on China's will, and Soviet influence in Hanoi would therefore be reduced. (Ambassador Sullivan feels very strongly that it would be a serious mistake, by our actions against the port, to tip Hanoi away from Moscow and toward Peking.)
To US ground actions in North Vietnam, we would expect China to respond by entering the war with both ground and air forces. The Soviet Union could be expected in these circumstances to take all actions listed above under the lesser provocations and to generate a serious confrontation with the United States at one or more places of her own choosing.
The arguments against Course A were summed up in a final paragraph:
Those are the likely costs and risks of COURSE A. They are, we believe, both unacceptable and unnecessary. Ground action in North Vietnam, because of its escalatory potential, is clearly unwise despite the open invitation and temptation posed by enemy troops operating freely back and forth across the DMZ. Yet we believe that, short of threatening and perhaps toppling the Hanoi regime itself, pressure against the North will, if anything, harden Hanoi's unwillingness to talk and her settlement terms if she does. China, we believe, will oppose settlement throughout. We believe that there is a chance that the Soviets, at the brink, will exert efforts to bring about peace; but we believe also that intensified bombing and harbor-mining, even if coupled with political pressure from Moscow, will neither bring Hanoi to negotiate nor affect North Vietnam's terms.
With Course A rejected, the DPM turned to consideration of the levelling-off proposals of Course B. The analysis of the deescalated bombing program of this option proceeded in this manner:
The bombing program that would be a part of this strategy is, basically, a program of concentration of effort on the infiltration routes near the south of North Vietnam. The major infiltration-related targets in the Red River basin having been destroyed, such interdiction is now best served by concentration of all effort in the southern neck of North Vietnam. All of the sorties would be flown in the area between 17° and 200. This shift, despite possible increases in anti-aircraft capability in the area, should reduce the pilot and aircraft loss rates by more than 50 per cent. The shift will, if anything, be of positive military value to General Westmoreland while taking some steam out of the popular effort in the North.
The above shift of bombing strategy, now that almost all major targets have been struck in the Red River basin, can to military advantage be made at any time. It should not be done for the sole purpose of getting Hanoi to negotiate, although that might be a bonus effect. To maximize the chances of getting that bonus effect, the optimum scenario would probably be (1) to inform the Soviets quietly that within a few days the shift would take place, stating no time limits but making no promises not to return to the Red River basin to attack targets which later acquire military importance (any deal with Hanoi is likely to be mid-wifed by Moscow); (2) to make the shift as predicted; without fanfare; and (3) to explain publicly, when the shift had become obvious, that the northern targets had been destroyed, that that had been militarily important, and that there would be no need to return to the northern areas unless military necessity dictated it. The shift should not be huckstered. Moscow would almost certainly pass its information on to Hanoi, and might urge 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, would be in a better posture to answer favorably than has been the case in the past. The military side of the shift is sound, however, whether or not the diplomatic spill-over is successful.
In a section dealing with diplomatic and political considerations, the DPM outlined the political view of the significance of the struggle as seen by the US and by Hanoi. It then developed a conception of larger US interests in Asia around the necessity of containing China. This larger interest required settling the Vietnam war into perspective as only one of three fronts that required U.S. attention (the other two being Japan-Korea and India-Pakistan). In the overall view, the DPM argued, long-run trends in Asia appeared favorable to our interests:
The fact is that the trends in Asia today are running mostly for, not against, our interests (witness Indonesia and the Chinese confusion); there is no reason to be pessimistic about our ability over the next decade or two to fashion alliances and combinations (involving especially Japan and India) sufficient to keep China from encroaching too far. To the extent that our original intervention and our existing actions in Vietnam were motivated by the perceived need to draw the line against Chinese expansionism in Asia, our objective has already been attained, and COURSE B will suffice to consolidate it!
With this perspective in mind the DPM went on to reconsider and restate U.S.
objectives in the Vietnam contest under the heading "Commitment and Hopes
The time has come for us to eliminate the ambiguities from our minimum objectives--our commitments--in Vietnam. Specifically, two principles must be articulated, and policies and actions brought in line with them: (1) Our commitment is only to see that the people of South Vietnam are permitted to determine their own future. (2) This commitment ceases if the country ceases to help itself.
It follows that no matter how much we might hope for some things, our commitment is not:
to expel from South Vietnam regroupees, who are South Vietnamese (though we do not like them),
to ensure that a particular person or group remains in power, nor that the power runs to every corner of the land (though we prefer certain types and we hope their writ will run throughout South Vietnam),
to guarantee that the self-chosen government is non-Communist (though we believe and strongly hope it will be), and
to insist that the independent South Vietnam remain separate from North Vietnam (though in the short-run, we would prefer it that way).
(Nor do we have an obligation to pour in effort out of proportion to the effort contributed by the people of South Vietnam or in the face of coups, corruption, apathy or other indications of Saigon failure to cooperate effectively with us.)
We are committed to stopping or off setting the effect of North Vietnam's application of force in the South, which denies the people of the South the ability to determine their own future. Even here, however, the line is hard to draw. Propaganda and political advice by H4noi (or by Washington) is presumably not barred; nor is economic aid or economic advisors. Less clear is the rule to apply to military advisors and war materiel supplied to the contesting factions.
The importance of nailing down and understanding the implications of our limited objectives cannot be overemphasized. It relates intimately to strategy against the North, to troop requirements and missions in the South, to handling of the Saigon government, to settlement terms, and to US domestic and international opinion as to the justification and the success of our efforts on behalf of Vietnam.
This articulation of American purposes and commitments in Vietnam pointedly rejected the high blown formulations of U.S. objectives in NSAM 288 ("an independent non-communist South Vietnam," "defeat the Viet Cong," etc.), and came forcefully to grips with the old dilemma of the U.S. involvement dating from the Kennedy era: only limited means to achieve excessive ends. Indeed, in the following section of specific recommendations, the DPM urged the President to, "Issue a NSAM nailing down US policy as described herein." The emphasis in this scaled-down set of goals, clearly reflecting the frustrations of failure, was South Vietnamese self-determination. The PDM even went so far as to suggest that, "the South will be in position [sic], albeit imperfect, to start the business of producing a full-spectrum government in South Vietnam." What this amounted to was a recommendation that we accept a compromise outcome. Let there be no mistake these were radical positions for a senior U.S. policy official within the Johnson Administration to take. They would bring the bitter condemnation of the Chiefs and were scarcely designed to flatter the President on the success of his efforts to date. That they represented a more realistic mating of U.S. strategic objectives and capabilities is another matter.
The scenario for the unfolding of the recommendations in the DPM went like this:
(4) June: Concentrate the bombing of North Vietnam on physical interdiction of men and materiel. This would mean terminating, except where the interdiction objective clearly dictates otherwise, all bombing north of 200 and improving interdiction as much as possible in the infiltration "funnel" south of 20° by concentration of sorties and by an all-out effort to improve detection devices, denial weapons, and interdiction tactics.
(5) July: Avoid the explosive Congressional debate and US Reserve 'call-up implicit in the Westmoreland troop request. Decide that, unless the military situation worsens dramatically, US deployments will be limited to Program 4-plus (which, according to General Westmoreland, will not put us in danger of being defeated, but will mean slow progress in the South). Associated with this decision are decisions not to use large numbers of US troops in the Delta and not to use large numbers of them in grass-roots pacification work.
(6) September: Move the newly elected Saigon government well beyond its National Reconciliation program to seek a political settlement with the non-Communist members of the NLF--to explore a ceasefire and to reach an accommodation with the non-Communist South Vietnamese who are under the VC banner; to accept them as members of an opposition political party, and, if necessary, to accept their individual participation in the national government-in sum, a settlement to transform the members of the VC from military opponents to political opponents.
(7) October: Explain the situation to the Canadians, Indians, British, UN and others, as well as nations now contributing forces, requesting them to contribute border forces to help make the inside-South Vietnam accommodation possible, and--consistent with our desire neither to occupy nor to have bases in Vietnam--offering to remove later an equivalent number of U.S. forces. (This initiative is worth taking despite its slim chance of success.)
Having made the case for de-escalation and compromise, the DPM ended on a note of candor with a clear statement of its disadvantages and problems:
The difficulties with this approach are neither few nor small: There will be those who disagree with the circumscription of the US commitment (indeed, at one time or another, one US voice or another has told the Vietnamese, third countries, the US Congress, and the public of "goals" or "objectives" that go beyond the above bare-bones statement of our "commitment"); some will insist that pressure, enough pressure, on the North can pay off or that we will have yielded a blue chip without exacting a price in exchange for our concentrating on interdiction; many will argue that denial of the larger number of troops will prolong the war, risk losing it and increase the casualties of the Americans who are there; some will insist that this course reveals weakness to which Moscow will react with relief, contempt and reduced willingness to help, and to which Hanoi will react by increased demands and truculence; others will point to the difficulty of carrying the Koreans, Filipinos, Australians and New Zealanders with us; and there will be those who point out the possibility that the changed US tone may cause a "rush for the exits" in Thailand, in Laos and especially inside South Vietnam, perhaps threatening cohesion of the government, morale of the army, and loss of support among the people. Not least will be the alleged impact on the reputation of the United States and of its President. Nevertheless, the difficulties of this strategy are fewer and smaller than the difficulties of any other approach.
McNamara showed the draft to the President the same day it was completed, but there is no record of his reaction. It is worth noting, however, that May 19 was the day that U.S. planes struck the Hanoi power plant just one mile north of the center of Hanoi. That the President did not promptly endorse the McNamara recommendations as he had on occasions in the past is not surprising. This time he faced a situation where the Chiefs were in ardent opposition to anything other than a significant escalation of the war with a callup of reserves. This put them in direct opposition to McNamara and his aides and created a genuine policy dilemma for the President who had to consider the necessity of keeping the military "on-board" in any new direction for the U.S. effort in Southeast Asia.
d. JCS, CIA, and State Reactions
In the two weeks after McNamara's DPM, the Washington papermill must have broken all previous production records. The JCS in particular literally bombarded the Secretary with memoranda, many of which had voluminous annexes. Their direct comments on the DPM did not come until ten days after it was transmitted to the President. Before then, however, aware of the McNamara proposals, they forwarded a number of studies each of which was the occasion to advance their own arguments for escalation.
On May 20, the Chiefs sent the Secretary two memos, one urging expansion of operations against North Vietnam (which they requested he pass on to the President) and the other on worldwide force posture. In the former they argued that the objectives of causing NVN to pay an increasing pride for support of the war in the South and interdicting such support had only been partially achieved, because the "incremental and restrained" application of air power had enabled NVN to "anticipate US actions and accommodate to the slow increase in pressure." They noted that NVN had greatly increased its imports in 1966 and that record tonnages were continuing in 1967, and said they were concerned about the possible introduction of new weapons which could improve NVN's air and coastal defenses and pose an offensive threat to friendly forces and installations in SVN. They called for an immediate expansion of the bombing
. . . to include attacks on all airfields, all port complexes, all land and sea lines of communication in the Hanoi-Haiphong area, and mining of coastal harbors and coastal waters.
The intensified bombing should be initiated during the favorable May-September weather season, before the onset of poor flying conditions over NVN. The bombing should include "target systems whose destruction would have the most far-reaching effect on NVN's capability to fight," such as electric power plants, ports, airfields, additional barracks and supply depots, and transportation facilities. The 30-mile circle around Hanoi should be shrunk to 10 miles and the 10-mile circle around Haiphong should be reduced to 4. Armed reconnaissance should be authorized throughout NVN and adjacent coastal waters except in populated areas, the China buffer zone, and the Hanoi/Haiphong circles. Inland waterways should be mined all the way up to the China buffer zone.
On May 24 General Wheeler provided his views on two alternative courses of action in response to a request from Vance: (1) add 250,000 troops in SVN and intensify the bombing against NVN, and (2) hold the troop increase to 70,000 more and hold the bombing below 200 unless required by military necessity--or, "if necessary to provide an opportunity for a negotiated settlement," stop it altogether. In his memorandum to the SecDef, to which a lengthy Joint Staff study of the alternatives was attached, General Wheeler said that a partial or complete cessation of strikes against NVN would allow NVN to recoup its losses, expand its stockpiles, and continue to support the war from a sanctuary. This would be costly to friendly forces and prolong the war. It could be interpreted as a NVN victory--an "aerial Dien Bien Phu."
The Chairman recommended instead the adoption of the JCS program for the conduct of the war, which included air strikes to reduce external aid to NVN, destroy its in-country resources, and disrupt movement into the South. The strikes would be designed to "isolate the Hanoi-Haiphong logistic base" by interdicting the LOCs and concurrently attacking the "remaining reservoir of war-supporting resources" and the flow of men and materials to the South. The import of war-sustaining material would be obstructed and reduced, movement on rails, roads, and inland waterways would be degraded, "air terminals" would be disrupted, storage areas and stockpiles would be destroyed, and movement South would be curtailed. The campaign would impair NVN's ability to control, direct, and support the insurgency in the South. NVN would be under increasing pressure to seek a political rather than a military solution to the war.
At the end of May the Chiefs sent the Secretary their response to the DPM. The Chairman sent McNamara a memo with a line-in, line-out factual correction of the DPM that did not comment on policy. Its most significant change was to raise the total troop figure in option A Westy's 42/3 Division request) from 200,000 to 250,000. On the 1st of June the Secretary received the Chiefs' collective views on the substantive policy recommendations of the DPM. As might have been expected, they were the stiffest kind of condemnation of the proposals. The JCS complained that the DPM passed off option A and its supporting arguments as the views of the military when in fact they were a distortion of those views,
Course A is an extrapolation of a number of proposals which were recommended separately but not in combination or as interpreted in the DPM. The combination force levels, deployments, and military actions of Course A do not accurately reflect the positions or recommendations of COMUSMACV, CINCPAC, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The positions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which provide a better basis against which to compare other alternatives, are set forth in JCSM-218-67, JCSM 286-67, and JCSM-288-67.
While they may have been annoyed at what they felt was a misrepresentation of their views on the best course of action for the U.S., the Chiefs were outraged by the compromising of U.S. objectives in the DPM:
Objectives. The preferred course of action addressed in the DPM (Course B) is not consistent with NSAM 288 or with the explicit public statements of US policy and objectives enumerated in Part I, Appendix A, and in Appendix B. The DPM would, in effect, limit US objectives to merely guaranteeing the South Vietnamese the right to determine their own future on the one hand and offsetting the effect of North Vietnam's application of force in South Vietnam on the other. The United States would remain committed to these two objectives only so long as the South Vietnamese continue to help themselves. It is also noted that the DPM contains no statement of military objectives to be achieved and that current US national, military, and political objectives are far more comprehensive and far-reaching. Thus:
a. The DPM fails to appreciate the full implications for the Free World of failure to achieve a successful resolution of the conflict in Southeast Asia.
b. Modification of present US objectives, as called for in the DPM, would undermine and no longer provide a complete rationale for our presence in South Vietnam or much of our effort over the past two years.
c. The positions of the more than 35 nations supporting the Government of Vietnam might be rendered untenable by such drastic changes in US
The strategy the DPM had proposed under option B was completely anathema to their view of how the war should be conducted. After having condemned the ground forces and strategy of the DPM as a recipe for a protracted and indecisive conflict, the Chiefs turned their guns on the recommended constriction of the air war to the DRV panhandle:
Military Strategy for Air/Naval War in the North. The DPM stresses a policy which would concentrate air operations in the North Vietnamese "funnel" south of 20°. The concept of a "funnel" is misleading, since in fact the communists are supplying their forces in South Vietnam from all sides, through the demilitarized zone, Laos, the coast, Cambodia, and the rivers in the Delta. According to the DPM, limiting the bombing to south of 20° might result in increased negotiation opportunities with Hanoi. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that such a new self-imposed restraint resulting from this major change in strategy would most likely have the opposite effect. The relative immunity granted to the LOCs and distribution system outside the Panhandle would permit: (a) a rapid recovery from the damage sustained to date; (b) an increase in movement capability; (c) a reduced requirement for total supplies in the pipeline; (d) a concentration of air defenses into the Panhandle; and (e) a release of personnel and equipment for increased efforts in infiltration of South Vietnam. Also, it would relieve the Hanoi leadership from experiencing at first hand the pressures of recent air operations which foreign observers have reported. Any possible political advantages gained by confining our interdiction campaign to the Panhandle would be offset decisively by allowing North Vietnam to continue an unobstructed importation of war material. Further, it is believed that a drastic reduction in the scale of air operations against North Vietnam could only result in the strengthening of the enemy's resolve to continue the war. No doubt the reduction in scope of air operations would also be considered by many as a weakening of US determination and a North Vietnamese victory in the air war over northern North Vietnam. The combination of reduced military pressures against North Vietnam with stringent limitations of our operations in South Vietnam, as suggested in Course B, appears even more questionable conceptually. It would most likely strengthen the enemy's ultimate hope of victory and lead to a redoubling of his efforts.
Completing their rejection of the DPM's analysis, the Chiefs argued that properly explained a mobilization of the reserves and a full U.S. commitment to winning the war would be supported by the American public and would bolster not harm U.S. prestige abroad. The Chiefs did not think the likelihood of a Chinese intervention in response to their proposed actions was high and they completely discounted a Soviet entry into the hostilities in any active role. Summing up their alarm at the complete turnabout in U.S. policy suggested by the DPM, the Chiefs stated:
Most of the foregoing divergencies between the DPM and the stated policies, objectives, and concepts are individually important and are reason for concern. However, when viewed collectively, an alarming pattern emerges which suggests a major realignment of US objectives and intentions in Southeast Asia without regard for the long-term consequences. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are not aware of any decision to retract the policies and objectives which have been affirmed by responsible officials many times in recent years. Thus, the DPM lacks adequate foundation for further consideration.
With the expectation that the implementation of course B would result in a prolongation of the war, a reinforcing of Hanoi's belief in ultimate victory, and greatly increased costs for the U.S. in lives and treasure, the Chiefs recommended that:
a. The DPM NOT be forwarded to the President.
b. The US national objective as expressed in NSAM 288 be maintained, and the national policy and objectives for Vietnam as publicly stated by US officials be reaffirmed.
c. The military objective, concept, and strategy for the conduct of the war in Vietnam as stated in JCSM-218-67 be approved by the Secretary of Defense.
They were evidently unaware that the President had already seen the DPM ten days before.
At about this time, the latter part of May, CIA also produced an estimate of
the consequences of several different U.S. actions, including de-escalating
the bombing. The actions considered were essentially those of the DPM: increase
U.S. troop levels in SVN by another 200,000; intensify the bombing against military,
industrial, and transportation targets; intensify the bombing plus interdict
the harbors; or level off rather than increase troop commitments; and reduce
rather than intensify the bombing.
The tone of this estimate was not quite as favorable to further bombing or quite as unfavorable to de-escalation as the January CIA analysis had been. The estimate said that NVN was counting upon winning in the South, and was willing to absorb considerable damage in the North so long as the prospects were good there. More intensive bombing was therefore not likely to be the decisive element in breaking Hanoi's will and was not likely to force Hanoi to change its attitude toward negotiations:
Short of a major invasion or nuclear attack, there is probably no level of air or naval actions against North Vietnam which Hanoi has determined
in advance would be so intolerable that the war had to be stopped.
The pressure would be greater if, in addition, NVN's ports were closed. If, as was most likely, the USSR did not accept the challenge and NVN was forced to rely primarily on rail transport across China, and if, as a consequence, the situation in NVN gradually deteriorated, it was "conceivable" that NVN would choose to negotiate or otherwise terminate the war; but even this was unlikely unless the war in the South was also deteriorating seriously.
As for reducing the bombing by restricting it to southern NVN, it would depend upon the circumstances:
In some circumstances North Vietnam would attribute this to the pressure of international opinion and domestic criticism, and it would confirm the view that the US would not persist. This view might be dispelled if the US made it clear that the bombing was being redirected to raise the cost of moving men and supplies into the South; and even more if the US indicated it intended to increase US forces in the South and take other action to block or reduce infiltration from North Vietnam.
William Bundy at State drafted comments on the DPM on May 30 and circulated them at State and Defense. In his rambling and sometimes contradictory memo, Bundy dealt mainly with the nature and scope of the U.S. commitment--as expressed in the DPM and as he saw it. He avoided any detailed analysis of the two military options and focused his attention on the strategic reasons for American involvement; the objectives we were after; and the terms under which we could consider closing down the operation. His memo began with his contention that:
The gut point can almost be summed up in a pair of sentences. If we can get a reasonably solid GVN political structure and GVN performance at all levels, favorable trends could become really marked over the next 18 months, the war will be won for practical purposes at some point, and the resulting peace will be secured. On the other hand, if we do not get these results from the GVN and the South Vietnamese people, no amount of US effort will achieve our basic objective in South Viet-Nam-a return to the essential provisions of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and a reasonably stable peace for many years based on these Accords.
It is this view of the central importance of the South that dominates the remainder of Bundy's memo. But his own thinking was far from clear about how the U.S. should react to a South Vietnamese failure for at the end of it he wrote:
None of the above decides one other question clearly implicit in the DOD draft. What happens if "the country ceases to help itself." If this happens in the literal sense, if South Viet-Nam performs so badly that it simply is not going to be able to govern itself or to resist the slightest internal pressure, then we would agree that we can do nothing to prevent this. But the real underlying question is to what extent we tolerate imperfection, even gross imperfection, by the South Vietnamese while they are still under the present grinding pressure from Hanoi and the NLF.
This is a tough question. What do we do if there is a military coup this summer and the elections are aborted? There would then be tremendous pressure at home and in Europe to the effect that this negated what we were fighting for, and that we should pull out.
But against such pressure we must reckon that the stakes in Asia will remain. After all, the military rule, even in peacetime, in Thailand, Indonesia, and Burma. Are we to walk away from the South Vietnamese, at least as a matter of principle, simply because they failed in what was always conceded to be a courageous and extremely difficult effort to become a true democracy during a guerrilla war?
Bundy took pointed issue with the DPM's reformulation of U.S. objectives. Starting with the DPM's discussion of U.S. larger interests in Asia, Bundy argued that:
In Asian eyes, the struggle is a test case, and indeed much more black-and-white than even we ourselves see it. The Asian view bears little resemblance to the breast-beating in Europe or at home. Asians would quite literally be appalled--and this includes India--if we were to pull out from Viet-Nam or if we were to settle for an illusory peace that produced Hanoi control over all Viet-Nam in short order.
In short, our effort in Viet-Nam in the past two years has not only prevented the catastrophe that would otherwise have unfolded but has laid a foundation for a progress that now appears truly possible and of the greatest historical significance.
Having disposed of what he saw as a misinterpretation of Asian sentiment and U.S. interests there, Bundy now turned to the DPM's attempt to minimize the U.S. commitment in Vietnam. He opposed the DPM language because in his view it dealt too heavily with our military commitment to get NVA off the South Vietnamese back, and not enough with the equally important commitment, to assure that "the political board in South Vietnam is not tilted to the advantage of the NLF." Bundy's conception of the U.S. commitment was twofold:
--To prevent any imposed political role for the NLF in South Vietnamese political life, and specifically the coalition demanded by point 3 of Hanoi's Four Points, or indeed any NLF part in government or political life that is not safe and acceptable voluntarily to the South Vietnamese Government and people.
--To insist in our negotiating position that "regroupees," that is, people originally native to South Viet-Nam who went North in 1954 and returned from 1959 onward, should be expelled as a matter of principle in the settlement. Alternatively, such people could remain in South Viet-Nam if, but only if, the South Vietnamese Government itself was prepared to receive them back under a reconciliation concept, which would provide in essence that they must be prepared to accept peaceful political activity under the Constitution (as the reconciliation appeal now does). This latter appears to be the position of the South Vietnamese Government, which--as Tran Van Do has just stated in Geneva--argues that those sympathetic to the Northern system of government should go North, while those prepared to accept the Southern system of government may stay in the South. Legally, the first alternative is sound, in that Southerners who went North in 1954 became for all legal and practical purposes Northern citizens and demonstrated their allegiance. But if the South Vietnamese prefer the second alternative, it is in fact exactly comparable to the regroupment provisions of the 1954 Accords, and can legally be sustained. But in either case the point is that the South Vietnamese are not obliged to accept as citizens people whose total pattern of conduct shows that they would seek to overthrow the structure of government by force and violence.
The remainder of Bundy's comments were addressed to importance of this last point. The U.S. could not consider withdrawing its forces until not only the North Vietnamese troops but also the regroupees had returned to the North. Nowhere in his comments does he specifically touch on the merits of the two military options, but his arguments all seem to support the tougher of the two choices (his earlier support of restricting the bombing thus seems paradoxical). He was, it is clear, less concerned with immediate specific decisions on a military phase of the war than with the long term consequences of this major readjustment of American sights in Southeast Asia.
The only other reaction on the DPM from the State Department was a belated memo from Katzenbach to Vance on June 8. Katzenbach's criticisms were more focused on specific language and conclusions than Bundy's. In general they did not reject the analysis of the DPM, however. With respect to the bombing, Katzenbach observed that, ". . . we ought to consider concentrating on infiltration routes throughout North Viet-Nam and leaving 'strategic' targets, particularly those in urban areas alone." This departed slightly from the BundyRostow-McNaughton thesis of confining the bombing to the panhandle infiltration network. As to the DPM's effort to circumscribe U.S. objectives in the war, Katzenbach achieved a new low in understatement, "I agree with the arguments for limited objectives. But these are not easy to define." In short, if the intent of the DOD draft had been to precipitate an Administration-wide debate on the fundamental issues of the U.S. involvement, it had certainly achieved its purpose.
e. The McNamara Bombing Options
Long before McNamara received these views from the Chiefs, CIA and State, however, he had requested comments from several quarters on two possible bombing programs. Perhaps reflecting a cool Presidential reaction to the DPM proposals, Secretary McNamara, on May 20, asked the JCS, the CIA, and the two military services involved in the ROLLING THUNDER program, the Air Force and the Navy, to study the question. He referred to the "controversy" surrounding the program, said that several alternatives had been suggested, and asked for an analysis of the two most promising ones:
(1) Concentrate on LOCs in the Panhandle area, Route Packages 1, 2, and 3, and terminate bombing in the rest of North Vietnam unless there is reconstruction of important fixed targets destroyed by prior raids or unless new military actions appear; or
(2) Terminate bombing against fixed targets not directly associated with LOCs in Route Packages 6a and 6b [the northeast quadrant] and simultaneously expand armed reconnaissance in Route Packages 6a and 6b by authorizing strikes against all LOCs except within 2 miles of the centers of Hanoi and Haiphong. This would undoubtedly require continuous strikes against MIG aircraft on all airfields.
Under alternative (2) above, the Secretary provided two alternate assumptions: (a) that strikes against the ports and port facilities were precluded, and (b) that every effort was made to deny importation from the sea.
The Secretary asked each addressee to analyze the two main alternatives plus any others they considered worth discussing. He asked, for each of the alternatives, the effect it would have on reducing the flow of men and material to SVN, on losses of pilots and aircraft, and on the risk of "increased military pressure" from the USSR or China. He also asked that the studies be carried out independently, and requested reports by 1 June.
The CIA reply, a "Dear Bob" memo from Helms, arrived as requested on June 1st. In his cover memo Helms stated that the goal of interdicting supplies to the South was essentially beyond reach:
In general, we do not believe that any of the programs presented in your memorandum is capable of reducing the flow of military and other essential goods sufficiently to affect the war in the South or to decrease Hanoi's determination to persist in the war.
Based on the results of ROLLING THUNDER to date and on the nature of the logistic target system, CIA said, concentrating the bombing in southern NVN would undoubtedly increase the costs of maintaining the LOCs and degrade their capacity "somewhat further," but could not be expected to reduce the flow of men and materiel below present levels. This was because of the excess capacity of the road network and NVN's impressive ability to maintain and improve it. It cited the example of the traffic from NVN through Mu Gia pass into Laos. During the 1965-1966 dry season, truck traffic on the route averaged 28 trucks or about 85 tons of supplies a day, a level of traffic which used it to less than 20 percent of its then theoretical capacity of 450 tons a day, and, since the route had been improved, less than 10 percent of its present capacity of 740 tons a day. The rest of the road network had also been expanded in spite of the bombing. Some 340 miles of alternative routes were built in southern NVN during 1966 and more than 400 miles of new roads were constructed in Laos. Even if the bombing could reduce road capacities by 50 percent, the capacity remaining would still be at least five times greater than required to move supplies at the current rate. In summary:
. . . . the excess capacity on the road networks in Route Packages I, II, and III provides such a deep cushion that it is almost certain that no interdiction program can neutralize the logistics target system to the extent necessary to reduce the flow of men and supplies to South Vietnam below their present levels.
As to concentrating the bombing north instead of south of 20°, neither the open nor the closed port variants "could obstruct or reduce North Vietnam's import of military or war-supporting materials sufficiently to degrade its ability to carry on the war." NVN now had the capacity to import about 14,000 tons of goods a day over its main rail, road, and inland water routes; and it currently imported about 5,300 tons a day. An optimum interdiction program against all means of land and water transportation could "at most" reduce transport capacity to about 3,900 tons a day, or about 25 percent below present levels. However, if NVN eliminated all but essential military and economic goods, it would need only about 3000 tons a day, a volume of traffic which could still be handled comfortably.
The CIA also went into some detail on Soviet and Chinese responses to bombing north versus south of 20°. The Chinese would attribute any cutback to a lack of will in the face of rising domestic and international criticism and would continue to egg NVN on. The Soviets would construe it in this light, also, but would be relieved that the U.S. had broken the cycle of escalation, and if the U.S. accompanied the cutback with political initiatives toward negotiations might even press Hanoi to respond. As to Hanoi:
Whether or not Hanoi responded to these initiatives would depend on its view of the military outlook in the South, and on whether it believed that a move toward negotiation would bring success nearer.
Bombing north of 20° without closing the ports would not bring on new or different Chinese or Soviet responses except for the attacks on airfields. These might lead to greater Chinese involvement, especially if NVN transferred air defense operations to bases in China. If the ports were closed, however, there would be a direct challenge to the USSR. While it was unlikely that the USSR (or China, for that matter) would undertake new military actions, it would make every effort to continue supplying NVN and would attempt to put maximum political pressures on the U.S. China's leverage with Hanoi would grow, and China would urge Hanoi to continue the war more vigorously than ever.
The formal JCS response to the SecDef's questions on bombing north versus south of the 20th parallel, quite apart from troop levels, was submitted on 2 June. It was predictably cool toward restricting the bombing to southern NVN, a good deal warmer toward continuing the bombing in northern NVN, and warmest by far toward proceeding from there to close the ports.
The JCS opposed any cutback on bombing north of the 20th parallel on grounds that it would decrease the effectiveness of interdiction and make things easier for NVN. It would reduce the distance over which the flow of men and supplies was subject to attack. It would provide NVN free and rapid access down to Thanh Hoa, decreasing transport time, rolling stock requirements, pipeline assets, and man-hours for moving supplies South. It would release resources currently required north of 20°. It would enable NVN to accelerate the import of weapons and munitions, strengthen the Panhandle defenses, and increase U.S. attrition. The U.S. action would be interpreted as yielding to pressure and weakening resolve; NVN would be sure to claim victory and press for greater concession as a price for any settlement.
The JCS also argued that terminating strikes against non-LOC targets in the north and switching to expanded armed reconnaissance there would have the disadvantage of not maintaining the level of damage achieved with respect to fixed installations and industry, but would have the advantages of adding to NVN's difficulties-from interruptions of the LOCs, having to resort to inferior means of transport, shifting its management and labor resources, and the like. However, leaving the ports open would permit NVN to absorb the damage and adjust to the campaign. With the ports open, NVN could continue to handle imports even if the LOC strikes were successful. With the ports closed, on the other hand, sustained attack on the roads and railroads would become militarily profitable, and the concurrent and sustained interdiction of imports would become possible.
A cryptic pencil note on copy 4 of this JCSM initialled by McNaughton indicated, "all incorporated in my 6/3/67 draft," and listed "Main issues" as "(1) Total pressure (2) pilot losses (3) U.S. 'failure'." It is hard to know exactly what this could mean since the JCS position was certainly not being adopted by the Secretary. Moreover, there is no record of a 3 June draft. We will discuss a later draft below, but it does not endorse the JCS position.
The Secretary of the Navy responded to Secretary McNamara's questions with an attempt to construct models of the alternative north and south of 200 target systems and war game attacks against them. It concluded that an interdiction effort in southern NVN concentrated on specified areas where traffic was already constricted by the terrain would be more effective than the current program, "but by an uncertain increment over an undefinable base." U.S. losses would be lower initially, but would rise in time because NVN could be expected to redeploy antiaircraft defenses south. The manpower strain on NVN would not be as at present, however, with the cessation of attacks on the high-value targets in the northern part of the country.
The Navy analysis also concluded that a greater interdiction effort north of 20°, without closing the ports, could not be carried out with available resources "in a manner producing results better than the present effort." The program would create greater demand for repair and bypass construction, but it was not clear that it would have a major effect on NVN's capability to import goods and ship them to SVN. This alternative would be the most expensive in U.S. aircraft and aircrews and would provide the least return in reducing NVN supplies to SVN.
Closing the ports in addition to stepping up the armed reconnaissance effort in northern NVN would have a substantial effect on imports at first but in time NVN could switch to other LOCs. The cost would be mainly in efficiency. Reducing imports below NVN's minimum requirements was probably beyond the current capability of the bombing campaign.
The Air Force response to Secretary McNamara was given on 3 June. Cutting back the bombing to below the 20th parallel would permit NVN to increase the input of men and supplies at the top of the "funnel" with the same or less effort than it was now expending, and would result in a greater inflow into SVN. U.S. losses might go down temporarily, but NVN would shift its anti-aircraft resources southward, and losses would rise again. The cutback would reduce the risk of Chinese or Soviet involvement and might conceivably even start a process of mutual de-escalation, but it was more likely to be taken as a sign of U.S. weakness and encourage Hanoi to take a still stronger stand.
Expanded armed reconnaissance in northern NVN, especially if coupled with denying or inhibiting importation through Haiphong,
. . . would have a substantial effect on NVN economy and logistic net and would . . . force enough additional diversion of resources to reduce NVN infiltration and support.
However, closure of Haiphong--which might not shut off all access from the sea--would carry unacceptable risks of wider war, an allout attack on the railroads and roads from China was preferable, and would still complicate NVN's logistic problems. Still more preferable, on balance, was maintaining the present level of operations:
Because closure of Haiphong is probably not acceptable, what would otherwise be a reasonable price in terms of aircraft loss for greatly reducing the inflow along the northern roads and railroads becomes an unreasonable loss in the presence of a possible increase of sea import. . . . This option is not, without Haiphong port denial, an optimum use of airpower. It is a war of attrition, forced by the risk of a wider war or other actions by the Soviets if we do try to close Haiphong. In that sense, it is analogous to the ground war in the South. . . .
On June 9, Secretary of the Air Force Brown sent McNamara a supplemental memo in which he tried to make a case for interdiction bombing based on a statistical demonstration that it was the most important factor in explaining the difference between uninterdicted infiltration capability and actual infiltration.
Thus, the responses to the SecDef's questions on bombing north versus south of the 20th parallel divided about evenly, with the JCS and the Air Force strongly opposed to a cutback to 20° and backing the more escalatory route, and the Navy and CIA concluding that interdiction either north or south was a difficult if not impossible goal but that a cutback would cost little.
f. The June 12 DPM
The Defense Department having fully explored the various air war options, attention within the Administration again focused on preparing a memorandum to the President, this time on strategy against North Vietnam alone. But other events and problems were intervening to consume the time and energies of the Principals in early June. On June 5, the four-day Arab-Israeli War erupted to dominate all other problems during that week. The intensive diplomatic activity at the UN by the U.S. would heavily engage the President's attention and eventually lead to the Summit meeting with Soviet Premier Kosygin in Glassboro, N.J. later in the month. In the actual war in Vietnam, the one-day truce on Buddha's birthday, May 23rd, had produced such gross enemy violations that some intensification of the conflict ensued afterwards. Nevertheless in late May, Admiral Sharp was informed of the reimposition of the 10-mile prohibited zone around Hanoi. His response was predictable:
We have repeatedly sought to obtain authority for a systematic air campaign directed against carefully selected targets whose destruction and constant disruption would steadily increase the pressure on Hanoi. It seems unfortunate that just when the pressure is increasing by virtue of such an air campaign, and the weather is optimum over northern NVN, we must back off.
On June 11, however, the Kep airfield was struck for the first time with ten MIGs reportedly destroyed or damaged. Prior to that, on June 2, an unfortunate case of bad aiming had resulted in a Soviet ship, the Turkestan, being struck by cannon fire from a U.S. plane trying to silence a North Vietnamese AAA battery. The Soviets lodged a vigorous protest with the U.S., but we initially denied the allegation only to acknowledge the accident later (on June 20 to be exact, just three days before the Glassboro meeting and presumably to improve its atmosphere).
In Washington, in addition to the time consuming Middle East crisis, Administration
officials were still far from consensus on the question of whether to add another
major increment to U.S. ground forces in South Vietnam and to call up the reserves
to reconstitute depleted forces at home and elsewhere. Indeed, as we shall see,
it appears that the troop question went unresolved longer than the air strategy
problem. The issues must have been discussed in a general review of the Vietnam
question at a meeting at State on June 8 in Katzenbach's office, but no record
of the discussion was preserved. A two-page outline of positions entitled "Disagreements"
and preserved in McNaughton's files does, however, give a very good idea of
where the principal Presidential advisers stood on the major issues at that
1. Westmoreland-McNamara on whether Course A would end the war sooner.
2. Vance-CIA on the ability of NVN to meet force increases in the South.
3. Wheeler-Vance on the military effectiveness of cutting back bombing to below the 20th Parallel, and on whether it would save US casualties.
4. CIA believes that the Chinese might not intervene if an invasion of NVN did not seem to threaten the Hanoi regime. Vance states an invasion would cause Chinese intervention. Vance believes that the Chinese could decide to intervene if the ports were mined; CIA does not mention this possibility.
5. CIA and the Mission disagree with Vance on whether we have achieved the cross-over point and, more broadly, on how well the "big war" is going. One CIA analysis, contradicted in a latter [sic] CIA statement, expresses the view that the enemy's strategic position has improved over the past year.
6. CIA-INR on whether Hanoi seeks to wear us down (CIA) or seeks more positive victories in the South (INR).
7. INR believes that the bombing has had a greater effect than does CIA.
8. Vance and CIA say we have struck all worthwhile targets in NVN except the ports. Wheeler disagrees.
9. CIA cites inflationary pressures and the further pressure that would be caused by Course A. Vance says that these pressures are under control and could be handled if Course A were adopted.
10. Rostow believes that a call-up of reserves would show Hanoi that we mean business and have more troops coming--Vance believes that a reserve call-up would lead to divisive debate which would encourage Hanoi. Would not the call-up indicate that we had manpower problems?
11. Bundy-Vance disagreements on the degree to which we have contained China, whether our commitment ends if the SVNamese don't help themselves, the NLF role in political life, regroupees, and our and Hanoi's rights to lend support to friendly forces in SVN after a settlement.
Another indication of what may have transpired in the June 8 meeting is an unsigned outline for a policy paper (probably done in Bundy's office) in McNaughton's files. This ambitious document suggests that U.S. goals in the conflict include leaving behind a stable, democratic government; leaving behind conditions of stable peace in Asia; persuading the DRV to give up its aggression; and neutralizing the internal security threat in the South. All this to be done without creating an American satellite, generating anti-American sentiment, destroying the social fabric in the South or alienating other countries. Strategies considered to achieve the objectives included the Westmoreland plan for 200,000 men with a reserve callup (10 disadvantages listed against it); limiting the increase to 30,000 men but without a reserve callup; "enough US forces to operate effectively against provincial main force units and to reinforce I Corps and the DMZ area," with a reserve callup; and no change from current force levels. Options against North Vietnam included: (A) expanded air attacks on military, industrial and LOC targets including mining the harbors; (B) stopping the bombing north of the 20th parallel except for restrikes; (C) invasion; and (D) the barrier. The section ends cryptically, "Our over-all strategy must consist of a combination of these." The last paragraph of the outline deals with the intended strategy against the North:
. . . the object is to cut the North off from the South as much as possible, and to shake Hanoi from its obdurate position. Concentrate on shaking enemy morale in both the South and North by limiting Hanoi's ability to support the forces in South Viet-Nam.
a. O barrier, if it will work, or
b. Concentrate bombing on lines of communication throughout NVN, thus specifically concentrating on infiltration but not running into the problem we have had and will have with bombing oriented towards "strategic" targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area. By continuing to bomb throughout NVN in this manner we would indicate neither a lessening of will nor undue impatience.
The broad outlines of the eventual decision on bombing that would emerge from this prolonged debate are contained in this cryptic outline in early June.
At Defense, McNaughton began once again to pull together a DPM for McNamara, this time devoted exclusively to the air war. A June 12 version preserved in McNaughton's files appears to be the final form it took, although whether it was shown to the President is not clear. McNaughton's draft rejected the more fulsome expressions of the U.S. objective advanced by the Chiefs and Bundy in favor of following a more closely defined set of goals:
The limited over-all US objective, in terms of the narrow US commitment and not of wider US preferences, is to take action (so long as they continue to help themselves) to see that the people of South Vietnam are permitted to determine their own future. Our commitment is to stop (or generously to offset when we cannot stop) North Vietnamese military intervention in the South, so that "the board will not be tilted" against Saigon in an internal South Vietnamese contest for control . . . The sub-objectives, at which our bombing campaign in the North has always been aimed, are these:
--(1) To retaliate and to lift the morale of the people in the South, including Americans, who are being attacked by agents of the North;
--(2) To add to the pressure on Hanoi to end the war;
--(3) To reduce the flow and/or to increase the cost of infiltrating men and materiel from North to South.
In light of these objectives, three alternative air war programs were examined in the memo. They were:
ALTERNATIVE A. Intensified attack on the Hanoi-Haiphong logistical base. Under this Alternative, we would continue attacks on enemy installations and industry and would conduct an intensified, concurrent and sustained effort against all elements of land, sea and air lines of communication in North Vietnam--especially those entering and departing the Hanoi-Haiphong areas. Foreign shipping would be "shouldered out" of Haiphong by a series of air attacks that close in on the center of the port complex. The harbor and approaches would be mined, forcing foreign shipping out into the nearby estuaries for offloading by lighterage. Intensive and systematic armed reconnaissance would be carried out against the roads and railroads from China (especially the northeast railroad), against coastal shipping and coastal transshipment locations, and against all other land lines of communications. The eight major operational airfields would be systematically attacked, and the deep-water ports of Cam Pha and Hon Gai would be struck or mined as required. ALTERNATIVE A could be pursued full-force between now and September (thereafter the onset of unfavorable weather conditions would seriously impair operations).
ALTERNATIVE B. Emphasis on the infiltration routes south of the 20th Parallel. Under this alternative, the dominant emphasis would be, not on preventing material from flowing into North Vietnam (and thus not on "economic pressure on the regime), but on preventing military men and materiel from flowing out of the North into the South. We would terminate bombing in the Red River basin except for occasional sorties (perhaps 3% )--those necessary to keep enemy air defenses and damage-repair crews positioned there and to keep important fixed targets knocked out. The same total number of sorties envisioned under ALTERNATIVE A-together with naval gunfire at targets ashore and afloat and mining of inland waterways, estuaries and coastal waters-would be concentrated in the neck of North Vietnam, between 17° and 20°, through which all land infiltration must pass and in which the "extended battle zone" north of the DMZ lies. The effort would be intensive and sustained, designed especially to saturate choke points and to complement similar new intensive interdiction efforts in adjacent areas in Laos and near the 17th Parallel inside South Vietnam.
ALTERNATIVE C. Extension of the current program. This alternative would be essentially a refinement of the currently approved program and therefore a compromise between ALTERNATIVE A and ALTERNATIVE B. Under it, while avoiding attacks within the 10-mile prohibited zone around Hanoi and strikes at or mining of the ports, we would conduct a heavy effort against all other land, sea, and air lines of communication. Important fixed targets would be kept knocked out; intensive, sustained and systematic armed reconnaissance would be carired out against the roads and railroads and coastal shipping throughout the country; and the eight major airfields would be systematically attacked. The total number of sorties would be the same as under the other two alternatives.
The positions of the various members of the Defense establishment with respect to the three alternatives were:
Mr. Vance and I recommend ALTERNATIVE B.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend ALTERNATIVE A.
The Secretary of the Navy recommends ALTERNATIVE B.
The Secretary of the Air Force recommends ALTERNATIVE C modified to add some targets (especially LOC targets) to the present list and to eliminate others.
The Director of the CIA does not make a recommendation. The CIA judgment is that none of the alternatives is capable of decreasing Hanoi's determination to persist in the war or of reducing the flow of goods sufficiently to affect the war in the South.
The arguments for and against the three alternatives were developed at considerable length in the memo. The summary gave the following rationale for the McNamara-Vance position:
In the memorandum, Mr. Vance and I:
--Oppose the JCS program (ALTERNATIVE A) on grounds that it would neither substantially reduce the flow of men and supplies to the South nor pressure Hanoi toward settlement, that it would be costly in American lives and in domestic and world opinion, and that it would run serious risks of enlarging the war into one with the Soviet Union and China, leaving us a few months from now more frustrated and with almost no choice but even further escalation.
--Oppose mere refinement of the present program (ALTERNATIVE C) on grounds that it would involve most of the costs and some of the risks of ALTERNATIVE A with less chance than ALTERNATIVE A of either interdicting supplies or moving Hanoi toward settlement.
-Recommend concentration of the bulk of our efforts on infiltration routes south of 20° (ALTERNATIVE B) because this course would interdict supplies as effectively as the other alternatives, would cost the least in pilots' lives, and would be consistent with efforts to move toward negotiations.
These views were stated in somewhat expanded form in the concluding paragraphs of the DPM:
I am convinced that, within the limits to which we can go with prudence, "strategic" bombing of North Vietnam will at best be unproductive. I am convinced that mining the ports would not only be unproductive but very costly in domestic and world support and very dangerous-running high risks of enlarging the war as the program is carried out, frustrated and with no choice but to escalate further. At the same time, I am doubtful that bombing the infiltration routes north or south of 20° will put a meaningful ceiling on men or materiel entering South Vietnam. Nevertheless, I recommend ALTERNATIVE B (which emphasizes bombing the area between 17° and 20°) because (1) it holds highest promise of serving a military purpose, (2) it will cost the least in pilots' lives, and (3) it is consistent with efforts to move toward negotiations.
Implicit in the recommendation is a conviction that nothing short of toppling the Hanoi regime will pressure North Vietnam to settle so long as they believe they have a chance to win the "war of attrition" in the South, a judgment that actions sufficient to topple the Hanoi regime will put us into war with the Soviet Union and China, and a belief that a shift to ALTERNATIVE B can be timed and handled in such a way as to gain politically while not endangering the morale of our fighting men.
There is no evidence as to whether the President saw this memo or not. If he did, any decision on bombing was probably deferred to be made in conjunction with the decision on ground forces. Moreover, the middle of June was heavily taken up with the question of whether or not to meet Kosygin, and once that was decided with preparing for the confrontation. Therefore, no decision on bombing was forthcoming during June. What is significant is the coalescence of civilian opinion against the JCS recommended escalation.
g. The RT 57 Decision--No Escalation
There is some evidence that in spite of the burden of other problems, some attention was also being devoted to the possibility of negotiations and U.S. positions in the event they should occur. Bundy had had an extensive interview with the recently defected Chargé of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington who had confirmed that at no time during any of the past peace efforts with the DRV had there been any North Vietnamese softening of its position. This view of the current situation was challenged, however, by INR in a report at mid-month. They noted that, "Several recent indicators suggest that Hanoi may again be actively reviewing the issue of negotiations. Some of the indicators show possible flexibility; others show continuing hardness." In retrospect these were hardly more than straws in the wind. In early July they would become more immediate, however, with a Canadian proposal for redemilitarization of the DMZ and a bombing halt (see below). The June review of the situation no doubt was done with a view to determining what possibilities might exist if the President met with Kosygin as he eventually did.
On June 17, Ambassador Bunker added his voice to the chorus already doubting the effectiveness of the bombing in interdicting the flow of North Vietnamese support for the war. In his first major pronouncement on the subject he told Rusk in an "eyes only" cable:
Aerial bombardment has been helpful in greatly increasing the difficulties of infiltration by the NVN forces and in keeping them supplied. It has also destroyed or damaged a large amount of the NVN infrastructure. Aerial bombardment, however, though extremely important, has neither interdicted infiltration nor broken the will of the NVN and it is doubtful that it can accomplish either.
Continuing his analysis, he stated:
It seems apparent therefore that the crux of the military problem is to choke off NVN infiltration.
* * * * *
When the infiltration is choked off, it should be possible to suspend bombings at least for a period and thereby determine whether there is substance to the statement in many quarters that Hanoi would then come to negotiations. If the bombings were stopped it would at least call their bluff.
In the remainder of this cable he advanced the arguments for an anti-infiltration barrier even in view of the political problems it would create. Disillusioned, like so many others, with the bombing, he pinned his hopes on this untried military alternative to "choke off the infiltration."
A few days later, CINCPAC, undoubtedly aware of the air war debate in Washington and the direction in which it was tending, sent a long cable to the Chiefs evaluating the results of recent months in the ROLLING THUNDER program, results which argued for intensification of the bombing he felt. Reviewing the history of the bombing since February, he noted the curtailment of sorties during the early spring because of bad weather but stated that, "Starting in late April and over a period of five weeks, the air campaign in the NE quadrant increased the level of damage in that area and the consequent stress on the Hanoi government more than during the entire previous ROLLING THUNDER program." In an apparent attempt to head off the arguments for limiting the bombing to below the 20th parallel, Admiral Sharp pointed out that the significant achievements in the NE quadrant in the previous two months had not been at the expense of sorties in the panhandle and, perhaps more importantly, had experienced a declining aircraft loss rate compared with the previous year. The numbers of trucks, railroad cars, boats, etc., destroyed were offered as evidence of the effectiveness of bombing in interdicting the flow of supplies. No mention is made of the undiminished rate of that flow. The mining of the rivers south of 20° is also judged a success, although no evidence is offered to support the statement. After fulminating about the reimposition of the 10-mile restriction around Hanoi, CINCPAC notes the significant achievements of the last months--all in terms of increased DRV defensive activity (MIG, SAM, AAA, etc.). In a peroration worthy of Billy Mitchell, CINCPAC summed up the achievements of the recent past and made the case for intensification:
. . . we believe that our targeting systems concept, our stepped up combat air effort over the Northeast and the continued high sortie rate applied against enemy infiltration is paying off. With the exception of RT 55 and RT 56, air power for the first time began to realize the sort of effectiveness of which it is capable. This effectiveness can be maximized if we can be authorized to strike the many important targets remaining.
We are at an important point in this conflict. We have achieved a position, albeit late in the game, from which a precisely executed and incisive air campaign against all the target systems will aggregate significant interrelated effects against the combined military, political, economic, and psychological posture of North Vietnam. In our judgment the enemy is now hurting and the operations to which we attribute this impact should be continued with widest latitude in planning and execution in the months of remaining good weather.
CINCPAC's arguments, however, were largely falling on deaf ears. The debate had resolved itself as between options B and C. On July 3, the energetic Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Brown, sent McNamara another long detailed memo supporting his preference for alternative C. Convinced that the bombing did have some utility in northern North Vietnam, Brown had sent supplementary memos to his 3 June basic reply on 9 and 16 June. His July memo compared the objectives of the two alternatives and noted that the only difference was that alternative C would somewhat impede the import of supplies into North Vietnam and would allot 20% of the available sorties north of 20° compared with 3% under alternative B. The principal arguments for maintaining the northern attack were: (1) the fact that a substantial erosion of interdiction effectiveness would occur if it was curtailed; (2) the political irreversibility of de-escalation (and the current lack of diplomatic reason for such an initiative); and (3) the declining loss rates of aircraft and pilots in Route Packages 4-6. The appeal of Brown's analysis, however, for McNamara must have clearly been its reliance on statistical data--hard facts. This is how Brown argued that ending the northern sorties would reduce interdiction effectiveness:
. . . the increase in weight of effort south of 20° from transferring 1500 sorties out of the area north of 20° is only about 21% (or about 13% increase of the total effort south of 20° and in Laos). Even if there is no law of diminishing returns south of 20°, for that overall increase to compensate the decrease in effect north of 20° would require that the former be presently five times as effective as the latter. I believe there would be diminishing returns south of 200, because there are no targets south of 20° which are now not struck for lack of availability of sorties. North of 20° the question is a different one. The damage to LOCs can be increased by increasing the weight of effort (and this has been done in the past few months). What we have not been able to measure well is the incremental effort this forces on the North Vietnamese, or the extent to which they could and would use it to increase infiltration if they did not have to expend it on keeping supplies flowing to the 20° line.
It can be argued that because the flow into SVN is a larger fraction of what passes through Route Packages I-Ill than it is of what passes through Route Packages IV-VI, an amount of materiel destroyed in the former area has more effect than the same amount destroyed in the latter. This is true, but to argue that sorties in the northern region are therefore less important overlooks the fact that this very gradient is established largely by the attrition throughout the LOC. In analogous transport or diffusion problems of this sort in the physical world (e.g., the diffusion of heat) it is demonstrable that interferences close to the source have a greater effect, not a lesser effect, than the same interferences close to the output. If the attacks on the LOCs north of 20° stopped, the flow of goods past 20° could easily be raised by far more than 20% and the 20% increase of attack south of 20° would nowhere near compensate for this.
One interesting observation about the NE LOC is that the enemy has expended a significant percentage of his total imports in executing military defensive operations for the NVN heartland. From I January 1967 through 19 June 1967, he has launched 1062 SAM missiles in Route Package VI. A record total of 556 surface-to-air missiles were fired at US aircraft during the period 1 May through 31 May. This one month expenditure equates to 2600 metric tons in missile hardware (consumables used in delivering missiles to launch pad not considered). MIG jet fuel consumption for a one-month period is estimated to be approximately 7,500 metric tons (resources expended to accomplish delivery not included). AAA munitions-firing equates to approximately 18,000 metric tons per month. Based on the CIA estimate of 5300 metric tons per day import rate, it is notable that the enemy is willing to use up to 15% of his total imports (by weight) in air defense. Most of this tonnage is used in defense of the industrial/economic structure in Route Packages V and VI. Even though 83% of all US attack sorties are flown in Route Packages I-IV, the enemy has not expended an equivalent amount of air defense consumables to protect this area. It can be assumed he would, which should add to the probability of increased losses to AAA/SA-2 south of 20°, if we greatly reduce attacks north of 20°.
Brown's political point was familiar but had not been stated quite so precisely in this particular debate. Bombing was regarded by Brown as an indivisible blue chip to be exchanged in toto for some reciprocity by the North Vietnamese, a condition that did not seem likely in the present circumstances. Once stopped, the bombing would be extremely difficult to resume even if the DRV stepped up its infiltration and its half of the war generally. Moreover, the timing for such a halt was bad with the South Vietnamese elections only two months away.
With respect to the loss rates in the various parts of the country, Brown noted that losses in Route Packages IVA & B had declined dramatically over the preceding year, even though the DRV was expending far more resources to combat the sorties. If bombing were suspended north of 20° we could expect the DRV to redeploy much of its anti-aircraft resources into the panhandle thereby raising the currently low loss rates there. Since bombing effectiveness in the northern area was marginally more productive, the return pure aircraft loss overall would decline by such a geographical limitation of the air war.
It is not clear what impact this line of analysis had on McNamara, but since he had previously gone on record in favor of alternative B, and no other new evidence or argumentation appears before the final decision in mid-July to adopt alternative C, it seems very likely that Brown's thinking swayed his oral recommendations to the President. Reinforcing Brown's analysis was the internal U.S. Government rejection of a Canadian proposal to exchange a bombing halt for a redemilitarization of the DMZ. The Chiefs adamantly opposed the idea as a totally inequitable trade-off. We would sacrifice a valuable negotiating blue chip without commensurate gain (such as a cessation of DRV infiltration). With no other promising prospects for a diplomatic break-through, there was little reason on that score to suspend even a part of the bombing at that time.
The only other event that might have influenced the Secretary's thinking was his trip to Vietnam July 7-12. With a decision on the additional ground forces to be sent to Vietnam narrowing down, the President sent McNamara to Saigon to review the matter with General Westmoreland and reach agreement on a figure well below the 200,000 Westy had requested in March. As it turned out, the total new troops in Program #5 were about 25,000. In the briefings the Secretary received in Saigon, the Ambassador spoke briefly about the need for an effective interdiction system which he hoped we would find in the barrier. He reiterated most of the points he had made to Rusk by wire in June. CINCPAC's briefing on the air war began with the now standard self-justifications based on denied requests for escalation. The body of his presentation did contain some interesting new information, however. For instance, Admiral Sharp confirmed that the increased effort in the NE quadrant had not been at the expense of sorties elsewhere in North Vietnam or Laos. The decline in U.S. losses in the Red River valley was attributable in part to the declining effectiveness of North Vietnam's MIG, SA-2, and AAA defenses. This in turn was explained by better U.S. tactics, and, most importantly, new weapons and equipment like the WALL-EYE guided bomb, the CBU-24 cluster bomb, the MK-36 Destructor and a much improved ECM capability. The rest of his presentation was given over to complaints about the unauthorized targets still on the JCS list and to the familiar muddled arguments for not stopping the northern bombing because it was pressuring Ho to behave as we wanted and because in some mysterious fashion it was interdicting infiltration, actual statistics in the South to the contrary notwithstanding.
After 7th Air Force commander, General Momyer, had given a glowing detailed account of the success of the new tactics and weapons (a 4-fold increase in effectiveness against the NE RR in the previous year), and the 7th Fleet had described its air operations, CINCPAC summed up his arguments against any further limitations on the bombing. His closing point, on which he based recommendations, was that both sides were fighting both offensive and defensive wars. The DRV had the offensive initiative in the South but we were on the defensive. However,
The opposite holds for the air war in the north. Here we hold the initiative. We are conducting a strategic offensive, forcing the enemy into a defensive posture. He is forced to react at places and times of our choosing. If we eliminate the only offensive element of our strategy, I do not see how we can expect to win. My recommendations are listed below. You will recognize that they are essentially the same actions proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
1. Close the Haiphong Harbor to deep water shipping by bombing and/or mining.
2. Destroy six basic target systems (electricity, maritime ports, airfields, transportation, military complexes, war supporting industry).
3. Conduct integrated attacks against entire target base, including interdiction in NVN and Laos.
NECESSARY CHANGES AND ADDITIONS TO RT OPERATING RULES
1. Delete Hanoi 10 NM prohibited area.
2. Reduce Hanoi restricted areas to 10 NM.
3. Reduce Haiphong restricted area to 4 NM.
4. Move the northern boundary of the special coastal armed recce area to include Haiphong area.
5. Authorize armed recce throughout NVN and coastal waters, (except populated areas, buffer zone, restricted areas).
6. Mine inland waterways to Chicom buffer zone as MK-36 destructors become available.
7. Extend Sea Dragon to Chicom buffer zone as forces become available.
8. Implement now to exploit good weather.
McNamara's time in Vietnam, however, was mostly preoccupied with settling on the exact figure for troop increases. When he returned to Washington, he promptly met with the President and with his approval authorized the Program #5 deployments. He presumably also discussed with the President a decision on the next phase of the air campaign. There is no evidence of what he might have recommended at that stage. The decision was one that would have been made at the White House, so in any case the responsibility for it could be only partially his. Examination of the available documents does not reveal just how or when the decision on the Secretary of Defense proposal was made, but it is clear what the decision was. It was to adopt alternative C--i.e., push onward with the bombing program essentially as it had been, continuing the bit-by-bit expansion of armed reconnaissance and striking a few new fixed targets in each ROLLING THUNDER series, but still holding back from closing the ports and such sensitive targets as the MIG airfields.
The next ROLLING THUNDER series, No. 57, was authorized on 20 July. Sixteen fixed targets were selected, including one airfield, one rail yard, two bridges, and 12 barracks and supply areas, all within the Hanoi and Haiphong circles but not within the forbidden 10-mile inner circle around the center of Hanoi against which Admiral Sharp had sailed. Armed reconnaissance was expanded along 23 road, rail, and waterway segments between the 30-mile and the 10-mile circles around Hanoi.
For the moment at least neither the hawks nor the doves had won their case. The President had decided merely to extend ROLLING THUNDER within the general outlines already established. In effect, the RT 57 was a decision to postpone the issue, insuring that the partisans would continue their fight. As for the President, he would not move decisively until the next year when outside events were heavily forcing his hand and a new Secretary of Defense had entered the debate.
B. THE LONG ROAD TO DE-ESCALATION--AUGUST-DECEMBER 1967
After the decision on ROLLING THUNDER 57, the debate on the air war against North Vietnam, particularly the public debate, entered a last long phase of increasing acrimony on both sides. As he had been throughout the war, President Johnson was once again caught in the crossfire of his critics of the right and the left. The open-season on Presidential war policy began in August with the high intensity Senate Preparedness Subcommittee hearings where Senator Stennis and his colleagues fired the first shots. In September, the embattled President tried again for peace, capping his secret efforts with a new public offer to Hanoi in a speech in San Antonio. The attempt was unavailing and, under pressure from the military and the hawkish elements of public and Congressional opinion, the President authorized a selected intensification of the air war. The doves were not long in responding. In October they staged a massive demonstration and march on the Pentagon to oppose the war, there confronting specially alerted troops in battle gear. A month later, Senator McCarthy announced himself as a peace candidate for the Presidency to oppose Lyndon Johnson within his own party. By Christmas, however, the issue had subsided a bit. Ambassador Bunker and General Westmoreland had both returned home and spoken in public to defend the Administration's conduct of the war, and reports from the field showed a cautious optimism. The stage was thus set for the dramatic Viet Cong Tet offensive in January of the new year, an assault that would have a traumatic impact on official Washington and set in motion a re-evaluation of the whole American policy.
1. Senator Stennis Forces an Escalation
a. The Addendum to ROLLING THUNDER
Sometime after his return from Vietnam in late July, Secretary McNamara was informed by Senator Stennis that the Preparedness Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee intended to conduct extensive hearings in August into the conduct of the air war against North Vietnam. In addition to their intention to call the Secretary, they also indicated that they would hear from all the top military leaders involved in the ROLLING THUNDER program including USCINCPAC, Admiral Sharp. The subcommittee had unquestionably set out to defeat Mr. McNamara. Its members, Senators Stennis, Symington, Jackson, Cannon, Byrd, Smith, Thurmond, and Miller, were known for their hard-line views and military sympathies. They were defenders of "airpower" and had often aligned themselves with the "professional military experts" against what they considered "unskilled civilian amateurs." They viewed the restraints on bombing as irrational, the shackling of a major instrument which could help win victory. With Vietnam blown up into a major war, with more than half a million U.S. troops and a cost of more than $2 billion a month, and with no clear end in sight, their patience with a restrained bombing program was beginning to wear thin. But more was involved than a disagreement over the conduct of the war. Some passionately held convictions had been belittled, and some members of the subcommittee were on the warpath. As the subcommittee subsequently wrote in the introduction to its report, explaining the reasons for the inquiry:
Earlier this year many statements appeared in the press which were calculated to belittle the effectiveness of the air campaign over North Vietnam. Many of these statements alleged, or at least implied, that all military targets of significance had been destroyed, that the air campaign had been conducted as effectively as possible, and that continuation of the air campaign was pointless and useless--possibly even prolonging the war itself. At the same time reports were being circulated that serious consideration was being given in high places to a cessation of the air campaign over North Vietnam, or a substantial curtailment of it. Many of these reports were attributed to unnamed high Government officials.
In view of the importance of the air campaign, on June 28, 1967, the subcommittee announced it would conduct an extensive inquiry into the conduct and effectiveness of the bombing campaign over North Vietnam.
In July the President had decided against both an escalatory and a de-escalatory option in favor of continuing the prevailing level and intensity of bombing. However, the prospect of having his bombing policy submitted to the harsh scrutiny of the Stennis committee, taking testimony from such unhappy military men as Admiral Sharp, must have forced a recalculation on the President. It is surely no coincidence that on August 9, the very day the Stennis hearings opened, an addendum to ROLLING THUNDER 57 was issued authorizing an additional sixteen fixed targets and an expansion of armed reconnaissance. Significantly, six of the targets were within the sacred 10-mile Hanoi inner circle. They included the thermal power plant, 3 rail yards, and 2 bridges. Nine targets were located on the northeast rail line in the China buffer zone, the closest one 8 miles from the border, and consisted of 4 bridges and 5 rail yards/sidings; the tenth was a naval base, also within the China buffer zone. Armed reconnaissance was authorized along 8 road, rail, and waterway segments between the 10-mile and a 4-mile circle around Haiphong, and attacks were permitted against railroad rolling stock within the China buffer zone up to within 8 miles of the border. But the power of Congress was not to be denied. Where the military alone had tried unsuccessfully for so long to erode the Hanoi/Haiphong sanctuaries, the pressure implicit in the impending hearings, where military men would be asked to speak their minds to a friendly audience, was enough to succeed--at least for the moment.
Attacks against the newly authorized targets began promptly and continued through the two-week period of the Stennis hearings. On August 11 the Paul Doumer Rail and Highway Bridge, the principal river crossing in the direction of Haiphong located very near the center of Hanoi, was struck for the first time and two of its spans were dropped. Other important Hanoi targets were also struck on the 11th and 12th. The intensity of the strikes continued to mount, and on August 20, 209 sorties were launched, the highest number to date in the war. During that day and the succeeding two, heavy attacks continued against the Hanoi targets and within the China buffer zone. On the 21st in connection with these attacks a long feared danger of the northern air war became reality. Two U.S. planes strayed over the Chinese border and were shot down by Chinese MIGs. On August 19, at McNamara's direction, the JCS instructed CINCPAC to suspend operations within the ten-mile Hanoi perimeter from August 24 to September 4. The Stennis hearings were ending and a particularly delicate set of contacts with North Vietnam were under way in Paris (see below). The suspension was designed both to avoid provocation and to manifest restraint.
b. The Stennis Hearings
Meanwhile in Washington, the Stennis hearings opened on August 9 with Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, USCINCPAC, as the first witness. In the following two weeks the subcommittee heard testimony from the entire senior echelon of U.S. military leaders involved in the air war, including the Joint Chiefs, CINCPAC, CINCPACFLT, CINCPACAF, and the commander and former deputy commander of the 7th Air Force in Saigon. The final witness on August 25 was Secretary McNamara who found himself pitted against the military men who had preceded him by the hostile members of the subcommittee as he sought to deflate the claims for U.S. air power. The hearings, released by the subcommittee only days after the testimony was completed, and given extensive treatment by the media, exposed to public view the serious divergence of views between McNamara and the country's professional military leaders. The subcommittee's summary report, which sided with the military and sharply criticized McNamara's reasoning, forced the Administration into an awkward position. Ultimately, the President felt compelled to overrule McNamara's logic in his own version of the matter. Once again the President was caught unhappily in the middle satisfying neither his critics of the right nor the left.
The subcommittee heard first from the military leaders involved in the air war. It was told that the air war in the North was an important and indispensable part of the U.S. strategy for fighting the war in the South. It was told that the bombing had inflicted extensive destruction and disruption on NVN, holding down the infiltration of men and supplies, restricting the level of forces that could be sustained in the South and reducing the ability of those forces to mount major sustained combat operations, thus resulting in fewer U.S. casualties. It was told that without the bombing, NVN could have doubled its forces in the South, requiring as many as 800,000 additional U.S. troops at a cost of $75 billion more just to hold our own. It was told that without the bombing NVN could have freed 500,000 people who were at work maintaining and repairing the LOCs in the North for additional support of the insurgency in the South. It was told that a cessation of the bombing now would be "a disaster," resulting in increased U.S. losses and an indefinite extension of the war.
The subcommittee was also told that the bombing had been much less effecive than it might have been--and could still be--if civilian leaders heeded iilitary advice and lifted the overly restrictive controls which had been imposed n the campaign. The slow tempo of the bombing; its concentration for so long 'eli south of the vital Hanoi/Haiphong areas, leaving the important targets untouched; the existence of sanctuaries; the failure to close or neutralize the port of Haiphong--these and other limitations prevented the bombing from achieving greater results. The "doctrine of gradualism" and the long delays in approving targets of real significance, moreover, gave NVN time to build up formidable air defenses, contributing to U.S. aircraft and pilot losses, and enabled NVN to prepare for the anticipated destruction of its facilities (such as POL) by building up reserve stocks and dispersing them.
When Secretary McNamara appeared before the subcommittee on August 25, he took issue with most of these views. He defended the bombing campaign as one which was carefully tailored to our limited purposes in Southeast Asia and which was therefore aimed at selected targets of strictly military significance, primarily the routes of infiltration. As he restated the objectives which the bombing was intended to serve:
Our primary objective was to reduce the flow and/or to increase the cost of the continued infiltration of men and supplies from North to South Vietnam.
It was also anticipated that these air operations would raise the morale of the South Vietnamese people who, at the time the bombing started, were under severe military pressure.
Finally, we hoped to make clear to the North Vietnamese leadership that so long as they continued their aggression against the South they would have to pay a price in the North.
The bombing of North Vietnam has always been considered a supplement to and not a substitute for an effective counter-insurgency land and air campaign in South Vietnam.
These were our objectives when our bombing program was initiated in February 1965. They remain our objectives today.
Weighed against these objectives, the bombing campaign had been successful:
It was initiated at a time when the South Vietnamese were in fear of a military defeat. There can be no question that the bombing raised and sustained the morale of the South Vietnamese at that time. It should be equally clear to the North Vietnamese that they have paid and will continue to pay a high price for their continued aggression. We have also made the infiltration of men and supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam increasingly difficult and costly.
With respect to infiltration, the Secretary said, military leaders had never anticipated that complete interdiction was possible. He cited the nature of combat in SVN, without "established battle lines" and continuous large-scale fighting, which did not require a steady stream of logistical support and which reduced the amount needed. Intelligence estimated that VC/NVA forces in SVN required only 15 tons a day brought in from outside, "but even if the quantity were five times that amount it could be transported by only a few trucks." By comparison with that amount, the capacity of the transportation network was very large:
North Vietnam's ability to continue its aggression against the South thus depends upon imports of war-supporting material and their transhipment to the South. Unfortunately for the chances of effective interdiction, this simple agricultural economy has a highly diversified transportation system consisting of rails and roads and waterways. The North Vietnamese use barges and sampans, trucks and foot power, and even bicycles capable of carrying 500-pound loads to move goods over this network. The capacity of this system is very large-the volume of traffic it is now required to carry, in relation to its capacity, is very small. . . . Under these highly unfavorable circumstances, I think that our military forces have done a superb job in making continued inifitration more difficult and expensive.
The Secretary defended the targeting decisions which had been made in carrying out the program, and the "target-by-target analysis" which balanced the military importance of the target against the cost in U.S. lives and the risks of expanding the war. He argued that the target selection had not inhibited the use of airpower against targets of military significance. The target list in current use by the JCS contained 427 targets, of which only 359 had been recommended by the Chiefs. Of the latter, strikes had been authorized against 302, or 85 percent. Of the 57 recommended by the JCS but not yet authorized, 7 were recognized by the JCS themselves as of little value to NVN's war effort, 9 were petroleum facilities holding less than 6 percent of NVN's remaining storage capacity, 25 were lesser targets in populated, heavily defended areas, 4 were more significant targets in such areas, 3 were ports, 4 were airfields, and 5 were in the China buffer zone. Some of these targets did not warrant the loss of American lives; others did not justify the risk of direct confrontation with the Chinese or the Soviets; still others would be considered for authorization as they were found to be of military importance as compared with the potential costs and risks.
The Secretary argued that those who criticized the limited nature of the bombing
campaign actually sought to reorient it toward different--and unrealizable objectives:
Those who criticize our present bombing policy do so, in my opinion, because they believe that air attack against the North can be utilized to achieve quite different objectives. These critics appear to argue that our airpower can win the war in the South either by breaking the will of the North or by cutting off the war-supporting supplies needed in the south. In essence, this approach would seek to use the air attack against the North not as a supplement to, but as a substitute for the arduous ground war that we and our allies are waging in the South.
First, as to breaking the will of the North, neither the nature of NVN's economy nor the psychology of its people or its leaders suggested that this could be accomplished by a more intensive bombing campaign. For one thing, it was difficult to apply pressure against the regime through bombing the economy:
. . . the economy of North Vietnam is agrarian and simple. Its people are accustomed to few of the modern comforts and conveniences that most of us in the Western World take for granted. They are not dependent on the continued functioning of great cities for their welfare. They can be fed at something approaching the standard to which they are accustomed without reliance on truck or rail transportation or on food processing facilities. Our air attack has rendered inoperative about 85 percent of the country's electric generating capacity, but it is important to note that the Pepco plant in Alexandria, Va., generates five times the power produced by all of North Vietnam's power plants before the bombing. It appears that sufficient electricity for war-related activities and for essential services can be provided by the some 2,000 diesel-driven generating sets which are in operation.
Second, the people were inured to hardship and by all the evidence supported the government:
. . . the people of North Vietnam are accustomed to discipline and are no strangers to deprivation and death. Available information indicates that, despite some war weariness, they remain willing to endure hardship and they continue to respond to the political direction of the Hanoi regime. There is little reason to believe that any level of conventional air or naval action short of sustained and systematic bombing of the population centers will deprive the North Vietnamese of their willingness to continue to support their government's efforts.
Third, NVN's leaders were hard to crack, at least so long as their cause in the South was hopeful:
There is nothing in the past reaction of the North Vietnamese leaders that would provide any confidence that they can be bombed to the negotiating table. Their regard for the comfort and even the lives of the people they control does not seem to be sufficiently high to lead them to bargain for settlement in order to stop a heightened level of attack.
The course of the conflict on the ground in the south, rather than the scale of air attack in the north appears to be the determining factor in North Vietnam's willingness to continue.
The second alternative aim might be to stop the flow of supplies to the South, either through an expanded campaign against the supply routes within NVN or by closing sea and land importation routes to NVN, or both. But it was doubtful whether heavier bombing of the LOCs could choke off the required flow:
. . . the capacity of the lines of communication and of the outside sources of supply so far exceeds the minimal flow necessary to support the present level of North Vietnamese military effort in South Vietnam that the enemy operations in the south cannot, on the basis of any reports I have seen, be stopped by air bombardment-short, that is, of the virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people.
Nor could bombing the ports and mining the harbors stop the infiltration of supplies into SVN. The total tonnage required in SVN (15 tons a day) could be quintupled and would still be dwarfed by NVN's actual imports of about 5800 tons a day and its even greater import capacity of about 14,000 tons a day. Even if Haiphong and the other ports were closed--"and on the unrealistic assumption that closing the ports would eliminate seaborne imports"--NVN could still import over 8400 tons a day by rail, road, and waterway. Even if the latter amount could be further cut by 50 percent through air attacks, NVN could still maintain 70 percent of its current imports, only a fraction of which--550 tons per day--need be taken up with military equipment. In fact, however, eliminating Haiphong and the other ports would not eliminate seaborne imports. The POL experience had shown that NVN could revert to lightering and over-the-beach operations for unloading ocean freighters, and it could also make greater use of the LOCs from China, and still manage quite well.
Accordingly, the Secretary urged that the limited objectives and the restrained nature of the bombing campaign be maintained as is:
A selective, carefully targeted bombing campaign, such as we are presently conducting, can be directed toward reasonable and realizable goals. This discriminating use of air power can and does render the infiltration of men and supplies more difficult and more costly. At the same time, it demonstrates to both South and North Vietnam our resolve to see that aggression does not succeed. A less discriminating bombing campaign against North Vietnam would, in my opinion, do no more. We have no reason to believe that it would break the will of the North Vietnamese people or sway the purpose of their leaders. If it does not lead to such a change of mind, bombing the North at any level of intensity would not meet our objective. We would still have to prove by ground operations in the South that Hanoi's aggression could not succeed. Nor would a decision to close [the ports], by whatever means, prevent the movement in and through North Vietnam of the essentials to continue their present level of military activity in South Vietnam.
On the other side of the equation, our report to a less selective campaign of air attack against the North would involve risks which at present I regard as too high to accept for this dubious prospect of successful results.
The Secretary spent the day on the witness stand, answering questions, rebutting charges, and debating the issues. His use of facts and figures and reasoned arguments was one of his masterful performances, but in the end he was not persuasive. The subcommittee issued a report on 31 August which castigated the Administration's conduct of the bombing campaign, deferred to the authority of the professional military judgments it had heard, accepted virtually all the military criticisms of the program, and advocated a switch-over to escalating "pressure" concepts.
The Secretary had emphasized the inability of the bombing to accomplish much more, given the nature of U.S. objectives and of the difficult challenges presented by the overall military situation. The subcommittee disagreed:
That the air campaign has not achieved its objectives to a greater extent cannot be attributed to inability or impotence of airpower. It attests, rather, to the fragmentation of our air might by overly restrictive controls, limitations, and the doctrine of "gradualism" placed on our aviation forces which prevented them from waging the air campaign in the manner and according to the timetable which was best calculated to achieve maximum results.
The Secretary had said there was no evidence of any kind to indicate that an accelerated campaign would have reduced casualties in the South; the subcommittee reported that the overwhelming weight of the testimony by military experts was to the contrary. The Secretary had minimized the importance of the 57 recommended targets which had not yet been approved, and implied that few if any important military targets remained unstruck; CINCPAC and the Chiefs said the 57 included many "lucrative" targets. The Secretary had discounted the value of closing Haiphong; all of the military witnesses said that this was feasible and necessary and would have a substantial impact on the war in the South. In all of these matters the subcommittee did not believe that the Secretary's position was valid and felt that the military view was sounder and should prevail:
In our hearings we found a sharp difference of opinion between the civilian authority and the top-level military witnesses who appeared before the subcommittee over how and when our airpower should be employed against North Vietnam. In that difference we believe we also found the roots of the persistent deterioration of public confidence in our airpower, because the plain facts as they unfolded in the testimony demonstrated clearly that civilian authority consistently overruled the unanimous recommendations of military commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a systematic, timely, and hard-hitting integrated air campaign against the vital North Vietnam targets. Instead, and for policy reasons, we have employed military aviation in a carefully controlled, restricted, and graduated build-up of bombing pressure which discounted the professional judgment of our best military experts and substituted civilian judgment in the details of target selection and the timing of strikes. We shackled the true potential of airpower and permitted the buildup of what has become the world's most formidable antiaircraft defenses. . . .
It is not our intention to point a finger or to second guess those who determined this policy. But, the cold fact is that this policy has not done the job and it has been contrary to the best military judgment. What is needed now is the hard decision to do whatever is necessary, take the risks that have to be taken, and apply the force that is required to see the job through. . . .
As between these diametrically opposed views [of the SecDef and the military experts] and in view of the unsatisfactory progress of the war, logic and prudence requires that the decision be with the unanimous weight of professional military judgment. . . .
It is high time, we believe, to allow the military voice to be heard in connection with the tactical details of military operations.
c. The Fallout
This bombing controversy simmered on for the next few months and when a major secret peace attempt associated with the San Antonio formula failed, the President authorized most of the 57 unstruck targets the JCS had recommended and which the Stennis report had criticized the Administration for failing to hit. In addition, the Chairman of the JCS was thereafter asked to attend the Tuesday policy luncheon at the White House as a regular participant.
The Stennis hearings also created considerable confusion and controversy within the Pentagon over the target classification and recommendation system. The Senators had been at pains to try to establish whether targets recommended by the military were being authorized and struck or conversely to what extent the military was being ignored. In trying to respond to the question McNamara discovered a great deal of fluidity in the number of targets on JCS lists over time, and in the priority or status assigned to them. He therefore set out to reconcile the discrepancies. The effort unearthed a highly complex system of classification that began with the military commands in the Pacific and extended through the Joint Staff to his own office. Part of the problem lay with the changing damage assessments and another part with differing categories at different echelons. To untangle the process, reconcile past discrepancies and establish a common basis for classification and recommendation, McNamara, Warnke, the ISA staff and the Joint Staff spent long hours in September and October in highly detailed target by target analysis and evaluation. After much wrangling they did achieve agreement on a procedure and set of rules that made it possible for everyone to work with the same data and understanding of the target system. The procedure they set up and the one that operated through the fall and winter until the March 31 partial suspension was described in a memo from Warnke to incoming Secretary Clark Clifford on March 5, 1968:
Twice, a month the Joint Staff has been revising the Rolling Thunder Target List for the bombing of North Vietnam. The revisions are forwarded
to my office and reconciled with the prior list. This reconciliation summary is then forwarded to your office. . . .
Every Tuesday and Friday the Joint Staff has been sending me a current list of the authorized targets on the target list which have not been struck or restruck since returning to a recommended status. After our review, this list also is sent to your office. . . .
In the normal course of events, new recommendations by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for targets lying within the 10 and 4 mile prohibited circles around Hanoi and Haiphong, respectively, or in the Chinese Buffer Zone have been submitted both to the Secretary of Defense's office and to my office in ISA. ISA would then ensure that the State Department had sufficient information to make its recommendation on the new proposal. ISA also submitted its evaluation of the proposal to your office. On occasions the Chairman would hand-carry the new bombing proposals directly to the Secretary of Defense for his approval. Under those circumstances, the Secretary, if he were not thoroughly familiar with the substance of the proposal, would call ISA for an evaluation. State Department and White House approval also were required before the Chairman's office could authorize the new strikes.
The Stennis report also raised a furor by exposing the policy rift within the Administration. In an attempt to dampen its effect the President called an unscheduled news conference on September 1 to deny differences among his advisors and to generally overrule his Secretary of Defense on the bombing. More stinging for McNamara, however, than this oral repudiation must have been the subsequent escalatory decisions against his advice. On September 10, for instance, North Vietnam's third port at Cam Pha, a target he had specifically counseled against in his testimony was struck for the first time. McNamara's year-end resignation seems in retrospect the only logical course for someone who found himself so far out of line with the direction of Administration policy.
2. The San Antonio Formula
a. Peace Feelers
In the midst of all this pressure on the President to raise the ante in the bombing, a countervailing opportunity for contact with the DRY on terms for peace developed in Paris. In mid-August a channel to the North Vietnamese through U.S. and French academics apparently opened up in Paris. Eager as always to test whether Hanoi had softened its position, the U.S. picked up the opportunity. As already noted, on 19 August a cessation of the attacks in the 10-mile Hanoi perimeter was ordered for a ten day period beginning on August 24. Sometime thereafter, what was regarded as a conciliatory proposal embodying the language of the subsequent San Antonio speech, was apparently transmitted to the North Vietnamese. The unfortunate coincidence of heavy bombing attacks on Hanoi on August 2 1-23, just prior to the transmission of the message, coupled with the fact that the Hanoi suspension was to be of limited duration must have left the DRY leadership with the strong impression they were being squeezed by Johnsonian pressure tactics and presented with an ultimatum. Apparently, no reply from Hanoi had arrived by the 1st of September because the Hanoi suspension was extended for 72-hours, and then on 7 September the suspension was impatiently extended again pending a reply from North Vietnam. When the reply finally came, it was an emphatic rejection of the U.S. proposal. The U.S. sought to clarify its position and elicit some positive reaction from the Hanoi leadership but to no avail. The contacts in Paris apparently continued throughout September since the bombing restraint around Hanoi was not relaxed, but Hanoi maintained its charge that the circumstances in which the message was communicated placed it in the context of an ultimatum.
b. The President's Speech and Hanoi's Reaction
With Hanoi complaining that the raids deflected from Hanoi were merely being retargeted against Haiphong, Cam Pha and other parts of the North and that the U.S. was escalating not de-escalating the air war, the President decided to make a dramatic public attempt to overcome the communications barrier between the two capitals. In San Antonio, on September 29, the President delivered a long impassioned plea for reason in Hanoi. The central function of the speech was to repeat publicly the language of the negotiations proposal that had been transmitted in August. The President led up to it in melodramatic fashion:
"Why not negotiate now?" so many ask me. The answer is that we and our South Vietnamese allies are wholly prepared to negotiate tonight.
I am ready to talk with Ho Chi Minh, and other chiefs of state concerned, tomorrow.
I am ready to have Secretary Rusk meet with their Foreign Minister tomorrow.
I am ready to send a trusted representative of America to any spot on this earth to talk in public or private with a spokesman of Hanoi.
Then he stated the U.S. terms for a bombing halt in their mildest form to date:
As we have told Hanoi time and time and time again, the heart of the matter is this: The United States is willing to stop all aerial and naval bombardment of North Vietnam when this will lead promptly to productive discussions. We, of course, assume that while discussions proceed, North Vietnam would not take advantage of this bombing cessation or limitation.
After the speech, the contacts in Paris presumably continued in an effort to illicit a positive response from Hanoi, but, in spite of the continued restraint around Hanoi, none was apparently forthcoming. The North Vietnamese objections to the proposal had shifted it seems from the circumstances of its delivery to the substance of the proposal itself. Instead of their earlier complaints about pressures and ultimata, they now resisted the "conditions" of the San Antonio formula--i.e. the U.S. desire for advance assurance that "no advantage" would be taken if the bombing were halted. Continued U.S. probing for a response apparently reinforced the impression of "conditions." In any case, on October 3, the San Antonio formulation was emphatically rejected in the North Vietnamese party newspaper, Nham Dan, as a "faked desire for peace" and "sheer deception." This was apparently confirmed through the Paris channel in mid-October. In his press conference on October 12, Secretary Rusk as much as said so when, after quoting the President's offer, he stated:
A rejection, or a refusal even to discuss such a formula for peace, requires that we face some sober conclusions. It would mean that Hanoi has not abandoned its effort to seize South Vietnam by force. It would give reality and credibility to captured documents which describe a "fight and
negotiate" strategy by Vietcong and the North Vietnamese forces. It would reflect a view in Hanoi that they can gamble upon the character of the American people and of our allies in the Pacific.
Final confirmation that the attempt to find a common ground on which to begin negotiations had failed came in an article by the Communist journalist Wilfred Burchette on October 20. Reporting from Hanoi the views of Pham Van Dong, Burchette stated that, "There is no possibility of any talks or even contacts between Hanoi and the U.S. government unless the bombardment and other acts of war against North Vietnam are definitively halted." But the American Administration had already taken a series of escalatory decisions under pressure from the military and the Stennis committee.
c. More Targets
The September-long restriction against striking targets within the ten mile Hanoi perimeter was imposed on the military command with no explanation of its purpose since apparently every effort was being made to maintain the security of the contacts in Paris. Thus, not surprisingly, CINCPAC complained about the limitation and regularly sought to have it lifted throughout the month. On September 11, General McConnell forwarded a request to the Secretary for a restrike of the Hanoi thermal power plant. On September 21, CINCPAC again reiterated his urgent request that the Hanoi ban be lifted. The day before he had also requested authority to strike the Phuc Yen air field. In sending his endorsement of these requests to McNamara, the acting Chairman, General Johnson, noted that there were fifteen lucrative targets within the prohibited Hanoi area including critical rail and highway bridges and the Hanoi power plant, the latter reportedly back to 50% of capability. McNamara replied tersely and simply, in his own hand, "The Hanoi restriction remains in effect so this strike has not been approved." The requested authorization to hit Phuc Yen air field was not a strike within the Hanoi ten mile zone but was militarily important because Phuc Yen was the largest remaining unstruck MIG field and a center of much of North Vietnam's air defense control. On September 26, it was approved for strike, but before one could be launched the authorization was rescinded on September 29, no doubt because of concern about upsetting the delicate Paris contacts.
To these continuing pressures on the President from the JCS to remove the Hanoi restrictions were added at the end of September an additional request from General Westmoreland bearing on the effort against North Vietnam. Theo enemy buildup in the DMZ area had become serious and to counter it an increasing number of B-52 strikes were being employed. Eventually this confrontation at the DMZ would involve the heavy artillery exchanges of the fall of 1967 and culminate in the protracted siege of Khe Sanh. For the moment, however, Westmoreland was seeking as a part of his DMZ reinforcement an augmentation in the monthly B-52 sortie authorization. His request was outlined by the Chiefs in a memo to Mr. Nitze on September 28. They indicated a capability to raise the sorties to 900 per month immediately and were studying the problem of raising them to 1200 as requested by Westy. The use of 2,000 lb. bombs was feasible and the Chiefs recommended it depending on their availablity. McNamara gave his OK to the increase in a memo to the President on October 4, but indicated that the increase to 1200 per month could not be achieved before January or February 1968.
Undaunted by repeated rebuffs, the Chiefs, under the temporary leadership of Army Chief of Staff, General Harold K. Johnson (General Wheeler had been stricken by a mild heart attack in early September and was away from his desk for a little over a month), continued to press for lifting the Hanoi restrictions and for permission to attack Phuc Yen. On October 4 they gave McNamara a package of papers on the current target list complete with draft execute messages lifting the Hanoi ban and authorizing Phuc Yen, both of which they recommended. Two days later a specific request to hit the Hanoi power plant was forwarded, noting the DIA estimate that the power plant was back to 75% of its original capacity. On October 7, CINCPAC sent the JCS a monthly summary of the ROLLING THUNDER program in September and used the opportunity once again to complain about the detrimental effects of maintaining the Hanoi restriction. Adverse weather because of the northeast Monsoon had severely curtailed the number of sorties flown to 8,540 compared with 11,634 in August. This had permitted a considerable amount of damage-recovery in North Vietnam. The maintenance of the Hanoi sanctuary only compounded the problem for the U.S. "This combination of circumstances provides the enemy the opportunity to repair rail lines, reconstruct downed bridges, and accommodate too much of the initial efforts to maintain pressure against the vital LOC network." In Admiral Sharp's view, countering these recovery efforts was of the first priority.
The following day he sent the Chiefs another message specifically requesting that the rescinded approval for strikes against Phuc Yen airfield be reinstated. Increased MIG activity against our jets over North Vietnam was cited as requiring the destruction of this last remaining major airfield. The crux of his argument, however, was the necessity of such a strike to the maintenance of pilot morale-a rationale entirely exempt from statistical analysis in OSD. He stated the case as follows:
The morale of our air crews understandably rose when briefed to strike Phuc Yen airfield and its MIG's--A target which has continually jeopardized their well-being. The unexplained revocation of that authority coupled with the increasing numbers and aggressiveness of MIG-21 attacks cannot help but impact adversely on air crew morale. Air crews flying combat missions through the intense NVN defenses, air to air and ground to air, have demonstrated repeatedly their courage and determination to press home their attack against vital targets. Every effort should be made to reduce the hazard to them, particularly from a threat in which the enemy is afforded a sanctuary and can attack at his own choosing.
With the failure of the peace initiative in Paris, these escalatory pressures could no longer be resisted. As it became evident that peace talks were not in the offing, the President approved six new targets on October 6 (including 5 in or near Haiphong). Secretary Rusk in his October 12 news conference strongly questioned the seriousness of North Vietnamese intent for peace and finally on October 20 the Paris contacts were closed in failure. The Tuesday lunch on October 24 would thus have to make important new bombing decisions. The day before, Warnke outlined current JCS recommendations for Secretary McNamara, including Phuc Yen. The White House meeting the following day duly approved Phuc Yen along with a restrike of the Hanoi power transformer and the temporary lifting of the Hanoi restrictions. On October 25, the MIGs at Phuc Yen were attacked for the first time and Hanoi was struck again after the long suspension.
The Tuesday luncheon at which the Phuc Yen decision was made was a regular
decision-making forum for the air war and one that came to public attention
as a result of the Stennis hearings. Indicative of the public interest in these gatherings is the following impressionistic account by CBS newsman Dan Rather of how they were conducted:
First Line Report, 6:55 a.m.
WTOP Radio, October 17, 1967
Dan Rather: This is Target Tuesday. Today President Johnson decides whether North Vietnam will continue to be bombed. If it is, how much and where. These decisions are made at which Washington insiders call, for short, the Tuesday lunch. This is the way it goes.
At about 1:00 in the afternoon Defense Secretary McNamara, Secretary of State Rusk, and Presidential Assistant Walter Rostow gather in the White House second floor sitting room. They compare notes briefly over Scotch or Fresca. President Johnson walks in with Press Secretary George Christian. McNamara, Rusk, Rostow, Christian, and the President--they are the Tuesday lunch regulars. The principal cast for Target Tuesday.
Sometimes others join. Chairman of the Military Joint Chiefs, General Earle Wheeler, for example. He's been coming more often recently, ever since the Senate Subcommittee on Preparedness Committee griped about no military man being present many times when final bombing decisions were made. Central Intelligence Director Richard Helms seldom comes. Vice President Humphrey almost never.
Decision making at the top is an intimate affair. Mr. Johnson prefers it that way. He knows men talk more freely in a small group.
After a bit of chatter over drinks in the sitting room, the President signals the move to the dining room. It is semi-oval, with a huge chandelier, a mural around the wall-brightly colored scenes of Cornwallis surrendering his sword at Yorktown. The President sits at the head, of course. Sits in a high back stiletto swivel chair. Rusk is at his right, McNamara on his left, Rostow is at the other end. Christian and the extras, if any, in between. Lunch begins, so does the serious conversation. There is an occasional pause, punctuated by the whirl of Mr. Johnson's battery-powered pepper grinder. He likes pepper and he likes the gadget.
Around the table the President's attention goes, sampling recommendations, arguments, thoughts. It is now the time for a bombing pause. How about just a bombing reduction? Laos, Haiphong, Hanoi, everything around population centers, confined bombing to that tiny part of North Vietnam bordering the Demilitarized Zone. McNamara long has favored this. He thinks it worth a try. Rusk has been going for some indication--the slightest hint will do--that a bombing pause or reduction will lead to meaningful negotiations. Rostow, least known of the Tuesday lunch regulars, also is a hard-liner. He more than Rusk is a pour-it-on man. Christian doesn't say much. He is there to give an opinion when asked about press and public reaction. The military representative, when there is one, usually speaks more than Christian, but less than McNamara, Rusk, and Rostow.
McNamara is the man with the target list. He gives his recommendations. If bomb we must, these are the targets he suggests. His recommendations are based on, but by no means completely agree with those of the military Joint Chiefs. Their recommendations, in turn, are based on those of field commanders. Field commanders are under instructions not to recommend certain targets in certain areas--Haiphong docks, the air defense command center in Hanoi, and so forth. There is much controversy and some bitterness about these off-limit targets. There have been fewer and fewer of them since July. Some new ones went off the list just last week.
The luncheon meeting continues over coffee until 3:00, 3:30, sometimes even 4:00. When it is over, the President goes for a nap. The bombing decisions have been made for another week.
In thinking about Target Tuesday and the White House luncheon where so many decisions are on the menu, you may want to consider the words of 19th Century writer F. W. Borum: "We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us."
Even before the Phuc Yen decision was taken, the Chiefs had sent McNamara for transmittal to the President a major memo outlining their overall recommendations for the air war as requested by the President on September 12. The President had asked to see a set of proposals for putting more pressure on Hanoi. On October 17 that was exactly what he got and the list was not short. The Chiefs outlined their understanding of the objectives of the war, the constraints within which the national authorities wished it to be fought, the artificial limitations that were impeding the achievement of our objectives and a recommended list of ten new measures against North Vietnam. Since the memo stands as one of the last major military arguments for the long-sought wider war against North Vietnam before the trauma of Tet 1968 and the subsequent U.S. de-escalation, and because of its crisp, terse articulation of the JCS point of view, it is included here in its entirety.
THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
WASHINGTON, D. C. 20301
17 October 1967
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
Subject: Increased Pressures on North Vietnam
1. Reference is made to:
a. NSAM 288, dated 17 March 1964, subject: "Implementation of South Vietnam Program."
b. JCSM-982-64, dated 23 November 1964, subject: "Courses of Action in Southeast Asia."
c. JCSM-811-65, dated 10 November 1965, subject: "Future Operations and Force Deployments with Respect to the War in Vietnam."
2. The purpose of this memorandum is to identify those military actions consistent with present policy guidelines which would serve to increase pressures on North Vietnam (NVN), thereby accelerating the rate of progress toward achievement of the US objective in South Vietnam.
3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that NVN is paying heavily for its aggression and has lost the initiative in the South. They further consider that many factors-though not uniform nor necessarily controlling-indicate a military trend favorable to Free World Forces in Vietnam. South Vietnam, in the face of great difficulty, is making slow progress on all fronts-military, political, and economic. However, pace of progress indicates that, if acceleration is to be achieved, an appropriate increase in military pressure is required.
4. Military operations in Southeast Asia have been conducted within a framework of policy guidelines established to achieve US objectives without expanding the conflict. Principal among these policy guidelines are:
a. We seek to avoid widening the war into a conflict with Communist China or the USSR.
b. We have no present intention of invading NVN.
c. We do not seek the overthrow of the Government of NVN.
d. We are guided by the principles set forth in the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962.
5. Although some progress is being made within this framework, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the rate of progress has been and continues to be slow, largely because US military power has been restrained in a manner which has reduced significantly its impact and effectiveness. Limitations have been imposed on military operations in four ways:
a. The attacks on the enemy military targets have been on such a prolonged, graduated basis that the enemy has adjusted psychologically, economically, and militarily; e.g., inured themselves to the difficulties and hardships accompanying the war, dispersed their logistic support system, and developed alternate transport routes and a significant air defense system.
b. Areas of sanctuary, containing important military targets, have been afforded the enemy.
c. Covert operations in Cambodia and Laos have been restricted.
d. Major importation of supplies into NVN by sea has been permitted.
6. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that US objectives in Southeast Asia can be achieved within the policy framework set forth in paragraph 4, above, providing the level of assistance the enemy receives from his communist allies is not significantly increased and there is no diminution of US efforts. However, progress will continue to be slow so long as present limitations on military operations continue in effect. Further, at our present pace, termination of NVN's military effort is not expected to occur in the near future. Set forth in the Appendix are those actions which can be taken in the near future within the present framework of policy guidelines to increase pressures on NVN and accelerate progress toward the achievement of US objectives. They require a relaxation or removal of certain limitations on operations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that expansion of US efforts entails some additional risk. They believe that as a result of this expansion the likelihood of overt introduction of Soviet Bloc/CPR combat forces into the war would be remote. Failure to take additional action to shorten the Southeast Asia conflict also entails risks as new and more efficient weapons are provided to NVN by the Soviet Union and as USSR/CPR support of the enemy increases.
7. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that they be authorized to direct the actions in the Appendix.
8. This memorandum is intended to respond to the questions raised by the President at the White House luncheon on 12 September 1967; therefore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff request that this memorandum be submitted to the President.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
SUMMARY OF ACTIONS WITHIN PRESENT GUIDELINES WHICH WOULD RESULT IN ADDED PRESSURES ON THE ENEMY
1. Remove restrictions on air campaign against all militarily significant targets in NVN (ROLLiNG THUNDER).
Eliminate Haiphong and Hanoi prohibited areas.
Reduce Hanoi and Haiphong restricted areas to the city proper.
Reduce CPR Buffer Zone to 10 miles.
Conduct unrestricted attacks against LOC, rail lines, roads up to five miles from CPR border.
Authorize CINCPAC strike and restrike prerogative for all targets outside of redefined restricted areas.
Permit JCS to authorize strikes against targets in the redefined restricted areas on a case-by-case basis (to include Haiphong port).
Greater destruction of NVN war-supporting facilities.
Increased destruction of air-defense including airfields.
Reduce logistic support of NVN/VC.
More efficient use of available forces.
Favorable impact on reducing friendly casualties, particularly in critical I Corps/DMZ area.
Permits timely reaction against targets of opportunity.
Charges of escalation.
Increased use of CPR airfields for storage or training, but not for combat missions.
Increased CPR AAA and Engineer support in NVN.
2. Mine NVN deep water ports.
Establish, replenish as required, mine fields in approaches and harbors at Haiphong, Hon Gai and Cam Pha.
Publish warning notice to mariners.
Adjust/extend mine fields as necessary to prevent bypassing.
Reduce import of war-supporting materials.
Soviet Union may cancel existing negotiations with the U.S. and initiate propaganda campaign.
Possible Soviet action to increase tensions in other parts of the world but major confrontations would be unlikely.
CPR would strengthen defensive posture and may increase military aid to NVN; unlikely to initiate offensive air or surface actions.
3. Mine inland waterways and estuaries in NVN north of 200 N.
Mine mouths of navigable NVN rivers.
Mine navigable inland waterways throughout NVN to within 5 NM of CPR border (authority currently limited to those south of 20° N.).
Interdict internal waterways LOCs.
Destroy waterborne logistic craft and block channels.
Require great NVN sweeping efforts.
Reduce POL and other cargo distribution.
No specific military reactions from communists.
Some increased propaganda against U.S. actions.
4. Extend naval surface operations (SEA DRAGON).
Conduct offensive naval surface force operations against NVN rnilitary/ logistic water craft and against suitable targets in NVN ashore north of 20° N latitude to the redefined buffer zone (SEA DRAGON operations now limited to south of 20° N).
Interdict coastal water traffic.
Reduce use of land LOCs by harassing gunfire.
Possible naval and air reactions by NVN in northern waters.
CPR or Soviet might provide additional patrol craft.
5. Use U.S. SAM (TALOS) from ships against combat aircraft.
Use sea-based SAM missiles against NVN aircraft both over water and in airspace over NVN.
Increase destruction of enemy air forces.
Inhibit enemy air operations.
NVN air and surface attack possible.
USSR or CPR might provide NVN with coast defense missiles.
6. Increase air interdiction in Laos and along NVN borders. Specific Actions
Selected bombing of Laotian waterway traffic (SEKONG).
Establish special saturation bombing interdiction air strike zones in Laos, e.g., northwest of DMZ, Nape and Mu Gia Passes.
Increase interdiction of LOCs and reduction of supplies to NVA/VC.
No immediate reaction other than propaganda.
No Laos reaction.
7. Eliminate operational restrictions on B-52s with regard to Laos.
Overflight of Laos, by day and night, by B-52s en route to or from targets in Vietnam or Laos.
Daylight bombing attacks on Laos
Eliminate requirements for cover strikes in SVN when bombing targets in Laos.
Greater operational efficiency and quicker reaction time for B-52s.
Possible political reactions.
8. Expand operations in Laos (PRAIRIE FIRE).
Increase authorized size of exploitation force.
Increase efficiency of interdiction.
Reduce supplies to NVA/VC.
Souvanna would probably not object if he could deny the actions and avoid publicity.
Possible increased NVA forces and activities in Laos.
9. Expand operations in Cambodia.
Expand current DANIEL BOONE reconnaissance program by extending the area of operations for the full length of the SVN/Cambodia border; authorize use of helicopters; remove limitations on number of missions.
Authorize DANIEL BOONE forces to conduct limited sabotage/destruction activity; authorize calling in tactical airstrikes on enemy targets near the border.
Reduce supplies to NVA/VC.
Discourage use of Cambodia as sanctuary for NVA/VC forces.
Provide self-defense of U.S. forces.
Cambodia would protest expansion of operation to Cambodian soil and might seek to defend its territory.
Adverse political reaction.
10. Expand and reorient NVN covert programs (FOOTBOY).
Undertake action to increase the credibility of a current national resistance movement in NVN.
Increase intelligence collection and covert physical destruction missions.
Harass NVN within country.
Require NVN to divert resources to internal security.
NVN would accuse the United States of attempting to bring about downfall of government of NVN.
Ten days after this joint memo from the Chiefs, General Wheeler sent the Secretary a proposal of his own for the expansion of the air war under a new ROLLING THUNDER program, number 58. Its most important proposal was the reduction of Hanoi-Haiphong restricted circles down to 3 and 1.5 n.m. respectively. With other specific targets requested for authorization (of which the most important was Gia Lam airfield), this new proposal would have opened up an additional 15 valid targets for attack on the authority of the field commander. On the basis of an ISA recommendation, the reduction of the restricted zones around the two cities was rejected on November 9, but some of the additional individual targets were added to the authorized list. Consistent with these little escalatory measures was McNamara's decision on November 6 to authorize the deployment to Southeast Asia of a squadron of the first six F-i hA aircraft to enter the Air Force active inventory. Like so many other decisions with respect to this ill-fated aircraft, this one would come to an unhappy end too. One of the specific objectives of the Chairman's proposal for constricting the prohibited areas had been to attempt the isolation of Haiphong on the ground, thereby effectively cutting off seaborne imports from their destinations in the rest of North Vietnam and to the war in the South. An independent CIA analysis of the air war at about this same time, however, had stated:
Even a more intense interdiction campaign in the North would fail to reduce the flow of supplies sufficiently to restrict military operations. Prospects are dim that an air interdiction campaign against LOC's leading out of Haiphong alone could cut off the flow of seaborne imports and isolate Haiphong.
In late November the Chiefs sent the Secretary still another and far more detailed memo describing their plans for the conduct of all aspect of the war for the ensuing four months. In it they spelled out requests for expanding the air war against 24 new targets. They desired authorization once again to mine the harbors of Haiphong, Hon Gai, and Cam Pha noting that bad weather in the coming months would force curtailment of much normal strike activity in the Red River delta. The harbor mining was offered as the most effective means of shutting off supplies to the North. The CIA analysis previously referred to had, however, also rejected such mining proposals as unlikely to succeed in their objective of cutting off imports to support the war, although they would raise the costs of the DRV.
Political considerations aside, the combined interdiction of land and water routes, including the mining of the water approaches to the major ports and the bombing of ports and transshipment facilities, would be the most effective type of interdiction campaign. This program would increase the hardships imposed on North Vietnam and raise further the costs of the support of the war in the South. It would, however, not be able to cut off the flow of essential supplies and, by itself, would not be the determining factor in shaping Hanoi's outlook toward the war.
In addition to mining the harbors, the Chiefs requested that the comprehensive prohibition of attacks in the Hanoi/Haiphong areas be removed with the expected increase in civilian casualties to be accepted as militarily justified and necessary. They suggested as an alternative a 3 n.m. "restricted" area for the very center of Hanoi and a similar zone of 1.5 n.m. for Haiphong. They also requested the expansion of SEADRAGON naval activity north of 21 o3Ø0 all the way to the Chinese border, and authorization of all the remaining targets on the JCS ROLLING THUNDER list. In spite of all these requests for expansion of the war (as well as several others for expanding the ground war in South Vietnam and operations in Laos and Cambodia), the Chiefs avoided the kind of vaunted claims for success from such new steps that had characterized past recommendations. This time they cautiously noted, ". . . there are no new programs which can be undertaken under current policy guidelines which would result in a rapid or significantly more visible increase in the rate of progress in the near term."
The Chiefs 24-target proposal was considered at the Tuesday lunch on December 5, but no action was taken. A memo from Warnke to McNamara gives a clue as to why, "I have been informed that Secretary Rusk will not be prepared to consider the individual merits of the 24 unauthorized targets proposed and discussed in the JCS Four Months Plan." On December 16, McNamara and Rusk did reach agreement on ten new targets from the 24 target list including seven within the 10-mile Hanoi radius and two within the 4-mile Haiphong perimeter. Disapproved were five Haiphong port targets and the mining proposal.
None of the increased war activity over North Vietnam which these decisions authorized, however, would be able to prevent the enemy's massive offensive the following January. The fact that the President had acceded to the wishes of the military and the political pressures from Congress on this vital issue at this point when all the evidence available to McNamara suggested the continuing ineffectiveness of the bombing must have been an important if not determining factor in the Secretary's decision in November to retire. For the moment, however, the escalation continued.
As always, the President moved cautiously in allowing some military expansion of the air war in the fall of 1967. By the end of October, 6 of the 7 MIG-capable airfields which Secretary McNamara had taken a strong stand against in the Stennis hearings had been hit, and only 5 of the August list of 57 recommended targets (which had meanwhile grown to 70 as new recommendations were made) remained unstruck. Thus, except for the port of Haiphong and a few others, virtually all of the economic and military targets in NVN that could be considered even remotely significant had been hit. Except for simply keeping it up, almost everything bombing could do to pressure NVN had been done.
In early December Defense spokesmen announced that the U.S. bombing in North and South Vietnam together had just topped the total of 1,544,463 tons dropped by U.S. forces in the entire European Theater during World War II. Of the 1,630,500 tons dropped, some 864,000 tons were dropped on NVN, already more than the 635,000 tons dropped during the Korean War or the 503,000 tons dropped in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
d. The Decibel Level Goes Up
The purely military problems of the war aside, the President was also experiencing great difficulty in maintaining public support for this conduct of the war in the fall of 1967.
With the apparent failure of the San Antonio formula to start negotiations,
the acrimony and shrillness of the public debate over the war reached new levels.
The 'hawks" had had their day during the Stennis hearings and the slow
squeeze escalation that followed the failure of the Paris contacts. Among the
"doves" the new escalation was greeted by new and more forceful outcries
from the critics of the war. On October 12, the very day that Rusk was castigating
the North Viet
namese in his press conference for their stubborness, thirty dovish Congressmen sent the President an open letter complaining about the inconsistency of the recent bombing targets and Secretary McNamara's testimony during the Stennis hearings:
The bombing of targets close to the Chinese border, and of the port cities of Cam Pha and Haiphong conflicts with the carefully reasoned and factual analysis presented prior to those steps by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara on August 25, 1967. We refer particularly to the Secretary's contention that "our resort to a less selective campaign of air attack against the North would involve risks which at present I regard as too high to accept for this dubious prospect of successful risks."
On the basis of McNamara's recommendations, the Congressmen urged the President to stop the bombing and start negotiations.
While this public identification of the inconsistency of the positions taken by various members of the Administration was embarrassing, a more serious problem was the massive anti-war demonstration organized in Washington on October 21. The leaders of the "New Left" assembled some 50,000 anti-war protestors in the Capitol on this October Saturday and staged a massive march on the Pentagon. While the "politics of confrontation" may be distaseful to the majority of Americans, the right of thousands of peaceful demonstrators being confronted by troops in battle gear cannot have been reassuring to the country as a whole nor to the President in particular. And as if to add insult to injury, an impudent and dovish Senator McCarthy announced in November that he would be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President. He stated his intention of running in all the primaries and of taking the Vietnam war to the American people in a direct challenge to an incumbent President and the leader of his own party.
To counter these assaults on his war policy from the left, the President dramatically called home Ambassador Bunker and General Westmoreland (the latter to discuss troop levels and requests as well) in November and sent them out to publicly defend the conduct of the war and the progress that had been achieved. Bunker spoke to the Overseas Press Club in New York on November 17 and stressed the progress that the South Vietnamese were making in their efforts to achieve democratic self-government and to assume a larger burden of the war. General Westmoreland addressed the National Press Club in Washington on November 21 and outlined his own four-phase plan for the defeat of the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese sponsors. He too dwelled on the progress achieved to date and the increasing effectiveness of the South Vietnamese forces. Neither discussed the air war in the North in any serious way, however, and that was the issue that was clearly troubling the American public the most.
3. New Studies
In the early winter of 1967-68 several new studies of the bombing were completed within the Government and by contract researchers all of which had some bearing on the deliberations of February and March 1968 when the next major reassessment took place. The first of these was entitled SEACABIN, short for "Study of the Political-Military Implications in Southeast Asia of the Cessation of Aerial Bombardment and the Initiation of Negotiations." It was a study done by the Joint Staff and ISA to specifically address the question of what could be expected from a cessation of the bombing and the beginning of negotiations, a possibility that seemed imminent at the time of the President's San Antonio speech in September. As it turned out, the time was not ripe. The study, however, was an important effort by the Defense Department to anticipate such a contingency.
Summarizing its findings and conclusions, the SEACABIN report began with a general assessment of the role of the bombing in the war:
Role of Bombardment. There are major difficulties and uncertainties in a precise assessment of the bombing program on NYN. These include inadequate data on logistic flow patterns, limited information on imports into NVN, season effects of weather, and the limitations of reconnaissance. But it is clear that the air and naval campaigns against NVN are making it difficult and costly for the DRV to continue effective support of the VC. Our operations have inflicted heavy damage on equipment and facilities, inhibited resupply, compounded distribution problems, and limited the DRV's capability to undertake sustained large-scale military operations in SVN. The economic situation in NVN is becoming increasingly difficult for the enemy. However, as a result of extensive diversion of manpower and receipt of large-scale military and economic assistance from communist countries, the DRY has retained the capability to support military operations in SVN at current levels. A cessation of the bombing program would make it possible for the DRY to regenerate its military and economic posture and substantially increase the flow of personnel and supplies from NVN to SVN.
Implication of a bombing halt were dealt with in terms of advantages to the DRV and risks to the U.S. In the former category, the SEACABIN Study Group concluded as follows:
D. IMPLICATIONS OF A CESSATION OF BOMBARDMENT
6. For DRV: Potential Gains
a. Potential DRV Responses. Following a cessation of bombardment in return for its acceptance of the President's offer, the DRV could choose among one of three potential alternative courses of action: (1) to pursue an immediate-pay-off, short-term strategy of advantage; (2) to enter discussions with no intention of settling, while pursuing either its present strategy, or a revised political/military strategy of gaining a long-term advantage in SVN; and (3) to negotiate meaningfully within the United States. Under all courses, the immediate action of the DRV would be to reconstitute its LOC, stockpile near its borders, and begin general repairs of its war damage.
b. DRV Reaction Time and US Detection of Changes
(1) Under conditions of bombing, NVN units and infiltration groups have taken from only a few days up to eight months to infiltrate to a CTZ. US detection and identification may take up to six months, or longer, and confirmation even longer. Following cessation, infiltration rates would be brought closer to minimum time.
(2) Given its present capability to expand its training base by almost 100%, the DRV could achieve a significant increase in present pipeline level of infiltration in about 3 months following decision to expand its training base.
(3) The DRV could regenerate major segments of its economic infrastructure in 6 months, its LOC in NVN in 30-60 days, its logistic system in 12 months. Port congestion would be alleviated. Materiel transit time would be significantly reduced.
c. Capabilities Over Time
--reinforce NVA forces at DMZ with up to 5 division equivalents. Allied/enemy battalion ratios in I CTZ could shift from 1.7/1 to 0.9/1
--increase artillery bombardment from beyond DMZ, and reinforce AAA and SAM units.
--Restore to operational use major ports and LOC within NYN, to include RR, highway, and combination RR/'highway bridges; airfields; and over half of the vehicle repair facilities.
--Accomplish a restructuring (depots, shelters, alternate routes) of the logistic system within NVN to increase the flexibility of the LOC in Laos.
--Achieve undetected a new position of military advantage in SVN, through increased infiltration, with at least two divisions in place in SVN, and three others in transit.
--Transfer to military service, from NVN LOC maintenance and construction, managerial and supervisory personnel to alleviate the apparent shortage of leaders.
d. DRV Constraints. These considerations probably would continue to constrain DRV's choices among options at cessation:
(1) Strategy of protracted war. The DRV would probably continue to put at risk in SVN only those minimum forces it considers necessary to prosecute its strategy of protracted war.
(2) Fear of US invasion.
(3) Desire to preserve appearance of VC primacy in SVN.
(4) Limitations on ability to transfer trained personnel and leadership to SVN because of possibility of US resumption of attacks on NVN.
(5) DRV may be miscalculating the progress of the war in SVN.
Obviously these potential advantages to the DRY involved reciprocal risk for the U.S. in curtailing the bombing. As the SEACABIN group saw them they were the following:
7. For US: Potential Risk
a. To Operations in SVN. The most far-reaching risk is an increase in enemy combat strength that may well go undetected by the US/RVN/ FWMAF. Additionally, the US position could be disadvantaged by:
(1) Movements of heavy artillery and AAA.
(2) Loss of US supporting fire at DMZ.
(3) Increased threat from DMZ and border area.
(4) Impairment of pacification program.
(5) Lowering of morale of US/RVN/FWMAF.
(6) Resulting pressures to cease bombing in Laos.
(7) Vulnerability of barrier system.
b. Possible Offset: Present bombardment forces could be reallocated to SVN and Laos missions.
c. Critical Times to Offset Risks. US should enter cessation resolved to limit the time for DRV response generally as follows:
--Discussions should begin within 30-60 days of cessation.
--Discussions should be productive within four months of cessation; i.e., actions are being taken or are agreed to be taken to reduce the threats posed by the NVN to the achievement of US/GVN military objectives in SVN.
The international reaction to a bombing halt was expected to be entirely positive, hence not a problem for analysis. The study postulated that the DRV would seek to prolong the bombing halt but try to maintain a level of military activity below the provocative that would maintain its strengths in the war while trying to erode the U.S. position through protracted negotiations. In approaching a bombing halt, the U.S. could escalate before it, de-escalate before it, or maintain the current intensity of combat. The latter course was recommended as the best method of demonstrating continued U.S. resolution in anticipation of a dramatic act of restraint. With respect to the negotiations themselves, the SEACABIN Group cautioned against the U.S. being trapped in the kind of protracted negotiations we experienced in Korea while the enemy took military advantage of the bombing suspension. To guard against this, unilateral verification was essential through continued aerial surveillance. To round out their recommendations, the SEACABIN Group looked at the reasons and methods of resuming bombing if required.
H. THE RESUMPTION OF BOMBARDMENT
18. Resumption-When. The conditions under which the bombardment of NVN should be resumed cannot be determined in advance with assurrance. However, the US/RVN should probably resume bombardment whenever one or more of the following situations are perceived:
a. The security of US/RVN/FWMAF in northern I CTZ is threatened by enemy reinforcements.
b. No discussions are in prospect 30-60 days after cessation.
c. Discussions or negotiations are not productive of militarily significant DRV/NLF concessions within four months.
d. The DRV has infiltrated significant new forces into SVN-the raising of the NVA force level in SVN by a division equivalent or more (over 10%) is judged to be sufficient provocation.
e. An enemy attack of battalion size or larger is initiated while a cease-fire is in effect.
19. Resumption-How. Actual resumption of bombardment of NVN should be preceded by a program of actions which:
a. Demonstrate (to those who are able to make an objective judgment) that the DRV is taking advantage of the cessation in a way which is exposing US/RVN/FWMAF and the people of SVN to substantially increased dangers.
b. To the maximum practicable extent, demonstrate or encourage the conclusion that the DRV is, in fact, the aggressor in SVN.
c. After the maximum political advantage has been derived from the above actions and in the absence of an acceptable response from NVN,
resume aerial and naval bombardment of NVN without restrictions on any militarily significant targets. Attacks should be planned to achieve maximum impact and with due regard to the advantages of surprise.
The ISA/Joint Staff analysis closed with an appraisal of the overall value of a bombing halt in the context of negotiations with the DRy. Summing up, they said,
21. On balance, that DRV response to the US offer which carries with it the greatest risk to the United States militarily is an ambiguous response in which the DRV would appear to engage in productive talks in order to gain time to concurrently regenerate support facilities in NVN and gradually build up personnel strength and support bases in Laos, Cambodia and SVN, without overt and visible provocation. Once discussions were initiated and extended for 2-6 months, the DRV would expect world pressure to exercise a heavy restraint on resumption of bombardment--in fact, to prevent it in the absence of a demonstrable provocation of considerable consequence.
22. US intelligence evaluations of the impact of bombardment on NVN are sufficiently uncertain as to cast doubt on any judgment that aerial and naval bombardment is or is not establishing some upper limit on the DRV's ability to support the war in SVN. The effect on NVN itself is equally uncertain. If NVN is being seriously hurt by bombardment, the price for cessation should be high. However, if NVN can continue indefinitely to accommodate to bombardment, negotiation leverage from cessation--or a credible threat of resumption--is likely to be substantially less. A penalty to the United States of underevaluating the impact of bombardment of NVN would be an unnecessarily weak negotiating stance.
In their final paragraphs, the Study Group turned to the question of DRV good faith. The President's statement that bombing could halt and negotiations begin if we had assurances that the DRV would "not take advantage" of our restraint obliged us to look at which we would regard as a violation of that principle.
27. It has not been possible to detect and measure increased infiltration into SVN until 4-6 months have elapsed. If discussions following a cessation of bombardment are protracted, the enemy could take advantage of the opportunity for increased infiltration with confidence that detection would be so slow and uncertain that insufficient provocation could be demonstrated to justify termination of talks or resumption of bombardment. The following are minimum acceptable actions which operationally define "not take advantage."
a. Stop artillery fire from and over the DMZ into SVN prior to or immediately upon cessation.
b. Agree that for the DRV to increase over the current level the flow of personnel and materiel south of 19° N latitude would be to take advantage of cessation and that it will refrain from doing so.
c. Accept "open skies" over NVN upon cessation.
d. Withdraw from the DMZ within a specified time, say two weeks, after cessation.
28. Cessation of bombing of NVN for any protracted period while continuing the war in SVN would be difficult to reconcile with any increase in US casualties.
29. If the DRV/NLF act in good faith, formal negotiations toward a cessation of hostilities should begin within two months after a cessation of bombardment. Preliminary discussions lasting any longer than two months will require a resumption of bombardment or the application of other pressures as appropriate.
As a document, the SEACABIN study was important because it represented a first major effort to pull together a positive DOD position on the question of a bombing halt. The analysis and recommendations were compromises to be sure, but they were formulations that gave the Administration room for maneuver in approaching the problem of negotiations. Probably most importantly they established a basis of cooperation and collaboration between the Joint Staff and ISA on this issue that would be useful during the crisis of the following March when a new direction was being sought for the whole U.S. effort in Vietnam.
In mid-December, the Chiefs themselves sent the Secretary a memo noting that the SEACABIN study was the product of staff work and did not necessarily reflect the views of the JCS. The Chiefs stressed again their belief in the effectiveness of the bombing in punishing North Vietnamese aggression, and recorded their opposition to a halt in the bombing as a means of starting negotiations. North Vietnamese performance on the battlefield and diplomatically clearly indicated their unwillingness to enter negotiations except as a means of handicapping American power. Such a bombing halt would also endanger the lives of U.S. troops. Thus, while the study had been a useful exercise, the Secretary was advised against any endorsement of a cessation of bombing.
b. The JASON Study
While DOD was internally examining bombing suspension scenarios, IDA's JASON division had called together many of the people who had participated in the 1966 Summer Study for another look at the effectiveness of the bombing and at various alternatives that might get better results. Their report was submitted in mid-December 1967 and was probably the most categorical rejection of bombing as a tool of our policy in Southeast Asia to be made before or since by an official or semi-official group. The study was done for McNamara and closely held after completion. It was completed after his decision to leave the Pentagon, but it was a powerful confirmation of the positions on the bombing that he had taken in the internal councils of the government over the preceding year.
The study evaluated the bombing in terms of its achievement of the objectives that Secretary McNamara had defined for it:
Secretary McNamara on August 25, 1967 restated the objectives of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam. These objectives are:
1. To reduce the flow and/or to increase the cost of the continued infiltration of men and supplies from North to South Vietnam.
2. To raise the morale of the South Vietnamese people who, at the time the bombing started, were under severe military pressure.
3. To make clear to the North Vietnamese political leadership that so long as they continued their aggression against the South, they would have to pay a price in the North.
Taking up the first of these stated objectives, the JASON study reached an emphatically negative conclusion about the results from ROLLING THUNDER:
As of October 1967, the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam has had no measurable effect on Hanoi's ability to mount and support military operations in the South. North Vietnam supports operations in the South mainly by functioning as a logistic funnel and providing a source of manpower, from an economy in which manpower has been widely under-utilized. Most of the essential military supplies that the VC/NVA forces in the South require from external sources are provided by the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Communist China. Furthermore, the volume of such supplies is so low that only a small fraction of the capacity of North Vietnam's flexible transportation network is required to maintain that flow.
In the face of Rolling Thunder strikes on NVN, the bombing of infiltration routes in Laos, the U.S. naval operations along the Vietnamese coast, and the tactical bombing of South Vietnam, North Vietnam infiltrated over 86,000 men in 1966. At the same time, it has also built up the strength of its armed forces at home, and acquired sufficient confidence in its supply and logistic organization to equip VC/NVA forces in South Vietnam with a modern family of imported 7.62mm weapons which require externally supplied ammunition. Moreover, NVN has the potential to continue building the size of its armed forces, to increase the yearly total of infiltration of individual soldiers and combat units, and to equip and supply even larger forces in South Vietnam for substantially higher rates of combat than those which currently prevail.
Since the beginning of the Rolling Thunder air strikes on NVN, the flow of men and materiel from NVN to SVN has greatly increased, and present evidence provides no basis for concluding that the damage inflicted on North Vietnam by the bombing program has had any significant effect on this flow. In short, the flow of men and materiel from North Vietnam to the South appears to reflect Hanoi's intentions rather than capabilities even in the face of the bombing.
NVN's ability to increase the rate of infiltration of men and materiel into SVN is not currently limited by its supply of military manpower, by its LOC capabilities, by the availability of transport carriers, or by its access to materiels and supplies. The VC/NVA are effectively limited by constraints of the situation in the South--including the capacity of the VC infrastructure and distribution system to support additional materiel and troops--but even given these constraints could support a larger force in the South. The inference which we have drawn from these findings is that NVN determines and achieves the approximate force levels that they believe are needed to sustain a war of attrition for an extended period of time.
Despite heavy attacks on NVN's logistic system, manufacturing capabilities, and supply stores, its ability to sustain the war in the South has increased rather than decreased during the Rolling Thunder strikes. It has become increasingly less vulnerable to aerial interdiction aimed at reducing the flow of men and materiel from the North to the South because it has made its transportation system more redundant, reduced the size and increased the number of depots and eliminated choke points.
These conclusions were supported copiously in a separate volume of the study devoted specifically to such analysis. The second objective of the bombing, to raise South Vietnamese morale, had been substantially achieved. There had been an appreciable improvement in South Vietnamese morale immediately after the bombing began and subsequent buoyancy always accompanied major new escalations of the air war. But the effect was always transient, fading as a particular pattern of attack became a part of the routine of the war. There was no indication that bombing could ever constitute a permanent support for South Vietnamese morale if the situation in the South itself was adverse.
The third function of the bombing, as described by McNamara, was psychological--to win the test of wills with Hanoi by showing U.S. determination and intimidating DRV leaders about the future. The failure of the bombing in this area, according to the JASON study, had been as signal as in purely military terms.
The bombing campaign against NVN has not discernibly weakened the determination of the North Vietnamese leaders to continue to direct and support the insurgency in the South. Shortages of food and clothing, travel restrictions, separations of families, lack of adequate medical and educational facilities, and heavy work loads have tended to affect adversely civilian morale. However, there are few if any reliable reports on a breakdown of the commitment of the people to support the war. Unlike the situation in the South, there are no reports of marked increases of absenteeism, draft dodging, black market operations or prostitution. There is no evidence that possible war weariness among the people has shaken the leadership's belief that they can continue to endure the bombing and outlast the U.S. and SVN in a protracted war of attrition.
Long term plans for the economic development have not been abandoned but only set aside for the duration of the war. The regime continues to send thousands of young men and women abroad for higher education and technical training; we consider this evidence of the regime's confidence of the eventual outcome of the war.
The expectation that bombing would erode the determination of Hanoi and its people clearly overestimated the persuasive and disruptive effects of the bombing and, correspondingly, underestimated the tenacity and recuperative capabilities of the North Vietnamese. That the bombing has not achieved anticipated goals reflects 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 repairs 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 but the potential effectiveness of these countermeasures has not been adequately considered in previous planning or assessment studies.
The JASON study took a detailed look at alternative means of applying our air power in an effort to determine if some other combination of targets and tactics would achieve better results. Nine different strategies were examined including mining the ports, attacking the dikes and various combinations of attack emphasis on the LOC systems. This was the emphatic conclusion. "We are unable to devise a bombing campaign in the North to reduce the flow of infiltrating personnel into SVN." All that could really be said was that some more optimum employment of U.S. air resources could be devised in terms of target damage and LOC disruption. None could reduce the flow even close to the essential minimum for sustaining the war in the South.
After having requested that some portions of the study be reworked to eliminate errors of logic, Mr. Warnke forwarded the final version to Secretary McNamara on January 3, 1968 with the information copies to Secretary Rusk, the Joint Chiefs and CINCPAC. In his memo he noted the similarity of the conclusions on bombing effectiveness to those reached not long before in the study by the CIA (see above). Specifically Mr. Warnke noted that, "Together with SEA CABIN, the study supports the proposition that a bombing pause--even for a significant period of time--would not add appreciably to the strength of our adversary in South Vietnam." Thus was laid the analytical groundwork for the President's decision to partially curtail the bombing in March.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 4, Chapter 1, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Glossary of Acronyms and Terms
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241
Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency
in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
Return to Vinnie's Home Page
Return to Vietnam War Page