The Pentagon Papers
Chapter I, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)
Section 5, pp. 225-276
C. SYSTEMS ANALYSIS STUDY ON ECONOMIC EFFECTS
An unrelated but complementary study of the economic effects of the bombing on North Vietnam was completed by Systems Analysis right after the New Year and sent to the Secretary. It too came down hard on the unproductiveness of the air war, even to the point of suggesting that it might be counter-productive in pure economic terms. Enthoven's cover memo to McNamara stated,
. . . the bombing has not been very successful in imposing economic losses on the North. Losses in domestic production have been more than replaced by imports and the availability of manpower, particularly because of the natural growth in the labor force, has been adequate to meet wartime needs. It is likely that North Vietnam will continue to be able to meet extra manpower and economic requirements caused by the bombing short of attacks on population centers or the cities.
The paper itself examined two aspects of the problem: the impact of the bombing on GNP and on labor supply/utilization. The most telling part of the analysis ras the demonstration that imports had more than offset the cost of the war ) the North in simple GNP terms as the following passage shows:
II. EFFECTS ON NORTH VIETNAM'S GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT
Prior to 1965, the growth rate of the North Vietnamese economy averaged 6% per year. It is estimated that this rate continued (and even increased slightly) during 1965 and 1966, the first two years of the bombing (Table 1). In 1967, however, domestically-produced GNP declined sharply to only
$1,688 million--a level roughly comparable to the prewar years of 1963 and 1964. The cumulative loss in GNP caused by the bombing in the last three years is estimated to be $294 million (Table 2).
To offset these losses, North Vietnam has had an increased flow of foreign economic aid. Prior to the bombing, economic aid to North Vietnam averaged $95 million annually. Since the bombing began, the flow of economic aid has increased to $340 million per year (Table 1). The cumulative increase in economic aid in the 1965-1967 period over the 1953-1964 average has been an estimated $490 million.
Thus, over the entire period of the bombing, the value of economic resources gained through foreign aid has been greater than that lost because of the bombing (Table 3). The cumulative foreign aid increase has been $490 million; losses have totaled $294 million.
In addition to the loss of current production, North Vietnam has lost an estimated $164 million in capital assets destroyed by the bombing. These capital assets include much of North Vietnam's industrial base-its manufacturing plants, power plants, and bridges.
The bombing of North Vietnam has inflicted heavy costs not so much to North Vietnam's military capability or its infiltration system as to the North Vietnamese economy as a whole. Measurable physical damage now exceeds $370 million and the regime has had to divert 300,000 to 600,000 people (many on a part-time basis) from agricultural and other tasks to counter the bombing and cope with its effects. The former cost has been more than met by aid from other Communist countries. The latter cost may not be real, since the extra manpower needs have largely been met from what was a considerable amount of slack in NVN's underemployed agricultural labor force. Manpower resources are apparently still adequate to operate the agricultural economy at a tolerable level and to contine simultaneously to support the war in SVN and maintain forces for the defense of the North at current or increased levels.
Virtually all of the military and economic targets in North Vietnam that can be considered even remotely significant have been struck, except for a few targets in Hanoi and Haiphong. Almost all modern industrial output has been halted and the regime has gone over to decentralized, dispersed, and/or protected modes of producing and handling essential goods, protecting the people, and supporting the war in the South. NVN has shown that it can find alternatives to conventional bridges and they continue to operate trains in the face of air strikes.
NVN has transmitted many of the material costs imposed by the bombing back to its allies. Since the bombing began, NVN's allies have provided almost $600 million in economic aid and another $1 billion in military aid--more than four times what NVN has lost in bombing damage. If economic criteria were the only consideration, NVN would show a substantial net gain from the bombing, primarily in military equipment.
Because of this aid, and the effectiveness of its counter-measures, NVN's economy continues to function. NVN's adjustments to the physical damage, disruption, and other difficulties brought on by the bombing have been sufficiently effective to maintain living standards, meet transportation requirements, and improve its military capabilities. NVN is now a stronger military power than before the bombing and its remaining economy is more able to withstand bombing. The USSR could furnish NVN with much more sophisticated weapon systems; these could further increase the military strength of NVN and lead to larger U.S. losses.
It is not certain that Russia and China will replace North Vietnam's destroyed capital assets through aid programs, thus absorbing part of the bombing cost themselves. However, they could do so in a short period of time at relatively small cost; if economic aid remained at its wartime yearly rate of $340 million and half were used to replace capital stock, North Vietnam's losses could be replaced in a year. If the capital stock is replaced, the economic cost to North Vietnam of the bombing will be the cumulative loss of output from the time the bombing began until the capital stock is fully replaced. Even this probably overstates the cost, however. Even if the pre-bombing capital stock were only replaced, it would be more modern and productive than it otherwise would have been.
While the aggregate supply of goods in North Vietnam has remained constant, standards of living may have declined. The composition of North Vietnam's total supply has shifted away from final consumer goods toward intermediate products related to the war effort, i.e., construction and transportation.
Food supplies, vital to the health and efficiency of North Vietnam, have been maintained with only a slight decline. As shown in Table 4, the estimated North Vietnamese daily intake of calories has fallen from 1,910 in 1963 to 1,880 in 1967. Even considering that imported wheat and potatoes are not traditional table fare in North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese are not badly off by past North Vietnamese standards or the standards of other Asian countries.
The output of industrial and handicraft output declined 35% in 1967 (Table 1). Economic aid has probably not replaced all of this decline. With lower war priority, the supply of non-food consumer goods such as textiles and durables has probably declined more than the food supply.
Despite lower standards of living, the ability of North Vietnamese government to sustain its population at a level high enough to prevent mass dissatisfaction is evident.
The analysis of the manpower question in the Systems Analysis paper revealed that there was as yet no real squeeze for the North Vietnamese because of population growth. In a word, the bombing was unable to beat the birth rate. This is how Systems Analysis assessed the problem:
III. SUPPLY EFFECTS ON TOTAL NORTH VIETNAMESE MANPOWER
In addition to the economic effects, the air war has drawn North Vietnamese labor into bomb damage repair, replacement of combat casualties, construction, transportation, and air defense. Over the last three years, these needs have absorbed almost 750,000 able-bodied North Vietnamese (Table
But, again there are offsetting factors. First, over 90% of the increase in manpower has been provided by population growth (Table 5). Since the start of the bombing, 720,000 able-bodied people have been added to the North Vietnamese labor force.
Second, the bombing has increased not only the demand for labor but also the supply. The destruction of much of North Vietnam's modern industry has released an estimated 33,000 workers from their jobs. Similarly, the evacuation of the cities has made an estimated 48,000 women available for work on roads and bridges in the countryside. Both of these groups of people were available for work on war-related activity with little or no extra sacrifice of production; if they weren't repairing bomb damage, they wouldn't be doing anything productive.
Third, North Vietnam has been supplied with manpower as a form of foreign aid. An estimated 40,000 Chinese are thought to be employed in maintaining North Vietnam's road and rail network.
Finally, additional workers could be obtained in North Vietnam from low productivity employment. In less developed countries, agriculture typically employs more people than are really needed to work the land, even with relatively primitive production methods. Also, further mobilization may be possible through greater use of women in the labor force. The available statistics are not precise enough to identify the magnitude of this potential labor pool, but the estimates given in Table 6 show that even after two years of war the total North Vietnamese labor force is only 54% of its population-scarcely higher than it was in 1965.
In sum, the total incremental need for war-related manpower of roughly 750,000 people appears to have been offset (Table 5) with no particular strain on the population. Future manpower needs may outstrip North Vietnamese population growth, but the North Vietnamese government can import more manpower (though there may be limits to how many Chinese they want to bring into the country), use women and/or underemployed workers, and draw workers from productive employment, replacing their output with imports. Given these options, it appears that the North Vietnamese government is not likely to be hampered by aggregate manpower shortages.
[Tables 1 to 6 missing]
4. The Year Closes on a Note of Optimism
The negative analyses of the air war, however, did not reflect the official view of the Administration, and certainly not the view of the military at any level in the command structure at year's end. The latter had, for instance, again vigorously opposed any holiday truce arrangements, and especially the suspension of the air war against North Vietnam's logistical system. On this they had been duly overruled, the holiday pauses having become the standard SOP to domestic and international war protesters. The 1967 pauses produced, as expected, no major breakthrough towards peace between the belligerents through any of their illusive diplomatic points of contact.
Averell Harriman had stopped in Bucharest in late November to test whether the Romanians had any new information from Hanoi. Despite their intensive effort and even stronger desire to bring the two sides together (primarily through a bombing halt), the Romanians apparently could only reformulate the previously held positions of the Hanoi leadership without any substantive change. Harriman, therefore, patiently explained again the full meaning and intent of the Pr'sident's San Antonio offer and urged its communication to Hanoi.
What was absent of course for both sides was any fundamental reassessment that could move either or both to modify their positions on negotiations. The DRV was at the time in the midst of the massive preparations for the Tet offensive in January while the U.S. remained buoyed by the favorable reports from the field on seeming military progress in the last months of 1967. The missing ingredient for peace moves at that time was motivation on both sides. Each had reason to wait. When, just before Christmas, Pope Paul called on the U.S. to halt the bombing and the DRV to demonstrate restraint as a step towards peace he received a personal visit from President Johnson the following day (on return from a Presidential trip to Australia). The President courteously but firmly explained the U.S. policy to the Pope, "mutual restraint" was necessary before peace talks could begin.
Contributing to the firmness of the U.S. position were the optimistic reports
from the field on military progress in the war. Both statistically and qualitatively,
improvement was noted throughout the last quarter of the year and a mood of cautious hope pervaded the dispatches. Typical of these was Admiral Sharp's year end wrap-up cable. Having primary command responsibility for the air war, CINCPAC devoted a major portion of his message to the ROLLING THUNDER program in 1967, presenting as he did not only his view of accomplishments in the calendar year but also a rebuttal to critics of the concept and conduct of the air war.
Admiral Sharp outlined three objectives which the air campaign was seeking to achieve: disruption of the flow of external assistance into North Vietnam, curtailment of the flow of supplies from North Vietnam into Laos and South Vietnam, and destruction "in depth" of North Vietnamese resources that contributed to the support of the war. Acknowledging that the flow of fraternal communist aid into the North had grown every year of the war, CINCPAC noted the stepped up effort in 1967 to neutralize this assistance by logistically isolating its primary port of entry--Haiphong. The net results, he felt, had been encouraging:
The overall effect of our effort to reduce external assistance has resulted not only in destruction and damage to the transportation systems and goods being transported thereon but has created additional management, distribution and manpower problems. In addition, the attacks have created a bottleneck at Haiphong where inability effectively to move goods inland from the port has resulted in congestion on the docks and a slowdown in offloading ships as they arrive. By October, road and rail interdictions had reduced the transportation clearance capacity at Haiphong to about 2700 short tons per day. An average of 4400 short tons per day had arrived in Haiphong during the year.
The assault against the continuing traffic of men and materiel through North Vietnam toward Laos and South Vietnam, however, had produced only marginal results. Success here was measured in the totals of destroyed transport, not the constriction of the flow of personnel and goods.
Although men and material needed for the level of combat now prevailing in South Vietnam continue to flow despite our attacks on LOCs, we have made it very costly to the enemy in terms of material, manpower, management, and distribution. From 1 January through 15 December 1967, 122,960 attack sorties were flown in Rolling Thunder route packages I through V and in Laos, SEA Dragon offensive operations involved 1,384 ship-days on station and contributed materially in reducing enemy seaborne infiltration in southern NVN and in the vicinity of the DMZ. Attacks against the NVN transport system during the past 12 months resulted in destruction of carriers cargo carried, and personnel casualties. Air attacks throughout North Vietnam and Laos destroyed or damaged 5,261 motor vehicles, 2,475 railroad rolling stock, and 11,425 watercraft from 1 January through 20 December 1967. SEA DRAGON accounted for another 1,473 WBLC destroyed or damaged from 1 January-30 November. There were destroyed rail-lines, bridges, ferries, railroad yards and shops, storage areas, and truck parks. Some 3,685 land targets were struck by Sea Dragon forces, including the destruction or damage of 303 coastal defense and radar sites. Through external assistance, the enemy has been able to replace or rehabilitate many of the items damaged or destroyed, and transport inventories are roughly at the same level they were at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, construction problems have caused interruptions in the flow of men and supplies, caused a great loss of work-hours, and restricted movement particularly during daylight hours.
The admission that transport inventories were the same at year's end as when it began must have been a painful one indeed for CINCPAC in view of the enormous cost of the air campaign against the transport system in money, aircraft, and lives. As a consolation for this signal failure, CINCPAC pointed to the extensive diversion of civilian manpower to war related activities as a result of the bombing.
A primary effect of our efforts to impede movement of the enemy has been to force Hanoi to engage from 500,000 to 600,000 civilians in full-time and part-time war-related activities, in particular for air defense and repair of the LOCs. This diversion of manpower from other pursuits, particularly from the agricultural sector, has caused a drawdown on manpower. The estimated lower food production yields, coupled with an incerase in food imports in 1967 (some six times that of 1966), indicate that agriculture is having great difficulty in adjusting to this hanged composition of the work force. The cost and difficulties of the war to Hanoi have sharply increased, and only through the willingness of other communist countries to provide maximum replacement of goods and material has NVN managed to sustain its war effort.
To these manpower diversions CINCPAC added the cost to North Vietnam in 1967 of the destruction of vital resources--the third of his air war objectives:
C. Destroying vital resources:
Air attacks were authorized and executed by target systems for the first time in 1967, although the attacks were limited to specific targets within each system. A total of 9,740 sorties was flown against targets on the ROLLING THUNDER target list from 1 January-IS December 1967. The campaign against the power system resulted in reduction of power generating capability to approximately 15 percent of original capacity. Successful strikes against the Thai Nguyen iron and steel plant and the Haiphong cement plant resulted in practically total destruction of these two installations. N\TN adjustments to these losses have had to be made by relying on additional imports from China, the USSR or the Eastern European countries. The requirement for additional imports reduces available shipping space for war supporting supplies and adds to the congestion at the ports. Interruptions in raw material supplies and the requirement to turn to less efficient means of power and distribution has degraded overall production.
Economic losses to North Vietnam amounted to more than 130 million dollars in 1967, representing over one-half of the total economic losses since the war began.
This defense of the importance and contribution of the air campaign to the overall effort in Vietnam was seconded by General Westmoreland later in January when he sent his year-end summary of progress to Washington. In discussing the efforts of his men on the ground in the South he described the bombing of the North as "indispensable" in cutting the flow of support and maintaining the morale of his forces. It is worth noting that COMUSMACV's optimistic assessment was dispatched just 4 days before the enemy launched his devastating Tet offensive, proving thereby a formidable capability to marshall men and materiel for massive attacks at times and places of his choosing, the bombing notwithstanding.
Less than a week later, Secretary McNamara appeared before Congress for the presentation of his last annual "posture" statement. These regular January testimonies had become an important forum in which the Secretary reviewed the events of the preceding years, presented the budget for the coming year and outlined the programs for the Defense establishment for the next five years. In all cases he had begun with a broad brush review of the international situation and in recent years devoted a major portion of the review to the Vietnam problem. In his valedictory on February 1, 1968 (just after the beginning of Tet) he offered a far more sober appraisal of the effectiveness of the bombing than the military commanders in the field. In it he drew on much of the analysis provided to him the previous fall by the JASON and SEACABIN studies and his own systems analysts. His estimate of the bombing is perhaps the closest to being realistic ever given by the Administration and was a wise and tempered judgment to offer in the face of the enemy's impressive Tet attacks.
The air campaign against North Vietnam has included attacks on industrial facilities, fixed military targets, and the transportation system.
Attacks against major industrial facilities through 1967 have destroyed or put out of operation a large portion of the rather limited modern industrial base. About 70 percent of the North's electric generating capacity is currently out of operation, and the bulk of its fixed petroleum storage capacity has been destroyed. However, (imported diesel generators are probably producing sufficient electricity for essential services and, by dispersing their petroleum supplies, the North Vietnamese have been able to meet their minimum petroleum needs. Most, if not all, of the industrial output lost has been replaced by imports from the Soviet Union and China.
Military and economic assistance from other Communist countries, chiefly the Soviet Union, has been steadily increasing. In 1965, North-Vietnam received in aid a total of $420 million ($270 million military and $150 million economic); in 1966, $730 million ($455 million military and $275 million economic); and preliminary estimates indicate that total aid for 1967 may have reached $1 billion ($660 million military and $340 million economic). Soviet military aid since 1965 has been concentrated on air defense materiel-SAM's, AAA guns and ammo, radars, and fighter aircraft.
Soviet economic assistance has included trucks, railroad equipment, barges, machinery, petroleum, fertilizer, and food. China has provided help in the construction of light industry, maintenance of the transportation system and improvements in the communications and irrigation systems, plus some 30,000 to 50,000 support troops for use in North Vietnam for repair and AAA defense.
Damage inflicted by our air attacks on fixed military targets has led to the abandonment of barracks and supply and ammunition depots and has caused a dispersal of supplies and equipment. However, North Vietnam's air defense system continues to function effectively despite increased attacks on airfields, SAM sites, and AAA positions. The supply of SAM missiles and antiaircraft ammunition appears adequate, notwithstanding our heavy attacks, and we see no indication of any permanent drop in their expenditure rates.
Our intensified air campaign against the transportation system seriously disrupted normal operations and has increased the cost and difficulties of maintaining traffic flows. Losses of transportation equipment have increased, but inventories have been maintained by imports from Communist countries. The heavy damage inflicted on key railroad and highway bridges in the Hanoi-Haiphong areas during 1967 has been largely offset by the construction of numerous bypasses and the more extensive use of inland waterways.
While our overall loss rate over North Vietnam has been decreasing steadily, from 3.4 aircraft per 1,000 sorties in 1965 to 2.1 in 1966 and to 1.9 in 1967, losses over the Hanoi-Haiphong areas have been relatively high.
The systematic air campaign against fixed economic and military target systems leaves few strategically important targets unstruck. Other than manpower, North Vietnam provides few direct resources to the war effort, which is sustained primarily by the large imports from the Communist countries. The agrarian nature of the economy precludes an economic collapse as a result of the bombing. Moreover while we can make it more costly in time and manpower, it is difficult to conceive of any interdiction campaign that would pinch off the flow of military supplies to the south as long as combat requirements remain at anything like the current low levels.
C. THE CORNER IS TURNED--JANUARY-MARCH 1968
The Johnson Administration began 1968 in a mood of cautious hope about the course of the war. Within a month those hopes had been completely dashed. In late January and early February, the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese supporters launched the massive Tet assault on the cities and towns of South Vietnam and put the Johnson Administration and the American public through a profound political catharsis on the wisdom and purpose of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the soundness of our policies for the conduct of the war. The crisis engendered the most soul-searching debate within the Administration about what course to take next in the whole history of the war. In the emotion laden atmosphere of those dark days, there were cries for large-scale escalation on the one side and for significant retrenchment on the other. In the end an equally difficult decision-to stabilize the effort in the South and de-escalate in the North-was made. One of the inescapable conclusions of the Tet experience that helped to shape that decision was that as an interdiction measure against the infiltration ef men and supplies, the bombing had been a near total failure. Moreover, it had not succeeded in breaking Hanoi's will to continue the fight. The only other major justification for continuing the bombing was its punitive value, and that began to pale in comparison with the potential (newly perceived by many) of its suspension for producing negotiations with the DRV, or failing that a large propaganda windfall for the U.S. negotiating position. The President's dramatic decision at the end of March capped a long month of debate. Adding force to the President's announcement of the partial bombing halt was his own personal decision not to seek re-election.
1. The Crisis Begins
a. Public Diplomacy Gropes on
Following Ambassador Harriman's visit to Bucharest in November 1967 the next move in the dialogue of the deaf between Hanoi and Washington was a slightly new formulation of the North Vietnamese position by Foreign Minister Trinh on December 29. Speaking at a reception at the Mongolian Embassy he stated:
After the United States has ended the bombing and all other acts of war, [North Vietnam] will hold talks with the United States on questions concerned.
By shifting his tense from the "could" of his 28 January 1967 statement to "will," Trinh had moved his position just slightly closer to that of the U.S. This statement was, no doubt, a part of a secret diplomatic dialogue, possibly through the Rumanians, that must have continued into the new year. The State Department readily acknowledged that Trinh's statement was a "new formulation," but quickly pointed out that it had been prefaced by a reaffirmation of the four points and did not deal with the specifics of when, where and how negotiations would take place.
Rusk's efforts to downplay the significance of the Trinh statement notwithstanding, it can be assumed that some U.S. response was sent to Hanoi. Reinforcing this impression is the fact that on January 3 bombing was again completely prohibited within 5 n.m. of both Hanoi and Haiphong for an indefinite period. (Some confusion may arise as to the various constraints that were placed on the bombing near the two major cities at different times and for different radii. "Prohibited" meant that no strikes had been or would be authorized; "restricted" meant that the area was generally off limits but that individual targets, on a case by case basis, might be approved by "highest authority" for a single attack. The 30 n.m. restricted zone around Hanoi and its 10 n.m. counterpart around Haiphong had existed since the beginning of the bombing in 1965. The prohibited zones were established in December 1966. In 1967 they had been 10 n.m. for Hanoi and 4 n.m. for Haiphong.) On January 16 when the White House Luncheon group met they authorized only two targets that McNamara and Rusk had not already agreed to in December and they specifically reaffirmed the prohibition around the two cities.
The following day, the President, in his annual State of the Union address, softened somewhat the U.S. position in what may have been intended as a message to Hanoi. He called for "serious" negotiations rather than the "productive" talks he had asked for in the San Antonio speech. Unfortunately, he also stated that the North Vietnamese "must not take advantage of our restraint as they have in the past." Newsmen mistakenly took this for a hardening of the U.S. position by the President, an error Dean Rusk tried to dispel the following day. But, as on many occasions in the past, if this was intended as a signal to Hanoi it must have been a confusing one. Once again the problem of multiple audiences scrambled the communication. Not surprisingly then, on January 21, Nham Dan, the official North Vietnamese newspaper condemned the San Antonio formula as the "habitual trick" of the President who was attempting to impose "very insolent conditions" on Hanoi. The U.S. had no right to ask reciprocity for a cessation of the bombing since it was the aggressor.
His intent having been misconstrued, the President used the next most convenient
opportunity to convey his message--the confirmation hearings of the Senate Armed
Services Committee on the appointment of his close friend and advisor, Clark
Clifford, to be Secretary of Defense. In the course of his testimony, Clifford
replied to questions by Senator Strom Thurmond about the timing and conditions
the Administration intended for a bombing halt. Here is the essential portion
of that testimony:
Senator Thurmond: This morning you testified about the large quantities of goods that were brought in during the cessation of bombing, and in view of your experience and your knowledge, and the statements you made this morning, I presume that you would not favor cessation of bombing where American lives would be jeopardized?
Mr. Clifford: I would not favor the cessation of bombing under present circumstances. I would express the fervent hope that we could stop the bombing if we had some kind of reciprocal word from North Vietnam that they wanted to sit down and, in good faith, negotiate.
I would say only that as I go into this task, the deepest desire that I have is to bring hostilities in Vietnam to a conclusion under those circumstances that permit us to have a dignified and honorable result that in turn will obtain for the South Vietnamese that goal which we have made such sacrifices to attain.
Senator Thurmond: When you spoke of negotiating, in which case you would be willing to have a cessation of bombing, I presume you would contemplate that they would stop their military activities, too, in return for a cessation of bombing.
Mr. Clifford: No, that is not what I said.
I do not expect them to stop their military activities. I would expect to follow the language of the President when he said that if they would agree to start negotiations promptly and not take advantage of the pause in the bombing.
Senator Thurmond: What do you mean by taking advantage if they continue their military activities?
Mr. Clifford: Their military activity will continue in South Vietnam, I assume, until there is a cease fire agreed upon. I assume that they will continue to transport the normal amount of goods, munitions, and men, to South Vietnam. I assume that we will continue to maintain our forces and support our forces during that period. So what I am suggesting, in the language of the President is, that he would insist that they not take advantage of the suspension of the bombing.
Several days later, the Clifford testimony was confirmed by the State Department as the position of the U.S. Government. This, then, was the final public position taken by the Administration prior to the launching of the Tet offensive by the enemy on January 30. While it amounted to a further softening, it was still considerably short of the unconditional cessation the North Vietnamese were demanding. In the aftermath of the Tet attack, both sides would scale down their demands in the interests of opening a direct dialogue.
b. The Tet Offensive
As planned, the Allies began a 36-hour truce in honor of the Tet holidays on January 29. The order was shortly cancelled, however, because of fierce enemy attacks in the northern provinces. Then, suddenly on January 31, the Viet Cong and NVA forces launched massive assaults on virtually every major city and provincial capital, and most of the military installations in South Vietnam. In Saigon, attackers penetrated the new American Embassy and the Palace grounds before they were driven back. Whole sections of the city were under Viet Cong control temporarily. In Hue an attacking force captured virtually the entire city including the venerable Citadel, seat of the ancient capital of Vietnam and cultural center of the country. Everywhere the fighting was intense and the casualties, civilian as well as military, were staggering. Coming on the heels of optimistic reports from the field commands, this offensive caught official Washington off guard and stunned both the Administration and the American public. The Viet Cong blatantly announced their aim as the overthrow of the Saigon regime. But the Allied forces fought well and the main thrust of the attacks on Saigon, Danang, and elsewhere were blunted with the enemy suffering enormous casualties. Only in Hue did the communists succeed in capturing the city temporarily. There the fighting continued as the most costly of the war for nearly a month before the Viet Cong were finally rooted out of their strongholds.
The lesson of the Tet offensive concerning the bombing should have been unmistakably clear for its proponents and critics alike. Bombing to interdict the flow of men and supplies to the South had been a signal failure. The resources necessary to initiate an offensive of Tet proportions and sustain the casualties and munitions expenditures it entailed had all flowed south in spite of the heavy bombing in North Vietnam, Laos and South Vietnam. It was now clear that bombing alone could not prevent the communists from amassing the materiel, and infiltrating the manpower necessary to conduct massive operations if they chose. Moreover, Tet demonstrated that the will to undergo the required sacrifices and hardships was more than ample.
The initial military reaction in Washington appears to have been addressed to the air war. On February 3, the Chiefs sent the Secretary a memo renewing their earlier proposal for reducing the restricted zone around Hanoi and Haiphong to 3 and 1.5 n.m. respectively, with field authority granted to make strikes as required outside. The memo opened with a reference to the Tet offensive: "Through his buildup at Khe Sanh and actions throughout South Vietnam during the past week, the enemy has shown a major capability for "waging war in the South." In view of the evident ineffectiveness of the bombing in preventing the offensive, the succeeding sentence in the memo, providing the justification for the request, can only appear as a non sequitur: "The air campaign against NVN should be conducted to achieve maximum effect in reducing this enemy capability."
The arguments against such authorization were formulated by ISA. Mr. Warnke observed that:
In addition to the lines of communication that would be opened for attack by shrinking the control areas around Hanoi and Haiphong only a couple of fixed targets not previously authorized would be released for strike. These targets do not appear to have large civilian casualties or other political liabilities associated with them. A description of these targets is attached. (Tab B) The major effects thus would be (1) to open to armed recce attack the primary and secondary LOCs between the present "regular" 10 and 4 mile circles and the proposed 3 and 1-½ mile circles, and, if the Joint Staff interpretation is accepted, (2) to release for strike the previously authorized targets within the "special" 5 mile circles.
Other considerations also argued in favor of deferring action on this proposal for the moment:
I recommend that, if this proposal is accepted, the new circles be treated as containing areas where no strikes are to be made without new individual authorization. In any event, I believe the present restrictions should be continued pending the return of the 3 American PWs who have been designated by Hanoi for release. Our information is that these men will be picked up by 2 American pacifists who are leaving from Vientiane, Laos, for Hanoi on the next available flight. The next scheduled ICC flight to Hanoi is on 9 February.
The issue was probably raised at the White House Luncheon on February 6, but the JCS proposal was not approved. Strikes against targets in Haiphong apparently were authorized, however, since the first such raids in over a month took place on February 10. These, however, were only the most immediate reactions to the trauma of Tet 1968. To be sure, as time went on, the air war would be shoved aside somewhat by considerations of force augmentation in the south-the principal concern after the massive Viet Cong attack. Bombing as an issue would more and more be considered in relation to the possibility of negotiations and the improvement of the U.S. diplomatic position. The failure of the bombing to interdict infiltration and break Hanoi's will meant that it could be militarily justified for the future only as a punitive measure. Nevertheless, many in the Pentagon would continue to advocate its expansion. As events moved forward this punitive value would gradually seem less and less important to the President compared with the potential of a bombing suspension (even partial) for producing serious peace negotiations and/or appeasing public opinion. For the moment, however, the Tet assault appeared only as a massive repudiation of U.S. peace overtures, hardly something to warrant a reduction in our side of the conflict.
On Sunday, February 4, Secretaries Rusk and McNamara appeared jointly on a special one-hour program of "Meet the Press" to answer questions primarily about the Tet offensive. When asked about the meaning of these new attacks for the diplomatic effort and the role of the bombing, Rusk replied as follows:
Mr. Spivak: Secretary Rusk, may I ask you a question?
Secretary Rusk: Yes.
Mr. Spivak: The President the other day asked this question, he said, what would the North Vietnamese be doing if we stopped the bombing and let them alone? Now there is some confusion about what we want them to do. What is it we want them to do today if we stop the bombing?
Secretary Rusk: Well, many, many months ago the President said almost anything as a step toward peace. Now I think it is important to understand the political significance of the events of the last 3 or 4 days in South Vietnam. President Johnson said some weeks ago that we are exploring the difference between the statement of their Foreign Minister about entering into discussions and his own San Antonio formula.
Now we have been in the process of exploring the problems that arise when you put those two statements side by side. Hanoi knows that. They know that these explorations are going on because they were a party to them. Secondly, we have exercised some restraint in our bombing in North Vietnam during this period of exploration, particularly in the immediate vicinity of Hanoi and Haiphong. Again, Hanoi knows this. They also knew that the Tet cease-fire period was coming up.
Mr. Spivak: Have we stopped the bombing there?
Secretary Rusk: No, we have not had a pause in the traditionally accepted sense but we have limited the bombing at certain points in order to make it somewhat easier to carry forward these explorations so that particularly difficult incidents would not interrupt them. We have not gone into a pause as that word is generally understood.
But they've also known that the Tet cease-fire was coming up. And they've known from earlier years that we've been interested in converting something like a Tet cease-fire into a more productive dialogue, into some opportunity to move toward peace.
Now in the face of all these elements they participated in laying on this major offensive. Now I think it would be foolish not to draw a political conclusion from this that they are not seriously interested at the present time in talking about peaceful settlement. Or in exploring the problems connected with the San Antonio formula. I remind those who don't recall that formula that it was that we would stop the bombing when it would lead promptly to productive discussions. And we assumed that they would not take advantage of this cessation of bombing while such discussions were going on.
Now it's hard to imagine a more reasonable proposal by any nation involved in an armed conflict than that. And I think we have to assume that these recent offensives in the south are an answer, are an answer, in addition to their public denunciation of the San Antonio formula.
Mr. Abel: Are you saying, Mr. Secretary, that we interpret this offensive as their rejection of the diplomatic overtures that have been made?
Secretary Rusk: Well, they have rejected the San Antonio formula publicly, simply on the political level. And I think it would be foolish for us not to take into account what they're doing on the ground when we try to analyze what their political position is. You remember the old saying that what you do speaks so loud I can't hear what you say. Now we can't be indifferent to these actions on the ground and think that these have no consequences from a political point of view. So they know where we live. Everything that we've said, our 14 points, 28 proposals to which we've said yes and to which they've said no, the San Antonio formula, all these things remain there on the table for anyone who is interested in moving toward peace. They're all there. But they know where we live and we'd be glad to hear from them sometime at their convenience when they decide that they want to move toward peace.
Mr. Abel: I'm assuming, sir, that the San Antonio formula stands as our longer term position here.
Secretary Rusk: That is correct.
These views of the Secretary of State were reinforced on February 8 when the North Vietnamese, obviously in the flush of their psychological victory, again broadcast a repudiation of the San Antonio formula. Meanwhile, they had been engaged in secret contacts with the U.S. through the Italian Foreign Office in Rome. On February 14, the Italians disclosed that two representatives from Hanoi had visited Rome on February 4 to meet Foreign Minister Fanfani "for talks about the Vietnam conflict and about possible hypotheses of a start of negotiations to settle it." Washington was fully informed, yet Rusk announced on the same day that all U.S. attempts to launch peace talks "have resulted in rejection" by Hanoi and that there was no indication she would restrain herself in exchange for a bombing halt. To this the President, at an unscheduled news conference two days later, added that Hanoi was no more ready to negotiate at that time than it had been three years previously. These reciprocating recriminations in the two capitals were the logical outcome of such dramatic events as the Tet offensive. They would, however, soon give way to cooler evaluations of the situation, presumably on both sides.
The primary focus of the U.S. reaction to the Tet offensive was not diplomatic, however. It was another reexamination of force requirements for avoiding defeat or disaster in the South. On February 9, McNamara asked the Chiefs to provide him with their views on what forces General Westmoreland would require for emergency augmentation and where they should come from. The Chiefs replied on February 12 to the startling effect that while the needs in South Vietnam were pressing, indeed perhaps urgent, any further reduction in the strategic reserve in the U.S. would seriously compromise the U.S. force posture worldwide and could not be afforded. They reluctantly recommended deferring the requests of General Westmoreland for an emergency augmentation. Rather, they proposed a callup of reserves to meet both the requirements of Vietnam augmentation in the intermediate future and to bring drawn-down forces in the strategic reserve up to strength. The tactic the Chiefs were using was clear: by refusing to scrape the bottom of the barrel any further for Vietnam they hoped to force the President to "bite the bullet" on the callup of the reserves--a step they had long thought essential, and that they were determined would not now be avoided. Their views notwithstanding, the Secretary the next day ordered an emergency force of 10,500 to Vietnam immediately to reconstitute COMUSMACV's strategic reserve and put out the fire.
With the decision to dispatch, among others, the remainder of the 82d Airborne Division as emergency augmentation and its public announcement, the policy process slowed down appreciably for the following ten days. The troops were loaded aboard the aircraft for the flight to Vietnam on February 14 and the President flew to Ft. Bragg to personally say farewell to them. The experience proved for him to be one of the most profoundly moving and troubling of the entire Vietnam war. The men, many of whom had only recently returned from Vietnam, were grim. They were not young men going off to adventure but seasoned veterans returning to an ugly conflict from which they knew some would not return. The film clips of the President shaking hands with the solemn but determined paratroopers on the ramps of their aircraft revealed a deeply troubled leader. He was confronting the men he was asking to make the sacrifice and they displayed no enthusiasm. It may well be that the dramatic decisions of the succeeding month and a half that reversed the direction of American policy in the war had their genesis in those troubled handshakes.
1. The "A to Z" Review
a. The Reassessment Begins
For roughly ten days, things were quiet in Washington. In Vietnam, the battle for the recapture of the Citadel in Hue raged on until the 24th of February before the last North Vietnamese defenders were overrun. As conditions in South Vietnam sorted themselves out and some semblance of normality returned to the command organizations, MACV began a comprehensive reassessment of his requirements. Aware that this review was going on and that it would result in requests for further troop augmentation, the President sent General Wheeler, the Chairman of the JCS to Saigon on February 23 to consult with General Westmoreland and report back on the new situation and its implication for further forces. Wheeler returned from Vietnam on the 25th and filed his report on the 27th. The substance of his and General Westmoreland's recommendations had preceded him to Washington, however, and greatly troubled the President. The military were requesting a major reinforcement of more than 3 divisions and supporting forces totalling in excess of 200,000 men, and were asking for a callup of some 280,000 reservists to fill these requirements and flesh out the strategic reserve and training base at home. The issue was thus squarely joined. To accept the military recommendations would entail not only a full-scale callup of reserves, but also putting the country economically on a semi-war footing, all at a time of great domestic dissent, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment about both the purposes and the conduct of the war.The President was understandably reluctant to take such action, the more so in an election year.
The assessments of North Vietnamese intention, moreover, were not reassuring. The CIA, evaluating a captured document, circulated a report on the same day as General Wheeler's report that stated:
Hanoi's confident assessment of the strength of its position clearly is central to its strategic thinking. Just as it provided the rationale for the Communists' "winter-spring campaign," it probably will also govern the North Vietnamese response to the present tactical situation. If Hanoi believes it is operating from a position of strength, as this analysis suggests, it can be expected to press its military offensive--even at the cost of serious setbacks. Given their view of the strategic balance, it seems doubtful that the Communists would be inclined to settle for limited military gains intended merely to improve their bargaining position in negotiations.
The alternatives for the President, therefore, did not seem very attractive. With such a major decision to make he asked his incoming Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford, to convene a senior group of advisors from State, Defense, CIA, and the White House and to conduct a complete review of our involvement, reevaluating both the range of aims and the spectrum of means to achieve them. The review was soon tagged the "A to Z Policy Review" or the "Clifford Group Review."
b. The Clifford Group
The first meeting of the Clifford Group was convened in the Secretary's office at the Pentagon on Wednesday, February 28. Present were McNamara, General Taylor, Nitze, Fowler, Katzenbach, Walt Rostow, Helms, Warnke, and Phil Habib from Bundy's office. In the meeting, Clifford outlined the task as he had received it from the President and a general discussion ensued from which assignments were made on the preparation of studies and papers. The focus of the entire effort was the deployment requests from MACV. The general subjects assigned were recapitulated the following day by Bundy:
OUTLINE FOR SUBJECTS AND DIVISION OF LABOR ON VIET NAM STAFF STUDY
Subjects to be Considered
1. What alternative courses of action are available to the US?
Assignment: Defense-General Taylor-State- (Secretary)
2. What alternative courses are open to the enemy?
Assignment: Defense and CIA
3. Analysis of implications of Westmoreland's request for additional troops.
Series of papers on the following.
(Political implications in their broadest domestic and international
sense to include internal Vietnamese problem).
Implications for public opinion-domestic and international-State.
4. Negotiation Alternatives
The papers were to be considered at a meeting to be held at Defense on Saturday, March 2 at 10:00 A.M. In fact, the meeting was later deferred until Sunday afternoon and the whole effort of the Task Force shifted to the drafting of a single Memorandum for the President with a recommended course of action and supporting papers. The work became so intensive that it was carried out in teams within ISA, one operating as a drafting committee and another (Mr. Warnke--ASD/ISA, Dr. Enthoven--ASD/SA, Dr. Halperin--DASD/ISA/PP, Mr. Steadman--DASD/EA & PR) as a kind of policy review board. Of the work done outside the Pentagon only the paper on negotiations prepared by Bundy at State and General Taylor's paper went to the White House. The other materials contributed by the CIA and State were fed into the deliberative process going on at the Pentagon but did not figure directly in the final memo. It would be misleading, however, not to note that the drafting group working within ISA included staff members from both the State Department and the White House, so that the final memo did represent an interagency effort. Nevertheless, the dominant voice in the consideration of alternatives as the working group progressed through three different drafts before the Sunday meeting was that of OSD. To provide some sense of the ideas being debated with respect to the air war and negotiations, relevant sections of a number of papers written during those frantic days of late February-early March are included below even though most of them never reached the President.
The CIA, responding to the requirements of the Clifford Group for an assessment of the current communist position and the alternatives open to them, sent several memos to the drafting committee before the Sunday meeting. On February 29, they argued that the VC/NVA could be expected to continue the harassment of the urban areas for the next several months in the hope of exacting a sufficient price from the U.S. and the GVN to force us to settle the war on their terms. But, no serious negotiation initiative was anticipated until the conclusion of the military phase:
4. Political Options. Until the military campaign has run its course and the results are fairly clear, it is unlikely that Hanoi will be seriously disposed to consider negotiations with the U.S. A negotiating ploy is possible, however, at almost any point in the present military campaign. It would be intentionally designed to be difficult for the US to reject. The purpose, however, would not be a serious intent to settle the war, but rather to cause new anxieties in Saigon, which might cause a crisis and lead to the collapse of the Thieu-Ky government.
5. As of now Hanoi probably foresees two alternative sets of circumstances in which a serious move to negotiatve a settlement might be entertained:
a. Obviously, if the military campaign is producing significant successes and the GVN is in serious disarray at some point Hanoi would probably give the US the opportunity to end the war. This might take the form of offering a general cease-fire followed by negotiations on terms which would amount to registering a complete Communist political success.
b. If, on the other hand, the military campaign does not go well and the results are inconclusive, then Hanoi would probably change its military strategy to continue the struggle on a reduced level.
To this assessment was added a somewhat more detailed estimate the following day addressed to several specific questions. Expanding on their memo of the previous day in response to a question about whether the North Vietnamese had abandoned the "protracted conflict" concept, the Agency concluded:
In our view the intensity of the Tet offensive and the exertions being made to sustain pressures confirms that Hanoi is now engaged in a major effort to achieve early and decisive results. Yet the Communists probably have no rigid timetable. They apparently have high hopes of achieving their objectives this year, but they will preserve considerable tactical flexibility.
Again in more detail, they responded to a question about negotiations, a bombing suspension and terms of settlement:
What is the Communist attitude toward negotiations: in particular how would Hanoi deal with an unconditional cessation of US bombing of NVN and what would be its terms for a settlement?
8. The Communists probably still expect the war to end eventually in some form of negotiations. Since they hope the present military effort will be decisive in destroying the GVN and ARVN, they are not likely to give any serious consideration to negotiations until this campaign has progressed far enough for its results to be fairly clear.
9. If, however, the US ceased the bombing of North Vietnam in the near future, Hanoi would probably respond more or less as indicated in its most recent statements. It would begin talks fairly soon, would accept a fairly wide ranging exploration of issues, but would not moderate its terms for a final settlement or stop fighting in the South.
10. In any talks Communist terms would involve the establishment of a new "coalition" government, which would in fact if not in appearance be under the domination of the Communists. Secondly, they would insist on a guaranteed withdrawal of US forces within some precisely defined period. Their attitude toward other issues would be dictated by the degree of progress in achieving these two primary objectives, and the military-political situation then obtaining in South Vietnam.
11. Cessation of bombing and opening of negotiations without significant Communist concessions would be deeply disturbing to the Saigon government. There would be a real risk that the Thieu-Ky regime would collapse, and this would in fact be part of Hanoi's calculation in accepting negotiations.
On March 2, the CIA made one additional input to the deliberations, this time on the question of Soviet and Chinese aid to North Vietnam. The intelligence offered was based on the report of a high-level defector and concluded with a disturbing estimate of how the Soviets would react to the closing of Haiphong harbor. In summary this is what the CIA expected in the way of international communist aid to Hanoi:
International Communist Aid to North Vietnam
The USSR continues to provide the overwhelming share of the increasing amounts of military aid being provided to North Vietnam and is willing to sustain this commitment at present or even higher levels. A recent high-level defector indicates that aid deliveries will increase even further in 1968. He also makes it clear that there is no quantitative limit to the types of the assistance that the USSR would provide with the possible exception of offensive weapons that would result in a confrontation with the U.S. He also reports that the USSR cannot afford to provide aid if it wishes to maintain its position in the socialist camp.
This source does not believe that the recent increase in aid deliveries reflects an awareness on the part of European Communist power that the Tet offensive was imminent.
The defector confirms intelligence estimates that the USSR has not been able to use its aid programs as a means of influencing North Vietnam's conduct of the war. In his opinion the Chinese are a more influential power.
Finally, the defector reports that the USSR will use force to maintain access to the port of Haiphong. The evidence offered to support this statement conflicts sharply with present judgment of the intelligence community and is undergoing extremely close scrutiny.
Bundy's office at State furnished a copious set of papers dealing with many aspects of the situation that are covered in greater detail in Chapter 14. For our purposes I will consider only some of the judgments offered about Soviet, Chinese and other reactions to various courses of action against North Vietnam. The basic alternatives which were the basis of the appraisals of likely foreign reaction were drafted by Bundy and approved by Katzenbach as follows:
This would basically consist of accepting the Wheeler-Westmoreland recommendation aimed at sending roughly 100,000 men by 1 May, and another 100,000 men by the end of 1968.
This course of action is assumed to mean no basic change in strategy with respect to areas and places we attempt to hold. At the same time, the option could include some shift in the distribution of our increased forces, in the direction of city and countryside security and to some extent away from "search and destroy" operations away from populated areas.
The option basically would involve full presentation to the Congress of the total Wheeler/Westmoreland package, with all its implications for the reserves, tax increases, and related actions.
At the same time, there are sub-options with respect to the negotiating posture we adopt if we present such a total package. These sub-options appear to be as follows:
Option A-I: Standing pat on the San Antonio formula and on our basic position of what would be acceptable in a negotiated settlement.
Option A-2: Accompanying our presenting the announcement with a new "peace offensive" modifying the San Antonio formula or our position on a negotiated settlement, or both.
Option A-3: Making no present change in our negotiating posture, but making a strong noise that our objective is to create a situation from which we can in fact move into negotiations within the next 4-8 months if the situation can be righted.
The essence of this option would be a change in our military strategy, involving a reduction in the areas and places we sought to control. It might involve withdrawal from the western areas of I Corps and from the highland areas, for example. The objective would be to concentrate our forces, at whatever level, far more heavily on the protection of populated areas. Again, there are sub-options, roughly as follows:
Option B-1: Such a change in strategy, with no increase or minimal increase in forces.
Option B-2: Such a change in strategy accompanied by a substantial increase in forces, although possibly less than the totals indicated in the Wheeler-Westmoreland proposals.
This might be called the "air power" or "greater emphasis on the North" option. It would appear to fit most readily with an Option B course of action in the South, but would mean that we would extend our bombing and other military actions against the North to try to strangle the war there and put greater pressure on Hanoi in this area.
Three other options were also offered but carried no specific proposals for the air war or the negotiations track.
These generalized options took on more specific form when Bundy examined possible Soviet and Chinese reactions. Among the possible U.S. actions against North Vietnam, he evaluated mining the harbors, all-out bombing of the North, and invasion. These were the Soviet responses he anticipated:
3. Mining or Blockade of DRV Ports. This is a prospect the Soviets have dreaded. Mining, in particular, is a tough problem for them because it would not readily permit them to play on our own worries about escalation. They could attempt to sweep the mines which we would then presumably resow. They could somehow help the DRV in attacking US aircraft and ships engaged in the mining operation, even if this was occurring outside territorial waters, but such operations, apart from risking firefights with the US, do not seem very promising. Blockade, on the other hand, confronts the Soviets with the choice of trying to run it. They might decide to try it in the hope that we would stand aside. They would almost certainly authorize their ship captains to resist US inspection, capture or orders to turn around. What happens next again gets us into the essentially unknowable. In any case, however, it is unlikely that the Soviets would attempt naval or DRV-based escorts for their ships. Naval escort would of course require the dispatch of vessels from Soviet home ports. On balance, but not very confidently, I would conclude that in the end the Soviets would turn their ships around, a highly repulsive possibility for Moscow. Presumably, in such an event, they would seek to increase shipments via China, if China lets them. (Purely in terms of the military impact on the DRV, it should be understood that the bulk of Soviet military hardware goes to the DRV by rail and a blockade would therefore not in and of itself impede the flow of Soviet arms).
4. All-out US Bombing of the DRV. This one poses tougher problems for the Soviets and hence for any assessment of what they would do. Moscow has in the past shown some sensitivity to the consequences of such a US course. If the US program resulted in substantial damage to the DRV air defense system (SAMs, MIGs, AAA, radars, etc.) the Soviets will seek to replenish it as rapidly as possible via China and, assuming the Chinese will let them, i. e. permit trains to pass and planes to overfly and land en route. Soviet personnel can be expected to participate in the DRV air defense in an advisory capacity and in ground operations and the Soviets will presumably keep quiet about any casualties they might suffer in the process. It is likely, however, that this kind of Soviet involvement would increase up to and including, in the extreme, the overt dispatch, upon DRV request, of volunteers. (Moscow has long said it would do so and it is difficult to see how it could avoid delivering on its promise.) Such volunteers might actually fly DRV aircraft if enough DRV pilots had meanwhile been lost. Needless to say, once this stage is reached assessments become less confident, if only because the US Administration itself will have to consider just how far it wants to go in engaging the Soviets in an air battle in Vietnam. The Soviets for their part are not well situated to conduct a major air defense battle in Vietnam and there is the further question whether the Chinese would be prepared to grant them bases for staging equipment and personnel or for sanctuary. (On past form this seems unlikely, but this might change if the US air offensive produced decisive effects on the DRV's capacity to continue the war, in itself a dubious result.)
5. Invasion of the Southern DRV. In this case, the Soviets would continue and, if needed, step up their hardware assistance to the DRy. If the fighting remained confined to the Southern part of the DRV and did not threaten the viability of the DRV regime, there would probably not be additional Soviet action, though conceivably some Soviet personnel might show up in advisory capacities, especially if new and sophisticated Soviet equipment were being supplied. If the invasion became a general assault on the DRy, an overt DRV call for volunteers might ensue and be acted on. At this point of course the Chinese would enter into the picture too and we are in a complex new contingency. In general, it is hard to visualize large numbers of Chinese and Soviet forces (transported through China) fighting side by side against us in Vietnam and I would assume that what we would have would be largely a US landwar against the DRV-China.
6. Matters would become even stickier if the US offensive led to repeated damage to Soviet ships in DRV ports. (There are roughly eleven Soviet ships in these ports on any one day). The Soviets might arm their vessels and authorize them to fire at US planes. Once again, when this point has been reached we are in a new contingency, although the basic fact holds that the Soviets are not well situated, geographically and logistically, for effective military counter-action in the DRV itself.
China's expected reactions to these three possible courses of action were quite different in view of the lower level of its economic and military support, the existence of ample land LOCs to China, etc. Here is how Bundy foresaw Chinese responses:
3. Mining and/or Blockading of Haiphong
China would probably not regard the loss of Haiphong port facilities as critically dangerous to the war effort since it could continue to supply North Vietnam by rail and road and by small ships and lighters. In addition, Peking might seek to replace Haiphong as a deep sea port, by expanding operations (Chanchiang, Ft. Bayard), which is already serving as an unloading point for goods destined for shipment by rail to North Vietnam. China would by all means make sure that the flow of both Soviet and Chinese material for North Vietnam-by land and by sea-continued uninterrupted and might welcome the additional influence it would gain as the remaining link in North Vietnam's life line. It also would probably put at North Vietnam's disposal as many shallow draft vessels as it could possibly spare, and assist Hanoi in developing alternate maritime off-loading facilities and inland waterway routes. At the same time, the Chinese would probably be ready to assist in improving North Vietnamese coastal defenses, and might provide additional patrol boats.
4. All-Out Conventional Bombing of North Vietnam, Including Hanoi and Haiphong
China would probably be prepared to provide as much logistical support and labor as the North Vietnamese might need to keep society functioning in North Vietnam and to help Hanoi maintain the war efforts in the South. Peking would probably be ready to increase its anti-aircraft artillery contingent in the South (possibly sending SAM batteries), and would probably supply the North Vietnamese air force with MIG-19's from its own inventory. Chinese airspace and airfields would be made available, as and when necessary, as a refuge for North Vietnamese aircraft. There is a strong possibility that Chinese pilots in MIG's with North Vietnamese markings would engage US bombers over North Vietnam. However, we would anticipate overt Chinese intervention only if the scope of the bombing seemed intended to destroy North Vietnam as a viable Communist state.
5. US Invasion of North Vietnam
Chinese reaction would depend on the scale of US moves, on North Vietnamese intentions and on Peking's view of US objectives. If it became evident that we were not aiming for a rapid takeover of North Vietnam but intended chiefly to hold some territory in southern areas to inhibit Hanoi's actions in South Vietnam and to force it to quit fighting, we would expect China to attempt to deter us from further northward movement and to play on our fears of a Sino-US conflict, but not to intervene massively in the war. Thus, if requested by Hanoi, Peking would probably be willing to station infantry north of Hanoi to attach some ground forces to North Vietnamese units further south, and to contribute to any "volunteers" contingent that North Vietnam might organize. At home, China would probably complement these deterrents by various moves ostensibly putting the country on a war footing.
If the North Vietnamese, under threat of a full-scale invasion, decided to agree to a negotiated settlement, the Chinese would probably go along. On the other hand, if the Chinese believed that the US was intent on destroying the North Vietnamese regime (either because Hanoi insisted on holding out to the end, or because Peking chronically expects the worst from the US), they would probably fear for their own security and intervene on a massive scale.
Probably more influential than these State Department Views on international communist reactions was a cable from Ambassador Thompson in Moscow offering his personal assessment of the Soviet mood and what we might expect from various US decisions. The cable was addressed to Under Secretary Katzenbach, but there is little doubt it made its way to the White House in view of Thompson's prestige and the importance of his post. For these reasons it is included here in its entirety.
RECD: March 1, 1968
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7620
LITERALLY EYES ONLY FOR UNDER SECRETARY FROM AMBASSADOR
1. Before addressing specific action alternatives I submit following general observations applicable to all. Much would depend upon general setting in which given action took place. If any of them come-out of the blue or in situation which appeared to reflect U.S. decision to achieve clear military victory, Soviet reaction would be far stronger than if it appeared to be effort to offset military reverses. Important also would be current weight of opinion in Politburo between hawks and doves of which we know little. However, Soviet frustrations at Budapest conference, probable effect on Soviet leadership of their own propaganda which has been increasing in stridency recently and which has tended to strengthen Soviet commitment not only to NVN but also to NLF, and effect on leadership of other problems such as Middle East and Korea, all, it seems to me, have operated to make Soviet reactions more likely to be vigorous than was the case a year ago.
2. It should also be noted that Soviet reactions would not necessarily be confined to Vietnam. They could increase tension in Germany, particularly in Berlin, in Korea and Middle East. They could revert to all-out cold war and in any event would step up diplomatic and propaganda activity.
3. In all of alternatives mentioned I would expect increased Soviet military aid which in some cases might go as far as use of volunteers if North Vietnam would accept them, although most likely in antiaircraft and other defensive roles. In some cases they might ask for use of Chinese airfields. I should think supply of medium range rockets or other sophisticated equipment a real possibility.
4. Following are comments on specific cases although I must admit my crystal ball is very cloudy:
A. Mining of Haiphong harbor would certainly provoke strong Soviet reaction. As a minimum I would expect them to provide minesweepers, possibly with Soviet naval crews. Because of increased dependence of NVN on China for supplies as a result such action, Soviets would read into this wider implications related to the Sino-Soviet quarrel.
B. Intensified bombing of Hanoi Haiphong area might cause Soviets to arm their merchant ships or possibly even escort them if one were sunk. If heavy civilian casualties resulted they might persuade NVN to agree to bring matter to the UN and would at least organize worldwide propaganda campaign and possibly push for international boycott.
C. An Inchon-type landing would probably cause extremely grave reaction. Nature Soviet action would be affected by what Chinese communists did. Soviets would not wish to be in position of doing less. They would probably consider landing as prelude to full scale invasion and destruction NVN government regardless of how we described the operation.
D. I doubt that our activity in northern portion of DMZ would be regarded as very serious but raids beyond that would cause stronger reaction depending somewhat upon how it was reported in world press. They would be concerned that we might be launching trial balloon and that their failure to react strongly might invite actual invasion.
E. I am inclined to believe they would take US/GVN ground action in Laos less seriously than similar action in Cambodia, particularly if this followed further successful PATEREY LAO VNV offensives.
F. I think there would be very little Soviet reaction to increased U.S. deployments in SVN although there would probably be some increase in quantity and quality of military equipment supplied by Soviets. The same would be true of request for massive budget increase.
5. In sum, any serious escalation except in South Vietnam would trigger strong Soviet response although I believe they will endeavor to avoid direct confrontation with us in that area. A prior bombing pause would mitigate their reaction to alternatives discussed even though we might have to resume after short period because of increased infiltration or clearly unacceptable demands put forward by NVN at start of negotiations. Anything we can do that would diminish picture Soviets have built up in their own minds of U.S. pursuit of worldwide offensive policy, as for example progress toward Middle East settlement, would probably make them more tolerant of our actions in Vietnam.
General Maxwell Taylor, like Bundy, sought to place the alternatives available to the U.S. into some sort of framework and to package the specific actions and responses to the situation the U.S. might take so as to create several viable options for consideration by the group. The memo he drafted on alternatives was more important finally than the one done by Bundy since Taylor sent a copy of it directly to the President in his capacity as Special Military Advisor, as well as giving it to the Clifford Group. With his background as a military man, past Chairman of the JCS, and former Ambassador to Saigon Taylor's views carry special weight in any deliberation. His memo was sent to the White House even before the DPM the Clifford Group was working on and is therefore included in part here. Taylor wisely began by reconsidering the objectives of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, both past and potential. They were, as he saw it, four:
Alternative Objectives of U.S. Policy in South Viet-Nam
1. The overall policy alternatives open to the U.S. have always been and continue to be four in number. The first is the continued pursuit of our present objective which has been defined in slightly different terms but always in essentially the same sense by our political leaders. For the purpose of this paper, I am taking the statement of President Johnson in his speech at Johns Hopkins University in April, 1965: "Our objective is the independence of South Viet-Nam and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves, only that the people of South Viet-Nam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way."
2. We have sometimes confused the situation by suggesting that this is not really our objective, that we have other things in mind such as the defeat of the "War of Liberation" technique, the containment of Red China, and a further application of the Truman Doctrine to the resistance of aggression. However, it is entirely possible to have one or more of these collateral objectives at the same time since they will be side effects of the attainment of the basic objective cited above.
3. Of the other three possible objectives, one is above and two are below the norm established by the present one. We can increase our present objective to total military victory, unconditional surrender, and the destruction of the Communist Government in North Viet-Nam. Alternatively, we can lower our objective to a compromise resulting in something less than an independent Viet-Nam free from attack or we can drop back further and content ourselves with punishing the aggressor to the point that technique has at least been somewhat discredited as a cheap method of Communist expansion.
4. We should consider changing the objective which we have been pursuing consistently since 1954 only for the most cogent reasons. There is clearly nothing to recommend trying to do more than what we are now doing at such great cost. To undertake to do less is to accept needlessly a serious defeat for which we would pay dearly in terms of our world-wide position of leadership, of the political stability of Southeast Asia, and of the credibility of our pledges to friends and allies.
5. In summary, our alternatives are to stay with our present objective (stick it out), to raise our objective (all out), to scale down our objective (pull back), or to abandon our objective (pull out). Since there is no serious consideration being given at the moment to adding to or subtracting from the present objective, the discussion in this paper is limited to considerations of alternative strategies and programs to attain the present objective.
With this review of the possible objectives and his own statement of preference, Taylor turned to the possible responses to General Westmoreland's troop request and the ramifications of each. Here he devoted himself more to trying to develop the multiplicity of considerations that needed to be weighed in each instance than to passionate advocacy of one or another course. At the end of his memo he considered the political implications of various options with special attention to the problem of negotiations with Hanoi--a subject with which he had long been preoccupied. He concluded by packaging the various military, political and diplomatic courses of action into three alternative programs. Here is how he reasoned:
b. As the purpose of our military operations is to bring security to South Viet-Nam behind which the GVN can restore order and normalcy of life and, at the same time, to convince Hanoi of the impossibility of realizing its goal of a Communist-controlled government imposed upon South VietNam, we have to consider the political effect of our military actions both on Saigon and on Hanoi. With regard to Saigon, a refusal to reinforce at this time will bring discouragement and renewed suspicion of U.S. intentions; in Hanoi, an opposite effect. On the other hand, a large reinforcement may lessen the sense of urgency animating the Vietnamese Government and result in a decrease of effort; in Hanoi, it may cause them to undertake further escalation.
c. Our decision on reinforcement inevitably will raise the question of how to relate this action to possible negotiations. Anything we say or do with regard to negotiations causes the sharpest scrutiny of our motives on the part of our Vietnamese allies and we should be very careful at this time that we do not give them added grounds for suspicion. If it appears desirable for us to make a new negotiation overture in connection with reinforcement, it will need careful preliminary discussion with the GVN authorities.
d. The following political actions are worth considering in connection with our decision on reinforcement:
(1) A renewed offer of negotiation, possibly with a private communication that we would suspend the bombing for a fixed period without making the time limitation public if we were assured that productive negotiations would start before the end of the period.
(2) A public announcement that we would adjust the bombing of the North to the level of intensity of enemy ground action in the South.
(3) As a prelude to sharply increased bombing levels, possibly to include the closing of Haiphong, a statement of our intentions made necessary by the enemy offensive against the cities and across the frontiers.
(4) Announcement of the withdrawal of the San Antonio formula in view of the heightened level of aggression conducted by North Viet-Nam.
(5) Keep silent.
The foregoing is merely a tabulation of possible political actions to consider in choosing the military alternative. In the end, military and political actions should be blended together into an integrated package.
e. The choice among these political alternatives will depend largely on our decision with regard to reinforcements for General Westmoreland. However, the present military situation in South Viet-Nam argues strongly against a new negotiation effort (d. (1)) and any thought of reducing the bombing of the North. If we decide to meet General Westmoreland's request, we could underline the significance of our action by d. (3). In any case, we would appear well-advised to withdraw from the San Antonio formula (d. (4)).
From the foregoing considerations, there appear to be at least three program packages worth serious consideration. They follow:
a. No increase of General Westmoreland's forces in South Viet-Nam.
b. New strategic guidance.
c. Build-up of Strategic Reserve.
d. No negotiation initiative.
e. Withdrawal of San Antonio formula.
f. Pressure on GVN to do better.
a. Partial acceptance of General Westmoreland's recommendation.
b. New strategic guidance.
c. Build-up of Strategic Reserve.
d. No negotiation initiative.
e. Withdrawal of San Antonio formula.
f. Pressure on GVN to do better.
a. Approval of General Westmoreland's full request.
b. New strategic guidance.
c. Build-up of Strategic Reserve.
d. No negotiation initiative.
e. Withdrawal of San Antonio formula and announcement of intention to close Haiphong.
j. Pressure on GVN to do better.
g. Major effort to rally the homefront.
While these papers were all being written outside the Pentagon, the Clifford working group under the direction of Assistant Secretary Warnke had worked feverishly on several succeeding drafts of a Memorandum for the President including various combinations of tabs and supporting material. The intent of the group was to produce a memo that made a specific recommendation on a course of action rather than presenting a number of alternatives with their pros and cons. The process required the reconciling of widely divergent views or the exclusion of those that were incompatible with the thrust of the recommendation. With respect to the war in the South the memo in its late-stage form on March 3 proposed a sweeping change in U.S. ground strategy based on a decision not to substantially increase U.S. forces as General Westmoreland and the Chiefs desired. In essence, the draft memo recommended the adoption of a strategy of population protection along a "demographic frontier" in South Vietnam and the abandonment of General Westmoreland's hitherto sacrosanct large unit "search and destroy" operations. The portion of the paper devoted to the air war recommended no escalation above current levels. It specifically turned back proposals for reducing the Hanoi-Haiphong restricted perimeters, closing Haiphong harbor, and bombing population centers as all likely to be unproductive or worse. The section in question argued as follows:
SIGNIFICANCE OF BOMBING CAMPAIGN IN NORTH TO OUR OBJECTIVES IN VIETNAM
The bombing of North Vietnam was undertaken to limit and/or make more difficult the infiltration of men and supplies in the South, to show them they would have to pay a price for their continued aggression and to raise the morale in South Vietnam. The last two purposes obviously have been achieved.
It has become abundantly clear that no level of bombing can prevent the North Vietnamese from supplying the necessary forces and materiel necessary to maintain their military operations in the South. The recent Tet offensive has shown that the bombing cannot even prevent a significant increase in these military operations, at least on an intermittent basis.
The shrinking of the circles around Hanoi and Haiphong will add to North Vietnam's costs and difficulty in supplying the NVA/VC forces. It will not destroy their capability to support their present level of military activity. Greater concentration on the infiltration routes in Laos and in the area immediately North of the DMZ might prove effective from the standpoint of interdiction.
Strikes within 10 miles of the center of Hanoi and within four miles of the center of Haiphong have required initial approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and, finally, the President. This requirement has enabled the highest level of government to maintain some control over the attacks against targets located in the populous and most politically sensitive areas of North Vietnam. Other than the Haiphong Port, no single target within these areas has any appreciable significance for North Vietnam's ability to supply men and material to the South. If these areas of control were reduced to circles having a radii of 3 miles from the center of Hanoi and 1½ miles of the center of Haiphong, some minor fixed targets not previously authorized would be released for strike. More significant is the fact that the lines of communication lying within the area previously requiring Washington approval would be open for attack by shrinking the control areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. The question would simply be whether it is worth the increase in airplane and pilot losses to attack these lines of communication in the most heavily defended part of North Vietnam where our airplane loss ratio is highest.
The remaining issue on interdiction of supplies has to do with the closing of the Port of Haiphong. Although this is the route by which some 80% of North Vietnamese imports come into the country, it is not the point of entry for most of the military supplies and ammunition. These materials predominantly enter via the rail routes from China.
Moreover, if the Port of Haiphong were to be closed effectively, the supplies that now enter Haiphong could, albeit with considerable difficulty, arrive either over the land routes or by lighterage, which has been so successful in the continued POL supply. Under these circumstances, the closing of Haiphong Port would not prevent the continued supply of sufficient materials to maintain North Vietnamese military operations in the South.
Accordingly, the only purpose of intensification of the bombing campaign in the North and the addition of further targets would be to endeavor to break the will of the North Vietnamese leaders. CIA forecasts indicate little if any chance that this would result even from a protracted bombing campaign directed at population centers.
A change in our bombing policy to include deliberate strikes on population centers and attacks on the agricultural population through the destruction of dikes would further alienate domestic and foreign sentiment and might well lose us the support of those European countries which now support our effort in Vietnam. It could cost us Australian and New Zealand participation in the fighting.
Although the North Vietnamese do not mark the camps where American prisoners are kept or reveal their locations, we know from intelligence sources that most of these facilities are located in or near Hanoi. Our intelligence also indicates that many more than the approximately 200 pilots officially classified by us as prisoners of war may, in fact, be held by North Vietnam in these camps. On the basis of the debriefing of the three pilots recently released by Hanoi, we were able to identify over 40 additional American prisoners despite the fact that they were kept in relative isolation. Heavy and indiscriminate attacks in the Hanoi area would jeopardize the lives of these prisoners and alarm their wives and parents into vocal opposition. Reprisals could be taken against them and the idea of war crimes trials would find considerable acceptance in countries outside the Communist bloc.
Finally, the steady and accelerating bombing of the North has not brought North Vietnam closer to any real move toward peace. Apprehensions about bombing attacks that would destroy Hanoi and Haiphong may at some time help move them toward productive negotiations. Actual destruction of these areas would eliminate a threat that could influence them to seek a political settlement on terms acceptable to us.
The Clifford Group principals convened on the afternoon of Sunday, March 3, to consider this draft memo. Mr. Warnke read the memo, completed only shortly before the meeting, to the assembled group. The ensuing discussion apparently produced a consensus that abandoning the initiative completely as the draft memo seemed to imply could leave allied forces and the South Vietnamese cities themselves more, not less, vulnerable. With respect to the bombing, opinion was sharply divided. General Wheeler advocated the reduction of the restricted zones around Hanoi and Haiphong and an expansion of naval activity against North Vietnam. The Chiefs had apparently abandoned for the moment efforts to secure authority for mining the approaches to the ports, although this alternative was considered in the State drafts. ISA on the other hand sharply opposed any expansion of the air war but particularly in Route Packages 6A and 6B which a recent Systems Analysis study had shown to be especially unproductive as an anti-infiltration measure. As for negotiations, all were agreed that not much could be expected in the near future from Hanoi and that there was no reason to modify the current U.S. position. The conclusion of the long meeting was to request Warnke's working group to write an entirely new draft memo for the President that: (a) dealt only with the troop numbers issue, recommending only a modest increase; (b) called for more emphasis on the RVNAF contribution to the war effort; (c) called for a study of possible new strategic guidance; (d) recommended against any new initiative on negotiations; and (e) acknowledged the split in opinion about bombing policy by including papers from both sides. Thus, after five days of exhausting work, the working group started over again and produced a completely fresh draft for the following day.
c. The March 4 DPM
The new DPM was completed on Monday and circulated for comment but later transmitted to the President without change by Secretary Clifford. In its final form this DPM represented the recommendations of the Clifford Group. The main proposals of the memo were those mentioned above. The specific language of the cover memo with respect to bombing and negotiations was the following:
5. No new peace initiative on Vietnam. Re-statement of our terms for peace and certain limited diplomatic actions to dramatize Laos and to focus attention on the total threat to Southeast Asia. Details in Tab E.
6. A general decision on bombing policy, not excluding future change, but adequate to form a basis for discussion with the Congress on this key aspect. Here your advisers are divided:
a. General Wheeler and others would advocate a substantial extension of targets and authority in and near Hanoi and Haiphong, mining of Haiphong, and naval gunfire up to a Chinese Buffer Zone;
b. Others would advocate a seasonal step-up through the spring, but without these added elements.
The two detailed tabs to the memo of special interest to this study were "E" and "F" dealing with negotiations and bombing respectively. The negotiations paper was written by Bundy and was a lengthy argument for doing nothing we had not already done. Its central message was contained in a few paragraphs near the middle of the paper:
As to our conditions for stopping the bombing and entering into talks, we continue to believe that the San Antonio formula is "rock botton." The South Vietnamese are in fact talking about much stiffer conditions, such as stopping the infiltration entirely. Any move by us to modify the San Antonio formula downward would be extremely disturbing in South Vietnam, and would have no significant offsetting gains in US public opinion or in key third countries. On the contrary, we should continue to take the line that the San Antonio formula laid out conditions under which there was a reasonable prospect that talks would get somewhere and be conducted in good faith. Hanoi's major offensive has injected a new factor, in which we are bound to conclude that there is no such prospect for the present.
Moreover, we should at the appropriate time-probably not in a major statement, but rather in response to a question-make the point that "normal" infiltration of men and equipment from the North cannot mean the much increased levels that have prevailed since October. We do not need to define exactly what we would mean by "normal" but we should make clear that we do not mean the levels since San Antonio was set out.
Apart from this point on our public posture, we should be prepared--in the unlikely event that Hanoi makes an affirmative noise on the "no advantage" assumption--go back at them through some channel and make this same point quite explicit.
In short, our public posture and our private actions should be designed to:
a. Maintain San Antonio and our general public willingnes for negotiations.
b. Add this new and justified interpretation of San Antonio so that in fact we would not be put on the spot over the next 2-4 months.
c. Keep sufficient flexibility so that, if the situation should improve, we could move during the summer if we then judged it wise.
This position represented the widely held belief at the time that the question of negotiations, in spite of continuing contacts through third parties, was no less moribund than it had been at any time in the previous year. The San Antonio formula was regarded as eminently reasonable and DRV failure to respond to it was interpreted as evidence of their general disinterest in negotiations at the time. In that context, and in the wake of the ferocious attacks in South Vietnam, new initiatives could only be construed by Hanoi as evidence of allied weakness. Hence, no new offers were recommended.
As already noted, the Clifford Group was split on the issue of bombing policy, therefore, two papers on the subject were included. The first had been written by the Joint Staff and was submitted by General Wheeler. It advocated reduction of the Hanoi/Haiphong perimeters, the extension of naval operations and authority to use sea-based surface-to-air missiles against North Vietnamese MIGs. The cover memo for this tab noted that: "In addition General Wheeler would favor action to close the Port of Haiphong through mining or otherwise. Since this matter has been repeatedly presented to the President, General Wheeler has not added a specific paper on this proposal." The General had apparently gotten the word that closing the ports just wasn't an action the President was going to consider, even in this "comprehensive" review. The JCS bombing paper began with a discussion of the history of the air war and offered some explanations for its seeming failure to date:
1. The air campaign against North Vietnam is now entering the fourth year of operations. Only during the latter part of the past favorable weather season of April through October 1967, however, has a significant weight of effort been applied against the major target systems. During this period, even though hampered by continuous and temporarily imposed constraints, the air campaign made a marked impact on the capability of North Vietnam to prosecute the war. Unfortunately, this impact was rapidly overcome. The constraints on operations and the change in the monsoon weather provided North Vietnam with numerous opportunities to recuperate from the effects of the air strikes. Facilities were rebuilt and reconstituted and dispersal of the massive material aid from communist countries continued.
2. There is a distinct difference between the North Vietnam that existed in early 1965 and the North Vietnam of today. The difference is a direct result of the material aid received from external sources and the ability to accommodate to limited and sporadic air strikes. The Hanoi regime throughout the air campaign has not shown a change in national will, but outwardly displays a determination to continue the war. The viability of the North Vietnam military posture results from the availability of adequate assets received from communist countries which permits defense of the homeland and support of insurgency in the South.
To make the air campaign effective in its objectives in the months ahead, the Chiefs recommended modification of the existing regulations. The campaign they had in mind and the changes in present policy required for it were as follows:
4. A coordinated and sustained air campaign could hamper severely the North Vietnam war effort and the continued support of aggression throughout Southeast Asia. An integrated interdiction campaign should be undertaken against the road, rail and waterway lines of communication with the objective of isolating the logistics base of Hanoi and Haiphong from each other and from the rest of North Vietnam. To achieve this objective, the following tasks must be performed employing a properly balanced weight of effort:
a. Destroy war supporting facilities as well as those producing items vital to the economy.
b. Attack enemy defenses in order to protect our strike forces, destroy enemy gun crews and weapons, and force the expenditure of munitions.
c. Conduct air attacks throughout as large an area and as continuously as possible in order to destroy lines of communication targets and associated facilities, dispersed material and supplies and to exert maximum suppression of normal activities because of the threat.
d. Attack and destroy railroad rolling stock, vehicles and waterborne logistics craft throughout as large an area as possible, permitting minimum sanctuaries.
5. Targeting criteria for the effective accomplishment of a systematic air campaign would continue to preclude the attack of population as a target, but accept greater risks of civilian casualties in order to achieve the stated objective. The initial changes in operating authorities necessary to the initiation of an effective air campaign are:
a. Delete the 30/1ONM Hanoi Restricted/Prohibited Area and establish a 3NM Hanoi Control Area (Map, TAB ).
b. Delete the 10/4NM Haiphong Restricted/Prohibited Area and establish a l.5NM Haiphong Control Area (Map, TAB ).
c. Delete the Special Northeast Coastal Armed Reconnaisance Area.
As explanations of how the removal of these restrictions would achieve the desired results, the Chiefs gave the following arguments:
6. The present Restricted Areas around Hanoi and Haiphong have existed since 1965. The Prohibited Areas were created in December 1966. Numerous strikes, however, have been permitted in these areas over the past two and one-half years, e.g., dispersed POL, SAM and AAA sites, SAM support facilities, armed reconnaissance of selected LOC and attacks of LOC associated targets, and attack of approved fixed targets. The major political requirements for having established control areas in the vicinity of Hanoi and Haiphong are to provide a measure of control of the intensity of effort applied in consonance with the national policy of graduated pressures and to assist in keeping civilian casualties to a minimum consistent with the importance of the target. These requirements can still be satisfied if the control areas are reduced to 3NM and 1 .5NM around Hanoi and Haiphong, respectively. These new control areas will contain the population centers, but permit operational commanders the necessary flexibility to attack secondary, as well as primary, lines of communication to preclude NVN from accommodating to the interdiction of major routes. A reduction of the control areas would expose approximately 140 additional miles of primary road, rail and waterway lines of communication to armed reconnaissance, as well as hundreds of miles of secondary lines of communication, dependent upon NVN reactions and usage. Additional military targets would automatically become authorized for air strikes under armed reconnaissance operating authorities. This would broaden the target base, spread the defenses, and thus add to the cumulative effects of the interdiction program as well as reducing risk of aircraft loss. At the present time, the air defense threat throughout all of the northeast area of NVN is formidable. It is not envisioned that aircraft will conduct classifical low level armed reconnaissance up and down the newly exposed lines of communication until the air defense threat is fairly well neutralized. Attacks of LOC or LOC associated targets and moving targets in these areas will continue to be conducted for the time being using dive bombing, or "fixed target" tactics as is currently employed throughout the heavily defended northeast. Consequently, the risk to aircraft and crews will not be increased. In fact these new operating areas shoud assist in decreasing the risks. New targets within the control areas will continue to be approved in Washington.
7. There have been repeated and reliable intelligence reports that indicate civilians not engaged in essential war supporting activities have been evacuated from the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. Photographic intelligence, particularly of Haiphong, clearly shows that materials of war are stockpiled in all open storage areas and along the streets throughout almost one-half of the city. Rather than an area for urban living, the city has become an armed camp and a large logistics storage base. Consequently, air strikes in and around these cities endanger personell primarily engaged directly or indirectly in support of the war effort.
8. The special coastal armed reconnaissance area in the Northeast has limited attacks on NVN craft to those within 3 NM of the NVN coast or coastal islands. This constraint has provided another sanctuary to assist NVN in accommodating to the interdiction effort. To preclude endangering foreign shipping the requirement is imposed on strike forces to ensure positive identification prior to attack. Identification can be accomplished beyond an arbitrary 3 NM line as well as within it, and deny the enemy a privileged area.
To complement the expanded strike program lifting these restrictions envisaged, the Chiefs asked for the expansion of the SEA DRAGON naval activities against coastal water traffic from 200 to the Chinese border, thereby opening up the possibility of attacks against some of the traffic moving supplies in and near the ports. Furthermore they desired permission to use sea-based SAMs, particularly the 100-mile range TALOS, against MIGs north of 20°. In concluding their discussion of the need for these new authorizations, the Chiefs were careful to hedge about what results might be expected immediately. It was pointed out that adverse weather would continue to inhibit operations for several months and partially offset the new measures.
13. Authorization to conduct a campaign against North Vietnam employing air and naval forces under the proposed operating authorities should have a significant impact on the ability of NVN to continue to prosecute insurgency. It is not anticipated that this impact will be immediately apparent. Unfavorable weather, while partially offset by the expanded use of naval forces, will preclude air strike forces from applying the desired pressures at the most advantageous time and place. The cumulative effects of the air strikes and naval bombardment will gradually increase to significant proportions as erosion of the distribution system progresses. In addition to the material effects against NVN's capability to wage war, approval of the proposed operating authorities and execution of the campaign envisioned will signal to NVN and the remainder of the world the continued US resolve and determination to achieve our objectives in Southeast Asia.
The ISA memo on bombing policy, drafted in Warnke's own office, tersely and emphatically rejected all of these JCS recommendations for expanding the air war, including mining the harbor approaches. The case against further extension of the bombing was made as follows:
The Campaign Against North Vietnam: A Different View
It is clear from the TET offensive that the air attack on the North and the interdiction campaign in Laos have not been successful in putting a low enough ceiling on infiltration of men and materials from the North to the South to prevent such a level of enemy action. We do not see the possibility of a campaign which could do more than make the enemy task more difficult. Bombing in Route Packages 6A and 6B is therefore primarily a political tool.
The J.C.S. recommend a substantial reduction in previous political control over the attacks in the Haiphong and Hanoi areas. Except for General Wheeler, we do not recommend such a reduction.
It is not until May that more than four good bombing days per month can be anticipated. The question arises as to how best to use those opportunities. We believe the political value of the attacks should be optimized. The effective destruction of clearly important military and economic targets without excessive population damage would seem indicated. Excessive losses in relation to results would have an adverse political effect. The air fields (perhaps including Gia Lam) would meet the criteria. The Hanoi power plant would probably meet the criteria. There are few other targets of sufficient importance, not already authorized, to do so.
In particular, this view opposes the proposal to define only 3-mile and 1½-mile "closed areas" around Hanoi and Haiphong respectively. Individual targets within Hanoi and Haiphong and between the 10- and 3-mile circles for Hanoi and the 4 and 1½ mile-circles for Haiphong, should be considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the above criteria. However, blanket authority for operations up to the 3-mile and 1½-mile circles, respectively, appears to take in only small targets having no appreciable military significance; on the other hand, experience has indicated that systematic operations particularly against road and rail routes simply and slightly to the repair burdens, while at the same time involving substantial civilian casualties in the many suburban civilian areas located along these routes.
In addition, a picture of systematic and daily bombing this close to Hano and Haiphong seems to us to run significant risks of major adverse reaction in key third nations. There is certainly some kind of "flash point" in th ability of the British Government to maintain its support for our position and we believe this "flash point" might well be crossed by the proposec operations, in contrast to operations against specified targets of the type that have been carried out in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas in the past.
Mining of Haiphong
We believe it to be agreed that substantial amounts of military-related supplies move through the Port of Haiphong at present. Nevertheless, it is also agreed that this flow of supplies could be made up through far greater use of the road and rail lines running through China, and through lightering and other emergency techniques at Haiphong and other ports. In other words, even from a military standpoint the effect of closing the Port of Haiphong would be to impose an impediment only for a period of time, and to add to difficulties which Hanoi has shown in the past it can overcome. Politically, moreover, closing the Port of Haiphong continues to raise a serious question of Soviet reaction. Ambassador Thompson, Governor Harriman, and others believe that the Soviets would be compelled to react in some manner--at a minimum through the use of minesweepers and possibly through protective naval action of some sort. Again, we continue to believe that there is some kind of "flash point" both in terms of these likely actions and their implications for our relation with the Soviets in other matters, and for such more remote-but not inconceivable-possibilities as Soviet compensating pressure elsewhere, for example against Berlin. Even a small risk of a significant confrontation with the Soviets must be given major weight against the limited military gains anticipated from this action.
Finally, by throwing the burden of supply onto the rail and road lines through China, the mining of Haiphong would tend to increase Chinese leverage in Hanoi and would force the Soviets and the Chinese to work out cooperative arrangements for their new and enlarged transit. We do not believe this would truly drive the Soviets and Chinese together, but it would force them to take a wider range of common positions that would certainly not be favorable to our basic interests.
Expand Naval Operations (SEA DRAGON)
These operations, expanded north along the coast to Haiphong and to other port areas, would include provision for avoiding ocean-going ships, while hitting coast-wise shipping assumed to be North Vietnamese.
We believe this distinction will not be easy to apply without error, and that therefore the course of action involves substantial risks of serious complications with Chinese and other shipping. In view of the extensive measures already authorized further south, we doubt if the gains to be achieved would warrant these risks.
As in the past, we believe this action would involve substantial risk of triggering some new form of North Vietnamese military action against the ships involved. Moreover, another factor is whether we can be fully certain of target identification. The balance on this one is extremely close, but we continue to question whether expected gains would counter-balance the risks.
It is interesting that the entire discussion of bombing on both sides in the DPM is devoted to various kinds of escalation. The proposal that was eventually to be adopted, namely cutting back the bombing to the panhandle only, was not even mentioned, nor does it appear in any of the other drafts or papers related to the Clifford Group's work. The fact may be misleading, however, since it apparently was one of the principal ideas being discussed and considered in the forums at various levels. It is hard to second-guess the motivation of a Secretary of Defense, but, since it is widely believed that Clifford personally advocated this idea to the President, he may well have decided that fully countering the JCS recommendations for escalation was sufficient for the formal DPM. To have raised the idea of constricting the bombing below the 19th or 20th parallel in the memo to the President would have generalized the knowledge of such a suggestion and invited its sharp, full and formal criticism by the JCS and other opponents of a bombing halt. Whatever Clifford's reasons, the memo did not contain the proposal that was to be the main focus of the continuing debates in March and would eventually be endorsed by the President.
3. The President Weighs the Decision
a. More Meetings and More Alternatives
The idea of a partial bombing halt was not new within the Administration. It had been discussed in some form or other as a possible alternative at various times for more than a year. (In the DPM of Bay 20, 1967, McNamara had formally proposed the idea to the President.) It was brought up anew early in the Clifford Group deliberations and, while not adopted in the final report, became the main alternative under consideration in the continuing meetings of the various groups that had been formed for the Clifford exercise. As indicated previously, Secretary Clifford reportedly suggested personally to the President the idea of cutting back the bombing to the North Vietnamese panhandle. The first appearance of the idea in the documents in March is in a note from Clifford to Wheeler on the 5th transmitting for the latter's exclusive "information" a proposed "statement" drafted by Secretary Rusk. The statement, which was given only the status of a "suggestion" and therefore needed to be closely held, announced the suspension of the bombing of North Vietnam except in the "area associated with the battle zone." It was presumably intended for Presidential delivery. Attached to the draft statement, which shows Rusk himself as the draftee, was a list of explanatory reasons and conditions for its adoption. Rusk noted that bad weather in northern North Vietnam in the next few months would severely hamper operations around Hanoi and Haiphong in any event and the proposal did not, therefore, constitute a serious degradation of our military position. It was to be understood that in the event of any major enemy initiative in the south, either against Khe Sanh or the cities, the bombing would be resumed. Further, Rusk did not want a major diplomatic effort mounted to start peace talks. He preferred to let the action speak for itself and await Hanoi's reaction. Finally, he noted that the area still open to bombing would include everything up to and including Vinh (just below 19°) and there would be no limitations on attacks in that zone. Clifford's views of the proposal and its explanation do not appear in his note. It can be inferred, however, that he endorsed the idea. In any case, by the middle of March the question of a partial bombing halt became the dominant air war alternative under consideration in meetings at State and Defense. It is possible that the President had already indicated to Clifford and Rusk enough approval of the idea to have focused the further deliberative efforts of his key advisors on it.
On March 8, Bundy sent a Top Secret-NODIS memo to CIA Director Helms requesting a CIA evaluation of four different bombing options and troop deployment packages, none of which, however, included even a partial bombing halt. Indicating that he had consulted with Secretary Rusk and Walt Rostow before making his request, he noted the CIA papers already discussed in this study but expressed a need for one overall summary paper. The options he wanted evaluated were:
A. An early announcement of reinforcements on the order of 25,000 men, coupled with reserve calls and other measures adequate to make another 75,000 men available for deployment by the end of the year if required and later decided. The bombing would be stepped up as the weather improved, and would include some new targets, but would not include the mining of Haiphong or major urban attacks in Hanoi and Haiphong.
B. A similar announcement of immediate reinforcement action, coupled with greater actions than in A to raise our total force strength, making possible additional reinforcements of roughly 175,000 men before the end of 1968. Bombing program as in A.
C. Option A plus mining of Haiphong and/or significantly intensified bombing of urban targets in Hanoi and Haiphong areas.
D. Option B plus an intensified bombing program and/or mining of Haiphong.
In addition to an assessment of likely DRV reactions, he wanted to know what could be expected from the Chinese and the Soviets under each option. He also noted that, "At this stage, none of us knows what the timing of the decision-making will be. I think this again argued for a CIA-only paper at the outset, to be completed perhaps by next Wednesday night [March 13]."
A more complicated draft memo to CIA asking for a review of various bombing alternatives was prepared at about the same time in ISA, but apparently not sent. It contained twelve highly specific different bombing alternatives, including three different bombing reduction or halt options: (1) a concentration of bombing in Route Packages 1, 2 and 3 with only 5% in the extreme north; (2) a complete halt over North Vietnam; and (3) a complete halt over both North Vietnam and Laos. No particular attention was focused on a partial halt, again indicating that knowledge of the proposal was being restricted to the immediate circle of Presidential advisors. Presumably the CIA did prepare a memo in response to Bundy's request, but it does not appear in the available material.
Meanwhile, a separate set of escalatory options had been proposed to Mr. Nitze by Air Force Secretary Brown on March 4 in response to the latter's February 28 request. Brown's view was that apart from the various ground strategy alternatives, there were also a number of ways the air war, both north and south, could be expanded to meet the changed situation after Tet. The three alternatives he suggested were:
1. First, actions against North Vietnam could be intensified by bombing of remaining important targets, and/or neutralization of the port of Haiphong by bombing and mining.
2. Second, air actions could be intensified in the adjoining panhandle areas of Laos/NVN.
3. Third, a change to the basic strategy in SVN is examined, in which increased air actions in SVN are substituted for increased ground forces.
Brown appraised the relative advantages of the various proposed campaigns in this way:
Intensification of air actions against NVN would be aimed at forcing the enemy to the conference table or choking off imports to NVN to an extent which would make their level of effort in SVN insupportable. The second and third campaigns, individually or together, are more limited in aim. It appears likely that, given adequate sortie capability, the greatest adverse effect on the enemy would result from a plan which simultaneously employed all three campaigns.
Under program #1, Brown envisaged the elimination of virtually all the constraints under which the bombing then operated and an aggressive attack on North Vietnamese resources, import capability and population centers along the lines of proposals from CINCPAC:
The present restrictions on bombing NVN would be lifted so as to permit bombing of military targets without the present scrupulous concern for collateral civilian damage and casualties. The following targets systems would be emphasized:
1. Military control points, military headquarters, storage facilities, government control centers, and such population centers as are known to harbor dispersed materiel and vehicles.
2. The Ports of Haiphong, Hon Gai and Cam Pha, by a combination of mining and bombing. This would be designed to force over-the-beach delivery of seaborne imports which would require shipping to remain off the coast in unsheltered waters, thereby restricting operations to periods of relative calm seas.
3. Over-the-beach deliveries by bombing and possibly mining.
4. Intensified bombing attacks on the northeast and northwest rail lines and other road LOCs contiguous to the NVN-Chicom border.
The objective to be achieved by this expanded campaign was described in the succeeding paragraph:
The aims of this alternative campaign would be to erode the will of the population by exposing a wider area of NVN to casualties and destruction; to reduce maritime imports by closing the major ports, and by attacking the resulting over-the-beach deliveries; to bring about a saturation of remaining import arteries, thereby creating greater target densities; and to disrupt the movement of supplies into SVN by attacking military control points and storage facilities wherever located. The hopeful assumption is that North Vietnam would then be forced to decide on a priority of imports-war-making goods vs. life-supporting goods--and that it would choose the latter. This in turn would attenuate its ability to supply forces in SVN and would thus slow down the tempo of the fighting there. In time, these cumulative pressures would be expected to bring NVN to negotiation of a compromise settlement, or to abandonment of the fight in SVN.
The Soviet and Chinese reactions to these measures were expected to be confined to increased aid, some "volunteers" and an overall worsening of relations with the U.S. All these were regarded as manageable if not desirable. But in evaluating the likely results of such a bombing program, Brown was forced to admit that:
Barring that effect, I would judge that Campaign # 1 can, in military terms, limit SVN actions by NVN near their pre-Tet level, and below the level of February 1968. This campaign cannot be demonstrated quantitatively to be likely to reduce NVN capability in SVN substantially below the 1967 level, but in view of possible disruption of North Vietnamese distribution capability around Hanoi and Haiphong, such an effect could take place. The campaign would take place beginning in March, and should conceivably have its maximum effect by October. During the following season of poor weather, the North Vietnamese transportation system would begin to be reconstituted.
The other possible impact is on the North Vietnamese will to continue the war. Clearly their society would be under even greater stress than it is now. But so long as they have the promise of continued Soviet and Chinese material support, and substantial prospect of stalemate or better in SVN, the North Vietnamese government is likely to be willing to undergo these hardships. Its control over the populace will remain good enough so that the latter will have no choice but to do so.
The other two programs were regarded as having even less potential for inhibiting communist activity in the south. Program #2 involved simply a greatly intensified program of strikes in the panhandle areas of North Vietnam and Laos, while Program #3 proposed the substantial relocation of South Vietnamese population into secure zones and the designation of the remaining cleared areas as "free strike" regions for intensified air attack. Brown's three alternatives apparently did not get wide attention, however, and were never considered as major proposals within the inner circle of Presidential advisors. Nevertheless, the fact that they were supported by over fifty pages of detailed analysis done by the Air Staff is a reflection of the importance everyone attached to the reassessment going on within the Administration.
Of the other major advisors, Katzenbach had participated to a limited degree in the Clifford Group work and reportedly was opposed to the subsequent proposal for a partial suspension because he felt that a bombing halt was a trump card that could be used only once and should not be wasted when the prospects for a positive North Vietnamese response on negotiations seemed so poor. He reportedly hoped to convince the President to call a complete halt to the air war later in the spring when prospects for peace looked better and when the threat to Khe Sanh had been eliminated. Walt Rostow, the President's personal advisor on national security matters, apparently resisted all suggestions for a restriction of the bombing, preferring to keep the pressure on the North Vietnamese for a response to the San Antonio formula. These various opinions represented the principal advice the President was receiving from his staff within the Administration. Other advice from outside, both invited and uninvited, also played a part in the final decision.
b. The New Hampshire Primary
In the days immediately following the early March deliberations, the President, toiling over the most difficult decision of his career, was faced with another problem of great magnitude--how to handle the public reaction to Tet and the dwindling public support for his war policies. From this point of view probably the most difficult week of the Johnson Presidency began on March 10 when The New York Times broke the story of General Westmoreland's 206,000 man troop request in banner headlines. The story was a collaborative effort by four reporters of national reputation and had the kind of detail to give it the ring of authenticity to the reading public. In fact, it was very close to the truth in its account of the proposal from MACV and the debate going on within the Administration. The story was promptly picked up by other newspapers and by day's end had reached from one end of the country to the other. The President was reportedly furious at this leak which amounted to a flagrant and dangerous compromise of security. Later in the month an investigation was conducted to cut down on the possibility of such leaks in the future.
The following day, March 11, Secretary Rusk went before Fuibright's Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the first time in two years for nationally televised hearings on U.S. war policy. In sessions that lasted late that Monday and continued on Tuesday, the Secretary was subjected to sharp questioning by virtually every member. While he confirmed the fact of an "A to Z" policy review within the Administration, he found himself repeatedly forced to answer questions obliquely or not at all to avoid compromising the President. These trying two days of testimony by Secretary Rusk was completed only hours before the results from the New Hampshire primary began to come in. To the shock and consternation of official Washington, the President had defeated his upstart challenger, Eugene McCarthy, who had based his campaign on a halt in the bombing and an end to the war, by only the slenderest of margins. (In fact, when the write-in vote was finally tabulated later that week, McCarthy had actually obtained a slight plurality over the President in the popular vote.) The reaction across the country was electric. It was clear that Lyndon Johnson, the master politician, had been successfully challenged, not by an attractive and appealing alternative vote-getter, but by a candidate who had been able to mobilize and focus all the discontent and disillusionment about the war. National politics in the election year 1968 would not be the same thereafter.
Critics of the President's policies in Vietnam in both parties were buoyed by the New Hampshire results. But for Senator Robert Kennedy they posed a particularly acute dilemma. With the President's vulnerability on Vietnam now demonstrated, should Kennedy, his premier political opponent on this and other issues, now throw his hat in the ring? After four days of huddling with his advisers, and first informing both the President and Senator McCarthy, Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16. For President Johnson, the threat was now real. McCarthy, even in the flush of a New Hampshire victory, could not reasonably expect to unseat the incumbent President. But Kennedy was another matter. The President now faced the prospect of a long and divisive battle for renomination within his own party against a very strong contender, with the albatross of an unpopular war hanging around his neck.
For the moment at least, the President appeared determined. On March 17, he spoke to the National Farmers' Union and said that the trials of American responsibility in Vietnam would demand a period of domestic "austerity" and a "total national effort." Further leaks, however, were undercutting his efforts to picture the Administration as firm and resolute about doing whatever was necessary. On March 17, The New York Times had again run a story on the debate within the Administration. This time the story stated that the 206,000 figure would not be approved but that something between 35,000 and 50,000 more troops would be sent to Vietnam, necessitating some selective call-up of reserves. Again the reporters were disturbingly accurate in their coverage. Criticism of the President continued to mount. Spurred by the New Hampshire indications of massive public disaffection with the President's policy, 139 members of the House of Representatives co-authored a resolution calling for a complete reappraisal of U.S. Vietnam policy including a Congressional review.
c. ISA Attempts to Force a Decision
The President's reluctance to make a decision about Vietnam and the dramatic external political developments in the U.S. kept the members of the Administration busy in a continuing round of new draft proposals and further meetings on various aspects of the proposals the President was considering. Within ISA at the Pentagon, attention focused on ways to get some movement on the negotiations in the absence of any decisions on forces or bombing. On March 11, Policy Planning produced a lengthy draft memo to Clifford outlining the history of Hanoi's positions on "talks", "negotiations", "settlement", and "no advantage" provision of the San Antonio formula. Its conclusion was that Hanoi had indicated "acceptance of the operative portion of the San Antonio formula," if we really wished to acknowledge it. Policy Planning suggested testing this by asking them to repeat recent private assurances about not attacking Khe Sanh, the cities, across the DMZ, etc. In an effort to move the Administration to a more forthcoming interpretation of the San Antonio formula, this memo proposed discussions with GVN to define what constituted North Vietnamese acceptance.
The memo which Warnke signed the next day went to both Clifford and Nitze and began with the statement: "I believe that we should begin to take steps now which will make possible the opening of negotiations with Hanoi within the next few months. I believe that such negotiations are much much in our interest His arguments were: With respect to the San Antoino formula, he pointed to a number of Hanoi statements accepting the "prompt and productive" U.S. stipulation for the negotiations, and offered his opinion that Hanoi had also hinted understanding and acquiescence in the "no advantage" provision. Warnke argued that further U.S. probing for assurances about "no advantage" would only reinforce Hanoi's impression that this was really a condition. If this occurred, he argued, Hanoi "may continue to denounce the San Antonio formula in public. This will make it difficult for us to halt the bombing if we decide that it is in our interest to do so." On the basis of these conclusions, Warnke recommended discussions with the GVN to explain our view of the desirability of negotiations and urged the completion of an inter-agency study preparing a U.S. position for the negotiations. He summed up his recommendation as follows:
After holding discussions with the GVN and completing the interagency study, we should halt the bombing and enter into negotiations, making "no advantage" and mutual de-escalation the first and immediate order of business at the negotiations.
If you approve this course of action, we will work with State on a detailed scenario for you to discuss with Mr. Rusk and the President.
Attached to Warnke's memo were separate supporting tabs outlining Hanoi's public and private responses to the San Antonio formula and arguing that Hanoi's conception of an acceptable negotiated settlement, as revealed in its statements, embodied a good deal of flexibility.
On the same day, Warnke signed a memo to the Director of CIA requesting a study of seven alternative bombing campaigns for the future. For unknown reasons, the memo was apparently never sent. The options for examination in this memo were all taken from the earlier draft memo with twelve options. Options 1-3 were all reduction or half options, but the wording of them suggests again that ISA was not aware of the high level attention being focused on a complete bombing halt north of 20°.
Neither Clifford's nor Nitze's reaction to Warnke's memo is available in the files, but two days later the Policy Planning Staff drafted a memorandum to the President for Clifford's signature which recommended a leveling off of our effort in the war--i.e., no new troops and a reconcentration of the bombing to the panhandle area. The memo went through several drafts and is probably typical of efforts going on simultaneously in other agencies. In its final form it urged the retargetting of air strikes from the top of the funnel in North Vietnam to the panhandle with only enough sorties northward to prevent the DRV from relocating air defenses to the south. A more detailed discussion of the bombing alternatives was appended to the memo and included consideration of four alternative programs. The first two were (1) a continuation of the current bombing program; and (2) an increase in the bombing including the reduction of the restricted zones and the mining of Haiphong. These two were analyzed jointly as follows:
The bombing of North Vietnam was undertaken to limit and/or make more difficult the infiltration of men and supplies in the South, to show Hanoi that it would have a price for its continued aggression, and to raise morale in South Vietnam. The last two purposes obviously have been achieved.
It has become abundantly clear that no level of bombing can prevent the North Vietnamese from supplying the forces and materiel necessary to maintain their military operations in the South at current levels. The recent Tet offensive has shown that the bombing cannot even prevent a significant increase in these military operations, at least on an intermittent basis. Moreover, the air war has not been very successful when measured by its impact on North Vietnam's economy. In spite of the large diversion of men and materiels necessitated by the bombing, communist foreign aid and domestic reallocation of manpower have sharply reduced the destruction effect of our air strikes.
The other two alternatives considered were a partial and a complete cessation of the bombing. Here is how ISA presented them:
3. A revision of the bombing effort in North Vietnam so that a maximum effort is exerted against the LOC's in Route Packages 1, 2, and 3 with bombing north of the 20th parallel limited to a level designed to cover only the most significant military targets and prevent the redistribution southward of air defenses, e.g. 5% of the attack sorties.
This reprogramming of our bombing efforts would devote primary emphasis on the infiltration routes south of the 20th parallel in the panhandle area of North Vietnam just to the north of the DMZ. It includes all of the areas now within Route Packages 1, 2 and 3. This program recognizes that our bombing emphasis should be designed to prevent military men and materiel from moving out of North Vietnam and into the South, rather than attempting to prevent materiel from entering North Vietnam. Occasional attack sorties north of this area would be employed to keep enemy air defenses and damage repair crews from relocating and to permit attack against the most important fixed targets. The effort against this part of North Vietnam through which all land infiltration passes would be intensive and sustained. Yet it provides Hanoi with a clear message that for political reasons we are willing to adjust our military tactics to accommodate a constructive move toward peace. A distinct benefit of this decision would be the lower plane loss rates which are realized in the southern areas of North Vietnam. (In 1967 the joint loss rate per thousand sorties in Route Packages 1, 2 and 3 was 1.36, while it was 5.73 in the more heavily defended Route Package 6 in which Hanoi and Haiphong are located.)
4. A complete cessation of all bombing in North Vietnam.
It would be politically untenable to initiate a complete cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam at a time when our forces in the northern provinces of South Vietnam are seriously threatened by large forces of North Vietnamese regulars, unless we were confident that these attacks would cease. Nevertheless, we must recognize that our intelligence analysts have advised that in spite of our significant bombing effort over the last 2-1/2 years, Hanoi retains the capability and the will to support the present or an increased level of hostilities in South Vietnam. On the other hand, they inform us that:
"If, however, the U.S. ceased the bombing of North Vietnam in the near future, Hanoi would probably respond more or less as indicated in its most recent statements. It would begin talks fairly soon, would accept a fairly wide ranging exploration of issues, but would not moderate its terms for a final settlement or stop fighting in the South."
As discussed elsewhere in this memorandum, a cessation of the bombing by us in North Vietnam is the required first step if a political solution to the conflict is to be found. We may want to seek some assurance from Hanoi that it would not attack from across the DMZ if we halt the bombing. Alternatively, we could stop all bombing except that directly related to ground operations and indicate that our attacks are in the nature of returning fire and will be halted when the enemy halts its attacks in the area.
These views of Clifford's staff never went to the White House, but are indicative of the direction and tone of the debates in the policy meeting within the Administration. Another aspect of the policy environment in March 1968 was ISA's isolation in arguing that Hanoi was moving toward acceptance of the San Antonio formula and a negotiated settlement. As we shall see, when the decision to halt the bombing north of 200 was finally made, it was not in the expectation that North Vietnam would come to the negotiating table.
d. The "Senior Informal Advisory Group"
At this juncture in mid-March, with the President vacillating as to a course of action, probably the most important influence on his thinking and ultimate decision was exercised by a small group of prominent men outside the Government, known in official Washington as the "Senior Informal Advisory Group." All had at one time or another over the last twenty years served as Presidential advisers. They gathered in Washington at the request of the President on March 18 to be briefed on the latest developments in the war and to offer Mr. Johnson the benefit of their experience in making a tough decision. Stuart Loory of the Los Angeles Times in an article in May reported what has been generally considered to be a reliable account of what took place during and after their visit to Washington and what advice they gave the President. The story as Loory reported it is included here in its entirety.
Hawks' Shift Precipitated Bombing Halt
Eight prominent hawks and a dove--all from outside the government--gathered in the White House for a night and day last March to judge the progress of the Vietnam war for President Johnson.
Their deliberations produced this verdict for the chief executive:
Continued escalation of the war--intensified bombing of North Vietnam and increased American troop strength in the South--would do no good. Forget about seeking a battlefield solution to the problem and instead intensify efforts to seek a political solution at the negotiating table.
The manner in which Mr. Johnson sought the advice of the nine men before arriving at the conclusion to de-escalate the war announced in his now famous March 31 speech, has been pieced together from conversations with reliable sources who asked to remain anonymous.
The nine men, Republicans and Democrats with extensive experience in formulating foreign policy, were among those frequently consulted by Mr. Johnson from time to time during the war. At each consultation prior to March they had been overwhelmingly in favor of prosecuting the war vigorously with more men and material, with intensified bombing of North Vietnam, with increased efforts to create a viable government in the South.
As recently as last December they had expressed this view to the President. The only dissenter among them--one who had been a dissenter from the beginning--was former Undersecretary of State George Ball.
March 18th Meeting
The men who have come to be known to a small circle in the government as the President's "senior informal advisory group" convened in the White House early on the evening of March 18th.
Present in addition to Ball were: Arthur Dean, a Republican New York lawyer who was a Korean War negotiator during the Eisenhower administration; Dean Acheson, former President Truman's Secretary of State; Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway, the retired commander of United Nations troops in Korea; Gen. Maxwell Taylor, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Cyrus Vance, former Deputy Defense Secretary and a key troubleshooter for the Johnson Administration; McGeorge Bundy, Ford Foundation President who had been special assistant for National security affairs to Mr. Johnson and former President Kennedy; former Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon and Gen. Omar Bradley, a leading supporter of the President's war policies.
First the group met over dinner with Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Defense Secretary Clark M. Clifford Ambassador W. Averell Harriman; Walt W. Rostow, the President's special assistant for National security affairs; Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Richard Helms, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Paul Nitze, Deputy Defense Secretary; Nicholas Katzenbach, Undersecretary of State; and William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
The outsiders questioned the government officials carefully on the war, the pacification program and the condition of the South Vietnamese government after the Tet offensive. They included in their deliberations the effect of the war on the United States.
After dinner the government officials left and the group received three briefings.
Philip C. Habib, a deputy to William Bundy and now a member of the American negotiating team in Paris, delivered an unusually frank briefing on the conditions in Vietnam after the Tet offensive. He covered such matters as corruption in South Vietnam and the growing refugee problem.
Habib, according to reliable sources, told the group that the Saigon government was generally weaker than had been realized as a result of the Tet offensive. He related the situation, some said, with greater frankness than the group had previously heard.
In addition to Habib, Maj. Gen. William E. DePuy, special assistant to the Joint Chiefs for counterinsurgency and special activities, briefed the group on the military situation, and George Carver, a CIA analyst, gave his agency's estimates of conditions in the war zone.
The briefings by DePuy and Carver reflected what many understood as a dispute over enemy strength between the Defense Department and the CIA which has been previously reported. Discrepancies in the figures resulted from the fact that DePuy's estimates of enemy strength covered only identifiable military units, while Carver's included all known military, paramilitary and parttime enemy strength available.
The morning of March 19, the advisory group assembled in the White House to discuss what they had heard the previous evening and arrived at their verdict. It was a striking turnabout in attitude for all but Ball.
After their meeting, the group met the President for lunch. It was a social affair. No business was transacted. The meal finished, the advisers delivered their verdict to the President.
He was reportedly greatly surprised at their conclusions. When he asked them where they had obtained the facts on which the conclusions were based, the group told him of the briefings by Habib, DePuy and Carver.
Mr. Johnson knew that the three men had also briefed his governmental advisers, but he had not received the same picture of the war as Rostow presented the reports to him.
As a result of the discrepancy, the President ordered his own direct briefings. At least Habib and DePuy--and almost certainly Carver--had evening sessions with the President.
Habib was reportedly as frank with the President as he had been with the advisory group. The President asked tough questions. "Habib stuck to his guns," one source reported.
On top of all this, Clifford, since he had become Defense Secretary, came to the same conclusions Robert 5. McNamara had reached-that the bombing of North Vietnam was not achieving its objectives.
The impact of this group's recommendation coupled with the new briefings the President received about conditions and prospects in the war zone were major factors in cementing the decision not to expand the war but to attempt a de-escalation. The Joint Chiefs for their part were still seeking authorization to strike targets with the Hanoi and Haiphong restricted areas and further escalation of the bombing. On March 19, a Tuesday, they proposed hitting one target in Hanoi and one in Haiphong that had previously been rejected by both Rusk and McNamara plus the Hanoi docks near large population concentrations. These were probably considered at the noon luncheon at the White House, but they were apparently not approved as no attacks occurred. The military leaders, even at this late hour when the disposition of the administration against any further escalation seemed clear, still pressed for new targets and new authority.
4. March 31--"I Shall Not Seek. . . Another Term as Your President."
a. The Decision.
No exact date on which the President made the decision to curtail the bombing
can be identified with certainty. It is reasonably clear that the decisions
on the ground war were made on or before March 22. On that date, the President announced that General William Westmoreland would be replaced as COMUSMACV during the coming summer. He was to return to Washington to become Chief of Staff of the Army. The decision was clearly related to the force deployment decisions explicitly taken and the new strategy they implied. Three days after this announcement, that had been greeted in the press as a harbinger, General Creighton Abrams, Deputy COMUSMACV, arrived in Washington without prior announcement for conferences with the President. Speculation was rife that he was to be named Westmoreland's successor. On the 26th he and the President huddled and Mr. Johnson probably informed him of his intentions, both with respect to force augmentations and the bombing restraint, and his intention to designate Abrams the new COMUSMACV. In the days that followed, the speech drafters took over, writing and rewriting the President's momentous address. Finally, it was decided that the announcement speech would be made on nation-wide television from the White House on the evening of March 31.
The night before the speech a cable under Katzenbach's signature, drafted by William Bundy, went out to US Embassies in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and South Korea slugged "Literally Eyes Only for Ambassador or Chargé." It instructed the addressees that they were to see their heads of government and inform them that:
After full consultation with GVN and with complete concurrence of Thieu and Ky, President plans policy announcement Sunday night that would have following major elements:
a. Major stress on importance of GVN and ARVN increased effectiveness, with our equipment and other support as first priority in our own action.
b. 13,500 support forces to be called up at once in order to round out the 10,500 combat units sent in February.
c. Replenishment of strategic reserve by calling up 48,500 additional reserves, stating that these would be designed for strategic reserve.
d. Related tax increases and budget cuts already largely needed for non-Vietnam reasons.
. . . In addition, after similar consultation and concurrence, President proposes to announce that bombing will be restricted to targets most directly engaged in the battlefield area and that this meant that there would be no bombing north of 20th parallel. Announcement would leave open how Hanoi might respond, and would be open-ended as to time. However, it would indicate that Hanoi's response could be helpful in determining whether we were justified in assumption that Hanoi would not take advantage if we stopping bombing altogether. Thus, it would to this extent foreshadow possibility of full bombing stoppage at a later point.
The significance of the decision they were to communicate to their respective heads of government could hardly have been lost on the Ambassadors. Nevertheless, the cable dramatized the importance of preventing premature leaks by stating that the Ambassadors were to tell the heads of Government to whom they were accreditted that they were "under strictest injunction to hold it in total confidence and not to tell any one repeat anyone until after announcement is made. This is vital. Similarly you should tell no member of your staff whatever." It is important to note that the cable defines the delimited area for the bombing halt as north of 20°. This apparently was the intent of the President and his advisors all along, but sometime before the speech was delivered any specific reference to the geographic point of limitation was eliminated, for undetermined reasons, if it ever had been included.
The March 30 cable offered the Ambassadors some additional explanatory rationale for the new course that they were to use at their discretion in conversations with their heads of government. These are important because they represent the only available recorded statement by the Administration of its understanding of the purposes and expectations behind the new direction in Vietnam policy. It is also significant that the points concerning the bombing halt are extremely close to those in Secretary Rusk's draft points of March 5. Here, then, is how the Administration understood the new policy, and wished to have understood by our allies:
a. You should call attention to force increases that would be announced at the same time and would make clear our continued resolve. Also our top priority to re-equipping ARVN forces.
b. You should make clear that Hanoi is most likely to denounce the project and thus free our hand after a short period. Nonetheless, we might wish to continue the limitation even after a formal denunciation, in order to reinforce its sincerity and put the monkey firmly on Hanoi's back for whatever follows. Of course, any major military change could compel full-scale resumption at any time.
c. With or without denunciation, Hanoi might well feel limited in conducting any major offensives at least in the northern areas. If they did so, this could ease the pressure where it is most potentially serious. If they did not, then this would give us a clear field for whatever actions were then required.
d. In view of weather limitations, bombing north of the 20th parallel will in any event be limited at least for the next four weeks or so--which we tentatively envisage as a maximum testing period in any event. Hence, we are not giving up anything really serious in this time frame. Moreover, air power now used north of 20th can probably be used in Laos (where no policy change planned) and in SVN.
e. Insofar as our announcement foreshadows any possibility of a complete bombing stoppage, in the event Hanoi really exercises reciprocal restraints, we regard this as unlikely. But in any case, the period of demonstrated restraint would probably have to continue for a period of several weeks, and we would have time to appraise the situation and to consult carefully with them before we undertook any such action.
It is important to note that the Administration did not expect the bombing restraint to produce a positive Hanoi reply. This view apparently was never seriously disputed at any time during the long month of deliberations within the Government, except by ISA. The fact that the President was willing to go beyond the San Antonio formula and curtail the air raids at a time when few responsible advisors were suggesting that such action would produce peace talks is strong evidence of the major shift in thinking that took place in Washington about the war and the bombing after Tet 1968. The fact of anticipated bad weather over much of northern North Vietnam in the succeeding months is important in understanding the timing of the halt, although it can plausibly be argued that many advisors would have found another convenient rationale if weather had been favorable.
Finally, the message concluded with an invitation for the respective governments to respond positively to the announcement and with an apology for the tardiness with which they were being informed of this momentous action. "Vital Congressional timing factors" was the rather lame excuse offered, along with the need for "full and frank" consultation with the GVN before the decision (contradicting the impression the GVN put out after the announcement). The stage was thus finally set for the drama of the President's speech.
b. The Speech
At 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Thursday March 31 Lyndon Johnson stepped before the TV cameras in the Oval Room of the White House and began, in grave and measured tones, one of the most important speeches of his life. His first words struck the theme of what was to come:
Good Evening, my fellow Americans.
Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Underscoring the peaceful motivations of past and present U.S. policy in the
area, he reviewed the recent history of U.S. attempts to bring peace to Viet
For years, representatives of our government and others have travelled the world--seeking to find a basis for peace talks.
Since last September, they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio.
That offer was this:
That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions--and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government, and the allies of South Vietnam.
The President noted that the Viet Cong had apparently decided to make 1968 the year of decision in Vietnam and their Tet offensive had been the unsuccessful attempt to win a breakthrough victory. Although they had failed, the President acknowledged their capability to renew the attacks if they wished. He forcefully asserted, however, that the allies would again have the power to repel their assault if they did decide to attack. Continuing, he led up to his announcement of the bombing halt in this way:
If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies.
But tragically, this is also clear: many men--on both sides of the struggle--will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on.
There is no need for this to be so.
There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and bloody war.
Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August--to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi wilinot take advantage of our restraint.
We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations.
So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict. We are reducing--substantially reducing--the present level of hostilities.
And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once.
Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area north of the DeMilitarized Zone where the continuing enemy build-up directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat.
The President then defined, albeit vaguely, the area within which the bombing would be restricted and suggested that all bombing could halt if the other side would reciprocate by scaling down hostilities.
The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam's population, and most of its territory. Thus there will be not attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam.
Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end--if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events.
In the hope that the unilateral U.S. initiative would "permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement," the President called on the UK and the Soviet Union to do what they could to get negotiations started. Repeating his offer to meet at any time and place he designated his representative should talks actually occur:
I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place--just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference.
I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace.
But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible.
Turning his attention to other matters, the President outlined the limited steps that the U.S. would take to strengthen its forces in South Vietnam and the measures he would push to improve the South Vietnamese Army. He then discussed the cost of the new efforts, the domestic frugality they would require, and the balance of payments efforts necessary to their implementation. Next he outlined his own views of the unlikelihood of peace, in an attempt to head off any false hope that the bombing cessation might generate:
Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace:
--the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam,
--that all the Vietnamese people will be permitted to rebuild and develop their land,
--that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home.
I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years.
But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that has left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table.
And there may come a time when South Vietnam--on both sides--are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war.
As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year.
We have no intention of widening this war.
But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace.
No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement.
Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective--taking over the South by force--could not be achieved.
We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords of 1954--under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese--all the South Vietnamese--to chart their course free of any outside domination or interference, from us or from anyone else.
So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila--that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the North, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides.
Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia--where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence.
The President praised the progressive developments in much of Asia in recent years and offered the prospect of similar progress in Southeast Asia if North Vietnam would settle the war. He repeated the Johns Hopkins offer of assistance to North Vietnam to rebuild its economy. In his peroration he spoke with deep conviction and much feeling about the purposes and reasons for the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia's destiny which he had authorized. It represents perhaps our best insight into the President's understanding and motivation in the war, as well as his hopes and dreams:
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia.
It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it--those whose armies are at war tonight, and those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared.
Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it--and to sacrifice for it--and to die by the thousands for it.
But let it never be forgotten: peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it.
It has not been easy--far from it. During the past four and a half years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be commander-in-chief. I have lived--daily and nightly--with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know perhaps better than anyone the misgivings that it has aroused.
Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle:
--that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American.
Surely we have treaties which we must respect. Surely we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia.
But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam--under three Presidents, three separate Administrations--has always been America's own security.
And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent and stand alone, self-sustaining as members of a great world community.
--At peace with themselves, and at peace with all others.
With such an Asia, our country--and the world--will be far more secure than it is tonight.
I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality, because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle--fighting there for us tonight--are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one.
The peace that will bring them home some day will come. Tonight I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace.
I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace.
Listing the achievements of his administration and warning against the perils of division in America, the President ended his speech with his emotional announcement that he would not run for re-election.
Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my Party for another term as your President.
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace--and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause--whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifices that duty may require.
Thank you for listening.
Good night and God bless all of you.
The speech had an electric effect on the U.S. and the whole world. It completely upset the American political situation, spurred world-wide hopes that peace might be imminent and roused fear and concern in South Vietnam about the depth and reliability of the American commitment. As already noted, no one in the Administration had seriously expected a positive reaction from Hanoi, and when the North Vietnamese indicated three days later that they would open direct contacts with the U.S. looking toward discussions and eventual negotiation of a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the whole complexion and context of the war was changed. To be sure, there was the unfortunate and embarrassing wrangle about exactly where the northern limit of the U.S. bombing would be fixed, with CINCPAC having sent extremely heavy sorties to the very limits of the 20th parallel on the day after the announcement only to be subsequently ordered to restrict his attacks below 19° on April 3. And there was the exasperatingly long public struggle between the U.S. and the DRV about where their representatives would meet and what title the contacts would be given, not finally resolved until May. But it was unmistakably clear throughout all this time that a major corner in the war and in American policy had been turned and that there was no going back. The President's decision was enormously well received at home and greeted with enthusiasm abroad where it appeared at long last there was a possibility of removing this annoyingly persistent little war in Asia as a roadblock to progress on other matters of worldwide importance involving East and West.
The President's speech at the end of March was, of course, not the end of the bombing much less the war, and a further history of the role of the limited air strikes could and should be undertaken. But the decision to cut back the bombing, the decision that turned American policy toward a peaceful settlement of the war, is a logical and fitting place to terminate this particular inquiry into the policy process that surrounded the air war. Henceforth, the decisions about the bombing would be made primarily in the Pacific by the field commanders since no vitally sensitive targets requiring continuing Washington level political review were within the reduced attack zone. A very significant chapter in the history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war had come to a close.
As those who struggled with the policy decisions about the bombing came to learn, any dispassionate and objective appraisal of it is almost impossible. As McGeorge Bundy noted in September 1967 after the Stennis hearings, both its proponents and its opponents have been guilty of excesses in their advocacy and criticism. As Bundy put it, "My own summary belief is that both the advocates and the opponents of the bombing continue to exaggerate its importance." To be sure, the bombing had not been conducted to its fullest potential, but on the other hand it had been much heavier and had gone on much longer than many if not most of its advocates had expected at the outset. Whether more might have been accomplished by different bombing policy decisions, at the start or along the way--in particular the last full squeeze favored by the JCS--would necessarily remain an open question. What can be said in the end is that its partial suspension in part did produce what most had least expected--a breakthrough in the deadlock over negotiations. And that in the longer view of history may turn out to be its most significant contribution.
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.
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