Excerpt and Links
PENTAGON PAPERS ONLINE (NATIONAL ARCHIVES SITE)
"Report of the Office of the Secretary of
Defense Vietnam Task Force" (7,000 pages in pdf format)
(first made fully available to
public in 2011)
[From The Pentagon
Edition, Volume 4, Chapter 1, "The Air War in Vietnam, 1965-1968"]
July Escalation Debate
The full U.S.
entry into the Vietnam War in the spring of 1965--with the launching of
strikes against NVN, the release of U.S. jet aircraft for close support
troops in SVN, and the deployment to SVN of major U.S. ground forces
combat--did not bring an immediate turnabout in the security situation
The VCINV A may have been surprised and stunned at first by the U.S.
but by the summer of 1965 they had again seized the initiative they
late 1964 and early 1965 and were again mounting large-scale attacks,
AR VN forces badly. In mid-July Assistant Secretary McNaughton
situation in ominous terms:
The situation is
worse than a year ago (when it was worse than a year before that). . .
. A hard
VC push is on. . . . The US air strikes against the North and US
deployments have erased any South Vietnamese fears that the US will
them; but the government is able to provide security to fewer and fewer
in less and less territory, fewer roads and railroads are usable, the
is deteriorating, and the government in Saigon continues to turn over.
Pacification even in the Hop Tac area is making no progress. The
ratio overall is now only 3-to-l, and in combat battalions only 1-to-l;
government desertions are at a high rate, and the Vietnamese force
stalled; the VC reportedly are trying to double their combat strength.
are no signs that the VC have been throttled by US/GVN interdiction
indeed, there is evidence of further PAVN build-up in the I and II
The DRV/VC seem to believe that SVN is near collapse and show no signs
interested in settling for less than a complete take-over.
Faced with this
gloomy situation, the leading question on the U.S. agenda for Vietnam
further major escalation of troop commitments, together with a call-up
reserves, extension of military tours, and a general expansion of the
The question of
intensifying the air war against the North was a subsidiary issue, but
related to the troop question in several ways. The military view, as
in JCS proposals and proposals from the field, was that the war should
intensified on all fronts, in the North no less than in the South.
political merit in this view as well, since it was difficult to
justify sending in masses of troops to slug it out on the ground
least trying to see whether stronger pressures against NVN would help:
other hand, there was continued high-level interest in preventing a
atmosphere from developing, and in avoiding any over-reaction by NVN
allies, so that a simultaneous escalation in both the North and the
needed to be handled with care. The bombing of the North, coupled with
deployment of substantial forces should not look like an effort to
NVN for an invasion.
During the last
days of June with U.S. air operations against North Vietnam well into
fifth month, with U.S. forces in South Vietnam embarking for the first
upon major ground combat operations, and with the President near a
that would increase American troop strength in Vietnam from 70,000 to
200,000, Under Secretary of State George Ball sent to his
colleagues among the
small group of Vietnam "principals" in Washington a memorandum
warning that the United States was poised on the brink of a military
political disaster. Neither through expanded bombing of the North nor
substantial increase in U.S. forces in the South would the United
likely to achieve its objectives, Ball argued. Instead of escalation,
"we should undertake either to extricate ourselves or to reduce our
defense perimeters in South Viet-Nam to accord with the capabilities of
limited US deployment."
is our last clear chance to make this
decision," the Under-Secretary asserted. And in a separate
to the President, he explained why:
The decision you
face now, therefore, is crucial. Once large numbers of US troops are
to direct combat they will begin to take heavy casualties in a war they
to fight in a non-cooperative if not downright hostile countryside.
Once we suffer
large casualties we will have started a well-nigh irreversible process.
involvement will be so great that we cannot--without national
short of achieving our complete objectives. Of
the two possibilities 1 think humiliation would be more likely than the
achievement of our objectives--even after we have paid terrible costs.
was much on the minds of those involved in the making of American
Vietnam during the spring and summer of 1965. The word, or phrases
same thing, appears in countless memoranda. No one put it as starkly as
Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, who in late March
relative weights to various American objectives in Vietnam. In
view the principal U.S. aim was "to avoid a humiliating US defeat (to
reputation as a guarantor)." To this he assigned the weight of 70%.
Second, but far less important at only 20% was "to keep SVN (and then
adjacent) territory from Chinese hands." And a minor third, at but 10%,
was "to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of
differed from all the others was in his willingness to incur
"humiliation" that was certain--but also limited and short-term--by
withdrawing American forces in order to avoid the uncertain but not
prospect of a military defeat at a higher level of involvement. Thus he
entitled his memorandum "Cutting Our Losses in South Viet-Nam." In
it and in his companion memorandum to the President ("A Compromise
for South Viet-Nam") he went on to outline a program, first, of placing
ceiling on U.S. deployments at present authorized levels (72,000 men)
restricting their combat roles, and, second, of beginning negotiations
Hanoi for a cessation of hostilities and the formation in Saigon of a
"government of National Union" that would include representatives of
National Liberation Front. Ball's argument was based upon his sense of
priorities. As he told his colleagues:
taken in this memorandum does not suggest that the United States should
abdicate leadership in the cold war. But any prudent military commander
carefully selects the terrain on which to stand and fight, and no great
has ever been blamed for a successful tactical withdrawal.
From our point
of view, the terrain in South Viet-Nam could not be worse. Jungles and
paddies are not designed for modern arms and, from a military point of
this is clearly what General de Gaulle described to me as a "rotten
South Viet-Nam is a lost cause. The country is bled white from twenty
war and the people are sick of it. The Viet Cong-as is shown by the
Corporation Motivation and Morale Study-are deeply committed.
Hanoi has a
Government and a purpose and a discipline. The "government" in Saigon
is a travesty. In a very real sense, South Viet-Nam is a country with
and no government.
In my view, a
deep commitment of United States forces in a land war in South Viet-Nam
be a catastrophic error. If ever there was an occasion for a tactical
withdrawal, this is it.
was perhaps most antithetic to one being put forward at the same time
Secretary of State Rusk. In a memorandum he wrote on 1 July, Rusk
bluntly: "The central objective of the United States in South VietNam
be to insure that North Viet-Nam not succeed in taking over or
future of South Viet-Nam by force. We must accomplish this objective
general war if possible." Here was a statement that the American
commitment to the Vietnam war was, in effect, absolute, even to the
risking general war. The Secretary went on to explain why he felt that
absolute commitment was necessary:
The integrity of
the U.S. commitment is the principal pillar of peace throughout the
world. If that
commitment becomes unreliable, the communist world would draw
would lead to our ruin and almost certainly to a catastrophic war. So
the South Vietnamese are prepared to fight for themselves, we cannot
them without disaster to peace and to our interests throughout the
In short, if
"the U.S. commitment" were once seen to be unreliable, the risk of
the outbreak of general war would vastly increase. Therefore, prudence
dictate risking general war, if necessary, in order to demonstrate that
United States would meet its commitments. In either case, some risk
involved, but in the latter case the risk would be lower. The task of
statesman is to choose among unpalatable alternatives. For the
of State, this meant an early withdrawal from Vietnam. For the
meant an open-ended commitment.
Ball was, of
course, alone among the Vietnam principals in arguing for de-escalation
political "compromise." At the same time that he and Rusk wrote these
papers, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy and Secretary of
McNamara also went on record with recommendations for the conduct of
Bundy's paper, "A 'Middle Way' Course of Action in South Vietnam,"
argued for a delay in further U.S. troop commitments and in escalation
bombing campaign against North Vietnam, but a delay only in order to
American public time to digest the fact that the United States was
engaged in a
land war on the Asian mainland, and for U.S. commanders to make certain
their men were, in fact, capable of fighting effectively in conditions
counterinsurgency warfare without either arousing the hostility of the
population or causing the Vietnamese government and army simply to ease
allow the Americans to "take over" their war.
however, the military situation in South Vietnam was too serious to
luxury of delay. In a memorandum to the President drafted on 1 July and
revised on 20 July, immediately following his return from a week-long
Vietnam, he recommended an immediate decision to increase the
Country presence from the current 16 maneuver battalions (15 U.S., one
Australian) to 44 (34 U.S., nine Korean, one Australian), and a change
mission of these forces from one of providing support and reinforcement
ARVN to one which soon became known as "search and destroy"--as
McNamara put it, they were "by aggressive exploitation of superior
military forces. . . to gain and hold the initiative. . . pressing the
against VC/DRV main force units in South Vietnam to run them to ground
At the same
time, McNamara argued for a substantial intensification of the air war.
July version of his memorandum recommended a total quarantine of the
of war supplies into North Vietnam, by sea, rail, and road, through the
of Haiphong and all other harbors and the destruction of rail and road
leading from China to Hanoi; the Secretary also urged the destruction
fighter airfields and SAM sites "as necessary" to accomplish these
On 2 July the
JCS, supporting the views in the DPM, reiterated a recommendation for
implementation of an intensified bombing program against NVN, to
additional deployments which were under consideration. The
for a sharp escalation of the bombing, with the emphasis on
supplies into as well as out of NVN. Like the DPM, it called for
the movement of "war supplies" into NVN by mining the major ports and
cutting the rail and highway bridges on the LOCs from China to Hanoi;
intensive armed reconnaissance against all LOCs and LOC facilities
destroying the "war-making" supplies and facilities of NVN,
especially POL; and destroying airfields and SAM sites as necessary to
accomplish the other tasks. The JCS estimated that an increase from the
2000 to about 5000 attack sorties per month would be required to carry
The elements of
greater risk in the JCS proposals were obvious. The recommendation to
ports and to strike airfields and SAM sites had already been rejected
special Soviet or Chinese escalatory implications, and even air strikes
LOCs from China were considered dangerous. U.S. intelligence agencies
that if such strikes occurred the Chinese might deliberately engage
aircraft over NVN from bases in China. CIA thought the chances were
even" that this would occur; DIA and the Service intelligence agencies
thought the chances of this would increase but considered it still
and State thought the chances "better than even."
Apart from this
element of greater risk, however, intelligence agencies held out some
an intensified bombing program like that proposed by the JCS (less
ports, which they were not asked to consider) would badly hurt the NVN
damage NVN's ability to support the effort in SVN, and even lead Hanoi
consider negotiations. An SNIE of 23 July estimated that the extension
attacks only to military targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area was not
"significantly injure the Viet Cong ability to persevere" or to
"persuade the Hanoi government that the price of persisting was
unacceptably high." Sustained interdiction of the LOCs from China, in
addition, would make the delivery of Soviet and Chinese aid more
costly and would have a serious impact on the NVN economy, but it would
not have a "critical impact" on "the Communist determination to
persevere" and would not seriously impair Viet Cong capabilities in
"at least for the short term." However:
If, in addition,
POL targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong area were destroyed by air attacks,
capability to provide transportation for the general economy would be
reduced. It would also complicate their military logistics. If
forces were employed in South Vietnam on a scale sufficient to counter
increased US troop strength [which the SNIE said was "almost certain"
to happen] this would substantially increase the amount of supplies
the South. The Viet Cong also depend on supplies from the North to
their present level of large-scale operations. The accumulated strains
prolonged curtailment of supplies received from North Vietnam would
have an impact on the Communist effort in the South. They would
inhibit and might even prevent an increase in large-scale Viet Cong
activity, though they would probably not force any significant
Viet Cong terrorist tactics of harassment and sabotage. These strains,
if they produced a serious check in the development of Viet Cong
for large-scale (multi-battalion) operations might lead the Viet Cong
certain reservations with respect to the above estimate. The State and
intelligence representatives on USIB registered a dissent, stating that
under heavier attack the LOC capacities in NVN and Laos were sufficient
the war in SVN at the scale envisaged in the estimate. They also
that it was impossible to do irreparable damage to the LOCs, that the
Communists had demonstrated considerable logistic resourcefulness and
considerable ability to move large amounts of war material long
difficult terrain by primitive means, and that in addition it was
detect, let alone stop, sea infiltration. On balance, however, the SNIE
close to predicting that intensified interdiction attacks would have a
beneficial effect on the war in the South.
decision with these kinds of implications, the President wanted more
information and asked McNamara to go on another fact-gathering trip to
before submitting his final recommendations on a course of action. In
anticipation of the trip, McNaughton prepared a memo summarizing his
of the problem. McNaughton wrote that "meaningful negotiations" were
unlikely until the situation began to look gloomier for the VC, and
with 200,000400,000 U.S. troops in SVN the chances of a "win" by 1968
(i.e., in the next 2½, years) were only 50-50. But he
recommended that the
infiltration routes be hit hard, "at least to put a 'ceiling' on what
be infiltrated;" and he recommended that the limit on targets be 'Just
short" of population targets, the China border, and special targets
SAM sites which might trigger Soviet or Chinese reactions.
for Vietnam on July 14 and
returned a week later with a revised version of his July 1st DPM ready
sent to the President as a final recommendation. The impact of the
visit was to
soften considerably the position he had apparently earlier taken. His
memorandum backed off from the 1 July recommendations--perhaps,
although it is
impossible to tell from the available materials--because of intimations
such drastic escalation would be unacceptable to the President. Instead
mining North Vietnam's harbors as a quarantine measure, the Secretary
recommended it as a possible "severe reprisal should the VC or DRV
a particularly damaging or horhendous act" such as "interdiction of the
Saigon river." But he recommended a gradual increase in the number of
strike sorties against North Vietnam from the existing 2,500 per month
"or more," still "avoiding striking population and industrial
targets not closely related to the DRV's supply of war material to the
which infused McNamara's recommendations stemmed from his estimate that
"the situation in South Vietnam is worse than a year ago (when it was
worse than a year before that)." The VC had launched a drive "to
dismember the nation and maul the army"; since 1 June the GVN had been
forced to abandon six district capitals and had only retaken one.
communications lines throughout the country were being cut, isolating
and cities and causing sharp deterioration of the already shaky
economy. Air Marshal Ky presided over a government of generals which
prospect of being able to unite or energize the country. In such a
U.S. air and ground actions thus far had put to rest Vietnamese fears
might be abandoned, but they had not decisively affected the course of
Therefore, McNamara recommended escalation. His specific
noted, were concurred in by General Wheeler and Ambassador-designate
accompanied him on his trip to Vietnam, and by Ambassador Taylor,
Johnson, Admiral Sharp, and General Westmoreland, with whom he
The rationale for his decisions was supplied by the CIA, whose
quoted with approval in concluding the 1 July version of his
Over the longer
term we doubt if the Communists are likely to change their basic
Vietnam (i.e., aggressive and steadily mounting insurgency) unless and
conditions prevail: (l) they are forced to accept a situation in the
war in the
South which offers them no prospect of an early victory and no grounds
that they can simply outlast the US and (2) North Vietnam itself is
continuing and increasingly damaging punitive attack. So long as the
think they scent the possibility of an early victory (which is probably
case), we believe that they will persevere and accept extremely severe
to the North. Conversely, if North Vietnam itself is not hurting,
doctrinaire leaders will probably be ready to carry on the Southern
almost indefinitely. If, however, both of the conditions outlined above
be brought to pass, we believe Hanoi probably would, at least for a
period of time,
alter its basic strategy and course of action in South Vietnam.
memorandum of 20 July did not include this quotation, although many of
points were made elsewhere in the paper. Instead, it concluded with an
evaluation is that the course of action recommended in this
military and political moves are properly integrated and executed with
continuing vigor and visible determination--stands a good chance of
an acceptable outcome within a reasonable time in Vietnam.
while he was Secretary of Defense would McNamara make so optimistic a
about Vietnam--except in public.
paragraph of McNamara's memorandum spoke of political, as well as
"vigor" and "determination." Earlier in the paper, under
the heading "Expanded political moves," he had elaborated on this
the above military moves, we should take political initiatives in order
a groundwork for a favorable political settlement by clarifying our
and establishing channels of communications. At the same time as we are
steps to turn the tide in South Vietnam, we would make quiet moves
diplomatic channels (a) to open a dialogue with Moscow and Hanoi, and
the VC, looking first toward disabusing them of any misconceptions as
goals and second toward laying the groundwork for a settlement when the
ripe; (b) to keep the Soviet Union from deepening its military in the
until the time when settlement can be achieved; and (c) to cement
US policy by the US public, allies and friends, and to keep
opposition at a manageable level. Our efforts may be unproductive until
tide begins to turn, but nevertheless they should be made.
scarcely a program for drastic political action. McNamara's essentially
procedural (as opposed to substantive) recommendations amounted to
than saying that the United States should provide channels for the
discrete and relatively face-saving surrender when he decided that the
grown too costly. This was, in fact, what official Washington (again
exception of Ball) meant in mid-1965 when it spoke of a "political
settlement." (As McNamara noted in a footnote, even this went too far
Ambassador-designate Lodge, whose view was that "'any further
by us now [before we are strong] would simply harden the Communist
to stop fighting.'" In this view Ambassadors Taylor and Johnson
except that they would maintain "discreet contacts with the
concluding paragraph spoke of "an acceptable outcome." Previously in
his paper he had listed "nine fundamental elements" of a favorable
outcome. These were:
(a) VC stop
attacks and drastically reduce incidents of terror and sabotage.
(b) DRV reduces
infiltration to a trickle, with some reasonably reliable method of our
obtaining confirmation of this fact.
(c) US/GVN stop
bombing of North Vietnam.
(d) GVN stays
independent (hopefully pro-US, but possibly genuinely neutral).
exercises governmental functions over substantially all of South
remain quiescent in Laos and Thailand.
withdraws PAVN forces and other North Vietnamese infiltrators (not
from South Vietnam.
transform from a military to a purely political organization.
(i) US combat
forces (not advisors or AID) withdraw.
"fundamental elements," McNamara said, could evolve with or without
express agreement and, indeed, except for what might be negotiated
to a cease-fire they were more likely to evolve without an explicit
than with one. So far as the difference between a "favorable" and an
"acceptable" outcome was concerned, he continued, there was no need
for the present to address the question of whether the United States
"ultimately settle for something less than the nine fundamentals,"
because the force deployments recommended in the memorandum would be
prerequisite to the achievement of any acceptable settlement; "a
can be made later, when bargaining becomes a reality, whether to
then, McNamara's program consisted of first substantially increasing
pressure on the enemy by every means short of those, such as the
population centers in the North, that would run sizeable risks of
Soviet or Chinese direct intervention in the war, and then seeking a de
political settlement essentially on US/GVN terms.
The July 20 memo
to the President was followed up by two others on specific aspects of
problem before the end of July. On July 28, he replied to a series of
points made by Senator Mansfield with respect to the Vietnam war. In so
Secretary McNamara informed the President of his doubts that even a
"greatly expanded program" could be expected to produce significant
NVN interest in a negotiated settlement "until they have been
in their hopes for a quick military success in the South." Meanwhile he
favored "strikes at infiltration routes" to impose a ceiling on what
NVN could pour into SVN, "thereby putting a ceiling on the size of war
that the enemy can wage there." He warned that a greatly increased
would create even more serious risks of "confrontations" with the
Soviet Union and China.
that the current bombing program was on the way to accomplishing its
and should be continued. The future program, he said, should:
the threat. It should be
structured to capitalize on fear of future attacks. At any time,
"pressure" on the DRV depends not upon the current level of bombing
but rather upon the credible threat of future destruction which can be
by agreeing to negotiate or agreeing to some settlement in negotiations.
the loss of DRV "face."
The program should be designed to make it politically easy for the DRV
negotiations and to make concessions during negotiations. It may be
easier for North Vietnam to accept negotiations and/or to make
concessions at a
time when bombing of their territory is not currently taking place.
interdiction vs. political costs.
Interdiction should be carried out so as to maximize effectiveness and
minimize the political repercussions from the methods used. Physically,
makes no difference whether a rifle is interdicted on its way into
Vietnam, on its way out of North Vietnam, in Laos or in South Vietnam.
different amounts of effort and different political prices may be paid
depending on how and where it is done. The critical variables in this
are (1) the type of targets struck, (e.g., port facilities involving
casualties vs. isolated bridges), (2) types of aircraft (e.g., B-52s
F-105s), (3) kinds of weapons (e.g., napalm vs. ordinary bombs), (4)
of target (e.g., in Hanoi vs. Laotian border area), and (5) the
declaratory policy (e.g., unlimited vs. a defined interdiction zone).
with other influences on the DRV.
So long as full victory in the South appears likely, the effect of the
program in promoting negotiations or a settlement will probably be
bombing program now and later should be designed for its influence on
at that unknown time when the DRV becomes more optimistic about what
achieve in a settlement acceptable to us than about what they can
continuation of the war.
undue risks and costs. The program
should avoid bombing which runs a high risk of escalation into war with
Soviets or China and which is likely to appall allies and friends.
McNamara's 5 principles prevailed. The bombing continued to expand and
intensify, but there was no abrupt switch in bombing policy and no
escalation. The high-value targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area were kept
limits, so as not to "kill the hostage." Interdiction remained the
chief criterion for target selection, and caution continued to be
with respect to sensitive targets. The idea of a possible bombing
than the last, was kept alive. The Secretary refused to approve an
concept for fighting the Vietnam War which included much heavier
THUNDER strikes against key military and economic targets coordinated
blockade and mining attack on NVN ports, and he also continued to veto
for dramatic attacks on major POL depots, power plants, airfields, and
The expansion of
ROLLING THUNDER during the rest of 1965 followed the previous pattern
step-by-step progression. The approval cycle shifted from one-week to
target packages. New fixed targets from the JCS list of major targets,
grew from 94 to 236 by the end of the year, continued to be selected in
Washington. The number of these new targets was kept down to a few per
most of them LOC-related. Few strikes were authorized in the vital
quadrant, north of 21° N. and east of 106° E., which contained
Hanoi/Haiphong urban complexes, the major port facilities, and the main
China. In addition, de facto sanctuaries were maintained in the areas
nautical miles from the center of Hanoi, 10 from the center of
from the Chinese border in the northwest (to 106° E.), and 25 from
border in the northeast.
The scope of
armed reconnaissance missions was also enlarged but kept within limits.
boundary for such missions was shifted to the north and west of Hanoi
up to the
Chinese buffer zone, but it was kept back from the northeast quadrant,
only individually approved fixed target strikes were authorized. The
operational latitude for armed reconnaissance missions was also
were authorized to strike small pre-briefed fixed military targets not
JCS list (e.g., minor troop staging areas, warehouses, or depots) in
of executing their LOC attacks, and to restrike previously authorized
targets in order to make and keep them inoperable. An armed
sortie ceiling continued in effect. It was lifted to 600 per week by
but then held there until the end of the year.
By the end of
1965 total ROLLING THUNDER attack sorties had levelled off to about 750
week and total sorties to a little over 1500 per week. All told, some
sorties had been flown during the year, nearly half of them on attack
and flak suppression) missions, and three-fourths of them as armed
reconnaissance rather than JCS-directed fixed target strikes.
ROLLING THUNDER represented only 30 percent of the U.S. air effort in
Asia during the year, in keeping with the rough priorities set by
decision-makers at the outset.
NVN had done much to generate, as Secretary McNamara put it, "a new
of criticism among liberals and 'peace' groups," whose activities were
reflected in a wave of teach-ins and other demonstrations during 1965,
bombing also drew abundant criticism from more hawkish elements because
limited nature. As a result, the Secretary and other officials were
obliged to defend the bombing restrictions before Congress and the
Most of the
hawkish criticism of the bombing stemmed from basic disagreement with
campaign centered upon a tactical interdiction rationale rather than a
rationale more in keeping with strategic uses of
power, a campaign in which the apparent target was the infiltration
rather than the economy as a whole, and in which, as one CIA report put
it, . .
.almost 80 percent of North Vietnam's limited modern industrial
percent of the nation's population, and the most lucrative military
LOC targets have been effectively insulated from air attack.
This kind of
criticism of the bombing concentrated on the most conspicuous aspect of
program, the strikes against fixed targets, and it faulted the program
failing to focus on the kinds of targets which strategic bombing had
familial' in World War II-power
plants, oil depots, harbor facilities, and factories.
"strategic" targets had not been entirely exempted from attack, of
course, but they had been exempted from attack where they counted most,
sanctuary areas. This occasioned some embarrassment in the
because any attack on such targets seemed inconsistent with a purely
interdiction rationale, while failure to attack the most important of
not satisfy a strategic bombing rationale. Secretary McNamara was
on these points when he appeared before the Congressional armed
appropriations committees in August 1965 with a major supplemental
request for the Vietnam War. Senator Cannon asked:
I know that our
policy was to not attack power stations and certain oil depots and so
earlier. But within the past two weeks we have noticed that you have
at least one or more power stations. I am wondering if your policy has
changed now in regard to the targets. In other words, are we stepping
desirability of certain targets?
I would say we
are holding primarily to these targets I have outlined. This week's
for example, includes primarily, I would say, 95 percent of the sorties
fixed targets are against supply depots, ammo depots, barracks . . .
one or two percent of the sorties directed against [one power plant].
I don't want to
mislead you. We are not bombing in the Hanoi . . . or the Haiphong
is a very good reason for that. In Haiphong there is a substantial
dump [for example]. First, there is question whether destruction of
would influence the level of supply into South Vietnam. Secondly,
Westmoreland believes that an attack on that would lead to an attack on
petroleum dumps outside of Saigon that contain eighty percent of the
storage for SVN. Thirdly, there is the real possibility that an attack
Haiphong petroleum would substantially increase the risk of Chinese
participation . . . for all those reasons it seems unwise at this time
. . . to
attack that petroleum dump . . .
In defending the
policy of not attacking the powerplants and POL sites concentrated in
Hanoi/Haiphong area, the Secretary did not stress the interdiction
the bombing but rather the risks of widening the war. He explained that
attack on the powerplants and POL sites would require also attacking
airfield and the surrounding SAM sites:
I had better not
describe how we would handle it but it would be one whale of a big
attack . . .
this might well trigger, in the view of some, would trigger Chinese
intervention on the ground. . . . This is what we wish to avoid.
Before the House
Committee on Armed Services two days later, Secretary McNamara stressed
the irrelevance of targets like the POL facilities at Haiphong to
into the South and the risks of Chinese intervention:
At present our
bombing program against the North is directed primarily against the
targets that are associated with the infiltration of men and equipment
South, ammo depots, supply depots, barracks areas, the particular lines
communication over which these move into the South. For that reason, we
not struck in the Hanoi area because the targets are not as directly
the infiltration of men and equipment as those outside the area. . . .
the Haiphong POL . . . if we strike that there will be greater pressure
Communist China to undertake military action in support of the North
Vietnamese. . . . We want to avoid that if we possibly can.
occasions the Secretary put such stress on the limited interdiction
the bombing that it seemed to virtually rule out altogether industrial
. . . we are
seeking by our bombing in North Vietnam to reduce and make more costly
movement of men and supplies from North Vietnam into South Vietnam for
support of the Viet Cong operations in South Vietnam. That's our
military objective, and that requires that we bomb the lines of
primarily and secondarily, the ammunition and supply depots. . . . The
bulk of our bombing . . . is directed against traffic moving on roads
railroads, and the other portion . . . is directed against specific
associated with the lines of communication, primarily supply depots and
. . .
bridges. . . . We think our bombing policy is quite properly associated
the effort to stop the insurgency in South Vietnam. We've said time
It is not our objective to destroy the Govel'l1ment of North Vietnam.
seeking to widen the war. We do have a limited objective, and that's
targeting is limited as it is.
whether the U.S. refrained from bombing NVN's more vital installations
it would escalate the war, the Secretary added:
Well, I'm saying
that the other installations you're speaking of are not directly
insurgency in the South, and that's what we're fighting. And that our
should be associated with that insurgency . . . our objective is to
they can't win in the South. Until we do show that to them it's
insurgency in the South will stop.
arguments had difficult sledding, however. As 1965 ended, the bombing
restrictions were still under attack. The U.S. was heavily engaged in
ground war in the South, and a limited bombing campaign in the North
make much sense to those who wanted to win it. The hawks were very much
and there was mounting pressure to put more lightning and thunder into
war. At that point, in not very propitious circumstances, the
halted the bombing entirely, and for 37 days, from 24 December 1965 to
January 1966, pursued a vigorous diplomatic offensive to get
started to end the war.
Pentagon Papers (Daniel
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