Document 3. Views of William P. Bundy
Assistant Secretary of State for the Far East

Date: October 19, 1964

(Who was William Bundy?)

Based on extracts from The Color of Truth, by Kai Bird, Simon & Schuster, 1999

William Bundy had a long and distinguished service in the government in the CIA and in the Defense Department. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for the Far East in March 1964.

We will focus on a single memo written in mid-October 1964. It should be read in conjunction with the memo written earlier in October by George Ball. These were the two highest officials to articulate a clear alternative to escalation. This was the only occasion Bundy expressed views like this. On other occasions, he adopted a more hawkish position.

Bundy's memo, "The Choices We Face in Vietnam," rejected the expectations of the domino theory about the consequences of a Communist victory for Southeast Asia. And he rejected much of the political basis for U.S policy. "A bad colonial heritage of long standing, totally inadequate preparation for self-government by the colonial power, a colonialist war fought in a half-baked fashion and lost, a nationalist movement taken over by Communism ruling in the other half of an ethnically and historically united country, the Communist side inheriting much the better military force and far more than its share of the talent - these are the facts that dog us today."

Bundy also based his proposed policy on the conclusion that the use of military force by the U.S. to coerce Hanoi to withdraw its support from the war in the South could not succeed without taking extremely dangerous risks. Hanoi posessed the military capability to force the U.S. into a massive commitment of ground troops and exen to the brink of using nuclear weapons.

The real question for Bundy was how to find a politically acceptable negotiated settlement. He saw three possible negotiation strategies:

1) "Continue Present Programs but Wink at Intra-Viet-Nam Negotiations"
2) " Continue Present Programs but Take a Negotiating Initiative Ourselves"
3) " Continus Present Programs but Add Actions to Convey a Believable Threat of Force, then Negotiate."

Bundy favored option three: "Swing wildly at the first one [pitch], then bunt." By this he meant the U.S. should initiate a substantial bombing of North Vietnam for a few days, generate "overwhelming pressures" from the international community for negotiations, and accept a proposal to reconvene the Geneva Conference. The likely result would be a neutralist, coalition government in the South, and a likely Communist takeover. But the U.S. would "gain time to shore up the next line of defense in Thailand."

Bundy circulated the memo among Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, John Macnaughton, and Michael Forrestal. On November 23, he discussed his ideas with McNamara and Rusk, who rejected them.

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