Document 9. Memo by Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy to President Johnson, "The Fork in the Y"

Date: January 27, 1965.

...both of us are pretty well convinced that our current policy can lead only to a disastrous defeat. What we are doing now, essentially, is to wait and hope for a stable government. Our December directives make it very plain that a wider action against the Communists will not take place unless we can get such a government. In the last six weeks that effort has been unsuccessful, and Bob and I are persuaded that there is no real hope of success in this area unless and until our own policy and priorities change.

The underlying difficulties in Saigon arise from the spreading conviction there that the future is without hope for anti-Communists. More and more the good men are covering their flanks and avoiding executive responsibility for firm anti-Communist policy. Our best friends have been somewhat discouraged by our own inactivity in the face of major attacks on our own installations. The Vietnamese know just as well as we do that the Viet Cong are gaining in the countryside. Meanwhile, they see the enormous power of the United States withheld, and they get little sense of firm and active U.S. policy. They feel that we are unwilling to take serious risks. In one sense, all of this is outrageous, in the light of all that we have done and all that we are ready to do if they will only pull up their socks. But it is a fact - or so McNamara and I now think.

...Bob and I believe that the worst course of action is to continue in this essentially passive role which can only lead to eventual defeat and an invitation to get out in humiliating circumstances.

We see two alternatives. The first is to use our military power in the Far East and force a change in Communist policy. The second is to deploy all our resources along a track of negotiation, aimed at salvaging what little can be preserved with no major addition to our present military risks. Bon and I tend to favor the first course, but we believe that both should be carefully studied and that alternative programs should be argued out before you.

Both of us understand the very grave questions presented by any decision of this sort. We both recognize that the ultimate responsibility is not ours. Both of us have fully supported your unwillingness, in earlier months, to move out of the middle course. We both agree that every effort should be made to improve our operations on the ground and to prop up the authorities in South Vietnam as best we can. But we are both convinced that none of this is enough, and that the time has come for harder choices.

You should know that Dean Rusk does not agree with us. he does not quarrel with our assertion that things are going very badly and that the situation is unraveling. he does not assert that this deterioration can be stopped. What he does say is that the consequences of escalation and withdrawal are so bad that we must simply find a way of making our present policy work. This would be good if it was possible. Bob and I do not think it is.

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