Document 28. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson (1)

Washington, June 5, 1965.

SUBJECT
Viet Nam

Pursuant to Thursday's Leadership meeting,(2) I want to stress my support for your resistance to pressures for an irreversible extension of the war in Asia. That is what the bombing of Hanoi-Haiphong could well amount to. I say that because the bombing would be more than just another military measure. It would also be a political act of the first magnitude.

In keeping the lid on these pressures you are on sound historic and realistic grounds in terms of the vital interests of the United States. The word "vital" is used most advisedly because the following is what I believe would result from the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong.

1. The bombing is likely to have no significant value to us in the military situation because the Communists in Hanoi and Peking have long expected it and have undoubtedly made their plans acc ordingly.

2. The bombing is likely to forestall indefinitely any prospects of discussions with the other side, unconditional or otherwise.

3. The bombing is likely to provide another world-wide impetus to nations to disassociate themselves from the American position and, in Asia, this separation could begin to extend to Japan.

4. The bombing is likely to insure the irreversibility of the Chinese involvement and will act to seal Chinese domination over North Viet Nam.

5. The bombing is likely to freeze Russia into the role, at least, of principal outside supplier of military equipment for North Viet Nam and China.

6. The bombing is likely to bring about an enlargement and acceleration of the ground war in South Viet Nam and, hence, it will compel the rapid injection of more American forces on the ground, even to hold the situation in that region.

7. The bombing is likely to insure that the war eventually will have to be carried, in the search for decision, into North Viet Nam, into other parts of Southeast Asia, and probably into China itself. And who is going to carry the main burden of this extension if not United States ground forces? Secretary McNamara spoke of 300,000 Americans to deal with Giap's forces if they came south. That is but a beginning. If the expansion goes on to include combat with Chinese forces all over Southeast Asia, we had better start thinking in terms of millions.

These consequences of a bombing of Hanoi-Haiphong would do violence to the vital interests of the United States. For, at the end of the line, even if there is something which could be called a victory, we would be faced with a cost of an occupation and reconstruction in Asia which would dwarf anything which has yet been seen.

Getting in deep on the Asian mainland is a course which has been rejected repeatedly throughout our history and most emphatically by Dwight D. Eisenhower at the other extremity of Asia. As President, the choice was his to make in Korea. He could have pushed the air-war in the search for a clear-cut decision. He chose, instead, to negotiate a cease-fire in Korea, rather than to proceed to deepen the involvement by bombing beyond the Yalu. On the basis of that cease-fire in Korea, we held what was, in fact, already held on the ground and yielded to them what they already held on the ground.

It is clear that our side does not have much on the ground, even in South Viet Nam. But if we are determined to hold that entire region on our terms, it is going to have to be in South Viet Nam and not in the air over North Viet Nam that the ground has to be won. Indeed, the bombing of the North, after the initial sallies, appears to have made the military task in the South more difficult and costly. Certainly, it is related to the rapid expansion of our own ground forces in the South. And it would be my judgment that if we bomb Hanoi-Haiphong it will serve to raise the ante to us on the ground in South Viet Nam once again.

I think it is about time you got an accounting from those who have pressured you in the past to embark on this course and continue to pressure you to stay on it. It is time to ask, not only what immediate advantages it has in a narrow military sense, but where does it lead in the end: What was promised by the initial extension of the war in the air over the North? And what, in fact, has it produced to date?

As I see it, and you know it is a view which I have long held, there are no significant American interests which dictate an essentially massive, unilateral American military effort to control the flow of events in Viet Nam or even on the Southeast Asian mainland as a whole. There is, on the contrary, only a general interest, shared with many other outsiders, in the stability, peace and progress of the region. That is not the kind of interest which we can serve by overwhelming the region with either our military strength or our substance. It is the kind of interest which requires us to do a share, along with the other outsiders whose tangible, political and economic and commercial stake in the region is in some cases much larger than our own. It is the kind of
interest which, it would seem to me, calls for the minimum military effort which is necessary to hold the situation in the South from falling apart altogether and a maximum initiative on our part to get this whole sorry business to a conference table as soon as possible./3/

/3/Mansfield sent a memorandum to President Johnson on June 9 questioning the decision to commit U.S. troops to combat in Vietnam (Document 341) and another memorandum, dated June 14, to the President on June 22 that offered suggestions for settling the Vietnam conflict. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Vietnam, Mansfield Memo and Reply) On June 27 McGeorge Bundy sent Mansfield a memorandum, approved by the President, responding to Mansfield's three June memoranda. Bundy noted that the administration valued Mansfield's advice and agreed with him on the importance of limiting the bombing campaign in the north, focusing on the military situation in the south, and moving the conflict in the direction of an
international conference to pursue a negotiated settlement. Bundy added, however, that the administration did not share Mansfield's pessimistic assessment of the political and military situation in Vietnam, and did not feel that an effective cease-fire would be as easy to arrange and enforce as Mansfield seemed to suggest. (Ibid.)

341. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson/1/

Washington, June 9, 1965.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Vietnam--Mansfield Memo and Reply. No classification marking.

SUBJECT
Viet Nam

Pursuant to our telephone conversation last night,/2/ here are some additional thoughts.

/2/The President telephoned Mansfield at 5:05 p.m. on June 8. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A tape recording of their conversation is ibid., Recordings of Telephone Conversations.

The formal delegation of authority to Westmoreland to commit American combat troops comes at a time when the last semblance of constituted government (the Quat group) in Saigon is disappearing. As I understand it, Westmoreland will respond to requests from the Vietnamese military not the Vietnamese government. This underscores the fact that there is not a government to speak of in Saigon. In short we are now at the point where we are no longer dealing with anyone who represents anybody in a political sense. We are simply acting to prevent a collapse of the Vietnamese military forces
which we pay for and supply in any event and who presumably are going in the same direction we are going. That reality is not going to be lost on any government--friend or foe--anywhere in the world.

It raises again the question, and it is a crucial one: In what direction are we going in Viet Nam? We can talk of negotiations, conferences and peace. We can talk of the independence and welfare of the people of South Viet Nam. We can talk of unconditional discussions. But the question is going to be asked increasingly: What do we mean when we say we are going to stay in South Viet Nam and for what specific United States or Vietnamese ends are we going to stay there? The question will be asked increasingly at home no less than abroad.

And it is the crucial question because the answer to it should control the extent and nature of our military involvement in Viet Nam. As I see it, at this point, we can mean one of three things when we say we are going to stay in South Viet Nam. I am no military expert but, on the basis of our past experience elsewhere and developments in Viet Nam since the first of the year, it seems to me that the military costs of each of these three alternatives would look something like this:

1. Do we mean that we are going to stay in Viet Nam until we or our Vietnamese military allies prevail everywhere south of the 17th parallel down to the smallest hamlet? If that is what we mean, we are talking in terms of years or decades, and upwards of a million American soldiers on the ground in South Viet Nam, assuming that the Chinese do not become involved with men.

2. Or are we talking about holding the military situation about where it is now? So far as I can judge, from second hand reports, this would mean that our side must retain the provincial capitals, the larger towns in the interior, Saigon, and the coastal cities and we must be able to maintain at least tenuous lines of communication on the ground in between. If that is what we are talking about when we say we are going to stay in Viet Nam, then the 300,000 McNamara estimate is probably too low but something in the range of 500,000 might do it, at least if Giap's army does not move in full and open force across the 17th parallel.

3. Or are we talking about staying in Viet Nam in order to hold a bargaining position for negotiations which might be expected to permit some reasonable choice--self-determination--on the part of the South Vietnamese people as to their political future, some protection for Vietnamese who have been on our side and some prospect of a bona fide peace based on eventual withdrawal of all foreign forces. If that is what we are talking about, then it would appear to me that instead of committing United States combat forces to the difficult-to-defend Vietnamese outpost cities and towns scattered in the interior, we ought to be drawing the Vietnamese garrisons in those towns into the coastal bases and into Saigon where they would add
to our strength, rather than the reverse. And at the same time, we should stop waiting for signals but rather launch a powerful diplomatic peace-offensive to try to get to a conference table. Unless the situation is already totally hopeless, this kind of holding of South Viet Nam may be feasible--at least for a year or so with something on the order of 100,000 or less United States combat forces on the ground backed by powerful naval and air units.

Moreover, if a sustained peace offensive, simultaneously, succeeds in bringing about a conference during the next six months, new elements will inevitably be introduced into the situation and it is conceivable that they could begin to point the way to a resolution of the problem.

The absence of a decision as to which of the above approaches really serves our national interests, seems to me to be the crux of the difficulty which has confronted us all along. I think you know my personal view as to which course is preferable in the national interest. But as things are now going, it is apparent that you are being advised to continue to take at least the second course. The rate of commitment is accelerating and it is quite likely that it will lead rapidly to pressure to follow the first course, if not to go beyond it to all-out war with China. That may not be the way it looks now but a course once set in motion, as you know, often develops its own momentum and rationale whatever the initial intentions.

As for the question of Taylor's replacement, as I told you, Lodge's name may set off an immediate and hostile debate of the whole situation in the Senate. You have got U. Alexis Johnson out there already. He has played a major role and has had a major responsibility in this situation for years. It would seem to me that if we are going to continue on the course of getting in deeper he is the logical man to continue with it.

With respect to another Congressional resolution on the situation, I cannot see the value of it at this point whether it originates here or with you. The Senate cannot direct you in the conduct of foreign relations even if it wanted to and I think you know that there is no substantial group in the Senate which is going to take the initiative in urging you to put more American ground forces into South Viet Nam. I think you know too, that what has been done to date in the way of resolutions, however one-sided the votes, has been done with grave doubts and much trepidation on the part of many Senators. It has been done largely on faith, out of loyalty to you and on the basis of the general view that when the President has the responsibility and
when he requests legislative support in a crisis, he should have it.

But if you make another request, at this time, in connection specifically with the use of ground forces, I am concerned at the possible reaction. It is not nearly as predictable as in the past when the requests have been for support of policy in general terms or for funds. A request at this time could set off a wave of criticism and of demands for inquiries which, in the end, even though a resolution were overwhelmingly approved, would not in any way strengthen your hand, render your task easier or make your burden of responsibility lighter. (3)


Footnotes:

(1) Source: University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Mansfield Papers, Series 13, Box 69, Vietnam. No classification marking.

(2) See Document 326.

(3) McGeorge Bundy responded on June 27 to this and two other Mansfield memoranda concerning Vietnam. See footnote 3, Document 334.


Copyright Digital History 2016