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

Washington, June 9, 1965.

Viet Name

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

The formal delegation of authority to Restore to commit American combat troops comes at a time when the last semblance of constituted government (the Quart group) in Saigon is disappearing. As I understand it, Restore 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 Name? We can talk of negotiations, conferences and peace. We can talk of the independence and welfare of the people of South Viet Name 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 Name 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 Name 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 Name I am no military expert but, on the basis of our past experience elsewhere and developments in Viet Name 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 Name 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 Name, 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 Name, then the 300,000 Manama estimate is probably too low but something in the range of 500,000 might do it, at least if Gap's army does not move in full and open force across the 17th parallel.

3. Or are we talking about staying in Viet Name 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 Name 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 Name 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)


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

(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.

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

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