to Exploration 3: The Decision to Escalate, 1964-1965
25. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam
June 1, 1965, 7:57 p.m.
2769. To Ambassadors
Taylor and Johnson only from Under Secretary. We have now reached
a point in planning for successive Rolling Thunder operations
where we must be clear as to precisely what we are trying to do.
In broad terms,
there are two possible approaches to the Vietnamese struggle:
I. The major
premise of the first approach is that the war must be won in the
South. Under this approach, airstrikes in the North should be
regarded as ancillary to our operations in the principal theater.
Such air strikes should be designed to achieve three purposes:
To raise morale in South Viet-Nam and give credibility to our
intention to stay the course.
To lower the morale of the North Vietnamese and to create concern
in Hanoi that the USG might extend its bombing so as greatly
to increase the costs of trying to overrun SVN by military means.
To harass supply lines and reduce the ability of North Viet-Nam
to conduct effective infiltration of men and materials.
II. The second
approach places much greater emphasis on the total contribution
of the air attacks in the North to the ultimate decision. Under
this approach our air offensive would so be designed as to impose
increasing pressure on the North Vietnamese until they stopped
their action against the South even though we might not be winning
the war in the South.
between these two approaches has direct relevance to the conduct
of the air offensive. Since, under the first approach, it is assumed
that the war must ultimately be decided in the South, we should
avoid those North Vietnamese targets (such as those in the Hanoi-Haiphong
area) that would be most likely to trigger a greater Chinese and
Soviet intervention. If, as suggested in Embtel 768, (2)
the tonic effect of bombing on South Viet-Nam morale is wearing
off, do you believe that this effect would be heightened by intensifying
the bombing of North Viet-Nam even though it
might bring a larger Chinese and Soviet involvement?
If on the
other hand, we accept the logic of the second proposal, we should
presumably be prepared to assume greater risks of Chinese and
Soviet involvement in an effort to persuade Hanoi to stop. This
means that we might logically proceed, within the relatively near
future, to bomb the military installations in the Hanoi-Haiphong
area. Such an action would seek to achieve the ultimate US objective
without the need to depend on victory in the South which would
make the risks of a greater Moscow-Peiping involvement worth assuming.
of all this to the present situation is obvious. Action against
NVN by US-GVN forces has now reached a critical point. We must
decide whether to proceed on one of the three following courses:
is to continue progressively to move northward in our air attacks,
recognizing that any further movement nearer the Hanoi-Haiphong
area poses grave danger of a serious encounter with MIGs that
could draw us into attacks on MIG bases and SAM sites and the
attendant possibility of greater Chinese and Russian involvement.
In fact, the Rolling Thunder operations, for several weeks, have
been in areas where the MIGs might easily have engaged. Their
failure to do so (except once) may well be because they are waiting
for the early activation of the SAM sites. Attacks on Haiphong
and Hanoi could be expected to offer the same dangers as strikes
on the MIG bases.
A second possibility
is to move northward but keep far enough west of the Hanoi-Haiphong
area to avoid the range of the SAMs. This would be on the assumption--not
yet proven--that this course would offer less danger of escalation.
We would like your comments on the validity of this assumption.
Would the Chinese permit us to approach nearer their territory
A third possibility
is to expand the present rules to include industrial and other
non-military targets that would not entail high civilian casualty
rates. This course would permit a continuation of bombing south
of the 20th Parallel without providing reactions appreciably different
from attacks on the present target systems.
In order to
make these decisions we need your answers to the following questions:
Do you believe that our best hope is to seek to win the war
in the South while employing air attacks in the North for the
ancillary purposes outlined in assumption I above maintaining
approximately the same level and geographical scope of bombing
as Rolling Thunder programs to date?
Do you now believe that, in view of the military and political
difficulties in SVN we should begin to shape our air effort
against the North more in the direction of assumption II above?
Do you believe that we would have a reasonable chance of persuading
Hanoi to quit by increasing the destructiveness of our air attacks
so long as the Viet Cong were winning or at least holding their
own in the South? If so, do you believe that such pressure could
be mounted without unacceptable risks to the United States from
an enlarged Soviet/Chinese involvement?
Taking into account your answers to the above questions, how
do you apply these answers to the requested authorization for
Rolling Thunder 17 tomorrow morning? (3) RT
17 includes suggested strikes on target 43, Qui Hau Ammo Depot,
which is 12 NM farther north than target 47.11 in RT 16 program,(4)
3 NM closer to Phuc Yen (47 NM) and same distance (40 NM) from
Hanoi; target 82.11 Ben Thuy Thermal Power Plant; and target
71/18.17 Ben Thuy Port and Ferry with estimated civilian casualty
loss of 59 persons.
let us know how you feel about the method in which authorized
strikes are carried out. Do you learn about targets sufficiently
in advance? Do you favor existing authority to permit repeated
restrikes of given target until given damage level achieved?
Should strikes against North be run daily or intermittently?
IL-28s is being given separate study here.
Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top
Secret; Flash; Nodis. Drafted and approved by Ball.
Reference is to telegram 3768 from Saigon, May 15, in which the
Embassy reported that Buddhist leader Tri Quang had told Embassy
officers thathe believed that the psychological lift achieved
by the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and the landing of U.S. troops
in South Vietnam was wearing off. (Ibid.)
In JCS telegram 3263 to CINCPAC, June 2, the JCS detailed the
target list and intent of Rolling Thunder Seventeen and authorized
CINCPAC to implement the bombing program. (Ibid.)
Target 47.11, authorized as a bombing target in the execute message
for the Rolling Thunder Sixteen program, was the Hoai An ammunition
depot, located 26 nautical miles north of the 20th parallel. (JCS
telegram 2672 to CINCPAC, May 22; ibid.)