to Exploration 3: The Decision to Escalate, 1964-1965
28. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson
June 5, 1965.
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson/1/
June 9, 1965.
Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Vietnam--Mansfield
Memo and Reply. No classification marking.
to our telephone conversation last night,/2/ here are some additional
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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)
Source: University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Mansfield Papers,
Series 13, Box 69, Vietnam. No classification marking.
McGeorge Bundy responded on June 27 to this and two other Mansfield
memoranda concerning Vietnam. See footnote 3, Document 334.