This paper does not discuss long-range actions, but you should know that
in the longer perspective nearly all of us are agreed that substantially
increased pressure against North Vietnam will be necessary if we are not
to face the prospect of a gradual but increasingly inevitable break-up
of our side in South Vietnam.
I also attach at Tab B a Special National Intelligence Estimate which was
approved today.3Document 341.
Bundy's paper, “Possible Courses of Action for South Viet-Nam,” initially
drafted on September 3 and revised on September 5, was similar to
McNaughton's but had only
five sections: Analysis of the Present Situation, Actions To Be Taken in
Any Event, Major Additional Action We Might Consider Within South
Viet-Nam, Major Additional Courses of Action Outside South Viet-Nam, and
Summary and Conclusions. (Johnson Library, National Security File,
Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos) Both papers were pessimistic
about the situation in Vietnam and presented a range of possible U.S.
actions to improve it. The text printed here represents the
consolidation and revision of the Bundy and McNaughton drafts in light of the discussions on
September 7 and 8.
1. Khanh will probably stay in
control and may make some headway in the next 2–3 months in
strengthening the government (GVN). The
best we can expect is that he and the GVN will be able to maintain order, keep the pacification
program ticking over (but not progressing markedly), and give the
appearance of a valid government.
2. Khanh and the GVN leaders are temporarily too exhausted
to be thinking much about moves against the North. However, they do need
to be reassured that the US continues to mean business, and as Khanh goes along in his government
efforts, he will probably want more visible US effort, and some GVN role in external actions.
3. The GVN over the next 2–3 months will
be too weak for us to take any major deliberate risks of escalation that
would involve a major role for, or threat to, South Vietnam, However,
escalation arising from and directed against US action would tend to
lift GVN morale at least
4. The Communist side will probably avoid provocative action against the
US, and it is uncertain how much they will step up VC activity. They do need to be shown that
we and the GVN are not simply sitting
back after the Gulf of Tonkin.
Courses of Action
We recommend in any event:
1. US naval patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin should be resumed immediately
(about September 12). They should operate initially beyond the 12-mile
limit and be clearly dissociated from 34A maritime operations. The
patrols would comprise 2–3 destroyers and would have air cover from
carriers; the destroyers would have their own ASW capability.
2. 34A operations by the GVN should be
resumed immediately thereafter (next week). The maritime operations are
by far the most important. North Vietnam is likely to publicize them,
and at this point we should have the GVN
ready to admit that they are taking place and to justify and legitimize
them on the basis of the facts on VC
infiltration by sea. 34A air drop and leaflet operations should also be
resumed but are secondary in importance. We should not consider air
strikes under 34A for the present.
3. Limited GVN air and ground operations
into the corridor areas of Laos should be undertaken in the near future,
together with Lao air strikes as soon as we can get Souvanna's
permission. These operations will have only limited effect, however.
4. We should be prepared to respond on a tit-for-tat basis against the
DRV in the event of any attack on US
units or any special DRV/VC action against SVN. The response for an attack on US units should be along
the lines of the Gulf of Tonkin attacks, against specific and related
targets. The response to special action against SVN should likewise be aimed at specific and comparable
The main further question is the extent to which we should add elements
to the above actions that would tend deliberately to provoke a DRV reaction, and consequent retaliation by
us. Examples of actions to be considered would be running US naval
patrols increasingly close to the North Vietnamese coast and/or
associating them with 34A operations. We believe such deliberately
provocative elements should not
be added in the immediate future while the GVN is still struggling to its feet. By early October,
however, we may recommend such actions depending on GVN progress and Communist reaction in the
meantime, especially to US naval patrols.
The aim of the above actions, external to South Vietnam, would be to
assist morale in SVN and show the
Communists we still mean business, while at the same time seeking to
keep the risks low and under our control at each stage.
Further actions within South Vietnam are not covered in this memorandum.
We believe that there are a number of immediate impact actions we can
take, such as pay raises for the police and civil administrators and
spot projects in the cities and selected rural areas. These actions
would be within current policy and will be refined for decision during
Ambassador Taylor's visit. We
are also considering minor changes in the US air role within South
Vietnam, but these would not involve decisions until November.
1Source: Johnson Library,
National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos.
Secret. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel
Edition, vol. III, pp. 561–562, and Pentagon Papers: New York Times Edition, pp.
2The meetings took place
September 7 at noon and September 8 at 11:05 a.m. Rusk, McNamara, McGeorge and William
Bundy, Manning, Taylor,
and Wheeler attended both,
while McCone was present at
the second. Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) The first
meeting is described in United States-Vietnam
Relations, 1945–1967, Book IV, pp. 25–27; and Taylor
summarized both meetings briefly in Swords and
Plowshares, pp. 320–321. In his diary, Taylor also notes that there was
general agreement on the recommendations in telegram 768 (Document 339), but “there was a rather
sharp debate over the timeliness of provoking North Vietnamese
action.” (National Defense University, Taylor Papers,
4Secret. Drafted by William Bundy. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 561–562.
For an earlier draft, also dated September 8, see ibid., pp.
560–561. In anticipation of Taylor's return and in response to the deteriorating
situation in Saigon, McNaughton and William
Bundy had begun drafting papers on Vietnam on
September 2. McNaughton's
first and second drafts, dated September 2 and 3, of a seven-point
“Plan of Action for South Vietnam” are in the Johnson Library,
National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos. The
second draft is also printed in Pentagon Papers:
Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 556–559.