102. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Political Scenario in Support of Pressures on the North

I attach the latest version of my political scenario for pressures on the North.2 Bill Sullivan and Henry Rowen from McNaughton’s office participated. I discussed it at luncheon today with Sullivan, McNaughton and Bill Bundy. We agreed it could go to General Taylor as a draft with no official standing. This means it will probably be taken up at the JCS meeting tomorrow.

This draft does two major violences to JCS thinking. Instead of proceeding immediately to direct U.S. involvement (which some of the Chiefs favor) it introduces a second phase of overt SVN action with U.S. covert support. All us civilians are agreed that this is the stage we should really plan for, keeping the possibility of direct U.S. action as a contingency reserved against the possibility of major escalation.

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The other probable shortfall from the JCS point of view is the memorandum’s failure to concentrate on intensified border operations against Laos and Cambodia and U.S. low-level reconnaissance over these two countries, plus North Vietnam. Again the civilians are agreed that these actions would only attract a strong international protest against the U.S., without providing us with significant leverage against the North.

Finally, I am worried that too much preoccupation with a military-political scenario will detract from our regular efforts in South Vietnam, which, as you and I know, need considerable improvement. More specifically, it is hard to imagine a more dangerous course than embarking upon the attached scenario without having made the changes in “policy and personnel” in our own organization in Saigon.

Please let me know urgently if any of the steps I am taking seem impolitic to you.




This paper does not describe in detail the nature or order of specific military actions which are being devised by JCS. It is assumed, however, that there are three major categories of such actions, with perhaps some overlap between the categories:

Covert SVN action against the North (with US covert support).

Overt SVN action against the North (with US covert support) including:

Aerial mining

VNAF attacks on selected DRV targets possibly including Farmgate


Overt joint SVN and US action including:

  • Warning and preparatory actions
    • US aerial reconnaissance activities
    • Sizeable build up of US forces
    • Naval displays and large scale overflights
  • Destructive activities
    • Naval control measures (“selective” or total blockade, possibly including mining operations)
    • Naval bombardment
    • Air attacks on selected DRV targets.

What follows are some suggestions for political moves to set the stage and to develop support both at home and abroad for each category of action.

I. Political steps during the period from the present to the time when US and GVN decide on overt SVN actions against the North.

We are in this period now, and it is assumed that actions in Category (a) will be continued and augmented. During this period it is necessary for both the GVN and the US to make clear in each country and to the world the nature of the underlying facts and rationale which support the GVN’s efforts against the VC and our support of these efforts. There should be produced by speeches, articles, interviews and other methods, a consistent historical picture of SVN since World War II, a general description of North Vietnamese involvement in events since 1959 and a more detailed description of the desired state of affairs in Southeast Asia after control of the insurgency from North. Secretary McNamara’s speech on March 264 is an excellent start on such a program. Among the specific steps which should be prepared to follow McNamara’s speech are:

An article by Ambassador Lodge should appear within the next two weeks (a draft has already been prepared by Lodge, commented on here, and is being resumed to him for final revision).5
Another speech by General Khanh on war aims. In such a speech General Khanh should describe the specific programs and measures which his government intends to pursue in order to bring a better life to the villages of Vietnam. General Khanh has already made a strong start in his speech of March 9th.6 Subsequent speeches laying out specific programs in support of these aims should also be made by General Khanh and other members of his government. The Department of State should prepare a brochure of significant excerpts from General Khanh’s speeches for informal dissemination to interested experts in this country.
Material for friendly Senators and Congressmen should be prepared on the subject of neutralism, US objectives in Southeast Asia as a whole, new programs and reforms undertaken by the GVN, and a general description of NVN direction and control of the VC.
In addition to the above, a modest program aimed at increasing public awareness of the US interest and involvement in Vietnam should be carried out. Additional material along the lines of the recently issued AID poster7 should be developed and distributed. Public service advertisements in magazines, newspapers and radio/television should be encouraged.
Another diplomatic exchange with the British, and one with our principal allies to make sure that they understand our view of the war in South Vietnam and the importance of North Vietnamese involvement. We did something like this recently when Lord Home and Butler were in Washington,8 and Bohlen is currently probing the French on the subject of “neutralization.” Another effort should be made three or four weeks from now, perhaps by sending an emissary to London and Paris to report on progress made in SVN. At that time North Atlantic Council should also be given a presentation of the US view

II. Steps to be taken after decision to begin actions in Category (b): (i.e. Overt actions by SVN against the North).

Although the decision to initiate these actions will have to be taken at the highest level of the US Government, it must be remembered that political initiatives should surface in Saigon and not in Washington, so as to maintain the credibility of the sovereignty of the GVN. The nature of some operations that might be carried out in this phase (e.g., Farmgate) will make it difficult to deny US involvement. Some specific and political moves are listed below:

McNamara should make another trip to Saigon. His object should be to secure General Khanh’s agreement to begin overt SVN action against the North. Publicly, his trip will be explained as the next in a logical series but particular emphasis will be placed on his on-the-spot review of the problems posed by increasing evidence of North Vietnamese involvement. McNamara reports to the President on his return.
McNamara carries with him to Saigon some suggestions for another major speech by General Khanh. This speech gives details on NVN activity against the South and contains a demand that Hanoi cease. The speech also describes the future of Indo-China if Hanoi would cooperate. It foresees a period of two independent but separate Vietnams, gradually increasing peaceful contacts with each other followed by eventual reunification on a satisfactory basis.
President consults with limited number of Congressional leaders and discloses that the US has been asked by General Khanh to help the GVN bring pressures on the North for the purpose of convincing Hanoi to cease its insurgency in the South. He [1 line of source text not declassified] informs them that USG intends to give SVN covert support in these operations.
Speech by General Khanh.

Shortly thereafter, public release of Jorden White Paper9 detailing NVN involvement.

[Numbered paragraph 6 (1–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

Offer reassurances to SVN and Thailand (and possibly Laos) of US protection and assistance in the event of NVN retaliation by air or by stepped-up insurgency. Request permission of Philippines and Thailand to stage and deploy US forces to those countries.
US commences unannounced air defense capability for Saigon and takes first overt military movements to prepare for possible escalation (such as fleet movement to provide whatever cover JCS deems necessary for air operations against North). Some care should be taken, however, to avoid public appearance that US is involved in GVN action.
GVN begins training Vietnamese pilots for B–57’s.
US evacuates dependents from Saigon.
GVN takes first action against North (probably Farmgate harbor minings of important ports).
Immediately thereafter Khanh makes second speech calling on North to cease insurgency and making public the military action which has been taken.
US uses third country, i.e., Canada, UK or France to transmit message to Hanoi that while US deplores need for these actions, it understands their necessity and supports them in principle. US also indicates particular interest in that part of Khanh’s speech offering food to the North and wonders if negotiations between North and South might be useful. Some communication to ChiComs might also be appropriate. No approach should be made to USSR at this time.
President consults broader group of Congressional leaders and describes the gravity of situation, making full disclosure [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] evidence of NVN involvement with VC, and emphasizes need to support Khanh in his initiative. President does not ask for action by Congress. He also gives background briefing, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to selected group of public opinion leaders (editors, publishers and columnists). He might also consider briefing Republican candidate.
On the assumption that no change occurs in NVN attitude and behavior, Khanh makes speech immediately after appropriate VC incident, i.e., cutting of rail line, killing of US personnel or destruction of POL dump; announces need to inflict appropriate type of damage on NVN. Khanh deplores necessity for taking such action and situation which makes it necessary for SVN to send military force to North, instead of food and medicine.
First targeted attack occurs as promptly as possible. Use of Farmgate aircraft may lead to public disclosure of US participation, either through loss of the aircraft by way of enemy anti-aircraft capability or materiel failure or through disclosures made by correspondents in SVN. Means of minimizing this possibility through improvements in SVN capabilities or through use of sheepdipped US pilots should be investigated.
Other overt SVN actions against North are taken accompanied by a series of SVN announcements and a call by Khanh for a GVN-DRV meeting at Hue and cessation of VC attacks. Propagandize North, by radio and leaflet, warning of the consequences and [of] continued aggression. Khanh stresses that these are not reprisals against civilians. Stresses GVN carrying out “just actions” in reply to “acts of terror.”

Farmgate-type actions should probably continue until some evidence of a favorable North Vietnamese reaction appears. We should consider at some stage precisely what we would expect them to do and inform them of this decision. We should probably not consider moving to the next phase of overt US pressures unless the ChiComs intervene or the DRV begins a full-scale assault on the South. It is important that all the possibilities of SVN overt pressures covertly supported by us be played out to the full.

III. US decides on direct US action against NVN.

The move from the previous categories of action to this one can be made either suddenly or slowly, depending upon the array of military actions from which we choose. In other words, we could proceed slowly and logically from covert to overt support of SVN sponsored actions or we might decide to move quickly and dramatically if international pressures had reached a dangerous point or if we wish to lend support to four-power conference in Geneva. The specific political steps listed below could be adjusted to either course.

If we have not already done so the establishment of EXCOM arrangements at this point is essential.
The Department of State brings SEATO allies up to date on [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] evidence of VC involvement. Though formal SEATO action will not be possible because of the [Page 212] probable positions of France and the UK, the US case might be based in part upon the US SEATO commitment. The North Atlantic Council should be informed.
Second conference between President and legislative leaders in which the President discloses full details [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], reviews histories of attacks against US installations and personnel in SVN and states arguments for necessity for retaliation directly against the North, and asks Congressional support and possibly a Congressional resolution.
Public speech by President setting forth US policy and explaining necessity for direct action against North. US direct action takes place in accordance with JCS plan and simultaneous deployment of US forces to offset possible escalation.
Assurances given to SVN, Laos and Thailand on US protection, already evident through US military deployment, against possible DRV and ChiCom retaliation.
Convey to North our demands which need to be satisfied in order to stop our action, expanding on points in Presidential speech. Make clear limited intentions and determinations. State actions we want taken by North and fact that compliance will have to be visible to us. Possibly identify some specific VC units we want to see comply with our demands.
As a supplement to what was said in the President’s speech, state privately to the Soviets and ChiComs our objectives and warn the Soviets and ChiComs against support of the North either directly or by way of arms and logistics (SAM, interceptors, trucks, POL).

Conference begins in Geneva and US action continues unless visible cessation of NVN action in South occurs. Note: The possibility should be considered of making the.initial US action strong, so as to permit some time to pass before second action is needed. If, as it should be, our measure of compliance is a reduction in the insurgency, rather than DRV promises, it is possible that military pressures might have to be continued over a period of several months and perhaps even longer. We will have to be prepared to deal with the international pressures which might build up during this period.

The following are some of the questions with which we must be prepared to deal at a conference and upon which we must prepare a position:

Our overt goal.

  • Geneva Accords brought up to date?
  • Better ICC?
  • Cessation of logistic support?
  • Reduction of VC insurgency?

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The problem of dealing with the VC.

  • Will there be an amnesty
  • Will we insist that the GVN be free to hunt down the holdouts?

Provisions for reimposing military pressures.

  • US military presence in GVN?

Controls on indigenous forces?

GVN-DRV diplomatic and other contacts.

  • North-South trade?

Treatment of Laos and Cambodia.

Conference reaches acceptable settlement or US actions continue and increase.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. VI, Cables and Memos. Top Secret. This covering memorandum is also published in Declassified Documents, 1984, 002725.
  2. On March 30, Forrestal sent McGeorge Bundy a copy of what he described as “a very rough draft of a political scenario for pressures against North Vietnam.” Forrestal stated that he did the original “off the top of my head” and that Henry Rowen of ISA had “tinkered with it, but not brutally enough.” The March 28 draft scenario and the covering memorandum from Forrestal to Bundy are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. VI, Cables and Memos.
  3. Top Secret.
  4. See Document 95.
  5. The major substantive revision of the draft Lodge article suggested by William Bundy and Rusk in telegram 1543 to Saigon, March 27, was their desire that Lodge identify North Vietnam as the “primary aggressor” against South Vietnam rather than emphasizing China’s role. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. A summary and analysis of the speech are in telegrams 1711 and 1729 from Saigon, March 8 and 11. (Ibid.)
  7. Not further identified.
  8. Reference is to the official visit of February 12–14; see Document 41.
  9. Published by the Department of State in February 1965, as Aggression From the North: The Record of North Vietnam’s Campaign To Conquer South Vietnam.