120. Memorandum of a Conversation, U.S. Embassy,1


  • Discussion of Mr. Bundy’s letter of April 4, 1964, to the Ambassador2


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Bundy
  • Ambassador Lodge
  • General Wheeler
  • General Harkins
  • Mr. Solbert
  • Mr. Nes
  • Mr. De Silva
  • Mr. Manfull
  • Mr. Dunn
[Page 249]

Ambassador opened discussion with summary of Mr. Bundy’s letter of April 4. He indicated that the letter and the attached scenario and rationale were impressive and interesting. He summarized the letter as follows:

Actions fall into three categories.

  • Category A. In essence this is what is being done now and what is projected already under OP Plan 34–A.3 It is very questionable whether these actions influence events to any important extent. There may be a training benefit which might be useful if more far-reaching actions are adopted later. Essentially, all actions under Category A are and should be covert South Viet-Nam measures with covert U.S. support.
  • Category B. The distinction between Categories A and B primarily is that South Viet-Nam actions become overt with U.S. covert support continuing. These actions would include both aerial mining of selected harbors and sea routes and VNAF attacks on selected DRV targets, possibly including the use of Farmgate aircraft.
  • Category C. Actions would involve joint overt SVN and U.S. participation. Would consist of (a) warning and preparatory actions, to include intensified U.S. aerial reconnaissance activities, sizable area build-up of naval power, and large-scale overflights of North VietNam; and (b) destructive activities, to include naval control measures (involving either selective or total blockade of North Viet-Nam through use of patrols, mines, and other measures), naval bombardment of selected DRV targets, and air attacks on selected DRV targets.

Both GVN and U.S. would prior to taking any destructive action make clear to its own people and to the world the rationale which supports such efforts against the North.

Lodge questioned wisdom both of massive publicity and of massive destructive actions before a well planned and well executed diplomatic attempt had been made (with military and economic backing) to persuade NVN to call off the V.C.

Hanoi should be told, in a way not to involve loss of face, of a carrot-stick program, aim of which would be cessation of V.C. terrorism. One element would be fear, to be produced by bombing some target. The pot could also be sweetened for Hanoi by adding the possibility of food imports (perhaps from Western nations other than the U.S.) and by some U.S. personnel withdrawal which we had decided to do anyway (none other).

To make such a statement to Hanoi the right kind of interlocutor was important. There is a fairly long list of names which Lodge had rejected for various reasons. These were UAR, Yugoslavs, Poles and United Kingdom. [8–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

[Page 250]

Lodge felt it was very difficult to predict the Viet Cong reaction to large-scale measures against the North-particularly measures involving overt U.S. participation. It is possible that the VC might react violently here. We are not at all sure that we know their full capability-how much they hold in reserve. Almost certainly, targets in the South such as dams and oil refineries, power transmission lines, generators, etc. would immediately be taken under attack. There is also a possibility that the PAVN, perhaps followed by the Chinese Communist Army, would cross the border in open invasion of South VietNam. U.S. could not match Chinese millions of men. If so, would the defense of the South necessarily involve U.S. use of nuclear weapons?

For us to make such a statement to Hanoi through an interlocutor is neither a negotiation nor a dialogue. It is more nearly an ultimatum.

Certainly no Geneva-type conference should be considered unless and until we grow much stronger here than we are now.

General Discussion Followed

The Secretary raised the question as to what the attitude in South Viet-Nam would be toward another Geneva Conference for Laos. Lodge indicated that it would be bad, that a proposal for such a conference inevitably would have a bad reaction here. Consternation reigns even when the New York Times, for example, speculates on the possibility of a Geneva Conference. This is because the Vietnamese feel the subject of Viet-Nam necessarily will come up in any Geneva Conference. Embassy representatives indicated, however, that there is a difference, which can be drawn distinctly, between a conference called on Laos to settle specific points which arise on an urgent basis and one called for the general purpose of considering the situation in Southeast Asia or the Protocol States.

Mr. Bundy commented generally on the rationale of his paper. The paper represents an effort to pull together a political scenario which would at least represent a useful beginning. The basic premise is that we must first state our objective-getting Hanoi and Peking out of South Viet-Nam. While the paper does not make explicit the possibility of American troop withdrawal from the South, some change in our military posture here would result if Northern and Chinese involvement is discontinued. Implicit in our whole stand is the fact that the U.S. military presence here would be very different if the war became a case simply of counter-insurgency. It is, in any case, very difficult to play the card of promised troop withdrawal, since we don’t know yet how many and what types of military men are needed here. We may, in fact, require American troop increases in South Viet-Nam. We can and will, of course, provide economic aid of some type from [Page 251] the West if North Viet-Nam cooperates. Rice imports, for example, could be scheduled in a manner similar to the wheat now going into Communist China.

Lodge indicated that it would be very hard indeed for Ho Chi Minh to provide a salable package for his own people and for other Communist nations unless we can do something that Hanoi can point to, even though it would not be a real concession on our part.

The Secretary indicated that he was not too concerned about the possibility that any withdrawal from the South on the part of North Viet-Nam and the Chinese might be temporary. He indicated that, in his opinion, we can rebuild our strength here faster than they can if this becomes necessary. He stated his concern that the extent of infiltration and other provision of support from the North be proven to the satisfaction of our own public, of our allies, and of the neutralists. Mr. Bundy stated that Mr. William Jorden’s draft paper on this subject is coming along nicely,4 that he feels unit strengths can be projected from individual POW reports, and that aerial reconnaissance has been and will continue to be particularly useful. [2 lines of source text not declassified]

General Harkins stated that the VNAF now has two prisoners definitely identified as coming from the North Vietnamese 325th Division. The prisoners are now on their way up for interrogation at the National Center. Important evidence should result.

A discussion of the efficacy of aerial photography flights ensued: Mr. De Silva indicated that his understanding was that present U–2 flights had produced no evidence of infiltration. It was decided that for low-level reconnaissance U.S. planes would be preferable, but that their use even over Laos raises many political problems. Ambassador Unger, for example, feels strongly that any air reconnaissance involving U.S. aircraft should not be performed below 10,000 feet. It was agreed that the psychological value of U.S. low-level reconnaissance could be great and should be considered when weighing such a program.

The Secretary then raised the possibility of a U.S. naval presence at Tourane or Cam Ranh Bay. He also suggested the possibility of nibbling on North Viet-Nam shipping above the Demarcation Line. He asked about the possibility that the junk fleet might pick up some North Vietnamese small vessels above the parallel and whether air cover would have to be provided for such an operation. General Wheeler did not feel that aerial attack was a problem, but that the Swatow-class gunboats would make it impossible for junks to operate in that area. He feels that the Nastys will be more than a match for the Swatow boats when they become operational and should be used for [Page 252] such purposes. General Harkins indicated that even the very limited naval operations undertaken to date have had considerable impact on the North. There is, for example, considerable evidence of increased defensive measures already having been taken all along the coast.

[1 paragraph (3–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The availability of other Asian troops to fight here then was discussed. The Secretary stated that we are not going to take on the masses of Red China with our limited manpower in a conventional war. While China’s Chiang Kai-shek is adamantly opposed to America’s use of nuclear weapons in Asia, the Chinats do not offer the kind of conventional forces that would be useful here or probably even on mainland China. Ninety per cent of the enlisted men now are Formosans and not particularly well motivated to fight outside Formosa (or perhaps the off-shore islands) where they may be reasonably expected to give a good account of themselves. The use of individuals from Taiwan as cadre and advisers, and of some special units such as UDT and the like is, of course, a different matter.

[4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] General Wheeler agreed that the Chinese solders are used to getting along with a great deal less than we are and that it would be very difficult to interdict from the air [less than 1 1ine of source text not declassified]. Mr. De Silva suggested that the principal question which must be considered before undertaking such a program is whether the Chinese feel themselves capable of taking on the U.S. at this time. The Secretary indicated that he felt this was primarily a question of Chinese-Soviet relations. If the Chinese do not feel they can count on Soviet support, it is highly questionable whether they would want to face our power. He feels that a great deal can be done with the Chinese based on the fact that their trend in trade relationships has shifted over the past few years from the Red Bloc to the West in greater measure. The Australians and Canadians, for example, could bring great pressure on Red China by withholding wheat and other grains. If we go much further with the plans under discussion, we must consider approaching our allies along these lines.

The Ambassador indicated that he was very dubious about what might happen to the Viet Cong here in SVN if we took out the industrial targets in the Haiphong-Hanoi complexes. They have ample weapons and a base from which to recruit and supply themselves with food and other necessities. It is entirely possible that we would have forfeited the “hostage” which we hold in the North which provides a certain amount of security to some of our more sophisticated and complex installations here without markedly affecting the fight against the Viet Cong, at least in the short run. The basic problem was still the creation of a proper political atmosphere. He stated that he found the idea of a naval presence in Tourane and Cam Ranh Bay very attractive. This would provide feasible evidence of American strength for both [Page 253] the South Vietnamese and the North. The Secretary stated-that he would couple such a presence with intensified civic action projects to be launched in the immediate area to give the Vietnamese people an added stake in the American presence.

The Secretary raised the point of our intelligence operation and its apparent inadequacies here in the South. He finds it difficult to understand how VC forces of the strength of two battalions can literally “spring from the ground” and launch a coordinated attack without prior detection. Mr. De Silva stated that a great deal more can be done if present restrictions on the Cambodian and Laotian side of the border are removed. General Harkins feels that the key point is to obtain intelligence from the people who at the present time simply won’t provide information in certain areas either because they are terrorized or committed to the VC. These are the very areas in which, because of the geography and vegetation, the VC can move readily and stealthily. For example, in the lower Camau Peninsula, they can use the canals virtually without fear of detection.

The Secretary indicated that we should go ahead with our plans to use a Canadian as intermediary and begin the groundwork now to obtain such a man and station him here.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country Series, Vol. IX, Memos. Top Secret. Drafted by John M. Dunn, Special Assistant to the Director of USOM in Saigon.
  2. Document 108.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 4.
  4. See footnote 9, Document 102.