148. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) and the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Vietnam (Sullivan)1


  • Additional Pressures on North Viet Nam

After the initial call which General Taylor and I, accompanied by General Harkins, made on the Ambassador,2 I stayed behind at the Ambassador’s invitation for further discussions. After reviewing a number of immediate issues, we turned to a review of the Ambassador’s thinking with respect to additional pressures on North Viet Nam.

[Page 306]

The Ambassador opened the discussion by referring to the cables which had been exchanged between himself and Secretary Rusk concerning the Canadian interlocutor.3 I said that because I would be traveling to Canada to discuss this matter with the Canadians, it became important that I have a clear and precise idea of the Ambassador’s views.

The Ambassador began by indicating his belief that there should be a steady escalation of the clandestine operations now being conducted under Plan 34–A.4 At an appropriate point, he believed these operations should include air strikes. He was not certain what targets should be involved in the air strikes but did mention such things as railway bridges.

I asked whether he expected these air strikes to be carried out by Vietnamese or by Americans. He said that he considered it a matter of indifference whether the pilots were American or Vietnamese so long as they were proficient and capable of pinpoint accuracy. I then asked who would accept the credit for these actions. He said that he believed that they should be disavowed entirely by both the Vietnamese and the Americans. He would envisage them as taking place “in the dark of the night” and that no one would admit responsibility for them.

He said he thought that they should be carried out with unmarked planes and that one arrangement we might consider would be a volunteer squadron such as the Flying Tigers. However, he was emphatic in his statement that neither we nor the Vietnamese should admit responsibility for the actions.

I asked him how he viewed the Canadian intercession in this respect. The Ambassador said that he would expect the Canadians to tell the North Vietnamese that they could continue to expect this sort of action so long as they harassed South Viet Nam. They could particularly expect retaliation whenever they committed an especially grievous offense in South Viet Nam. In making these statements, the Canadians would be talking entirely in confidence and would not assign responsibility for the retaliatory acts either to the South Vietnamese or to the Americans.

When I expressed some doubt that this position of disavowability could be maintained, the Ambassador insisted that maintenance of such an attitude was something the United States needed to learn and to practice. He said that in the United Nations he had practiced the policy of “no comment” for several years on certain key issues. It was valuable to keep our mouths shut. He himself had relearned this [Page 307] lesson recently. He had said absolutely nothing in the last few months and had received surprising political support in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries.

I then gave the Ambassador a copy of the scenario which had been presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a military planning document for action against North Viet Nam.5 I told him that I would not leave the paper in Saigon but hoped he had a chance to read it and return it to me before I left. Within a half hour the Ambassador sent for me again, said he had read the planning document and was entirely opposed to the approach which it was taking. He said that it was in effect a repetition of the program which had been contained in Bill Bundy’s letter.6 He said he had made clear to Secretary Rusk and Bill Bundy when they were here that he did not concur in that approach. He particularly objected to the idea of the Government of Viet Nam or anyone else accepting responsibility for the actions against the North. He reiterated the need for disavowable actions which would not be acknowledged. He showed me a copy of Mike Dunn’s record of conversation with Rusk and Bundy to demonstrate that he had opposed this position in the past.7

I then asked for further clarification on the manner in which he wanted this entire matter discussed with the Canadians. He referred to his telegram on this subject and pointed to the sentence which stressed the need for advising the North Vietnamese that there would be retaliatory action against the North on a tit-for-tat basis.8 I asked whether he wished this made clear to the Canadians when I saw them in Ottawa. He said as far as he was concerned that was the main point of the arrangement with the Canadians.

In discussing this point further, he said it might be useful to let a few of these occur in the North before the Canadian actually delivered his statement to the North Vietnamese authorities. I asked what, therefore, he contemplated as a time frame. He said as far as he was concerned, we should be able to do this some time this summer. He was not sure what the military requirements for protection against DRV retaliation would be, but he saw no reason why these measures shouldn’t be initiated as soon as we felt competent to mount the initial actions.

I said that my discussions with Secretary Rusk and Bill Bundy did not indicate to me that there was a meeting of the minds on this whole approach. The Ambassador expressed some surprise at this and said [Page 308] that he felt he had made himself explicitly clear in the conversations which had been held in Saigon. I therefore closed the conversation with the assurance that I had a clear picture of his views and would take them back to Washington for further discussion with the Secretary.

Later that evening after dinner, the Ambassador again reverted to the need for military measures. He said that General Khanh was under great strain and that perhaps only by the introduction of action along these lines could Khanh rally the support of the population which he needed to be successful in the South. I said that Secretary McNamara would be prepared to discuss this whole question of General Khanh’s attitude as reported in recent cables when he arrived. The Ambassador felt it would be useful for the Secretary to get a first-hand view of this from Khanh and that he thought this would clarify the way in which both he and Khanh viewed the problem. I did not pursue this line any further at that session.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country Series, Vol. IX, Memos. Top Secret. Drafted by Sullivan on May 14. Copies were sent to Rusk, Ball, McGeorge Bundy, McNamara. McCone, and William Bundy.
  2. See Document 147.
  3. See Document 134.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 4.
  5. Apparent reference to a later, April 20, draft of the attachment to Document 102. The April 20 draft is in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 4023, Vietnam 092.
  6. Document 108.
  7. Document 120.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 134.