157. Message From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the President 1

This is in reply to your 1942.2

My views on this subject were last submitted in my memorandum of October 30 to Harriman 3 and later various aspects were covered in the following wires from me to you: my 1583 of February 19,4 my 1594 of February 20,5 my 1757 of March 16,6 my 1454 of March 18,6 my 1776 of March 19,7 my 08 of April 16,8 and my 1803 of March 23.9
I think the Canadian interlocutor on his first trip to Hanoi should state that the Americans are utterly determined to win the struggle in South Viet Nam and will do whatever is necessary to win it. He should also point out that the North Vietnamese have it in their power to behave in such a way as to bring about the eventual withdrawal of U.S. military personnel, and so as to get food and economic aid for themselves, but that if they persist in their present gross and murderous intrusion into South Viet Nam, they will unquestionably be punished.
If prior to the Canadian’s trip to Hanoi there has been a terroristic act of the proper magnitude, then I suggest that a specific target in North Viet Nam be considered as a prelude to his arrival. The Vietnamese Air Force must be made capable of doing this, and they should undertake this type of action.
I much prefer a selective use of Vietnamese air power to an overt U.S. effort perhaps involving the total annihilation of all that has been built in North Viet Nam since 1954 because this would surely bring in the Chinese Communists, and might well bring in the Russians. Moreover, if you lay the whole country waste, it is quite likely that you will induce a mood of fatalism in the Viet Cong. Also, there will be nobody left in North Viet Nam on whom to put pressure. Furthermore, South Viet Nam’s infrastructure might well be destroyed. What we are interested in here is not destroying Ho Chi Minh [Page 334] (as his successor would probably be worse than he is), but getting him to change behavior. That is what President Kennedy was trying to do in October with Diem and with considerable success.
I believe the Canadian interlocutor idea offers the opportunity of using military power in a sharp focus to achieve specific political objectives, and we can increase or decrease the dose as we judge the traffic will bear and depending on our own readiness.
This is a procedure the intensity of which we can constantly control and bring up to the point to which we think the Communist reaction would cease to be manageable. It should be covert and undertaken by the Vietnamese, but, of course, we must be clear in our own minds that we are ready and able to take care of whatever reaction there may be.
It is easy for us on the one hand to ignore our superiority as we did at the time of Berlin in 1948 (when we still had sole possession of the atomic bomb). It is also a relatively simple concept to go all out and destroy North Viet Nam. What is complicated, but really effective, is to bring our power to bear in a precise way so as to get specific results.
Another advantage of this procedure is that when, as and if the time ever came that our military activities against the North became overt, we would be in a strong moral position both with regard to U.S. public opinion, the U.S. Congress, and the U.N. I say this because we would then have a record to show that we had given Ho Chi Minh fair warning to stop his murderous interference in the internal affairs of Viet Nam. Not only would we have given him fair warning, but we would have given him honest and valuable inducements in the way of some withdrawal of American personnel and in the way of economic aid, notably food. I think it is indispensable to lay this kind of basis on which we can then reasonably expect to get the support of Congress, public opinion, the United Nations.
The capacity to provide adequate protection against NVN reaction is a matter for the best military judgment available. I favor starting this procedure as soon as the Canadian can get going and as fast as military adequacy permits. Canadian should be a really big man.
Lodge 10
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Nodis. Transmitted as telegram 2212 from Saigon, which is the source text. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 002002.
  2. Document 155.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, pp. 656–659.
  4. Document 53.
  5. Document 55.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 85.
  7. Document 91.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 116
  9. Document 93.
  10. Telegram 2212 bears this typed signature.