193. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Highlights of Honolulu Conference

For your possible use in your discussion with the President this evening,2 I am setting down what I thought were the highlights of the Honolulu Conference. (I must say that the big pluses of the conference seemed to me to be the opportunity for a real strategic discussion with Lodge present, and the work done in the information area. I thought the military planning presentation by CINCPAC was not adequate and served largely to highlight some of the difficult issues we still have. Westmoreland’s plan for the critical provinces was a superb piece of work on short notice, but still needs refinement and thought, as well as careful recruiting, before it can be real good. In general, I think the conference showed the ill effects of short notice and lack of opportunity for you and Secretary McNamara to go over jointly just what you wanted to cover and how, before we left Washington.)

I. Situation in South Vietnam.

The situation is “tenuous but not hopeless” (Westmoreland). Lodge and Westmoreland were a shade more optimistic than McNamara and McCone (and myself), and Westmoreland thinks there could be significant improvement by the end of the year if Khanh stays in power, and that a few victories are badly needed and would be a big help. Lodge thinks the situation can continue to “jog along”, but also thinks that some external action would be a big lift to South Vietnamese morale. Both Lodge and Westmoreland concede the built-in perils of something happening to Khanh or the effects of defeats rather than victories. Basically, the crucial indicators of morale, both military and civilian, are very hard to read; some say the peasant is holding out reasonably well, but such factors as the military desertion rate are clearly serious in their implications. (McNamara would probably [Page 443] add the difficulty of obtaining the needed manpower, but Westmoreland’s latest information on this, received during the conference, showed some improvement for May, and I do not believe myself that a difference of 20,000 or even 50,000 in total manpower strengths will make all that much difference.)

II. Effect of Measures to Improve the Situation within South Vietnam.

There is much we can still do.
Westmoreland put forward a selective plan for moderate increases in US personnel, both civilian and military (on the order of 500), for eight critical provinces. This plan, which requires completion in Saigon, does offer some hope and should be worked on urgently. Both Lodge and Westmoreland reject any major over-all plan for “inter-larding” or “encadrement” in the sense of US personnel moving directly into a decision-making role; such a plan they consider to be both unwise and presently unacceptable by Khanh and the Vietnamese.
Information activities can be greatly improved, and the decisions to put “czar” powers into the hands of Zorthian should help the US press problem over time (overcoming a long-standing Lodge bar to Zorthian doing this job). Vietnamese information and psywar activities are also capable of slow improvement, and a number of useful ideas were developed by a group headed by Carl Rowan.
The US Mission is as well coordinated as possible given Lodge’s basic nature, except that there is need for a key change in the DCM in favor of a truly executive man. Relations with the GVN are harmonious and they are responsive to US advice; the tactic of intermittent high-level meetings between the US and GVN on specific policy problems is off to a good start, and Lodge and others believe this method will be more effective and palatable than a more systematic high-level, day-to-day relationship involving putting significant numbers of US personnel directly into the GVN structure.
There can be some useful clearing of the decks and a more business-like atmosphere in Saigon, through reductions in social activities and progressive cut-down of dependents at least on the military side. (The timing of possible removal of dependents also was not discussed, and is apparently still thought to be wise only in the context of a decision for wider action.)
However, none of these measures for improvement can really affect the dubious prognosis for the next 3–6 months. The best we can hope for is a slight gain by the end of the year, and it is worth noting that—despite all we may be able to do in improving press reporting—there will probably continue to be a press bias toward reporting the unfavorable. Thus, so far as the US public view is concerned, we may well appear to be getting nowhere even though we might ourselves consider [Page 444] that the trend was at least slightly upward. Obviously, if improvement is not in fact achieved, the public impression could be one of really sharp deterioration because of the same press bias.

III. Military Plans and Intelligence Estimates re Wider Actions.

The meeting revealed serious unresolved questions in this area, some of a military nature and some requiring political guidance and more refined assumptions. Examples are:

To what degree should we seek to conduct military operations in Laos, especially the likely effect of force requirements for any significant operations against the Panhandle Corridor?
To what degree should there be a major build-up of forces prior to taking wider action? This requires a careful balancing of the military advantages of such a build-up (which would clearly be prudent in the event of sharp retaliation) as against the possibility that major measures would, in the intelligence view, tend to make the Vietnamese Communists and Hanoi think our objectives are beyond what they are, and thus drive them to the very drastic action the build-up would be designed to meet.
In planning of possible air strikes against North Vietnam we need still more refined targeting and a clearer definition of just what should be hit and how thoroughly, and above all, for what objective as between massive destruction and effect on Hanoi’s will. To most of us, the latter seems the proper guideline, but it has not yet been cranked properly into the military plan.

In general, the military timing factors would point to some delay in taking action. The additional Vietnamese aircraft will not be available until mid-July although B–57’s could be provided at any time on a Farmgate basis. The logistic and personnel factors to prepare for a possible maximum commitment of 5–7 divisions, as well as the shipping requirements, can be handled properly only in a period of about two months. The Vietnamese manpower should be built up as much as possible, with Westmoreland preferring to have a reserve of 12 battalions that he could use along the Laos border. The rainy season precludes major offensive action in the Panhandle area of Laos until November. And finally, we would like to have Khanh’s base stronger than it is.

On the other hand, some of the timing factors cut the other way. The rainy season does reduce Communist capability to move ground forces south. Moreover, we are obviously uncertain whether Khanh’s base will in fact improve in the next few months.

In general, it was General Taylor’s conclusion that all the military timing factors related to optimum military operations, and that they could be disregarded, although we would have some sacrifice to capability and prudent preparation.

The intelligence estimate on Communist reaction has already run into the variable of a major military build-up, and a new assessment should be made in the light of a more refined planning scenario. The latter should be urgently prepared under the guidance of the Executive Committee.

IV. Over-all Conclusions.

The somewhat less pessimistic estimate of the situation in Vietnam means that we can afford-and as indicated above would clearly benefit from-taking perhaps two more weeks to refine our plans and estimates. Although the Laos situation is somewhat shaky, we believe that we can hold it in line at least for this period by a combination of careful diplomacy and perhaps a few added gestures of force.

Crucial actions for the immediate period appear to be the following:

An urgent US information effort to make the basic points now arising in the budding “great debate.” This debate will probably grow in volume, and we must get at the basic doubts of the value of Southeast Asia and the importance of our stake there that are besetting and confusing both key members of the Congress and the public.3
We should get started at once with the Thai, laying out at least the general possibility of wider action and initiating joint planning, which in itself should have a very helpful effect on their attitude.
We must continue to work closely and urgently with the British. They hold a large share of the key to successful diplomacy and standing firm concerning Laos, and they almost certainly have serious doubts about the basic question of wider action, on which they have now been fully informed.
We should also cut in the Australians and perhaps the New Zealanders, probably to the full extent that we have done with the British.
We have a dilemma with the Philippines, in that we cannot leave them out of the planning activity wholly, but equally cannot trust them with any clear picture of our possible intentions. We need careful instructions on this.
We must make another determined effort to get the French not to cut dead across our possible lines of action. This is the purpose of the Ball Mission.
We need an intensive and coordinated information and intelligence effort both for the sake of refining our plans and for preparing materials to use for eventual support of wider action if decided upon. (There is an immediate need for intelligence and information support in the Laos diplomatic arena.)
To hold the line in Laos and stand firm on withdrawal as a precondition for a conference, we need careful handling of the present consultations and the Polish proposal and, to hold Souvanna Phouma in line, we probably need at least generalized indications of continuing military firmness. Deployment of forces to Thailand should not, and indeed cannot, be envisaged at least until we have gone further with the Thai, but we should consider some added element of military action such as overflights of North Vietnam in the course of our present admitted reconnaissance operations in Laos.
We have an immediate problem of handling the high degree of operations flowing from the conference itself. We want to avoid a boiling up of opinion, but at the same time our posture must continue to appear firm, above all to Hanoi and Peking. This will take careful guidance and consideration of high-level statements and speeches in the next two weeks.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Southeast Asia, Vol. II, Memos (A). Secret. According to a June 3 covering note to McNamara, Bundy sent copies of “his personal notes” of the Honolulu conference to McNamara, Taylor, and McCone with the qualification that they did not necessarily reflect the views of Rusk who approved the distribution. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Vietnam 381)

    A note on the top of the source text in McGeorge Bundy’s hand reads: “Hitting the North is required.”

  2. President Johnson met with McGeorge and William Bundy, Rusk, McNamara, Taylor, and McCone from 6 to 8 p.m. on June 3 at the White House. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this meeting has been found.
  3. McGeorge Bundy wrote the following note at this point: “U.S. information how high.”