199. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • Comments of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on JCSM–471–64, “Objectives and courses of Action—Southeast Asia”2
This memorandum transmits the views of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff upon the subject paper in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff (less the Chairman) express their views on two possible alternatives for air strikes against North Vietnam. The first would have the objective of seeking “through military actions to accomplish destruction of the North Vietnamese will and capabilities as necessary to compel the Democratic Government of Vietnam (DRY) to cease providing support to the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos”. They favor adopting this course of action. They note, however, as a possible lesser alternative the employment of “limited military action which, hopefully, would cause the North Vietnamese to decide to terminate their subversive support of activity in Laos and South Vietnam”. If the latter alternative is adopted, they recommend two target complexes in the Appendix of JCSM–471–64 (Vinh and Dien Bien Phu) as appropriate for initial attack.
As I understand the distinction between the two alternatives, the first calls for a concurrent attack upon North Vietnamese will and capabilities in order to induce the North Vietnamese to cease their attacks upon their neighbors and in addition, by destroying in large part their military capabilities, to assure that they cannot resume these attacks. The second alternative places more emphasis on changing the will of the enemy and less emphasis on the destruction of capabilities although the attacks considered upon Vinh and Dien Bien Phu require hundreds of sorties and thus are not of inconsiderable weight.
I do not feel these two alternatives as stated are an accurate or complete expression of our choices. It appears to me that there are three patterns from among which we may choose to initiate the attack on North Vietnam. In descending order of weight, they are the following:
A massive air attack on all significant military targets in North Vietnam for the purpose of destroying them and thereby making the enemy incapable of continuing to assist the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao.
A lesser attack on some significant part of the military target system in North Vietnam for the dual purpose of convincing the enemy that it is to his interest to desist from aiding the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao, and, if possible, of obtaining his cooperation in calling off the insurgents in South Vietnam and Laos.
Demonstrative strikes against limited military targets to show US readiness and intent to pass to alternatives 3b or 3a above. These demonstrative strikes would have the same dual purpose as in alternative 3b.
The forces required to execute these strike alternatives would vary from a maximum effort by VNAF, Farmgate and US aircraft for alternative 3a to VNAF alone (perhaps stiffened by Farmgate) for alternative 3c. Similarly, the time for executing the attacks would vary from several weeks in the case of alternative 3a to one or two days for alternative 3c.
I would not recommend alternative 3a at the outset because it is probably unnecessarily destructive for the purpose of changing the will of the adversary; it limits any possibility of cooperation from Hanoi in calling off the insurgents; and represents such a challenge to the Communist Bloc as to raise considerably the risks of escalation. I would prefer alternative 3b, reserving judgment on the precise target system chosen for the initial attack pending further photography and analysis. However, I feel that it is highly probable that political considerations will incline our responsible civilian officials to opt for alternative 3c and, hence, feel that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should recognize this possibility and develop a plan for possible implementation.
In summary, I recommend that JCSM–471–64 be noted and used as appropriate in considerations of a strike program based upon the implementation of alternative 3b, and that the Joint Chiefs of Staff be asked to develop a strike plan based upon a decision to follow alternative 3c.
Maxwell D. Taylor
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Vietnam 381. Top Secret.
  2. See Document 191.