206. Editorial Note

On June 6 and 7, two U S. reconnaissance aircraft were shot down over Laos. On June 8, the President met with McNamara, Harriman (acting for Rusk), Wheeler, William Bundy, Manning, U. Alexis Johnson, Sullivan, McNaughton, Carter, Cooper, Colby, and Forrestal to discuss the situation. Bromley Smith was the notetaker. The meeting began at 3 p.m. without the President. Harriman, Johnson, and William Bundy arrived a few minutes late because they had been conferring by telephone with Rusk who was vacationing in Newport, Rhode Island. Harriman stated that Rusk favored a retaliatory airstrike against Pathet Lao antiaircraft guns in Laos; he continued: [Page 475]

“Mr. Harriman said the purpose of the strike would be to convey a message to Hanoi. Unless we take some action to convince Hanoi that we are serious, negotiations with Ho Chi Minh will not be productive. Secretary McNamara agreed.”

The discussion then turned to the details of the reconnaissance mission and the mechanics of a possible retaliatory strike, particularly a 24-hour postponement:

“Secretary McNamara said: ‘Suppose we decide not to make the strike? What would we do if we cancelled it?’ Mr. Sullivan pointed out that Canadian International Control Commission (ICC) representative Seaborn would be in Hanoi on June 15. The message he is to convey would not be appropriate if we had not acted in some way in response to the shootdown of our reconnaissance planes. He, in effect, would be going to Hanoi with a broken stick.”

“There was discussion of low-level reconnaissance of North Vietnam as a possible alternative. The general view was that such reconnaissance would not be safe.”

“General Wheeler recommended strongly that the air attack be authorized. He opposed any delay and said that we had no other plan to respond to the shoot-down.”

“Secretary McNamara said we do not have to recommend the air attack but that no other action we can take to convey a message to Hanoi is comparable to an air attack. The possibility of some of our planes being shot down was a real one but the possibility that there would be a catastrophe was one chance in a million. The risk of not doing anything is greater than doing what is proposed. We must put additional pressure on Hanoi now.”

“In response to a suggestion that Laos and South Vietnam are separate issues, Alexis Johnson said the relationship between the problems in the two countries is exemplified by two chess boards, some plays being made on both boards.”

“Secretary McNamara said he and Deputy Secretary Vance had talked to several Senators during the day, including Senators Saltonstall and Russell. They had encountered less opposition than they had anticipated.”

The President joined the meeting at 3:45 p.m. and the group reiterated the discussion. The President was dubious about the strike and wondered if its results would offset criticism that the United States was violating the 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos. Harriman and McNamara argued that unless the United States reacted quickly North Vietnam might conclude that the United States talked tough but acted weakly. The President was skeptical, but he approved the strike with grave reservations. (Memorandum of conversation by Bromley Smith, June 8; Johnson Library, National Security File, Aides File, McGeorge Bundy, Meetings on Southeast Asia, Vol. I)

On June 9, eight F–100 aircraft attacked a Pathet Lao antiaircraft installation at Xieng Khoung.