273. Editorial Note

At 9:25 a.m., August 4, Secretary of Defense McNamara, Deputy Secretary of Defense Vance, and Lieutenant General David A. Burchinal, Director of the Joint Staff of the JCS, met at the Pentagon. The following account of the meeting is taken from the August 28 Top Secret chronology of the events of August 4–5 submitted to the President by McGeorge Bundy on September 4:

McNamara, Deputy Secretary Vance, General Burchinal, Colonel Jones, and Admiral Mustin of the Joint Staff meet at the Pentagon beginning at 9:25 AM as reports of the attack on the destroyers come in. As the situation grows more intense, possible levels and time of retaliation are discussed, and target folders are examined. High on the list are the PT boats and bases and supporting POL installations, but other targets such as airfields, industrial complexes and bridges are also scrutinized. Captain Miller of the Navy, a mine expert, is also asked to join the meeting and the possibility of mining one or more of the North Vietnamese important Ports is discussed. Here it is pointed out that the mines would have to be brought to the carriers from Subic Bay, the Philippines. McNamara orders that mines be brought to the carriers as soon as possible. Burchinal informs McNamara that a retaliatory attack can take place at first light. McNamara, during this time, calls the President, informs him that a retaliatory attack is being planned, and tells the President that he will call Secretary Rusk and Presidential Assistant Bundy to join him in preparing a number of options to be presented to the President as soon as possible.*

“During these discussions, McNamara develops four options for a sharp limited blow and one option for continuous pressure against the North Vietnamese. The four options for the sharp limited blow are:

  • “1. Air strikes against PT boats and their bases.
  • “2. Air strikes against petroleum installations.
  • “3. Air strikes on bridges.
  • “4. Air strikes on prestige targets, such as a steel plant.

“The option for continuing pressure against the North Vietnamese is to mine important ports along their coastline.

McNamara, about 11:00 AM, summons Rusk, Bundy, and the JCS and they arrive shortly thereafter.” Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Gulf of Tonkin Misc. 1964)

The asterisk footnote reads: “McNamara made three calls to the President during this period at 9:43, 10:53, and 11:06 AM.” For an account of the 9:43 a.m. call, see U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part 11, 1961–1964 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974), page 289. Regarding the 11 a.m. call, see Document 275.