304. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Canada1

169. Following message was handed directly to Canadian Embassy here for transmittal to Seaborn by fastest channel. This is for your information only.

“Canadians are urgently asked to have Seaborn during August 10 visit make following points (as having been conveyed to him by US Government since August 6):

Re Tonkin Gulf actions, which almost certainly will come up:
The DRV has stated that Hon Ngu and Hon Me islands were attacked on July 30. It should be noted that the USS Maddox was, all of that day and into the afternoon of the next day, over 100 miles south of those islands, in international waters near the 17th parallel, and that [Page 652] the DRV attack on the Maddox took place on August 2, more than two days later. Neither the Maddox nor any other destroyer was in any way associated with any attack on the DRV islands.
Regarding the August 4 attack by the DRV on the two US destroyers, the Americans were and are at a complete loss to understand the DRV motive. They had decided to absorb the August 2 attack on the grounds that it very well might have been the result of some DRV mistake or miscalculation. The August 4 attack, however—from the determined nature of the attack as indicated by the radar, sonar, and eyewitness evidence both from the ships and from their protecting aircraft—was, in the American eyes, obviously deliberate and planned and ordered in advance. In addition, premeditation was shown by the evidence that the DRV craft were waiting in ambush for the destroyers. The attack did not seem to be in response to any action by the South Vietnamese, nor did it make sense as a tactic to further any diplomatic objective. Since the attack took place at least 60 miles from nearest land, there could have been no question about territorial waters. About the only reasonable hypothesis was that North Viet-Nam was intent either upon making it appear that the United States was a ‘paper tiger’ or upon provoking the United States.
The American response was directed solely to patrol craft and installations acting in direct support of them. As President Johnson stated: ‘our response for the present will be limited and fitting.’2
In view of uncertainty aroused by the deliberate and unprovoked DRV attacks this character, US has necessarily carried out precautionary deployments of additional air power to SVN and Thailand.
Re basic American position:
Mr. Seaborn should again stress that US policy is simply that North Viet-Nam should contain itself and its ambitions within the territory allocated to its administration by the 1954 Geneva Agreements. He should stress that US policy in South Viet-Nam is to preserve the integrity of that State 1s territory against guerrilla subversion.
He should reiterate that the US does not seek military bases in the area and that the US is not seeking to overthrow the Communist regime in Hanoi.
He should repeat that the US is fully aware of the degree to which Hanoi controls and directs the guerrilla action in South Viet-Nam and that the US holds Hanoi directly responsible for that action. He should similarly indicate US awareness of North Vietnamese control over the Pathet Lao movement in Laos and the degree of North Vietnamese involvement in that country. He should specifically indicate US awareness of North Vietnamese violations of Laotian territory along the infiltration route into South Viet-Nam.
Mr. Seaborn can again refer to the many examples of US policy in tolerance of peaceful coexistence with Communist regimes, such as Yugoslavia, Poland, etc. He can hint at the economic and other benefits which have accrued to those countries because their policy of Communism has confined itself to the development of their own national territories and has not sought to expand into other areas.
Mr. Seaborn should conclude with the following new points:
That the events of the past few days should add credibility to the statement made last time, that ‘US public and official patience with the North Vietnamese aggression is growing extremely thin.’3
That the US Congressional Resolution4 was passed with near unanimity, strongly re-affirming the unity and determination of the US Government and people not only with respect to any further attacks on US military forces but more broadly to continue to oppose firmly, by all necessary means, DRV efforts to subvert and conquer South Viet-Nam and Laos.
That the US has come to the view that the DRV role in South Viet-Nam and Laos is critical. If the DRV persists in its present course, it can expect to continue to suffer the consequences.
That the DRV knows what it must do if the peace is to be restored.
That the US has ways and means of measuring the DRY’s participation in, and direction and control of, the war in South Viet-Nam and in Laos and will be carefully watching the DRY’s response to what Mr. Seaborn is telling them.”5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by William Bundy and cleared in draft with McNamara, Ball, and McGeorge Bundy. Also sent to Saigon. The message and a McNaughton draft of it, dated August 7, are printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 519–522.
  2. See Document 286.
  3. Regarding Seaborn’s approach to North Vietnam in June, see Document 222.
  4. See Document 308.
  5. Seaborn met with Prime Minister Pham Van Dong on August 12 at Hanoi and conveyed the U.S. message with the exception of final points d and e. Seaborn reported that the Prime Minister became “very angry,” and warned that the United States was escalating the war. Seaborn concluded that despite the meeting he was still little wiser as to the motivations for the attacks on August 2 and 4. (Candel 419, August 15; Johnson Library. National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. 15, Cables)