388. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • Courses of Action, Southeast Asia
In view of the recent estimate of the deteriorating situation in South Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that strong military actions are required now in order to prevent the collapse of the US position in Southeast Asia. The agreed judgments expressed by the intelligence community in SNIE 53–2–642 have implications which are particularly grave when note is taken that such judgments in the past have consistently been characterized by restraint and moderation. The promulgation of this judgment by the intelligence community requires prompt and responsive recognition by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ambassador Taylor, by message JPS 303, DTG 161030Z October 1964,3 advised the President concerning the worsening situation in Southeast Asia. He has drawn attention to the increased rate of infiltration into South Vietnam and stated that with the advent of the dry season this problem will assume a magnitude and urgency that will require immediate attention.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that the lack of stability in the central government, the low state of morale of the leadership, and the poorly trained civil service in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) militate against early success and that the solutions, primarily political, to these problems are also critical to the eventual termination of the insurgency.
The struggle in South Vietnam is a combination of political and military action and there is an interaction between the two that permits a political success to be exploited militarily and vice versa. Accordingly, a program of military and supporting political actions with respect to the RVN has been developed on the basis that US withdrawal from the RVN or Southeast Asia is not an acceptable course of action. This program envisages the requirement now for accelerated and forceful actions both inside and outside of the RVN to support a strategy of: [Page 848]
Depriving the Viet Cong (VC) of out of country assistance by applying continuously increasing military pressures on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRY) to the extent necessary to cause the DRV to cease support and direction of the insurgency.
Depriving the VC of assistance within the RVN by expanding the counterinsurgency effort—military, economic and political—within the RVN.
Continuing to seek a viable effective government in the RVN based on the broadest possible consensus.
Maintaining a military readiness posture in Southeast Asia that:
Demonstrates the US will and capability to escalate the action if required.
Deters a major communist aggression in the area.
The proposed courses of action now recommended in support of the above strategy include both new actions and certain actions previously recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The recommended courses of action are appended as follows:
Actions within the RVN, Appendix A.
Actions outside the RVN, Appendix B.
The military actions in Appendices A and B are arranged in a general ascending order of severity. The military course of action which would contribute most to defeating insurgencies in Southeast Asia remains the destruction of the DRV will and capabilities as necessary to compel the DRV to cease providing support to those insurgencies. Consequently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the first six courses of action in Appendix A and the first eight courses of action in Appendix B should be implemented concurrently, now. While many of the remaining actions can also be taken concurrently, the lists are arranged so that any of the actions may be selected, implemented, and controlled, as required, to produce the desired effect while analyzing and estimating the communist reaction. The Joint Chiefs of Staff advocate adoption of the program of military and political courses of action as a means of applying increased pressures at all available points. In the event our objectives are achieved during the course of the program, it could, of course, be curtailed or terminated; however, the entire program of courses of action may be required in an effort to destroy the DRV will and capability to support the insurgency in the RVN and in Laos.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, having noted the latest Special National Intelligence Estimate, SNIE 10–3–64, dated 9 October 1964,4 believe that there is not a high risk of introduction of Chinese communist ground force combat units unless major US/RVN ground units [Page 849]had moved to occupy areas of the DRV or communist. held territory of Northern Laos, or possibly, the Chinese communists had committed their air and had subsequently suffered attacks on their bases. Further, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that because of the present favorable balance of power it is within the capability of US force to deal with large-scale aggression.
In summary:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff request authority to implement now the first six courses of action in Appendix A and the first eight courses of action in Appendix B. Further, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that courses of action 7 in Appendix A and 11 through 16 in Appendix B be implemented as required to achieve US objectives in Southeast Asia.
The Chief of Staff, US Army, and the Chief of Naval Operations request authority to implement, as an extension of increasing pressures on the DRV, courses of action 9 and 10 of Appendix B, after appropriate implementation of the first eight courses of action.

The Chief of Staff, US Air Force, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps believe the judgment reflected in SNIE 53–2–64 forces the conclusion that, if indeed, time has not run out, it is fast doing so. Unless we move now to alter the present evolution of events, there is great likelihood of a VC victory. They see no useful alternative to initiating action against the DRV now through a planned and selective program of air strikes. Accordingly, they recommend that courses of action 9 and 10 (as revised) in Appendix B be implemented now, and that course of action 10 be revised to read:

“Selective air strikes against DRV to include air strikes on infiltration routes.”

They believe that the initial effort should be focused on targets of military significance and should be mounted in response to the next significant VC action in South Vietnam (SVN). In this regard, they consider that a battalion size VC attack in SVN or an act of VC terrorism against US personnel should be construed as significant. Additionally, Ambassador Taylor has reported infiltration by northern born conscripts, and that the Government of Vietnam (GVN) claims they come in organized units. He states “By any objective standard their presence in SVN constitutes an invasion by hostile forces into the territory of an ally of the US.” Action to verify this GVN claim should be undertaken as a matter of priority. If verified, it is considered a significant incident within the above context.

The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the requests and recommendations contained in subparagraphs 8 a and 8 b, above.
In view of the grave implications outlined above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff request that these views be provided to the President at the earliest feasible time.5
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
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Appendix A


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Action Forces Comments
1. Influence the RVN to apply increasing pressure on the VC. Continue the pacification program with emphasis on the Hop Tac program to establish the security of Saigon and its surroundings. RVNAF and civil authorities Province Chiefs and military commanders who exhibit strong initiative in accomplishing pacification tasks should be given support even though their areas may lie outside the Hop Tac region.
2. Initiating a vigorous civil affairs effort in RVN. US/RVNAF To establish and maintain the authority and the effectiveness of the government in Saigon throughout the territory south of the 1 7th parallel by increasing the ARVN civil affairs effort at lower levels. US Medical Civic Action Program should be continued at present level. Subsector advisory teams should be used during clearing operations to increase emphasis on proper employment of civil affairs teams. USOM planned augmentation of public safety (i.e., police) [Page 852]advisory effort at province level should be expedited. This improved capability should be used to improve the effectiveness of ARVN Civil Affairs Teams which should include police representatives where feasible, to initiate population identification and movement control, to survey indigenous capabilities, and supervise security and police operations.
3. Tighter control of personnel and materiel to include: RVNAR and civil authorities
a. Identification, search, seizure and detention procedures to include direct action against the VC leadership in RVN.
b. Establishment of areas and check points for control of population movement.
c. Systematic search of all vehicles and hand-carried containers at the above mentioned check points to insure that no contraband is carried therein.
d. Establishment of strict curfew in selected areas with a clear-cut understanding of substantial penalties for violations.
4. Encourage the RVN to recruit from the local PF individuals who will volunteer to serve as uniformed district and village policemen. The police organization should be structured as a local force responsive to orders from the District Chief. Civil authorities
5. Support, as required, the operations being developed to eliminate the supply to the VC through Mekong-Bassac Rivers and associated waterways. US/RVNAF and civil authorities No additional US personnel required.
6. Employ US fixed wing aircraft to accomplish air strikes within the RVN. US Day and night operations are required.
7. Deploy forces to implement appropriate CINCPAC OPLANs. US To assist actively in fighting the insurgency in RVN or to defeat communist aggression as necessary.
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Appendix B


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Action Forces Comments
1. Resume DeSoto Patrols. US
2. Intensify 34A operations with emphasis on MAROPs and initiate air operations against selected targets. RVNAF
3. Maintain forward deployments of US combat units in Southeast Asia. US
4. Permit RVN forces to pursue and destroy VC forces which cross into Cambodia. US/RVNAF To prevent the use of “safe haven” areas in Cambodia by the VC.
5. Appropriate retaliatory actions to DRV/VC initiations. S/RVNAF NSAM 314 states that we should be prepared to respond as appropriate against the DRV/VC in event of any attack on US units or any special DRV/VC action against South Vietnam. CINCPAC is ready to retaliate.
6. Low-level reconnaissance probes of the DRV. US To gather intelligence and to demonstrate US resolve in the area.
7. Resume and expand cross border operations to interdict the flow of communist personnel and materiel moving through the Laos Panhandle area. US/Farmgate/RVNAF Air strikes and armed route reconnaissance and raid type of joint operations, including airborne, as a show of force and to demonstrate capabilities for destruction of supplies, equipment and military installations in the Laos Panhandle.
8. Attack LOC in DRV in conjunction with air strike operations on nearby targets in RVN and Laos. US/Farmgate/VNAF To destroy border targets such as Mu Gia Pass.
9. Deploy concurrently with or prior to initiating US air strikes against the DRV, necessary additional US forces within the concept of OPLAN 37–64. 1 Army Bde to Thailand;
1 MEB (RLT/MAG) to Danang;
2 F–100 Sqdns to Thailand
10. Air strikes against infiltration associated targets in the DRV. US/Farmgate/VNAF
11. Aerial mining of DRV ports: US/VNAF Notify, through diplomatic channels, other countries to stay clear of mined ports.
a. Haiphong approaches (three (3) fields) Haiphong, as the single principal port, handles 85% of all important DRV imports and 70% of all exports. Ocean-going ships number an average of 40 per month. Stopping or appreciably reducing import shipping would cut seriously into the DRV economy and would force diversion of traffic to alternate transportation routes.
b. Cam Pha (one (1) field), Hon Gay (three (3) fields) Reduction of export shipping by mining Cam Pha and Hon Gay would produce a long-range deteriorating effect on the DRV economy and would restrict the free use of alternate ports following the mining of Haiphong.
12. Naval quarantine/blockade of the DRV (also applies to Cambodia). US/RVNAF
13. Attack, with increasing severity, targets in DRV. US/VNAF To further increase pressure on the DRV to attempt to cause the DRV to make a political decision to cease support of the insurgencies in Laos and the RVN.
14. All-out air attack on the DRV. US Strike the 94 targets contained in JCSM 729–64 with the objective of destroying the will and capability of the DRV to support insurgencies in SEA.
15. Amphibious/airborne operations on the coastal areas in DRV. US/RVNAF Either in conjunction with item 14 or as an additional pressure to achieve the US objective, conduct amphibious/airborne operations to seize one or more lodgements in the littoral of DRV. The lodgement(s) to be of sufficient magnitude to pose a plausible threat to the DRV and yet limited in area to optimize the capability of the employed force to defend against infiltration and attacks by numerically larger ground forces. These lodgements to be held until the US objective is achieved or the magnitude of overall military operations is significantly increased.
16. Commit US and allied ground forces into Southeast Asia as required. US/Allied
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files. Working Papers. Nov 1964, Vol. IV, JCS. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Document 368.
  3. Not found.
  4. A copy of this paper, entitled “Probable Communist Reactions to Certain Possible US/GVN Courses of Action,” is in Department of State. Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272 Vietnam Intelligence Estimates.
  5. In a memorandum to Wheeler, October 29, McNamara noted that he was sending a copy of JCSM–902–64 to Taylor for comments. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, Box 1) Taylor was advised along these lines in DEF 1342, October 29. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S; printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 111, p. 586)
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.