401. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Office of the Secretary of Defense1

251. CINCPAC for POLAD. Ref. DEF 1342.2 In compliance with request of DOD, I submit the following personal comments to JCSM 902–64 dated October 27, 1964.3 SNIE-53–2–644 is not available in Saigon and hence has not influenced my views. I assume that a political/psychological scenario is being prepared to support the military actions considered in the JCS study.

As indicated in Embtel 4655 and elsewhere, I am in complete agreement with the thesis that the deteriorating situation in SVN requires the application of measured military pressures on DRV to [Page 883] induce that government to cease to provide support to VC and to use its authority to cause VC to cease or at least to moderate their depredations. The evidence of increased infiltration cited in Embtel 11356 is one cogent reason for prompt and effective action. The Bien Hoa incident of November 1, 1964 poses an even more pressing requirement for action under the retaliatory principle confirmed in NSAM-314.7

Embtel 13578 contains the response to the Bien Hoa action which Embassy-MACV recommended. In effect, this recommendation is for retaliation bombing attacks on selected DRV targets by combined US/VNAF air forces and for a policy statement that we will act similarly in like cases in the future. If this recommendation is not accepted, I would favor intensifying 34–A operations and initiating air operations against selected targets as an interim substitute for more positive measures.

With regard to the JCS recommendations for the first five courses of action of Appendix A, they are all being implemented now but implementation has been weak in direct proportion to the ineffectiveness of the local government. This situation is not likely to change for the better in time to effect the situation in the short term. The new government in its likely composition appears to have potentialities for improvement but it will be composed largely of men without governmental experience who will have to learn their trade on the job. It will take three to four months under favorable circumstances to get it functioning well.

Item 6 is new and I would have trouble in justifying it. It amounts to a departure for no clear gain from the principle that the Vietnamese fight their own war in SVN. Added air strength in-country is not going to have a significant effect on the outcome of the counterinsurgency campaign.

Under Appendix B, I see no advantage in resuming DeSoto patrols except for essential intelligence purposes. If we are seeking an excuse for action, it is to our interest to strike Hanoi for its malefactions in SVN and not for actions in the Bay of Tonkin against the US Navy. We need to tie our actions to Hanoi support of the VC, not to the defense of purely US interests. Hence, the excuse for our actions should ideally grow out of events in SVN and Laos. Such events are available for our exploitation now in the form of infiltration activities in Laotian corridor and the DRV, the Bien Hoa incident and the increasing sabotage by the VC of the Saigon-Danang RY. With these [Page 884] provocations already at our disposal, there is no need to seek others in the Tonkin Gulf where the second incident developed in such a way as to reduce our ability to use subsequent episodes as a credible basis for action.

Similarly, I see nothing but disadvantage in further stirring up the Cambodian border by implementing hot pursuit. We don’t often catch the fleeing VC in the heart of SVN; I see little likelihood of doing better in Cambodia. Sihanouk does not have much in the way of ground forces but a few counter-incursions from his side could be very awkward in requiring the diversion of further ARVN to cover the frontier. We are presently short of trained SVN manpower and need to conserve it for essential purposes. The present unfriendly frontier is much preferable to one actively hostile.

With regard to low level reconnaissance probes, they are not needed as signals of intention if, as I hope, we launch forth on a bombing program, overt or covert, against the North. In the latter case, low level recce should be flown only to meet bona fide intelligence needs.

Actions 7, 8, and 10 I tend to view as a package for concurrent implementation. In the aggregate, these actions constitute an attack on a coherent target system all of which may need to be progressively destroyed if infiltration is to be checked. It is another road to reach Hanoi which should be traveled in parallel with the one which arrives by way of reprisal bombing. At some point, both would probably merge into a single pressure vector on the DRV.

As a final word, it is well to remind ourselves that “too much” in this matter of coercing Hanoi may be as bad as “too little”. At some point, we will need a relatively cooperative leadership in Hanoi willing to wind up the VC insurgency on terms satisfactory to us and our SVN allies. What we don’t want is an expanded war in SEA and an unresolved guerrilla problem in SVN.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to the Secretary of State, the White House, and CINCPAC. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Taylor. (Ibid., Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8) Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 590–591
  2. See footnote 5, Document 388.
  3. Document 388.
  4. Document 368.
  5. Document 319.
  6. Telegram 1135, October 14, reported that MACV J–2 had evaluated evidence which estimated infiltration at 5,000 men for the first half of 1964. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  7. Document 345.
  8. Document 393.