417. Memorandum for the Record of a Meeting, White House1


  • Vietnam Item, Meeting with the President, 12:30 p.m. Thursday, November 19, 1964

The Secretary of State reported on the work in process regarding South Vietnam and the timing of the President’s consideration of this problem. He noted that Ambassador Taylor would be returning to Washington on the 27th.

Mr. Rusk explained that the working group was preparing a full examination of the South Vietnam situation, including its internal and external ramifications: the role of the Viet Cong, of North Vietnam, Communist China, the Soviet Union, and other nations. The working group had examined U.S. objectives and stakes in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, as well as the various contingencies that might arise. The planners had focused on three broad alternatives: first, a negotiated settlement on any basis obtainable; second, a sharp increase of military pressure on North Vietnam which might perhaps lead at some future date to negotiation; and third, an “in between” alternative of increased pressure on North Vietnam but simultaneous efforts to keep open the channels of communication in case the other side was interested in a settlement. These alternatives would be accompanied by attempts to deal with adjacent problems: to diminish Prince Sihanouk’s “fever” and to improve our position in Laos.

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Mr. Rusk stated that we are faced with serious and grave decisions. A first essential is to receive first-hand from Maxwell Taylor his view of the situation in South Vietnam and his judgment as to what we must require of the South Vietnamese themselves. Following such consultations with Taylor, we would plan to submit our recommendations for a thorough review and decision by the President by December 1st.

The President asked for a re-statement of the three alternatives. Mr. William Bundy outlined them as follows:

  • Option A: to continue as at present, but to add to our current efforts reprisals against the Viet Cong and North Vietnam for any further “spectaculars” of the Bien Hoa variety;
  • Option B: to apply a “hard/fast squeeze”, i.e. a systematic program of attacks of increasing intensity against North Vietnam during which negotiations would not be our immediate goal but would not be ruled out:
  • Option C: to apply a slow, controlled squeeze on North Vietnam in order to bring about negotiations, increasing gradually our present level of operations against the North.

Mr. Bundy noted that this third option was a complex and sophisticated alternative that would require a high degree of control.

Mr. McGeorge Bundy noted that the Government might profit from the President’s guidance at this juncture in one respect. At the working levels the focus of attention was increasingly on Option C. Unless the President indicated otherwise, the present thrust towards C would undoubtedly continue.

Mr. McNamara added that although all the planners were indeed leaning toward Option C, work was also well advanced on Option B.

Mr. McGeorge Bundy commented that work had not advanced on the “devil’s advocate” exercise, the preparation of a persuasive case for negotiation and withdrawal under present conditions.

Mr. Rusk and Mr. William Bundy responded that the “devil’s advocate” exercise had made some progress under Mr. Ball. It was noted, however, that Mr. Ball had been preoccupied with other assignments.

Mr. Rusk assured the President that we would not permit irresistible momentum to develop in favor of any one option to the exclusion of the others.

Mr. McGeorge Bundy added that while we were inviting Ambassador Taylor to participate in the discussions next week, we were not for the present including the various military figures of our Pacific Command.

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The President expressed the hope that no firm decisions would be made without participation by the military; he could not face the Congressional leadership on this kind of subject unless he had fully consulted with the relevant military people.

Mr. McNamara assured the President that the military were already deeply involved in the planning, that the JCS had been working for weeks on this problem, and that General Wheeler would be present at all the discussions with Ambassador Taylor. The JCS was now preparing written comments on the present working group drafts.

Mr. Rusk said that books and papers on Vietnam planning would be sent to Texas during the President’s absence from Washington.

James C. Thomson, Jr.3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Thomson Papers, Southeast Asia—Vietnam, 1964 General. Top Secret. Drafted by Thomson on November 24. According to an agenda and list of participants, in addition to those mentioned in this memorandum, Humphrey, McCone, Vance, Ball, and Bromley Smith were present at the meeting. (Johnson Library National Security File, Aides File, McGeorge Bundy, Misc Mtgs, Vol. 1)
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.