95. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Vietnam (Sullivan) to the Special Assistant in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs (Thompson)1


  • Comments on Proposed McNamara Speech2

I think the general tone and thrust of this speech is excellent but I detect one truly major problem toward the end of it. In the section “A Program to Meet Our Objectives” there is a listing of the options [Page 190] which President Johnson had before him prior to the McNamara visit. The manner in which the second option—“A Big War”—is treated leaves our reaction to this speech [option?] deliberately inconclusive.

I know that this is a useful device in maintaining a certain degree of uncertainty in the North. It is also valuable for dealing with the LeMays and the Rostows. However, that is not the audience which this particular speech is intended to address.

The basic purpose of the speech is to obtain broad support and particularly to state objectives which will be endorsed by the Mansfields and the Lippmanns. More pointedly, it is intended to separate the Mansfields from the Morses.

A second objective is to set forward our policy with precision in a way which will induce General De Gaulle similarly to define French policy. Indeed, we are telling De Gaulle that the McNamara speech will make our policy “precise”.

Therefore, deliberately to leave an area of imprecision in order to attain a commendable objective with respect to the North would be defeating the major purposes and the major addresses of the speech.

I would, therefore, recommend that the entire section concerning options be rewritten so that the only course of action which is described and discarded is the “neutralization” course. The speech could then remain silent on the question of the “Big War”.2

There are attached also certain suggestions by Joe Mendenhall for revision of the sections on pages four and five in the interest of clear historical accuracy.3

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Thomson Papers, Southeast Asia, Vietnam, McNamara’s Speech, 3/26/64. Confidential. Rusk took this memorandum to a luncheon meeting with the President, McGeorge Bundy, and McNamara at the White House on March 24, where the McNamara speech was approved substantially as originally drafted. No record of the luncheon meeting has been found. (Memorandum from Read to Rusk; Department of State, President’s Reading File: Lot 74 D 164)
  2. The speech was given on March 26 at the James Forrestal Memorial Awards Dinner of the National Security Industrial Association in Washington. For text. see Department of State Bulletin, April 13, 1964, pp. 562–570.
  3. At this point, Sullivan added the following handwritten note: “I have discussed this with McNaughton, who says that McNamara does want to retain the ‘options.’ However these particular arguments have not been presented to him. WHS”
  4. Attached but not printed.