112. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

2530. Reference: A. Deptel 1693.2 B. Embtel 2445.3 Paralleling your example, we, too, are developing a proposal for a specific course of action to implement the concept of reference B. We would hope that you will not close your books until we have the opportunity to make our contribution.

In review of the rationale for concept of graduated reprisals, we are of the opinion that, in order of importance, it should have the following objectives: (A) the will of Hanoi leaders; (B) GVN morale; and (C) physical damage to installations having some bearing on the DRV ability to support VC. Of these three, first appears to us by far the most important, since our effectiveness in influencing Hanoi leadership will, in the long [Page 251] run, determine the success or failure of our efforts in both North and South Vietnam. Second objective, effect on GVN morale, is also important and fortunately the requirements for building morale in the South are roughly the same as those for impressing Hanoi leaders with the rising costs of their support of the VC. In this case, what is bad for Hanoi is generally good for Saigon.

Effect of the physical destruction of material objects and infliction of casualties will not, in our judgment, have a decisive bearing upon the ability of DRV to support VC. However, degree of damage and number of casualties inflicted gauge the impact of our operations on Hanoi leadership and hence are important as a measure of their discomfort.

If one accepts the foregoing rationale, one can then pass to a consideration of methods and procedures appropriate to implementation of such a concept. We agree with the Dept that we should keep our response actions controllable and optional to maximum degree possible so that we can act or withhold action when and as we choose. This need for flexibility argues strongly for vagueness in defining criteria for situations justifying retaliation and for retention of freedom of action to make ad hoc decisions in light of our interests at the moment. But in any case, complete flexibility will not be possible for at least two reasons. First the GRV may perpetuate an untimely atrocity like Qui Nhon which we cannot ignore. Second, we will probably receive from GVN more requests for retaliatory strikes in excess of the optimum tempo which we wish to give the operations. To turn down the GVN too often will work against factor of morale which we mentioned at the outset and sour relations which we hope to sweeten. We shall have to take this point into account.

Assuming that we have achieved control and flexibility, we will then need to think of the tempo which we wish to communicate to the retaliatory program, with primary consideration given to effect of the program on Hanoi leadership. It seems clear to us that there should be a gradual, orchestrated acceleration of tempo measured in terms of frequency, size, number and/or geographical location of the reprisal strikes and of related activities such as Barrel Roll and 34–A. An upward trend in any or all these forms of intensity will convey signals which, in combination, should present to the DRV leaders a vision of inevitable, ultimate destruction if they do not change their ways.

The exact rate of acceleration is a matter of judgment but we consider, roughly speaking, that each successive week should include some new act on our part to increase pressure on Hanoi. As indicated at the outset, we are working on a paper4 which will contain specific suggestions along these lines.

[Page 252]

We note your comment with regard to avoiding contact with GVN prior to consulting Washington. We can see advantage of first getting the Washington reaction before that of the GVN but would point out the difficulty, if not impossibility, of obtaining VNAF participation in a strike during the daylight hours following a night atrocity without starting the VNAF wheels turning as soon as retaliatory actions appear likely. This difficulty is not an overriding objection because, in our view, there is an operational need henceforth to stagger our attacks in DRV in order to avoid being trapped in an unchanging pattern of reaction. The three strikes which we have executed thus far have all fallen between 1400 and 1600 of the first day following the atrocity. We are bound to increase the hazards to our pilots if we do not vary our schedule.

We do not believe that our reprisal program will lead the GVN to believe that we have taken over their war and that they can reduce their anti-VC activities. We hope that the opposite will be the effect and the retaliatory actions in the North will give impulsion to the defensive efforts in the South. However, the Dept’s fear can certainly not be ruled out and we shall watch closely the GVN reaction to the program as it unfolds.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to DOD, the White House, CIA, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Document 110.
  3. Document 93.
  4. Not further identified.