287. Editorial Note

On May 8 Under Secretary of State Ball sent to President Johnson a memorandum entitled “Tentative Plan for a Settlement in Vietnam.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXIV, Memos (B)) In a covering memorandum Ball explained that the plan was based upon the collective but provisional thinking of a group which included himself, William Bundy, Leonard Unger, and Allen Whiting in the Department of State, and Dean Acheson and Lloyd Cutler as outside consultants to provide “fresh thinking.” The plan was based, in part, on recommendations made by Acheson in an April 28 memorandum to Ball. (Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 82 D 240, WPB Chron) Ball styled the May 8 draft of what came to be known as the Acheson-Cutler report “a progress report on the task you asked me to undertake regarding a possible move toward a Vietnam settlement.” He noted that the paper was being substantially revised to incorporate ideas suggested by George Carver of the CIA.

According to Ball’s memoirs, the President requested the study in response to a memorandum on the same subject that Ball sent to the President on April 21 (Document 267). The President expressed interest in Ball’s ideas and conveyed, through Bill Moyers, a request for Ball to “get [Page 628] some people together to do nothing for three or four days but ponder the political and peaceful alternatives in Southeast Asia.” (George W. Ball, The Past Has Another Pattern, page 394)

The revised report, entitled “A Plan For A Political Resolution In South Viet-Nam,” (Document 300) was circulated on May 13 by Ball to McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy and discussed at the White House on May 16 in connection with the projected bombing pause (Document 304). After the White House meeting, Ball sent his personal assistant, Thomas Ehrlich, to Saigon to discuss the report with Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Ambassador Johnson. They responded on May 20 with two papers which indicated serious reservations about the plan (Documents 309 and 310). Ball attempted to answer their comments in telegram 2685 to Saigon, May 25. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET S) In an unpublished manuscript, William Bundy noted that after the Embassy’s criticism of the plan it dropped out of the mainstream of policy consideration, at least until late 1966. Bundy noted that the plan “was probably the most judicious compromise solution that could have been devised,” but added that it required a “more sophisticated and appealing Saigon government than was in existence at any time after late May 1965,” and based upon favorable military trends that proved by late May to be illusory. (Johnson Library, Papers of William Bundy, Chapter 24, page 8)