77. Memorandum for the Record1


  • White House Meeting on Vietnam, 6 February 1965


  • The President, Mr. Smith, Mr. Reedy2
  • Secretary McNamara, Deputy Secretary Vance, General Wheeler
  • Under Secretary Ball, Assistant Secretary William Bundy, Ambassador Thompson
  • Secretary Dillon
  • Director of USIA Rowan
  • The Speaker3
  • Senator Mansfield
  • General Carter, Mr. Colby
Mr. Vance reported to the President a telephone conversation4 with McGeorge Bundy which relayed the unanimous recommendation of the Country Team to authorize joint U.S./Vietnamese strikes at four targets in North Vietnam. There was some discussion of the number of aircraft involved, the fact that very slight resistance was expected and the need for a rapid decision in order to permit the strikes to take place during the remaining hours of daylight in Vietnam. Secretary McNamara pointed out that all the targets are in southern North Vietnam and all are directly related to North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam. He pointed out also that the targets were deliberately selected to avoid the necessity of a large operation to take out the MIG defensive forces in the North in order to permit a strike.
The President’s first question was whether the U.S. efforts would be apt to alert the enemy which then could take advantage of the follow-on by the Vietnamese, as the latter were expected to be slower in getting off. Mr. McNamara expressed his doubt of this and his belief in the great importance that the Vietnamese actually do participate. Mr. McNamara pointed out that the matter had been cleared in general with the GVN hitherto and would be in response to a GVN request on this occasion. Asked who the “GVN” would be, he replied General Khanh.
The President then questioned how the Viet Cong had been able to launch the attack on Pleiku and whether there was a failure of local [Page 159]security. This was discussed generally, it being pointed out that infiltration even into the Pleiku area is not too difficult.
The President then asked the estimated effect of the proposed air strike. The reply emphasized that the objectives were mostly military, the main effect would occur in the Dong Hoi attack and that the estimated casualty rates ran in the neighborhood of 4,000 military with few civilians.
The President then asked Mr. Ball’s views. Mr. Ball pointed out that all agreed that a retaliatory strike was necessary and he suggested that the targets chosen were appropriate. He said that the main problem would be how to handle the publicity and the Kosygin connection. He emphasized the necessity of relating the Pleiku attack and the infiltration directly to Hanoi, and to permit Kosygin the belief that he had been mouse-trapped by the North Vietnamese.
The President then requested consideration of the dependents question. He was informed that the dependents could be gotten out in 48 to 72 hours. This met general approval and the Speaker commented that the removal of dependents at this time would indicate the firmness of our intentions.
The President then went around the room asking each person if he concurred. All but one did so, especially Mr. Ball who emphasized the necessity of establishing an adequate and prompt response to the Pleiku attack. General Carter pointed out that the U.S. stood down the DeSoto Patrol and U-2 flights in deference to Kosygin’s visit, but the enemy did not provide any similar recognition of Mr. Bundy’s visit. Ambassador Thompson indicated his belief that the Soviets would protest and denounce and might call for a conference but that inaction would be worse. No exceptional enemy reactions were anticipated from either the Chinese or the North Vietnamese, although the Viet Cong was expected to step up its efforts, according to General Wheeler.
Senator Mansfield protested the decision, indicating that he thought that caution should be our watchword. He pointed out the lack of a solid government in Vietnam and indeed wondered what government we had cleared this operation with. He further suggested that the dependents should be gotten out before any actions were taken. He particularly emphasized that the implications and possible developments from this step be carefully analyzed, including the possibility of engaging in a large-scale conflict with China, the position the Soviet Union would take, probably assisting the healing of the Soviet-Sino split, and in summary believed that the results could be worse than Korea.
The President took the opposite opinion, emphasizing that he had kept the shotgun over the mantel and the bullets in the basement for a long time now, but that the enemy was killing his personnel and he could not expect them to continue their work if he did not authorize them [Page 160]to take steps to defend themselves. He commented that “cowardice has gotten us into more wars than response has.” He particularly recalled the fact that we would not have gotten into World War I if we had been courageous in the early stages, nor World War II. He then said he realized that there was a risk of involving the Soviets and Chinese but that neither of these are friendly with us and the problem is to face up to them both.
The President then decided to authorize the strikes, move the dependents and to meet again to consider further steps at 8:00 a.m. The execute order would be conditioned on the Vietnamese government’s approval. For the dependents, the President directed that the Defense Department provide such additional military transport as would be necessary in order to move them rapidly.
WE Colby
Chief, Far East Division
  1. Source: Johnson Library, John McCone Memoranda of Meetings with the President. Secret. Prepared by Colby on February 7. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary at the Johnson Library. The meeting was the 545th meeting of the NSC. For another record of this meeting, see Document 76.
  2. Moyers also attended. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. John McCormack.
  4. See Document 78.