22. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson, in Texas1

CAP 65366. 1. Rusk, McNamara, Ball, Wheeler, Bill Bundy, and I have just met for an hour to review all aspects of possible reprisal for restaurant and Bennett outrages.

2. We concluded that if reprisal is ordered, best target is either power plant or POL depot in Hanoi-Haiphong area. No target outside this area is sufficiently important to be a noticeable departure from present Rolling Thunder pattern.

3. In order to strike a target in the Hanoi-Haiphong area with minimum international backlash, we all agree that we must consult major friendly nations. Attack without such consultation could easily drive Wilson and others clear off the reservation, and while they are not as much help to us as they think, we would not look smart if a single act of reprisal gave them an excuse to jump ship.

4. This consultation would probably lead to fairly heavy argument against attack in reprisal form. Allies could point out that repeated executions of prisoners by Nazis in World War II were not used to justify specific reprisals. They could point out also that once we moved to measured air operations in North Vietnam after Pleiku we avoided specific acts of reprisals as in the case of the Embassy bombing.

5. We believe nevertheless that by a strenuous diplomatic effort we could probably keep most allies with us, although not happy. But one condition of this effort would be that we emphasize military need for attacks on these targets and downgrade reprisal aspect. But if we are to use straight military argument with allies, we should use it with our own people too.

6. And that leads to the main argument which seems important to all of us—namely, that major new acts against the north should be undertaken in terms of our whole policy in Vietnam, and not in response to particular outrages. We don't all agree as to when and how it will be necessary to hit targets in Hanoi-Haiphong area. We do all agree that this is a major decision which should be made in a wider context than these atrocities.

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7. Secretary Rusk also feels strongly that Gromyko/Kohler conversation forwarded separately2 shows at least a hint of Soviet readiness to work toward serious negotiations. Attack in Hanoi-Haiphong area right after this conversation might easily be misunderstood in Moscow.

8. You should also know that Alexis Johnson is reported by George Ball to oppose reprisal action.

9. Finally, we believe that both public and private statements and messages can be used to make clear to Hanoi that American people are bound to react with great force to continued atrocities. We can and will make this point to allies as well, so that further outrages of this sort can be used to lay a base for such additional military actions as you may wish to authorize on overall grounds.3

10. Next following message contains text of statement as issued by Department of State:

The regime in Hanoi and their puppet liberation front in South Viet-Nam have acknowledged their responsibility for the execution of Sgt. Bennett and for the bombing of the My Canh restaurant in Saigon, in which 44 persons, Vietnamese, American, French, Swiss, Filipino were killed and many more persons injured. They have compounded their brutal conduct by publicly bragging about their action and making threats to carry out even more outrageous acts. We in America and people around the world cannot help but be appalled and revolted by this show of wanton inhumanity. These Communist threats to intimidate, of course, will not succeed. Our determination to help the embattled people of South Viet-Nam to avoid their falling under a regime which is capable of such brutality will only be strengthened.

Hanoi's recent statements have surely also made it clear to anyone who may have had any doubt that it is the power directing the policies and actions of the VC, its instrument in South Viet-Nam, and must bear full responsibility for these acts.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXVI. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that the telegram was received at the LBJ Ranch at 5:22 p.m. and shown to the President.
  2. See Document 23.
  3. In telegram 37 to Saigon, July 3, drafted by Ball, the Department of State informed Taylor that a “high level decision” had been made not to launch the retaliatory strike against the Hanoi-Haiphong area recommended by Taylor. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  4. The text of this statement was issued by Department of State Spokesman McCloskey on June 26. It is printed also in Department of State Bulletin, July 12, 1965, p. 55.