11. Memorandum From Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Fortas to President Johnson 1


  • Viet Nam


The U.S. by formal note, perhaps to U Thant, would state that:

We will commence withdrawal from Viet Nam as soon as a cease-fire is agreed to and we will complete withdrawal within the shortest reasonable time, not later than 3(?) years thereafter. (We might express the hope or “assumption” that appropriate provision for U.N. inspection or other implementation will be made.)
We have no interest in acquiring, establishing or maintaining any military bases in Southeast Asia (with such restrictions or qualifications as need be made).
I would hope that we could go further and say that we would accept a cease-fire on terms acceptable to a representative group of states. This could be defined in various ways: The Geneva Conference group as [Page 33] reconstituted; a group designated by the Secretary General or elected by the Assembly; etc.

Appraisal of Present Situation:

There persists widespread doubt as to the integrity of our intentions—despite all that has been done. The articulate doubts are principally based upon (1) the ambiguity of our statements as to the time of withdrawal, and the interpretation that we will not withdraw until a non-Communist Government is established for South Vietnam; and (2) our continued silence as to whether we will “deal with” the NLF.
I anticipate that the Soviet Mission will result in a Soviet bomber and missile buildup in North Vietnam. The net effect may be a substantial Soviet “presence” in North Vietnam. This is a threat, but it may have advantages as follows:
It will accentuate the Soviet-Chinese confrontation.
It may reduce the disadvantages of U.S. withdrawal and result in a positive benefit, perhaps confined to the short-range. Substantial Soviet “presence” in North Vietnam would mean that (a) the Chinese route to domination of Southeast Asia would be in check by the Soviet Union; (b) the two great Communist powers would be in potential conflict at a new and critical point; (c) the Soviet Union would have an additional and vexatious burden. It is necessary to realize that, long-range, this, or anything short of our military victory in the theatre may underline the danger of Communist (Soviet or Chinese) domination of Southeast Asia. But it is possible that we can deal with the long-range, with future problems, more advantageously if we are out of Viet Nam than if we are there, engaged in what appears to be a long war of dubious extent and debatable outcome.
A.F. 2
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Vietnam Files: FRC 77–0075, Vietnam, 1966. Secret. The source text is stamped: “Sec Def has seen, 8 Jan 1966.”
  2. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.