177. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1


  • Preparations for a “Cessation of Hostilities” in Viet-Nam

In commenting on Mrs. Gandhiʼs statement of July 7,2 our government spokesman included the following sentence: “A cessation of hostilities [Page 493] both in North and South Viet Nam could be the first order of business of a reconvened Geneva Conference.”3 This, of course, is not new prose but I would like to raise the question whether, as a government, we are in agreement as to what it means or implies.

As I understand it, it means that we will negotiate a cessation of hostilities (which the newspapers call a “cease fire” but is more properly an “armistice”) in advance or as a part of negotiations aimed at a final settlement in South Viet Nam. Since it took over two years to negotiate an armistice in Korea, I think it very timely for us to make sure that we are not about to get into an equally frustrating and unsatisfactory exercise.

I am aware that considerable work has been done and is being done in the State Department at the planning level in anticipation of a possible cessation of hostilities. I have recently seen quite a good draft on this subject which undertakes to define terms and proposes a way to use our most valuable negotiating blue chips.4 I would hope that this paper or one like it would get to you shortly because I am constantly fearful that a Communist proposal will catch us by surprise. Any day we may be presented with an offer to “stop bombing and start talking”.

An analysis of the possible course of events in the negotiation of a cessation of hostilities reminds us that, before we are successful, we are likely to be faced with many difficult situations, particularly in winning and retaining public support in the face of the sharp criticism of allies, neutrals and segments of the U.S. public, evoked by the unpopular positions which we shall be obliged to maintain. Throughout the negotiations, unless we are willing to sacrifice vital interests, we will have to establish and maintain an unyielding position on points like the following:

The U.S. will not stop bombing or pay any other price for the privilege of participation in negotiations with the Communists.
The U.S. will not tolerate another prolonged Panmunjom-type negotiation. The negotiations will have to demonstrate sincerity and obtain tangible results within a reasonable time after their initiation.
If it is impossible to get a system of international supervision of the execution of agreements reached, the U.S. will reserve the right to decide whether violations have occurred and to take appropriate action.
The Government of South Viet Nam will have the right of circulation throughout all of South Viet Nam during a cessation of hostilities and will have the obligation to protect its citizens and to maintain law and order.

Obviously, the maintenance of these positions will subject us to Communist attack and will cause acute unhappiness in many international and domestic quarters. Thus far, I have the feeling that we have not prepared the domestic and international public for our attitude on these points. Not only have we not laid the ground work to justify our attitude on these matters, but in some cases in the past we have used misleading language which invites misinterpretation. An example is statement No. 14 of the U.S. Official Position which reads: “We have said publicly and privately that we would stop the bombing of North Viet Nam as a step toward peace.”5 We need to clear up what we really mean by such a statement or run the risk of being charged with double-dealing or at least of misleading the hopes of the many nations who feel involved in the situation in South Viet Nam.

As time may be running short, I would recommend that you urge State to propose to you at once a plan for negotiating a cessation of hostilities in advance or as a part of the negotiation for a final settlement and that the plan suggest ways and means for winning domestic and international understanding for the unpopular positions which we will inevitably be obliged to take and hold throughout the negotiations.

Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Box 260, Gen. Taylor. Top Secret. On July 11 Rostow forwarded Taylorʼs memorandum to the President and, at the Presidentʼs request, to Rusk and McNamara. In his covering memorandum to the President, Rostow indicated that he and Taylor had been “going into the negotiating question quite deeply” but that there were “some critical gaps.” He proposed to formulate these gaps into “key unanswered questions” in consultation with Taylor, submit them to the Departments of State and Defense, and later schedule a meeting for the President to review the planning. (Ibid.) The President indicated his approval on Rostowʼs covering memorandum, resulting in the preparation of Document 178.
  2. Gandhi proposed an immediate reconvening of the Geneva Conference and an immediate end to the bombing of North Vietnam followed by a cessation of hostilities, with the ICC safeguarding the standstill military arrangement. (The New York Times, July 8, 1966)
  3. Telegram 4535 to New Delhi, July 8, reported the text of the spokesmanʼs statement on July 8 and provided “confidential observations” on the proposal to be put before Gandhi. Telegram 4653 to New Delhi, July 9, detailed the proposalʼs “numerous deficiencies,” which needed rectifying if the initiative was to “serve any useful purpose.” (Both in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  4. Reference is to a 14-page paper entitled “Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam: Planning Considerations,” prepared by the Working Group of the interagency Vietnam Planning Group and sent by Unger to Rostow, McNaughton, Ball, William Bundy, and other officials on July 8 in light of Gandhiʼs July 7 proposals. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Box 72, E/Documents Relating to a Cease Fire in Vietnam) Taylorʼs July 11 memorandum to U. Alexis Johnson, critiquing the paper, is ibid.
  5. For text of the “Fourteen Points of the United States Official Position on Peace in Southeast Asia,” January 3, 1966, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 740–742.