55. Summary Notes of the 556th Meeting of the National Security Council1


CIA Director Raborn, reading from notes, briefed on the military situation in Vietnam. Six hundred trucks are reported in the south—twice the level of a year ago. They are carrying men and equipment.

The North Vietnamese are taking actions in anticipation of a resumption of the bombing. They have improved their air defense. Equipment is being airlifted to Dien Bien Phu. The Chinese are moving forces up to their border with North Vietnam. The infiltration of North Vietnamese troops is heavy. Total North Vietnamese forces number 22 battalions. They are obviously girding themselves for battles yet to come. A cyclical lull usually follows a period of heavy activity.

Secretary Rusk reported on the peace offensive, lightly referring to one comment alleging that “McNamara tries to keep us in and Rusk tries to get us out.”

The enormous effort made in the last 34 days has produced nothing—no runs, no hits, no errors.

The Ho letter (copy attached)2 was the hardest yet. It did not even include a confusion ploy. Hanoi has done nothing. In all conversations—and we have a telephone on every line—the other party has merely hung up.

We now need to make a report to the UN Security Council and consider whether the Vietnam problem should be taken to the UN.

Ambassador Goldberg: The tone of the Popeʼs letter is favorable to us. The peace offensive has had a good effect on world opinion. However, we have received no encouragement from any source. We have talked to everyone at the UN—113 representatives.

The President: We should have one last report from our allies to be certain that they have heard nothing.

General Johnson briefed on Operation Masher. (A summary of this operation is attached.)3 We are apparently at the beginning of a major engagement. We now have 197,000 men in Vietnam.

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The President: What do you want most to win?

General Johnson: A surge of additional troops into Vietnam. We need to double the number now and then triple the number later. We should call up the reserves and go to mobilization to get the needed U.S. manpower. This involves declaring a national emergency here and in Vietnam. The bombing should be resumed at once to hold down infiltration. By resuming the bombing, we divert North Vietnamese manpower to repair their LOCs, put pressure on their infiltration and their government, and destroy their equipment, especially trucks.

General McConnell: There is nothing unusual in the air effort recommended. It involves 330 sorties weekly, B–52 sorties at the rate of 300 a month, and 1200 weekly sorties into Laos.4 When we resume the bombing, our losses will rise because North Vietnam now has a greater anti-aircraft capability.

Secretary McNamara: Our plane loss is now running 5 per 1,000 sorties.

General McConnell: We can get better results from bombing North Vietnam than bombing either in Laos or in South Vietnam.

General Greene briefed on the current Marine Corps operations, including Double Eagle, which involves the landing of two Marine Corps battalions north of Operation Masher (maps attached).5

Air strikes should be resumed by a sharp blow as soon as possible. POL storage areas should be struck at once. Armed reconnaissance is not enough.

CIA Director Raborn: Our bombing cuts by 50 percent the amount of supplies being trucked from the north.6

The President: We need evidence for Senator McCarthy.

Secretary McNamara: We have destroyed 400 trucks and damaged 250 since the bombing began in February. The bombing will not hurt the infiltration of men, but it will reduce the number.

Admiral McDonald: There has been no major infiltration via water of men or materials. We must resume bombing as soon as possible in order to do what we can to slow down infiltration by land.

The President said he wanted the hardest proof.

General Taylor implied that we cannot get firm proof. He recommended the resumption of bombing as soon as possible—heavy bombing [Page 189] to slow down infiltration as much as we can. He favored striking POL supplies, the port of Haiphong, plus railroad lines.

The President said we need to know what we think about how much North Vietnamese traffic increased during the lull. Planners should go to work now on deciding what we can do if we resume the bombing.7

Secretary McNamara: Four weeks from now we can answer these questions.

The Vice President: General Taylor, commenting on his experience in Korea, pointed out that bombing did slow down the North Koreans. We should tell the Senators this because some Senators think our bombing in Korea was poor. We cannot win over Senators by merely citing numbers, but we can win them over by discussing our overall strategy.

General Wheeler: We should resume the bombing as soon as practicable on infiltration-associated targets which we have advised on the basis of evidence from the North Vietnamese.

General McConnell: Our bombing is ineffective because of the restrictions placed upon the Air Force. We should lift these restrictions and we would then get results.

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File. Top Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Prepared by Bromley Smith. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. The time of the meeting is from the Presidentʼs Daily Diary. (Ibid.) Valenti also prepared notes of the meeting. (Ibid., Meeting Notes File)
  2. Attached but not printed. Dated January 24, Ho Chi Minhʼs letter was sent to several Communist heads of state and broadcast over Hanoi Radio in English on January 28. The letter called the U.S. peace offensive a “sham peace trick” designed solely to conceal the U.S. “scheme for intensifying the war of aggression.”
  3. Attached but not printed. Operation Masher, retitled White Wing, began January 25 when U.S. and allied troops moved into northern Binhdinh Province.
  4. According to Valentiʼs notes, McConnell stated: “In South Vietnam attack sorties 1,000 a week and 300 a month for B–52ʼs. In Laos 1,200 a week.”
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. According to Valentiʼs notes, the President asked: “Suppose we had been bombing every day. Would we have had 600 trucks coming down? How many?” Green responded: “Convinced we could have stopped half of them.” Raborn then stated: “With good bombing could have cut down flow by 50 per cent.”
  7. According to Valentiʼs notes, President stated: “(1) Letʼs see what we think is happening in increased traffic since the pause; (2) see what we can do to stop that traffic; (3) see if we are really being effective.”