149. Notes on Discussions With President Johnson 1


Westmoreland: “Without these forces (the 2–1/3 additional divisions plus 5 squadrons, making a total of 565,000 men in South Vietnam), we will not be in danger of being defeated, but it will be nip and tuck to oppose the reinforcements the enemy is capable of providing.”

“In the final analysis, we are fighting a war of attrition in Southeast Asia.”

“What is the next step? A second addition of 2–1/3 divisions, another 100,000 men, probably in FY 1969.”

Westmoreland: “I am frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing program.”
Westmoreland: “Cambodia may soon become a supplier of ammunition. The DRV’s grand design incorporates the use of Cambodia as a supply base (first for rice and medical supplies as now, and later for ammunition) for DRV operations in South Vietnam.”
Westmoreland: “The reinforcement of the First Corps has slowed down the assignment of the 9th Division to the Delta.”

Westmoreland: “In summary, with the troops now in country, we are not going to lose, but progress will be slowed down.”

“This is not an encouraging outlook, but it is a realistic one.”

Westmoreland: “In the Fourth Corps, there is no threat of strategic VC victories and there are three good ARVN divisions there.”

Westmoreland: “I believe we should confront the DRV with South Vietnamese forces in Laos.”

“Operational plan ‘High Port’ creates an elite SVN division for this purpose. The US would build a road and logistic base for ARVN air and ground operations in Laos against the DRV base 609. The US would provide artillery and air support. Next, we would do the same thing for A Chau. Laos would become more and more the battlefield and this would take the pressure off the South.”

Westmoreland: “This war is action and counter-action. Any time we take an action, we can expect a reaction.”

Westmoreland: “It would be wise to think of the same plan [as that discussed for Laos] for Cambodia.”2

“I have contingency plans to move into Cambodia in the Chu Pong area. We would use a South Vietnamese force but we would like US advisors to accompany them.”

Westmoreland: “The VC and DRV strength in South Vietnam now totals 285,000 men. It appears that last month we reached the crossover point. In areas excluding the two northern provinces, attrition will be greater than additions to the force.”

President: “When we add divisions, can’t the enemy add divisions? If so, where does it all end?”

Westmoreland: “The enemy has 8 divisions in South Vietnam. He has the capability of deploying 12 divisions, although he would have difficulty supporting all of these. He would be hard pressed to support more than 12 divisions.”

“If we add 2–1/3 divisions, it is likely the enemy will react by adding troops.”

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President: “At what point does the enemy ask for volunteers?”

Westmoreland: “That is a good question.”

Westmoreland: “With the present program of 470,000 men, we would be setting up a meat grinder. We would do a little better than hold our own. We would make progress, but we would have to use a fire brigade technique. Unless the will of the enemy was broken or unless there was an unraveling of the VC structure, the war could go on for five years. If our forces were increased, that period could be reduced, although not necessarily in proportion to increases in strength.”
Westmoreland: “Other factors than increase in strength must, of course, be considered. We now have a professional US force. A non-professional force such as that which would result from fulfilling the requirement for 100,000 additional men by calling Reserves, will cause some degradation of morale, leadership and effectiveness.”
Westmoreland: “With a force level of 565,000 men, the war could well go on for three years. With the second increment of 2–1/3 divisions, leading to a total of 665,000 men, it could go on for two years.”
Wheeler: “The JCS is now reviewing possible responses to our further force buildup in South Vietnam. They consider we should be prepared to face the following: (a) North Korean pressure on South Korea to cause us to increase our forces in South Korea. (b) Soviet pressure on Berlin to cause us to reinforce NATO. (c) Volunteers sent to South Vietnam from the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Red China. (d) Overt intervention by Red China (for example, ChiCom movement into Thailand might be quite attractive to Red China).”
Wheeler: “Three other matters are bothering the JCS: (a) DRV troop activity in Cambodia. US troops may be forced to move against these units in Cambodia. (b) DRV troop activity in Laos. US troops may be forced to move against these units. (c) Possible invasion of North Vietnam. We may wish to take offensive action against the DRV with ground troops.”
Wheeler: “The bombing campaign is reaching the point where we will have struck all worthwhile fixed targets except the ports. At this time we will have to address the requirement to deny to the DRV the use of the ports.”
Wheeler: “In summary, the JCS believe the President must review the contingencies which we may face, the troops required to meet them, and additional punitive action against the DRV.”

President: “What if we do not add the 2–1/3 divisions?”

Wheeler: “The momentum will die; in some areas the enemy will recapture the initiative. We won’t lose the war, but it will be a longer one.”

Wheeler: “Of the 2–1/3 divisions, I would add one division on the DMZ to relieve the Marines to work with ARVN on pacification; [Page 352] and I would put one division east of Saigon to relieve the 9th Division to deploy to the Delta to increase the effectiveness of the three good ARVN divisions now there; the brigade I would send to Quong Ngai to make there the progress in the next year that we have made in Binh Dinh in the past year.”

President: “We should make certain we are getting value received from the South Vietnamese troops. Check the dischargees to determine whether we could make use of them by forming additional units, by mating them with US troops, as is done in Korea, or in other ways.”

“President Park of Korea said he could form up two divisions of dischargees for supply support. Should we not plan on meeting the requirement for 100,000 additional men in part with South Vietnamese and Koreans? Could we not form an international division adding additional Thais and Australians as well?”

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Reading File, April 1967. Top Secret. This document is a typed version of summary notes taken by Christian at meetings that day among the President, Rusk, McNamara, Katzenbach, Vance, Komer, Rostow, Wheeler, and Westmoreland. This group’s first meeting was at 10:35 a.m through 11:50 a.m.; it resumed meeting at 4:45 p.m. through 6:30 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Rostow’s handwritten notes of these meetings are ibid., National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Viet Nam. Rostow prepared background memoranda on the meetings with Westmoreland, April 24, 9:55 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXX) Komer also prepared a memorandum to the President, April 27. (Ibid., Files of Robert Komer, Memos to the President, Jan.–May 1967) Westmoreland was in Washington for a week-long visit. He gave a speech at West Point on April 24 and appeared before a joint session of Congress on April 28. For his speech, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 921–922; for text of his remarks to Congress, see Department of State Bulletin, May 15, 1967, pp. 738–741.
  2. Brackets in the source text.