151. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson1


  • Vietnam

1. An Approach Via China

Our bombings will continue to make Hanoi ever more heavily dependent on China. The road to settlement with Hanoi, now, very likely runs by way of Peking rather than Moscow.

Make a quiet and clearly conciliatory approach to China. (i.e. Pursue my earlier suggestion of my trying to arrange a trip to Peking; to be effective for opening the way to official talks, however, it would have to have, at least, tacit Presidential approval and should be designed to get from Chou En-lai in particular for the President, the Chinese view of what is needed for a settlement in Viet Nam and for the restoration of more normal relations throughout the Western Pacific.)

2. An Approach Via United Nations

Take the initiative on two resolutions in the Security Council:

An invitation to governments or political groups (China, North Viet Nam and N.L.F. and Saigon included) to present before the Security Council their views on the war and to discuss possibilities of a solution.
A request for an advisory opinion from the International Court on the applicability of the Geneva Accords to the current situation in Viet Nam.

3. Border Barricade

I know this matter has been discussed by you and your military and political advisors, but I think, in spite of the cost and the manpower necessary, it is a possibility worth looking into. First, the proposal is to barricade the area from the South China Sea across the 17th Parallel into and across Laos to either Savannakhet or Takhek on the Thai-Laotian frontier. This would be defended by mined fields, electrical fences, and other devices calling for an increased concentration of men and materiel over the 175-mile to 200-mile strip.

[Page 355]

Questions might be raised about interfering with Laotian “neutrality” but I would point out that Laos is engaged in the present struggle and also that on the basis of the 1962 Geneva Accords, it was stipulated that all foreign troops should be withdrawn from Laos. North Vietnamese troops are stationed with the Pathet Lao and have not been withdrawn. Militarily, as indicated, it would require more men and materiel, but there is no reason why the barrier could not be manned to a large extent by South Vietnamese troops in defense of their own country. Politically, such a line would bring about a greater guarantee of Cambodia neutrality, thus minimizing an ever-present difficulty.

On this basis bombing of North Viet Nam would not be necessary. The main objectives of stopping or decreasing considerably the infiltration of men and materiel into Laos, and on the other hand, bringing Hanoi to the conference table, have both failed in any event. A manned barrier would decrease the inflow of men into South Viet Nam tremendously and allow for a greater concentration of effort to bring about stability without South Viet Nam itself, and to a very considerable extent confine the war to that country, which, as I understand it, is the country whose integrity and stability we have been trying to maintain. If this were done it is true that it would be at additional cost, but costs are going to be increased considerably anyway. It will mean more manpower, but manpower increases are going to occur regardless. Without losing anything, you meet the argument that bombing must stop before there is a possibility of negotiations. You confine your activity to a most limited, but at the same time the most important area, South Viet Nam; you lessen considerably the possibility of an “open ended” war, and you define an objective which is understandable by all and about which no questions can be repeatedly raised, as is the case at present.

In my opinion, if the present course of steady escalation is continued and as each escalating step fails to achieve its objective, the pressures will continue to increase on you and the possibility of a war with China will become more apparent. The bombing of Haiphong, in my opinion, will just mean a step-up of supplies by rails and roads into North Viet Nam from both China and the Soviet Union and the bombing of the airfields around Hanoi will only bring about a shifting of the planes from that area to South China, which in turn will raise the questions of “hot pursuit” and “sanctuaries”. If we do become involved with China over North Viet Nam, it is my opinion that the wide and deep gulf which now exists between the Soviet Union and Peking will be “papered” over and they will unite against us and, furthermore, they will have the support in some form or other of the other Communist countries in the world.

I hope you will pardon me for laying these possibilities before you, but as you know, since our days when you were the Majority Leader [Page 356]and I was your Assistant, and since you have become President and I have become Majority Leader, I have never given you an opinion but that I thought it worthwhile and in the nation’s best interests. I have endeavored to do this on a constructive basis with an awareness of the difficulties you face and the responsibilities which are yours and yours alone in the last analysis. You may recall that when you were the Majority Leader and I was your Deputy sitting next to you, that on occasion I would lean over and tug at the back of your coat to signal that it was either time to close the debate or to sit down. Most of the time but not all the time you would do what I was trying to suggest. Since you have been President I have been figuratively tugging at your coat, now and again, and the only purpose has been to be helpful and constructive. I am sure that every suggestion I have made has been given consideration by you and I appreciate their courteous consideration. One last word—in my personal opinion, the hour is growing very, very late.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Senator Mansfield. No classification marking.