168. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

This is an interim report on the meeting yesterday afternoon of the Katzenbach group. We considered policy towards bombing the North.

I will be sending up to you later today papers by Cy Vance and Bill Bundy.2 You already received at the Ranch the paper I filed with this group.3 The objective of submitting the three papers will be to let [Page 400]you get a feeling for thought on the bombing problem as a preliminary to receiving definitive recommendations from Secretaries Rusk and McNamara.
All three papers reject mining Haiphong and the other harbors at this time as well as systematic attacks on the supply lines to China. All also recommend an increased concentration on Route Packages 1, 2 and 3—the latter included because of its relevance to Communist supply routes to Laos. All three papers recommend that we keep open the option of bombing in the Hanoi/Haiphong area—and continue some bombing there—but let the weight of that attack be determined by careful damage assessment of the targets we have already attacked, plus information on repair, etc.
All, I believe, will recommend that we strike the Hanoi electric power plant.
All address in one way or another the problem of making this shift in emphasis and the relative weight of our attack acceptable to our own public and the world; but I do not believe we have yet developed for you the best scenario.
Drawing back from these particular views, I believe what has happened is something like this:
  • —We expanded our target lists in the Hanoi/Haiphong area. CINCPAC, feeling a general go-ahead, began to propose targets which had two characteristics: they were either increasingly unimportant in relation to the losses sustained, or they began to foreshadow the mining of the ports and the cutting of supplies from China.
  • —Sect. Rusk began to worry about the Soviet and Chinese Communist reaction to what was happening and, especially, to what was projected.
  • —Sect. McNamara, who does not feel bombing in Hanoi/Haiphong relates directly to the war in the South, became increasingly uneasy and felt that rational control over targeting was getting out of his hands.
At bottom, the problem is the limited number of first-class targets in the North unless we go for a blockade of the harbors and the attempt to cut the railroad lines to China.
As I say, the weight of opinion outside the JCS is that we now draw a line on going forward on the CINCPAC list; but that we do so without abandoning attacks in the Hanoi/Haiphong area except as part of a compensated deal. I believe there is also agreement that we apply tougher criteria to such attacks in the future if for no other reason than because we lose about five times as many pilots and planes per 1000 sorties in that area as we do in the southern part of North Viet Nam.
As for the turn-around, it can be done slowly or sharply: we could continue to hit a good many targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area without “escalating,” or markedly cut-back. But, I repeat, I don’t think [Page 401]we have yet provided you with the best rationale and scenario for a shift from one bombing posture in the North to another. We will all be giving further thought to that in the days ahead.
One further thought: there is just enough suggestion that they might be hurting badly in the North that I have asked Dick Helms to answer the question: If we cut back now, would we be relieving pressure which, if sustained, might force a decision in a matter of weeks? I suspect the answer will be “no”; but, within the limits of objective intelligence, I would wish us to be sure.4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Viet Nam—W.W. Rostow (2 of 2). Top Secret.
  2. Documents 169 and 170.
  3. Document 162.
  4. For the views of Helms and the CIA on this issue, see Document 180.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.