170. Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1


This memorandum lays out the major options that appear to exist for bombing strategy in the rest of 1967. It does so in terms of (a) a rough definition of target categories; (b) a statement of optional strategies; (c) a discussion of factors relevant to choice of strategy; and (d) a summary evaluation and recommendation.

Obviously, bombing strategy cannot be considered in isolation from over-all strategy decisions. This memorandum assumes that there is general agreement on pressing forward in all possible ways with pacification, political progress in the South, and military pressures in the South. It recognizes that there remains the problem of major possible force increases, and this is not addressed.

Intelligence conclusions in this memorandum have been reviewed by Mr. Helms, Ambassador Kohler, and China experts in the State Department. The arguments and final recommendation reflect the views of Messrs. Katzenbach, Helms, and William Bundy. The memorandum as a whole is designed to be read alongside the memorandums by Mr. Vance and Mr. Rostow,2 and to discuss in more depth the factors that have led to an essentially similar conclusion and recommendation.

Target Categories

There are four broad target categories that can be combined to produce options.

“Concentration on supply routes.” This would comprise attacks on supply routes in the southern “bottleneck” areas of North Vietnam, from the 20th parallel south.
“Limited Re-strikes.” This would comprise limited attacks on targets already hit, including unless otherwise stated sensitive targets north of the 20th parallel and in and around Hanoi/Haiphong, which were hit in the last three weeks.
“Continued Hammering north of the 20th parallel.” This would comprise a few additional targets and a major and systematic program [Page 405] of re-strikes on targets already hit, including sensitive targets in and around Hanoi/Haiphong.
“Extremely sensitive targets.” This would comprise targets that are exceptionally sensitive, in terms of Chinese and/or Soviet reaction, as well as domestic and international factors. For example, this list would include mining of Haiphong, bombing of critical port facilities in Haiphong, and bombing of dikes and dams not directly related to supply route waterways and/or involving heavy flooding to crops. Some of these targets would relate to a systematic attempt to deal with the sea and rail routes into North Vietnam; other targets—such as the Red River bridge and the Phuc Yen airfield—have strong military reasons but raise the same questions of exceptional sensitivity and risk as broad attacks on the sea or rail routes.

Optional Strategies

  • Option A would be to move up steadily to hit all the target categories, including the extremely sensitive targets.
  • Option B would be to continue hammering north of the 20th parallel.
  • Option C would be to cut back in the near future to concentration on supply routes and re-strikes north of the 20th parallel limited to those necessary to eliminate targets directly important to infiltration and, as necessary, to keep Hanoi’s air defense and repair system in place. This option might include one major new target—the Hanoi power station—before the cutback.

[Here follows the final section of the memorandum in which Bundy listed and analyzed nine factors affecting the choice of strategy. These included the likelihood of involving China or the Soviet Union more directly in the war with increased bombing; the adverse impact expanded bombing would have in terms of extending Chinese leverage on Hanoi; conversely, the adverse impact of such bombing in terms of reducing Soviet leverage on the North Vietnamese; the lack of a military advantage from bombing North Vietnam north of the 20th parallel; the inability of the bombing to bring about a more conciliatory attitude on the part of North Vietnamese leadership; the domestic outcry in the United States from an extensive program of bombing; the lack of any boost to South Vietnamese morale that increased bombardment of North Vietnam would bring; the danger that an expanded program would cause allies to desert the effort in Vietnam and bring international criticism that would only encourage Hanoi; and last, the need to reach a decision on a strategy sometime around May 23, Buddha’s birthday.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 2EE Primarily McNamara Recommendations re Strategic Actions. Top Secret.
  2. Documents 169 and 168, respectively. Rostow sent all of these memoranda to the President on the evening of May 9. See footnote 1, Document 169.