203. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Here are my views on bombing policy.


Bob McNamara believes that we may have to live with the war through 1968 and beyond. He holds that we can best do this if we adopt a relatively low-key strategy. This means two things:

  • —We should not go for a big troop increase but work patiently and gradually to improve the performance of the Vietnamese; and
  • —Limit our bombing to the region south of the 20th parallel.

He believes this is the setting in which the U.S. public will best accommodate itself to seeing the war through; and he holds that in this setting the forces of moderation in Hanoi are most likely to move towards a gradual decline in the level of hostilities and, perhaps, negotiations.

Pending the results of the investigation of manpower requirements by Bob, Bus and Nick, I am inclined to think that we need:
  • —more troops to work with the Vietnamese in getting at the provincial main force units and thus lay the base for pacification;
  • —a decision for some limited call-ups would impress Moscow and Hanoi more than anything else that we have the capacity to see the war through, which is the critical issue of judgment in Hanoi; and
  • —that if we do this, we need a strong bombing policy in the northern part of Viet Nam, but short of direct attack on shipping. (Current evidence is that the port is bottlenecking for one reason or another and, therefore, it is internal transport and concentrations of supply rather than ships which are the appropriate attritional targets.)
Therefore, I would propose:
  • —that you give the Russians an interval of several weeks, perhaps via the Kosygin trip, to get Hanoi into serious negotiations, while holding bombing in the north well away from Hanoi and Haiphong;
  • —and then make your decision on manpower and bombing policy together, as a package, after Bob returns.2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Bombing. Top Secret. The notation “L” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. McNamara met with the President, along with other members of the NSC, from 1:10 to 2:35 p.m. on June 13, and did so again from 11:55 a.m. to 1:06 p.m. on June 15. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No notes of these meetings have been found.
  2. McNamara and Katzenbach traveled to Vietnam July 7–11.