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

Mr. President:


  • Rolling Thunder 53

Secretaries Rusk and McNamara asked me to put to you their agreed recommendations about which targets submitted by the JCS in Rolling Thunder 53 should be accepted at the present time, and which should be deferred until after Tet and until after we see what, if anything, develops in the various flowered negotiating tracks.

They would accept nine military support targets (marked in red in the table attached to the enclosed map:2 barracks, ammo and supply depots. This table also indicates with a (d) the JCS targets which they recommend for deferral.
In substance, they would defer a major ammo depot near Haiphong (for fear of substantial civilian casualties); the steel plant; the cement plant; and six electric power plants.
They would hold the naval sea interdiction zone to the 19th parallel where it now is; the JCS kept to their original recommendation of extension to the 20th parallel.
The operational instruction now reads: “You are authorized to transit the Hanoi/Haiphong restricted areas as necessary in conducting air operations; however, transit of the Hanoi prohibited area by strike aircraft should be avoided.” This is the 10-mile zone. Although Secretaries Rusk and McNamara did not address themselves to this point, you may wish to strengthen the language by substituting “will” for “should” to underline the importance of not having an operational accident in that zone at this time.
Secretaries Rusk and McNamara also recommend that, whatever the weather situation, no more than three of these new targets should be struck in any one week, to avoid the image of an accelerated, intensive, and concerted campaign.
[Page 59]

My own recommendation is that you support the two Secretaries in this matter; and also change “should” to “will.” I do so for two reasons:

  • —at this particular moment we should stay straight and level and not introduce new target systems or take operational risks which might weaken our negotiating record;
  • —I believe before we go into any new target systems—if that should be required after Tet—you should hear systematic argument on alternative “northern strategies” so that we decide something more fundamental than merely adding a few targets to the existing list.


Approve recommendations of Sects. Rusk and McNamara 3

Alter their recommendations as follows

Alter language from “should” to “will”

See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXIV. Top Secret.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The first and third of these options is checked. A January 23 handwritten notation by Rostow at the bottom of the first page of the memorandum reads: “Townsend Hoopes notified (Sec. McNamara not available & John McNaughton out of city) of decision. Also told John Walsh of decision.” Six of the nine RT 53 targets were not struck due to poor weather conditions. They were re-authorized as targets under RT 54, which was approved on February 23. (Joint Chiefs of Staff, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1960–1968, Part III, pp. 41–2–41–5)