283. Notes of Meeting1


Director Helms: Read proposed letter from the President to Ky and Thieu on the Vietnamese elections.2

[Here follows discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

Secretary Rusk: We need to clarify our strategy on bombing policy.

[Page 698]

The President: Our strategy, as I see it, is that we destroy all we can without involving China and Russia between now and September 1. I do not believe China and Russia will come in. The people will not stay with us if we do not get destroyed all we can. The targets we have authorized3 are in the Hanoi, Haiphong, and buffer zone areas. It’s better to hit those targets authorized now rather than waiting six months.

Secretary Rusk: In the buffer zone there is a question as to whether these are specifically authorized strikes or repeaters. The larger the number of sorties in there, the higher the chances are of mistakes.

Secretary McNamara: I must point out that we could invade Chinese air space. Secretary McNamara said he proposed nothing new until next Tuesday.4 “I would like to have a week go by to check the accuracy of what we are doing.”

Secretary Rusk: There appears to be no ascertainable connection between some of these targets and winning the war. We are trying to wage the war without enlarging it and without causing the Soviets or the Chinese to give us problems in Berlin or Korea. I have no reservations except on these targets.

The President: Let us find the least dangerous and the most productive targets. I would like to be able to say that we have hit six out of every seven targets requested. We have some weather now that is my type of weather. I think we should get [hit] every target as quickly as we can. There are three areas that we are not going to hit. We are not going to hit Haiphong Harbor because we are not going to hit any ships. We are not going to bomb Hanoi because we are not going to hit civilians. And we must be careful about the buffer zone because of the danger in going over the border. But we have got to put more pressure on. It was then agreed that the targets more than eight to ten miles away from the buffer zone could be hit without danger.

Secretary McNamara: We took out more rolling stock in one day after the Hanoi bridge was bombed than in any other day in the war.

He [McNamara] said he could get the President 20 more targets.

Secretary Rusk: It’s question of what do you ask a man to die for. Some of these targets aren’t worth the men lost.

Secretary McNamara: The losses would be the heaviest in the MIG airfield.

The President: What about sending three representatives from each of these organizations.

The President then read a list of organizations representing labor, management, press, foundations, and other associations. It was agreed [Page 699] that this group could be invited to go to Vietnam as observers of the up-coming elections.

The President instructed Secretary Rusk to send the list to Ambassador Bunker for his reaction.

Secretary Rusk asked Secretary McNamara if he could space the air strikes so that it would not appear as a “Roman holiday.” Secretary Rusk said that several strikes on the same day result in charges of escalation and acceleration which may not be in our best interest.

[Here follows further discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the White House.
  2. Document 284.
  3. A reference to the RT 57 strikes which began on July 20.
  4. August 22.