363. Notes of Meeting1


The President: Discussed the arrest of two UPI reporters mistaken for demonstrators.

Secretary McNamara said his information was that they had hid their credentials and went along to the detention camp for the story.

Secretary Rusk: I am going tomorrow to Los Angeles to make a speech at the same hotel where the President spoke in July. I expect a demonstration and it will be necessary that I be choppered to the location.

The President: As long as I am President we are going to make sure that justice is given to all but that the laws are enforced and applied. I think we handled the Pentagon problem very well.2

I am proud of the way our men in Vietnam handled themselves in commenting on the demonstrations here last weekend. I am concerned as to how we handle the draft card burners who are handing in their draft cards at various federal centers.

Secretary Rusk: I would enforce the law.

General Wheeler: Not to enforce the law is going to create unrest among Americans who do support the law.

[Here follows discussion of an Egyptian attack on an Israeli vessel.]

[Page 915]

Director Helms: Discussed the text of CIA’s analysis of Pennsylvania.3 In brief, it showed no new movement on the part of the Hanoi government toward peace negotiations.4

[Here follows discussion of a possible visit by Abba Eban of Israel.]

Director Helms: Read CIA analysis. He said there is a strange consistency in messages. “In short, Mr. President, you ended up where you began.”

The President: Isn’t there a lot we would gain by exposing this channel? You can summarize the results of the channel without identifying the people involved.

Secretary Rusk: The doves will make trouble if we publicize the message. In addition we may want to talk some serious business through this channel at a later time. M and A and Kissinger will not talk if we do not identify the channel. Kissinger is sending down a summary of the entire business. I would not identify the channel.

Director Helms: We have no indication that China is about to do anything in terms of getting into the Vietnam war.

Secretary Rusk: I have seen no change in the Chinese situation in over a year.

The President: Are we now ready to take the wraps off the bombing?

Secretary McNamara: It depends on what you want to do for the rest of the year. If you open up the ten mile circle the JCS have recommended the power plant and the two bridges.

General Wheeler: I would strongly urge the President not to have a pause. I urge you to open up the ten mile circle and also hit the Phuc Yen airfield.

Secretary Rusk: One serious disadvantage is that every time a new target is added it becomes an act of escalation. I would not rush in with a whole new series of targets.

[Page 916]

I have no strong feelings about Phuc Yen but it will have to be hit over and over. It may cost more planes than it will destroy. I do not object to the re-entry into the ten mile circle. But I do believe we should spread these targets out.

Secretary McNamara: There has not been a bunch of these targets.

The President reminded those present that the air field had been authorized previously subject only to winding up the Kissinger talks. Now we have gotten rid of all the excuses. Let’s go with it.

Secretary McNamara: If we are going to strike we should hit the two bridges and the power plant. They will be announced as a restrike.

General Wheeler: There is a list of thirteen targets. Some of these are restrikes.

Secretary McNamara: Then we are agreed that Phuc Yen is authorized; the two bridges are authorized, and the power plant is authorized. No more than one of these is to be hit in a single day.

The President: Are you pretty well up on schedule?

General Wheeler: Only three of the authorized targets haven’t been hit.

Secretary Rusk: The attack on Phuc Yen will require two or three hundred aircraft, won’t it?

General Wheeler: All totaled, it will require a couple of hundred. There will be four different waves of attack aircraft.

Secretary Rusk: What is the rationale for this when there are only twelve aircraft on the field?

General Wheeler: To destroy the support facilities as well as the aircraft.

Secretary Rusk: Phuc Yen will not give us a major international political problem unless there are a couple of hundred Soviets there. I wonder if the target is really there.

General Wheeler: Their air effectiveness will be further reduced by hitting Phuc Yen.

At Bac Mai, there is ground control intercept capabilities. There is also a filter center and over-all control. We have been paying a price for this facility. But we do not want to hold anything back. There is, we know, one prisoner of war facility at that location.

The President: Dean, are you ready to go on Phuc Yen?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, if you can spread out the number of strikes.

The President: Bob, are you ready to go on Phuc Yen?

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Secretary McNamara: Yes.5

The President: I want Bob and Buz (General Wheeler) to talk to the JCS. Unless they have a target on their list which they are willing to put their reputation behind, don’t recommend it. And let’s not wash any more dirty linen in public.

My political instinct is to make public this exchange in Paris but say we are unable to make a proposal which we can stand on publicly. It doesn’t seem we can win the war militarily. I asked the JCS suggestions on how to shorten the war but all of their proposals related to suggestions outside South Vietnam.

We can’t win diplomatically either. We ought to make the proposals so clear and get such clear answers back that we can tell a farmer what has taken place and be able to have him understand it.

Now we are back to where we started.

We’ve tried all your suggestions. We’ve almost lost the war in the last two months in the court of public opinion. These demonstrators and others are trying to show that we need somebody else to take over this country.

People who want us to stop the bombing should know all we have gone through in this exchange. There are men at this table who do not know what all has taken place. We have not seen one change in their position. They are filling the air waves with this propaganda. Your two departments must provide answers to these charges. Senator Russell won’t even talk about it. The hawks are throwing in the towel. Everybody is hitting you. San Antonio did not get through. I cannot mount a better explanation.

If we cannot get negotiations, why don’t we hit all the military targets short of provoking Russia and China. It astounds me that our boys in Vietnam have such good morale with all of this going on.

We’ve got to do something about public opinion.

I want to make sure that Kissinger is on board. We ought to have a sentence every farmer can understand and the enemy say no to it.

We must show the American people we have tried and failed after going the very last mile.

What about the reserves?

[Page 918]

Secretary McNamara: We do not need them in Vietnam now.

General Wheeler: We certainly do not need them at the current level of operations.

[Here follows discussion of the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. During October 21–22, 208 antiwar protesters were arrested at the Pentagon. See The New York Times, October 23, 1967.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 362.
  4. In a personal note sent to British Foreign Secretary George Brown, Secretary Rusk relayed that “Hanoi has slammed the door on our most recent peace efforts.” The note was transmitted in telegram 58668 to London, October 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA) However, in telegram 5578 from Paris, October 23, Ambassador Bohlen drew a lesson from the Pennsylvania affair. He recommended removing qualifications, such as requiring that ensuing talks be “productive,” from any future bombing halt formula, since to the North Vietnamese this statement would imply that “we would already have determined how the talks should come out and would amount to the acceptance of an American solution to the talks before they have even begun.” The administration’s formula should mention simply that as soon as the date and venue for talks could be agreed upon, bombardment of North Vietnam would cease. (Ibid.)
  5. On October 23 the President lifted the suspension of bombing in the Hanoi prohibited area and ordered attacks on various targets including the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant and the Long Bien and Doumer bridges. Authority to strike Phuc Yen airfield was restored at the same time, and U.S. aircraft struck it on October 24. See 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. 44–1–44–12.