372. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1

SUBJECT

  • Implications of RT-58 and General JCS Bombing Strategy

In the customary manner, I have given you our best judgment on the 11 targets proposed in RT-58,2 and on the rather drastic changes in ground rules proposed by the JCS.

However, I have the distinct feeling, from actually reading the JCS back-up material in full, that much more is involved than a sorting out of targets week by week.

Specifically, the JCS justification asserts that there is now “successful interdiction” of the northeast rail line, and holds out the distinct hope that a progressive series of attacks on transportation targets in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas may actually isolate one city from the other, and thus presumably cut off a second major link in the entry of supplies into North Viet-Nam.

Both of these points seem to me open to the most serious doubt, and at any rate to require outside examination perhaps by CIA. My own hunch would be that traffic over the northeast rail line continues [Page 939]to operate at well above the tonnage levels required to sustain the effort in the South, and almost certainly at tonnage levels that can support a full air defense effort in the North as well. Secondly, my own hunch is strongly against any hope that we can really cut off shipment from Haiphong to Hanoi. I am supported in this by recent intelligence on the development of alternate water routes of all sorts between the two cities, supplementing the road and rail lines—which in any event I doubt can be prevented from carrying major traffic.

In other words, I think the JCS are drastically overselling the military advantage of the Hanoi and Haiphong transportation targets that now appear to be the major element in their proposals. At most, I would suppose, subject to check, we are making traffic handling significantly more difficult. This is all fine as a matter of degree, but it does mean that the military advantage is solely that and not at all what the JCS are depicting it.

Against this, we now have extensive reporting suggesting that there may be significant civilian damage in both Haiphong and Hanoi. AFP is being carried in the New York Times to this effect, and I believe our own photos show quite significant numbers of houses and residential areas hit. To take each target on the basis of whether it involves 20 or 50 estimated civilian casualties—always a dangerous matter at best—is to ignore the cumulative effect of strikes in the pattern the JCS are now apparently proposing. Little by little, we may well be making large areas of Haiphong and Hanoi uninhabitable—and we could quite well wake up one morning to find some new American visitor reporting dramatically to this effect.

Thus, I conclude that we are at something of a crossroads on this issue and that we need some careful study before we move significantly further along the lines of the JCS proposals. I think we particularly need an immediate CIA assessment of the actual effect on traffic into Haiphong and its distribution, and secondly a careful study of the pictures and an assessment of what we are actually doing in terms of civilian damage. I strongly urge that you take up these points with Secretary McNamara, perhaps through a copy of this memorandum.

W P Bundy
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Nodis. A copy was sent to Katzenbach.
  2. This target list, authorized on October 23, included several targets that had never before been attacked due to a prior prohibition on targets in the Hanoi area. See Document 364.