62. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Resumption of Offensive Operations against North Vietnam
I have been reflecting upon our conversation this afternoon2 during which you informed me of the considerations leading to a decision not to resume offensive operations against North Vietnam upon the termination of the Tet truce pending the departure of Mr. Kosygin from the United Kingdom. During the discussion, I expressed to you my serious reservations as to this decision based upon the potential danger incurred by our forces in Vietnam. Moreover, I am gravely concerned that the Soviets and the British may conduct affairs in such a way as to obstruct our resumption of offensive operations against North Vietnam subsequent to the departure of Mr. Kosygin from the United Kingdom. A further factor which bothers me is that, in effect, we have subverted the U.S. Government policy that we will not suspend our air campaign against North Vietnam in return for a promise to engage in talks; indeed, we have gone further than this, because we have delayed the resumption of our offensive operations against North Vietnam in return for a half-promise to propose to the Hanoi leadership that they should engage in talks with the U.S. Government.
While I fully recognize the domestic and foreign pressures upon the President, I wish to bring to your attention and to that of the President my own feelings in this matter. They are these:
Prime Minister Wilson is operating basically from a narrow objective of obtaining importance and prestige in the British domestic political scene; i.e., his “peace-making” efforts are pointed primarily at maintaining ascendancy over his political opponents within and without his own party.
Britain is regrettably no longer a first-class power. The place of Britain in the international scene depends today in great measure upon its relationship with the United States. If the British can play a major, publicized role in terminating the war in Vietnam, it will further British desire to continue to be a leading power on the world stage.
British objectives and those of the United States as regards the War in Vietnam are not the same.
Prime Minister Wilson and the British Government will not have to bear the onus of losses inflicted upon our forces as a result of the unimpeded buildup of North Vietnamese forces and logistic means contiguous to the frontiers of South Vietnam.
In summation of the foregoing, I wish to register my belief that there is danger that the Soviets and the British for their own reasons, not necessarily the same, will attempt to delay, obstruct and obfuscate the resumption of our offensive operations against North Vietnam. Such attempts should be rejected out of hand. Promptly upon the departure of Mr. Kosygin from the United Kingdom, we should resume our offensive operations, both air and naval, against North Vietnam. In fact, barring a positive and affirmative response from the North Vietnamese Government to proposals made to it through other channels by the United States Government, I recommend that we should expand our air and naval operations. Specifically, the President should now authorize the following actions:
Employment of naval gunfire against appropriate ground targets in North Vietnam south of 19° north latitude.
Immediate attack against the electric power system, the Thai Nguyen steel plant and the Haiphong cement plant.
Because of the timing of events central to the situation we find ourselves in, I have not been able to consult with other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to the foregoing recommendations. However, I know that they would concur with me in making these recommendations to the President and to you.
I request that my views be presented to the President either by means of this memorandum or by personal interview.
Earle G. Wheeler
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Vietnam Files: FRC 77–0075, Box 1 (January and February 1967). Top Secret. A handwritten notation indicates that the President saw the memorandum that evening.
  2. No other record of the conversation has been found.