125. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Summary of Dean Acheson’s Proposal2
We should make available such forces as we can muster and are needed in the next emergency months.
We should immediately set about a study in which the brightest and ablest civilians and military in the Government take part.
This study should consist of: [Page 379]
  • —An examination of what has happened over the last year in Vietnam, including, of course, the Tet offensive and its aftermath. This should be a careful, factual effort.
  • —We should then examine, looking ahead over the future, what we can expect from the government of Vietnam and its military forces in undertaking its share of the allied studies: staying together; improving its quality and energy of government; improving its military importance.
  • —We should then analyze how we can deal with North Vietnam and its military forces. We should look backward at what we have done, our successes and failures. What could we do?
  • —On the basis of an assessment of the past, the GVN possibilities and the possibilities of coping with the North Vietnamese, we should then launch ourselves on a path looking towards progressive disengagement over whatever period of time we judge appropriate.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs N–Z and AA–KK. Confidential. In an attached covering note transmitting the memorandum to the President, March 14, 7:50 p.m., Rostow wrote: “Here is how I summarized Dean Acheson’s proposal, after his exposition at lunch today.” The notation “ps” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the memorandum; the President also wrote: “Walt—Call me—L.”
  2. The President lunched with Acheson that day from 2:04 to 3:09 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) They discussed the results of Acheson’s inquiry on Vietnam, for which the President had granted Acheson, despite his unofficial status, government-wide access. The former Secretary of State concluded that the public would never support the large augmentation as requested, and thus the war had to be brought to a conclusion as soon as feasible. He suggested that the President organize a group to assess Vietnam policy. In response to Johnson’s comment that the military remained optimistic, Acheson replied, “Mr. President, you are being led down the garden path.” See Douglas Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953–1971 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 256–259.