173. Telephone Conversation Among President Johnson, Senator Mike Mansfield, and Secretary of Defense Clifford 1

Mansfield: Mr. President, a great deal of flap is going on up here among a good number of the Senators relative to this bombing which took place some 200 miles north.

President: Wait a minute. Let me put Clark Clifford on here a second. Go ahead.

Mansfield: Are you on, Clark?

Clifford: I’m on, Mike.

Mansfield: There is a good deal of flap going on up here about this recent report, which I haven’t seen, about the bombing 209 miles north of the DMZ. The general impression seems to have been that what the President said the other day was the bombing would continue north of the 17th parallel and the general impression was that it would be confined, oh, I would say no further than the Mu Gia Pass, which is about [Page 504] 80 miles north, to give the protection to our troops or to stop the recent infiltration of men and materiel.2

President: I think that is Marcy’s impression. There’s not anything in my comments that says that at all. The decision was based, as you know, on the 20th parallel, and as Bill Fulbright knows because I read you the text that had “20th parallel” on it and we briefed Russell and Fulbright and all of them on it. We didn’t brief the god-damned mousy old women who serve as staff members, so they’ve been going around very concerned. Now we have a concentration point up there—marshaling yards where they unload their trucks to send steel to put in the butts of your Montana boys and mine. They are below the 20th parallel. We took the cities off and we took 90 percent of the population off and we took these power plants and the POLs and the other things around these civilian populations. But we did not take anything off below the 20th parallel. The 20th parallel was the line. Now the diplomats felt we ought to describe it in the language we did, that I have ordered aircraft and vessels to make no attack on North Vietnam except in the area north of the DMZ where the continuing enemy buildup—this is one of the big build-up points—directly threatens Allied forward positions, and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat.

Mansfield: Yes, sir.

President: Now, General Momyer was in last night.3 They don’t like our setting the 20th parallel, but that does give them 200 miles to stop these trucks in without going into a city and hitting an old woman or bothering any Communist or killing any children or hitting any hospitals. It is just primarily area roads with 10 percent of the population. Now that’s what we said. We said it specifically until the diplomats thought it would be a little better to generalize it. But the text I read you was the 20th parallel. The briefing we gave Fulbright was 20th parallel. The briefing we gave Russell was 20th parallel. But instead of saying 20th parallel, the State Department people thought that instead of just [Page 505] drawing a hard line there and saying that “Boys, you can marshal everything you want to right up on that line, we won’t touch you.” That is what is happening in Haiphong. We have told them we have made concessions here not to bomb Haiphong, so they have got their damn storage area there. Momyer said it just looks like one big truck yard full of supplies. Now when we tell them we’re not going to do something, they take advantage of it immediately. So, when they wrote this paragraph, they eliminated the 20th parallel, which is the decision we made, you and Fulbright and Clark briefed the Senators on, and said that we will stop our bombing except in the area north where a continuing enemy build-up directly threatens. Now that is an area right up to the 20th parallel and the place that they hit yesterday was probably a target that was selected a week ago. But it is a marshaling yard where a bunch of trucks got supplies coming right into our boys. Of course, it is probably three hours away from them at 60 miles an hour. By airline, it is 180 miles. By round circuitous road, it is 209 miles. So they hit that. Now, most of the strikes are within, oh, 50 or 60 miles. Clark thinks that out of a hundred we hit yesterday, that probably 90 percent of them are within 50 or 60 miles. They’ve already come down. But it you can get up there where they are breeding, if you can get them one month pregnant, we sure want to do it. We don’t want—because we will have so damn many of them bumper to bumper down on the DMZ, if we can stop when we do it. So, what we have done—Hanoi is really turning down and Tass is turning it down, we think—we thought so all of the time, we did not want to express any doubt, but we just hope the Senate doesn’t turn it down for them. We told Marcy that this morning when he called and said he was getting worried. Then he got Fulbright worried. Fulbright called me last night and he said it was the greatest move that was ever made and he heard the speech and knew what I said.4 But I would hope that without our …, I guess we will just have to come and say the 20th parallel is what we’ve said to everybody and that’s the order that went out and just say, now then, that permits them to come right in, and on the one inch over the parallel they know they are immune, and that is bad and our military people don’t like that. But we can do that if it satisfies some folks like Marcy. He’s upset. He has called us early this morning and our people have been working on it.

Mansfield: Well, I haven’t even seen Marcy, but several newsmen have asked me and called to my attention—what I’m getting at is the impression was created by your speech was that it would be adjacent to the DMZ for the protection of our troops and now it is 209 miles or so north and questions are being raised about it.

[Page 506]

President: Well, the answer is that, I don’t know, I can’t control a man’s impressions. That is a power I don’t have. But I can control my language, and my language says, “The area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy build-up directly threatens Allied forward positions and where the movement of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat.” Now that could be one mile out of Hanoi, Mike. It is not 200 miles, 190 or 180. I didn’t want to say the number of miles. I did say that I wouldn’t hit Haiphong, which we didn’t want to say because they have these supply centers, because I had the impression that the doves were raising hell about our bombing the cities. I didn’t know they did not want us to bomb the trucks that were hitting our men.

Mansfield: No, no. No, no. But they had the idea, and I think it was the general impression among the whole population that you would be hitting them just north of the DMZ for the primary purpose of protecting our men who are along that area. And then the story comes out 209 miles north. Then they were wondering, “Well, gee, what does this mean? How far do they have to go north to give protection to the DMZ?”

President: Well, I think to give real protection you have to go all the way, right in Hanoi and Haiphong. But to try to make an earnest appeal, we say that 90 percent of your population and most of your area, about 75 percent of your area, is off-limits to our bombers. We have the air fields, we have the build-up yards, the concentration points, that aren’t 220 miles or 215 miles by road, not airline, but by road. Every time we can hit one of them and catch them with a lot of supplies, why we are going to do it, even if it offends Mr. Cooper—just got to protect our men. And that is what we said. We didn’t say “just.” They have raised the question down here with us, I think Marcy or some of them, that we said “just north.” Now, we didn’t say that.

Mansfield: No, no. “In the area north.”

President: We say, “except in the area north where the continuing enemy build-up threatens allied positions.” Now that is not anything that says it will be 10 miles or 200.

Mansfield: No, no. Technically, what you said is correct, Mr. President. All I am conveying to you is the impression from your speech that many of them thought this did not mean 200 miles north to get a marshaling yard but maybe as much as 40 or 50 miles north of the DMZ itself.

President: Well, it means that if you want to be real factual and they want to tie us and put us in a straitjacket, and that means, I’d like for them to be with us a little bit, but if they want to tie us, you can say 20th parallel.

[Page 507]

Mansfield: No, I don’t want to use that name because—

President: that’s what I read to you. I just went over the text of the speech I read to you and it has in it the 20th parallel and we just went over the briefing with Fulbright and it has the 20th parallel. And we just went over with Buzz Wheeler what we told Russell and Rivers and that’s 20th parallel. We were telling you all in confidence and we didn’t necessarily want to tell the North Vietnamese that you can stack up on the eight yard line and away from the 20th parallel. But I think it has got to the point where that maybe you ought to say that the area north where they have the build-up extends as far up as the 20th parallel.

Mansfield: Up to.

President: Yes, sir. That involves 180 miles airline from the DMZ. Now that’s about 3 or 4 hours drive by truck and we want to stop those trucks. If they would quit, as I said in the speech, the next paragraph, if they would quit running down there, we would stop it all. I said, “Even this bombing could come to an end if our restraint is matched by restraint.” But I—now, you know how it is being matched? General Momyer said it is being matched—for the first time they are turning their lights on at night because they are in such short supply that they have to get supplies through there and they are taking the losses they suffer when they run with their lights on and they are damn near bumper to bumper. We knocked out nearly, I believe, 60 of these yesterday. So if we sit here on our fanny and let these marshaling yards, concentration points load up, unload one truck and put it on another one and come down there, then we will not be able to stop what we have got to stop in order to protect these men.

Mansfield: Well, I’ve got the arguments, Mr. President, and I will do my best.

President: I’ll try to get Clark to send you a statement you can use with these sentences and I would remind both Fulbright and Russell we have briefed them on the point parallel and if we have to say it then I just think we have to say it on account of our own tenderfoots.

Mansfield: Well, we will try not to say it and I hope nothing comes up, but I wanted to be prepared if something did come up.

President: Now, one other point here that you ought to know for our benefit. We will get you the exact number, but Clifford has the impression—and this is his first initiative, I guess he, I don’t know whether he is going to want to take many more or not, this is, he is cutting his teeth on this one—but his impression is that of the first 100 sorties, 92 or 93 of them were within the first 20 or 30 miles because that is where he has really got the last chance to stop them, but 6 or 7 of them are where they’ve started. Do you see what I mean?

Mansfield: I see.

[Page 508]

President: And the others are in-between. It is like a football game going from here to New York and you all go in the car. You try to stop them when you get up to Brooklyn Bridge, but you may want to stop some of them out here when they go across the Potomac.

Mansfield: That is right.

President: Here is Clark.

Clifford: Just one added comment, Mike, that is along the same line as the President but might put it in a little different perspective. What the President had in mind and what he was saying at the time was if we are going to give our direct attention to those areas where we see the actual troops and war materiel moving to the enemy that’s going to be used against our boys, and that’s what he meant. He might well have said at the time that we are going to give our preferred attention to the area north of the DMZ and up the line of supply, but in no event will we bomb north of the 20th parallel. He might have said that. What we did was we sent our sorties over, we found massed trucks down in Route Package 1, which is 40 or 50 miles north of the DMZ, and we sent most of our sorties in there. As we sent our reconnaissance planes up north of there to see what else was going on, they found this situation existing up at Thanh Hoa, and that’s maybe 12 to 15 miles south of the 20th parallel. Well, here is this massing taking place at this assembly point. That’s all part of the same pipeline. But our major emphasis, which is as the President said, I think the statistics will show, which we will put in a statement, but I think 90 percent of our effort was directed close down toward the DMZ because that is where the biggest build-up is.

Mansfield: Well, Clark, I have got to go in for a vote pretty soon. Send me down a memo5 as soon as you can, and if this comes up, I will do the best I can with the information you and the President have given me.

Clifford: Good, Mike.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Among Johnson, Mansfield, and Clifford, April 2, 1968, 2:10 p.m., Tape F6804.01, PNO 11. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. On April 1 bombings occurred near Thanh Hoa, 205 miles north of the DMZ (and only 81 miles from Hanoi) but below the 20th parallel. Goulding stated that the bombings were “within the framework” of the March 31 restriction; unnamed officials described the exact area of the bombing cessation as “undefined.” See The New York Times, April 2, 1968. In an April 3 memorandum to the President, Rostow justified the attack on Thanh Hoa, specifically noting that it was a major transit point for men and supplies going into South Vietnam and Laos and that it also contained an airfield that was recently active. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 6 G (3), 4/1–10/68, Talks with Hanoi)
  3. The President and Rostow met with General William Momyer, MACV Deputy Commander for Air Force and the Commander of the 7th Air Force, Pacific Air Force, from 6:37 to 7:46 p.m. on April 1. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of their discussion has been found.
  4. See Document 171.
  5. Not found.