237. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

You asked for my comments on Saigon’s 27539 (attached).2

My own personal view is that we should not become embroiled in a highly theoretical and “precious” application or interpretation of the San Antonio formula. To me, your speech of March 31 opened a new chapter which brushes aside much of the discussion which preceded it. You paid for that new chapter by a major act of de-escalation. To me, the most important fact about the present situation is that seventy-eight percent of the land area and ninety percent of the population of North Viet-Nam are free from bombing while there is not a single square mile of South Viet-Nam which is immune from Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacks by rockets, mortars or infantry.

Although you reaffirmed the San Antonio formula in your March 31 speech, I do not believe that we should accept all of the barnacles which accumulated around the San Antonio formula—including the so-called Clifford interpretation.

The simple truth is that no one in the world can tell us what will happen if we stop all of the bombing of North Viet-Nam. Hanoi refuses to tell us and therefore no one else is able to tell us. This is not a problem of diplomatic technique; there are many many ways by which Hanoi could let us know what in fact they would do if we stop all the bombing. This could be done without any loss of face on their part. It boils down to a question of will. Of course they would be glad to exchange some sort of talks, somewhere, for a full cessation of the bombing while they go ahead with their part of the war full scale.

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I realize that I am branded as a “hawk” and that this has been an embarrassment to the Administration in some quarters. But looking at all of our experiences in the management of crises in the past three decades, I cannot, for the life of me, see how we can achieve any peace unless some elementary notions of reciprocity, fairness and equity are maintained.

Averell Harriman has already called to the attention of Hanoi the impact of the recent attacks on Saigon on the discussions in Paris and on our attitude toward the good faith of the other side. I don’t think that Bunker’s cable requires us to do anything different than we have thus far been doing in Paris. But I do believe that our discussions in Paris must be based upon the most simple, honest and fair considerations and that we should not spin spider webs of logic to confuse the requirements of a fair and honorable peace in Southeast Asia. This is why I objected to Averell’s use of the so-called “Romanian formula” at the discussions in Paris today.

Hanoi still nurtures the illusion that they can somehow mobilize domestic and world public opinion to force your hand. The beginning of wisdom on their part is a demonstration by us that they cannot succeed in any such nonsense.

Finally, let me say that the present attitude of Hanoi is such that some of the argumentation among our own people is beside the point. Hanoi is not providing any handholds for us to grasp in any direction—therefore we should not come apart among ourselves in the absence of some movement by Hanoi.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. I. Confidential. Extensive enemy rocket and mortar attacks on Saigon began on May 18, and a separate Capital Military District Command was set up to reduce or eliminate the attacks. Its mission later evolved into one of combating and infiltrating the VCI. (Memorandum from Helms to Rostow, June 17; Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/IMS Files, Job 79–207A, AA–3–FE Division 1968)
  2. Not printed. In the telegram, dated May 17, Bunker noted: “I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting cessation of attacks as trade off for stopping bombing. Still less that we should cease fighting while talking. But it seems to me that Hanoi should be made to understand that attacks on Saigon or other centers of population, which are essentially attacks on civilians, are in our view ‘taking advantage’ of San Antonio formula, and cannot be carried out with impunity and without fear of retaliation. I believe this is just as much ‘taking advantage’ as the more than doubling of the rate of infiltration which has occurred since August/September 1967, or violation of the DMZ.”