255. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Military Action Between the 19th and 20th Parallels
Nature of Military Action. I believe—as does Cy Vance—that resumed action in this area should initially be on a selected basis and directed at specific targets such as the airfield and other installations where we have our strongest case of action by the other side. The weight of attack should be adequate, but not so that it would lead to sensational headlines. The question of route reconnaissance should be left to follow—on the theory that our initial impact will guide the public reaction, and that specific targets have a much more persuasive initial rationale.
Timing. While we have already laid a significant private base through the Harriman/Zorin conversation,2 and have built a general picture of major military action by the other side, there is still a question whether we would do better to act at once or to wait for visible offensive actions by the other side in the Highlands—which look like coming very shortly in any case. The latter would give us a much better public case and avoid the implication of any unilateral “re-escalation” on our part. This at least deserves discussion, although I would see no major adverse effect on the Paris talks or on public opinion if we were to go ahead very soon.
Thompson / Gromyko Gambit. My own inclination would be against saying anything more to the Soviets. Harriman’s message was quite clear enough, and raising to the Gromyko level might even tend to engage Soviet prestige in strengthening the defense of the area.
Telling Thieu. Whenever we decide to act we should try to get word to Thieu in advance. We should not be asking him to highlight what we are doing in any way, but our telling him would be a useful indicator both of general consultation and of our taking the over-all problem seriously.
On a total view, I believe that this action—on a limited and selected scale initially—would be a useful signal at this point. However, we [Page 735] should not exaggerate its significance. Since our actions would still be within the scope of the March 31 speech, I doubt very much if Hanoi would draw any conclusion that we were thinking of going north of the 20th, or would significantly moderate its general military pattern. I attach George Carver’s analysis, which deals with this option on pages 8–9.3 (I understand that Clark Clifford also has Carver’s memorandum.)
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164, Secretary’s Luncheon Meetings with the President—1968 (2). Secret; Nodis; Harvan.
  2. See Document 241.
  3. Attached but not printed was Carver’s undated analytical paper entitled “Alternative Courses of Action Under Certain Assumed Conditions,” in which he evaluated the assumptions and options presented in the attachment to Document 248. On pages 8–9, he evaluated Option B, which was “more to our liking as a symbol of American impatience” since it represented a hardened military position within the limits set by the President’s March 31 speech. However, as it would not lead to any restraints on Hanoi’s part, Carver judged it as only “one of the first steps that should be tried.” Option A was the best course of action, since “any significant American escalation above the 20th parallel would be widely regarded abroad and within the U.S. as unjustified.”