258. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 81231. As you know, Ellsworth Bunker has warned us rather solemnly of the effects on South Vietnamese morale of continued attacks on Saigon while we leave Hanoi-Haiphong unmolested.2 Attached is:

A passage from a personal letter to me from Bob Komer in the same vein;3 and
A memorandum to you from General Taylor.4

The issue is likely to become, at least temporarily, more acute with the bad accident with the U.S. rocket in Saigon yesterday.

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The indications are, however, that the enemy feels he has struck paydirt in the harassment of Saigon; and intelligence suggests further attacks in the days ahead.

As I see them, our choices are:

  • —Do nothing;
  • —Go back to the 20th parallel which will help a little but not be a serious reply to the harassment of Saigon;
  • —After warning the enemy, establish a tit-for-tat policy towards Hanoi-Haiphong, conducting raids not on a regular basis but as direct response to attacks on Saigon;
  • —Go back to Hanoi-Haiphong on a regular basis.

No one can predict whether the enemy will break up the talks on this basis. He might suspend them while we were attacking Hanoi—or he might not. I have no recommendation at this time; but I do not think we should simply ignore the warnings coming to us from Saigon.

At the minimum, we may wish to have Westmoreland’s assessment while he is here, including the possibility of measures which would cut down the possibility of enemy penetration of Saigon.

I have noted your message about Saigon in relation to tomorrow’s Glassboro speech.5 I doubt that we should publicly warn the enemy about Saigon attacks unless we have decided actually to move in retaliation; but I shall discuss the matter with Secretaries Rusk and Clifford today.

[Omitted here are excerpts from Komer’s letter and Taylor’s memorandum.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 I, 1/67–12/68, Taylor Memos—General. Secret. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 9:47 a.m. The President arrived in Texas on May 29 and returned to Washington on June 4. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. In telegram 28566 from Saigon, May 29, Bunker wrote: “It seems to me, therefore, that there is a strong argument for linking any cessation of bombing in the North to the cessation of terror attacks on the cities of the South and I believe that a failure to link these two factors could seriously impair our position in the type of negotiations on which we have entered where the enemy is apparently determined to maintain maximum military pressure.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. In his May 28 letter to Rostow, Komer wrote: “Is there no way in which we could hold their cities hostage for ours? Why couldn’t we tell Hanoi’s negotiators privately that if the VC/NVA attack Saigon again we will attack Hanoi? Or that if they attack Danang, we will strike Haiphong? We wouldn’t publicly insist on reciprocity, but simply say privately that we would exercise it. If they broke off the talks on this basis, our case would seem strong to me. Alternatively, if we go to a complete bombing cessation, it really ought to be tied to some such unilateral declaration that further attacks on our cities would lead to renewed bombing of theirs.” (Ibid., Komer Files: Lot 69 D 303, Vietnam/Turkey) The portion of Komer’s letter quoted in the telegram printed here is omitted.
  4. In a May 31 memorandum to the President, Taylor advised the removal of geographical restrictions on the bombing campaign to allow for linking the bombing to enemy attacks. The targets bombed, their locations, the number of sorties flown, and the bombing tonnage could all be adjusted in accordance with the scale of the NVA/VC actions. The text of this memorandum was included in the telegram printed here but is omitted.
  5. The President delivered a speech at Glassboro State College in New Jersey in commemoration of the 1-year anniversary of his meeting there with Kosygin. In the speech, the President noted the lack of “some gestures on the other side toward peace” at Paris and stressed the need for Soviet cooperation in bringing about the peaceful resolution of Vietnam and other issues. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, pp. 679–684.