319. Information Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Smith) to President Johnson1


  • Responses to General Taylor’s Memorandum on Bombing Policy

Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford and General Wheeler have sent in the attached papers giving their views on General Taylor’s memorandum to you concerning our bombing policy in North Vietnam.

You will recall that General Taylor discussed three alternatives—

Stop the bombing completely
Continue our present policy
Linking the level of our bombing to that of enemy violence in South Vietnam

[Page 925]

General Taylor’s memorandum is at Tab D.2

In brief, the two Secretaries and General Wheeler oppose linking the level of our bombing to that of enemy violence in South Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk believes it is too complicated to administer and seems to use military resources in a way that does not achieve relatively simple objectives. He defers, however, to his military colleagues on the military aspects of the suggestion. (Tab A)3

Secretary Clifford believes the suggestion is unworkable and would be unproductive. Our bombing is now tied to the security of our own forces and should not be tied to other variables. (Tab B)4

General Wheeler considers the suggestion not to be in our best interests. He says that the value of having an answer to a possible [Page 926] charge that we fail to deescalate when the enemy does is not worth the cost in reduced military effects of our bombing, a predictable increase in friendly casualties, and the loss of our allies’ confidence in the U.S. policy of steadfastly awaiting meaningful deescalation by Hanoi. (Tab C)5

Both Secretaries and General Wheeler come out strongly in support of our remaining on our present course in Paris as well as in Vietnam. General Taylor’s memorandum makes clear that he also shares this view. (I have not given to General Taylor copies of these papers.)6

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68–9/68. Top Secret. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it and the attachments.
  2. In his July 30 memorandum to the President, attached but not printed, Taylor argued that implementation of the third alternative required lifting “the geographical limitations on the bombing target system.” He believed that if this policy was enacted, the following statement should be issued: “Available data indicate that in recent weeks enemy violence in South Viet-Nam, measured in attacks, terrorism, harassment, sabotage, and the resultant military and civilian loss of life on our side, has subsided slightly (or we could indicate an approximate percentage) under that of the period immediately following the President’s March 31 speech. U.S. military authorities have been directed to make a comparable reduction in the sortie rates being flown against North Vietnamese military targets for the immediate future.” Taylor concluded: “I think we should try the second alternative now but prepare to shift to this last one.”
  3. In his July 31 memorandum to the President, attached but not printed, Rusk noted: “My concern about General Taylor’s ingenious third course of action is that it is too complicated to administer and seems to me to use military resources in a way that does not achieve relatively simple objectives. It would put any bombing of North Viet-Nam on an almost purely political basis and therefore expose us to political charges that it is an obstacle to peace and ought to be eliminated.” In a July 30 letter to Rusk, Taylor requested that he prepare this memorandum. (National Defense University, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Project Lull) In a memorandum for the record, August 1, Taylor described his meeting with Rusk that day, during which Rusk noted that “we should stay on our present course in Paris and give nothing away at this time” and suggested that it was “preferable to maintain the low level of military and diplomatic activity throughout August in order to avoid introducing any disturbing factor into the domestic political scene.” (Ibid.)
  4. In his August 1 memorandum to the President, attached but not printed, Clifford concluded: “In summary, I agree with General Taylor on his recommendation that we should not now deviate from our present course. I see no reason to let present or prospective public pressures dictate our course of action. We should not allow such pressures to force us to embark on an expansion of the bombing, to a premature cessation of the bombing or to abandonment of our search for a bombing halt under circumstances where such further restraint on our part promises to bring us closer to a satisfactory settlement.” In a letter to Clifford, July 30, Taylor requested that he prepare this memorandum. (National Defense University, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Project Lull) In a memorandum for the record, July 31, Taylor described his meeting with Clifford and Nitze that day. Clifford proposed that the President announce that within a week bombing would end if the DMZ was not violated, infiltration did not increase, attacks on major cities subsided, and substantive talks including the GVN began. Bombing would resume if attacks occurred or if the enemy rejected the offer. “Clifford seemed to feel that a long drawn-out negotiation without bombing is more tolerable than the maintenance of military pressure on Hanoi at the cost of high casualties,” Taylor noted. (Ibid.)
  5. In CM-3532–68 to the President, August 1, entitled “Alternative Bombing Proposals,” attached but not printed, Wheeler noted: “With respect to the three alternatives, under the current circumstances I favor the second alternative; however, insofar as that part of it which includes a major public relations campaign is concerned, I am not confident that it would be successful.” In CM–3531–68 to the President, July 31, entitled “Cessation of Bombardment of North Vietnam,” Wheeler argued that the halt would give the Vietnamese Communists significant military advantages while endangering U.S. and GVN forces, a stoppage would be impossible to resume, and that “free of any degree of military pressure, I conjecture that the enemy will feel even less constrained to engage speedily in productive negotiations leading to a fair and just peace.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 90)
  6. A passage in Nitze’s notes of the August 1 meeting of the Secretary of Defense’s “8:30 Group” consisting of his top advisers reads: “N[itze] suggested take that part of last part of T[aylor] proposal and adapt it to our purposes. Make criteria general. We interpret as second alternative C[lifford]’s modification of H[arriman]V[ance] proposal. 7 days before announce intention & assumptions. If no objection from other side go ahead. If rejection then resume.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Department of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense Notes, 1968, 5 of 6) On August 3 Clifford discussed with the “8:30 Group” his meeting with the President the previous day at the Ranch. In his notes of the meeting, Nitze wrote: “C[lifford] conversation with P[resident]. Now had done everything necessary to implement our commitment. 1. Turned enemy back. 2. Developed ARVN. 3. Because of success, shld. recognize and find reasonable basis for disposition.” The U.S. offer was summarized in the following manner: “Week after R[epublican] convention. One week later wld. stop. Assume. Ample opportunities for them to say no. If Hanoi a) rejected or b) levelled major attacks no trouble in resuming.” (Ibid.)