321. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1
- Evaluation of the Lull in Enemy Activities in South Viet-Nam
At your luncheon on Tuesday, July 30,2 you asked me as Chairman of your Intelligence Board to examine the available information with regard to the so-called lull in South Viet-Nam and to determine whether, in fact, there was a significant lull and, if so, to evaluate its military and political significance.
In carrying out your instructions, I have discussed the points at issue with Secretaries Rusk and Clifford, Deputy Secretary Nitze, Director Helms and the Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McConnell. Also, I have obtained by cable the views of Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams which you have seen in their entirety.3 In highly summarized form, the following are the conclusions which I have drawn from my discussions with these officials and from Bunker’s most illuminating cable.4
Is there a lull?
There has been a very significant lull in the combat activities of the enemy in South Viet-Nam. Since about mid-June, virtually all of the indicators of these combat activities have turned downward. However, concurrently [Page 931] there have been many indications of intense activity devoted to other forms of military activity such as the refitting, retraining, reorganizing, and repositioning of many of his units. Battle casualties are down in comparison with the first five months of 1968 but our casualties in the so-called lull are higher than in the corresponding period of 1967.
With regard to enemy political activities in South Viet-Nam, there is no detectable lull—indeed political propaganda in support of the NLF and the Alliance has increased. Efforts to proselyte by propaganda are at a high pitch but there seems to be some reduction in the organization of Liberation Committees in the countryside. In Saigon, the Alliance seems to be gaining a measure of support among some of the intelligentsia.
What is the military significance?
As to the military significance of the lull in combat activities, there is unanimity of opinion that it has been imposed upon the enemy largely by military necessity. If there were no political negotiations in progress, there would still be ample reason for the enemy to take time out to replace the severe losses of the Tet and the May 5 offensives and to assimilate the heavy influx of recruits arriving from the north during the spring and summer. Also, the heavy losses in supplies and equipment must have created logistic problems requiring a period of relative inactivity for resolution. However, the requirements for the reconstitution of units probably do not explain entirely the remarkable low level of current combat activity. It seems likely that, if he wanted, the enemy could be more aggressive now than is presently the case and, at the same time, build up his combat effectiveness.
This regeneration of combat capability is probably both for the purpose of regaining lost strength and also with the objective of developing a renewed capability for another large scale offensive some time this year. While evidence as to the possible timing of a renewed offensive is mixed, several dates have been mentioned in intelligence reports, most of them falling in the period August 3–18. By that time, the newly arrived recruits should be well integrated into their units and ready to take part in an offensive. Also, it will be convention time in the U.S., a fact which may have a bearing on enemy timing.
As to likely places for attack, recent enemy movements and dispositions may be interpreted as threats to the coastal region of I Corps from the DMZ through Danang to Quang Nai, Ban Me Thuot, Loc Ninh, Tay Ninh and Saigon. Estimates of the possible scale of the offensive vary from a country-wide, coordinated effort on the Tet pattern to a lesser offensive like the one in May or even something substantially smaller. In spite of heavy losses, the massive infiltration during the spring and summer has allowed him to raise his current North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Main and Local Force units by about 18,000 over their strength just prior to the [Page 932] Tet offensive. Thus, in terms of numbers, the enemy appears to be in good shape to strike a powerful blow. However, Abrams has the general initiative and, this time, there should be no possibility of a surprise.
What is the political significance?
With regard to any political motivation for the lull, there is a general feeling that there is no clear evidence to suggest that the lull is primarily for the purpose of influencing the Paris negotiations. There are too many valid military reasons to support such a view. However, there is general agreement that the enemy has the opportunity to make political virtue out of military necessity by exploiting the lull as evidence of an ostensibly sincere desire to lower the level of violence as a tacit, conciliatory gesture. He can not exploit this point officially without giving up his position on reciprocity but some Hanoi representatives in private conversations have alluded to their current restraint on the battlefield. Unfortunately, U.S. critics of our policy need no prompting and make the case for Hanoi on their own initiative.
There is an enemy-initiated lull in combat activities in South Viet-Nam accompanied by an intensification of enemy military activities for the purpose of replacing losses, refitting units and creating a renewed offensive capability. That capability may be exercised at any time in a number of places.
There has never been a lessening of enemy political activities in South Viet-Nam—in fact, in this period they have increased.
The combat lull was imposed on the enemy by military necessity but, as a bonus, he has the option of exploiting it for political purposes in relation to the peace talks. There is no evidence to believe that it is a genuine signal of a desire to deescalate in order to facilitate prompt and productive talks in Paris.5
Note: Because of the need for a prompt reply to your directive, I have not been able to consult the other members of your Intelligence Board in preparing this paper. With regard to recommendations of actions as a consequence of the conclusions of this report, I shall prepare and submit a separate paper.7
- Source: National Defense University, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Vietnam Policy 1968. Top Secret. The attached note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to Smith reads: “Brom: Please pass my report electronically to the President at the Ranch so he may have it for his reading tomorrow. M.D.T.” Taylor drafted this report in his capacity as Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In his note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to the President, August 2, 8:30 p.m., Smith wrote: “Here is General Taylor’s evaluation of the lull in enemy activities in South Vietnam. General Taylor plans to send you a separate paper covering recommended actions based on the conclusions he has reached. If any public use is to be made of this paper, I recommend that you do not use one sentence in the report until we have learned whether the 18,000 figure included in it is agreed within the Intelligence Community.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 I, 1/67–12/68, Taylor Memos—General) The notation “ps” on this covering note indicates that the President saw Taylor’s memorandum; a separate notation indicates that the memorandum was received at the Ranch at 11 a.m. on August 3. The President visited his Texas ranch August 2–19. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- See Document 316.↩
- See Document 319.↩
- In telegram 34163 from Saigon, August 1, Bunker reported that he and Abrams opposed a full cessation on the grounds that it would undermine Thieu, demonstrate weakness in the peace negotiations, provide a military advantage for the enemy, and be difficult to resume the bombing. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 90)↩
- According to a memorandum to Taylor from Grover Brown, Assistant Director for Intelligence Production, Defense Intelligence Agency, and summary notes from PFIAB–CIA-DIA representatives, both dated August 1, the enemy would continue the military buildup while taking political advantage of the supposed “lull” and might refrain from a renewed offensive if the negotiations swung in his favor. (Both in National Defense University, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Project Lull) In a memorandum to Rusk entitled “North Vietnamese Links Between the Lull in the South and the Bombing of the North,” August 8, Hughes noted INR’s speculation that Hanoi may have intended the lull to be “a reciprocal gesture for a bombing halt” and that such a halt might pre-empt another large-scale attack. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S) An analysis of Communist political activity during the lull was transmitted to Taylor in CIA memorandum No. 0609/68, “Recent Vietnamese Communist Political Action in South Vietnam,” August 1. (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80–R01580R, 266—Vietnam)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.↩
- Not found.↩