336. Memorandum for Personal Files1

I believe that the failure of the President to stop all bombing of North Viet-Nam in late July or early August (as we recommended) is an historic tragedy of possibly wide consequences. It is my belief, weighing all the evidence, that Hanoi would have been preempted from a new widespread attack—particularly in the DMZ area and on Saigon. (Even Xuan Thuy is quoted as saying to a French reporter “Why doesn’t President Johnson try us out? If we fail to respond, he can start bombing again.”) If the bombing of North Viet-Nam had been stopped, we would then have satisfied the Soviet leaders and could have been in the midst of discussion on how to proceed from here. President Johnson’s trip to the Soviet Union would have been publicly laid on. Nuclear restraint talks would perhaps have been more active, and other bilateral matters might have been more active, and other bilateral matters might have been in process of opening up.

These factors might have weighed in the balance to help the more cautious viewpoint in the Soviet councils to prevail against the intervention in Czechoslovakia. This may seem far fetched but it certainly looked as if the Kremlin leaders were divided and couldn’t agree for some weeks. If they had been involved all out on a new tack with the U.S., it is difficult to believe they would have thrown that all down the drain. Whereas instead, the image of Johnson looked rigid re Viet-Nam, and this did not give much hope to early U.S. moves. In fact, it seems that the decision to invade Czechoslovakia was made at the last minute as Johnson was invited to Moscow only a few days before their action, and it was almost announced the morning of the invasion.2

W. Averell Harriman3
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Johnson, Lyndon 1968–69. Personal; Secret.
  2. The summit was cancelled by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 20. The President and his advisers discussed the relationship of the invasion to Vietnam on August 22. (Notes of the Cabinet Meeting, August 22; Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings) The summary and full transcript of this latter meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.