254. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

You are well aware of the indications of a possible renewal of offensive action by the enemy in the Saigon area and have seen General Abrams’ cable describing his preparations.2 I hope that we are equally prepared here in Washington to respond quickly and decisively if, indeed, the enemy launches a significant attack.

In such a case, in addition to our action against the attacking forces in South Viet-Nam, my own judgment would be to respond quickly with a reprisal air attack against one or more key logistic installations north of the 19th parallel, the magnitude of our attack being proportioned to that of the enemy. No one seems to believe that we are capable of such a drastic step—certainly Hanoi does not as the exposed disposition of supplies all over North Viet-Nam gives evidence. While the “doves” at home and abroad would be aghast, the shock effect on Hanoi could produce not only better behavior in South Viet-Nam but a more cooperative attitude in Paris. You will recall that we never got action in Panmunjom until we broke off the discussions a couple of times—at that moment, our only recourse in responding to Communist intransigence.

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I would think that Harriman and Vance should make clear to their counterparts the risks they are running if they renew the offensive or if they stall the negotiations. Our government spokesmen, in backgrounding the press, should get out the word that our restraint is no more permanent than the good behavior of the enemy and that we are quite prepared to revert to bombing for good cause at any time. Our air weapon is an asset either as a reprisal for a violation of our “understandings” with regard to Hanoi restraints or as a response to foot-dragging at the conference table. We should be prepared to use it without compunction for either purpose if it is in our interest, and the enemy and the public should know it in advance.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8I, Taylor Memos-General (1 of 2). Secret. According to two attached memoranda, one from Rostow to the President, December 14, 12:40 p.m., and one from Smith to Rusk and Clifford, December 17, Taylor’s recommendation was one of the principal topics of the December 17 Tuesday Luncheon. See Document 257.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 253.