57. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Ball) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Dear Bob:

ISA, the Joint Staff, and our FE Bureau have been wrestling yesterday and today with the question of an appropriate message to Sato or Shiina as to our future plans for the use of Okinawa in B–52 strikes in Viet-Nam. As you know, our use of the Okinawa bases for this [Page 112] purpose is theoretically unlimited, and we do not have a formal obligation even to consult or notify the Japanese. Nonetheless, in the wake of this week’s strike and its publicity, we have felt that some form of discussion was required as a matter of courtesy.

Upon reflection, it now seems to me that the issue runs very much deeper than the immediate issue of what we say to the Japanese. The real question is how much we in fact need to use the Okinawa bases in the next few months for strikes. (I should say that I leave to one side the question of the use of Okinawa for tanker operations, which would not be likely to lead to publicity and which we believe can continue in any event.)

In our judgment, recurrent use of the Okinawa bases, as a practical political matter, will seriously heighten pressures in Japan on the issue of Okinawa generally, and indeed will significantly affect the whole atmosphere of our relations with Japan in every sphere. I do not think these results would necessarily follow if our use of Okinawa were really confined to emergency-type situations, such as the typhoon relocation that occasioned this week’s strike, but I do believe that we must take a very hard look indeed before we get into a situation where the use of Okinawa would in fact be frequent.

I base these conclusions not only on the Japanese reaction to this week’s strike and the Embassy’s reports (which I believe are available to you),2 but on extensive discussions of the whole Japanese attitude on Okinawa with Ed Reischauer over a period of time and particularly during his recent visit here.3 The plain fact is that, despite the absolutely first-rate performance of General Watson and the presently quiescent state of specific frictions over Okinawa, Japanese feeling on the issue runs very deep indeed, and it is Reischauer’s judgment—which we share—that, even without the issue being further aroused, we face a situation where Japan may demand basic changes in our structure and rights in Okinawa within the next two–three years. If we act in such a way as to arouse Japanese feeling markedly, this period may be greatly shortened, and—to repeat—the whole atmosphere of our relationship, already under stress because of differing Japanese popular views on Viet-Nam, would be seriously affected.

In other words, we have to weigh the importance of Okinawa for strikes against Viet-Nam not only against major political factors but against over-all possibilities which could drastically affect the future usefulness of Okinawa from a military standpoint.

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All these factors lead me to suggest that you review this matter urgently with the Joint Chiefs, and that we consider it thereafter, at the highest State and Defense levels, with the clear possibility that we shall have to bring it to the President. If participation from State will be helpful to you at any point, please call on us.


George W. Ball 4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 27 VIET S. Secret. Attached to an August 2 note from James L. Clunan to Don Christensen (S/SS), stating that the letter was hand-carried to the Department of Defense and handled informally on July 31. According to a memorandum of a telephone conversation between William Bundy and Ball, July 31, 11:30 a.m., Bundy suggested writing this letter and, after Ball agreed, drafted it for Ball’s signature. (Johnson Library, Papers of George Ball, Japan)
  2. Embassy telegrams discussing this issue are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 27 VIET S and DEF 15 RYU IS–US.
  3. Reischauer was in Washington to attend the Fourth Meeting of the U.S.-Japan Committee on Trade and Economic Affairs held July 12–14.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.