121. Editorial Note

The President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, called the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, at 4:52 p.m. on May 4, 1972. According to a transcript of the conversation, they had the following exchange:

HAK: Can you come right over to my office without telling anybody?

CJCS: Sure, in about 10 minutes or so. I have a Chinese Admiral and as soon as I can get him out, I will.

HAK: Get rid of him as fast as you possibly can, the President wants to talk to you. Do not tell anyone you are coming over.

CJCS: Right.” (Moorer Diary, May 4; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)

At 5:15 p.m. Moorer entered the Executive Office Building. President Richard M. Nixon, Kissinger, Secretary of the Treasury John Connally, [Page 429] and Assistant to the President H.R. Haldeman, all in the President’s Executive Office Building hideaway office, were at the end of an extended discussion about what to do next in Vietnam (see Document 120). The President had come to a decision and Moorer was there to learn of the decision and to receive his orders to plan its implementation. According to a White House tape recording, Nixon and Moorer had the following conversation:

Nixon: “Admiral, what I am going to say to you now is in total confidence of the relationship with the Commander in Chief and the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff. Nothing is to go to the Secretary. Nothing is to go to Vietnam. Is that clear?”

Moorer: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “What I’m about to say.”

Moorer: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “I’ve decided that we’ve got to go on a blockade. It must—I’m going to announce it Monday night [May 8] on television. I want you to put a working group together. Start immediately with absolutely the best people that you’ve got. I think you’ve done a lot of work on it already.”

Moorer: “Oh, that’s right. We’re all set—”

Nixon: “And, if I announce it Monday night, if I tell you now, which I am now doing, can you be ready so that it can it be in place Tuesday?”

Moorer: “Oh, yes, sir.”

Nixon: “All right. Now, what we have in mind, in addition to blockade, is that I want as much use of our air assets as we can spare from the battle group. I don’t want to take Abrams’s word on it, clearly, but I—it’s our air assets so that we can at the very least take out the railroad units—that has to go out—and then the POL, the power plants, et cetera, et cetera. After the ships get out, we’ll take out the docks. Now, the—the [unclear] as you can imagine, momentous [unclear]. I’ll do that on Monday. [unclear] Now, what—what—can you tell me what, what you can do? What—can you do this in secrecy and the rest and bring this thing off? Or, how? I—I’m just asking the question. I don’t want you to tell Abrams. He can’t know. Nobody is to be told out there. What can you do?”

Moorer: “Well, sir, as you know, we’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this already.”

Nixon: “Yes, sir.”

Moorer: “And it would simply be a matter of diverting some of the ships and combining air surveillance on the approaches to Haiphong with the positioning of the ships, making the necessary announcements, and giving the ships their rules of engagement as to what [Page 430] they’ll do, and I think they’re prepared to do that. I would use the destroyers for this purpose.”

Kissinger: “Could even more ships help there?”

Moorer: “Well, I think that—oh, I think we—”

Nixon: “You’ve got quite a gang up there—”

Moorer: “We’ve got quite a few ships, and we’ve got some more arriving. I think we’ve probably got enough ships to start, sir.”

Kissinger: “And, if you could, by tomorrow, give us a rough outline of the plan, then we can meet.”

Moorer: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “And, also, I need a rough outline of the air assets that can be spared for strikes. Now, understand, I am not ordering the two-day strike. [unclear]—”

Moorer: “Yes, sir. [unclear]—”

Nixon: “We’re gonna let Abrams use those, but I want, as I’ve already told you, I want for once—for once—I want a massive [strike]. I want 50 B–52s on the Hue perimeter for just one night. Can you do that?”

Moorer: “Yes, sir. A 24-hour strike.”

Nixon: “That’s fine. Would you do that just one time?”

Moorer: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “Anything that moves on the Hue front. You’ve got to remember, Hue is like Verdun. The Germans made a mistake. The French probably made a mistake trying to defend it, but it was—it had to be defended, and with the Germans’ psychology it had to be attacked because of its symbolism. Hue is exactly the same thing. You can lose Kontum, and you can lose a hell of a lot of other things, but you can’t lose Hue. Now, we’ve gotta get, gotta get, those ’52s in there and we’ve gotta take one damn, good whack at them if there’s enough to hit ’em.”

Moorer: “Yes, sir, Well, they’ve been, as you know, working heavily on the—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Moorer: “—A Shau Valley, the most important thing. Some of the [unclear]. Again, I talked to General Vogt on the phone, and he said that during the daylight hours, which is the last time we really hit ’em, we hit ’em really quite well. We can put them—”

Nixon: “[unclear]?”

Moorer: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “I’d like to have one massive B–52 strike in that area [unclear].”

Kissinger: “Mr. President, I’ll excuse myself.”

[Page 431]

Nixon: “Yeah. Okay.”

At this point, 5:25 p.m., Kissinger left the meeting. The conversation continued:

Moorer: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “So, you get ready for [unclear]. But, it will not work, you understand. Of course, you know, over a period of time it won’t work; it will not work without very extensive air support. I mean, there’s no sense in blockading without taking out the POL, the railroad lines, and the other routes in—”

Moorer: “Well, we can get to those docks once [unclear] Mr. President, at the end of that op.”

Nixon: “Yeah. That is from the sea. But I mean there are other ways they can come in. Why don’t you go ahead and send the materials—the matériel. Don’t you think they’re on the docks, unloading them on the docks?”

Moorer: “Yes, sir. Quite a bit on the docks. What I meant, though, is we can destroy the docks—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Moorer: “—once the ships get split up in a big way—”

Nixon: “Right. Yeah. Now my point is what about—about the POL, what is left there? See, well, what I mean is that the purpose of the blockade is not to just keep it on for 18 months. The purpose is to put it on, and then systematically destroy everything that you possibly can that’s already there. They’ve got a helluva lot of stuff stored up.”

Moorer: “Oh, yes, sir.”

Nixon: “So what I am thinking of, what I am directing, is bombing, all out in that area. In fact, if we weren’t involved in the South [unclear] all of our assets there [unclear]. You are to hit, in terms of your bombing, North Vietnam in this period in the Haiphong area. You are to aim for military targets. You are not to be too concerned about whether it slops over [unclear]. The most important thing is to get those military targets. If it slops over, that’s too bad. That’s the way it’s going to be, because we—I’ve made the decision and we now have no choice but to: we will avoid the defeat of the South. I think we can. We could, but we sure as hell are gonna be making a large effort.”

Moorer: “We’ll do that.”

Nixon: “And, that’s the way it’s going to be. Now, can you do that?” Moorer: “Yes, sir. Now I think what we really need at some point is for the South to defend itself, for the South Vietnamese to take some kind of initiative. In other words, to either use their own aircraft to attack Dong Hoi, or to use their ships to shell another North Vietnamese area, or to use their aircraft to mine the channel, or to do something; [Page 432] for them to do something in retaliation, which they haven’t done yet. What they’ve done is just simply falling back on these strong points. And, they haven’t moved out against the enemy.”

Nixon: “Well, find a way that they can play a role in the blockade then. Can they do that?”

Moorer: “Well, they—”

Nixon: “You talk about the channel [unclear]. Couldn’t they do something—?”

Moorer: “To—to some degree, yes, sir.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation 334–44)

Moorer immediately returned to the Pentagon after meeting with the President. His diary entry reads:

“Met with—RADM Freeman—in office—I briefed him on what would be required based on my meeting with the President, that we would be required to break out our mining plans that we have on the shelf and to be prepared to conduct this mining of the North Vietnamese ports, particularly Haiphong, commencing at 2100 our time on the 9th. I told Admiral Freeman to collect the plans and all the information that we have available and that I would get in touch with Admiral Zumwalt and we would set up a Task Force to plan this operation. I wanted Admiral Freeman and Admiral Zumwalt and myself to get together later tonight in Admiral Zumwalt’s office to work out the details of this mining operation.” (Ibid., RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Moorer Diary, July 1970–July 1974)

Although the task was time-sensitive and secret, Moorer believed he could comply with the President’s orders on both counts. To organize the work, at 6:50 p.m. he consulted with the Chief of Naval Operations:

“Met with—Admiral Zumwalt—in office—We discussed the mining plan and I asked him to collect a few of his good people on a very close hold basis, lay out a plan for the mining of Haiphong Harbor utilizing CINCPACFLT’s basic mining plan and point out some of the legal problems that would be involved. Work up all the intelligence information that would be required for me to give the presentation on this to Dr. Kissinger and the President by tomorrow. I do not want anything fancy, I think just a butcher paper presentation as long as I have the basic information as to where the mines and how many will be laid and what factors to deal with, this would answer the problem. This must be held on extremely close hold basis and therefore Admiral Freeman and I will join you at about 2300 tonight if you can get your team going, we will be there to see how you progressed and get a briefing from you at that point. Admiral Zumwalt assembled a team of some of his newly selected Admirals, Dave Emerson, Kin McKee, Rex Rectanus and [Page 433] Robbie Robertson who along with his EA, Don Pringle, laid out the basic plan and worked throughout the night to generate this briefing. Ken K. [not further identified] prepared the ROE and later the DEFCON increases which might be prudent accompanying this operation.” (Ibid.)

Moorer visited the planning group at 11 p.m. His diary entry reads:

“Arrived at the Pentagon with Ken [Rush, Deputy Secretary of Defense]—proceeded to CNO’s office for a briefing on the mining plan and to check on the progress of this special team that was preparing this operation. They had arrived at a very substantial progress and it looked like they were going to be in good shape by morning. I gave them a few ideas and a little guidance and I think it is going to work out very well.” (Ibid.)

Moorer left the Pentagon at 12:30 a.m., May 5, and by 8 a.m. the group had completed its work and the plan was ready for presentation.