156. Editorial Note

On May 17, 1972, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rush sent a memorandum to President Richard M. Nixon bringing him up to date on the leafleting project that had begun a week ago in South Vietnam but not yet in North Vietnam. Rush wrote: “No specific date for the start of leaflet operations against North Vietnam is available, inasmuch as it depends upon either favorable wind conditions for the C–130 operations, or the availability of tactical air assets for dropping leaflet bombs.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, 385, Viet (May 16–31, 1972))

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas H. Moorer and the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Major General Alexander M. Haig spoke on the telephone at 6:15 p.m. According to a transcript of the conversation, they had the following exchange:

Haig: I just finished 16 of the bloodiest minutes I have had with the President on psy war business memo Rush signed on pamphlets. President is infuriated.

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CJCS: I will get after Abrams. Put a few below, several million I think actually.

Haig: 5 million or so. The other thing, where is that plan to take some action to the north blaming on Helms and quite frankly he is mad at him and is about to fire him.

CJCS: What has happened is we have sent out directive they will have to stop what they are doing so we can drop some with F–4s.

Haig: Get to point ridiculous sees report from people of Hanoi upset and short of food and disturbed thought what happening to men down RRs cut that type, seem to get comprehensive program out of them quite frankly he is right.

CJCS: Problem let’s face it. Abrams has never been too enthusiastic about dropping leaflets and I will see to it that they are dropped. I will take charge of it myself.” (Moorer Diary, May 17; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)

Responding to Haig’s call for action, Moorer talked to Admiral John S. McCain at the Pacific Command at 6:40 and told him that Nixon “just is raising hell, he thinks [it was] done back about the 10th. He is really teed off. Call me back.” A short while later, at 6:55, Moorer and McCain talked for a second time, focusing on Abrams as an obstacle to the leafleting and on the President’s requirement for additional ideas for psychological warfare against the North. At 7 p.m., Moorer talked again to Haig to report progress and problems. (Ibid.)

On the telephone again at 7:06, he spoke with Brigadier General Leroy J. Manor, JCS Deputy Director for Operations/Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities. After telling Manor “I know the problem is Abrams, he is not interested in this,” he asked whether the leaflets dropped in South Vietnam would be suitable for North Vietnam. Manor replied: “In my opinion [it] would be because those dropping in SVN, dropped, were geared to the President’s message directed against the NVN troops there recently; however, authorized us to gear it to the civilians and we are working on them and all geared to the President’s message of 9 May.” (Ibid.)

Moorer spoke at 7:15 p.m. to Rush. According to a transcript of their conversation, they had the following exchange:

CJCS: I just wanted to tell you in case you get called about it, the President is very anxious to get some leaflets dropped up North and I am about to have McCain, who had gone to Abrams, get something rolling. Sullivan’s Committee is going to have a meeting tomorrow morning at 0830. The point is that Abrams does not want to do it so I told McCain to build a fire under him and get something done very soon. I did not want you to be ambushed in the morning.

Rush: I might be if I am, I will know what to say. Thanks.” (Ibid.)

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As a postscript to these events, on May 19, the President and Kissinger had the following conversation:

Nixon: “And first of all, I mean, I know you think that I’ve been bugging you too much on this psychological warfare.”

Kissinger: “No, no, no, Mr., President—”

Nixon: “I mean, I have an intuition about these things—”

Kissinger: “You were—you were one thousand percent right. I had been naive. I thought there was a Presidential order. They had all agreed to it in my presence. So, I thought it was being done. So, when you went after Haig this week, I thought his answers that he would get was this is in full swing. I was shocked and outraged that they had done nothing. So, I then went after Rush. I said, ‘How could that happen?’Well, it turns out that Laird and Abrams had been in collusion.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 726–11)