17. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

RN: Let me ask you one thing. This will be rejected by Haig and the military because it is inconsistent with the traditional way of things. And you may reject on the ground that Bunker, etc. rules it out. The use of air power. When you study war—any war—the military are horribly conventional. They are basically interested in seeing that everything is timed and can’t be responsible for anything that goes wrong. My main point is this on the use of air power. What we are doing at the present time is extremely routine—we send out a number of planes and a number of [omission is in the original], so we routinely hit them [Page 83] and do it better than ever because of lasers and better intelligence, but on the other hand there might be something to be said for a stand-down. I am speaking about the period before we return from China and then have a day or two, weather permitting to concentrate in a massive way everything we have got in say the B–3 area.

HAK: I think it is a good idea.

RN: My view is the Patton concept—his whole thing was concentration in a certain area. We are not talking about that kind of thing here. Step up the number of sorties and the number of [omission is in the original]. For 48 hours we will hit everything in the B–3 area; everything that might cripple the North Vietnamese and hurt their morale.

HAK: I agree.

RN: This was the Churchillian strategy. When I look at the various battles—Hoffman disobeyed orders. We are not in a position to do it on the ground with Americans. And the South Vietnamese don’t have the guts.

HAK: They don’t have the resources. Laird hasn’t presented this to you adequately. We haven’t given them any Phantoms or helo’s(?).

RN: This standdown has its points psychologically—they will think they have to defend every place. Drop 3,000 tons in 24 hours on the B–3 area. We want to get a division, not just a battalion.

HAK: But the papers will report a standdown.

RN: Can you get Haig thinking on this?

HAK: Haig is a very creative thinker. We will just tell the damn military to have their own schedule. This is no problem.

RN: Abrams doesn’t think creatively.

HAK: No he is a shell.

RN: Give him this responsibility to see that carriers are moving and the 52’s are moving. I don’t want any bullshit.

HAK: Haig has already asked for a detailed report from Moorer. Any orders you give in this office will be followed.

RN: The idea cannot be compromised. You know what destroyed the Schlieffen plan2—moving two armies from the west to the east—they would have won the war in 1914(?). I want the Air Force and Navy to follow this without compromise. I want them to hit everything in the [Page 84] B–3 area or northern part of the DMZ.3 It was H.A. Wells who wrote the military are by nature conventional—Napoleon wasn’t conventional.

HAK: Most great leaders were not conventional. I think it has great merit and I will start on it immediately.

RN: Knock the hell out of them. One of the problems before was that they never concentrated on anything.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 13, Chronological File, February 5–10, 1972. No classification marking.
  2. The German General Staff’s pre-1914 plan to deal with a two-front war against France and Russia. It required a lighting quick assault on France through Belgium to take the French Army out of the war and then the wholesale, rapid deployment of the German Army to the Eastern front to attack and defeat the Russian Army.
  3. Kissinger transmitted the President’s order to Haig who, only 30 minutes later, passed it on to Moorer, noting that: “The President said this may not sit well with the military minds but he wants a massive concentrated air effort in the B–3 Front for 48-hours continuous in the immediate future (the best time we consider productive), with every aircraft we can get on it without dissipating some other priority operation.” (Moorer Diary, February 5, midnight; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman) At 3:29 p.m. Admiral Moorer issued the order to conduct such a strike. (Message 3920 from Moorer to McCain, February 5; ibid., Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 68, JCS Out General Service Messages, February 1972) The actual attack took place on February 12–13. (Message 65797 from Abrams to Moorer and McCain, March 6, attached to Moorer Diary, March 6; ibid.)