176. Memorandum of Conversation1
- General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Mr. Ken Freed, Associated Press
- Mr. Eugene Risher, United Press International
- Herbert Kaplow, National Broadcasting Co.
- Bonner Day, U.S. News & World Report
- Jerry Greene, New York Daily News
- Orr Kelly, Evening Star
- Les Janka, NSC Staff
- Neal Ball, White House Press Office
- Ken Clawson, White House
General Haig opened by saying that his remarks were to be considered for “deep background, off the record,” which could be attributed only to a White House official. He said that in view of recent reporting from North Vietnam about our activities of mining and bombing yesterday, he felt that it would be useful for him to give the press a flavor of what we have from intelligence reports from a variety of different sources. In response to a question he said that he was not attempting a direct refutation of Anthony Lewis, but he did feel that many people wanted to know if our efforts are working. He would, therefore, try to give the press some indications of what we were doing to North Vietnam in terms of matériel supplies and to the morale of the people of North Vietnam.[Page 636]
General Haig first pointed out that there is no solidity in point of view in the Hanoi leadership hierarchy, that Hanoi’s actions have indicated an ambivalance of action attempting to maintain a blend of guerrilla and main force actions. He noted there was also some differences on the totality of the North Vietnamese commitment for such high stakes. After the bombing and mining started we began getting reports that all was not well in Hanoi. For example, on May 11 radio Hanoi as reported by FBIS made a strong pitch against saboteurs and those who are taking advantage of the war time situation to undertake hooligan activities. The report also gave evidence of a drastic rise in prices and flourishing black market activity.
We have evidence to show that moderate elements in the North Vietnamese leadership are very concerned about the heavy casualties North Vietnam is taking in the South. General Haig’s tentative and cautious estimate was that nearly 75,000 to 100,000 casualties, killed and wounded, have been suffered by the North since March 30th. A North Vietnamese source said that they have lost more men in the last three months fighting than in the last four years. General Haig pointed out we cannot vouch for the total accuracy of that report but it is a manifestation of the North’s concern for its great losses and over rumors coming back to Hanoi about the wisdom of its new invasion of the South.
General Haig categorically denied that any ships have transited the mine fields since its activation and that North Vietnamese ports are completely closed, cutting off the 90 percent of the North Vietnamese total imports which come through these ports, this being mostly food stuffs, POL, trucks, and other unidentified items. He said that the bulk of the war matériel came in via rail, being about one-seventh of the North’s total annual imports but the important fact is that all POL comes through the ports. This sudden closing of the ports and the interdiction of rail lines will require a great effort to redirect supply efforts to rail transportation and will require a massive diversion of people. This will make a very difficult task for Hanoi to continue its “high consumption” conventional invasion against the South. This invasion of tanks and heavy rapid fire artillery eats up supplies at a great rate. Therefore, our interdiction efforts are putting a great deal of pressure on Hanoi.
Asked how many months’ stockpile the North had built in the South, General Haig said we don’t know precisely, perhaps three to six months worth but one has to look at the several key commodities which are highly sensitive to a cut off at the source. We have already intercepted directives to line units to conserve certain types of ammunition supplies, especially in the MR–1 area. Also we know that a very large percentage of the North’s in-country stocks of POL have been destroyed.
We also have reliable reports that some black market profiteers have been executed by the Hanoi authorities which is another manifestation [Page 637] of the supply crunch. There has also been a large evacuation of children from Hanoi but because these evacuees are being exploited by the people in the provinces, this price gouging has driven them back into the city. We have indications, contrary to the reports by Lewis of the high mortality in Hanoi, that prostitution has increased in Hanoi due to the impact of inflation on fixed income families. Another evidence of a moral problem is the fact that young girls in villages cannot find young males and are now going after older, married men and thus disrupting community social structures.
In response to a question, General Haig also noted that rail shipments from China have been considerably cut off. These efforts have led to great labor shortages and there are strong indications that wounded veterans have been telling young men to avoid military service. Hanoi has issued a call for reordering of work patterns and priorities. The cut off of food stuffs, for example, is putting a much greater demand on the local production of food with the resultant diversion of manpower into this area. We have also noted a great concern for the contingency of renewed flooding such as occurred last October and November.
General Haig said it was important to note that these strains are showing up very early in this interdiction operation and that one should keep in mind the fact that no military strategist can fight until his prepositioned supplies are exhausted before changing his decision making assumptions. In recent weeks we have seen a pattern of declining coordination in the NVA attacks and that they have recently undertaken some very desperate moves with considerably less artillery support than at the beginning of the offensive.
We also have seen signs that the ARVN is fighting much better since the President’s actions announced on May 8th. This was a great boost to the ARVN morale. For example, the battle at An Loc was an historic defense with a magnificent show by the ARVN against which the enemy threw two of their best divisions unsuccessfully against a much smaller force.
Asked if Hue can still be taken by the NVA, General Haig responded that it is hard to say since there are so many imponderables involved. However, the situation looks much better today than it did a couple of weeks ago. There is a new Commander there with some very good units involved and the good weather is now on our side for air support. Asked if this added trouble was reflected in the negotiating stance in Hanoi, General Haig said that he did not want to get into negotiations. He did say that it would be difficult for the other side to call for a ceasefire and start negotiations in view of its tremendous commitment of resources and “face” to this invasion, especially in view of a divided leadership in Hanoi. It will be hard for them to negotiate [Page 638] until they expend all they have trying to achieve the objectives they have set for themselves.
Asked if he could project how much longer the North could continue, General Haig noted that they are way behind their initial schedule and while it was hard to predict the enemy’s capabilities, the rains will have a great impact on their offensive after mid-June. Asked if the ARVN could push the North Vietnamese back when the rains start, the General noted that the rains will hurt the ARVN less than the NVA.
General Haig refused to identify the moderates in the Hanoi leadership, obviously to protect them, but he said the moderates are those who want to scale down the military objectives and those more patient people who reject the North’s efforts to impose a hegemony on the South militarily.
Asked what are the problems facing our side, General Haig noted that the ARVN is paying high price in good troops and equipment and there have been obvious strains on the ARVN leadership. But the individual South Vietnamese soldier is a superb fighter when properly led.
Asked just how serious is the trouble in the North, General Haig said it was hard to answer exactly but that the strain is showing much earlier this time since there is not the flexibility in the body politic of the North now. There is a considerable strain on the Hanoi leadership in supporting this massive conventional invasion with all of its troops away from home, especially when their public can see that when the men go South they do not come back. We have evidence that wounded NVA troops are kept in Laos for a while to cool off so they will not spread morale problems when they return to the North. There are also indications that these strains existed in the North before the offensive but are now magnified; however, General Haig would not predict any political collapse in the North, at least not in the foreseeable future.
We have considerable evidence that the massive tank attacks by the North were not well trained or well coordinated and that the ARVN has proven it can handle such attacks very well. General Haig guessed that maybe 350 to 400 NVA tanks have been knocked out but he could not answer how many the North had to start with. Asked if he considered the North Vietnamese offensive a failure, he said it is not a failure but it has failed to achieve its objectives and its original schedule. The popular uprising the North expected just did not occur as expected. He cautioned, however, against assuming that the enemy infrastructure was not present, it could be waiting for military successes that have not yet occurred. If the NVA does not achieve its successes in the next month, there will be a respite in the fighting which will permit the South to prepare more than the North can, pointing out that the North took four years to build up for this attack, their obvious inability to resupply during the rains with their long logistic lines. Furthermore, [Page 639] the North’s troops are just not as capable in the wet environment as the Southerners are.
Asked if he thought that the thorough success of the B–52 penetrations against the best Russian air defense have made the Soviets pause in their support efforts, the General replied affirmatively. Asked to compare the current air offensive against the earlier one, the General noted improved ordnance, improved counter measure tactics, less restrained and better targeting, and a bombing effort which has been very precise, very scientific which has resulted in low civilian casualties. In conclusion, the General listed the heavy attrition of POL stocks, communications facilities, rolling stock power stations.2
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Alexander M. Haig Chronological Files, Haig Memcons, January–December 1972 [2 of 3]. No classification marking. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office.↩
- According to a memorandum from Kissinger to the President, June 1: “We continue to benefit from Al Haig’s backgrounder as more articles reflecting North Vietnamese difficulties appear daily.” See footnote 2, Document 188.↩