The War in Vietnam: Escalation Phase   

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81 - Memorandum for the Record1
February 7th, 1965

Washington, February 7, 1965.

1Source: Johnson Library, John McCone Memoranda of Meetings with the President. Secret. Prepared by Colby. For another record of this meeting, see Document 80.


NSC Meeting, 7 February 1965


The President, Mr. Reedy, Mr. Cater, Mr. Valenti, General Clifton, and others

Secretary McNamara, Under Secretary Vance, General Wheeler

Under Secretary Ball, Assistant Secretary Bundy, Assistant Secretary Greenfield, Ambassador Thompson

The Speaker

Senator Mansfield

Representative Ford

General Carter, Mr. Colby

2Also attending were Moyers, Bromley Smith, Mann, Dillon, and Rowan. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary)

1. The first part of the meeting was devoted to editing the White House release3 on the evening's developments. General Taylor had recommended that the reference to the Tonkin incident be taken out as it was only a one-time activity. State agreed with this position. It was decided, however, to leave the reference in a modified form.

3For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 22, 1965, pp. 238-239.

2. Senator Mansfield suggested that the release give particular emphasis to the President's resolution to avoid any wider war and that it indicate that we are prepared to bring this incident to the UN or to a reconvened Geneva Conference. The President said that his advisors had told him that it was hopeless to expect anything out of the UN, which Mr. Ball confirmed from Ambassador Stevenson. With respect to the Geneva Conference, the President said that he would be prepared to consider this somewhat later but not at this moment. Mr. Ball emphasized that any Geneva Conference should only be entered from a position of greater strength than we now have.

3. Mr. McNamara then gave a review of the situation. He brought out that Ambassador Taylor had recommended that all additional targets not hit on the first run be undertaken on the second day. However, Mr. McNamara said he and Mr. Ball were of the opinion that additional U.S. strikes would not be appropriate but that a VNAF strike with U.S. support was not only appropriate but quite essential, in order to demonstrate full Vietnamese participation. Mr. McNamara and Mr. Ball based their recommendation on the desirability that Hanoi and Moscow not be led to believe that the U.S. had begun a full-blown offensive effort. They recommended that this be a matter of separate consideration and decision and not to be the result of bad weather. Mr. William Bundy reported that Ambassador Taylor will probably recommend such a steady increase in pressures but he also agreed that this should be considered separately perhaps after Mr. McGeorge Bundy's return. General Wheeler pointed out that the JCS believes that increased military pressures are needed but that these are not needed immediately and he agreed with the recommendation. Ambassador Thompson pointed out that another American strike could be construed as an American campaign whereas a VNAF strike would be comparatively easy to explain. The latter also left Kosygin some leeway. Senator Mansfield asked whether Kosygin would not consult with Peking on his way back to Moscow. Ambassador Thompson said that he might consult but that the leadership of the Soviet Union today is so much a collegial affair that no decision could be arrived at before Kosygin returned to Moscow to consult.

4. It was brought out that the VNAF alone might not do much but Mr. McNamara said they definitely should try. Mr. Dillon wondered at the possible bad effects of a VNAF failure. General Wheeler commented that they should be able to accomplish something, especially with full American assistance in navigation, flak suppression, etc. Senator Mansfield agreed with the current action as did the Speaker. The President said that he would agree with this step but wait for Mr. Bundy's return before making any decisions as to further courses of action.

5. Representative Ford stated that he found it difficult to understand why a plan that was considered appropriate last night was now stopped when only halfway completed. The President pointed out that the decision was to make a "prompt and adequate" response, that no one other than those present knew how many targets were contemplated and that the one target hit was by far the biggest and had the most potential for damage. He also said that he wished to have a chance to review the matter with Mr. Bundy on his return before making any decisions as to going further than the present. He added that a prompt, adequate and joint (with the GVN) reply was what was sought. Representative Ford indicated that he would prefer the original plan and Ambassador Taylor's recommendation. (Comment: Representative Ford's raising this was partly caused by his reading a CIA summary4 that preliminary post-strike reporting indicated that "at least some damage" was done. The President picked this up and asked whether CIA had any separate reports, which General Carter indicated was not the case. Mr. Vance and General Wheeler indicated that the reporting did indicate very substantial damage to the target area.)

4Not further identified.

6. Senator Mansfield stated that he believed that the purpose of the operation was to impress Ho Chi Minh, General Giap and so forth. He therefore agreed with Mr. Rowan and General Wheeler that it was necessary that Vietnamese participate in the operation, but that it was not necessary to go any further at this time. The President commented that he also intended to impress Kosygin and a number of others in the world, including our own citizens.

7. The President then emphasized the necessity that the VNAF strike's success be assured by the fullest possible support from the American side. He also directed that an extensive effort be made to determine the extent of the damage done in the first strike. He said that he would consider General Taylor's recommendation but that he would await Mr. Bundy's return before any additional steps.

8. With respect to dependents, it was pointed out that Ambassador Taylor preferred a 15 to 30 day evacuation on a deliberate scale in order not to create any feeling of panic. The President indicated considerable impatience with this saying that this 15 day type of operation had been going on for 15 months and he wished it to move. Secretary McNamara indicated that he preferred a rapid evacuation and wondered whether the President would accept a one or two week period. The President stated that he did not wish to have the number of days precisely fixed but he wished to push Ambassador Taylor to all deliberate speed, to provide him with all facilities, etc. However, he preferred that the matter not be exposed to public discussion until an agreement with Ambassador Taylor could be obtained. He therefore directed Secretary McNamara to consult with Ambassador Taylor on the phone in order to seek some agreement. Senator Mansfield commented that it might be good to scare some of the Saigonese who have participated too little in this war to date.

9. The President then went around the room asking for any additional comments. With respect to CIA, he asked whether it had any reports he should be made aware of or whether it had any suspicions as to what may happen. He commented that he did not wish to be told later that we had suspected something. General Carter said that all our reporting had been made available and that we had no reservations.

10. Ambassador Thompson then commented that he anticipated the possibility of an action by the Communists in Laos, and by the Chinese to strengthen the defenses of North Vietnam. He believed that the result would be more apt to divide China from the Soviets than to put them together. General Wheeler anticipated additional Viet Cong pressure in South Vietnam.

11. Senator Mansfield said he had spoken frankly in response to the President's invitation but wished to assure him, now the decision was made, that he would work to support him.

12. The President made clear his insistence that all avoid comment on the meeting and refer questions to the State and Defense Departments.

WE Colby

Chief, Far East Division