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Letter to Senator Jackson Concerning the Bombing of North Vietnam.

March 02, 1967

[ Released March 2, 1967. Dated March 1, 1967 ]

Dear Senator Jackson:

In further reference to our discussions at dinner on the evening of the 18th concerning the reasons for and effects of bombing, I wish to review for you the following.

We are bombing North Viet Nam because it is violating two solemn international agreements. In 1954 Hanoi agreed that North Viet Nam would not be "used for the resumption of hostilities or to further an aggressive policy."

In 1962 Hanoi agreed to withdraw all its military forces from Laos; to refrain from reintroducing such forces; and not to use the territory of Laos to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

Let me quote to you the recommendation made by General Maxwell Taylor to President Kennedy in his report of November 3, 1961, after Hanoi had violated the Geneva Declaration of 1954 but before the Geneva Declaration of 1962 was finally negotiated.

"While we feel that the program recommended represents those measures which should be taken in our present knowledge of the situation in Southeast Asia, I would not suggest that it is the final word. Future needs beyond this program will depend upon the kind of settlement we obtain in Laos and the manner in which Hanoi decides to adjust its conduct to that settlement. If the Hanoi decision is to continue the irregular war declared on South Viet Nam in 1959 with continued infiltration and covert support of guerrilla bands in the territory of our ally, we will then have to decide whether to accept as legitimate the continued guidance, training and support of a guerrilla war across an international boundary, while the attacked react only inside their borders ....

"It is my judgment and that of my colleagues that the United States must decide how it will cope with Khrushchev's 'wars of liberation' which are really para-wars of guerrilla aggression. This is a new and dangerous Communist technique which bypasses our traditional political and military responses. While the final answer lies beyond the scope of this report, it is clear to me that the time may come in our relations to Southeast Asia when we must declare our intention to attack the source of guerrilla aggression in North Viet Nam and impose on the Hanoi Government a price for participating in the current war which is commensurate with the damage being inflicted on its neighbors to the south."

Not for one day after the Geneva Declaration of 1962 was signed did Hanoi meet its commitment or honor its earlier commitment of 1954. Aggression against South Viet Nam was continued throughout 1962, 1963, and 1964. Its forces were never withdrawn from Laos and Laos was violated in order to attack South Viet Nam.

When I became President and surveyed the problem faced by our nation, I reserved judgment on the decision which General Taylor forecast in 1961 we might have to make. But the fact was that the North Vietnamese continued illegally to infiltrate arms and men across international frontiers. And in 1964 they radically expanded this course of action. The trails became roads. Bands of infiltrators became regular military units.

Neither of the co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference--Great Britain and the Soviet Union--proved able to stop this violation; nor did the three members of the International Control Commission--India, Canada, and Poland.

With this failure of the international machinery designed to enforce the Geneva agreements we were thrown back, therefore, on our treaty responsibilities. Under the SEATO Treaty, presented to the Senate by President Eisenhower and ratified overwhelmingly, we had agreed that in the face of "armed attack in the treaty area" we would "act to meet the common danger."

By February 1965 it was unmistakably clear there was armed attack in the most literal sense: South Viet Nam was almost lost to that armed attack. And in that month, on the recommendation of the National Security Council, I decided that we had to "meet the common danger" by bringing our air power to bear against the source of the aggression.

We never believed aerial attack on North Viet Nam would, alone, end the war. We did, however, have three objectives.

The first was to back our fighting men and our fighting allies by demonstrating that the aggressor could not illegally bring hostile arms and men to bear against them from the security of a sanctuary.

Second, we sought to impose on North Viet Nam a cost for violating its international agreements.

Third, we sought to limit or raise the cost of bringing men and supplies to bear against the South.

All three of these important objectives have been achieved.

First, you should note that the military leaders now responsible for the safety and morale of our men in the field, without exception, back our bombing of the North. The same is true of the military and political leaders of those fighting side by side with us; that is to say, the leaders of Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam. They all know that it is right and necessary for us to refuse to accept North Viet Nam as a sanctuary at a time when the government in Hanoi is explicitly violating its international commitments and conducting aggression across international borders.

Second, we are, with remarkably limited cost in civilian lives, imposing a major cost on North Viet Nam for its violation of international agreements.

Our attacks on military targets in North Viet Nam have diverted about half a million men to cope with effects of our attacks. They are repairing the lines of supply and are engaged in anti-aircraft and coastal defense. This figure approximates the total number of men we now have fighting in Southeast Asia. It is not much less than the number of men South Viet Nam has had to mobilize to deal with the guerrilla attack in the South.

At the cost of about 500 gallant American airmen killed, captured, or missing, we are bringing to bear on North Viet Nam a burden roughly equivalent to that which the Communists are imposing through guerrilla warfare on the South--and we are doing it with far fewer civilian casualties in the North.

Finally, the bombing of North Viet Nam has raised the cost of bringing an armed man or a ton of supplies illegally across the border from the North to the South. Substantial casualties are inflicted on infiltrators and substantial tonnages of supplies are destroyed en route. Those who now reach the South arrive after harassment which lowers their effectiveness as reinforcements.

The bombing in the North is an action undertaken by your Government only after the most careful reflection. It is a response to a serious and systematic and protracted violation of international agreements. It is having significant consequences for those who chose to violate the agreements. It is an integral part of our total policy which aims not to destroy North Viet Nam but to force Hanoi to end its aggression so that the people of South Viet Nam can determine their own future without coercion.

Both the reasons for--and the results of-the bombing of North Viet Nam make it imperative that we continue to use this instrument of support for our men and our allies. It will end when the other side is willing to take equivalent action as part of a serious effort to end this war and bring peace to the people of Southeast Asia.

I take no satisfaction from the number of infiltrators killed on their way to South Viet Nam, from the number of trucks or of boats or of railroad cars destroyed or the tons of supplies destroyed. I take no satisfaction from the suffering of the people of North Viet Nam. I take no satisfaction from the fact that they have had to abandon their plans for economic and social development. I repeat what I said in Baltimore in April 1965--I look forward to the day when the government and people of North Viet Nam can join, in peace, their fellows in Southeast Asia in developing and modernizing that region so full of energy and resources and promise. And on that day they will have-if they wish--the support of the United States in providing for their people an environment of progress. But right now I wish friend and neutral and adversary to know that we shall persist with our operations in the South--we shall .persist with our operations in the North--until those who launched this aggression are prepared to move seriously to reinstall the agreements whose violations has brought the scourge of war to Southeast Asia.



[Honorable Henry M. Jackson, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to Senator Jackson Concerning the Bombing of North Vietnam. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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