Henry Cabot Lodge was the American Ambassador to Vietnam
198. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1
Saigon, June 5, 1964--2 p.m.
2412. Literally eyes only for Rusk and McNamara from Lodge.
1. It would help here, and possibly in Laos and Thailand, if there were some screams from North Viet-Nam that they had been hit. They are really looking much too tall, particularly considering the military potential of both sides, which is so heavily in our favor. They are able to enjoy the great advantage of total silence which makes them look still bigger, whereas the U.S. looks as though we are talking a great deal without doing very much.
2. There must be a number of different ways to make them scream. Could rocket carrying planes, flying along the North Viet-Nam-Laos border, let something go on the pretext that they had been fired on and were firing back? Could something be done some night in North Viet-Nam, possibly using personnel and equipment which would be Vietnamese [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]; can Tchepone not be hit immediately?
3. We want a scream from them that they had been hit by something coming from our side. I would not object if they blamed us. They could prove nothing. We could either be totally silent, or challenge them to provide proof, or say we are looking into it.
4. In a situation such as is described above you don't have to escalate if you don't want to. Surely this kind of limited carefully modulated action does not require approval of Congress--especially when it is against North Vietnamese targets which are thoroughly illegal.
5. Not only would screams from the North have a very tonic effect and strengthen morale here; it is also vital to frighten Ho. Do not believe our 34A operations bother him much, if at all. If he is sufficiently frightened and could do so without losing face, he might cease his intrusion, save many lives and avoid the much greater cost to him and to us involved in the procedures discussed in Honolulu. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] should, above all, be able to hold out the prospect of the cessation of punishment and not just a shipment of rice and a verbal assurance that the Americans are really very angry.
6. In this part of the world and in this kind of situation, silence and action often the best ways to achieve results.
1 Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Nodis.
Michael Beschloss, editor. Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963 - 1964. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. pp. 493 - 495.
LBJ Phone Conversations taped at the White House.
MONDAY, AUGUST 3, 1964
THE PREVIOUS DAY, at 3:40 A.M. Washington time, the U.S. destroyer Maddox, on reconnaissance patrol, was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The Maddox, joined by aircraft from the nearby aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, damaged two of the boats and left the third dead in the water. Concerned that the assault might have been a local commander's caprice, (1) suspecting that it was in response to United States-backed covert operations, Johnson did not retaliate. Instead he protested the attack to Hanoi. The Maddox and the destroyer C. Turner Joy were ordered to assert the right of freedom of the seas. (2) As this morning's papers reported, Secretary of State Dean Rusk downplayed the incident: "The other side got a sting out of this. If they do it again, they'll get another sting." During a conversation about which corporation leaders might be willing to support Johnson's election campaign, the President relates what happened. [He is talking with Eisenhower's former Treasury Secretary, Robert Anderson, a moderate Republican.]
LBJ: There have been some covert operations in that area that we have been carrying on (3) -- blowing up some bridges and things of that kind, roads and so forth. So I imagine they wanted to put a stop to it. So they...fired and we respond immediately with five-inch [artillery shells] from the destroyer and with planes overhead. And we...knock one of 'em out and cripple the other two. Then we go right back where we were with that destroyer and with another one, plus plenty of planes standing by....
ANDERSON: ...You're going to be running against a man who's a wild man on this subject. (4) Any lack of firmness he'll make up....You've got to do what's right for the country.... But whatever you can do to say, when they shoot at us from the back, we're not soft...we're going to protect ourselves, we'll protect our boys ... I think it's all to the good. (5)
LBJ: Didn't it leave that impression yesterday!
ANDERSON: ... I think a little emphasis on it would be worthwhile.... Don't take my advice on this, because I don't know a damned thing about what happened.
LBJ: What happened was we've been playing around up there (6) and they came out, gave us a warning, and we knocked hell out of 'em.
ANDERSON: That's the best thing in the world you could have done--just
knock hell out of 'em.
LBJ: And we've got our people right there and we haven't pulled out. We've pulled up.
ANDERSON: I haven't heard any adverse criticism from anybody. But I
just know that this fellow's (7) going to play all of the angles.
(1) General Nguyen Dinh Voc, director of the Institute of Military History in Hanoi, affirmed in 1997 that the assault was a local commander's initiative (New York Times Magazine, August 10, 1997).
(2) Ambassador Maxwell Taylor complained from Saigon that failure to respond to an unprovoked attack on a U.S. destroyer in international waters would be taken as a sign "that the U.S. flinches from direct confrontation with the North Vietnamese" (Taylor to Rusk, August 3, 1964, in FRUS, pp. 593-94).
(3) Johnson refers to Op Plan 34-A, the covert action program against North Vietnam he had approved at the start of 1964. On Thursday night, July 30, under 34-A, South Vietnamese patrol boats had shelled two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin that were suspected to be bases for infiltration of the South.
(4) In his San Francisco acceptance speech, Goldwater had complained that "failures infest the jungles of Vietnam.... Don't try to sweep this under the rug. We are at war in Vietnam. And yet the President...refuses to say...whether or not the objective over there is victory, and his Secretary of Defense continues to mislead and misinform the American people. . . . I needn't remind you, but I will, it has been during Democratic years that a billion persons were cast into Communist captivity and their fates cynically sealed."
(5) Johnson was especially affected by what Anderson said because he thought of him as, to some extent, the voice of Eisenhower. Anderson's suggestion may have shown Johnson what kind of criticism he could expect from even moderate Republicans (whose votes he hoped to win in November) if he did not demonstrate greater toughness at the Gulf of Tonkin.
(6) This refers to Op Plan 34-A and Operation DeSoto reconnaissance patrol vessels, which were collecting radio and radar signals from North Vietnam and China.
LBJ Phone Conversation at the White House
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LBJ: I wonder if you don't think if it'd be wise for you and Rusk to get the Speaker and Mansfield to call a group of fifteen or twenty people together from the Armed Services, Foreign Relations. Tell 'em what happened....
McNAMARA: Right. I've been thinking about this myself.
LBJ: They're gonna start an investigation if you don't. . . . You say, "They fired at us, we responded immediately and we took out one of their boats and put the other two running and we're putting our boats right there and we're not running 'em in."
McNAMARA: ...We should also at that time, Mr. President, explain this Op Plan 34-A, these covert operations. There's no question that that had bearing on it. On Friday night, as you probably know, we had four PT boats from Vietnam manned by Vietnamese or other nationals attack two islands....Following twenty-four hours after that, with this destroyer (1) in that same area -- undoubtedly led them (2) to connect the two events.
LBJ: Say that to Dirksen. You notice Dirksen says this morning that "we got to reassess our situation--do something about it." (3) I'd tell him that we're doing what he's talking about.
McNAMARA: ...You want us to do it at the White House or would you rather do it at State or Defense
LBJ: I believe it'd be better to do it up on the Hill.... I'd tell 'em awfully quiet though so they won't go in and be making a bunch of speeches.
. . . .
LBJ: Now I wish that you'd give me some guidance on what we ought to say. I want to leave an impression on background...that we're gonna be firm as hell without saying something that's dangerous....The people that're calling me up ... all feel that the Navy responded wonderfully. And that's good. But they want to be damned sure I don't pull 'em out and run....That's what all the country wants because Goldwater is raising so much hell about how he's gonna blow 'em off the moon. And they say that we oughtn't to do anything that the national interest doesn't require, but we sure ought to always leave the impression that if you shoot at us, you're gonna get hit. (4)
McNAMARA: I think you would want to instruct George Reedy this morning ...to say that you personally have ordered the Navy to carry on the routine patrols off the coast of North Vietnam, to add an additional destroyer to the one that has been carrying on the patrols, to provide an air cap, and to issue instructions to the commanders to destroy any force that attacks our force in international waters. (5)
(1) The Maddox.
(2) The North Vietnamese. (DRV)
(3) Dirksen had told reporters that the attack on the Maddox warranted a "new hard look" at American policy in Southeast Asia: "We must lay all of the cards on the table so that the American people will be fully informed and then take action to correct the situation."
(4) Johnson shows that he has taken Anderson's advice to heart.
(5) Seventy minutes after this talk with McNamara, Johnson told the press that he had "instructed the Navy" to continue the patrols off North Vietnam, add an additional destroyer, provide a combat air patrol over the destroyers, and order commanders of the combat aircraft and the two destroyers to "attack any force which attacks them in international waters" with the objective "not only of driving off the force but destroying it" (FRUS, p.597).
- - - - -
Note: Footnotes have been modified from original source for purposes of clarity.
Source for these tapes is:
Beschloss, Michael R. Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963 - 1964. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. pp. 493 - 496.
Michael Beschloss, editor. Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963 - 1964. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. p 499.
LBJ Phone Conversations taped at the White House.
Tuesday, August 4, 1964
In the midst of the new crisis over the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson complains to Humphrey's partisan that the Minnesota Senator's garrulousness is endangering national security. His message is that if Humphrey does not stop it, he will not be Vice President.
LBJ: Our friend Hubert is just destroying himself with his big mouth.
ROWE: Is he talking again?
LBJ: Yeah, all the time. And you just can't stop it. . . . Every responsible person
gets frightened when they see him. . . . Yesterday morning, he went on TV and
. . . just blabbed everything that he had heard in a briefing(1) . . . . They said. . . "How would you account for these PT boat attacks on our destroyers when we are innocently out there in a gulf, sixty miles from shore?"" . . . Humphrey said, "Well, we have been carrying on some operations in that area . . . . where we have been going in and knocking out roads and petroleum things." And that is exactly what we have been doing (2)
ROWE: Good Lord!
LBJ: The damned fool . . . just ought to keep his goddamned big mouth shut on
foreign affairs, at least until the election is over....They don't pay him to do this. This is just not like he's getting a fee to speak to the druggists. He is just doing this free and he's hurting his government. And he's hurting us!
LBJ: This by no way... a commitment ... because I want to have lots of talks
before I ever agree on who I'm going to recommend. But...he ought to... pretty well stay out of the delicate, technical field of...what the Communists are thinking....He just yak-yak-yak-yak. Just dancing around with the bald head. . . . . That can ruin a man mighty quick.
(1) On the August 2 actions in the Tonkin Gulf.
(2) Johnson refers to Op Plan 34-A.
Dean Rusk Official to E. Abel
"... Question by Elie Abel.
What explanation, then, can you come up with for this unprovoked attack?
Answer by Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
Well I haven't been able, quite frankly, to come to a fully satisfactory explanation. There is a great gulf of understanding between that world and our world, ideological in character. They see what we think of as the real world in wholly different terms. Their very processes of logic are different. So that it's very difficult to enter into each other's minds across that great ideological gulf.
I can't come to a rational explanation of it. Perhaps they will offer one some day. But thus far we have to take it as we see it. And the essential fact was that our vessels were being attacked on the high seas by these boats and we had to do something about it...."
Interview of Secretary of State Dean Rusk
by Elie Abel of NBC television
broadcast on August 5, 1964
Transcript from Department of State Bulletin ,
Volume LI, Number 1313, August 24, 1964, p. 269.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Democratic Republic of Vietnam
North Vietnamese Response to Tonkin allegations
12. Statement by the Spokesman of the Viet Nam People's Army High Command Regarding U.S. Warships' Provocative Activities in North Vietnamese Territorial Waters
In the last two days, American news agencies made a fuss
about the so-called "unprovoked attack" by Navy ships of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam on the U.S. destroyer Maddox which took place on August 2 off North Viet Nam's coast. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spokesman bluntly denied the denunciations made by the High Command of the Viet Nam People's Army and the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Foreign Ministry concerning the shelling by U.S. warships of islands belonging to the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and the bombing of North Vietnamese localities near the Viet Nam -Laos border by U.S. aircraft coming from the direction of Laos.
In this connection, the Spokesman of the Viet - Nam People's Army High Command declares as follows:
Public opinion in Viet Nam and the world knows very well that in carrying out their policy of aggression and war in South Viet Nam as well as in Cambodia and Laos, the U.S. imperialists have not only used their 7th Fleet in the Pacific for shows of force in the open seas from the South China Sea to the Gulf of Thailand, but have also used warships of that fleet to cover the forces of their henchmen in South Viet Nam in their provocative activities against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
Over recent times, in an attempt to retrieve their defeat and flounder in South Viet Nam, along with increased military buildup and intensified war efforts, the U.S. imperialists and their henchmen have not only ranted about extending the war to the North but have also frantically conducted provocative and sabotage activities against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
Warships of the U.S. 7th Fleet stationed on a permanent basis off Da Nang naval port have on many occasions covered ships and boats of their henchmen in South Viet Nam which come to the North daily to carry out provocative activities, infringe upon the territorial waters of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, seize fishing boats and land spy-commandos for sabotage activities in the coastal areas.
At the same time, their aircraft increase activities in the airspace of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, dropping spy commandos on North Viet Nam. Spy-commandos landed in the coastal area of Quang Binh province recently as well as all other groups of U.S - Khanh agents introduced into North Viet Nam have fallen into the hands of our armed forces and people.
Continuing their feverish plan to provoke and sabotage the North, on July 30 the U.S. imperialists and their henchmen dispatched warships to encroach upon North Viet Nam's territorial waters and shell Hon Me and Hon Ngu islands which are part of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam's territory.
In the night of July 31-August 1, the U.S. imperialists again sent a destroyer to encroach upon North Viet Nam's territorial waters in Quang Binh province. This warship had been cruising for two days, August 1 and 2, between Hon Mat island (Nghe An) and Hon Me island (Thanh Hoa) to intimidate fishing boats of our people, openly infringing upon our territorial waters. In the afternoon of August 2, it encountered our patrol boats between Hon Me and Lach Truong in our territorial waters. In face of the provocations by the sea rovers, our patrol ships took action to defend our territorial waters and fishermen and chased the enemy ship out of our territorial waters. Afterwards, our patrol ships returned to their bases.
This is what happened in the afternoon of August 2. The U.S. imperialists are raising a hue and cry about what they call "an unprovoked attack by three torpedo boats of North Viet Nam". They have made such clamors to cover their own acts of provocation and sabotage, their violation of the territorial waters and airspace and their encroachment on the sovereignty and territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
It should be pointed out that the above-mentioned activities of the U.S. Navy in North Viet Nam's territorial waters coincided with the activities of U.S. aircraft which, taking off from bases in Thailand and Laos, bombed the Nam Can border post and rocketed Noong De village in Ky Son district, Nghe An province, near the Viet Nam-Laos border on August 1 and 2, 1964. The High Command of the Viet Nam People's Army strongly denounces to public opinion at home and abroad these provocative activities of the U.S. Government and its henchmen in South Viet Nam and Laos. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam regards them as extremely serious violations of the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos, and blatant encroachments upon the sovereignty and territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, which resulted in aggravating the situation in this area. Determined to defend the peaceful construction work of the North Vietnamese people and the security of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the army and people of Viet Nam sternly warn the U.S. imperialists and their henchmen that any acts of provocation, sabotage and aggression on their part would be subject to due punishment.
The High Command of the Viet Nam People's Army declares that the U.S. Government, together with its henchmen in South Viet Nam and Laos, must bear responsibility for all the consequences arising from their acts of provocation, sabotage and encroachment upon the security of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
Hanoi, August 4, 1964
Galloway, pp. 526 - 528
The "Second Attack" as seen from North Vietnam
There was no second attack.
13. Statement by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Concerning the U.S. Government's Brazen Air Strafing and Bombing Against the Territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
On August 5, 1964, jet planes taking off from the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Pacific flew in many waves to strafe and bomb a number of places in the Vinh-Ben Thuy area, near the Gianh River mouth and in the close vicinity of Hong Gai city, causing losses and damages to the local population.
What is extremely serious is that orders for the attack were given to the U.S. Air Force by U.S. President L. Johnson himself.
As is known, the U.S. imperialists are being defeated and bogged down in their war of aggression in South Viet Nam. To extricate themselves from this situation, on the one hand, they are making every effort to step up the war there, and on the other, they are frantically engaging in provocation and sabotage activities against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, and threatening to extend the war to the North. At the same time, they are intensifying their intervention in Laos and attempting to jeopardize the independence and neutrality of Cambodia. Over the recent days, aircraft of the U.S. aggressors taking off from airports in Thailand and Laos have twice strafed and bombed Nam Can and Noong De, two points in the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam near the Viet Nam-Laos border. At the same time, they have sent their naval craft to repeatedly intrude into the territorial waters of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and shell Hon Ngu and Hon Me Islands and other places along the coast of North Viet Nam. The air strafing and bombing of August 5, 1964, are obviously a premeditated act of war within the U.S. Government's plan for intensified provocation and sabotage against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
To cover up its dark scheme, the United States has circulated the cock-and-bull story of an alleged second attack on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of North Viet Nam. But this perfidious maneuvers will deceive no one. The August 5, 1964 air attack on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam has further exposed the U.S. rulers' repeatedly stated aggressive designs and scheme to extend the war to North Viet Nam.
This is an extremely serious act of war of the U.S. Government towards the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, an act which constitutes a blatant violation of international law and the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indo-China, and adds to the danger of extended war in Indo-China and South-East Asia. The U.S. Government has defied the opposition of the U.S. people and the peace-loving peoples of the world to its policy of aggression and war in Indo-China.
The more truculent and reckless the U.S. imperialists turn out to be, the more the people all over Viet Nam will close their ranks and show determination to defeat them. The more the peoples of Laos, Cambodia and other South-East Asian countries realize their cruel features, the more they are filled with hatred and the more vigorously they will combat them.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam strongly exposes before world opinion the above acts of war by the U.S. Government, and demands that the latter stop forthwith all acts of provocation and sabotage against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, and correctly implement the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, deeply attached to peace, has always respected and scrupulously implemented the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet Nam, but it is firmly resolved not to allow the U.S. imperialists and their agents to violate its sovereignty and territory, and destroy the peaceful labor of the people in North Viet Nam. Any acts of provocation and aggression against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam are doomed to failure in the face of the strength of the entire Vietnamese people. The U.S. Government and its agents must bear full responsibility for all the grave consequences arising out of their bellicose acts in this part of the world. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam earnestly calls upon the participants in the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China, the socialist countries and other peace loving countries in the world to pay particular attention to the extremely grave situation now being created in Viet Nam and Indo-China by the U.S. imperialists, and to take timely and positive steps with a view to staying the U.S. warmongers' hands, safeguarding peace in Indo-China and South-East Asia, and contributing to the maintenance of world peace.
Hanoi, August 6, 1964
Hanoi, August 6, 1964
Galloway. pp. 529 - 531