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Gradual Failure The Air War Over North Vietnam, 1965-1966

Gradual Failure The Air War Over North Vietnam, 1965-1966

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Mar 04, 2011
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After examining these views and numerous studies and memoranda on the
bombing, the NSC, after its meetings of April 1 and 2, sent new recommenda-
tions to President Johnson. These sought to accommodate three diverse views
on the war: those who wished to move more rapidly against the communists in
both South and North Vietnam; those who would proceed more prudently,
chiefly in the south, without significantly increasing the bombing in the north;
and those who opposed any increase in the American commitment.8
The President’s decision, embodied in NSAM 328 and issued on April 6, was
the most fateful of his administration. He sanctioned a modest increase in U.S.
ground troops in South Vietnam two Marine battalions and one Air Force
squadron plus support and altered the mission of the U.S. Marines from defense
to “more active use” or offense. In short, the change signaled the beginning of
open U.S. ground warfare, a strategy strongly opposed by the Air Force. The
President also authorized 18,000 to 20,000 more support personnel, stepped up
nonmilitary assistance and USIA programs, and more bombing of North Vietnam.
The air assault on the north, however, continued very cautiously:

We should continue roughly the present slowly ascending tempo of
Rolling Thunder operations, being prepared to add strikes in response to
a higher rate of VC operations, or conceivably to slow the pace in the
unlikely event [the] VC slackened off sharply for what appeared to be
more than a temporary operational lull.

In April 1965, President Johnson increased the number of ground troops
deployed to South Vietnam. Here, arriving troops unload gear from a C–130.



The target systems should continue to avoid the effective GCI range of
MiGs. We should continue to vary the types of targets, stepping up attacks
on lines of communication in the near future, and possibly moving in a
few weeks to attacks on the rail lines north and northeast of Hanoi.

Leaflet operations should be expanded to obtain maximum practicable psy-
chological effect on the North Vietnamese population. Proposals to blockade or
mine North Vietnamese ports from the air, while offering many advantages,
required further study as such action augured major political complications
“especially in relation to the Soviets and other third countries.” To reduce infiltra-
tion through southern Laos, Mr. Johnson repeated his endorsement of “aerial route
blocking” at the “maximum remunerative rate” in Steel Tiger. At the President’s
request, officials publicly downplayed the decisions in NSAM 328 to avoid any
suggestion there had been a sudden change in American policy on the war.9
NSAM 328 emerged against a background of separate, harsh warnings in late
March voiced by China’s newspaper, People’s Daily, and by Premier Chou En-
Lai and Foreign Minister Chen Yi. They affirmed support for the National
Liberation Front’s demand for the withdrawal of American troops from South
Vietnam; promised the insurgents more arms, materiel, and if asked, Chinese
troops; and predicted that the Chinese and Soviet peoples would close ranks and
fight side by side if the United States precipitated a major war in Southeast

In a television interview in early April, McGeorge Bundy, the President’s
Special Assistant for NSC Affairs, replied that if China intervened in Southeast
Asia, it would not enjoy a “privileged sanctuary” as it did in the Korean War.11
The administration’s effort to minimize public fears of a larger conflict
failed to quiet the crescendo of dissent. India, France, Sweden, and other non-
communist countries and large segments of the American public, Congress,
and the press expressed apprehension over the conflict or outright disapproval
of the bombing. Meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on 1 April, an assembly of
nonaligned nations appealed for negotiations without preconditions among
interested parties as soon as possible.12
President Johnson had considered making another major public statement
on U.S. policy in the war. He seized this statement, signed by seventeen
nations, as an opportunity to answer these nations and other foreign and
domestic critics. With the approval of the NSC, the President selected as his
forum Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he delivered an address
on April 7. There, he reaffirmed the United States’ determination to halt
Hanoi’s attacks on the south, but offered to begin “unconditional discussions”
for peace and asked the U.S. Congress for one billion dollars for investment in
a vast Southeast Asia regional development program that might eventually
include North Vietnam. This was the administration’s first significant effort to
negotiate with Hanoi, and the President subsequently considered his offer to do
so without preconditions as his fourth major decision on Vietnam.



* Various dates have been given for the four-point peace plan. It is believed to have been
announced initially by Premier Pham Van Dong during an internal government meeting in
Hanoi on April 8, but was not distributed officially until April 13, 1965 (see New York
, Apr 14, 1965, p 1).

The address was applauded generally in the Congress and the country, but the
reaction in Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow was negative. After an initial tirade
against the President’s offer, Premier Pham Van Dong quickly announced a four-
point peace plan which demanded the basic rights of the Vietnamese people.*
The rights were defined as independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial
integrity; withdrawal of all foreign military personnel in accordance with the
1954 Geneva Agreement; settlement of South Vietnam’s internal affairs with the
program of the National Liberation Front; and peaceful reunification of the two
Vietnam zones without foreign interference.13

Subsequently, Hanoi also rejected
the appeal by the seventeen nonaligned nations, asserting that the Premier’s four
points could be the only basis for a settlement of the Vietnam problem, a posi-
tion supported by Peking.14

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