THE BOMBING HALT: Johnson's Gamble for Peace

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 7)

Johnson's announcement climaxed days of roiling activity. In Saigon, officials would not even say whether U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker had been conferring with South Viet Nam's President Nguyen Van Thieu—when everybody in town knew that he had. In Paris, U.S. diplomats were reported to have rented unimpressive automobiles so that they could speed inconspicuously to meetings with North Vietnamese negotiators at obscure hideaways. To attend one White House conference, Defense Secretary Clark Clifford drove to the State Department in his chauffeured limousine, met Secretary of State Dean Rusk in the basement, then with Rusk hopped into a nondescript Chevrolet for the half-mile drive to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The ruse failed; newsmen sighted them anyway.

As the week began, Washington received word from Hanoi that the North Vietnamese were amenable to Johnson's latest proposals, transmitted to them about a month ago. Before making a final decision, however, the President decided to review the picture once more. General Creighton W. Abrams, commander of U.S. forces in Viet Nam, responded to an urgent summons from Johnson. "Get him over here as soon as you can," the President had ordered. The general hastily boarded a four-jet C-141 StarLifter for an unannounced flight to Washington. There he conferred with the President and with Pentagon officials, also joined Johnson's policymaking Tuesday Luncheon Group at the White House, including Clifford, Rusk. Central Intelligence Agency Director Richard Helms, Presidential Adviser (for national-security affairs) Walt W. Rostow, and General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Abrams has made a number of extremely strong statements in support of the bombing, and it was assumed that the reason for his hurried trip was to bring him into line on a bombing pause. Abrams did not require undue persuasion. During an all-night session at the White House with Johnson and several top aides that began at 2:38 a.m. he noted that the situation in the field has improved vastly in recent months, and that a bombing halt might now be militarily tolerable.

Corridor Conference. In Saigon, meanwhile, Thieu met almost daily with Bunker, for a total of ten conferences in a fortnight. Thieu fed the speculation about a bombing pause with several other actions. One of the major stumbling blocks had been Saigon's resistance to a bombing halt. Thus it was highly significant that Thieu dispatched a three-man advance party to Paris to arrange quarters and communications for an official South Vietnamese delegation to the peace talks. He met with New Zealand's Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, whose country has a 500-man artillery and infantry contingent in Viet Nam, and issued a joint conmunique that sounded more hard-lining than it actually was. Thieu and Holyoake declared that the National Liberation Front, political superstructure of the Viet Cong guerrilla movement, "cannot be considered as an independent entity distinct from North Viet Nam in international peace negotiations." The real significance of the two leaders' statement was that it raised no objection to the Viet Cong's participation in the Paris talks, so long as it is considered part of Hanoi's official delegation.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7