The Nation: Pentagon Papers: The Secret War

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 10)

of involving the South Vietnamese vessels and the North Vietnamese?" His reply: "No, none that I know of." Yet the secret Pentagon study declares that "at midnight on July 30, South Vietnamese naval commandos under General Westmoreland's command staged an amphibious raid on the North Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Hon Ngu in the Gulf of Tonkin. Apparently [the North Vietnamese boats that attacked the Maddox] had mistaken Maddox for a South Vietnamese escort vessel." The rapidity of U.S. air reprisals—within twelve hours of Washington's receipt of the news—argued that the U.S. had been positioned to strike as soon as attacked.

CONCEALMENT ABOUT TROOPS. Similarly, when U.S. Marine battalions in South Viet Nam were authorized for the first time to take offensive action, Johnson directed that "premature publicity be avoided by all possible precautions" and that steps be taken to "minimize any appearance of sudden changes in policy." The whole question of introducing ground troops into South Viet Nam was so cloaked and confusing that Ambassador Taylor cabled Secretary of State Dean Rusk: "I badly need a clarification of our purposes and objectives." Taylor was especially angry at the fact that though he had sharply opposed the introduction of more U.S. troops into the area, his ostensible subordinate, General William Westmoreland, had been assigned an airborne brigade without Taylor's knowledge.

ORDERING ALLIES AROUND. Throughout the papers, U.S. officials indicate that the various Saigon governments, the non-Communist Laotian Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, other U.S. allies and even the U.S. Congress were too often regarded as entities to be manipulated in order to accomplish U.S. foreign policy aims. Administration officials framed a Tonkin Gulf-style resolution long before the PT-boat attacks but failed to ask Congress for concurrence on what they were doing in Viet Nam. The State Department's Bundy writes of how Canada's J. Blair Seaborn, a member of the International Control Commission in Viet Nam, could be "revved" up to carry secret messages to Hanoi. McNaughton described the Saigon government as being ''in such a deep funk it may throw in the sponge."

The most abrasive treatment of an ally was Taylor's schoolmaster scolding of a group of young South Vietnamese generals, including Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu, after they had dismissed the civilian High National Council. Said Taylor: "Do all of you understand English? I told you all clearly at General Westmoreland's dinner we Americans were tired of coups. Apparently I wasted my words. Now you have made a real mess. We cannot carry you forever if you do things like this." Taylor's irritation seemed justified, but, as General Nguyen Khanh said last week, "He was convoking me as if he were MacArthur on occupation in Japan."

PROVOCATION PLANS. Although the option apparently was never exercised, secret documents indicate that U.S. planners were seriously considering provoking the North Vietnamese into attacking U.S. units so that an open retaliatory air attack could be made against the North, a key escalation of the conflict. The step would be a prelude to sustained air strikes against the North. A Pentagon "Plan of Action for South Viet Nam,"

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10