(6 of 10)
When the Times was enjoined from publishing any more of its series, the Washington Post began carrying its own summary of the papers—up through L.BJ.'s sudden decision to seek negotiations in 1968—until it, too, was enjoined. The Post carefully refrained from reprinting the classified documents, but paraphrased or quoted briefly from them. The papers, it reported, absolved the U.S. of any complicity in preventing elections throughout North and South Viet Nam in 1955, despite a Geneva agreement calling for them. According to the study, it was South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem who, fearing a Communist victory, blocked the election.
The Post articles indicate that divisions emerged, mainly between the State and Defense departments, about the desirability of declaring halts in the U.S. bombing of the North—but each approached the idea cynically. When a temporary halt was agreed upon in March 1968, the State Department promptly advised all U.S. embassies that it did not really expect Hanoi to make any reciprocal response and thus the enemy would "free our hand after a short period"; meanwhile the planes could be used to bomb Laos. The Defense Department's McNaughton saw bombing pauses as useful "ratchets," placating public opinion and freeing the U.S. to bomb a notch harder after Hanoi had failed to respond.
One of the first breaks in the official hard-line thinking occurred in 1966, when the imaginative McNaughton advocated a "lowering of sights from victory to compromise." He warned that this might "unhinge" Saigon and give the North "the smell of blood," and that it would require careful preparation to get in position for compromise. "We should not expect the enemy's molasses to pour any faster than ours. And we should tip the pitchers now if we want them to pour a year from now." McNamara raised the possibility of compromise with Johnson, but did not urge it, and Johnson chose to unleash more Rolling Thunder. The papers also reveal that Johnson authorized serious consideration, including consultation with academic scientists, of the idea of creating an electronic and manned "fence" that would cut the infiltration trails across South Viet Nam's northern border. The proposal was abandoned as impractical.
One of the unresolvable controversies that the study raises is whether or not President Johnson had already decided to initiate a U.S. air campaign against North Viet Nam when he was insisting in his 1964 re-election campaign against Barry Goldwater that "we seek no wider war." The documents leave no doubt that Johnson was being strongly urged by his subordinates to authorize such strikes on more than a tit-for-tat reprisal basis and that aircraft had been positioned to do so since before the Tonkin clash. Johnson flatly denies that he made such a decision before the election. Goldwater, who was sharply criticized for urging such attacks, claims he knew of the plans but did not