Source: McGeorge Bundy Recommends "Sustained Reprisal," 1965
We believe that the best available way of increasing our chance of success in Vietnam is the development and execution of a policy of sustained reprisal against North Vietnam - a policy in which air and naval action against the North is justified by and related to the whole Viet Cong campaign of violence and terror in the South.
While we believe the risks of such a policy are acceptable,we emphasize that its costs are real. It implies significant U.S. air losses even if no full air war is joined, and it seems likely that it would eventually require an extensive and costly effort against the whole air defense system of North Vietnam. U.S. casualties would be higher-and more visible to American feelings - than those sustained in the struggle in South Vietnam.
Yet measured against the costs of defeat in Vietnam, this program seems cheap. And even if it fails to turn the tide - as it may - the value of the effort seems to us to exceed its cost. . . .
IH. Expected Effect of Sustained Reprisal Policy
1. We emphasize that our primary target in advocating a reprisal policy is the improvement of the situation in South Vietnam. Action against the North is usually urged as a means of affecting the will of Hanoi to direct and support the VC. We consider this an important but longer-range purpose. The immediate and critical targets are in the South - in the minds of the South Vietnamese and in the minds of the Viet Cong cadres.
2. Predictions of the effect of any given course of action upon the states of mind of people are difficult. It seems very clear that if the United States and the Government of Vietnam join in a policy of reprisal, there will be a sharp immediate increase in optimism in the South, among nearly all articulate groups. The Mission believes-and our own conversations confirm - that in all sectors of Vietnamese opinion there is a strong belief that the United States could do much more if it would, and that they are suspicious of our failure to use more of our obviously enormous power. At least in the short run, the reaction to reprisal policy would be very favorable. . . .
3. We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing the course of the contest in Vietnam. It may fail, and we cannot estimate the odds of success with any accuracy - they may be somewhere between 25% and 75%. What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own. Beyond that, a reprisal policy - to the extent that it demonstrates U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counter-insurgency - will set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerrilla warfare, and it should therefore somewhat increase our ability to deter such adventures. We must recognize, however, that that ability will be gravely weakened if there is failure for any reason in Vietnam. . . .