Operation Duck Hook

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 10 10:28:42 MDT 2003

DMS wrote:
>It failed to reduce the savagery of the war.

Tom Wells, "The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam" (Holt, 1994):

In the White House, planning for Nixon's roundhouse punch was moving 
forward. Working through a backdoor liaison with U.S. naval officers, 
Kissinger commissioned top-secret studies of the operation, code-named, 
curiously, "Duck Hook." The studies were completed without Secretary of 
Defense Melvin Laird's knowledge. They called for intensive bombing of 
North Vietnamese population centers and military targets; mining North 
Vietnam's harbors and rivers; bombing the North's dike system and main rail 
lines to China; invading the North; and destroying possibly with low-yield 
nuclear devices the major passes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A separate 
study considered exploding tactical nuclear weapons on the rail lines. The 
operation was planned to last all of four days, and be repeated, if necessary.

Talk was tough. "Savage was a word that was used again and again," Roger 
Morris recalled. Kissinger directed a "Top-Secret-Sensitive" working group 
he had convened to analyze the military's studies to devise a detailed plan 
for a "savage, punishing" blow. "I can't believe that a fourth-rate power 
like North Vietnam doesn't have a breaking point," Kissinger told the group

Officials met with Moratorium protesters in their offices. Some, including 
Ziegler, walked down to the Washington Monument during the rally to check 
out the scene--just "kind of mingling around and seeing what it's like," 
Ziegler remembered.

Despite claims of business-as-usual, officials were agitated by the 
Moratorium. Leonard Garment recalled being somewhat "shaken up" by it. The 
"awesome crowds," evidence of widespread domestic opposition to the war, 
suggested to Garment that the situation was "out of control." Moynihan 
bluntly apprised Nixon the day after the protest:

"The Moratorium was a success. It was not perhaps as big as some may have 
anticipated . . . but in style and content it was everything the organizers 
could have hoped for. The young white middle class crowds were sweet 
tempered and considerate: at times even radiant. . . . The movement lost no 
friends. It gained, I should think, a fair number of recruits and a great 
deal of prestige. ... I believe the administration has been damaged."

With equal frankness, Moynihan told Nixon that "we have only ourselves to 
blame for some of this damage." Agnew's "clumsy and transparent attempt to 
link [the protesters] up with Pham Van Dong," he said, "was a blunder of 
the first order." Moratorium organizers "know that it was just about the 
best thing that happened to them. The middle class, academic, intellectual 
world will now be solidly with them. More importantly, as they move into 
alliances with much more questionable groups. . . [for the November 
protests] they will be immune to charges of fellow travelling. Howsoever 
well founded. . . . They can now more readily associate with organizations 
that are nominally concerned with peace, but in fact have far more complex 
agendas." Moynihan argued that "what the Vice President should have done, 
of course, was to go before the television cameras and punch Premier Pham 
Van Dong in the nose." Moynihan urged Nixon to "stop the red baiting." "If 
we are to get through this period," he admonished, "we are going to have to 
act a lot smarter than we have done lately."

Pat Buchanan was also disturbed by the Moratorium. "The war in Vietnam will 
now be won or lost on the American front," he wrote Nixon two days later. 
"The morale of the American people is roughly equivalent to the military 
posture of the South Vietnamese in 1965. . . . [They] are confused and 
uncertain and beginning to believe that they may be wrong and beginning to 
feel themselves the moral inferiors of the candle carrying peaceniks who 
want to get out now."

Officials chafed over the sympathetic press coverage of the Moratorium. 
"The theme in the media ... is that the protesters have us on the run," Tom 
Huston wrote Haldeman. The White House felt D. C. Police Chief Jerry Wilson 
had aided the Moratorium's image in the press by giving out an artificially 
high crowd estimate for the Washington march.

"What is he trying to tell us?" Ehrlichman queried Krogh later.

Nixon himself was deeply distressed by the Moratorium. His fear that it 
would undercut his November 1 ultimatum to Hanoi had intensified in the 
days leading up to the protest, as momentum for it had swelled. "Although 
publicly I continued to ignore the raging antiwar controversy," he writes 
in his memoirs, "I had to face the fact that it had probably destroyed the 
credibility of my ultimatum." When Pham Van Dong sent his letter of 
encouragement to antiwar groups on October 14, "I knew for sure that my 
ultimatum had failed," Nixon records. "I knew . . . that after all the 
protests and the Moratorium, American public opinion would be seriously 
divided by any military escalation of the war." By the night of October 15, 
Nixon's mood was dark indeed. "I thought about the irony of this protest 
for peace. It had, I believed, destroyed whatever small possibility may 
still have existed of ending the war in 1969. "

The Moratorium had undermined the November 1 ultimatum partly by 
encouraging the North Vietnamese to hang on during the initial phase of 
Duck Hook in the knowledge that strong American opposition to it was 
guaranteed. The likelihood of a quick little victory--one of those swift 
military operations the American people always went for--had thus gone way 
down. And a longer attack was sure to engender enormous opposition. "It's 
all in place: the telephone networks are there, people will come out, 
everybody knows where to go," as Daniel Ellsberg observed. "[Nixon] knew he 
was going to face an unprecedented opposition. So the odds now looked just 
terrible." The president's perception that Duck Hook would incite serious 
domestic turmoil was reinforced by his advisers. "Laird was very strong 
about that," Roger Morris recalled. Laird was reluctant to discuss Duck 
Hook with me, but verified that he was mainly concerned about its political 
consequences at home. "That was really the [issue]," Laird said. "And I 
really felt that you could accomplish the same thing without using the 
assets that they wanted to use. ... I thought that at that time we should 
test the South Vietnamese . . . and throw responsibility to them in a very 
tough way."

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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