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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume IV
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 348-369

348. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to President Johnson/1/


Washington, December 6, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Memos and Misc. Secret.

Assignment of Personnel to South Vietnam

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are completely in accord with the view expressed in your memorandum of December 2, 1963/2/ that South Vietnam is our most critical military area at the moment. In recognition of this priority, they have undertaken to see to it that General Harkins receives the best officers available in each of the areas of military activity represented in his command.

/2/Document 337.

Since receiving your memorandum of 2 December 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have conveyed its content to Admiral Felt and General Harkins, asking them to report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff whether the policy expressed therein is being presently carried out to their satisfaction./3/ If such is not the case, now or in the future, they are to report the facts at once to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

/3/See Document 340.

Maxwell D. Taylor


349. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Central Intelligence Agency's Working Group on Vietnam (Cooper) to the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone)/1/

Washington, December 6, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 1, General Political. Secret/Sensitive; Eyes Only.

South Vietnam--Where We Stand


1. The change of government in Saigon has provided an opportunity to generate greater popular support and momentum for the war effort against the Viet Cong. The government, however, is already running into snags in organizing itself for this task. Even in the best of circumstances, a satisfactory reduction of the Communist insurgency will be a long and arduous process given the tenacity and strong position of the Viet Cong in many areas.

The New Government

2. With the exception of Diem's assassination, the generals who have seized power in Saigon have created an initially favorable impression by their prompt release of political prisoners of the old regime, their removal of restrictions on individual rights and on the press, and by their promise to return power eventually to civilian control.

3. They have moved quickly to try to win support from significant groups and individuals estranged from the Diem regime. Talks have been opened with leaders of the politico-religious Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects--which together have up to 2 million adherents, including several thousand in loosely organized armed bands. Support from the sects could lead to improved security in some critical provinces of the delta and adjacent to Cambodia where the sects have wide popular allegiance.

4. Various prominent exiles abroad have been welcomed back and encouraged, along with persons in South Vietnam who had been jailed or otherwise barred from political life under Diem, to organize and express their ideas openly.

5. The generals have voiced their determination to pursue the fight against the Viet Cong, and appear to view realistically the serious problems involved.

6. Despite encouraging elements in the picture, there are danger signs. The most serious is the absence of firm direction and of a well-defined program of action. There is a real danger that the situation may be allowed to drift indefinitely.

7. The possible ambitions of some of the generals are a source of concern to the others. Concern extends particularly to generals occupying positions in security, police, intelligence and psychological warfare functions where efforts to develop independent power bases of political power could weaken vital areas of the war effort.

8. Many of Diem's former officials and associates are under arrest or investigation, and the generals are under pressure from elements of the public as well as within their own ranks to purge remnants of the Diem regime. There is danger that a vendetta, or the impression of a vendetta, may be created.

9. Not all appointments among the extensive personnel shifts underway in the administration and armed forces promise improvement. We lack the capability to assess the impact of personnel changes at lower echelons, particularly among district chiefs who play vital roles in rural counterinsurgency.

10. The selection of Nguyen Ngoc Tho, Diem's vice president, as premier is resented by many Vietnamese who claim he is weak, without firm principles, and regional in his outlook. Civilian members of Tho's cabinet, who are predominantly native southerners, are technically competent but lack the political and administrative skills to shape policies or influence the military.

11. Disagreements have emerged over the composition and role of the Council of Notables which is to serve as a vehicle for harnessing civilian talents. Prominent politicians, who feel it may be used to forge them into an artificial two-party system, are still "fence-sitting" as in the past.

12. Although there is no evidence of anti-government motivation in three post-coup self-immolations in Saigon, the suicides may reflect continued public unrest, stemming from unfulfilled, if undefined, expectations. Such an atmosphere would increase pressure on the government to produce some tangible or dramatic sign of progress.

Military Situation

13. The prolonged political crisis in Saigon has tended to obscure a gradual intensification of Viet Cong guerrilla activity since mid-1963 reaching record peaks since the coup. After a period of readjustment of their political and military effort to meet the challenge of stepped-up US-Vietnamese counter-insurgency programs, the Communist drive by the time of the coup had regained momentum and was approaching levels of activity sustained prior to the increased US intervention.

14. This renewed activity appears to be somewhat more effective than previously. The Communists have been inflicting increased casualties and weapons losses on government forces at no apparent increase in cost to themselves. They have accomplished this by changing their tactics and reducing their vulnerability to government countermeasures. They have concentrated their attacks on "soft" targets-strategic hamlets and outposts manned by paramilitary elements. They have also improved their defensive capabilities against government ground and air attack.

15. Although the Viet Cong continue to suffer heavy combat losses, they appear to have access to sufficient manpower to more than replace these losses. Their armed strength is now conservatively estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 men, including at least 21,000 to 23,000 well-trained regulars.

16. At the same time, the Communists have continued to develop larger and better-equipped tactical units, including some regimental organizations. These growing capabilities have been made possible by support from Hanoi in the form of cadre personnel and weapons. The infiltration of about 800 cadre personnel this year has been more or less confirmed, but there are indications that this figure is only a fraction of the actual total, which may equal or even exceed the 3,000 or so estimated to have arrived from North Vietnam last year.

17. Increasing numbers of Bloc-manufactured weapons are being captured in South Vietnam. Some of these are brought in through Laos and others through Cambodia. The Viet Cong, however, continue to rely primarily on captured weapons. Their net gain of 2,700 captured weapons since May is sufficient to arm about seven new regular battalions, up to 30 district companies, or more than 100 local guerrilla platoons.

18. The renewed Viet Cong effort developed even as the government's vigorous counterinsurgency programs began to have effect last year. The strength of the government's armed forces has been increased to some 500,000 men. These include more than 215,000 in the regular armed forces, 83,000 in the Civil Guard, and over 200,000 in other paramilitary elements such as Self-Defense Corps, Hamlet Militia, and Citizen's Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG). The government has a significant advantage in the quality and mobility of weapons, and a monopoly on air support.

19. By stepping up the tempo of its tactical operations, the government has probably retarded the development of the guerrilla forces and deprived them of the initiative in some areas. The government has followed through on other measures to improve its military posture, notably in expanding and training the paramilitary forces. New tactics, emphasizing ambushes and night patrols, have been instituted. Psychological operations have been increased, with emphasis on the Chieu Hoi "returnee" program aimed at winning over Viet Cong adherents. The government has revised its territorial command structure, deploying the 9th Division from central Vietnam to the guerrilla-infested Mekong delta.

20. The strategic hamlet program, cornerstone of the Diem regime's counterinsurgency effort, is now alleged by government officials to cover 77 percent of the rural population. The Viet Cong have refocused their effort to counter the strategic hamlet program, which in some areas is overextended. Some hamlets are not secure against either attack or infiltration, and offer their inhabitants few benefits. Some hamlet defenders have fought well but about one-third of the hamlet militia has not been armed because of suspicions concerning their loyalties.

21. The strategic hamlet program has been most successful in the northern coastal provinces, where minimal resettlement was necessary and its establishment was integrated with military clear-and-hold operations. Even here, however, field evaluations indicate that only about half the hamlets are fully effective.

22. In the highlands area, the strategic hamlets have been complemented by the CIDG program. These paramilitary units have been relatively effective in patrolling their areas, restricting Viet Cong movements and reducing their access to the tribal minority people (montagnard) for food and other supplies. The success of this effort apparently has been heavily dependent on direct US participation, and setbacks have occurred in some cases after the withdrawal of US special forces teams. Similar problems have been encountered with the montagnard resettlement program, and seem to arise from an overly paternalistic approach by US advisers, coupled with a lack of understanding and sympathy for the montagnards among Vietnamese functionaries.

23. The situation remains most critical in the Mekong delta provinces south of Saigon--the most densely populated area in South Vietnam--and in the provinces just north of Saigon. Here the Communists have base areas of long standing, which government forces seldom penetrate. Food is not a problem, and the nearby border with Cambodia affords safe havens. The strategic hamlet program has been least successful in this region, where traditional population patterns necessitate a great deal of relocation, and where effective coordination of military operations with hamlet construction has been lacking. Hundreds of strategic hamlets have been attacked and harassed by the Viet Cong in this region, and the program is being revised to stress consolidation rather than expansion.

24. The particularly intensified Viet Cong activity since the coup appears designed as much for psychological impact and for testing the new regime as for military advantage. It has been characterized by widespread, small-scale actions against hamlets and outposts, punctuated occasionally by larger-scale attacks against more substantial posts or military training camps. The Communists apparently hope to encourage internal strains in the new regime until its leadership bogs down and the war-weary South Vietnamese and US public become receptive to a negotiated solution. Both the Viet Cong's Liberation Front and Hanoi have, since the coup, revived proposals for a "neutralized" South Vietnam.

25. Although the new government moved relatively quickly from execution of the coup in Saigon to sustain the military operations against the Viet Cong, there have been at least some dislocations in rural counterinsurgency programs as a result of the coup itself and the subsequent personnel changes.

Chester L. Cooper/2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature and an indication that the original was signed.


350. Editorial Note

On December 6, 1963, Rusk, McNamara, Taylor, McCone, Bell, Wilson, Colby, McGeorge and William Bundy, U. Alexis Johnson, Koren, and Hilsman met in a conference room at the White House to discuss Vietnam. The meeting lasted from 3:10 to approximately 4:30 p.m. Shortly after the meeting began, Ball joined the group. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) No memorandum of the discussion has been found, but the gist of the meeting and the resulting recommendations are described in Document 351. In a memorandum to Krulak, December 12, Hilsman stated: "as a result of the Cabinet level meeting at the Department of State on December 6, 1963, a number of actions regarding Vietnam have been set in motion. We are not at this time prepared to go to the President for a decision on any of these matters. Nevertheless we feel that an interim report to the President telling him where we stand with respect to the actions directed under NSC [NSAM] 243 is required." Hilsman's draft interim report to the President included the recommendations set forth in Document 351 and used as a basis the two parts to the attachment to Document 347. There is no indication that this memorandum by Hilsman of December 12 with its annexes was passed to the President but an undated copy is in Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Council Series, NSAM 273, South Vietnam.


351. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, December 6, 1963, 10:29 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft with Rusk, in substance with Krulak, and with Bromley Smith. Repeated to CINCPAC eyes only for Felt. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 212D.

908. For Lodge from the Secretary.

1. The President has expressed his deep concern that our effort in Viet-Nam be stepped up to highest pitch and that each day we ask ourselves what more we can do to further the struggle.

2. We have accordingly instituted an all-agency review of the situation and of activities and programs and how they might be improved, looking towards a meeting with the President sometime next week.

3. At preliminary high-level interdepartmental meeting today DOD presented disturbing analysis of the current military situation, with the following conclusions:

a. The GVN desires to respond to US military advice and to improve its operational effectiveness. It has the capability to do so and its plans are basically sound, but it is in a state of organizational turmoil.

b. The VC are making an intensive effort to increase their hold on the countryside while the new government is shaking down.

c. The VC have exhibited a powerful capability for at least a brief period of intensified operations, and their skill in counter-airborne operations is improving.

d. There is ground for concern that infiltration of materiel has increased, but 1itde hard proof. This is a prime intelligence deficiency. It affects not only military tactics but our over-all Southeast Asia strategy.

4. The conclusions were based on these factors:

a. VC incidents have increased greatly since the coup, going as high as 1,000 in one week. While presently decreasing, the post-coup average is still above the 1962 average (363 per week) and the average for the first half of 1963 (266 per week).

b. The great preponderance of incidents are in the III and IV Corps zones.

c. GVN weapons losses have increased greatly since the coup, and exceed by a considerable measure the 1962 weekly loss average (99) as well as the first half 1963 weekly average (116).

d. VC weapons captured have not shown a corresponding increase, with the result that the weapons loss ratio has grown more unfavorable to the GVN since the coup.

e. The VC appear, despite heavy casualties, still to be able to maintain their hard core strength.

f. The numerous changes in GVN division and corps boundaries, changes in major commanders, in sector commanders and district chiefs have all united to cause organizational turmoil, and to provide an inviting opportunity for VC action.

g. VC activities, such as that which resulted in the damage of twenty aircraft on 24 November, exhibit a growing enemy anti-aircraft capability. This is reinforced by the recent capture of AA weapons and related equipment of possible Russian or Chinese design.

h. Additionally, the continued appearance of recoilless rifles and ammunition, of apparent Chinese design, as well as new Chinese rifles in the Delta raises the question of the possibility of increased infiltration.

i. Disquiet has been expressed by both COMUSMACV and CINCPAC regarding the possibility of increased infiltration, and has resulted in recommendations for relaxation of various restrictions related to border patrol and surveillance activities.

5. The foregoing presentation, although acknowledged to cover a brief period, was viewed as possibly indicative of a protracted intensification of VC effort, as well as suggesting the possibility of increased outside aid, both of which might seriously derange our prospects for the future. Your comments are requested on the factors outlined above as well as on the conclusions.

6. To meet situation described in briefing, DOD made four suggestions, as follows:

a. Institute program of pressures in NVN of rising intensity.

b. Institute probes into Laos, including use of US advisers and air resupply.

c. Institute aerial recon of both Cambodia and Laos.

d. Accelerate dispatch of US economic experts to SVN.

7. After discussion, following was agreed:

a. To expedite for further consideration plans for phased operations against NVN.

b. Institute analysis of waterborne traffic into Viet-Nam and develop plans to interrupt infiltration by this means.

c. Develop for further consideration detailed plans for probes into Laos including aerial recon over Laos and Cambodia.

d. Assessment of political consequences of "c" above including what must be done covertly and what Lao Government might agree to

e. Expedite high-level economic expert to assist you in economic negotiations with GVN.

f. Give you herewith authority to respond favorably and immediately to Minh's proposal for "braintrust". We visualize this as creating any type of close advisory arrangement you deem appropriate and agreeable to GVN.

g. Sending William Jorden shortly to Saigon with a mission of examining evidence to support new report re-emphasizing Hanoi's control and support of VC.



352. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, December 7, 1963, midnight.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26-1 S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. In The Vantage Point, pp. 62-63, Johnson recalls that Rusk sent him this cable and quotes from paragraph 1.

1122. Herewith report of USOM provincial representative Young/2/ on Long An Province as of December 6.

/2/Earl J. Young.

"1. The only progress made in Long An Province during month of November 1963 has been by the Communist Viet Cong. The past thirty days have produced a day-by-day elimination of US/ Vietnamese sponsored strategic hamlets and the marked increase in Viet Cong influence, military operations, physical control of the country-side and Communist controlled combat hamlets.

"2. At the end of September 1963 province officials stated that 219 strategic hamlets were completed and met the six criteria. Effective 30 November 1963 this figure has been reduced to about 45 on the best estimates of MAAG, USOM and the new province chief, Major Dao. 27 hamlets were attacked in Nov, compared with the figure of 77 for June. This would appear to be an improvement; however, the explanation is a simple one: so many strategic hamlets have been rendered ineffective by the Viet Cong that only 27 were worth attacking this month.

"3. Of the 219 hamlets containing armed defenders (hamlet militia) in September, 50 remain armed today. The remainder have turned in their weapons or deserted.

"4. The reason for this unhappy situation is the failure of the Govt of Vietnam to support and protect the hamlets. The concept of the strategic hamlet called for a self-defense force capable of holding off enemy attack for a brief period until regular forces (ARVN, Civil Guard, or SDC) could come to the rescue. In hamlet after hamlet this assistance never came, or in most cases, arrived the following morning during daylight hours.

"A few (ten or twelve) half-trained farmers armed with shotguns have neither the experience not leadership to defend a large hamlet against the efficient guerrilla force, no matter how small. When it became known throughout the province that no help was forthcoming until daylight, the will and desire to resist dropped. From this point even three or four Viet Cong can--and do--demand entrance to the hamlet and receive it without opposition. The hamlet chiefs murdered, the houses of all relocated families destroyed, the barbed wire fence is cut, and another hamlet is eliminated.

"5. Two explanations are presented for the lack of assistance: A. There are not sufficient troops to protect key installations and district headquarters and at the same time to go to the assistance of the hamlet.

"B. Both official orders and policy prohibit the movement of troops after dark to go to the assistance of hamlets or isolated military posts.

"6. Even today, the order by a Vietnamese military commander to one of his units to remain (not conduct operations, just remain) out over-night is so unusual that it brings marked comments and a faint light of hope to his US MAAG adviser.

"7. What are the implications of this situation to the AID/rural affairs program?

"8. The provincial agreement is tailored in each province to use the strategic hamlet program as its vehicle for improvement of the economic, social and security conditions of the Vietnamese people. Funds are provided for assistance in moving to one hamlet, for training hamlet defenders, for self-help projects to bring schools, medical treatment, agricultural improvement and in general to upgrade the standard of living through the joint efforts of the local population and American assistance. When the Viet Cong have gained control or so terrorized the residents of a hamlet these very worthwhile programs cannot succeed. That is the situation in Long An Province.

"9. The strategic hamlet program in this province can be made workable and very effective against the Viet Cong. But help must come immediately in the form of additional troops and new concepts of operation, not the same re-heated French tactics of 1954 beefed up with more helicopters and tanks. The hamlets must be defended if this province is not to fall under complete control of the Viet Cong in the next several months.

"10. The newly assigned MAAG adviser and the new Province Chief have all the earmarks of intelligent, dedicated and hard-working officers. But they must receive full support or their plans will never leave the conference room."

11. See also General Don's statement to me on Long An,/3/ notably his statement that totally useless and impractical hamlets were built with forced labor so that grafters would receive the money allocated to strategic hamlets.

/3/Reported in telegram 1121 from Saigon, December 7, in which Lodge reported on his discussion with General Don on December 7. The discussion covered South Vietnamese-Cambodian relations, the effect of Sihanouk's neutrality proposal on the war in South Vietnam, and the need for a renewed effort in the war against the Viet Cong. Don mentioned problems with strategic hamlets in Long An and he informed Lodge that there would be a marked improvement in prosecution of the war in January 1964. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

12. I am asking MACV and USOM to find out how the above and the scandalous conditions described by General Don escaped inspection.

13. Long An is the province immediately bordering the south of Saigon and its loss could cut off the city's food supply.



353. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, December 7, 1963, 7 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC exclusive for Felt. Passed to the White House, the CIA, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

1123. For Secretary from Lodge.

1. Your 908./2/

/2/Document 351.

2. My wire describing my talk with General Don Saturday morning/3/ responds in part to your wire and shows Generals think they are working at highest pitch. I overlook no opportunity to prod them, although I honestly do not believe they need prodding.

/3/See footnote 3, Document 352.

3. I think DOD conclusions your paragraph 3 are sound.

4. Regarding your paragraph 6a I have made detailed suggestion to Harriman.

5. Will of course cooperate to utmost on all points paragraph 7.

6. Basis subsequent talk with Kim, GVN does not appear to have precise ideas re "braintrust". However, we will push idea and further meeting with Kim is planned for early next week.

7. My wire describing my talk with Don and my wire on conditions in Long An Province/4/ make clear that the new government has inherited a mess and we can expect more unpleasant surprises. We realize this and are capitalizing on it to utmost. The Generals are able men and will do big things once they get started, which they think will be in January. But December will be rough.

/4/Document 352.



354. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) /1/

Washington, December 7, 1963,12:40 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Francis H. Rawlings of the Office of the Secretary of State.


McN. said that while he was seeing the Pres. on economic moves and personnel reduction, he told him that he should stop over in Saigon on the way back and he said he had already mentioned this to the Sec. The Pres. gave McN. quite a lecture on South Viet-Nam and expressed concern that we as a government were not doing everything we should. The Pres. was to make a statement to the press about personnel reductions and at the same time he told the press that McN. was going to Saigon;/2/ this was contrary to what the Sec and McN. had agreed on. McN. said he might comment that this was just one of a series of visits, that he had not made one for 24 months, and that he would stop in Saigon on the way home from the NATO meeting.

/2/McNamara visited Vietnam, December 19-20. President Johnson announced the McNamara visit at a press conference on December 7. For the transcript, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964, pp. 34-38.


355. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson/1/

Washington, December 7, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vietnam, Memos and Misc.

Southeast Asia and Vietnam

Pursuant to our conversation last Thursday night,/2/ attached herewith are memoranda which were sent to President Kennedy over the past years./3/ They deal with the Southeast Asian situation and Viet Nam in particular. In addition there is appended a speech of mine of two years ago and a report to the Senate a year ago./4/ Subsequent events have changed some of the details. But it seems to me that the basic observations and conclusions remain valid. In some specifics, actions of the Executive Branch coincide with these observations and conclusions. In many they do not. In any event, this material may be useful by way of background.

I would add only these thoughts on the present situation:

/2/ No record of this conversation of December 5 has been found.

/3/Attached was a copy of Mansfield's August 19 memorandum to the President (Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 258) and a statement from Mansfield to Kennedy, November 20, on U.S.-Cambodian relations, not printed.

/4/The speech, which was attached, was a commencement address by Mansfield to the graduating class of 1962 at Michigan State University, June 10, 1962, entitled "Interests and Policies in Southeast Asia." See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Document 214, footnote 4. The report, which was not attached, is apparently that of December 1962 which was sent to the President and reflected Mansfield's own conclusions; see ibid., p. 779. This report was subsequently sent to the Senate in modified form in February 1963; see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 42.

1. Present policy says that there is a war which can be won in South Viet Nam alone. There may be only a war which will, in time, involve U.S. forces throughout Southeast Asia, and finally throughout China itself in search of victory. What national interests in Asia would steel the American people for the massive costs of an ever-deepening involvement of that kind? It may be that we are confronted with a dilemma not unlike that which faced us in Korea a decade ago. It will be recalled that Mr. Eisenhower's response was not to pursue the war to victory but to go to Korea to make peace, in reality, a truce.

2. Similarly, there may be a truce that could be won now in Viet Nam alone and eventually a peace which might be won throughout Southeast Asia at a price commensurate with American interests. That peace should mean, in the end, a Southeast Asia less dependent on our aid-resources and support, less under our control, not cut off from China but, still, not overwhelmed by China. If there is any opportunity of winning that kind of truce and peace it would appear to involve initially the following actions:

a. It would involve an effort to strengthen the hold of the Saigon government on those parts of South Viet Nam which it now controls. What is called for are political and social acts of popular benefit by the Vietnamese authorities where they can act, even if it means curtailing the present elusive and so far unsuccessful chase of the Viet Cong all over the land.

b. It would involve an astute diplomatic offensive which would seek to enlist France, Britain, India and, perhaps, even Russia and all other sources of potential use in a bonafide effort to bring about an end to the North-South Vietnamese conflict. A settlement might be on terms which reduced our influence (and costs) provided it also inhibited Chinese political domination. France is the key country.

c. It would involve U.S. understanding, sympathy and sensible encouragement for the Cambodian desire to stand on its own feet without one-sided U.S. aid. At this time, Cambodia would appear to be the principal prototype of any eventual peace for Southeast Asia. It would be an independent southeast Asia, not dependent on a costly U.S. prop. If Cambodia falls to its neighbors or if it goes over to China, we may as well resign ourselves to an involvement of years in all of Southeast Asia at great cost in resources and, probably, lives. Or alternatively, we will be faced with an ignominious and dangerous abandonment of the Southeast Asian mainland to Chinese political domination. In connection with these alternatives we need to keep in mind the rising public hostility towards foreign aid in particular and government costs in general.


356. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, December 9, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Aides Files-Bundy, Memos to the President.


Ike and Cabot Lodge

Joe Alsop has just called to tell me that Felix Belair/2/ swears up and down that General Eisenhower told him personally of his interest in having Cabot Lodge get into the race, and specifically said that he had let Lodge know of this interest. Joe said that General Eisenhower called Belair today, however, to say that Lodge was only one of many and that he (Eisenhower) could not support any one candidate over another because his travel expenses in all his Republican travels were paid by the Republican National Committee!

/2/The New York Times reporter.

Mike Forrestal is just back from Saigon and reports that Cabot has indeed begun to think in terms of political possibilities. Mike's guess is that Lodge would very much like to be honorably free of his responsibilities in Saigon and is hoping to be able to report to you in about two months that the situation is so much better that he can now fairly ask for relief.

I report all this because you may want to have it in mind in your last instructions to Bob McNamara before he goes out there. If I understand your thinking correctly, it might be desirable to have Bob say flatly to Lodge that if he can leave the situation clearly better than he found it, after six months, it will be entirely reasonable for him to ask for relief in February. (He went out in late August.)



357. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, December 10, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos. to the President, McGeorge Bundy. Confidential.

Your meeting with David Nes at 12:15 p.m./2/

/2/According to his daily appointments diary, the President met with Nes and Bundy on December 10 from 12:37 to 12:55 p.m. (Ibid.) No record of the conversation has been found. Nes took up his duties as Minister-Counselor and Consul General in Saigon on January 19, 1964.

Nes is the nominee of Rusk, Ball, Harriman and Hilsman for the job of DCM to Lodge. I have reviewed his record, obtained additional recommendations, and talked with him. Subject to your interview and assessment, I agree with the recommendation.

I attach answers to overnight queries which I sent to John Ferguson, the Ambassador in Morocco, a shrewd man who was Nes' last boss, and a message from David Bruce/3/ who knew him ten years ago in Paris, and this year while he has been at the Imperial Defense College. You will see that they both rate him very high.

/3/Neither the answer from Ferguson nor the message from David K.E. Bruce, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, has been found.

Nes is soft-spoken and a little bit more Ivy League than I myself like in tone and accent. He is also shrewd and knowledgeable, and while there is nothing quite like the job in Saigon, it is true that the job in Morocco was complicated and varied.

Nes showed justified confidence in his ability to cope with AID and CIA. He said the main problem would be with the juggernaut of the military, with lots of brass, lots of money, and a limited sense of politics. I agree with him.

I told Nes that a major problem in this case would be to combine loyalty to a quite strong-minded Ambassador with effective management of all kinds of details in which the Ambassador would not be interested. He showed immediate comprehension. Indeed, what I liked most was his eagerness to take on an assignment in which it may easily be impossible for him to satisfy us all. A timid man would not want to be Lodge's deputy right now.

If you approve the recommendation, it is planned that Nes should go with Bob McNamara to Saigon and then check back in Washington to finish his briefing, and in London to get his family. We can get him on the scene in the first week of January, fully briefed and organized, and I think more haste would make less speed in this case.

I will pursue you after your meeting to get your orders.



358. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, December 10, 1963, 6:39 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret; Flash; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, Paris, London, and CINCPAC. Drafted by Koren; cleared by Hilsman in draft, by Forrestal, and by Harriman; and approved by Ball. Forrestal sent the following memorandum to Bundy, December 10, describing this telegram:
"I have cleared an unnecessarily lengthy telegram from the Department to Lodge telling him we are against neutralism and want to win the war, and that is why McNamara is coming out. Any conference we might agree to about Cambodia would have nothing to do with neutralism in South Vietnam, and we are now inclined to doubt that circumstances make any conference on Cambodia possible. We are still consulting our allies and will keep in touch with the GVN." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vietnam Cables)
Bundy wrote "O.K." on the text of the memorandum.

922. Embtel 1135./2/ You may categorically, and in a manner most likely to convince them, say to the Generals that USG in no way favors neutral solution for SVN. As you know, powerful voices such as NY Times/3/ and Lippmann have been advocating some sort of neutral solution but this in no wise reflects US Government policy which has consistently been a win the war policy. As you know from recent messages, this is US policy from the top down. You may further tell the Generals that Secretary McNamara's trip is further evidence of our determined effort to accelerate our joint effort to defeat VC and not to let a single detail escape us that might contribute to this goal.

/2/ Telegram 1135, December 10, reads as follows:
"I have been asked to meet at 10 am tomorrow morning with Generals Minh and Don, Prime Minister Tho and Foreign Minister Lam. Subject is Sihanouk's neutrality proposal. It would be most helpful if I could be authorized to say at this meeting that US has decided to oppose conference and, in any event, not to participate itself. We have reports that some of Generals are seriously concerned that US secretly favors neutral solution for South Viet Nam and that there is even suspicion that my stop-over in Paris on the way back to Saigon was for the purpose of talks with French in this vein. At this critical juncture I should like to be in a position to lay their fears to rest definitively." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

/3/See the editorial in The New York Times, entitled "Cambodia and Vietnam," December 12, 1963.

As for Sihanouk's conference proposal, you may say we are not going to participate in any conference under circumstances or conditions which would jeopardize SVN interests or our mutual objectives. Latest developments in Cambodia make it unlikely that a conference could be held under conditions which would be acceptable to us as well as to Thais and Vietnamese.

FYI. Only conceivable reason for US to attend conference would be possibility of positive gains resulting. We have in mind, for example, provisions making it impossible for Sihanouk to abandon neutrality and throw in completely with Chicoms and a mechanism that would be effective in sealing the border. Neither looks at all possible at the moment. End FYI.

You may say we are consulting with our other allies and we will continue in close consultation with GVN. French asked for three-way talks with UK and us and we are going to have them in Paris this week./4/ You can tell Generals that this is part of consultation process and we are not going there to barter away our own stake in SEA or Vietnamese and Thai interests.

/4/This working-level meeting in Paris eventually resulted in a proposal for a declaration by the Cochairmen of Geneva Conference of 1954, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, on Cambodian neutrality, and a protocol for a potential conference. Differences between the United States and Cambodia prevented acceptance of the proposals.

FYI only. UK and France apparently still favor conference. There is little disposition here to attend a conference, particularly in light of latest Cambodian outburst /5/ and we are going to try to persuade UK and French of the dangers inherent in conference and the impracticality of trying to force Vietnamese and Thais to attend willy-nilly.

/5/On December 8, Thai Prime Minister Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat died and the Cambodian Government declared a national holiday. During the celebrations, Sihanouk supposedly stated that the enemies of Kampuchea, Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Sarit Thanarat, and "the great boss of these aggressors," presumably a reference to President Kennedy, had all died recently. (Memorandum from Hughes to Rusk, December 9; Johnson Library, National Security File, Cambodian Country Series)

Please repeat to Paris for Koren report of meeting.



359. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, December 11, 1963, 7:30 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Paris, London, and CINCPAC.

1142. CINCPAC for POLAD. Paris for Koren. Ref: Deptel 922./2/ Following summarizes major points of 1-1/2 hour meeting this morning with top GVN officials, including Generals Minh, Don, Kim, Dinh, Prime Minister Tho, Foreign Secretary Lam.

/2/Document 358.

1. GVN leaders expressed deepest possible concern over unfortunate effects on war effort of a negotiated settlement before victory. This concern apparently brought to surface by New York Times editorial of December 8/3/ which was discussed in an AFP despatch captioned "The New York Times and the conference proposed by Prince Sihanouk" carried by Vietnam Press. They pointed out that apparent acceptance of proposal on neutrality conference on Cambodia and of Vietnam negotiation prior to victory by such influential journal as New York Times was having serious effect on morale Vietnamese engaged in anti-Communist struggle. While Generals mentioned specifically deleterious effect on morale of junior officers, quite clear that they equally shaken.

/3/See footnote 3, Document 358.

2. I read them pertinent sections reftel which reassured them considerably, but, while appreciating general tenor of telegram, Lam immediately saw loophole in wording of tel which implied we might go to conference under certain conditions. I reassured group that we had no intention of participating in a conference which would jeopardize US or GVN interests. I also said US at Paris would seek to persuade UK and France of conference dangers.

We also discussed US long-range policy toward Cambodia as well as GVN thinking about its own position vis-a-vis RKG. Details this discussion being reported other channels./4/

/4/Not found.

At strong urging GVN leaders, I promised to try to get official public clarification our position re conference which would tend to refute New York Times version.

Fuller report follows./5/

/5/Telegram 1143 from Saigon, December 11. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

Comment: I definitely believe US should make public statement, either in Washington or Saigon, making it absolutely clear, without mentioning New York Times' name, that we do not agree with the thought in the editorial.



360. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson/1/

Washington, December 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Memos. and Misc. Top Secret. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 174C.


You will probably be meeting with Secretary McNamara before he takes off on his mission to Saigon and the following (which is based upon my recent visit there)/2/ may be of help to you in giving guidance to the Secretary.

/2/After the Honolulu meeting on November 20, Forrestal and Kattenburg went to Vietnam. Forrestal also visited Cambodia at the end of the month and returned to Washington early in December.

The Present Situation

The most urgent current problem in South Vietnam is the strong Viet Cong position in the delta provinces just south of Saigon. Recent reports have suggested that Communist control of these provinces may be far more wide-spread that we had previously thought. One recent report states that out of 219 strategic hamlets in the Long An Province which had been reported as completed under the Diem regime, only 45 have actually been identified./3/ The implication is either that the Viet Cong have infiltrated a large number of established hamlets because of the failure of the GVN to protect them, or that the province chiefs under the old regime reported as completed hamlets which did not meet the criteria of the strategic hamlet program. Since allocations of money to the various provinces were made on the basis of the number of hamlets reported completed, there was an incentive both for political and financial reasons for province chiefs to tend to exaggerate the number of strategic hamlets built.

/3/See Document 352.

To some extent the recent rather alarming reports may be the result of a new look being taken by the new regime at an old program. There is, however, evidence that a certain amount of inertia has occurred in provincial administration since the coup. A large number of the province chiefs have been changed and some of the newly appointed ones have been changed again. This has produced a certain indecisiveness in administration, the effect of which has been transmitted downwards through the district chiefs and into the villages.

Another problem has been the fact that the strategic hamlet program was closely associated with Counselor Nhu and consequently has been criticized by the leaders of the new regime. These leaders have not, however, come up with new programs or new directives to replace the old; and until they do, subordinate officials of their highly centralized Government are not apt to take any initiatives.

On the military front, however, there is some cause for optimism. Since there is now virtually no political interference in military operations, regional commanders have, in some areas, shown more aggressiveness and drive than they had in the past. More effective contact has been made with the enemy by the ARVN, and our military people in Saigon feel optimistic for the future.

The principal difficulty remains what it always has been, i.e. bringing the government effectively to the villages in such a way as to win the peasants' confidence and support.

Operations Against North Vietnam

For some time the Central Intelligence Agency has been engaged in joint clandestine operations with ARVN against North Vietnam. Despite considerable effort, however, very little has come of these operations, partly because of the tight police control in the North and partly because of their very small size. It would be worthwhile exploring the possibility of larger-scale operations against selected targets in the North provided we carried them out in connection with a political program designed to get a practical reaction out of Hanoi. So far such a program has not been worked out and--even more importantly--the capacity for carrying out larger-scale operations does not now exist. It will take time to develop such a capacity, and there is no reason why we should not do so while we try to work out a diplomatic scenario in which military pressure against the North would play a part.

Laos Cross Border Operations

There has been considerable interest in stepping up operations across the Laotian border from South Vietnam against the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." This is a perennial and has often come up when difficulties develop in the military situation within South Vietnam. Actually we have had little or no hard intelligence since October of last year on the use of Laos as a corridor into South Vietnam. The recent discoveries of new weapons and ammunition supplies in South Vietnam have been made in the Delta and in the Ca Mau Peninsula in the southernmost part of the country. I was told in Saigon that the best guess was that these were supplies reaching South Vietnam through Cambodia via the Mekong or from the sea. Nevertheless, carefully controlled intelligence operations across the Laotian border should be considered provided we balance carefully the risk of discovery which would upset the delicate balance of forces in Laos against what we would expect to gain from these operations. In order to do this, we should try to keep the operations as covert as possible and make sure that Ambassador Unger in Vientiane has a say in what goes on. Past experience has shown that the best way of accomplishing this is to control this kind of operation covertly through CIA, rather than through military channels

Guidance for Secretary McNamara

In light of the above, you might wish to tell McNamara that you hope he will be able to focus the attention of the Vietnamese generals on their first priority problem, the immediate restoration of administrative initiative in the provinces, especially the Delta. They should subordinate all political dickering among themselves to the fundamental necessity of getting the most effective officials appointed-and having done so, they should keep them in their jobs and support them. Secretary McNamara might also tell them that in his opinion it is of utmost importance to establish a new program for the villages and immediately issue the necessary implementing directives. He might also offer our help in getting up such a program, something which should be rather easy for us to do, since it would draw heavily from the old Strategic Hamlet Program.

Secretary McNamara might also direct our own military and intelligence people to cooperate on devising a significant capability to strike at selected targets in North Vietnam. The question of when and how we would use any assets we can develop would be deferred until the Government here has worked out a program.

Lastly, Secretary McNamara and Director McCone should investigate ways and means of ensuring that Laos cross border operations are conducted covertly both from the Vietnamese and U.S. point of view and subject to the closest kind of control to ensure that we don't upset Ambassador Unger's continuous juggling act in Laos.



361. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff /1/

Washington, December 11, 1963, 6:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Memoranda of Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Dolores Perruso.

Harriman said he thought Cambodia is more important than Laos as an infiltration. . . ./2/

/2/Ellipsis in the source text.

Forrestal said he believed he said that in his memorandum about Cambodia./3/ The sea frontier is the place where the supplies come in.

/3/Forrestal said this in his memorandum on Vietnam, Document 360.

Forrestal said the first priority has nothing to do with the border.

Harriman said you are diverting attention.

Harriman told Forrestal that if he talked to Bob [McNamara] about this he hoped he would talk particularly about the problem of Cambodia. He said you have seen the latest take and it is quite distressing. We still want to see if our Amb could produce something.

Forrestal said that when he left Honolulu he was told there would be no decision made on cross-border operation. He said he came here and found they are ready to go.

Harriman said nobody had agreed to it.

Forrestal said Kaysen is going out.

Harriman said Bill [Colby?] is going too.

Forrestal said the Pentagon has the responsibility and has the control.

Harriman didn't think this was true.

Forrestal insisted they did. He said he talked to McCone and says they have no control.

Harriman said Bill is not under this impression.

Forrestal asked where the messages come in if we don't see them any more. He said that is why we don't have control any more.

Harriman said Bill saw a few but they divulged nothing.

Forrestal said the only ones Bill could see are the old CIA ones. He said whenever CIA is in control, we are okay. He said it is important to have Leonard [Unger] come down and explain.

Harriman said he was not worried about seeing this thing approved. He said he thought it was okay for him to come down. Also they are afraid there may be some shooting from the other side. If you want him to come down, okay. Unger has to be briefed and be told to have a stiff back.


362. Telegram From the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, December 12, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Cables. Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to the Department of State for Hilsman and the White House for McGeorge Bundy. The time of transmission on the source text is unclear.

DIASO-34783-63. The President has asked me to stop in Saigon on my return from the NATO meeting in order to assure that we receive promptly the plans and recommendations of the Country Team for:

1. Covert operations by South Vietnamese forces, utilizing such support of US forces as is necessary, against North Vietnam. Plans for such operations should include varying levels of pressure all designed to make clear to the North Vietnamese that the US will not accept a Communist victory in South Vietnam and that we will escalate the conflict to whatever level is required to insure their defeat.

2. Cross-border operations into a strip of Laos approximately fifty kilometers wide. The operations to be carried out by specially trained South Vietnamese forces utilizing such US advisory personnel as are necessary. These operations would be designed both to obtain evidence of infiltration of military cadres and military equipment from North Vietnam into South Vietnam and also to disrupt such infiltration.

3. Such aerial reconnaissance as is required to check on the extent of infiltration of arms from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia.

4. Border patrol activities designed to determine and check the extent of the infiltration of cadres and military equipment from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam.

5. Accelerating and intensifying the military campaign against the Viet Cong in thirteen critical provinces. You will recall we agreed in Honolulu that the Country Team would prepare a detailed analysis of the political, economic and military problem in each of these provinces and a detailed plan providing for the solution of those problems. The plans should be specific as to geography, time and resources to be employed.

As a foundation for the review of these plans, I should like to receive the Country Team's appraisal of the effectiveness of the new government's political, economic and military programs.

I expect to arrive in Saigon mid-morning, Thursday, December 19, and hope to meet with you and your staff during that day and the next to review in detail the plans and recommendations which I have been instructed to take back with me to Washington. William Colby and General Krulak will arrive a day ahead of me for the purpose of completing a preliminary review before I arrive.


363. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, December 12, 1963, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 US/McNAMARA. Secret. Received at 5:15 a.m. and passed to the Department of Defense for McNamara at 6 a.m. and to the White House at 6:03 a.m.

1146. Pls pass SecDef McNamara from Lodge. Your DIASO 34783-63./2/

/2/Document 362.

1. Appropriate members of US Mission are preparing plans and recommendations to cover all points your telegram.

2. Regarding your paragraph 5, believe that a political problem strictly speaking has not yet emerged in the provinces because the new government has not yet made up its mind on what its carrot versus stick equation is to be. Moreover the evaluation of the political situation in each province can only be done by a politically-minded person who is on the spot and speaks the language and knows the individual people. Neither the USOM rep nor the MAAG officer nor our own Embassy language officers are in a position to do this.

3. Referring to the second paragraph of your paragraph 5, the new government has not yet produced political, economic and military "programs". The most that one can say so far is that they are discussing ideas and notions. I hope they will have some programs by the time you get here, but I doubt it.

4. I assume you will want to go to work immediately on arrival and am planning to hold the meetings in the MAC/V conference room which is the best room we have in Saigon for this purpose. I estimate that two days should be allowed for the presentation you want.

5. Would like one hour of your time for myself alone.

6. Will have office space for you.



364. Minutes of Meeting of the Special Group for Counterinsurgency/1/

Washington, December 12, 1963, 2 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Special Group Counterinsurgency Files: Lot 68 D 451, Minutes of Meetings. Secret. Drafted by James W. Dingeman who is not listed among the participants.

Governor Harriman, Mr. McCone, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Wilson vice Mr. Murrow, Mr. Solbert vice Mr. Gilpatric, Mr. Poats vice Mr. Bell, General Krulak vice General Taylor, Mr. Nolan vice the Attorney General
Mr. Hannah and Mr. Mendenhall were present for Items 2 and 3
Mr. Margolies was present for Item No. 4
Mr. Cottrell and Mr. Maechling were present for the meeting

[Here follows agenda item 1.]

2. Southeast Asia Status Report

Viet-Nam--Mr. Mendenhall stated that the war is going badly and pointed out specific reasons why there has been lack of progress in the Delta area. He added, however, that a number of recommendations are now being considered to reverse this trend.

It has been difficult to get Strategic Hamlet moving again because of the lack of central direction and the re-establishment of administrative controls. Mr. Mendenhall believes that it will take some time for the new Government to improve this condition.

Mr. McCone commented that a recent report has been brought to his attention which states that the situation in Long An Province is rapidly deteriorating. He asked if all the responsible agencies agreed with this appraisal. There was general agreement that the situation in this province is serious and that prompt action is needed.

Mr. McCone stated that the responsibility of the Group to follow up reports on Viet-Nam that indicate a need for action should be clarified. During the last few months, the Group had received advance warning by various individuals that the hamlet program in the Delta was becoming over extended but apparently no action was taken to look into this situation.

The Chairman suggested that following Secretary McNamara's trip to Viet-Nam, the role of the Group to follow up on the execution of programs for Viet-Nam should be reviewed and clarified.

Thailand--Mr. Hannah reported that, in general, all programs related to internal security are progressing satisfactorily and it is planned to follow up on those programs that require special attention. Problems will undoubtedly arise as a result of Sarit's death. Although Thanom has been named Prime Minister, it is believed that there will be considerable maneuvering for power by various rivals and cliques. However, at this time the political situation looks favorable.

The Country Team has been asked to report by the end of the month on progress that has been made to get the Thai Government to prepare their own version of the Internal Security Plan.

The Group requested that Defense submit a full report as soon as possible on what additional steps will be taken to correct the deficiencies in the locomotives sent to Thailand.

3. Remarks by Mr. Forrestal

Viet-Nam--Mr. Forrestal stated that he agreed that the situation in the Delta was serious and that one of the reasons that this has not been uncovered before is that previous reports on progress at the province level had been too optimistic.

He observed that there is inertia within the new Government; although they recognized that they have problems, little has been done to resolve them, or to take positive action. He recommended that the US Government get across to the key generals that they should stop political quarreling and concentrate on the war effort in threatened provinces. We should assist the current Government in the preparation of a new hamlet program in order to get this program moving as soon as possible. If we concentrate on the war, and not divert our attention to marginal problems, the chances of success will be greatly enhanced. He recommends that a high priority be given to the Delta.

Mr. McCone added that the Amnesty Program is important and should be included as part of any accelerated program.

During a discussion on the validity of reports on progress in the provinces, Mr. Forrestal stated that it should be understood that normally there are only two US advisors at the province level, one representing the military and the other the AID mission. These individuals have only a limited opportunity to obtain a detailed assessment of the situation and, by necessity, have to rely on the province officials as their chief source of information.

[Here follow Forrestal's remarks about Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand and agenda item 4.]

James W. Dingeman
Executive Secretary

365. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, December 12, 1963, 3:55 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Mendenhall; cleared by Hilsman, Robert J. McCloskey, Deputy Director, Office of News, Bureau of Public Affairs, and Frank P. Lockhart, public affairs officer in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs; and approved by Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, London, and Paris.

931. CINCPAC for POLAD. Paris for Koren. Saigon's 1142 and 1143./2/ We concur your view on desirability public statement US position on international negotiations regarding Viet-Nam. Believe it would be better for statement to be made in Saigon than Washington since that should be less likely provoke press request for US public statement (which we prefer avoid) on proposed international conference on Cambodian neutrality.

/2/ Telegram 1142 is Document 359; regarding telegram 1143, see footnote 5 thereto.

Suggest you make statement along following lines:

"International discussion of the Viet-Nam problem has been suggested in some press circles. I wish to state that the US Government does not see that any purpose would be served by international talks on Viet-Nam. It, therefore, is giving no consideration to such talks.

"US policy toward Viet-Nam continues to be as outlined by the late President Kennedy in 1961 and as reaffirmed by President Johnson. Like the Republic of Viet-Nam, we are devoted to peace. Our primary purpose in Viet-Nam is to help the government and people of -South Viet-Nam maintain their independence.

"As President Kennedy stated in 1961,/3/ the measures we are taking to assist the defense efforts of South Viet-Nam will no longer be necessary if the Communist authorities in North Viet-Nam will stop their campaign to destroy the Republic of Viet-Nam.

/3/Apparent reference to Kennedy's letter to Diem, December 14, 1961, the text of which is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 801.

"Our goal is thus to return to the cease-fire established in Viet-Nam by the Geneva Accords of 1954. If Hanoi will cease and desist in its subversive aggression against the Republic of Viet-Nam, and the Government in Saigon is thereby enabled to extend its authority without resistance throughout South Viet-Nam, a cease-fire will result.

"Meanwhile, as long as Hanoi continues to support the guerrilla war against the Government of the Republic of Viet-Nam, the US will continue to furnish whatever assistance is required to help that government resist aggression."/4/

/4/The Embassy, in telegram 1157 from Saigon, December 13, took exception to the Department's proposed statement. The telegram reads as follows:
"GVN's immediate concern is conference on Cambodian neutrality which they rightly fear would encourage neutralism in South Viet-Nam and undermine will to fight in this country. As proposed statement does not address Cambodian neutrality proposal, I do not believe it would be reassuring to GVN, given context in which question has been raised. We are better off standing on Deptel 922, substance of which I have passed to them privately, and which goes further than proposed public statement.
"I must reiterate as strongly as I can that until U.S. has turned down Sihanouk's proposal definitively, there is going to remain in Viet-Nam a large residue of doubt about our ultimate intentions. And this doubt will inevitably have a bad effect on the determination of the new Vietnamese leadership to pursue the war effort vigorously." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET; telegram 922 is Document 358.)



366. Memorandum From the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Carroll) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/


Washington, December 13, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69-A-3131, Vietnam 381. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.


1. The attachment is an assessment of the Viet Cong's military capabilities in the Republic of Viet-Nam, with emphasis on factors most likely to affect the Viet Cong insurgency effort.

2. This information has been provided to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to interested elements of the Joint Staff.

Joseph F. Carroll
Lieutenant General, USAF




The government has apparently been unable to materially reduce the strength of the Viet Cong in spite of the increased number of RVN offensive operations. The Viet Cong by and large retain de facto control of much of the countryside and have steadily increased the overall intensity of the effort. In 1963, the Viet Cong have effectively harassed RVN lines of road and rail communications; developed their main force units; conducted intensive psychological warfare campaigns; effectively harassed and terrorized a large portion of the population along the northern and central coastal plains (although primary enemy emphasis remains in the delta region); varied the intensity and scale of their armed attacks against strategic hamlets almost at will; and, in general, have maintained a high level of guerrilla activity. To date, with few exceptions, deployments of RVN military forces in selected areas have not been able to compress the enemy into manageable pockets and destroy him.

While increasing RVN operational activity may demonstrate positive results in the near future, up to the present time the Viet Cong have stood off a better equipped army composed of regular and paramilitary forces totalling about 500,000 men; nearly five times the maximum estimated strength of the Viet Cong hard-core and irregular forces.

Statistically, the number of Viet-Cong initiated incidents, including armed attacks, shows a definite trend upwards since February 1963 and in general has remained above the 1962 monthly average since August. There has been generally less fluctuation in monthly large-scale attacks in 1963, averaging about 12 per month, than in 1962. RVNAF weapons losses have risen over the past year. Thus far, approximately 2,400 modern weapons have been lost, 900 of these in November alone. On the other hand, Viet Cong weapons losses have gradually declined.

On the other hand, the casualty rate and particularly the KIA ratio continues to favor government forces. Estimated Viet Cong casualties in 1963 through November total approximately 27,000 (20,000 KIA), more than the maximum strength of the Viet Cong main force figures carried by COMUSMACV (21-23,000) or almost one-half of the estimated Viet Cong irregular strength (60-80,000). The casualties may have been over-estimated. Assuming, however, that these are accurate statistics, the Viet Cong have two means of replacing these man-power losses: importation of cadres from North Viet-Nam or local recruitment within South Viet-Nam, or both. In any case, large numbers of men are involved. Concerning infiltration, only 914 persons are known to have been introduced into the RVN during 1963. Even if this represents only a small fraction of those actually arriving, clearly the bulk of the reported Viet Cong casualties must be replaced through extensive local recruitment. A recruitment program of this magnitude would appear to indicate a lack of meaningful progress in government efforts to attain control and influence -over the rural areas to deny the Viet Cong their main source of strength--the rural populace. Most significant perhaps, while the Viet Cong reportedly suffered over 27,000 casualties, they initiated and maintained a level of incidents and armed attacks in November which reached an all-time high.

The Viet Cong main force units have expanded over the past year. In 1962 there was insufficient evidence to confirm the existence of any regimental-type headquarters in South Viet-Nam. During 1963, five such headquarters have been accepted in the COMUSMACV order of battle. During 1962 a total of 30 Viet Cong battalions were confirmed. This number has increased to 37 confirmed battalions in 1963. In addition, the latest Viet Cong battalion has an accepted unit strength of 400 men, whereas during 1962 MACV computed these units at an average strength of only 250 men.

There have [has] been some variation in Communist tactics during recent months. For example, there is a growing tendency to stand and fight, to attack the same objective two and three nights running, and to employ large units when attacking objectives. In recent weeks there has been a slight but noticeable rise in the number of Viet Cong daylight attacks indicating perhaps a growing confidence in their ability to meet and defeat government forces in open combat. RVN use of armor and aircraft, however, will tend to inhibit enemy daylight activity. Also, in the past two months, there has been an increased Viet Cong underwater mining effort.

The Viet Cong have improved their antiaircraft capability through the capture of US automatic weapons and intensified AA training in the use of small arms against low flying aircraft and helicopters. This is evidenced by the growing number of RVN/US aircraft hit and downed. For example, during October and November 1963, over 100 aircraft suffered battle damage as a direct result of enemy ground fire.

Other factors favoring the Viet Cong are:

(1) Defections: The Viet Cong appear to be defecting to the government in fewer numbers.

(2) Intelligence: A well coordinated and highly effective Viet Cong intelligence and counterintelligence system is believed to exist. In many instances where RVN intelligence indicated the probable presence of the enemy and a friendly military operation was subsequently initiated, the Viet Cong either successfully escaped or tactically dispersed their forces and ambushed the attacking RVN unit. There is recent evidence of penetration of RVN paramilitary forces by the Viet Cong over the past year, facilitating attacks on the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG) and the Vietnamese Special Forces.

(3) Economy of Force: The preponderance of Viet Cong operations has been carried on south of Saigon where only roughly one-third of their main force units are located. The remainder of their main force units remain positioned through central and northern Viet-Nam where Viet Cong activity is relatively light.

(4) Communications: We believe that the Viet Cong possess a highly sophisticated, effective and secure political and military communications network.

(5) Food: Food is a problem for the Viet Cong but not a major one. The Communists have been able to by-pass controls established to deny them sustenance, although they have experienced more difficulty in the northern and central regions than in the delta where food is more plentiful.

In summary, the Communist capability to extend or escalate the insurgency has not been significantly negated. Available evidence indicates that while the Viet Cong have not made spectacular gains, they have prevented the RVNAF from gaining effective control over much of the countryside. Communist safe havens, bases, and transient areas are available to them in North Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia.

It is apparent that the Viet Cong are maximizing their present capabilities, aided substantially by resources captured from government forces. It is evident that the Viet Cong over the past year have sustained and in many instances have improved their combat capabilities despite RVNAF advantages in firepower, armor, mobility, communications and airborne operations.

The Viet Cong have demonstrated an extensive capability to exploit the opportunities of the provisional government's preoccupation with political reorganization during this transitional period. Unless the government attains organizational stability and is able to devote its major energies to the prosecution of the war in the near future, Viet Cong activities can be expected to increase.


367. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, December 16, 1963, 7:25 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Confidential; Immediate. Drafted by Conlon, cleared by Harriman, and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to Paris for Rusk and to CINCPAC for POLAD.

949. Saigon 63 to Paris, 1164 to Dept./2/ Re report that General Dinh is so concerned over Sihanouk's conference proposal that he is considering how to "accommodate himself to a neutral solution for Viet-Nam." As precautionary measure it seems to us useful to make special effort to reassure Dinh and others who may also be concerned. Nothing is further from USG mind than "neutral solution for Viet-Nam." We intend to win. Secondly, as we have said, we are not going to attend conference unless positive gains for South Viet-Nam can be achieved, such as effective action to seal border.

/2/In this telegram, December 16, sent from Saigon to Paris and repeated to Washington, the Embassy expressed hope that Rusk, who was attending the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Session at Paris, December 16-17, would meet with the Vietnamese Ambassador-designate to Great Britain, Vu Van Mau, and reassure him that the United States was not considering a neutral solution for Vietnam. (Ibid.) The meeting apparently did not take place, given the Secretary's schedule and other direct assurances to the Vietnamese.



368. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report/1/

TDCS DB-3/658,497

Washington, December 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Memos. Secret, Routine No Foreign Dissem/No Dissem Abroad/Controlled Dissem Background Use Only. A note on the source text indicates this information was acquired in Saigon December 8-14. Forrestal sent this report to Bundy under cover of a memorandum, December 17 which reads as follows:
"The attached is as good a wrap-up on the Vietnam situation as I have seen in the last few days. The President might be interested." Also published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 57B.

Situation Appraisal as of 14 December 1963

1. This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this Agency or any component thereof. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at the time of its preparation. Prepared for internal use as a guide to the operation environment, this commentary is disseminated in the belief that it may be useful to other agencies in assessing the situation for their own purposes.

2. The situation in South Vietnam from 8-14 December 1963 continued to be marked by a lack of forward motion on the part of the country's new rulers in getting on with the many-sided struggle against the Viet Cong (VC). The Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) continues to shuffle province chiefs and district chiefs around; in some provinces a succession of chiefs has been appointed since the 1-2 November coup. However commendable is this reflection of the junta's desire to get the best possible team into the field, in the short term it has contributed materially to the disturbing degree of paralysis that now afflicts provincial administration. Another cause of this slowdown includes the continuing non-articulation of the new regime's pacification policies and confusion over the chains of military and civil command and their interrelationships.

3. Much of the current confusion and paralysis is unavoidable. The MRC rightly calls the 1-2 November action a revolution, in the sense that it swept away the whole elaborate fabric of the Diem regime's controls. However burdensome and oppressive these controls seemed to many, local officials at least had some idea of what was expected of them and had the organizational resources for implementing national policy in the countryside even though imperfectly and oppressively. The VC have been quick to move into this vacuum of authority and initiative. Opinions vary as to the extent of Communist gains since the coup, but most observers agree that the VC have made definite progress and that in some areas, the situation has deteriorated to a disturbing extent. Particularly hard hit in certain provinces has been the Strategic Hamlet Program. It is difficult at this time to judge whether this slippage in the program can be attributed to inherent defects, which are only now coming to light under the country's new management, or whether it is the result of the current lack of firm leadership at the local and national levels. Both factors are undoubtedly involved, although their relative importance is hard to gauge. In any event, the time is short in which the new regime can get itself organized and challenge the Communists' initiative without risking setbacks of possibly long-term significance.

4. One action, taken on 12 December, which may help break the log jam in the MRC's efforts to put itself on a better war footing was the exchange of commanders in I and II Corps. Major General Do Cao Tri has taken over II Corps, and Major General Nguyen Khanh has moved to I Corps. Tri had for some time been slated for II Corps, but Khanh's new assignment had been the subject of conflicting reports and possibly the cause of contention within the MRC.

5. As is often the case, heightened concern over the situation in the countryside comes at a time when VC attacks and harassment activities have in fact entered a period of relative decline, following the Communists' record effort in November. Judging from the experience of past years, the outlook is for a continuation of this trend for the next week or so, to be followed by a brief flareup of enemy activity in observance of the third anniversary of the founding of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NFLSVN) and a more sustained offensive after the first of the year, extending to the period of Tet, which will be observed in mid-February. It should be noted that the activity indicators provide no measure of the erosion of the Strategic Hamlet Program, which is probably continuing, even though the level of VC guerrilla activity is temporarily down.

6. The honeymoon period between the new regime and the press appears to be drawing to a close. MRC Chief Major General Duong Van Minh, flanked by leading members of the MRC Executive Committee, on 9 December held what appeared to be a suddenly-called press conference at which he reaffirmed his confidence in Premier Nguyen Ngoc Tho and mildly admonished the press to remember its responsibilities in a country at war, warning it against promoting neutralist sentiment, among other things. Much more incendiary was Tho's own self-defense at a press conference held on the succeeding day. Tho sought to clarify, not too successfully, his role in the capture and subsequent execution some years ago of Hoa Hao extremist leader Ba Cut. He also defended his part in the Buddhist affair last summer, correctly stating that he had counseled moderation to Diem. Exchanges between Tho and the attending journalists are reported to have been quite heated, suggesting that the none too popular Tho may be an easy mark for the press and confirming previous indications that he will increasingly be a center of controversy and a political liability for General Minh. Minh's and Tho's warnings to the press were quickly followed by the suspension of three vernacular newspapers.

7. The new regime's sensitivity to the subject of neutralism was heightened during the week by the suggestion of The New York Times that a negotiated settlement with the north should perhaps be explored and by Sihanouk's gratuitous and unwelcome offer to "federate" with South Vietnam, if only the latter would stop fighting the Viet Cong and espouse a neutral foreign policy. In conversations with Ambassador Lodge and other American officials, junta leaders have shown great concern over the possibility that the question of the neutralization of South Vietnam might come up at any international conference held at Sihanouk's request to discuss Cambodian neutrality. This specter, given some substance by Sihanouk's federation proposal, would appear virtually to preclude South Vietnamese participation in a conference, which in other ways would have been distasteful enough to Vietnam's new rulers even if restricted to the subject of guarantees for Cambodia.

8. The Generals continued, by personnel shifts and arrests, their efforts to break up coup groups which had been in existence prior to 1 November and which had been in competition with them. Among recent actions to this effect were the arrest of Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen's top lieutenant Nguyen Duy Bach; the arrest of Huynh Van Lang, a former director of the Exchange Office and a Saigon University professor; and the consignment of Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Thao to the limbo of a five month course at Fort Leavenworth. Other field grade and junior officers judged to have trouble-making potential are reported to have been transferred out of Saigon or are slated for military attache posts abroad.

9. Field dissem. State (Ambassador Lodge) USMACV (General Harkins) CINCPAC PACAF ARPAC PACFLT.


369. Report on the Situation in Long An Province/1/

Saigon, December 20, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-1-3470, 12/19-12/20/63, SVN Visit. Confidential. Authorship of this report is not given, but a note in Lodge's handwriting on the source text reads: "By an intelligent American who recently visited Long An and doesn't want to sign his name." It was handed to McNamara in Saigon by Lodge.

As a result of your demonstrated interest, Long An has become the center of interest, at least momentarily. Some facts and figures:

Of the 219 hamlets previously reported as completed (with some 50 more supposedly in advanced stages of construction), no more than 35 now are considered to be capable of achieving the purpose for which built-that is, of separating the people from the Viet Cong while providing them both security and an opportunity for social and economic development. Please note: 9 of these 35 hamlets actually comprise a part of the provincial capital or of district towns.

147 armed militia squads previously were reported to be available in this province (even this figure seems low for the 219 hamlets supposedly in existence--some of them immense in area). Actually, no more than 50 squads exist and they are quartered in 37 hamlets.

167 hamlets now are said to have suffered extensive damage from the Viet Cong. Of this number, only 5 still have any armed militia available (the key to their defense).

Some personal observations.

Three of the six districts were visited briefly during recent trip. Some particulars on at least one hamlet in each of these districts:

Nguyen Huynh Duc (Thu Thua District). Located about 5 kilometers south of Tan An and just off Highway 4, this is said to be the best hamlet in the province. Homes are pleasant, look permanent, have shade and fruit trees, gardens, etc. Since the Village Administrative Headquarters is located here, there is also a 45-man SDC post. The post is in a fairly poor state of repair--weapons looked barely serviceable, no evidence of recent attempts to improve defenses. Directional arrow for air support was in very poor repair-no tallow pots available for night use. The hamlet militia were said to accompany SDC on patrols "for training" but were armed only with grenades. All SDC questioned were most vague as to extent of patrol activity. SDC were not uniformed despite USOM representative's assurance that uniforms were readily available. It was reported that no hamlet radio was available for three of the four hamlets in this village complex.

Hoa Phu (Binh Phuoc District). No more than 4 kilometers west and south of Tan An, this hamlet has been destroyed. Only 3 or 4 families remain of some 130. Many of the houses have been pulled down completely; the fence is down almost everywhere and much of it has been cut into small pieces. Interviews with the hardy survivors indicated they stayed because they felt they had the permission of the Viet Cong because of special circumstances. (One woman, for example, had a husband in prison at Tan An.) Hamlet militia previously existed and had been armed but had dispersed and turned in their weapons to the nearby SDC post. This hamlet was described by Rosenthal as the worst thing he had seen in his travels throughout the country.

Within easy pistol shot of Hoa Phu, there was an SDC platoon ensconced behind a moat, barbed wire, etc. This platoon apparently did not move out to aid the nearby hamlet when (it was said) a small number of Viet Cong came and "asked" the people to pull down their houses, cut the fence, etc. The post showed no evidence of recent improvement. The arrow for air support was completely overgrown by weeds, for example. SDC had no uniforms, generally seemed apathetic. Detachment was armed with French MAS rifles, had no automatic weapons. However, this platoon did have the weapons of previously armed hamlet militia squads from two nearby hamlets. (Why--with Long An less than 4 kilometers away--were these weapons unnecessarily exposed to VC capture?)

In very early afternoon, with a fairly large armed escort, the deputy province chief was reluctant to stop at Hao Phu. We drove back to Tan An at breakneck speed after our visit.

Tap An (Thanh Duc District). District, as a whole, is considered by local Americans to be the best in the province. Two of the eleven armed militia squads still available to the district are in Tap An. The hamlet had no radio--was dependent upon wire which was clearly visible and could easily be cut. Nonetheless, this hamlet is in extraordinarily good shape when compared with another nearby--Thu Bo. About 40% of the dwellings were destroyed there. Those persons remaining seemed to feel they did so at the sufferance of the Viet Cong. This hamlet was "supported" by an SDC post across the river--by "patrols" and by "direct automatic weapon fire"! Questioning developed that this fire was over the roofs of the houses. District chief (who seemed both able and energetic) said that only about 8% of those families entitled to a relocation allowance in the entire district had received same. Although his district is divided by a broad river, the district chief had no patrol craft under his jurisdiction.


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