1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963|
Released by the Office of the Historian
370. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
370. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Saigon, December 20, 1963, 3:45 p.m.
/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-4370, 12/19-12/20/63 SVN Visit. Secret; Limited Distribution. Presumably drafted by Lodge who signed it. Sent to Washington in telegraphic form in telegram 1192 from Saigon, December 20. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 US/ MCNAMARA)
1. Secretary McNamara began by asking General Minh how he proposed to organize the command in Viet-Nam so as to accelerate the war effort. There was concern in the United States, he said, about the speed and intensity of the war, and we would like to know under whose hand it is going to be put.
2. General Minh replied that General Don was in immediate command of the Army.
3. McNamara asked whether General Don, who is also Minister of Defense, did not have a great many other duties and raised the situation in III Corps, which is commanded by General Dinh who is also Minister of Interior. It appeared to Secretary McNamara that neither General Don nor General Dinh could possibly operate all the jobs for which they are responsible.
4. General Minh replied that it might appear that way, but that actually the III Corps was well organized and that it consists of two divisions-each of which is separately commanded--with General Dinh providing the civil support.
5. When Secretary McNamara said that it would be better if General Dinh did not have so many different jobs, General Minh replied: You may be right but this has worked.
6. Secretary McNamara then referred to Long An Province and some of the other critical provinces and said that he felt he was familiar with the way things were at the bottom of the social structure and that it was obvious that there was no strong hand in charge. He pointed out that the I Corps was commanded by General Tri, and II Corps was commanded by General Khanh, and the IV Corps by General Cao and asked why the III Corps should not be equally well commanded.
7. General Minh pointed out that the III Corps had actually been divided into two small corps--one commanded by General That and one by General Thieu.
8. Referring to Long An Province, General Don said that the former province chief had been absolutely worthless but that he had been replaced by a good man. He said that the new government was working toward the day when there would be separate persons for the jobs of Minister of Defense and Chairman of the Joint General Staff, both offices which he now holds; and when there would be separate persons for III Corps Commander and for Minister of Interior, both of which posts are now held by General Dinh.
9. General Minh said that it was prudent to make maximum use of the services of experienced men in a time of transition and that if you had nothing but people in the government who had no experience, you would have confusion.
10. Under pressure from Secretary McNamara, General Don said that during January a full time III Corps Commander would be named. General Minh amended that time to be "January or February".
11. Secretary McNamara said that the GVN was right to set priorities and to pick out those particular provinces in the Delta, but he had been struck by the fact that the total number of troops in the whole country showed the GVN had a superiority of five-to-one over the Viet Cong, yet in these critical provinces the Viet Cong actually had a numerical superiority over the GVN. This made no sense.
12. General Don said that Secretary McNamara must have seen the old plan because, under the new plan, the troops would be deployed as Secretary McNamara desired.
13. Secretary McNamara asked General Don to provide him with the new plan before his departure and to take it up with General Harkins.
14. General Minh then described the great results they expected to get from getting the sects to come over to the government's side. Already the Hoa Hao had come over, and on December 27 there was going to be a rally in Tay Ninh conducted by the Cao Dai at which their allegiance to the government would be proclaimed. He felt that the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai between them could contain the Viet Cong in their respective provinces and make more troops available for the critical Delta provinces.
15. In response to question as to who was the Chief of State, Minh said that he was. If a stronger or abler man could be found he would step aside in his favor. But at present he was the boss. He was not Naguib and there was no Nasser. There were no fights; the other generals helped him as a general staff helps a commander.
16. U.S. could do them a big favor if they could dissuade Time and Newsweek from publishing untrue articles about division among the generals. When I expressed surprise that English language publications had such an effect, Premier Tho said that the articles were translated into Vietnamese and widely re-printed in Viet-Nam press. "You see, we now have freedom of the press", General Don said somewhat bitterly.
17. On the matter of neutralism, General Don referred to the student demonstration in front of the French Embassy this morning and which had gone "from 1,000 to 10,000". Secretary McNamara said the U.S. was resolutely opposed to neutralism and that a negotiation for neutralism was actually a negotiation for servitude. When General Minh brought up U.S. attitude on Cambodia conference, Secretary McNamara countered with the thought that Sihanouk had observed V.C. success in Viet-Nam in November and December and had concluded that neutralism was really going ahead in Southeast Asia and that he had better join the parade. This seemed to head off more talk about U.S. attitude on Cambodian conference, which is usually a topic for heated and prolonged conversation.
18. Secretary McNamara then brought up the question of General Minh's acting like a Chief of State and making some speeches to the people which would give them hope and faith in the future. General Minh replied that he and Prime Minister Tho had had two press conferences and wasn't that enough? When it was pointed out that this wasn't the same thing as a really good speech, he said that on January 2 the Council of Notables would be installed, and he hoped to make a speech then. He also wanted to introduce television into Viet-Nam so that he could use that as a way of rallying the people.
19. Mr. McCone recalled that when Vice President Johnson had become President, he had speedily obtained the support of the people by the speeches he had made in Congress and to the people and felt that much could be learned from his example. The generals were quick to point out that things were different in Viet-Nam from what they are in a democracy and stressed the fact that Vietnamese people are "extremely difficult". If many speeches were made, they would be considered to be dictators; whereas if they accomplished things and solved problems province-by-province and did not talk, they would come to be appreciated for their works.
20. When Secretary McNamara spoke of our desire to help, he illustrated it by announcing that 42 artillery pieces were going to be sent from the U.S. and that we were going to provide uniforms for the SDC whose morale, he was told, was very bad.
21. General Don and General Minh explained that the SDC in these critical Delta provinces had not been recruited locally as was supposed to be done because under the Diem administration it was impossible to recruit SDC in those provinces. Therefore, outsiders were brought in from the north who did not belong to the community and who had pillaged, looted, and held up hamlets for money. When the people of a hamlet refused to give them money, they would say that the Viet Cong would attack them and would bring down artillery fire on the hamlet which refused to contribute. It was really not a question of the morale of the SDC but of the fact that they were pillaging and looting and now they were being sent back to the north where they came from.
371. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Secretary of State/1/
Washington, December 20, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 1 General Political. Secret. Drafted by Joseph W. Neubert, Koren, Conlon, and Montgomery and signed by Hilsman. A note on the source text indicates that Rusk saw this memorandum.
The over-all situation in South Viet-Nam is a matter of serious concern. There are a number of reasons for this-in the wake of the November 1 coup there has inevitably been considerable confusion and disorganization as the new leaders have begun to shape the Government to their liking; the military situation, particularly in the delta, has deteriorated because of a high level of Viet-Cong activity against a background of Government reorganization of its own military efforts. Nevertheless, the new Government appears to recognize the problems confronting it and seems eager to seek our advice and assistance. The generals have moved, although slowly, toward bringing increased civilian influence into the Government, and they appear to recognize the vital importance of working out an effective resolution of their serious economic problems.
The Government announced on December 19 the appointment to a civilian Council of Sages of 60 persons, including a number of non-Communist oppositionists to the Diem Government. The terms of reference and effective powers of the Council are still unknown, but, if the new Government gives it an effective voice in the direction of national policy, it could represent a considerable step forward. Otherwise, the generals who led the coup still seem to be working together in reasonable harmony, although it cannot yet be said that they have effectively coped with the problem of reorganizing the Government in a fashion calculated to inspire increasing national support. Whether they will succeed in doing so is the central question which now confronts us in Viet-Nam.
The Viet Cong took advantage of the confusion following the November 1 coup to step up their attacks on strategic hamlets, particularly in the delta area. The number of attacks carried out by the Viet Cong has now dropped to pre-coup levels, but the capability for increased activity on their part remains unimpaired. The confusion attending the Government's reassignment and replacement of virtually all province chiefs and many district chiefs clearly affected its ability to respond effectively to the increased Viet Cong activity. However, the level of Government military action against the Viet Cong has increased to some extent and is reflected in an improved ratio of Viet Cong killed in action as opposed to Government killed in action (from 2-1 to 4-1).
The important military question now confronting us is whether the Government, with our assistance, can effectively concentrate its effort in the delta area in a manner capable of overcoming the Viet Cong threat.
We have embarked upon extensive joint talks with the Vietnamese Government, centering mainly on the aid program, but covering a wide range of economic problems. Carl Kaysen is now in Viet-Nam to guide these discussions. The question which confronts us here is whether the Government can attack its major economic problems in a constructive way thus improving mobilization of its economic resources in support of the war effort and the peace to follow.
372. Report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak)/1/
Washington, December 21, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam. Secret. Hilsman wrote the following note on a cover sheet: "This is Brute Krulak's report, probably TS."
REPORT ON THE VISIT OF THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE TO SOUTH VIETNAM
Since October, when the Secretary of Defense and General Taylor visited Vietnam, there have been great changes; some have been good, some bad, most have been forseeable. In some cases the changes resulted from the coup, others result from the circumstances which created the coup. Together they unite to portray a serious--but by no means irretrievable--situation.
Operations of the governmental mechanism--at the top and at the bottom--have decelerated greatly. The military Junta, comprising the best Vietnamese combatant leadership, is preoccupied with politics, for which they are not well qualified, and is largely diverted from the practical task of prosecuting the war. The civilian element of the government is of marginal quality, generally lacking in the breadth required to make the complex administrative mechanism move. Provincial officials are unsure--of their authority, of their obligations and of their tenure. The same is true of the several layers of military command. In a very real sense there has been an authoritarian revolution in Vietnam.
Moreover, it is not finished. There are still continuing vibrations in both authority and responsibility. Administrative functions are not efficient, orders are often ignored or given lip service. Little evidence of improvement is yet visible and, until stability does emerge, essential things will not get done. This is the first and greatest problem.
By and large our leadership is pressing the GVN to do the right things; trying to show them the way, and the Vietnamese are receptive to our advice. However, receptive is not synonymous with responsive. Orders are issued, but they are often not carried out-because the chain of authority is still preoccupied with its own political and economic survival, and the supervision is just not there. In many cases the orders are unrealistic, where the task assigned exceeds both the means and the time allotted.
The unfavorable condition now obtaining in the Vietnamese political and military systems has been exploited aggressively by the communists. The Viet Cong, immediately following the coup d'etat, intensified their guerrilla efforts across the whole of the country. From an average of 400 violent incidents per week they moved quickly to over 1,000 in the week following the coup. The Vietnamese, who were suffering from a combination of indecision and post-coup euphoria, were quite unprepared for the widespread and vigorous guerrilla attacks. This violent activity met with little success in the northern and central parts of the country. However, in the Delta, where there had already been deterioration during the pre-coup period, isolated watchtowers, indefensible guard posts and poorly defined hamlets-most of which should never have been built in the first place-fell to the Viet Cong efforts.
Although the increased tempo of activity has been costly to the Viet Cong in casualties, and though they have been unable to sustain the intense level of operations, they have still given unmistakable evidence of strength and a respectable exhibition of skill as well. In the area South of Saigon, where the situation has never been good and where the people are more interested in tranquility than in political alignment, the Viet Cong have had success in recent weeks. In this area the government's position is much weaker now than two or six months ago, and it is likely that this success has encouraged the Viet Cong to intensify their efforts still further.
In the view of the Vietnamese leadership, the deterioration process in the most critical Delta regions has stopped, and they insist that a painstaking rebuilding effort is afoot. This appears excessively sanguine, there being little evidence that the provincial administrations have yet crystallized on their immediate affairs.
While time is probably running in favor of the government in the area North of Saigon, just the reverse applies in the Delta. Here, it would seem, they must either stem the deterioration and start upward during the coming dry season January-May) or face an almost unmanageable problem when the next wet season comes on. The men at the top perceive the urgency of the situation, but do not seem to grasp the importance of the time factor in the equation.
This suggests two basic actions on our part. First, to inspire the Vietnamese leadership truly to lead, to make everything secondary to fighting the war, closing promptly and vigorously with their critical problems in the Delta; and second, to give the Viet Cong and their supporters early and unmistakable signals that their success is a transitory thing, that it does not warrant an escalation in material support, that the new Vietnamese regime is strong and that it and the United States are both resolute in their determination to reverse the post-coup Viet Cong success.
In connection with the first action-crystallizing the leadership to do the right things and do them powerfully, we prepared for a meeting with the military junta by reviewing carefully the situation in the critical provinces, the worst of which are near to Saigon. We heard from those U.S. military and civilian functionaries who have on-the-spot responsibility, as to what the situation actually is, and what their plans are for setting it right. An example is Long An Province, of which you have read. It is in bad condition. In the summer, the hamlet program, which had been going forward satisfactorily, began to outstrip the military pacification campaign. Indefensible hamlets began to succumb to the Viet Cong depredations. Then the coup preoccupied the province administration completely and the Viet Cong seized the initiative, almost without hindrance. Grave though the situation now is, it is still repairable, and our representatives have a reasonable plan for bringing the change about. Their plan, however, cannot be made effective until Vietnamese deploy more forces to the area, and until we increase the depth of our own supervisory and advisory talent. Accordingly, a decision was taken to press the Vietnamese to double the troop density--adding three battalions to the forces now in the province, while we immediately move to increase our own civil and military representation there from 9 to 23 people.
A similar appraisal of the situation in the other critical provinces of the Mekong Delta resulted in conclusions of the same general magnitude. All told it will involve deployment of 13 Vietnamese battalions into the Delta and an increase of about 360 U.S. personnel in the area.
The general tactical formula will be to consolidate firmly the areas which are now under government control, using regular forces to give the residents an unquestioned measure of security, while paramilitary forces are trained or retrained. Meanwhile the visible social and economic foundations which will contribute to the lasting strength of the region will be rapidly rebuilt. This process will be gradually extended, increasing steadily the secure and tranquil areas.
Meaningful evidence of progress--or its absence--in pursuit of the program will be available to us through the reports of our own increased representation on the spot. There is no reason why these provinces cannot be out of the crisis condition in less than a year, and reasonably tranquil in two.
Coupled with specific treatment of the critical provinces, and in contemplation of a conference with the Junta, we discussed ways to enhance the effectiveness of the military and paramilitary forces. The Self Defense Corps--heart of the rural local defense, suffering [suffers] heavy casualties but enjoys little in the way of recompense. We decided-and commenced the action--to provide them with uniforms, which they eagerly want, as a morale factor. We decided also to meet a need for more artillery in the Delta area by adding 42 artillery pieces to the existing organization.
In regard to the matter of exhibiting the strength and resolution of the Vietnamese to their northern counterparts the conference discussed several methods of rendering the North Vietnamese participation in the war more costly, and thus less attractive.
An excellent military-CIA study [which] had been made in response to our request prior to arrival of the party, covered direct pressures which might be focused upon North Vietnam, in terms of actions of escalating intensity, ranging from minor propaganda moves to destruction of major resources by raid or bombing. The study was based on the premise that by covert means the North Vietnamese would be warned that their support of the Viet Cong insurgents was about to bring down direct punishment and, after an interval, to proceed with selected elements of the escalative program, making clear always that it would stop when the assistance to the Viet Cong stopped.
The great bulk of the resources for such a program are already in country, and selected steps could be undertaken promptly. After a further discussion with the appropriate agencies in Washington a recommendation will be submitted regarding specific tasks which should be undertaken. Central to the Washington appraisal will have to be matters such as increased over-flight of Laos, use of bases in Laos and Thailand and a comprehensive estimate of international and North Vietnamese reactions to these steps. Meanwhile, and in advance of any detailed approvals, it was decided to commence assembly, in country, of all resources required for any part of the program.
As another deterrent to aid from North Vietnam, the meeting discussed the matter of operations in a narrow strip of Laos (50 kilometers deep) by regular Vietnamese forces, supported by air supply, aerial photography and air attack, if required. The primary purpose of the actions would be to acquire intelligence on Viet Cong infiltration from the North and, where hard targets appeared, to attack them.
Here, as in the case of North Vietnam, the political problems in the context of the value of what we expect to find, associated with violation of Laotian territory, need study before a specific recommendation can be made.
The group was briefed on the slowly developing CIA covert program in Eastern Laos, where Meo and Kha tribesmen are being trained for intelligence gathering. The program has developed satisfactorily, and could be expanded to seek intelligence in the same general area as it is contemplated that the South Vietnamese would investigate. Due to the hostile nature of the area, it would be necessary for the tribesmen to move in larger groups, armed and prepared to fight for their information, if required. This currently exceeds policy authority, which restricts them to operating clandestinely in small teams. Anticipating the possibility that the Washington evaluation may result in authorization for broadening the scope of their actions, a decision was made to commence training tribesmen in the necessary weapons operation and related tactics.
Finally, the meeting studied the problem of increasing the task of the Viet Cong by intensifying surveillance to all the means of ingress in South Vietnam-the Laos and Cambodian borders, the Mekong river and related waterways and the seacoast.
While we know all too little of just how much material and how many men are being infiltrated into the battle, there is evidence that it is considerable. Bloc arms are appearing in greater numbers and greater variety and conservative intelligence analysis of documents and prisoner of war interrogation fix the number of hard core infiltrators at well over 1,000 for this calendar year.
The meeting concluded that surveillance of the Laos and north Cambodian borders can never be highly rewarding, but that it can be improved by better use of resources already in country. The Advisory Command has developed a program which marshals the means available in a more effective manner, and has already begun to press its adoption on the Vietnamese.
The maritime infiltration problem is even more difficult, but is susceptible of more effective action. The U.S. Advisory Command has developed a plan for intensified surveillance of the seaborne approaches to the Delta as well as a system of barriers, check points, curfew and mobile patrols to impose restraints upon Viet Cong movement over the 4700 miles of inland waterway in the area. At the best, these measures will be little more than deterrents, nor would the situation be greatly altered by a great increase in resources. The solution will ultimately be found in the sum of all the counterinsurgency efforts, whose totality will cause the Viet Cong to lose ground, resources, support and heart faster than they gain them.
Following the plenary meeting, the Secretary of Defense, the Ambassador, Mr. McCone and General Harkins conferred with members of the Military Revolutionary Committee and Prime Minister Tho. Matters discussed were as follows:
a. A strong case was made to persuade the Vietnamese group that the war is suffering from the fact that key people are attempting to fulfill two major obligations (Gen Dinh as Minister of Interior and III Corps Commander; Gen Don as Minister of Defense and Chief of the Joint General Staff). Their reaction, initially defensive, became favorable at least in the case of Dinh, in that they stated--with some indefiniteness--that the problem would be corrected in January or February.
b. The Committee was made aware of our conviction that there is now a serious troop imbalance in the country; that a far greater troop density is required in the Delta at the expense of other, more tranquil areas. Following some face-saving discussion it was agreed that the Joint General Staff will work with General Harkins on the problem.
c. Our concern with the committee character of the executive branch of their government was discussed, which elicited a qualified disclaimer by General Minh, who asserted that he does, in fact, make the decisions. Withal, the Vietnamese position was not convincing and the U.S. conferees were left in some doubt as to the actual manner in which executive decisions are taken.
d. General Minh, as the most promising political figure of the group, was enjoined to make himself more accessible to the people, to speak publicly and to convey directly the programs of the government. He asserted that it is planned that he shall do this, commencing this month.
e. The value to the government of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects was discussed, with a report by General Minh that on December 27th the Cao Dai will declare their allegiance to the new government. Minh stressed that their allegiance will contribute substantially to improvement of the security of the Cambodian border.
f. With respect to Cambodia the U.S. position respecting neutralism was presented to the Committee, in terms of our estimate that Sihanouk's current attitude is conditioned by his own belief that the Communists are winning in Vietnam. It was emphasized that we would consider it disastrous if this attitude were permitted to grow, and that it is up to the Vietnamese to thwart it-primarily by victories. For their part, the Vietnamese conferees deplored the neutralist writing in the U.S. press, and adverted specifically to our failure categorically to repudiate the New York Times.
g. The meeting terminated on a note of cordiality, coupled with resolution and optimism on the Vietnamese side.
h. The Ambassador maintained notes, from which a check-off list will be developed.
The following required actions flow from the meeting:
a. Follow-up on decisions made regarding additional artillery, Self Defense Corps uniforms, increase of GVN forces in the Delta, increase in density of U.S. representation in the Delta area, and procurement of material to support a possible increase in offensive activity against North Vietnam. All of these follow-up actions rest within the Defense Department.
b. Present for study by the Special Group (5412), the following matters:
(1) Whether, or to what extent, there shall be cross border operations from South Vietnam into Laos, to include ground reconnaissance patrols, ground combat patrols, air resupply, tactical air support and air photography--either singly or in combination. The Defense Department should prepare the presentation.
(2) Whether, or to what extent, there should be an intensification of pressures on North Vietnam through covert and military means. The Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency should prepare the presentation.
(3) In connection with (2) above, what shall be the authorities for overflight of Laos and the transit use of Laotian territory. The Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency should prepare the presentation.
The physical resources--men, equipment and supplies--required to win the Vietnam war are all present, with minor exceptions. The plans to bring victory about are basically sound, subject to some refinement. The Vietnamese are willing to follow our advice, albeit belatedly in many cases, and the advice is good.
These are essential factors in the formula for victory. But there are two others. One is Vietnamese leadership. This is latent but not now being exercised, for reasons treated earlier. The other is administrative and combatant experience. This the Vietnamese simply do not have.
The first shortcoming can be eliminated by the Vietnamese themselves, if they will set aside their less formidable problems of executive power distribution and face up to the need for unity and vigor in pursuing the war. On this we can do little more than advise and urge.
The second shortcoming can only be met by the passage of time, where the Vietnamese are concerned. However, our advisory mechanism is moving more every day to fill the time gap, taking a greater part in the direction of affairs. This, hopefully, will supply the final and essential ingredient precedent to victory.
373. Memorandum for the Record by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Sullivan)/1/
Washington, December 21, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates this was Hilsman's personal copy.
Because of a late arrival in Saigon, Secretary McNamara spent a greater proportion of his time with the United States officials and a lesser proportion with Vietnamese than he had expected. The discussions with U.S. officials lasted from his 3 p.m. arrival until 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 and from 7:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 20. They were resumed at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 and continued until 6:30 p.m. The talks with Vietnamese officials were confined to the period from l p.m. to 4:15p.m.onDec.20.
After a private talk with Ambassador Lodge, the Secretary's first discussion was with Ambassador Unger, and concerned the problem of infiltration into Vietnam through Laos. Unger and the Vientiane CAS station chief explained Operation Hardnose, discussed the political consequences of proposed cross-border operations from Vietnam into Laos, and reported on the intelligence estimate of Ho Chi-minh Trail activity. Also present were Ambassador Lodge, Mr. McCone, Mr. Bundy and myself.
The first group discussion with MACV, Embassy, USOM, USIS, and CAS personnel focused on the problem of the 6 critical provinces in the vicinity of Saigon and astride the Mekong-Bassac River complex. Both military and USOM province advisors reported personally on the situations they found in their various provinces. Their reports were uniformly discouraging and indicated a considerable falsification of data by the previous Vietnamese regime.
As a result of these discussions, it was decided to recommend to the Vietnamese that a total of 13 additional battalions be assigned to these provinces, that they be given priority attention, and that clear and bold plans be executed as soon as possible. It was also decided to assign an additional 340 U.S. military personnel to the 13 critical provinces. Additionally, USOM would augment its employees, largely by hiring third country nationals, with a preference expressed for Filipinos.
North Vietnam Operations
The second agenda item (on the morning of Dec. 20) was the plan for operations in North Vietnam. A summary of this plan is attached (Tab A)./2/ It is, in substance, a catalogue of actions which could be taken, either singly or in sequence, if and when political direction is given to execute such actions. As a result of this discussion, it was decided to take the necessary steps immediately to acquire and inventory whatever equipment would be needed for the proposed actions. Personnel would be recruited and trained, and all aspects of the plan would be readied so that they could be executed when directed. The plan will be studied by an interdepartmental group to be designated in Washington, and selected elements will be submitted to Special Group (5412).
Cross-border Operations into Laos
A plan for cross-border operations was tabled and subjected to considerable examination and criticism. Although the plan is being returned to Washington for study, it did not receive any encouragement from Secretary McNamara. The plan as conceived (summary attached as Tab B)/3/ would amount to a Vietnamese invasion of all Southern Laos over to the region controlled by the FAR. The invasion would be accompanied by U.S. personnel and would also envisage air strikes. I think it fair to say that this plan was a non-starter. The arguments which I presented against it were not rebutted, and indeed were in considerable measure reinforced by Mr. McNamara and Mr. McCone. Mr. McNamara later said he considered the plan "unacceptable".
Attention, instead, was turned to Hardnose operations inside Laos, and it will be proposed that the acceleration of this and the Kha plan be considered by appropriate Washington agencies. Particular interest was expressed in the stationing of Kha observation teams East of the Mekong River in the Laos Cordillera.
Photo Reconnaissance of Laos and Cambodian Frontiers
The case for low-level photo reconnaissance of the border areas inside Laos and Cambodia was not made convincingly. Mr. McNamara, therefore, proposed that it not be forwarded to Washington. He and Mr. McCone did, however, agree that nondetectable U-2 serial mapping of the region would be desirable and they will so propose to Special Group (5412).
Delta Waterways Control
The presentation which was given on the control of waterborne traffic in the Delta was most discouraging. It is clear that the Mekong-Bassac River system and the ancillary canals are not only the prime avenues of Viet Cong movements in the critical areas but also a huge funnel for military and subsistence supplies flowing into the hard core of the principal Viet Cong base areas. Vietnamese Government control and interception of this traffic is nominal to non-existent.
The MACV plan presented for control of waterborne traffic was not very useful. First of all, it was directed to a whole series of canal and river checkpoints for population and traffic controls, envisaged a tight curfew and a considerable interruption of economic life in the Delta. Most importantly, however, it did not address itself except in the most cursory way to the problem of intercepting and controlling waterborne contraband infiltrating down the rivers from Cambodia.
I consider this a major shortcoming which we should not leave uncorrected and I have so informed Mr. McNamara. I recommend that the Department follow up on this problem and prod Defense and MACV for satisfactory action on this critical problem. I did so with Admiral Felt while transitting Hawaii and feel he will respond actively.
Discussions with Vietnamese Officials
Secretary McNamara's formal meetings with Vietnamese officials consisted of one briefing of better than 2 hours' duration at 1 p.m. on Dec. 20 and one more private session of nearly an hour immediately thereafter. In the first session he was accompanied by Ambassador Lodge, General Harkins, Mr. McCone, Mr. Bundy, Mr. Kaysen, Mr. Brent and myself. There were about twenty Vietnamese, mostly military, headed by Generals Minh, Don, Kim, Little Minh, Kiem, et al, as well as Prime Minister Tho, Foreign Minister Lam, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Minister of Economic Affairs.
It was not a very satisfactory briefing. We were told frankly how bad the situation really was in the critical areas, why the previous regime had let it get that way, and how it could be retrieved. We were not, however, given much indication of the manner in which the new government expected to go about its job.
In the private meeting, during the period from 3:30 to 4:15, Mr. McNamara was accompanied only by the Ambassador and Mr. McCone. The Vietnamese present were Generals Minh, Don and Kim, plus Prime Minister Tho. This conversation has been reported by cable from Saigon. (Tab C)/4/
/4/See footnote 1, Document 370.
Additional to these formal meetings, I met informally with Prime Minister Tho, Foreign Minister Lam, General Kim (who is Foreign Affairs member of the Junta) and with Ambassador Do Van Ly. All our discussions were on Cambodia, the French proposals for neutrality of Vietnam and the problems involved in a Cambodian Conference. I found them all well-informed, unemotional and realistic. They were uniformly concerned about the New York Times editorial on neutrality for Vietnam and about a Walter Lippmann column on the same subject. The general line I took with them was that Sihanouk was behaving as he did because his evaluation indicated that Vietnam was losing its war against the Viet Cong; and that therefore Sihanouk was attempting to hedge Cambodia's future by some sort of internationalized sanitation. I also said that our prime interest in Cambodia was to avoid having it become a completely communist controlled base for operations against Vietnam.
The visit was a sobering one and Secretary McNamara typically took an honest, candid evaluation of it. I was particularly satisfied that he centered his primary attention on those problems which we in State have considered paramount (i.e., the six critical provinces, the redressing of troop balance, and the refurbishing of the strategic hamlet program) and did not get seriously diverted either in time or attention to the various red herrings of cross-border operations, aerial reconnaissance, etc. I feel confident his report to the President will be one in which the Department can concur.
374. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) to President Johnson/1/
Washington, December 21, 1963.
/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, South Vietnam, McNamara Statement. Secret. The signed original is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Memos and Misc. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 494-496.
In accordance with your request this morning, this is a summary of my conclusions after my visit to Vietnam on December 19-20.
1. Summary. The situation is very disturbing. Current trends, unless reversed in the next 2-3 months, will lead to neutralization at best and more likely to a Communist-controlled state.
2. The new government is the greatest source of concern. It is indecisive and drifting. Although Minh states that he, rather than the committee of Generals, is making decisions, it is not clear that this is actually so. In any event, neither he nor the Committee are experienced in political administration and so far they show little talent for it. There is no clear concept on how to re-shape or conduct the strategic hamlet program; the Province Chiefs, most of whom are new and inexperienced, are receiving little or no direction; military operations, too, are not being effectively directed because the generals are so preoccupied with essentially political affairs. A specific example of the present situation is that General Dinh is spending little or no time commanding III Corps, which is in the vital zone around Saigon and needs full-time direction. I made these points as strongly as possible to Minh, Don, Kim, and Tho.
3. The Country Team is the second major weakness. It lacks leadership, has been poorly informed, and is not working to a common plan. A recent example of confusion has been conflicting USOM and military recommendations both to the Government of Vietnam and to Washington on the size of the military budget. Above all, Lodge has virtually no official contact with Harkins. Lodge sends in reports with major military implications without showing them to Harkins, and does not show Harkins important incoming traffic. My impression is that Lodge simply does not know how to conduct a coordinated administration. This has of course been stressed to him both by Dean Rusk and myself (and also by John McCone), and I do not think he is consciously rejecting our advice; he has just operated as a loner all his life and cannot readily change now.
Lodge's newly-designated deputy, David Nes, was with us and seems a highly competent team player. I have stated the situation frankly to him and he has said he would do all he could to constitute what would in effect be an executive committee operating below the level of Ambassador.
As to the grave reporting weakness, both Defense and CIA must take major steps to improve this. John McCone and I have discussed it and are acting vigorously in our respective spheres.
4. Viet Cong progress has been great during the period since the coup, with my best guess being that the situation has in fact been deteriorating in the countryside since July to a far greater extent than we realized because of our undue dependence on distorted Vietnamese reporting. The Viet Cong now control very high proportions of the people in certain key provinces, particularly those directly south and west of Saigon. The Strategic Hamlet Program was seriously over-extended in these provinces, and the Viet Cong has been able to destroy many hamlets, while others have been abandoned or in some cases betrayed or pillaged by the government's own Self Defense Corps. In these key provinces, the Viet Cong have destroyed almost all major roads, and are collecting taxes at will.
As remedial measures, we must get the government to re-allocate its military forces so that its effective strength in these provinces is essentially doubled. We also need to have major increases in both military and USOM staffs, to sizes that will give us a reliable, independent U.S. appraisal of the status of operations. Thirdly, realistic pacification plans must be prepared, allocating adequate time to secure the remaining government-controlled areas and work out from there.
This gloomy picture prevails predominantly in the provinces around the capital and in the Delta. Action to accomplish each of these objectives was started while we were in Saigon. The situation in the northern and central areas is considerably better, and does not seem to have deteriorated substantially in recent months. General Harkins still hopes these areas may be made reasonably secure by the latter half of next year.
In the gloomy southern picture, an exception to the trend of Viet Cong success may be provided by the possible adherence to the government of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, which total three million people and control key areas along the Cambodian border. The Hoa Hao have already made some sort of agreement, and the Cao Dai are expected to do so at the end of this month. However, it is not clear that their influence will be more than neutralized by these agreements, or that they will in fact really pitch in on the government's side.
5. Infiltration of men and equipment from North Vietnam continues using (a) land corridors through Laos and Cambodia; (b) the Mekong River waterways from Cambodia; (c) some possible entry from the sea and the tip of the Delta. The best guess is that 1000-1500 Viet Cong cadres entered South Vietnam from Laos in the first nine months of 1963. The Mekong route (and also the possible sea entry) is apparently used for heavier weapons and ammunition and raw materials which have been turning up in increasing numbers in the south and of which we have captured a few shipments.
To counter this infiltration, we reviewed in Saigon various plans providing for cross-border operations into Laos. On the scale proposed, I am quite clear that these would not be politically acceptable or even militarily effective. Our first need would be immediate U-2 mapping of the whole Laos and Cambodian border, and this we are preparing on an urgent basis.
One other step we can take is to expand the existing limited but remarkably effective operations on the Laos side, the so-called Operation Hardnose, so that it at least provides reasonable intelligence on movements all the way along the Laos corridor; plans to expand this will be prepared and presented for approval in about two weeks.
As to the waterways, the military plans presented in Saigon were unsatisfactory, and a special naval team is being sent at once from Honolulu to determine what more can be done. The whole waterway system is so vast, however, that effective policing may be impossible.
In general, the infiltration problem, while serious and annoying, is a lower priority than the key problems discussed earlier. However, we should do what we can to reduce it.
6. Plans for Covert Action into North Vietnam were prepared as we had requested and were an excellent job. They present a wide variety of sabotage and psychological operations against North Vietnam from which I believe we should aim to select those that provide maximum pressure with minimum risk. In accordance with your direction at the meeting, General Krulak of the JCS is chairing a group that will lay out a program in the next ten days for your consideration.
7. Possible neutralization of Vietnam is strongly opposed by Minh, and our attitude is somewhat suspect because of editorials by the New York Times and mention by Walter Lippmann and others. We reassured them as strongly as possible on this-and in somewhat more general terms on the neutralization of Cambodia. I recommend that you convey to Minh a Presidential message for the New Year that would repeat our position in the strongest possible terms and would also be a vehicle to stress the necessity of strong central direction by the government and specifically by Minh himself.
8. U.S. resources and personnel cannot usefully be substantially increased. I have directed a modest artillery supplement, and also the provision of uniforms for the Self Defense Corps, which is the most exposed force and suffers from low morale. Of greater potential significance, I have directed the Military Departments to review urgently the quality of the people we are sending to Vietnam. It seems to have fallen off considerably from the high standards applied in the original selections in 1962, and the JCS fully agree with me that we must have our best men there.
Conclusion. My appraisal may be overly pessimistic. Lodge, Harkins, and Minh would probably agree with me on specific points, but feel that January should see significant improvement. We should watch the situation very carefully, running scared, hoping for the best, but preparing for more forceful moves if the situation does not show early signs of improvement. /2/
/2/McNamara's more optimistic public statement is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pp. 883-884.
Robert S. McNamara/3/
/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
375. Letter From the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone) to President Johnson/1/
Washington, December 23, 1963.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Memos and Misc. Secret.
Dear Mr. President: I have read Secretary McNamara's memorandum to you on the Vietnam situation./2/ My observations on the situation are covered in a separate memorandum which was left with Mr. Bundy on Saturday,/3/ but attached is a copy for your ready reference.
There is no substantive difference between Secretary McNamara and myself except perhaps I feel a little less pessimistic than he. Nevertheless, as I state in my conclusion, there are more reasons to be pessimistic than to be optimistic about the prospects of our success in South Vietnam.
Much depends on the ability of the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) to provide strong leadership and inspiration to the people of Vietnam, to properly administer the affairs of the country, and to successfully prosecute the war. All this is yet to be demonstrated.
I am dispatching to Saigon a number of our "old South Vietnamese hands" for temporary duty to assist in developing the necessary covert resources of native case officers and agents to inform us concerning the effectiveness of the MRC and the public acceptance of the new government. This has not been CIA's role in the past, as intelligence of this type has come through military channels. However I believe the next few months are so critical that information covertly developed will complement reporting we receive through the other channels.
I intend to return to South Vietnam in 90 days or sooner.
HIGHLIGHTS OF DISCUSSIONS IN SAIGON
/4/Secret. Drafted by McCone on December 21.
1. There is no organized government in South Vietnam at this time. The Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) is in control, but strong leadership and administrative procedures are lacking. Reports were received that province and district chiefs do not act because of the lack of direction and orders. Nevertheless, the MRC are confident. They feel they are winning the support of the people. They recognize there is a big job ahead but feel it is not insurmountable, and they feel their plan of organization will lead to success. They claim complete understanding among all members, however, there is evidence of tension, which, if it grows, could lead to serious political difficulties.
2. The Military Revolutionary Committee, MRC, has replaced about 70 percent of the 42 province chiefs and a substantial number of the 253 district chiefs. This replacement program is continuing. Many appointments are reported to be good, some not so good. The MRC feel that practically all must be replaced.
3. The MRC feel they have reached an understanding with the Hoa Hao and on 27 December will reach agreement with the Cao Dai. These arrangements could substantially improve the security of the Cambodian border, relieve GVN troops in Hoa Hao and Cao Dai provinces, provide important information on VC concentrations and activities, and have a significant psychological impact on the population. The success of the detente arrangements will bear significantly on the future of the GVN.
4. It is abundantly clear that statistics received over the past year or more from the GVN officials and reported by the US mission on which we gauged the trend of the war were grossly in error. Conditions in the delta and in the areas immediately north of Saigon are more serious now than expected and were probably never as good as reported. The Viet Cong control larger percentages of the population, greater amounts of territory, and have destroyed or occupied more strategic hamlets than expected. Admittedly, this area of South Vietnam had been recognized as the most serious. Revelation of factual data evidences a far greater problem for the GVN in arresting the unfavorable trend and recovering the situation than was thought.
5. Starting in about July, indices on progress of the war fumed unfavorable for the GVN. The number of Viet Cong attacks and the losses of strategic hamlets to the Viet Cong increased. VC casualties vs GVN casualties, weapons lost vs weapons captured, etc., all turned in favor of the VC and against the GVN. The trend lines were gradual until 1 November, the date of the coup, and then moved very sharply against the GVN because of a great increase in number and intensity of VC attacks in the weeks immediately following the coup.
6. The tempo of VC activities has slowed down. Incidents were fewer during the last week in November and have continued at a lower rate so far in December. Concurrently, the tempo of GVN activities has increased. Hence, the trend lines of all indices have turned in favor of the GVN in recent weeks, although in no instance has the situation which existed in June or July, 1963, been recovered.
7. There is continuing evidence of infiltration of cadres and small arms from North Vietnam through Laos and across the Laotian border. GVN intelligence reports indicate 1550 men with substantial but not precisely known quantities of arms have entered South Vietnam from North Vietnam through Laos this year.
8. Large machine weapons, such as recoilless rifles, mortars, and anti-aircraft guns, and men trained in their use, have appeared in the delta in recent months. It is not known whether they came through Laos and Cambodia and across the border, down the rivers, or by sea. Large weapons have not appeared in the northern sectors of South Vietnam.
9. The MRC recognizes the seriousness of the problems in the delta and have taken a number of actions which they feel will produce results. However, there is evidence of serious deficiencies in the Self-Defense Corps, which must be corrected. Also, there is an urgent need for substantially more organized GVN units in the delta and the provinces around Saigon.
10. The strategic hamlet has encountered resistance in the delta because relocation removed families from their fields and locations occupied for generations. Many defections of entire villages were reported as due to the above reason. The villages built along the banks of rivers and canals could not be rearranged into defendable compounds without hardships the villagers considered unacceptable.
It is my conclusion that the coup came when there was a downward trend which was more serious than was reported and, therefore, more serious than realized.
The military government may be an improvement over the Diem-Nhu regime, but this is not as yet established and the future of the war remains in doubt.
The Viet Cong are receiving substantial support from North Vietnam and possibly elsewhere, and this support can be increased. Stopping this by sealing the borders, the extensive waterways, and the long coastline is difficult, if not impossible.
The VC appeal to the people of South Vietnam on political grounds has been effective, gained recruits for their armed forces, and neutralized resistance.
The ability of the GVN to reverse this trend remains to be proven. Much depends on the ability of the MRC to deploy their forces and pursue the conflict in a manner which will ensure the security of the people and provide them desired freedom, privileges, and some tangible benefits.
The lack of an outstanding individual to lead and absence of administrative experience within the MRC are ominous indicators.
The political stability of the new government under the MRC is subject to serious doubt. Conflicts of ambition, jealousy, differences of opinion over policy matters all are possible, could develop serious schisms, precipitate further dissensions and coup attempts all of which will affect the war effort against the VC.
Overcoming the VC movement by the GVN is formidable and difficult, but not impossible. The problems can be intensified by continuing increased support from NVN and political failures by the MRC. Hence, in my judgment, there are more reasons to doubt the future of the effort under present programs and moderate extensions to existing programs (i.e., harassing sabotage against NVN, border crossings, etc.) than there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of our cause in South Vietnam.
John A. McCone
376. Editorial Note
On December 23, 1963, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, met with President Johnson at 2:45 p.m., primarily to discuss Taylor's recent visit to India and Pakistan. At the end of the meeting, the President and Taylor briefly touched upon Vietnam. Taylor's account of this discussion reads as follows:
"Vietnam situation. He expressed concern over the situation in Vietnam. Plainly, he had been impressed by Secretary McNamara's recent report. The aspects of the discussion included personal consideration of Lodge and Harkins. I ventured the opinion that Harkins was probably the only general who could get along with Lodge and that the real solution probably lay in the substitution of a single military man to act both as Ambassador and as COMUSMACV. I had in mind the status of USCOB in Berlin." (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-36-71)
For McNamara's report, see Document 374
377. Letter From the Ambassador in Laos (Unger) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/
Vientiane, December 26, 1963.
/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 69-A-3131, Vietnam 381. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that McNamara saw this letter.
Dear Mr. Secretary: I very much appreciated the chance to talk with you last week and to review what we here can usefully do about the problem of Viet Minh infiltration in South Viet-Nam via Laos.
Toward the close of our conversation, you very naturally asked why it is that Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma would react so negatively to South Vietnamese and U.S. intervention in Laos to cut off the Ho Chi Minh trail when he well knows that the North Vietnamese are every day violating the Geneva Accords by their use of the trail. There was little time to pursue that question, an important one, and I would like to try therefore to explain to you Souvanna's thinking in this regard as I understand it.
His entire emphasis is, as it has been for some time, to keep his country together and to bring to an end the civil war which has been plaguing it on and off for 20 years or more. Souvanna is persuaded that the civil war would long since have come to an end if it were not for outside stimulation and he recognizes that the most persistent and pernicious stimulation has come from the communist side. The Geneva Accords were specifically designed to bring such interference to an end and it is on these Accords that he, and increasingly other Lao as well, rest their hopes for their country's future.
The Prime Minister is optimistic but he is not naive, and he is well aware of the Viet Minh failure to live up to the Geneva Accords. He knows in general at least about their use of Laotian territory in their aggression against South Viet Nam. While he deplores this, his central aim remains, as noted, to hold his country together and damp down if not extinguish the civil war. Therefore, he has the most profound misgivings about any actions which risk making Laos again an international battleground, however much he might recognize Viet Minh responsibility for the problem. I am sure he is persuaded, and past history supports his view, that South Vietnamese or American intervention would not end the problem but would more probably again lead to a new round of fighting from which the Lao would be the principal losers.
This does not mean, in my opinion, that we have to stand by and take it. As you know, I am persuaded there is a good deal we can accomplish through covert teams which are Laotian, even though considerably supported and guided by us. I am persuaded, too, that there is a chance of modifying Souvanna's view, as outlined above, to the extent we can have the Viet Minh intervention in Laos publicly exposed and condemned by responsible international authority, such as the ICC. This is easier said than done as the record of the past 18 months shows, but I believe that international condemnation of the Viet Minh might give Souvanna more confidence than he has today that they can be opposed, perhaps even with some outside help, without risking escalation and a new war in Laos. We are, of course, working on both these lines; meanwhile we will also do our best to help with those of the other actions discussed during our recent meeting which do not appear seriously to risk the undoing of the Geneva Accords and the structure built upon their foundation.
378. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Jorden) to the Under Secretary (Harriman)/1/
Washington, December 27, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Vietnam 1963. Confidential.
This memorandum is based on an investigation of available evidence of continuing support in the form of men and materiel for the Viet Cong from sources outside South Viet Nam. A report on this subject dated November 28, 1963,/2/ and prepared by MACV was considered. Interrogation reports of VC prisoners were studied. I also talked with American and Vietnamese officials, military and civilian, concerned with this problem during a visit to Saigon December 12-20.
There is no doubt that the elaborate program of control and support of the Viet Cong by the Communist regime in North Viet Nam is continuing. The support ranges from words to weapons. Radio Hanoi and official publications in North Viet Nam boast openly of their "positive support" for the so-called Liberation Front in the South. Unfortunately, some of the evidence that points most clearly to Hanoi's connection with the Viet Cong cannot be used publicly for reasons of security.
The flow of military personnel from North Viet Nam into the South through Laos and Cambodia is continuing. The rate, however, appears below that of 1962 which in turn was less than 1961. Also, statistical indicators on the flow of infiltration must be taken with a grain of salt. In most cases they are derived from single sources and should be regarded as only rough approximations. On the other hand, we must assume that for every infiltration group exposed by the testimony of a defector or prisoner, there are other groups never exposed.
On the basis of prisoner reports, MACV estimates that more than 7,600 men have entered South Viet Nam from the North since January 1961. Of these, approximately 1,000 are believed to have entered this year. For the most part, recent entrants appear to have been political cadres, small unit leaders and specialists in armor, transport and antiaircraft.
Espionage agents continue to come from the North. Four from a seaborne operation were captured earlier this year.
The flow of weapons and ammunition of Communist bloc origin appears to have increased. Russian-made carbines have been picked up in increasing numbers. Heavier weapons, mortars and recoilless rifles and the like have been seized. In one raid on a VC supply depot this month, the GVN claims to have captured a large stock of weapons, ammunition and other equipment, much of it of bloc origin. For example, the haul included 160,000 rounds of carbine ammo and 100,000 rounds of Chinese heavy machine-gun ammo.
Chemicals for production of explosives have been seized in large quantities. Much of this apparently comes from Cambodia. Imports of such chemicals into Cambodia in the last year or so have greatly exceeded domestic requirements. In the raid cited above, more than two tons of potassium nitrate were found and destroyed. Other shipments have been captured on the waterways of the Delta region.
Other materiel of clearly non-Vietnamese manufacture--medical supplies, radios, communications equipment, etc.--have been found.
In summary, infiltration of men and materiel from outside South Viet Nam in support of the Viet Cong is continuing. However, this is but one factor among many in the situation. To regard it as the decisive element in explaining Viet Cong successes over the past year would be an error.
It is quite clear that the primary source of the VC manpower is the South Vietnamese population itself. It is also clear from the weapons loss ratio (2 to 1 in favor of the VC in recent months) that external supply of arms is not a critical matter.
Nonetheless, infiltration serves several important purposes from the VC point of view--in providing a supply of and/or replacement for key cadre personnel; in supplying heavy weapons for use against armored vehicles, reinforced defensive positions and aircraft; as a morale factor for the VC by providing constant reminders of external support; and as a source of supply of equipment and material not readily obtainable through military action.
Infiltration from the outside in support of the Viet Cong continues. There is sufficient evidence in hand to make a convincing case in the eyes of much of world opinion. We can demonstrate that the program of external support outlined in our earlier report ("A Threat to the Peace")/3/ goes on.
/3/A Threat to Peace: North Viet-Nam's Effort To Conquer South Viet-Nam. (Department of State Publication 7308, December 1961)
We should not undertake such an effort at exposure in isolation, however. It is far more important to take steps to halt or slow infiltration than to merely complain about it. Further, unless accompanied by positive actions to deter the process, elaborate treatment of the extensive Viet Cong effort and of the support it enjoys from outside would produce negative psychological reactions among the South Vietnamese and probably improve VC morale.
An amorphous world public opinion that is not going to respond in any case to the situation is less important than opinion among the South Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.
Exposure of the infiltration program makes sense only if it is associated with carefully conceived actions for which such exposure would provide part of the political and psychological base. In short, any public diagnosis of this particular disease should be accompanied by a prescription for cure or at least amelioration.
If, after considering all factors, we decide that exposure of infiltration is in our interest, we can accomplish it in several ways:
1) a fairly full treatment of the kind we did in December 1961 in "A Threat to the Peace";
2) a major speech on the subject by a leading figure in the Government;
3) a full-dress statement by Ambassador Stevenson at the UN;
4) detailed discussion in a Secretarial news conference or in a background session with the press;
We might also consider:
1) presentation of a detailed case in an appeal for action by the GVN to the International Control Commission
2) producing four or five VC infiltrators for questioning by the press in Saigon or at the UN.
The decision whether to use this material in public and, if so, in what manner depends on our purpose. What we say--and where and how--should be determined by what we propose to do about the problem.
379. Message From President Johnson to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/
Washington, December 30, 1963.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Heads of State Correspondence, General Minh Corres. Secret; Eyes Only. Transmitted to Saigon eyes only for Ambassador Lodge in telegram CAP 63663, which is the source text. The telegram was sent to the LBJ Ranch on December 30 for approval. (Draft telegram from Bundy to the President; ibid.)
I have just approved for dispatch to you via State Dept. channels the public letter to General Minh, and the additional confidential instructions for your use in talking to him./2/ I also want to send to you personally my best wishes and warm encouragement for the New Year.
When you agreed to go to Saigon you took on a hard and demanding assignment in the best tradition of patriotic readiness to serve, and now after four months, the government has been replaced; and a number of Americans have been replaced in accordance with your recommendations. These changes have removed obstacles to victory--but they have not assured it. The picture reported to me by McNamara, just before Christmas, makes it plain that there is a great deal yet to be done.
In the U.S. effort on the spot, by the very nature of things, you must be the man in charge. Your energy and leadership, your active supervision, your insistence on coordinated teamwork in all agencies-these are indispensable to an effective performance by our government in Saigon. And at the same time you yourself are bound to be the symbol and the instrument of American support and American counsel to the Minh government.
Some have suggested that there may be some political tension between us because you and I are of different parties. This of course is nonsense. If we can have victory in Viet-Nam there will be praise enough for all of us. So I rely on you to do all in your power to achieve it, and to be alert and demanding in telling all of us in Washington how and what more we can do to help.
With my warmest personal regards.
/3/Telegram CAP 63663 bears this typed signature.
380. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, December 31, 1963, 12:34 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret Flash. Drafted by James M. Montgomery of the Vietnam Working Group, cleared by Forrestal, and approved by Hilsman. A draft of the letter to Minh, a draft of the oral presentation, and a covering memorandum from Rusk to the President were prepared by Mendenhall on December 26. Rusk took the drafts and the memorandum to the LBJ Ranch in Texas on December 27 where the President approved them. Rusk's memorandum to the President reads in part as follows:
To meet these two purposes, the memorandum recommended the letter to General Minh and a "supplementary message" to be delivered orally by Lodge.
1000. You are to seek appointment as soon as possible with General Minh and present him with unclassified letter from the President (text to follow) and make oral presentation. You should tell Minh that it is expected that the letter will be released at January 1 noon press briefing, Texas time, and that GVN would release simultaneously in Saigon. (FYI: If there are any changes in these plans we will inform you flash. End FYI)
Here follows text unclassified letter:
Dear General Minh:
As we enter the New Year of 1964, I want to wish you, your revolutionary government, and your people full success in the long and arduous war which you are waging so tenaciously and bravely against the Viet Cong forces directed and supported by the Communist regime in Hanoi. Ambassador Lodge and Secretary McNamara have told me about the serious situation which confronts you and of the plans which you are developing to enable your armed forces and your people to redress this situation.
This New Year provides a fitting opportunity for me to pledge on behalf of the American Government and people a renewed partnership with your government and people in your brave struggle for freedom. The United States will continue to furnish you and your people with the fullest measure of support in this bitter fight. We shall maintain in Viet-Nam American personnel and materiel as needed to assist you in achieving victory.
Our aims are, I know, identical with yours: to enable your government to protect its people from the acts of terror perpetrated by Communist insurgents from the North. As the forces of your government become increasingly capable of dealing with this aggression, American military personnel in South Viet-Nam can be progressively withdrawn.
The United States Government shares the view of your government that "neutralization" of South Viet-Nam is unacceptable. As long as the Communist regime in North Viet-Nam persists in its aggressive policy, neutralization of South Viet-Nam would only be another name for a Communist take-over. Peace will return to your country just as soon as the authorities in Hanoi cease and desist from their terrorist aggression.
Thus, your government and mine are in complete agreement on the political aspects of your war against the forces of enslavement, brutality, and material misery. Within this framework of political agreement we can confidently continue and improve our cooperation.
I am pleased to learn from Secretary McNamara about the vigorous operations which you are planning to bring security and an improved standard of living to your people.
I wish to congratulate you particularly on your work for the unity of all your people, including the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai, against the Viet Cong. I know from my own experience in Viet-Nam how warmly the Vietnamese people respond to a direct, human approach and how they have hungered for this in their leaders. So again I pledge the energetic support of my country to your government and your people.
We will do our full part to ensure that under your leadership your people may win a victory--a victory for freedom and justice and human welfare in Viet-Nam.
Sincerely, Lyndon B. Johnson
General Duong Van Minh, Chairman,
Military Revolutionary Council, Saigon.
When you present the letter to General Minh you should also make following points confidentially on behalf of President Johnson:/2/
/2/Lodge reported in telegram 1242 from Saigon, January 1, that he delivered the letter and made the 11 points to General Minh with General Kim present during an interview at 10:30 a.m. on January 1. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
1. It is vitally important to act now to reverse the trend of the war as rapidly as possible.
2. We trust that personnel changes are now virtually complete and that both military commanders and province chiefs can now get down to the job at hand.
3. We hope that General Minh can designate a Chief of the Joint General Staff and a Commander of the III Corps who will have no other responsibilities and can devote themselves exclusively to these mammoth tasks.
4. We assume that, as General Don promised Secretary McNamara, the GVN will make available sufficient troops in the six key provinces in the III Corps to give its forces the necessary numerical superiority.
5. We have been glad to learn of the stress which General Minh places on small-unit actions, particularly in the Mekong Delta. We hope that equal stress will be placed on night actions, both for ambushing Viet Cong and for relieving villages under attack. To win the support of the population it needs to be emphatically demonstrated that the Viet Cong are being beaten precisely at their own game.
6. We consider it extremely important that the necessary civil-military coordinating machinery for clear-and-hold operations followed by an effective program to give the villages protection and security be established in Saigon.
7. It is likewise extremely important that program directives be issued at an early stage by the central government to lower echelons for proper implementation of all aspects of the program for giving villagers protection.
8. We also urge early revitalization of the amnesty program.
9. We are encouraged by the exploratory talks which the Vietnamese Government has held with Cambodian Government officials for improving relations between the two countries. We hope that both Governments can proceed to actual negotiations for the settlement of their bilateral problems.
10. We accept with pleasure General Minh's invitation to set up an American brain-trust to work with his government and we are prepared to furnish any personnel needed for this purpose.
11. General Minh can also be sure that he has the complete support of the United States Government as the leader of Viet-Nam. We believe he can magnetically rally the Vietnamese people if he will really try to do so. He should be told leadership is an essential political ingredient of victory such as was the case with Magsaysay in the Philippines.
381. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, December 31, 1963, noon.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
1235. CINCPAC for POLAD. Your 988./2/ I have already on several occasions explained to General Minh the importance of making a major declaration which would clearly and eloquently state aims to remove inequities and grievance and to open up an attractive future. I have also specifically mentioned the question of land reform. He knows my views and has told me that he is going to try to do just this in his January 2 speech. I really do not think it would be suitable for me to dash in on New Year's eve and repeat the advice I have already given. I think it would appear rather breathless and ineffective. I believe he is going to make a real attempt in his speech on January 2, that it is not going to be particularly good, but that it will be a first step, and that I can carry him along a little further when we have our next meeting, which he himself wants to have after, and not before, January 2.
/2/Telegram 988, December 27, reads as follows: "Since General Minh's January 2 speech to Council of Notables represents in sense inaugural address, we wonder whether you are consulting with him on substance. Would seem particularly helpful and appropriate for him to outline in specific concrete terms actions being taken to improve conduct of war and program for attracting support of rural population. Hope you can advise him on this." (Ibid.)
382. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Sullivan) to the Under Secretary (Harriman)/1/
Washington, December 31, 1963.
/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Vietnam-Policy. Secret. William A. Harbin, Harriman's Staff Assistant, wrote the following note on the source text for Sullivan: "Gov thinks this very good, asks if we should do anything about it now, or just file it?" Sullivan indicated that it should be filed.
You suggested that I record a few thoughts concerning my two most recent trips to Viet Nam. I am attaching three memoranda. The first was a paper I did for Mr. McNamara in September concerning the political picture as I saw it in Viet Nam at that time. (Tab A)/2/ The second is a memorandum to Roger Hilsman which I wrote on October 3 summing up my conclusions from that visit. (Tab B)/3/ The third is a memorandum which I dictated yesterday indicating what strikes me as the crux of the problem now facing us in Viet Nam. (Tab C)/4/
Memorandum for the Record by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Sullivan)/5/
Washington, December 31, 1963.
/5/Secret. Drafted on December 30.
There is a People's Republic of the Viet Cong existing within the territorial limits of South Viet Nam. It sits astride the Mekong and Bassac Rivers and extends from the Cambodian border to the China Sea. In other words, it occupies most but not all of the territory known as the Delta Region of Viet Nam beginning only a few miles south of Saigon.
This Viet Cong stronghold has its own governing apparatus, runs its own military establishment, collects taxes, controls the waterways, and in general operates all of this territory with the exception of a few population centers and a few communication highways. It's fastened like an incubus on the peasantry, which in general is passive, but from which it is able to recruit young men who staff its militia and who serve its purposes.
During the regime of Diem and Nhu, no serious effort was made by the Republic of Viet Nam to challenge this Viet Cong state on its own territory. A number of reasons can be advanced for this situation
1. Diem and Nhu advanced the theory that it was necessary to clean up the easier portions of the Viet Cong threat and establish a firm base before moving on to the more difficult areas. Hence, they concentrated on Northern and Central sections of the Country.
2. Diem and Nhu advanced the theory that the Viet Cong strategy was to gather strength in the Kontum-Pleiku highland area and then drive toward the coastal plains north of Saigon to be cutting the Country in two.
3. Diem and Nhu and most of their senior colleagues in their regime came from the North and Central portions of the Country and therefore, concentrated the bulk of their military strength in the protection of their own home land rather than moving on toward the South.
4. Diem and Nhu recognized the strength and ability of the Viet Cong in their stronghold and hesitated to challenge them directly for fear of encountering a catastrophe which would collapse both domestic and international confidence in their regime.
5. Nhu eventually came to believe that the strategic hamlet concept was the panacea for all problems of subversion and that the application of this concept in the Delta would permit a victory over the Viet Cong in that area without the necessity of a military confrontation.
The consequence is, after the overthrow of Diem and Nhu, that the Generals find themselves faced with a military problem of vast dimensions which they have not yet begun to tackle. It is not clear from discussions with them whether they feel confident that they can handle the military dimensions of this problem or whether that they hesitate to risk a catastrophe. They say that they expect to begin their campaign in the Southern provinces of the third corps area sometime after the middle of January. We will presumably have to wait until that time to see just what degree of conviction this intention actually entails.
At the current moment the situation in these several provinces has gone from bad to worse. Not only have the Viet Cong materially increased the strength of their forces in this area during the immunity allowed them during the Diem/Nhu regime, but they have also profited from certain mistakes made by that regime. Foremost among these mistakes has been the misapplication of the strategic hamlet program in these provinces.
Rather than constructing a hamlet program in connection with a clear and hold military concept, Nhu directed the rapid elaboration of hamlets in this area in a sort of rapid sweep technique. Because of the nature of the terrain there was a great deal of relocation among families who lived independently near their rice fields. These families were swept up by a rapid military policing movement, concentrated into villages and required to construct the basic rudiments of a fortified strategic hamlet. They were then placed under the "protection" of Republican Youth Groups usually recruited from the central areas of the Country loyal to Diem and Nhu and were given to believe that they had achieved security by central government action. In actual fact they were disgruntled because they had been removed from their land, which they had to travel great distances to till, and were more than a little annoyed because the authority of their village elders and family seniors was usurped by young Republican Youth officials for whom they had no respect.
In great many instances, therefore, the strategic hamlets were destroyed not by action of the Viet Cong but by the inhabitants themselves. They tore down and burned the villages in which they had been relocated, scattered the Republican Youth and then returned to their land holdings. These disgruntled people have in many instances become assets to the Viet Cong. In any event, they are serious liabilities insofar as any new central government's policy is concerned.
Therefore, the Generals face the task not only of undertaking a serious military campaign for the first time in this Viet Cong stronghold but, moreover, of attempting to build Government confidence among a peasantry in which that confidence has been severely and bitterly shaken.
Compounding immeasurably the complications which the Generals face in the Delta region is the problem of the waterways. It seems clear from all the evidence which was presented in Saigon that the waterways served as a very significant measure of assistance to the Viet Cong. Not only is there considerable evidence of seaborne smuggling into the Mangrove areas at the mouth of the Delta, but also there is evidence of waterborne contraband traffic drifting down from Cambodia into the Viet Cong weapon caches in these provinces. Much of this contraband probably travels legitimately up the Mekong River from the sea in the bottoms of sea-going vessels which have the international right to use this waterway without submission to Vietnamese Government control. Then, however, it is off-loaded (again legitimately) in Phnom Penh from which it is scattered into country boats which then move down the major waterways (illegally this time) bringing the contraband back into Viet Nam without adequate surveillance or control.
Moreover, the waterways seem to serve as the traffic arteries for movements of the Viet Cong formations in the paddy country. In many areas, particularly in the Plain of Reeds, the waterways are well overgrown and afford considerable camouflage for protection either from the air or from the lowlands. Again, through control of the waterways, the Viet Cong are able to exact taxes upon the movement of such commodities as rice, fish and charcoal. Vietnamese Government officials themselves ascertain that the Viet Cong extracts as much taxes on these three commodities in that area as does the Vietnamese Government on the same commodities.
Therefore, this People's Republic of Viet Cong is a well-established subsisting entity which probably pays its own way, even with regard to the war material which it imports from the outside world. Overlay maps showing the areas which the Viet Cong control in these provinces bear out the statement repeatedly made by General Don, Commander-in-Chief of the GVN forces, when he said that "We are like an expeditionary force in a hostile territory, holding only a few strong points and maintaining only a few main roads of communication".
This is the challenge which the Generals face in the new year and it is the problem upon which the prestige of the US will stand or fall not only in Viet Nam but in all Southeast Asia. I am convinced that Sihanouk's basic activation in his current frenetic phase derives from his conviction that the Viet Cong are winning in South Viet Nam. I am equally convinced that the Thai, the Burmese, the Indonesians, and others who are nervously awaiting the outcome of the forthcoming military action between the Government of Viet Nam and the People's Republic of Viet Cong will shape much of their future policy on the basis of this battle's outcome. I think we should in no way divert ourselves from the central significance of this one area and this one problem as the key to the entire future of the US position in Southeast Asia.
383. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Jorden) to the Under Secretary (Harriman)/1/
Washington, December 31, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 1, General Political. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that it was Hilsman's copy. Hilsman in turn sent it to the Vietnam Working Group for action.
The General Mood. The prevailing mood in Saigon, among Americans and Vietnamese, is considerably more pessimistic than I had expected. There is much skepticism about the present and much doubt about the future. One gets the impression of indecision and considerable floundering.
In part, the mood can be attributed to the too high expectations generated by the coup and the elimination of the Diem regime. All too many people thought that the end of Diem-Nhu rule would solve all their problems. It has not. In many important respects, the situation had worsened not improved, and this has come as a grave disappointment. On the American side, much of the current frustration has been produced by the failure of the new government to act decisively and of the U.S. authorities to stimulate, encourage and support decisive actions.
The abrupt exposure of the true situation that had developed throughout the country came as a surprise and shock to many Vietnamese and Americans. Heightened Viet Cong pressure after the coup only deepened the impression of failure and futility for many.
There has been all too much concentration on the sins and errors of the past. An inordinate amount of time and effort has gone into exposing, questioning and arresting individuals connected with the Diem regime. I speak here not of the most flagrant violations--murder, torture or large-scale extortion or graft--but of activities no more heinous than those involving some the individuals now in the new government.
This raking over the coals of the past has become a national pastime and it has helped to freeze most of the machinery of government. Old grudges are being evened through the medium of anonymous poison-pen letters regarding superiors and the campaign appears directed at all levels of authority--section chiefs, office directors, and ministers alike. As a result, most individuals are concerned about their future and are unwilling to make decisions or to take action on anything but the most routine matters.
In short, there is a good deal of looking to the past and little looking to the future. One gets the impression that considerably more energy is being expended to "correct the evils of the Diem/Nhu regime" than to beating the Viet Cong. Some of the specific elements that contribute to the present low state of morale are covered in succeeding sections.
Neutralism. Talk of neutralism has spread like wildfire through the Vietnamese community. The N.Y Times editorial and Reston and Lippmann columns on the subject were a body blow to morale in Saigon. The equivocal U.S. stand regarding a conference on Cambodian neutrality took on ominous meaning for many Vietnamese. Even high officials asked: are we next? Rumors of French recognition of the Peiping regime added fuel to the flames. The withdrawal of some forces this month and the suggestion we might pull most of our troops out by the end of 1965 were read by some, however mistakenly, as forerunners of a sharp reduction in our commitment.
It is impossible to determine how many Vietnamese are thinking of neutralism as a possible solution to their problems. What is most depressing is the growing feeling among them that this may be U.S. policy and that they better be prepared for it. Recent assurances from us have doubtless helped ease the situation but much more needs to be done to counter this line which I gather is being quietly fostered by some of our European friends.
The press. The drab uniformity and tight controls that dominated the Vietnamese press under Diem have given way to irresponsibility and license under the new regime. New newspapers spring up almost daily. Most of them contain a heavy diet of rumor, scandal and personal vilification. They are further poisoning the atmosphere. Vietnamese with even the remotest connection with the old Government read the newspapers with trepidation about what might be written about them.
In part, fear of criticism in the foreign press has inclined the new government to lean over backwards as regards press freedom. Also, there is some suspicion that those with power over the press are using it selectively against preferred targets. In any case, the performance of the press has not improved matters greatly and some better balance between freedom and license is urgently needed.
The new leaders. One gets the impression of a group of largely honorable men, working hard and desperately looking for solutions to their country's problems. One also gets the impression of men largely unqualified by experience to deal with many of the problems facing them.
They are working overtime to preserve the essentials of collective leadership. They appear fearful of the consequences if they become torn by internal rivalries and the competition of cliques. They therefore spend an inordinate amount of time meeting together to keep each other informed of what is going on and to reach decisions collectively. Even relatively minor decisions occupy the time of the Revolutionary Committee. And the rest of the governmental machine awaits guidance from the committee before taking any action.
The Committee is reluctant to delegate authority; lower officials are reluctant to act on their own initiative. The result--stagnation.
Need for a Program. The new Government came into power with a fairly good idea of what it was against, what it didn't like about the former regime. But it has yet to produce any clearly defined program of action setting forth what it wants or what it proposes to do. Virtually nothing has come from the Revolutionary Committee that stirs enthusiasm and excitement, that could enlist the hearty support of its own people in Saigon or in the countryside, to say nothing of wooing adherents away from the Viet Cong.
The stock Vietnamese reply when this question is raised is to say: You Americans are too impatient. Yet talks with many Vietnamese made it quite clear that they, too, felt deeply the lack of a positive program of action aimed at bringing peace in freedom to their country.
Mobilization of Resources. The new authorities in Saigon have done fairly well in ridding the country of some of the deadwood of the past, of incompetents and lackeys whose only virtue was political conformity. But at the same time, they have failed to use fully some of the competence and skill available from the pre-November period. There has been a certain amount of change for the sake of change and consequent waste of experience.
Some people in the above category and others who might conceivably represent a threat in the future are being shipped abroad to relatively unimportant posts. Others whose experience and training are desperately needed in Saigon are being permitted to go or to stay abroad.
Almost nothing has been done thus far to enlist the enthusiasm and support of the youth, many of whom are highly motivated. The idea of a domestic peace corps, for example, hasn't gotten off the ground. The one man who had made a deliberate effort to win the support of young people has been General Dinh, and there is some question as to his long-range purpose in this effort. Nor has there been any well-conceived effort to channel the energies and intelligence of the politically conscious religious groups, especially the young Buddhists.
All this represents a tragic waste of energy, talent and experience which a country like Viet Nam desperately needs. The danger is that those who want to help and who now feel left out will move in directions inimical to the major task facing their country, becoming a divisive rather than constructive force.
US-GVN Relations. The coup launched a new era in U.S. relations with the Vietnamese. No American's prestige is or has been higher than that of Ambassador Lodge. He is credited with encouraging the welcome change of November 1 and with having genuine sympathy for Viet Nam's problems. His word carries great weight and his advice is welcomed.
A very real problem, however, is that the Ambassador is one man and there are but 24 hours in a day. No one man can possibly keep abreast of the wide range of problems facing the new Government in Saigon and be prepared to offer constructive advice and suggestions on them. Moreover, the Vietnamese are extremely proud and they are not going to go to the American Embassy every hour or every day seeking ideas or advice.
Somehow, the gulf between their receptivity and our availability must be bridged.
Conclusions. There is a most serious morale problem in Viet Nam. There is some weariness and a diminution of optimism about the future. There is entirely too much preoccupation with the mistakes and wrongs of the past; too little action and planning aimed at the future.
Too much time, energy, experience, and drive is being wasted or ill-used. There is a lack of imagination in developing and presenting a program that would capture the support of the people. There is some concern about U.S. policies and intentions and firmness. There is too cumbersome a machine for decision making. There is an absence of broad guidance from the center and, at the same time, too little willingness to encourage local initiative or, at the other end, to accept it.
There is a need for some immediate successes, however few and however modest. This would help alter the present mood of discouragement. But Viet Nam's needs and the promotion of our interests there call for actions that are both broader and deeper in scope than a few successful military actions in a war that is primarily social and political.
Some Suggestions for Action.
The most desperate need in Saigon right now is for clear, forceful and imaginative leadership. The second most urgent requirement is for an enlightened and thoughtful program that would capture the imagination and support of the people.
This is no time for traditional approaches or routine solutions. The situation is too important and too fragile. We are going to have to display great imagination and skill.
I see little prospect of meeting the current problem unless we do something: alone the following lines:
We need a small team, perhaps six to eight men, who know the Viet Nam scene, have a real appreciation of the problems, who are totally devoted to the cause of preserving the country's independence, and who have demonstrated skill in working with the Vietnamese. They must have tact, patience and a passion for anonymity. They should be individuals who through past contacts have developed ties of trust and confidence with the Vietnamese.
These men should be assigned on a man-for-man basis to work with the leading figures in the present Government in Saigon-Minh, Tho, Kim, Don, Dinh, Oai, and possibly Xuan. They should be available 24 hours a day to give advice, advance ideas, make suggestions. They should work in closely coordinated fashion with common goals in mind and the advancement of our common policies as their main objective. One man should act as team director and coordinator and the entire operation should be under the close supervision of the Ambassador. The group would carry out the Ambassador's directions and would keep him fully informed of all significant developments.
The most urgent requirements for such a group would be:
to promote more clearly defined leadership, probably in the person of General Minh and possibly Tho;
to encourage development of a thoughtful action program, with emphasis on political and social action;
to take a hard look at existing programs and revise or eliminate as necessary;
to win the support and cooperation of key elements--government officials, intellectuals, youth, religious groups, the peasants;
to encourage initiative within the government and particularly at the province and district levels;
to promote an amnesty for those who made mistakes under Diem--major crimes excepted--and to judge people on present and future performance;
to shift emphasis from the defensive posture of the past to aggressive action against the enemy;
to overhaul and revitalize the information and psychological programs directed at the people of South Viet Nam and at the Viet Cong.
As regards the kind of men who could carry out this kind of assignment with skill and imagination, I would suggest the following:
Ed Lansdale-he knows as much about Viet Nam, about this kind of political action and about the key figures in Saigon as almost any living American. He has prestige and influence with many of the central figures in the country. He has talents, clearly demonstrated in Viet Nam and the Philippines' which are urgently needed and which, in my opinion, we would waste only to our own disadvantage. In this critical situation, bureaucratic rivalries and jealousies must be forgotten. Ed can do a job that desperately needs doing.
Lou Conein--experienced and able, he has unparalleled standing with some of the generals, particularly Don; he is listened to with respect and can get things done.
Rufe Phillips--the key figure in the rural affairs program in Viet Nam, imaginative, energetic, and the confidant of such men as Kim and Tho.
Jim Kent--now in ISA, a military man with previous service in Viet Nam, quiet, solid, and with a deep understanding of what is going on; stands well with some of the generals now in power.
Joe Mendenhall-a political officer now in FE, knows Viet Nam, understands the Vietnamese, able and imaginative and devoted to Viet Nam's freedom.
These are but some of the men who come to mind for the kind of rough task I have outlined. There are others. The final choice should be the Ambassador's with the team leader, preferably Lansdale, having a voice in selection. Obviously, those picked for such a job would have to trust each other and work well together. And they would have to move forward with the greatest skill, finesse, and subtlety. It would be the most challenging kind of assignment--but it could mean the difference between success and failure. It is a risk worth taking.
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