Cable from the President to Ambassador Lodge on Proposed McNamara Mission to South Vietnam, 18 September 1963

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 743-745



18 September 1963

I appreciate your prompt comment and I quite understand the problem you see in visit of McNamara and Taylor. At the same time my need for this visit is very great indeed, and I believe we can work out an arrangement which takes care of your basic concerns. Will you let me have your comment on the following as soon as possible:

1. We can make it clear here, and McNamara and Taylor can make it clear in Saigon to the GVN, that this visit is not designed to bring comfort to Diem. My own thought is that in any visit McNamara makes to Diem he will want to speak some home truths on the military consequences of the current difficulties, and also to make it clear that the United States Government is not open to oriental divisive tactics.

2. We can readily set up this visit as one which you and I have decided on together, or even one which is sent in response to your own concern about winning the war in the current situation. For example, we could announce that the purpose of the mission is to consider with you the practical ways and means of carrying out my announced policy that we will support activities which will further the war effort in South Vietnam and avoid supporting activities which do not. The whole cast of the visit will be that of military consultation with you on the execution of the policy which you and I have determined.

3. As our last message said, my own central concern in sending this mission is to make sure that my senior military advisors are equipped with a solid on-the-spot understanding of the situation, as a basis both for their participation in our councils here, and for the Administrations accounting to the Congress on this critically important contest with the Communists. Having grown up in an Ambassador's house, I am well trained in the importance of protecting the effectiveness of the man on-the-spot, and I want to handle this particular visit in a way which contributes to and does not detract from your own responsibilities. But in the tough weeks which I see ahead, I just do not see any substitute for the ammunition I will get from an on-the-spot and authoritative military appraisal.

4. I do not think I can delay announcement of the McNamara mission beyond Saturday, and I will be grateful for a further prompt comment on this message so that we can be firmly together on the best possible handling of the announcement and of the mission itself.

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