The Pentagon Papers
Chapter 6, "The Advisory Build-Up, 1961-1967," pp. 408-514.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)
Section 1, pp. 408-457
Summary and Analysis
The United States decided, shortly after the Geneva Accords and during the period of French withdrawal from Indo-China, to give military assistance and advice to the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam. It might as easily have decided not to undertake this effort to prevent South Vietnam from falling to communism.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff were pessimistic. The creation of a Vietnamese Army, they said, might not even lead to internal political stability, much less assure the capability to protect South Vietnam from external aggression. The JCS also believed that the limitations imposed by the Geneva agreements on the number of U.S. military personnel would make it impractical to attempt to train a new Army-particularly given the paucity of experienced leaders which was the legacy of French colonialism. The President's military advisors did not wish to assume the responsibility for failure without the resources and influence which would offer a better chance for success.
THE AMERICAN GAMBLE
The available record does not indicate any rebuttal of the JCS's appraisal of the situation. What it does indicate is that the U.S. decided to gamble with very limited resources because the potential gains seemed well worth a limited risk. "I cannot guarantee that Vietnam will remain free, even with our aid," General J. Lawton Collins reported to the National Security Council, "But I know that without our aid Vietnam will surely be lost to Communism."
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was instrumental in deciding for political reasons to undertake a modest program of military advice aimed at producing political stability. Once launched, however, the program of advice and assistance came to be dominated by conventional military conceptions. Insuring internal stability is a "lesser included capability" of armed force, the reasoning went; the principal purpose of such a force is to protect the territorial integrity of the nation.
It was such a conventional force that the small USMAAG attempted to produce from 1955 until about 1960. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was made to "mirror image" the U.S. Army to the extent permitted by differences in equipment and locale. The number of U.S. advisors (approximately doubled by "The Equipment Recovery Mission"-a thinly veiled device to increase the number of Americans in Vietnam) remained stable throughout this period. ARVN developed into a multi-divisional force oriented primarily toward conventional defense. The later transition to a force designed for counterinsurgent warfare was thereby made more difficult.
It seemed for a while that the gamble against long odds had succeeded. The
Viet Minh were quiescent; the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF)
were markedly better armed and trained than they were when the U.S. effort began (at which time they were unarmed and untrained), and President Ngo Dinh Diem showed a remarkable ability to put down factions threatening GVN stability and to maintain himself in office.
This period of apparent stability disappeared, however, in the events of 1959/61 as the Viet Minh (relabelled Viet Cong--a contraction for Vietnamese Communist) stepped up terrorism, sabotage, and military action by increasingly large units. By mid-1961, the prospect for South Vietnam's independence was at least as dark as it had been six years earlier.
But the U.S. military advisors in Vietnam had learned--or at least thought tney had learned--during this period of gradual disintegration the true nature of the battle in which they were engaged by proxy. This was an unconventional, internal war of counterinsurgency rather than a conventional struggle against an external foe. It was a battle for the "hearts and minds" of the indigenous (and especially the rural) population rather than a contest to win and hold key terrain features. It was an intermeshed political-economic-military war rather than one in which political and economic issues were settled by military victory.
U.S. advisors in Vietnam--and U.S. military and civilian theorists in other places, as well--formulated during this period a rudimentary doctrine of counterinsurgent warfare. In response to Premier Khrushchev's endorsement of "wars of national liberation" they proposed to help free world nations save themselves from communism by a series of sequential actions that dealt with the symptoms of social revolution (the insurgency) as well as its causes (the frustration of expectations for social justice).
Thus, at almost the same time that the U.S. began its advisory buildup in South Vietnam in late 1961, military and civilian practitioners found themselves in possession of a simple, apparently logical, outline sketch of a method by which to counter the communist-captured insurgency. Physical security from the acts of the insurgents was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. In addition to security the Vietnamese government had to establish the services which would link it in classic terms of legitimacy to its subjects. We would fight fire with fire and we would fight it with water, too.
THE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP
The decisions made by the Kennedy Administration from mid-1961 onward, culminating in the expansion of the U.S. advisory effort following General Maxwell D. Taylor's mission to Saigon in October, did not simply set out to explain this newly-articulated counterinsurgency theory and doctrine to the GVN. They attempted to induce the GVN to reform itself so that identification with its populace would be possible. Beyond this, they chose to attempt to help the Vietnamese, in Taylor's words, "as friends and partners--not as arms-length advisors--[and] show them how the job might be done--not tell them or do it them."
The "limited partnership" which General Taylor proposed--and which President Kennedy accepted--was designed to place U.S. advisors at many levels within the RVNAF and GVN structure rather than merely at the top. An earlier proposal, to concentrate on advisors at the top with wide discretionary authority and to count on influence as the product of the demonstrated commitment of a carefully selected handful of men, was rejected in favor of many advisors at many levels, each serving normally only for a twelve month period, and with the advisory manpower furnished through normal personnel selection and assignment processes within the military services.
The expectation among U.S. policymakers--recorded in NSAM 111--was that the GVN and U.S. would mutually agree upon necessary steps to end the insurgency. The U.S., for its part, would underwrite an increase in RVNAF and provide advisors throughout the military structure down to battalion level and in each provincial capital. The GVN would rationalize its lines of authority and begin reform measures to bring it closer to the Vietnamese people. This was, of course, a U.S. expectation, not an agreed quid pro quo. Diem was unwilling to permit the U.S. to share in his formulation of plans. He was even afraid to discuss the U.S. expectations candidly with his own cabinet ministers. It is a matter of record that he did not reform his government. ("He will not reform because he cannot," J. Kenneth Gaibraith cabled President Kennedy.) What remains in issue is whether he could have done so. If he could not, the U.S. plan to end the insurgency was foredoomed from its inception, for it depended on Vietnamese initiatives to solve a Vietnamese problem.
COMMITMENT AND EXPECTATION
Thus the U.S. overall plan to end the insurgency was on shaky ground on the GVN side. Diem needed the U.S. and the U.S. needed a reformed Diem. As U.S. advisors began deploying to Vietnam for service with tactical units in the field, the gamble of the mid-50's was transferred into a broad commitment. President Kennedy and his advisors were determined to save Vietnam from communism by helping the Vietnamese to save themselves. One side of the dual U.S. thrust (GVN reform) was already in trouble. What of the "friends and partners" who were to share the dangers and tasks of RVNAF in the field? What was expected of them? What advantages would accrue from their presence in Vietnam?
The available record is almost totally devoid of any explication (much less any debate) on these questions. General Taylor's report of his mission to Saigon implies an unambiguous convergence of interests between the advisors and the advised. All that was needed was greater competence. More U.S. advisors at more places working on problems of Vietnamese training and operations could not but have an overall beneficial effect.
It is necessary to surmise the expectations in the policymakers minds of just how this would come about. First, they seem to have expected the increased U.S. advisory presence to lead directly to increased RVNAF competence in technical and tactical areas. Basic military skills-how to move, shoot, and communicate-could be improved and the improvements sustained by a continuing U.S. presence at many operational levels. Second, the U.S. policymakers could receive reports from an omnipresent U.S. "network" which would permit them to become better informed about what was really taking place in Vietnam, not only with respect to VC activity but with reference to ARVN plans, operations, and problems as well. Finally, the U.S. expected to realize increased influence within RVNAF from the presence of advisors. (and it expected, as NSAM 111 made clear, to realize increased influence with GVN in exchange for increasing its visible commitment to South Vietnamese independence.)
Increased influence can, of course, be gained in many ways. U.S. advisors could,
by example, promote more aggressive Vietnamese leadership and improved standards
of conduct. A well-coordinated advisory network could exert persuasive pressure
throughout RVNAF to adopt certain policies or practices.
And the U.S. providers of the material resources could, if they wished, keep a tight hand on the spigot and control the flow. They could exert influence negatively. The U.S. was anxious to avoid this last mentioned approach to increased influence. "Leverage," as it is now commonly known, was a subject rarely discussed, much less practiced. The "limited partnership" finessed the whole issue of sanctions by assuming (or hoping or pretending, one cannot know which) that no problem existed.
PACIFICATION AND STRATEGIC HAMLETS
The process of countering insurgency, most commonly called pacification, received a great amount of attention and publicity at the same time the U.S. was increasing its field advisors with ARVN from a handful to over 3,000. Earlier, in 1960, the USMAAG had pressed upon the GVN a national Counterinsurgency Plan for Vietnam (CIP) which was really an organizational blueprint for reordering the GVN-RVNAF lines of command to permit effective action. The nub of the problem was that the political leaders in rural areas (Province and District Chiefs-almost all military officers) were responsible to Saigon directly while RVNAF had a separate chain of command. In 1961, the MAAG presented its complementary Geographically Phased Plan which specified the relative priority for clearing out the VC, holding, then building GVN at the "rice roots." The object, as the U.S. advisors saw it, was to have a workable national plan upon which to base the entire US-GVN effort.
The Strategic Hamlet Program soon became the unifying vehicle to express the pacification process. The theory was that of physical security first, then government programs to develop popular allegiance. The fact was over-expansion, counter-productive coercion in some areas, widespread mismanagement, and dishonesty. U.S. policymakers were not, however, aware of how badly things were going until they became much worse. Optimism dominated official thinking. No need was perceived for new departures. Throughout the period of the Strategic Hamlet Program--that is, until Diem's regime was toppled in late 1963--the number of U.S. advisors remained relatively stable at its new (1962) plateau.
The expectation that more U.S. advisors would mean better information for U.S. policymakers was not realized. One cannot judge accurately the reasons why U.S. leaders in Vietnam and Washington thought the counterinsurgent effort was making headway, but the fact that it was not is crystal clear in retrospect. The expectation that GVN and U.S. interests were sufficiently parallel to permit greater U.S. influence solely as a result of a larger U.S. presence foundered on the personalities and the felt necessities of the Ngo brothers. The extent to which RVNAF technical-tactical competence was increased during this period remains a subject of disagreement but it was not increased sufficiently to "turn the tide" of the war. That much is indisputable.
ANOTHER ROUND OF INCREASES
After Diem's fall there was a brief period of optimism based on the expectation that the new military regime in Saigon would be more receptive to U.S. advice than its predecessor had been. By the summer of 1964, when the decision was made to expand the advisory effort again, this optimistic hope had foundered on the fact of continued VC victories and instability within the GVN.
NSAM 288 had, in March 1964, stated U.S. objectives in Vietnam in the most unambiguous and sweeping terms. If there had been doubt that the limited risk gamble undertaken by Eisenhower had been transformed into an unlimited commitment under Kennedy, that doubt should have been dispelled internally by NSAM 288's statement of objectives:
We seek an independent non-Communist South Vietnam. We do not require that it serve as a Western base or as a member of a Western Alliance. South Vietnam must be free, however, to accept outside assistance as required to maintain its security. This assistance should be able to take the form not only of economic and social measures but also police and military help to root out and control insurgent elements.
If we cannot save South Vietnam, the NSAM continued in a classic statement of the "domino theory," all of Southeast Asia will probably fall and all of the Western Pacific and South Asian nations will come under increased pressure.
There were at this time several steps which the U.S. could have taken to increase its assistance to the GVN. Carrying the war to Hanoi was one; introducing U.S. combat forces was another. Neither appealed much, however, in terms of helping the South Vietnamese to win their war. Both were anathema in the midst of Presidential election year politics. Bombing was discussed and plans laid, but no action taken. Troop commitments were not even discussed- at least in the written record of proposals and decisions. Rather, a number of palliative measures to help the GVN economy and RVNAF were adopted and the advisory effort was expanded.
The 1964 expansion of the advisory effort consisted of the beefing-up of the battalion advisory teams and the establishment of district (sub-sector) teams. Thus, a new dimension of American presence was added and the density of U.S. advisors in operational units was increased. There is nothing in the available record to suggest either a challenge to the old, unstated assumption that more U.S. advisors would lead to increased performance or any change in the assumed expectations of U.S. policymakers had changed. The determination remained to advise rather than to command, to develop Vietnamese leadership rather than to supplant it, and to induce the GVN to take the steps necessary to pacify its own dissident elements.
ADVISORS TEMPORARILY FORGOTTEN
The expansion to district level placed U.S. military advisors throughout almost the entire RVNAF hierarchy (from JGS to battalion, with enough men at the lower level to advise companies on a "when needed" basis) and the political hierarchy as well (sector/province and sub-sector/district). U.S. advisors were not present in large numbers with the old Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps- now relabelled the Regional Forces and Popular Forces under province and district control respectively-but they advised the military men in political positions who controlled these paramilitary forces.
Still the situation continued to deteriorate. Political instability within the GVN had by 1965 become a perennial rather than a transitory problem. The U.S. had initiated a continuing series of military air war measures to dissuade North Vietnam from support of the war in the South. The results were obviously inadequate; they may even have been opposite to those expected. Then ARVN suffered a series of disastrous defeats late in the spring of 1965 which led knowledgeable observers to fear an imminent GVN collapse. U.S. combat units--a few of which were already in-country with restrictive missions--began to be deployed to South Vietnam in earnest.
When the build-up of U.S. combat forces got underway the build-up of U.S. advisors had already been essentially completed. Being an advisor in the field had been the most challenging assignment a U.S. soldier could seek; being with a U.S. unit in combat now became the aim of most. The advisory effort sank into relative obscurity as the attention of policymakers (and of the press and public) focused on the U.S. force deployments, on building the base complexes from which U.S. military might could project itself into the countryside, and in exploring the new relationships and new opportunities occasioned by the commitment of U.S. land forces to the Asian mainland.
A number of measures which would have changed materially the U.S. advisors relationship to their Vietnamese counterparts were examined briefly in mid-1965. Each was dropped. The encadrement of U.S. and ARVN units was favored by President Johnson. General Westmoreland opposed it-apparently because of language problems and the difficult logistic support problem it would create-and the issue quickly died, except for the experimental Combined Action Platoons (CAPs) formed by the Marines. The subject of a combined U.S.-RVNAF command was brought up. Secretary McNamara was more favorably disposed toward achieving "unity of command" than were his senior military advisors and the U.S. Mission representatives in Saigon. They were keenly aware of GVN sensitivity to any measures which would explicitly finger the increasing Americanization of the war effort. So combined command was shelved, too. The GVN even opposed a joint US-JGS staff to coordinate the war effort. The staff was never formed.
As the build-up of U.S. combat forces reached a level permitting offensive forays against the VC (and North Vietnamese Army) forces, there gradually evolved a division of responsibilities between U.S. and Vietnamese forces in which the former were to concentrate on defeating the main forces of the VC/NVA and the latter were to give primary emphasis to the pacification program. Half of ARVN was to operate in support of pacification.
This division of effort threw most U.S. advisors into pacification--with ARVN units as well as in the province and district advisory teams. It also threw the U.S. military advisors into closer contact--and competition and conflict--with the growing number of advisors on civil functions (many of whom were U.S. military men on "loan") representing the CIA, AID, and USIA. The question was raised of the optimal internal U.S. organization to support the Vietnamese pacification program.
The result of a drawn-out, occasionally acrimonious debate on this question was an intermixed civil-military organization embracing the entire pacification effort, headed by a civilian of ambassadorial rank under COMUSMACV's direction. Called Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), it replaced a bilinear system in which military advisors were controlled through a military chain of command and all civilian advisors were controlled (at least in theory) through an Office of Civil Operations (OCO). The creation of CORDS was hailed as a victory for the "single manager" concept even though some very substantial U.S. programs were defined as outside the pacification program and, hence, beyond CORDS' competence.
The creation of CORDS affected only the organizational context of U.S. advice to the South Vietnamese. It did nothing to change the relationship between advisor and advised. U.S. expectations continued in the well-worn furrows in which they had travelled from the beginning: better information, more U.S. influence over Vietnamese plans and actions, and improved GVN (including RVNAF) performance were the hoped for products of the advisory effort.
This pattern was repeated in 1967 when an increase of over 2,000 military advisors was proposed by MACV to assist the Regional and Popular Forces- whose security missions were almost exclusively devoted to support of the pacification program. The RF and PF were, at that time, the only RVNAF components without a sizeable U.S. advisory complement. When the question of improving their effectiveness was addressed the old assumption that more U.S. advisors would equate to improved effectiveness again went unchallenged.
The question debated was whether this new dimension of the U.S. advisory effort should be structured to give continuing advice to RF companies and PF platoons or should be constituted on a mobile training basis. The decision was to form mobile teams for both tactical and logistical support training. Advisors were detached from their parent U.S. combat units and detailed to these duties pending the manpower accounting change which would transfer these individuals to MACV advisory control and replace them in U.S. units with newly deployed fillers.
This was the situation when the VC/NVA launched a massive series of attacks against urban population centers and surrounding pacification program forces during the 1968 lunar new year (Tet) offensive. In the confused aftermath of this radical change in VC/NVA strategy the U.S. announced in Washington its intention to give renewed attention to modernizing RVNAF so that a larger share of the war effort could be turned back to the Vietnamese. This policy decision, following as it did an unprecedented six-year period of U.S. attempts to wage counterinsurgent war by proxy, constituted an adequate reason to reexamine the experience of the past and to explore more fully some difficult questions which have been consistently avoided in the desire to assist South Vietnam.
The most basic of these questions is whether the U.S. can in any way serve as a makeweight sufficient to change the continuing unfavorable trend of the war in South Vietnam? Can it, that is, overcome the apparent fact that the Viet Cong have "captured" the Vietnamese nationalist movement while the GVN has become the refuge of Vietnamese who were allied with the French in the battle against the independence of their nation? Attempts to answer this question are complicated, of course, by the difficult issue of Viet Cong allegiance to and control by Communist China. But this is the nature of the situation. The issue of whether the U.S. can energize the GVN has been too long submerged by repeated assertions that it must do so.
A part of any tentative answer to this fundamental question will turn on the issue of how the U.S. might better promote a more adequate pace of GVN reform and improved RVNAF effectiveness to cope with the VC/NVA threat. (A related question, of course, is whether reform and increased effectiveness can proceed simultaneously.) Asking this question would open for examination two aspects of the advisory program that have come to be treated by reflexive response: where are advisors needed and what should be the relationship of the advisor to the advised?
The continuing U.S. unstated assumption has been that more advisors somehow equate to better performance. This can be traced in the successive expansions of the military advisory effort-first to the provinces and down to battalion level within ARVN, then to the districts, and most recently to the paramilitary forces within RVNAF. It may be that large numbers of advisors are, in fact, the best way to influence events but one cannot reach such a conclusion validly without first asking the question.
The relationship of advisor to advised has gone through recurrent changes relative to judging an advisor's performance according to the performance of his counterpart. It has almost never deviated, however, from the belief that the conscious and continuing use of leverage at many levels would undercut Vietnamese sovereignty and stultify the development of Vietnamese leadership. Given the results of this policy over a number of years it is fair to ask whether the stick ought not to be more routinely used in combination with the carrot. Again, the answer is not obvious but it is obvious that there can be no sound answer in the absence of inquiry.
Finally, and closely related to any examination of the leverage issue, there is the question of the adequacy of counterinsurgent theory and doctrine. The progression from physical security through the establishment of socially oriented programs (political and economic) to the objective of earning and winning popular allegiance seems both simple and logical. It may also be simplistic, for its transformation into operational reality bumps head-on into some very difficult questions. Is security a precondition to loyalty, for instance, or must some degree of loyalty be realized as a precondition to intelligence information adequate to make security feasible? This chicken-and-egg argument has been debated for years without leading to any noticeable consensus on guides to operational action.
Seeking answers to any of these questions is a difficult, frustrating business. There exists no "control" by which laboratory comparisons of alternative courses can be made. There is almost surely no hard choice which will not carry with it very real liabilities along with its advantages. But if the lives and effort expended in the U.S. military advisory effort in South Vietnam in the 1960's are to be justified, a substantial portion of that justification will consist of a closer examination of past assumptions in order better to guide future policy.
End of Summary and Analysis
21 Jul 54 Geneva Cease-fire Accord
Ended fighting between Viet Minh and French; divided Vietnam at 17th parallel; limited U.S. military personnel in RVN to current level (342).
22 Sep 54 Memo, JCS for SecDef, Retention and Development of Forces in Indochina
U.S. resources could better be used to support countries other than RVN.
11 Oct 54 Letter, J. F. Dulles (Sec State) to C. E. Wilson (SecDef)
Only small U.S. training forces to RVN to promote internal stability.
19 Oct 54 Memo, JCS for SecDef, Development and Training of Indigenous Forces in Indochina
Opposed U.S. training RVN army. Risk not worth the gamble.
22 Oct 54 Msg, State to Saigon 1679
Set in motion "crash program" to improve RVN forces.
26 Oct 54 Memo, SecDef to JCS
JCS to prepare long-range program to improve RVN forces.
17 Nov 54 Memo, JCS for SecDef, Indochina
Development of effective forces and prevention of communist takeover cannot be prevented without Vietnamese effort that is probably not forthcoming.
20 Jan 55 Memo, Gen. J. Lawton Collins for SecState, Report on Vietnam for the National Security Council
Vietnam might be "saved" with U.S. aid; would be "lost" without it.
21 Jan 55 Memo, JCS for SecDef, Reconsideration of U.S. Military Program in Southeast Asia
Outlines alternative U.S. courses of action in RVN: present program, advice with leverage, U.S. forces, or withdrawal.
24 Oct 55-31 Aug 60 Lt Gen Samuel T. Williams, Chief of MAAG to Vietnam.
9 Dec 55 Memo for SecDef, Raising U.S. Military Personnel Ceiling in MAAG Vietnam
MAAG needed twice the current 342 personnel to train RVNAF.
16 Dec 55 Memo, Director CIA from SecState
TERM also to serve as cover for intelligence gathering.
1959 Report, The President's Committee to Study the United States Military Assistance Program
Emphasized need for promoting internal security, coined term "mirror imaging."
7 Jun 59 Msg, State-Defense-ICA-CAS to Saigon 28
Forbids advisors to participate in combat.
27 Feb 60 Msg, Saigon to State 2525
Abolished TERM but added equal number of spaces to MAAG, Vietnam, increasing it from 342 to 685.
10 Jun 60 U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Study on Army Aspects of the Military Assistance Program in Vietnam
Prepared for Gen. Lionel C. McGarr, described Viet Cong strategy but deprecated ARVN participation in pacification.
1 Sep 60-5 Mar 62 Lt Gen Lionel C. McGarr, Chief of MAAG to Vietnam.
4 Jan 61 Counter Insurgency Plan for South Vietnam (CIP), enclosure to msg, Saigon to State 276
Blueprint for RVNAF reorganization, containing Gen McGarr's recommendations for integrating ARVN and CG/SDC in a common chain of command to promote internal security.
17 Jan 61 Memo, General Lansdale for SecDef, Vietnam
Proposed extra-bureaucratic advisory effort carried out by specially selected and qualified personnel.
15 Mar 61-1 Aug 63 Frederick E. Nolting, Ambassador to South Vietnam
28 Mar 61 NIE 50-61, Outlook in Mainland Southeast Asia
Report that VC controlled most of countryside.
12 Apr 61 Memo, Walt W. Rostow to the President
Suggested appointment of Presidential Agent to oversee Vietnam programs in Washington.
19 Apr 61 Memo, Gen. Lansdale to SecDef, Vietnam
Proposed creation of interdepartmental task force on Vietnam.
20 Apr 61 Memo, SecDef for DepSecDef
McNamara asked Gilpatric for program to "prevent communist domination" of Vietnam, in response to Lansdale proposal.
27 Apr 61 Memo, DepSecDef for President, Program of Action for Vietnam
Recommended expanded U.S. effort in Vietnam, MAAG increase of 100, MAAG takeover of CG/SDC, U.S. advisors in field operations creation of Presidential Task Force. Foreshadowed later decision.
1 May 61 Memo, R. L. Gilpatric for Presidential Task Force
Recommended augmenting MAAG by 2 training commands (1600 each) and deploy 400 Special Forces (increasing MAAG from 685 to 2285). Marked shift to conventional approach.
3 May 61 Memo, State Department to members of Task Force on Vietnam
Recommended revision of Gilpatric task force, proposed interdepartmental task force under State leadership.
11 May 61 NSAM 52
Recorded President's decision to increase U.S. forces slightly and re-emphasized U.S. commitment.
15 May 61 Msg. Saigon to State 1743
Recorded Diem's refusal of U.S. combat troops on bilateral treaty.
18 May 61 Memo BG Lansdale for DepSecDef, Vietnam
Recorded Diem's acceptance of U.S. forces for training but not for fighting.
23 May 61 Memo, Vice President Johnson for President Kennedy
Report from Johnson's trip to Vietnam that "deeds must replace words."
27 May 61 Letter from President to each American Ambassador abroad. (See Memo, President for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, 29 May 1961, "Responsibilities of Chiefs of American Diplomatic Missions," Federal Register, Vol. 26 Nr 22, 17 Nov 1961, p. 10749 (F.R. Doc. 61-11012).
Set forth coordinating authority for ambassadors.
9 Jun 61 Letter, President Diem to President Kennedy
Proposed 100,000 increase in RVNAF and corresponding expansion of MAAG.
15 Sep 61 MAAG, Vietnam, Geographically Phased National Level Plan for Counterinsurgency
Suggested operational sequence of priority areas for coordinated counterinsurgency effort under single chain of command.
1 Oct 61 Msg, Saigon to State 421
Diem asked for bilateral defense treaty with U.S.
Oct 61 JCSM 717-61
JCS proposal to send 20,000 U.S. combat troops to central highlands.
5 Oct 61 DF, Distribution Division, DCSPER, DA to Multiple Addressees, Improvement of Personnel Continuity and Effectiveness in Short Tour Overseas Areas.
OSD decision to increase tour of duty to 30 months with dependents, 18 without, instead of 24 and 12. Never put into effect.
10 Oct 61 SNIE 10-3-61, Probable Communist Reactions to Certain SEA TO Undertakings in South Vietnam
Examined proposal for U.S. troop intervention.
11 Oct 61 Study, Concept of Intervention in South Vietnam, n.d., discussed at NSC meeting, 11 Oct 61
Proposed sending U.S. combat troops.
11 Oct 61 Memo for Record Roswell Gilpatric
Recorded decision to send Taylor to Vietnam and outlined alternatives to be considered.
25 Oct 61 Msg, Saigon to State
Diem's assurance that he favored deployment of U.S. troops.
25 Oct 61 Msg, Saigon 537, General Taylor to White House, State, Defense, JCS; Msg, Baguio 005, 1 Nov 61, Eyes Only for the President from General Taylor
Proposed sending 6-8000 troops under guise of "flood relief."
1 Nov 61 State Dept, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, RFE-3, 1 Nov 61, Communist Threat Mounts in South Vietnam
Reported increased VC activity in first half 1961: 500 assassinations, 1000 kidnappings, 1500 RVNAF KIA.
3 Nov 61 Report on General Taylor's Mission to South Vietnam.
Discussed VC strategy and threat and the weaknesses of the Diem regime. Proposed shift in U.S. effort "from advice to limited partnership."
14 Nov 61 Msg, State to Saigon 619
Recorded U.S. expectation of sharing in GVN decision-making.
22 Nov 61 NSAM 111, First Phase of Vietnam Program
Outlines U.S. actions and expected improvements in GVN.
22 Nov 61-25 Nov 61 Msg, Saigon to State 687; Msg, Saigon to State 708
Ambassador Nolting reported that Diem refused to bow to U.S. pressure.
Dec 61 Msg, State to Saigon 693
Dropped insistence on explicit U.S. influence on GVN decisions, but assumed such influence as by-product of close partnership.
16 Jan 62 Hq, CINCPAC, Record of Second Secretary of Defense Conference
Recorded decisions of Honolulu Conference: establish battalion advisory teams, province advisors CG/SDC training.
13 Feb 62-1 Aug 64 Gen. Paul D. Harkins, COMUSMACV
23 Jul 62 Record of 6th Secretary of Defense Conference
McNamara plan for phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, based on optimistic 1962 expectations.
1 Aug 63-1 Jul 64 Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador to South Vietnam.
2 Oct 63 White House Statement
Announcement by President Kennedy of U.S. hopes for planned phased withdrawal of troops.
1 Nov 63 Diem overthrown by military coup d'etat.
1 Nov 63-16 Aug 64 Military Revolutionary Council
Duong Van Minh, Chief of State and Chairman, Military Revolutionary Council.
26 Nov 63 NSAM 273
Reaffirmed and continued Kennedy administration policies in Vietnam; placed emphasis on Mekong Delta; maintained military assistance at least as great as to Diem; reiterated plans for troop withdrawal; proposed no new programs nor increased U.S. assistance; authorized operations up to 50 km. within Laos.
7 Mar 64 Briefing Paper, Establishment of Critical District Advisory Teams (C), Briefing Book for McNaughton, Saigon [May 1964]
MACV extended U.S. advisory effort to district level in 13 key districts around Saigon.
17 Mar 64 NSAM 288, Implementation of South Vietnam Programs
The situation in Vietnam had deteriorated and was grave; VC controlled much of country; North Vietnamese support of V.C. had increased; RVNAF should be increased by 50,000; contingency plans for operations in Laos and Cambodia and overt retaliation against DRV should be developed; however, no major increase of U.S. advisory effort was called for.
17 Apr 64 Memo, DJA for SecDef, Status of the Vietnamese Hamlet Survey
Aerial photo reconnaissance revealed far fewer fortified hamlets than province officials claimed.
22 Apr 64 Memo, DepSecDef for CJCS
Secretary insisted that he personally approve every manpower space for MACV.
May 64 Briefing Book, Miscellaneous Messages, Status Reports, and Recommendations for Secretary McNamara, n.d.
Reported great instability in province governments, decline in GVN controlled population, increase in VC control; important provinces were in "critical condition."
12 May 64 Draft Memo for the Record, Lt. Col. S. B. Berry, Jr., Mu. Asst. to SecDef, n.d., U.S. Embassy Briefing, Saigon.
USOM 25% understrength, half this shortage in rural affairs staff.
12-13 64 May McNamara trip to Saigon
Situation appeared critical.
22 May 64 Msg, JCS to COMUSMACV 6448, Vietnamese Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps.
COMUSMACV asked to study encadrement of CG/SDC with U.S. teams similar to White Star teams in Laos. JCS was examining alternative advisor expansions (1,000, 2,000, 3,000).
23 May 64 Msg, CINCPAC to JCS 230418Z, Vietnamese Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps
MACV opposed to "flooding" RVN with U.S. personnel; preferred build-up on selective basis, challenged "encadrement."
25 May 64 Msg, JCS to CINCPAC 6473, Vietnamese Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps
JCS plan for 6 Mobile Training Teams in each province and training center, 70 advisors to each critical province, increase of 1000 personnel.
27 May 64 Msg, COMUSMACV to CINCPAC 4259, 270045Z
Gen. Harkins disputed the value of U.S. conducted training for CG/SDC and of Mobile Training Teams; proposed advisors be used at district level for operations; accepted 1000 man increase.
27 May 64 Msg, CINCPAC to JCS, 270805Z, Vietnamese CG and SDC
CINCPAC agreed with COMUSMACV and outlined specific advisory build-up recommended: 956 personnel by end CY 65.
27 May 64 Msg, White House to Saigon (Personal for Gen. Paul Harkins)
Gen. Harkins requested to return to U.S.
28 May 64 Msg, Saigon to State 2338
USOM desire for gradual, not rapid, build-up; need for effective local administration and security.
30 May 64 JCSM-464-64, Pilot Program for Provision of Advisory Assistance to Paramilitary Forces in Seven Provinces
One of two JCS proposals submitted to McNamara outlining pilot program for advisory build-up: teams in 49 districts over 6 month period, 300 advisors.
30 May 64 JCSM-465-64, U.S. Advisory Assistance to the Vietnamese Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps.
Second proposal-Broader advisory increase program: 1000 personnel for all 239 districts over 1-1½ years.
30 May 64 JCSM-466-64, Provision of U.S. Advisors to Company Level Within Vietnamese Regular Ground Forces
JCS opposed extending U.S. advisors to company level, because of increased casualties, language problems, ARVN opposition.
1 Jun 64 Honolulu Conference
25 Jun 64 Msg, COMUSMACV to JCS, MAC 7325380, Extension of U.S. Advisory Assistance
Elaborated decision of Honolulu conference to expand advisory effort to district level, and to increase battalion-level advisory groups to make company level advisory teams available.
1 Jul 64-31 Jul 65 Maxwell Taylor, Ambassador to South Vietnam.
17 July 64 Msg, COMUSMA CV to CINCPAC, MA CJ-316180, Support Requirements for Extension of U.S. Advisory Program.
COMUSMACV reached 4200 personnel in addition to 926 battalion and district advisors-"the straw that broke the camel's back" of the overburdened support base.
28 Jul 64 Msg, COMUSMACV to JCS, MACJ1 7044, Personnel Augmentation.
COMUSMACV requested 4200 personnel by 1 Dec 64 and remainder of 4772 total increase by 1 Feb 65.
Jul 64 Hop Tac
Idea for Hop Tac, special combined US/GVN effort to secure critical area round Saigon, proposed by Amb. Lodge at Honolulu Conference.
1 Aug 64-30 Jun 68 Gen. William C. Westmoreland, commander of MACV.
2 Aug 64 Tonkin Gulf Incident
U.S.S. Maddox allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.
4 Aug 64 JCSM-665-64, Additional Support in RVN on Accelerated Basis
McNamara wanted additional men provided more quickly than Westmoreland's plan.
5 Aug 64 Tonkin Gulf Resolution
Congress passed joint resolution supporting "all necessary action" to protect U.S. forces and assist Vietnam.
7 Aug 64 Memo, SecDef for GIGS, Additional Support for Republic of Vietnam
McNamara directed that accelerated deployment be completed by end of September.
11 Aug 64 Msg, COMUSMACV to CINCPAC, MACJ3 7738, Additional Support for RVN
Westmoreland replied that he could not absorb build-up in time requested by McNamara.
15 Aug 64 Msg, JCS to GSA, CNO, CSAF et a!, JCS 7953, Additional Support in RVN
McNamara cancelled accelerated deployment, services instructed to deploy personnel in accordance with Westmoreland's initial recommendations.
16 Aug 64-26 Oct 64 Khanh coup.
Nguyen Khanh, President, Head of State and Chief, Revolutionary Military Council (30 Jan 64 to 26 Oct 64, 27 Jan 65 to 21 Feb 65).
12 Sep 64 Hop Tac
Hop Tac launched with a sweep through Gia Dinh Province. Mission aborted following day by coup.
4 Nov 64- 11 Jun 65 Phan Kiac Suu, Chief of State
Crisis between Amb. Taylor and Gen. Khanh resulted from Taylor's attempt to use U.S. decision to begin bombing DRV as lever to get GVN reform. Taylor abandoned further attempts at leverage.
Dec 64 "Troika sign-off" for piasters abolished
USOM Director Killen decided to abandon joint sign-off for release of piaster funds for pacification-important leverage tool.
23 Jan 65
McNamara approved RVNAF force increase proposal for MAP support. Now strength authorizations: 275,058 Regular Forces, 137,187 RF and 185,000 PF. (Alternative 1).
7 Feb 65
FLAMING DART reprisal attacks against DRV launched.
22 Feb 65
Gen. Westmoreland recommended sending two Marine Battalion Landing Teams to DaNang for base security.
26 Feb 65
ROLLING THUNDER, sustained bombing of DRV, initiated.
26 Feb 65
Decision to send Marines to DaNang made in Washington.
6 Mar 65
Marines went ashore at DaNang.
16 Mar 65 ICS message 0936
Gen. H. K. Johnson returned from trip to Vietnam with recommendation for deployment of U.S. combat forces and creation of joint command.
20 Mar 65
Westmoreland requested authorization to implement Alternative 2 RVNAF strength increase (greater than alternative 1 by 15,000).
21 Mar 65 COMUSMACV message 1566
Westmoreland opposed any formal merging of commands, preferred informal cooperation.
26 Mar 65 MACV "Commander's Estimate of the Situation"
As a strategy alternative, Westmoreland rejected proposal for accelerated RVNAF build-up as insufficient to prevent VC victory.
1-2 Apr 65 Washington strategy conference with Brig Gen De Puy, Amb. Taylor.
6 Apr 65 NSAM 328
President approved dispatch of two more battalions and an air wing and authorized their employment for active combat missions.
12 Apr 65 MACV Command History 1965
McNamara approved JCS recommendation for RVNAF expansion of 17,247 160 additional U.S. advisors approved.
15 Apr 65 Defense Department message 009164, Joint State/Defense Message
Defense Department sought to have U.S. Army civil affairs officers introduced in provinces to improve civil administration. Amb. Taylor opposition killed proposal.
15 Apr 65 Department of State message 2332
McGeorge Bundy informed Amb. Taylor that President wanted to try "encadrement of U.S. troops with Vietnamese."
15 Apr 65 DOD message 151233Z
DOD requested COMUSMACV's opinion about feasibility of encadrement of U.S. officers in ARVN divisions to improve effectiveness.
18 Apr 65 Honolulu Conference, MACV Command History
Based on study by Gen. Throckmorton, encadrement proposals were rejected because of language problem, expanded support requirement, and adverse effects on South Vietnamese morale.
Apr 65 MACV Command History 1965
Westmoreland suggested joint MACV-JGS staff. Gen. Thieu and Gen. Minh were opposed.
3 May 65 Hop Tac pacification
Corps commanders for I, II, IV Corps presented Hop Tac plans for their zones, each to extend "oil blot" pacification from its headquarters city. (By end of 1965 became scheme for National Priority Areas.)
11 May 65
Viet Cong attached and overran Song Be, capital of Phuoc Long Province, and a U.S. advisory compound in the city.
14 May 65 JCS message 142228Z
McNamara authorized creation of formal combined command in Vietnam and coordinating MAC V-JGS staff.
21 May 65 COMUSMACV message Combined Command; JCS message 240603Z
Westmoreland recommended against proposed combined command because of Thieu's and Ky's opposition.
26 May 65 CJNCPAC msg to JCS 3027, 260332Z
CINCPAC supported COMUSMACV's opposition to combined command because of fears of Vietnamese hostility.
late May 65
VC force ambushed and decimated ARVN 51st Regiment and 2 battalions near Ba Gia, west of Quang Ngai City.
Jun 65 Origin of CAP
Several Marines assigned to work with local PF near Phu Bai, I Corps.
7 Jun 65 MACV message to CJNCPAC and JCS 19118
Moratorium on RVNAF build-up required because trainees needed as fillers in existing units to replace heavy casualties. Westmoreland requested 44 additional U.S. battalions; reported severe ARVN deterioration.
19 Jun 65-present
Nguyen Van Thieu, Chief of State and Chairman, National present Leadership Council, 20 Jun 65 to 9 Nov 67, elected President 31 Oct 67.
Viet Cong attacked Special Forces camp at Dong Xoai with more than two regiments.
25 Jun 65
VC Central Highlands offensive began, district headquarters at Tou Morong, Kontum Province, was overrun.
26 Jun 65 MACV Military Report, 19-26 June
MACV noted 5 ARVN regiments and 9 battalions combat ineffective.
18 US/FW combat maneuver battalions were in Vietnam.
Jul 65 MACV Command History, 1965
11 of 15 ARVN training battalions had to be disorganized to provide fillers for line units due to heavy casualties.
7 Jul 65
Six district capitals had been abandoned or overrun.
20 Jul 65 SecDef Memorandum for the President
McNamara urged U.S. to lay down terms for continuing assistance before introduction of more forces; suggested exercise leverage through control of rice policy.
25 Jul 65 Saigon message 266
Amb. Taylor did not want to appear to impose conditions for increased aid.
28 Jul 65
President announced expanded U.S. effort and increased troop commitment to Vietnam.
7 Aug 65 MACV Command History 1965
CG III MAF designated as Senior Advisor to ARVN I CTZ Commander.
Sep 65 Lodge Ambassador
Lodge returned to Vietnam for second term as ambassador. Term of office: 31 Jul 65-Apr 67.
COMUSMACV evaluated 3-month experiment with "single manager" teams in 3 provinces, found it partially successful but scrapped the idea.
1 Oct 65 MACV Command History, 1965
MACV created separate contingency fund for each subsector advisor for urgent projects, in attempt to overcome delays in Vietnamese pacification system.
16 Oct 65 State Dept msg 1039
18 Oct 65 Saigon msg 1324
USOM sought to restore troika sign-off but State Dept. opposed this idea. The attempt was abandoned.
21 Oct 65
Commander of HQ Field Force, Vietnam (FFORCEV) designated as II CTZ Senior Advisor. (At insistence of ARVN Corps commanders, who felt they would suffer loss of prestige if advised by less than Senior U.S. officer in corps.)
3 Nov 65 SecDef Draft Memorandum for the President
McNamara recorded impatience with GVN, recommended giving larger role to advisors at province and district level.
5 Nov 65 MACV Command History
Westmoreland recommended increased RVNAF force levels for FY 66 and FY 67, to limit of available manpower.
Nov 65 CAP Program
Agreement between I Corps Commander and CG III MAF permitting integration of Marine squads into PF platoons in DaNang area to form Combined Action Platoon (CAP): Marine Rifle Squad (14) and PF Platoon (32-38).
28 Nov 65
McNamara trip to Saigon, approves RVNAF force increase recommendation.
15 Dec 65 Lodge memorandum for Gen. Lansdale; MACV Command History
Lodge specified that GVN pacification effort was primarily civilian, consequently on U.S. side the two civilian agencies, USAID and CAS, should be generating support agencies.
8-11 Jan 66 Warrenton Conference Report
Members of Saigon Mission, Vietnam Coordinating Committee and other senior officials met at Warrenton, Virginia, to review pacification problem. It foreshadowed a redirection of advisory effort toward pacification.
Jan 66 MACV Analysis of RVNAF for CY 66
At Mission Council meeting, Amb. Lodge expressed concern that the number of U.S. advisors not smother the Vietnamese at all levels.
4 Feb 66 State to Saigon 2252
U.S. requested Honolulu meeting with Thieu, Ky to express concern about pacification, economic problems, GVN lack of popular support.
6-8 Feb 66 Honolulu Conference
LBJ concern about the "other war," Thieu and Ky made pledges of increased pacification, promised elections. Amb. William Porter was assigned responsibility for civil support of RD.
28 Feb 66 Mission Council Minutes, Feb. 28, 1966
Porter described his understanding of his duties to Mission Council: coordinating effort for all civil aspects of revolutionary development, through the Mission Liaison Group.
MACV subsector pacification contingency fund abandoned after 4-month trial period due to opposition of GVN RD Minister Thang; it would encourage Vietnamese dependence on U.S.
Mar 66 PROVN Study Summary Statement, Mar 66
Program for Pacification and Long Term Development of South Vietnam (PROVN) completed for internal army use. Revealed lack of coordination among U.S. agencies in pacification.
23 Apr 66 Saigon to State 4160, Apr 23, 1966; 4200, Apr 26; 4435, May 7; 5546, June 15
Lodge reviewed prospects for introduction of U.S. leverage in Buddhist "Struggle Movement"; desired to bring dissidents under GVN control, but saw no way to achieve decisive results. Recommended to Washington that a sign-off system be reinstated to reduce corruption and increase U.S. influence at lower levels.
"Roles and Missions" Study Group began work for Amb. Porter. Completed in August. Recommendation for support for a reemphasis on pacification.
Stepped-up pacification effort: Operation Lam Son, combined RD "Search and Seal" operations with U.S. 1st Infantry Division and ARVN 5th Division in Binh Duong. U.S. 25th Division "adopted" districts in Han Nghia Province.
McNamara proposed that responsibility for sole management of pacification be assigned to COMUSMACV, who would have a Deputy to command all pacification activities. AID, CIA, USIA opposed such reorganization; Komer and JCS concurred.
29 Sep 66 Komer, "Memorandum for Secretary McNamara"
Komer stressed that unified management of pacification was needed.
23-25 Oct 66 Manila Conference
At Manila Conference Thieu and Ky formally accepted commitment of ARVN to support RD, and "National Reconciliation" program to attract VC back to government was announced.
McNamara trip to Saigon. Ky agreed to shift in combat missions for U.S. and RVNAF forces: U.S. to conduct large-scale offensive operations, RVNAF to provide security to RD.
7 Nov 66 MACV/JGS Combined Campaign Plan 1967 (AB 142)
Spelled out new division of labor between U.S. and RVNAF. JGS agreed to keep 53 ARVN battalions (50% of ARVN combat units) assigned to support RD.
7 Nov 66 Memorandum, Amb. Lodge for the Secretary of State, SecDef and Komer; message, Saigon 11125, Nov. 17.
Lodge defined terms of reference for what was established as the Office of Civil Operations (OCO).
8 Dec 66 MACV msg 52414 to CINCPAC
Westmoreland reported to CINCPAC on poor quality and performance of ARVN. First 10 months of 1966, the number of ARVN maneuver battalions with minimally acceptable operational strength fluctuated from 31 to 78 of total of 121 organized units.
17 Dec 66 W. W. Rostow, Memorandum to Secretary of Defense and Acting Secretary of State, draft NSAM attached
Pacification listed as third strategic objective and five programs concerned with pacification were outlined, heralding reemphasis on pacification in 1967.
27 Dec 66 JCS Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, JCSM-792-66, line-in, line-out revised draft NSAM attached.
JCS replied to Rostow's draft after consulting CINCPAC; stiffening and making more specific U.S. commitment to war, introducing term "revolutionary development," eliminated references to "national reconciliation" for ex-VC, and watered down commitment to constitutional-electoral efforts underway.
9 Jan 67 MACV msg 00949
In Dec 1966 a 12-officer team from each ARVN had undergone training on RD support so that each might instruct its division on the new duties. The division training programs began in Jan 67.
18 Jan 67 MACV msg 02149 to CINCPAC from MACCORDS
MACV described new Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) to CINCPAC.
20 Jan 67 ASD(ISA) John T. McNaughton Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, Subject: Draft NSAM on "Strategic Guidelines for 1967 in Vietnam;" McNaughton's line-in, line-out revised draft and the JCS revision attached.
McNaughton draft for Vietnam strategic guidelines incorporated most JCS recommendations, emphasized security, anti-infrastructure and intelligence in support of R/D; pushed "National Reconciliation."
24 Jan 67 MACV msg 02916, Westmoreland sends
Westmoreland stated that the effectiveness of RVNAF must be increased and that its image must be improved.
28 Jan 67 Deputy SecDef Cyrus Vance letter to W. W. Rostow
Vance sent McNaughton version to Rostow as Defense Department reply to his memorandum. No NSAM was ever promulgated.
Feb 67 "Pacification Slowdown" Southeast Asia Analysis Report, Feb. 67, OASD(SA) SEA Programs Directorate
OASD(SA) reported that pacification effort in 1966 had failed.
18 Mar 67 MACV msg 09101, Westmoreland sends
Westmoreland cabled CINCPAC requesting an "optimum force" increase of 42/3 divisions (201,250 men) or as a "minimum essential force," 2½ divisions (100,000 men). No major expansion of RVNAF called for: 6,307 more spaces for ARVN, 50,000 more RF/PF.
20-21 Mar 67 Guam Conference
President Johnson met with Thieu and Ky in Guam. They presented draft constitution and agreed to a proclamation on National Reconciliation.
Johnson decided to transfer control of pacification to MACV and send Robert Komer to head new operation in Saigon.
25 Mar 67 Embassy Saigon msg 21226, Eyes Only for the President from Lodge
Lodge stressed importance of RVNAF for MACV success, praised Abrams as man to oversee RVNAF improvement.
Gen. Creighton Abrams became Westmoreland deputy and assumed responsibility for U.S. advisory effort to RVNAF.
1 Apr 67
New South Vietnamese Constitution promulgated.
24 Apr 67 R. W. Komer Memorandum for the President
Komer asserted that decisive contest lay in pacification in the South, rejected Westmoreland's request for additional 200,000 troops, proposed methods to improve RVNAF and pacification, suggested increased pressure on GVN for reforms.
1 May 67
New Ambassador, Ellsworth Bunker, arrived in Saigon.
7 May 67 MACV msg 15064
Reported Jan. decision to make a unit by unit effectiveness evaluation and to cut off support for superfluous or below standard units. Resulted in several warnings but no suspension of support. Also reported RVNAF desertions were won for Jan-Feb 1967 from Jan-Feb 1966.
9 May 67 NSAM 362
Komer's appointment as single manager for pacification announced internally.
12 May 67 Embassy Saigon Airgram 622, Subject: Revolutionary Development
Gloomy account of progress of RD in first three months of 1967.
13 May 67 Ambassador Bunker statements to the press in Saigon, May 13, 1967
Announcement of transfer of OCO to MACV, Bunker stressed combined civil-military nature of pacification.
15 May 67 Embassy Saigon msg. 25839
First meeting of Komer with Ky. Ky declined to place GVN RD efforts under JGS.
28 May 67 State Department msg DTG 092304Z; MACV Dir 10-12, 28 May 1967
MACV issued directive with instructions on new RD organizational arrangements.
May 67 JCSM-530-57, Subject: Increase in FY 1968 RVNAF Force Level, 28 Sep 67 (a review of the year's actions)
McNamara imposed a temporary ceiling on RVNAF to prevent further inflation in Vietnam, and to arrest some of the balance of payments flow of U.S.
14 Jun 67 Amb. R. W. Komer, Memorandum for General W. C. Westmoreland, Subject: Organization for Attack on V.C. Infrastructure
Komer recommended consolidation, under his direction, of U.S. anti-infrastructure intelligence effort. Desired unified GVN/US, civil/military "management structure targeted on infrastructure." ICEX (Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation) structure was developed.
14 Jun 67 Embassy Saigon msg 28095, For the President from Bunker
Bunker described MACV actions underway to improve RVNAF: improving leadership, better pay, improving command structure and equipment of RF/PF training, integrated US/RVNAF operations, reviews.
17 Jun 67 MA CCORDS, Project Takeoff, prepared by the A CofS, CORDS, Headquarters MACV
Project TAKEOFF contained analysis of reasons for part failure, appraisal of current situation, and recommendations for future emphasis in RD; suggested increased use of U.S. leverage and control.
4 Jul 67 ASD (SA) Alain Enthoven Memo for the SecDef, Subj: Improvement in RVNAF Force Effectiveness
Enthoven claimed that primary reason for RVNAF ineffectiveness was the quantity and quality of leadership and recommended that the Secretary query MACV on leadership problems.
13 July 67 ASD (SA) Alain Enthoven Memorandum for the Record, Subj: Fallout for SecDef Trip to South Vietnam (TS-SENS-EYES ONLY for Dr. Heyman); and OASD(SA) General Purpose Forces, W. K. Brehm, Memo for the Record, Sub/: SEA Deployments, Jul 14, 1967
In Saigon, McNamara gave planning authorization for U.S. augmentation up to 525,000 spaces, and civilianization of 10,000 additional spaces to fulfill Westmoreland's lower force alternative.
14 Aug 67 ASD(SA) Alain Enthoven Memo for the Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Assistant Secretaries of Defense, Subj: Southeast Asia Deployment Program #5
New U.S. force level of 525,000 promulgated as Deployment Program #5.
30 Aug 67 DASD(SA) Memo for the SecDef
Amb. Komer complained that the CORDS advisory element's actual strength was seriously below authorization due to bureaucratic delays.
31 Aug 67 Dept of State Msg 30023
Study of leverage by Hans Heymann and Lt Col Volney Warner recommended increased use.
7 Sep 66 COMUSMACV Memo for Ambassador Lodge
Westmoreland disagreed with Roles and Missions Study Group recommendation to remove division from chain of command below CTZ level and strengthening role of Province Chief.
15 Sep 67 JCSM 505-67, Subj: U.S. Forces Deployment Vietnam (Refined Troop List)
JCS submitted final detailed troop list for Program #5. Contained 2,577 additional advisors and 666 Special Forces to perform advisor-like functions.
16 Sep 67 Review and Analysis System for RVNAF Progress, MACV-J341
First published Review and Analysis for RVNAF appeared: long catalogue of RVNAF deficiencies.
19 Sep 67 Embassy Saigon msg 7113
Komer replied to recommendation for increased use of U.S. leverage that it must be done discreetly. Proposed comprehensive system of country-wide leverage was never adopted.
28 Sep 67 JCSM-530-67, Subject: Increase in FY 68 RVNAF Force Level
JCS forwarded with endorsement the MACV-CINCPAC recommendation on FY 68 RVNAF force increases: total increase of 63,586; 47,839 for RF/PF and 15,747 for regular forces. MACV requested further increase of 78,204 for FY 1969.
7 Oct 67 SecDef Memo for CJCS, Subject: Increase in FY 68 RVNAF Force Level, and attached OASD(SA) memo for the SecDef, 5 Oct 67
McNamara approved the requested FY 68 augmentations forRVNAF, against the wishes of Enthoven, who would have authorized only half as many.
26 Oct 67 "Information on MATs (Mobile Advisory Teams) and MALTs (Mobile Advisory Logistics Teams) ," 8 May 1968, working paper prepared by the ACofS MA, MACV
MACV conference on RF/PF, convened to study problems of RF/PF expansion and to plan for expansion of advisory effort, recommended complete reorientation of advisory concept for RF/ PF, establishment of Mobile Advisory Teams to be used on a rotating basis.
15 Dec 67
Westmoreland approved new RF/PF advisory system: MATs and MALTs, to be phased in during 1968.
31 Jan 68 Tet Offensive
VC/NVA initiate massive attacks on population centers throughout Vietnam during Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday period.
I. ADVISORY STABILITY, 1954-1960
A. THE U.S. GAMBLE WITH LIMITED RESOURCES
1. Origins of the U.S. Involvement in RVN
The U.S. decision to attempt, generally within the strictures imposed by the Geneva Accords, to shore up the Government of South Vietnam (GVN) and to prevent the new nation's fall into communist hands appears in retrospect to have been, in Wellington's phrase, "a close run thing." The prevalent American attitude in 1954 was that the deployment of large U.S. forces to the mainland of Asia should be permitted "never again." Spending on national security was to be pegged at tolerable levels which would not threaten the well-being of the domestic economy, yet communist expansion was to be deterred by the threat of massive retaliation combined with U.S. support for free nations capable of managing their own internal order and insuring that any act of armed aggression would appear as just that-the unambiguous precondition for nuclear retaliation.
2. Initial Military Reluctance
The policy solution to this problem in national security strategy has been accurately and exhaustively described in recent literature. It need not be repeated here. The important thing to note is that the attempt to achieve stability in RVN was recognized to be a marginal gamble to retain a small but potentially important piece in the larger jig saw puzzle which was U.S. national security policy. As such, it seemed worth the risk of a moderate outlay of assistance and advice. General J. Lawton Collins stated the case succinctly in his assessment for the National Security Council:
....There is at least an even chance that Vietnam can be saved from Communism if the present programs of its government are fully implemented. . . . I cannot guarantee that Vietnam will remain free, even with our aid. But I know that without our aid Vietnam will surely be lost to Communism.
The gamble consisted in making available to the GVN that material support and advice which would enable it to assure its own viability. Much of the military equipment was already in RVN, the residue of earlier efforts to support the French war against the Viet Minh. The framework for military advice was present, too, in the form of MAAG Indochina which had assisted (and attempted to influence-generally unsuccessfully) the French struggle.
The military establishment was not eager, however, to undertake this effort. The JCS feared that the advisory limit imposed by the Geneva Accords (342 military personnel) was too restrictive to permit a successful training program even if all administrative tasks were performed by civilians and all military personnel freed for advisory duties in training the army of the new nation. Even this would create a situation, the JCS argued, in which the U.S. would have only very limited influence, yet assume the responsibility for failure. The same resource allocations would bring a greater return, in the JCS view, if devoted to the support of military forces in other nations. The Joint Chiefs were agreed that the creation of a Vietnamese Army might not even be adequate to the task of establishing a stable GVN, let alone to protecting that nation from external aggression:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff further consider that the chaotic internal political situation within Vietnam will hamper the development of loyal and effective security forces in the support of the Diem Government and that it is probable that the development of such forces will not result in political and military stability within South Vietnam. Unless the Vietnamese themselves show an inclination to make the individual and collective sacrifices required to resist communism no amount of external pressure and assistance can long delay a complete Communist victory in South Vietnam.
Their conclusion, "from a military point of view," was that the risk was not worth the gamble:
[T]he Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the United States should not participate in the training of Vietnamese forces in Indochina. However, if it is considered that political considerations are overriding, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would agree to the assignment of a training mission to MAAG, Saigon, with safeguards against French interference with the US training effort.
3. The Decision to Gamble with Limited Commitment
Political considerations were indeed overriding. Reasonable fears of failure, claims about the inadequacy of resources, and caveats on the necessity for Vietnamese initiatives are inherently inconclusive arguments when one is speaking of a calculated gamble. Indeed, low value chips for high stakes made the gamble all the more appealing. Secretary of State Dulles' position immediately prevailed: only relatively small military forces were needed; their principal purpose should be to promote internal stability rather than to guard against external aggression; nations acting in concert (under the umbrella of U.S. nuclear superiority) would guard against external aggression. On 22 October 1954 Ambassador Heath and General O'Daniel in Saigon were instructed to "collaborate in setting in motion a crash program designed to bring about an improvement in the loyalty and effectiveness of the Free Vietnamese forces." Four days later the JCS were directed to prepare a "long range program for the reorganization and training of the minimum number of Free Vietnamese forces necessary for internal security." The earlier objections of the JCS were neither refuted nor ignored; they were accepted tacitly as part and parcel of the policy gamble.
4. From Internal to Conventional Defense
The language of this decision to train the Vietnamese National Army (VNA), as it was then called, would indicate that internal (rather than external) security would be the principal purpose of that force. That is not the way it developed, for three reasons. First, basic U.S. national strategy (embodied in NSC 162 and NSC 5602 during the period under examination) and Southeast Asia policy (NSC 5429 and NSC 5612) were both ambiguous on a key point: to what degree were indigenous military forces to be expected to defend against a conventional, "limited war" attack by an aggressor? The continuous, unbroken tendency throughout the 1950s was to desire ever more capability for conventional defense.
Second, U.S. military forces were unprepared by their own experience to assist in the structuring of forces designed for other than conventional warfare. The U.S. advisory experiences that were current in terms of institutionalized memory were those of aid to Greece and Korea where the job had been one of training for technical and tactical competence along conventional lines. It was eminently natural for the U.S. advisory effort to follow in this identifiable path. Indeed, to have expected the advisory effort to have stressed "counter insurgency" early in this period would have been completely unrealistic: the term had not been invented and its concepts had not been either developed or articulated. This natural tendency to develop conventional forces was not only in step with the dominant trend in U.S. military strategy, it was also reinforced by a third factor, the generalized assumption that the ability to promote internal security was automatically provided for in the creation of forces capable to promote external security.
The confluence of all three factors led, in fact, to an attempt to create Vietnamese forces along lines which were later called "mirror images" of conventional U.S. force structures. MAAG Vietnam proposed and led in the creation of the Army of Vietnam (ARVN) in formations comprising divisions, regiments, battalions, and companies organized as closely parallel to U.S. organization as local differences in equipment and support would permit. This was not, for the reasons already indicated, an unreasonable or indefensible development--at least not until about 1959 or 1960--and by that time efforts were underway to transform the focus of ARVN to internal security. These later efforts were faced with the reality of a sizeable army-conventionally organized, trained, and equipped-which had been created under different circumstances and for different purposes. One is forced to wonder, if Vietnamese institutions are as difficult to remould as their American counterparts, whether the later advisory effort was not faced from its inception with an almost insurmountable task.
5. The Early MAAG and the Equipment Recovery Mission
The number of U.S. advisors to the fledgling Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) were, as already indicated, limited by the Geneva Accords. Article 16 of the Accords limited military personnel in Vietnam to the number present at the time the Accords were signed. The magic number was 342. The U.S. MAAG Chief, General O'Daniel, complained that he needed twice this number to train the new RVNAF and to oversee the redistribution of U.S. equipment already in RVN as a result of U.S. support for the French during the war just ended. The eventual outcome, when it was learned informally that the Indian Government would instruct its representative on the ICC to interpose no objection, was the creation of the Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission (TERM) with 350 military personnel. TERM served as the principal manager for the redistribution of equipment, assisted in developing RVNAF's embryonic logistical support system, and provided a convenient cover for a larger intelligence effort.
This combined administrative-advisory force remained stable in size during the period prior to 1961. American military advisors were located physically at only a very few locations in RVN. They were notable by their absence in field units. The U.S. effort was concentrated in training centers and in Saigon. In the former it was largely technical; in the latter it consisted primarily of attempts to persuade GVN to adopt measures recommended by the U.S. advisory group. It was essentially an attempt to give advice from the top. This does not mean that the question of leverage was never considered; it was. Early in our involvement, in January 1955, the JCS laid out available U.S. courses of action in South Vietnam and urged that a decision be made at "the highest level" to indicate which of these should be followed:
a. To continue aid to South Vietnam as currently being developed with the cooperation of the French and Vietnamese.
b. To institute a unilateral program of direct guidance to the Vietnamese government through an "advisor" system. Under this course of action, the amount of U.S. aid should be dependent upon Vietnamese adherence to U.S. direction.
c. In the event the courses of action in a and b above are not sufficient to insure retention of South Vietnam to the Free World, to deploy self sustaining U.S. forces to South Vietnam either unilaterally, or as a part of a SEACDT [Southeast Asia Common Defense Treaty--a term used prior to SEATO] force.
d. To withdraw all U.S. support from South Vietnam and concentrate on saving the remainder of Southeast Asia.
No such decision was made. Indeed, as explained in the summary and analysis, there is no reason to believe that the need for such a decision was even seriously considered at "the highest level."
MAAG Vietnam was by 1960 still quite small in size, though it loomed ever larger in importance. (It was the only U.S. MAAG commanded by a Lieutenant General; all of the other MAAG Chiefs were officers of lesser rank.) It was essentially city-bound, training center and Saigon-oriented, devoted to technical-tactical training and high level persuasion aimed at influencing RVNAF organization. The personnel limitations imposed upon it resulted in highly centralized advice. But through its efforts and material support this MAAG assisted in the creation of a sizeable (140,000 man) conventional army and of small naval and air forces of approximately 5,000 men each.
The U.S. MAAG was also concerned with the establishment and training of paramilitary
forces, but it was not as directly concerned as it was with the creation of
conventional forces in ARVN. The Civil Guard (CG) and Self Defense Corps (SDC)
were at various times under the control of the Ministry of the Interior or directly
under President Diem. In the field they were invariably under the direction
of the Province Chiefs. The U.S. civilian advisors who had been called in to
give assistance with police and internal security matters tended to favor making
these paramilitary forces less military per se and more police intelligence-minded.
MAAG tended to favor making them more consciously military and territorially
oriented in order to free ARVN for mobile, offensive operations rather than
tying its forces down in static defense duties. By 1960, when Civil Guard training
was passed to MAAG control, neither course of action had been followed consistently
but it was highly probable that MAAG's views would henceforth prevail. Thus,
questions of local physical security would almost inescapably be decided with
reference to the effect they
would have on the functions of ARVN, itself created with an eye to external defense. This may be said to be an awkward structure from which to launch an effort aimed primarily at internal security. It was, however, the structure that existed.
B. THE TRANSITION PERIOD: 1959-1 961
1. Early Steps Toward Emphasis on Internal Security
By the time of the Draper Committee (The President's Committee to Study the United States Military Assistance Program) in 1958-1959, there was an almost imperceptible but growing U.S. awareness of the requirement to promote internal stability. The committee's papers, for instance, sought to popularize military civic action programs and to link them to politically acceptable precedents--such as the U.S. Army's role in the development of the American West. The very term "mirror imaging" was coined in a Draper Committee staff study. One of the committee's studies questioned even the easy assumption that internal security was a "lesser included capability" of forces structured to promote external security:
It is seldom that a government considers its military forces to have only a mission of maintaining internal security. Their size, organization, equipment, habitual deployment, and so on, are nearly always related to real or supposed requirements of defense against external attack. They are usually considered capable of performing internal security missions as part of this larger role. However, the requirements of the two missions are different, if overlapping; and tailoring a military force to the task of countering external aggression--i.e., countering another regular military force--entails some sacrifice of capabilities to counter internal aggression. The latter requires widespread deployment, rather than concentration. It requires small, mobile, lightly equipped units of the ranger or commando type. It requires different weapons, command systems, communications,
2. The McGarr Emphasis on Counterinsurgency
These developments were only harbingers of a dawning awareness, however, not indicative of a fundamental shift in focus which had already occurred. The degree to which ARVN and paramilitary forces should be consciously structured to deal with internal security rather than to protect against external invasion was the subject of a developing debate rather than a settled issue. It fell to Lieutenant General Lionel C. McGarr to head the U.S. MAAG during the con'using period of transition which accompanied this debate. He did not come to Vietnam unaware of the issues; a long study prepared for him by his staff at the Army's Conmand and General Staff College (his post before coming to Saigon) laid out in some detail the Viet Cong's strategy as adapted from the Viet Minh's struggle with the French:
This form of warfare permitted the Viet Minh to retain the mobility so essential to jungle and mountain operations, facilitated the gathering of detailed, accurate, and timely intelligence information, kept the level of violence at a low enough level to preclude the active intervention of another major power, accomplished the slow attrition of the French while permitting the Viet Minh to build the regular forces necessary for the final battles, offset the serious logistics problem by the very primitiveness of transportation methods, and surmounted the manpower shortage by making political and economic operations inseparable from military operations.
One could conclude from this assessment that RVNAF should be restructured to deal with this essentially internal challenge to South Vietnamese stability. In a statement which may reflect the difficulty of reversing institutional thought patterns--at the U.S. Army's principal doctrine formulating institution, in this instance--it was claimed that pacification operations were undesirable because they detracted from training. The suggestion was that the CG and SDC takeover of pacification should be expedited:
The [South Vietnamese] Army is still required to engage from time to time in major pacification (internal security) operations, pending the development of a higher state of operational effectiveness of the Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps. Since units have considerable personnel turnover and are filled out with draftees, who have had only basic and perhaps advanced individual training before arrival in units, the orderly pursuit of a progressive unit training schedule is essential to unit effectiveness. Each commitment to an operational (pacification) mission, though of some training value, in general interrupts the planned training of participating units and delays arrival at a satisfactory state of operational readiness.
3. The Counterinsurgency Plan for South Viet-Nain
General McGarr's approach was to give emphasis in his advice to recommendations designed to integrate the activities of ARVN and the CG/SDC. He consistently (and persistently) recommended the establishment of a single chain of military command to guide all three forces. He also pushed for steps which would free ARVN from static security (pacification) missions in favor of offensive operations against the Viet Cong. The vehicle for the first of McGarr's desired reforms was the "Counterinsurgency Plan for Viet-Nam" (CIP), produced in late 1960. The CIP was a blueprint for RVNAF reorganization, not an outline of the strategy to be pursued. Not until September 1961 did MAAG present GVN with a set of operational proposals in the form of a "Geographically Phased National Level Operations Plan for Counterinsurgency."
The CIP marks something of a halfway house between concern with external defense and internal security. Both military tasks were recognized, but internal security assumed primacy for the first time:
Military force, in the form of increased communist insurgency, is clearly the immediate threat to the stability of Viet-Nam today. South Viet-Nam is unique in that it is the only country in the world which is forced to defend itself against a communist internal subversion action, while at the same time being subject to the militarily supportable threat of a conventional external attack from communist North Viet-Nam. The RVNAF force basis is inadequate to meet both these threats.
The problem is twofold, although at present the counterinsurgency phase is the more dangerous and immediate. In this counterinsurgency fight RVNAF is on the defensive. Approximately 75% of ARVN is committed to pacification missions, about half of these being committed to static guard and security roles. . . . The guerrilla problem has [as a result of fragmented lines of authority] become much more serious than the Civil Guard can manage, thereby requiring a disproportionately large RVNAF commitment, which has further resulted in a serious weakening of the RVNAF capability for defense against internal or overt attack in force.
This last point reflected General McCarr's apparently very real concern that ARVN was becoming incapable to meet internal (as well as external) threats posed by the VC in conventional troop formations. As the VC became stronger and formed larger regular units--as distinct from guerrilla bands--the differences between conventional and unconventional warfare seemed to disappear. The problem, as MAAG viewed it, became one of guarding against a spectrum of dangers by means of a short run emphasis on meeting the internal challenge in both its conventional and unconventional (guerrilla) form. In this view ARVN should become the conventional offensive and mobile defensive force, the CG should be the static force in support of pacification efforts. The two should be under a common chain of command, it was argued in the CIP, as should the logistical organization for their support. Such a common chain of command did not exist in 1960-1961:
The military chain of command has usually been violated at the expense of unity of effort and command. No adequate operations control or overall planning system presently exists. . . . The President has exercised arbitrary control of operations, by-passing command channels of the JGS [Joint General Staff] and often Corps and Division staff. Resources have been fragmented to provincial control. The above practices appear to have been designed to divide responsibility in order to guard against the possibility of a military coup through placing too much power in the hands of a single subordinate.
Poor organization, then, was seen as the principal roadblock in the way of organizing the military and paramilitary forces of South Vietnam into an effective combination. Only through a single chain of command could ARVN be freed to take the offensive, the CG be built up to cope with local guerrillas, and the GVN place itself in a position to start developing useful intelligence--a field which was judged to have been, thus far, a notable failure.
4. The Supporting Operational Plan
The Geographically Phased National Plan laid out the priority areas for this coordinated effort under a single chain of command. A three phase sequence of actions (preparation, military action to clear and secure, and combined action to establish civilian political control and consolidate intelligence and security programs) would take place, sequentially, in each of these priority areas. The process would be repeated in expanding spheres as successive areas became pacified.
Together these two American-generated and proposed plans constituted a comprehensive blueprint for GVN action to end the insurgency. Two things common to each should be noted for the purposes of the present inquiry. The first is the simple fact that each was U.S.-generated and proposed. The proposals addressed President Diem's persistent fears of a coup by asking him to ignore those fears. The second point is that neither had anything to say about U.S. advisors. Each was an attempt to give advice, but neither recommended that the U.S. advisory effort in RVN be expanded in scope, size, or content.
5. Stability in the Number of U.S. Advisors
The number of military advisors had remained fairly level throughout this transition period (roughly, 1959 to mid-1961). TERM had finally been abolished but an approximately equal number of spaces was added to MAAG Vietnam, increasing it from 342 to 685. The ICC agreed that this increase was consistent with the limitations imposed by the Geneva Accords. MAAG advisors had been authorized down to regimental level but expressly forbidden to participate directly in combat operations or to go near the South Vietnamese national boundary. The U.S. had begun to provide Special Forces teams to GVN in an effort to train Vietnamese ranger companies in anti-guerrilla tactics, but this was regarded as a temporary undertaking. As late as November 1961, the total U.S. military strength in South Vietnam was only about 900 personnel. Discussions and arguments had been underway for some time, however, with a view toward increasing U.S. involvement in South Vietnam. The nature of this debate, which took place largely during 1961 and terminated in the decisions at the end of that year to establish a "limited partnership" with GVN, is important to an account of the U.S. advisory build-up. It was in the shadow of opposing contentions about how to make the U.S. contribution most effective in helping GVN to defeat the insurgents that the advisory build-up was to begin in earnest in late 1961. These opposing views, in turn, were cast against the situational developments already outlined: U.S. military desires to make RVNAF more effective in counterinsurgency by improving the military chain of command, increasing the mobility and effectiveness of ARVN, and upgrading the CG/SDC for the performance of pacification tasks.
II. THE ADVISORY BUILD-UP, 1961-1967
A. THE KENNEDY PROGRAMS (1961-1963)
1. The Context of Decisions
By the end of 1961, the U.S. had decided to double its military advisory effort in South Vietnam by establishing advisory teams at the province (sector) level and within ARVN's battalions. The decision to take this step was one of a large number of decisions designed to "buy time" in RVN so that GVN could mobilize its resources and swing over from the defensive to the offensive. All of the major participants appear to have agreed that the situation in RVN was bad and becoming worse, that additional U.S. actions were needed if South Vietnam was to be saved, and that the issue was of sufficient importance in terms of U.S. interest to justify doing whatever was necessary. The question was what should be done, not if anything could be done. Defeat was too catastrophic an outcome to bear examination. Moreover, decisions about Vietnam in 1961 were, until the very end of the year, made in the shadow of more pressing emergencies--the Berlin crisis and events in Laos. It is most important to recognize this relative lack of centrality if one is to understand the apparently incomplete process by which decisions on Vietnam were reached. Moreover, the dimensions of the Vietnamese problem were clear and agreed to by all. Elusive solutions had to be sought in the interstices, as it were, of the policymakers' limited time.
It is difficult to image any responsible individual or group, for instance, taking exception to the litany of problems ticked off by General Taylor in his report following his important October 1961 mission to South Vietnam:
Lack of intelligence
ARVN's defensive posture
Poor command and control
Poor GVN administrative procedures
Lack of initiative
GVN failure to communicate with and mobilize its people, particularly the intellectuals and the young people. But various individuals and groups would stress the importance of different shortcomings and propose quite different methods of "persuading" GVN to overcome them.
The prevalent military view, as already suggested in the summary explanation of the CIP and the Geographically Phased Plan, was that organizational reform and national planning were prerequisites to effective action. If these could be achieved, the military foresaw a pacification process which would proceed from the provision of physical security in the rural areas through the establishment (or reestablishment) of civilian political administration to a state of political stability. The first nut to crack was that of military security. Political analysts, including those of the Department of State, emphasized the need for the Diem government to liberalize itself, to attract dissident groups at least into a loyal active opposition and away from indifference and disaffection. In this view the heart of the matter was essentially political, rather than military.
In both views, it should be noted, advocates agreed that the GVN must be persuaded to take certain necessary steps. Just how such persuasion was to be achieved was a prime subject for discussion. Who was to persuade whom and in what organizational framework was another such subject. But although these subjects were bound to be discussed, neither was the central issue-by late 1961 the question of whether or not to send U.S. combat forces to South Vietnam had clearly earned that title.
The U.S. determination of what steps to take was driven as much by events as by arguments. By late 1961 the course of events dictated that physical security would take primacy over governmental liberalization, not because the arguments for security were inherently more persuasive but because of the very real fear that there would be no GVN to save if the U.S. did not do something very quickly. During the first half of 1961, terrorists and guerrillas had assassinated over 500 local officials and civilians, kidnapped more than 1,000, and killed almost 1,500 RVNAF personnel. The VC had gained the upper hand in most of the countryside and were drawing an increasingly tight cinch around Saigon. Viet Cong regular forces were now estimated to number 25,000 and were being organized into increasingly large regular formations. The terrorist-guerrilla apparatus had grown to embrace an estimated 17,000. The operative question was not whether the Diem government as it was then moving could defeat the insurgents but whether it could save itself.
The deteriorating situation was one reason why the military security argument quickly gained the ascendancy. Another reason was the military's recognition that, while security was an important precondition, political, economic, and social reforms were necessary to the realization of viability within South Vietnam. Thus, security was recognized as a means to a political end. The process outlined in MAAG's Geographically Phased Plan, described earlier, gave recognition to this fact. This process would shortly become known as the "pacification process," widely accepted throughout important places in the U.S. Government (specifically to include what is usually referred to euphemistically as "the highest level").
2. Proposal for Extra-Bureaucratic Advisors
If the deteriorating situation and the potential breadth of the military's view of the pacification process both augured for at least the short run primacy of security considerations, that still left the question of how best to enhance security and to lay the groundwork for the governmental programs which would, hopefully, begin to operate behind a geographically expanding security screen. These questions were addressed, but in a rather one-sided way. An approach to U.S. advice-giving and the organizational context in which it should proceed was tabled as a radical proposal. First the approach, then the organizational framework were struck down. The U.S. decided to take an opposite advisory approach in a very different organizational context as much because of disagreement with the debated proposals as because of reasoned elaboration of the benefits to be realized from the course which was eventually followed. In the process, the difficult question of U.S. leverage got shunted off to the side. GVN reform was simply stated as an expected quid pro quo for increased U.S. aid. What the U.S. should do if no reforms materialized was apparently a subject too unpleasant to be considered.
The radical proposals were first floated in January 1961 by a uniquely qualified professional military officer serving in Secretary McNamara's office: Brigadier General Edward Lansdale. Although an Air Force officer, Lansdale had worked closely in the Philippines with Ramon Magsaysay in the latter's successful campaign against the Huk rebellion and served later as head of the U.S. intelligence mission in South Vietnam in the mid-SO's. He knew President Diem well and was trusted by the GVN leader. He had gained some notoriety as the real-life hero of the pseudo-fictional best seller, "The Ugly American." His views on counterinsurgency commanded attention.
Lansdale's proposals lend themselves to summarization, not to comprehensive description. That is, he put forward a proposed attitude of mind which should govern U.S. actions, not a program in the usual sense. The thrust of his argument pertaining to advisors was that the U.S. should select dedicated Americans with empathy for the Vietnamese and send them to advise GVN "with sensitive understanding and wisdom." The course of action he recommended was to get such men on the scene, give them total responsibility to match their total commitment, and free them from the encumbrances of the regular bureaucratic machinery (be it military or civilian) in order that they might operate effectively according to the situation:
When there is an emergency, the wise thing to do is to pick the best people you have, people who are experienced in dealing with this precise type of emergency, and send them to the spot with orders to remedy the situation. When you get the people in position and free them to work, you
should then back them up in every practical way you can. The real decisions will be made in little daily actions in Vietnam, not in Washington. That's why the best are needed on the spot.
Our U.S. team in Vietnam should have a hard core of experienced Americans who know and really like Asia and the Asians, dedicated people who are willing to risk their lives for the ideals of freedom, and who will try to influence and guide the Vietnamese towards U.S. policy objectives with the warm friendships and affection which our close alliance deserves. We should break the rules of personnel assignment, if necessary, to get such U.S. military and civilians to Vietnam.
Not only should the U.S. depend on advisors who earn the trust of their counterparts, Lansdale argued, it should depend on them to get the job done without coercion and threats. Leverage should be the product of persuasion and trust, not the result of control over funds and materiel:
.....Many of the Vietnamese in the countryside who were right up against the Viet Cong terror were full of patriotic spirit. Those who seemed to be in the hardest circumstances, fighting barefoot with makeshift weapons, had the highest morale. They still can lick the Viet Cong with a little help. There's a lesson here on our giving aid. Maybe we should learn that our funds cannot buy friends or a patriotic spirit by mere materialistic giving. Perhaps we should help those who help themselves, and not have a lot of strings on that help.
If the U.S. could adopt this free-wheeling approach to advice, said Lansdale, it would do well to do it at the action level, to get down and share the risks and discomforts of the ARVN rather than to restrict its advice to paper plans and confrontations in offices:
.....U.S. military men in Vietnam should be freed to work in the combat areas. Our MAAG has a far greater potential than is now being utilized. U.S. military men are hardly in a postition to be listened to when they are snug in rear areas and give advice to Vietnamese officers who have attended the same U.S. military schools and who are now in a combat in which few Americans are experienced. MAAG personnel from General McGarr on down expressed desire to get more into real field work; let's give them what they want as far as U.S. permission is concerned and let them earn their way into positions of greater influence with the Vietnamese military in the field.
3. Back to Normal Channels
In sum, General Lansdale urged an extra-bureaucratic, uninhibited advisory system consciously built on shared U.S.-Vietnamese goals (validated by shared experience) and based on mutual trust and admiration. It was--he would be the first to admit--the kind of unstructured, unprogrammed, "non-organization" which was antithetical to that which the professional military might be expected to propose and so foreign to the typical views of the State Department, with its traditional anti-operational bias, that diplomats would inevitably regard it as a proposal for power without responsibility. Thus, one contemporary account suggests that Lansdale's approach was eventually rejected because of governmental inertia and bureaucratic in-fighting:
When Lansdale returned to Washington--after he had submitted his report to his own superiors--he was suddenly summoned one afternoon to the White House and, much to his surprise, ushered into a conference room where the President was presiding over a mixed group of high Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council officials. To his further surprise, President Kennedy, after commending his report, indicated that Lansdale would be sent back to Vietnam in a high capacity. Kennedy's declaration at the meeting obviously raised the hackles of many officials whose agencies had been criticized by Lansdale. The upshot was that nothing further happened about Lansdale's appointment. It is now known that objections to it were raised in the highest levels of the Kennedy administration; in fact, there were threats of resignation. In the sense that some drastic action in Vietnam should have been taken at this time, whether it involved Lansdale or not, this was another vital turning point in the long and tortuous history of America's Vietnamese involvement. There was still a chance to do something to save the Diem regime, depending largely on getting Nhu out of the country. Difficult as it would have been to achieve at this late date, Lansdale might have been able to persuade Diem to do it, because he had remained one of the few Americans Diem had ever trusted. More important, some feasible ideas about how to fight a guerrilla war might have been set in motion, and the miscalculation of what had always been essentially a revolutionary situation might thereupon have been altered.
This account simply does not square with the existence of several cogent objections to Lansdale's proposals for "unfettered quaiity"-though there most certainly was a fair share of bureaucratic in-fighting as the proposals were studied, expanded, and reshaped. Moreover, it compresses the time frame within which Lansdale's two major theses were struck down. His first proposal, for selected individuals to act as advisors, implied-at the very minimum- continuity of personnel selected by an extra-bureaucratic process. Extra-bureaucratic selection was dead by mid-1961; the issue of continuity was finally settled in favor of year-long tours in December 1962 (and has remained in effect since that time). The issue of a supra-departmental organization was fought out in mid-1961. It succumbed to an organizational principle with very deep roots.
The specific form which Lansdale's supra-departmental organizational proposal advanced was that of a Presidential Agent to manage the U.S. effort in RVN. On 12 April 1961, Walt W. Rostow sent a memorandum to President Kennedy which suggested, among other things, that it was imperative to appoint a "fulltime, first-rate back-stop man in Washington" to oversee the U.S. involvement in RVN. Lansdale was either aware of a meaning not conveyed literally by the memorandum or interpreted it to fit his preferences. In any event, he used this springboard to propose, in a 19 April memorandum to Secretary McNamara and his deputy, Roswell Gilpatric, that the President create an interdepartmental task force on Vietnam to "supervise and coordinate the activities of every U.S. agency carrying out operations . . . in Vietnam to ensure success of the [President's] approved plan." On the following day Secretary McNamara, presumably after discussing the matter with the President, requested Gilpatric to prepare within a week a report for the President, setting forth any actions necessary to "prevent communist domination of that country."
On 27 April Secretary Gilpatric submitted his recommendations. Much of the flavor of the earlier Lansdale pleas for a select, individualistic advisory effort was missing from this product of an interdepartmental committee. The earlier recommendations for an expanded U.S. effort were still there, however. These included an RVNAF force increase of 20,000 with a corresponding increase of 100 MAAG advisors, a MAAG takeover of the entire CG and SDC programs, the employment of U.S. advisors in field operations, the continuation of U.S. Mission efforts to get GVN to carry out reforms, the initiation of covert operations with CIA assistance against lines of communications in Laos and North Vietnam, and a U.S. economic team to help GVN speed up national development. One would be hard pressed to identify any other document which, over six months before the operative decision, so closely foreshadowed the U.S. actions that would be agreed to at the end of 1961.
But beyond these programmatic recommendations (hence, contrary to Lansdale's initial proposals) Gilpatric recommended the creation of a Presidential Task Force to provide "over-all direction, interagency coordination and support" for this program of action. Gilpatric was to be Director of the Task Force; Lansdale its operating head in Vietnam. In order to appear not to fly into the face of Ambassadorial primacy in Saigon the memo was forced into some rather fancy obfuscation:
The Ambassador as head of the Country Team is assigned the authority and the responsibility to see that the Program is carried out in the field and to determine the timing of the actions. He is authorized to advise the Director of the Task Force of any changes which he believes should be made in the Program.
In carrying out his duties in the field, the operations officer of the Task Force will cooperate with the Ambassador.
This equivocation charged directly against the mainstream of current thought as it related to the question of integrating operations abroad. The "Country Team" concept of the late 1950's, buttressed by a series of increasingly comprehensive Executive Orders on the subject, assigned clear primacy to the Ambassador. The State Department was not long in asserting its claim to leadership in accordance with this prevailing concept. On 3 May it provided a recommended revision of Gilpatric's task force proposal in which it proposed an interdepartmental task force under State Department leadership to coordinate the Washington effort and a counterpart task force in Saigon under Sterling J. Cottrell, then POLAD to CINCPAC. It was this proposal which was incorporated into NSAM 52 later in May.
In retrospect, the Lansdale-Gilpatric proposal to conduct the U.S. participation in the Vietnamese war through a supra-departmental agency--whether by a Presidential Task Force or by some other means--probably never had much of a chance. The Department of Defense had too large an operational role to agree to leadership of such an undertaking by anyone other than one of its own principals. (Thus, Gilpatric was acceptable, but few others would have been; Lansdale almost surely was not acceptable as the operating chief in RVN.) The State Department had at stake both the legacy of theoretic interdepartmental primacy and the oft-expressed hope of giving this theory more meaning abroad. Indeed, it was during this same month (May 1961) that President Kennedy sent his oft-quoted letter to each American Ambassador, reminding the recipient of his coordinating duties even while reaffirming that these did not extent (sic) to supervising operational military forces. The effects in South Vietnam, as distinct from some other countries, was to preserve claims for independent authority for each of the major governmental departments involved. The Presidential letter to Ambassador Frederick E. Nolting in Saigon read in part:
In regard to your personal authority and responsibility, I shall count on you to oversee and coordinate all the activities of the United States Government in the Republic of Vietnam.
You are in charge of the entire United States Diplomatic Mission, and I shall expect you to supervise all of its operations. The Mission includes not only the personnel of the Department of State and the Foreign Service, but also the representatives of all other United States agencies which have programs or activities in the Republic of Vietnam. I shall give you full support and backing in carrying out your assignment.
Needless to say, the representatives of other agencies are expected to communicate directly with their offices here in Washington, and in the event of a decision by you in which they do not concur, they may ask to have the decision reviewed by a higher authority in Washington.
However, it is their responsibility to keep you fully informed of their views and activities and to abide by your decisions unless in some particular instance you and they are notified to the contrary.
If in your judgment individual members of the Mission are not functioning effectively, you should take whatever action you feel may be required, reporting the circumstances, of course, to the Department of State.
In case the departure from the Republic of Vietnam of any individual member of the Mission is indicated in your judgment, I shall expect you to make the decision and see that it is carried into effect. Such instances I am confident will be rare.
Now one word about your relations to the military. As you know, the United States Diplomatic Mission includes Service Attaches, Military Assistance Advisory Groups and other Military components attached to the Mission. It does not, however, include United States military forces operating in the field where such forces are under the command of a United States area military commander. The line of authority to these forces runs from me, to the Secretary of Defense, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and to the area commander in the field.
Although this means that the chief of the American Diplomatic Mission is not in the line of military command, nevertheless, as Chief of Mission, you should work closely with the appropriate area military commander to assure the full exchange of information. If it is your opinion that activities by the United States military forces may adversely affect our over-all relations with the people or governments of the Republic of Vietnam you should promptly discuss the matter with the military commander and, if necessary, request a decision by higher authority.
It is reasonable to surmise that in mid-1961 events did not seem pressing enough to cast aside a developed-if imperfect-concept of operational integration in favor of an untried substitute arrangement. In fact, if one wanted firm leadership one would have had less radical alternatives to which to turn. To mention two, Secretarial involvement to a degree tantamount to taking charge of the war (much as Secretary McNamara did in 1962) or the appointment of an Ambassador to RVN with such military preeminence that he need not defer to other military judgments (as, General Taylor in 1964).
The decision to supervise the American effort in a more or less conventional way had a direct bearing on the nature of the advisory buildup then being discussed. It was highly unlikely that General Lansdale's radical advisory proposals would be kindly received under a system managed along conventional lines. Even before the Presidential Task Force idea was abandoned Lansdale's proposals for a select, committed advisory group had been reshaped by interdepartmental committee. Instead of "old Vietnam hands" in key spots, the discussion turned to the use of existing organizations and much larger numbers of advisors:
Augment the MAAG with two US training commands (comprised of approximately 1600 instructors each) to enable the MAAG to establish in the "high plateau" region of South Vietnam two divisional field training areas to accelerate the U.S. training program for the entire GVN army....
Deploy, as soon as possible, a Special Forces Group (approximately 400 U.S. military personnel) to Nha Trang in order to accelerate GVN Special Forces training.
Under this proposal the size of MAAG Vietnam would be increased from 685 to 2285, not including the Special Forces or training commands mentioned above or the 100 man increase already proposed to advise the 20,000 men which were to be added to RVNAF.
After the shift to thinking in terms of existing military organizations (or, alternatively, of individuals drawn as it were by "requisitions" in normal channels) and the understandable--if not inevitable--demise of the Gilpatric-Lansdale proposal for supra-departmental direction, U.S. thinking about possible steps in Vietnam remained firmly within conventional channels. There were subsequent attempts to reintroduce an alternative advisory scheme and an organizational framework compatible with it but these appear to have not been seriously considered.
President Kennedy did not permit the Gilpatric Task Force recommendations to commit him to action. Rather, he used them in an attempt to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. The proof of this contention is in NSAM 52, which records the President's decisions. Only about 14 personnel were to be assigned, for instance, in U.S. Army civic action mobile training teams to assist ARVN with health, welfare, and public works projects. Although it was decided to deploy the Special Forces group of 400 men to Tourane [Da Nang], this was in support of a CIA-directed effort which could be kept largely covert. Increased aerial surveillance assistance required only 6 U.S. personnel. The establishment of a Combat Development and Test Center in RVN required only 4 additional U.S. personnel. The point is not how much was done but, in retrospect, how firmly the probable lines of future actions had been drawn as a result of what it had been agreed not to do.
4. Planning Begins in Earnest
The President did, however, issue several "hunting licenses." The Defense Department was directed to examine fully (under the guidance of the State Department's Director of the continuing Task Force on Vietnam) "the size and composition of forces which would be desirable in the case of a possible commitment of U.S. forces to Vietnam." The Ambassador was authorized to sound out Diem on a bilateral defense treaty. President Kennedy also apparently decided to feel out Diem's reaction on the subject of U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. Vice President Johnson left almost immediately to visit South Vietnam and other Asian nations. He was empowered to bring up the question of troops as well as the treaty.
But discussions are one thing; firm commitments are quite another. The range of alternatives that President Kennedy was willing to consider seems clear. What he was willing to do was quite another matter. Unless he was most unlike other politicians and unless the many personal accounts of his style are completely erroneous he was willing to do what he believed he had to do--and events in mid-1961 did not force action even though the "drill" that the Administration went through was instrumental in defining the probable responses when events did force action.
As it quickly turned out, President Diem wanted neither U.S. troops nor a treaty at that time. He told Vice President Johnson that he wanted troops only in the event of overt invasion and showed no interest in a treaty. Nevertheless, the Vice President, upon his return, was trenchant in his observations that the time for deeds to replace words was fast approaching if the U.S. was to make its declared commitment credible:
Our mission arrested the decline of confidence in the United States. It did not--in my judgment--restore any confidence already lost. The leaders were as explicit, as courteous and courtly as men could be in making it clear that deeds must follow words--soon.
We didn't buy time--we were given it.
If these men I saw at your request were bankers, I would know--without bothering to ask--that there would be no further extensions on my note.
Diem may not have been quite so disinterested in U.S. troops as he appeared to be. NSAM 52 of 11 May had discussed, inconclusively, the proposed buildup of RVNAF from 170,000 to 200,000 in order to create two new divisions to help seal the Laotian border. When President Diem responded (on 9 June) to Vice President Johnson's invitation to prepare a set of proposals on South Vietnam's military needs, he recommended a quantum jump in strength to 270,000 and suggested a substantial increase in the US MAAG, perhaps even in the form of U.S. units:
To accomplish this 100,000 man expansion [above the strength recommended in the CIP, which was 20,000 above the existing strength] of our military forces, which is perfectly feasible from a manpower viewpoint, will require a great intensification of our training programs in order to produce, in the minimum of time, those qualified combat leaders and technical specialists needed to fill the new units and to provide to them the technical and logistical support required to insure their complete effectiveness. For this purpose a considerable expansion of the United States Military Advisory Group is an essential requirement. Such an expansion, in the form of selected elements of the American Armed Forces to establish training centers for the Vietnamese Armed Forces, would serve the dual purpose of providing an expression of the United States' determination to halt the tide of communist aggression and of preparing our forces in the minimum of time.
The response to this letter is not part of the available record. No doubt the initial reaction was one of surprise. The U.S. was not accustomed to GVN initiatives; it seldom sought them. "We have not become accustomed to being asked for our own views on our needs," Diem remarked in his letter to Kennedy. But Diem's proposal did certainly strike one appealing chord: the joint benefits of training coupled to demonstrated commitment through the deployment of existing troop units. As the situation in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate throughout the summer and early fall the issue of U.S. military advice continued to be addressed in terms of U.S. units. These could, of course, do even more than had been suggested by President Diem: they could fight as units. Diem's generally consistent position, however, continued to be that he would accept U.S. combat forces, but only to train GVN forces. He had said as much to Vice President Johnson:
General McGarr, who was also present at this discussion [between Johnson and Diem] reported that while President Diem would not want U.S. combat forces for the purpose of fighting Communists in South Vietnam, he would accept deployment of U.S. combat forces as trainers for the Vietnamese forces at any time.
5. GVN Asks for Additional U.S. Assistance
By October the situation within South Vietnam had become sufficiently grim for President Diem to reverse his earlier sentiments and to ask for a bilateral defense treaty with the U.S. His new willingness, coupled with the deteriorating situation, kicked off a new series of proposals within the U.S. Government. Walt Rostow proposed that the U.S. place an internationalized force of about 25,000 men into RVN to perform a border sealing mission. The JCS responded with a counter proposal emphasizing Laos and calling for the deployment of a sizeable (initially 20,000) U.S. contingent to the central highlands. In still another proposal a Special National Intelligence Estimate weighed in with a hard look at this rash of proposals. The President's reaction, on 11 October, was to decide to send General Taylor on a mission to South Vietnam to examine several alternative courses of action:
(a) The plan for military intervention discussed at this morning's meeting on the basis of the Vietnam task force paper entitled "Concept for Intervention in Vietnam";
(b) An alternative plan for stationing in Vietnam fewer U.S. combat forces than those called for under the plan referred to in (a) above and with a more limited objective than dealing with the Viet Cong; in other words, such a small force would probably go in at Tourane [Da Nang] and possibly another southern port principally for the purpose of establishing a U.S. "presence" in Vietnam;
(c) Other alternatives in lieu of putting any U.S. combat forces in Vietnam, i.e. stepping up U.S. assistance and training of Vietnam units, furnishing of more U.S. equipment, particularly helicopters and other light aircraft, trucks and other ground transport, etc.
6. The Taylor Mission to Saigon
This range of alternatives suggests, even without "20/20 hindsight," that if something was going to be done, and if the President were to decide not to send U.S. combat units to Vietnam, there would be an advisory buildup of some kind almost by default. This is close enough to what happened to warrant the risk of oversimplification. It does not do justice to the Taylor Report, of course, but Taylor's mission and his reports have been covered fully elsewhere. For their impact on the advisory effort, and to place this in perspective, it is sufficient to describe only a few salient features. First, the Viet Cong were pursuing, in Taylor's appraisal, a political-military strategy aimed at overthrowing Diem and opening the way to unification of Vietnam on Hanoi's terms. Military action by the insurgents was aimed at this objective rather than at a complete military victory:
The military strategy being pursued is, evidently, to pin down the ARVN on defensive missions; to create a pervasive sense of insecurity and frustration by hit-and-run raids on self-defense corps and militia [CG] units....and to dramatize the inability of the GVN to govern or to build.
Despite the considerable guerrilla capabilities of the Viet-Cong, Communist strategy now appears, on balance, to aim at an essentially political denouement rather than the total military capture of the country, as in the case of Mao's campaign in China. . . . The enemy objective seems to be to produce a political crisis by a combination of military and non-military means out of which would come a South Vietnamese Souvanna Phouma, willing to contemplate unification on terms acceptable to Hanoi, including disengagement from the U.S.
In order for the Diem government to defeat this insurgency, General Taylor reasoned, the Saigon regime must reform itself. It had allowed two vicious circles to develop which vitiated its effectiveness. In the first, poor military intelligence resulted in a defensive military posture which put most of the forces under provincial control. This, in turn, meant that reserves could not be expeditiously employed. The resultant high losses in unsuccessful defensive battles further dried up the sources of intelligence and completed the circle. The second vicious circle was attributable to Diem's instinctive attempts to centralize power in his own hands while fragmenting it beneath him. His excessive mistrust of criticism and fears of a coup caused large elements of society to stand aside from the struggle while the province chiefs and generals were forced into frustrating struggles, further increasing Diem's fears and his inclination to fractionalize authority. The task, then, was to strengthen Diem while, at the same time, inducing him to reform so as to break both of these vicious circles.
In order to strengthen Diem with a U.S. military presence--very much along the lines of the smaller US deployment discussed at the NSC meeting prior to his trip--Taylor recommended the deployment to South Vietnam of a task force of 6-8,000 troops under the guise of flood relief work. This task force, primarily logistical, would necessarily become involved in some defensive operation and sustain some casualties, but its deployment need not commit the U.S. to a land war on the Asian mainland:
As the task is a specific one, we can extricate our troops when it is done if we so desire. Alternatively, we can phase them into other activities if we wish to remain longer.....
Needless to say, this kind of task force will exercise little direct influence on the campaign against the VC. It will, however, give a much needed shot in the arm to national morale, particularly if combined with other actions showing that a more effective working relationship in the common cause has been established between the GVN and the U.S.
Taylor had already received President Diem's assurances that he favored the deployment of U.S. forces for this purpose.
In conjunction with this U.S. troop deployment, Taylor argued that the U.S. should initiate increased assistance to GVN in a new relationship:
A shift [should occur] in the American relation to the Vietnamese effort from advice to limited partnership. The present character and scale of the war in South Vietnam decree only that the Vietnamese can defeat the VietCong; but at all levels Americans must, as friends and partners--not as arm's-length advisors--show them how the job might be done--not tell them or do it for them.
General Taylor was most explicit that the purpose of the proposed troop deployments and the new "limited partnership" was to buy time for the Vietnamese so that they could marshall their considerable resources and assume the offensive against the VC. As mentioned above, this would require internal reform in GVN. The limited partnership would contribute to both of these interacting objectives:
The present war cannot be won by direct US action; it must be won by the Vietnamese. But there is a general conviction among us that the Vietnamese performance in every domain can be substantially improved if Americans are prepared to work side by side with the Vietnamese on the key problems. Moreover, there is evidence that Diem is, in principle, prepared for this step, and that most--not all--elements in his establishment are eagerly awaiting it.
7. The Kennedy Decisions: NSAM 111
It is useful to approach the effect of General Taylor's mission on the advisory effort from the simple recollection of what President Kennedy decided not to do. He decided not to deploy U.S. combat forces to South Vietnam,. This meant--given the U.S. assessment of the importance of RVN and the felt necessity to do something--that the expansion of U.S. assistance was a foregone conclusion. This was the general course of action that would be followed as the ineluctable result of having decided not to do something else which was more dramatic, involved more risk, and was more contentious.
Given the decision not to send troop units, then, the general thrusts of U.S. actions were determined--but the specifics were not. Just how did Taylor's "limited partnership," for instance, propose to influence GVN's attitudes and organization, to develop initiative matched by competence, and to insure that the Vietnamese would assume successfully the responsibility for winning the struggle which it was said only they could win? How was this expanded U.S. effort to be organized? From whence would come the new junior partners of the firm? What would be their preparation, their instructions, their duties?
The first of these two groups of questions is more easily answered than the second; the answer to neither of them is retrospectively very satisfying in terms of suggesting that the U.S. entered into its expanded effort at the beginning of 1962 with its eyes wide open and fully aware of just what it was doing. The available record indicates that the U.S. hopefully assumed that material aid and good intentions would be adequate to the task, that a larger U.S. presence would spur the Vietnamese to effective action without incurring the stigma of a U.S. "takeover," and that the increase in assistance would be-in and of itself-accepted as an adequate quid pro quo for the desired reforms within GVN.
GVN organizational reform would be realized, NASM 111 suggested, by getting Diem to agree to clean up his lines of authority in exchange for the U.S. commitment to the limited partnership. One section of the document is a list of approved U.S. actions; another sets forth the expected improvements to be accomplished by GVN. Ambassador Nolting was instructed to use the substance of these decisions in talks to secure Diem's approval. He found Diem despondent that the U.S. asked so much in return for so little, played into the hands of those who claimed undue American infringement upon Vietnamese sovereignty, and placed him in a position where he feared even to make known to his own cabinet the American expectations. Unless the U.S. were to suspend its increased aid, and at the very time it was just gearing up to provide it, Diem had made it clear at the beginning that he would govern South Vietnam in his way and that the U.S. had no choice but to support him wholeheartedly, get out, or find an acceptable alternative to him. The U.S., in turn, had refused to consider the last two of these alternatives. It was stuck with supporting him, at least for the time being.
8. Working Out the Basis for U.S. Advice
But the U.S. approach was only partially framed to secure Diem's acceptance. There was a parallel suggestion that the existence of U.S. advisors in the field, working hand-in-hand in a counterpart relationship with Vietnamese, would reform GVN from the bottom up. This line of policy was neither spelled out in detail nor thought out in terms of operational implications, risks, and costs. But it clearly existed:
Through this working association at all levels, the U.S. must bring about de facto changes in Diem's method of administration and seek to bring all elements of the Vietnamese Government closer to the Vietnamese people- thus helping break the vicious political circle.
By concurrent actions in the fields of intelligence, command and control, mobility, and training, the U.S. must bring about a situation where an effective reserve is mobilized and brought to bear offensively on clearly established and productive offensive targets--thus helping break the vicious military circle....
Behind this concept of a strategy to turn the tide and to assume the offensive lies a general proposition: when an interacting process is yielding a degenerative situation, the wisest course of action is to create a positive thrust at as many points as are accessible.
Thus, the U.S. addressed the critical leverage issue as the expected product of its own willingness to increase its participation in the counterinsurgency effort. It did so, moreover, without any conscious examination of the question beyond stating its expectations. There was no plan to make the provision of additional assistance contingent upon GVN actions, only a statement that GVN actions were expected. There was no willingness, in fact, to consider the conscious exercise of leverage; the situation was too critical, the available time too short, the issue too important.
The effect of this avoidance of hard choices--for good and understandable reasons, but avoidance nonetheless--was to place a very large burden on the benefits to be realized by an expansion of the advisory effort. The language of General Taylor's report is reminiscent of Lansdale's earlier proposals for an unstructured, flexible advisory effort comprising totally committed, carefully selected individuals who would earn the respect and cooperation of the Vietnamese. Lansdale had renewed these proposals at the time the Taylor Report was prepared. But when it was suggested to the GVN that the U.S. would expect to share in decisions the Vietnamese reaction led the U.S. almost immediately to modify this expectation. The original communication on the subject to Ambassador Nolting stated that ". . . we would expect to share in the decision-making process in the political, economic and military fields as they affected the security situation" as compared to the earlier arrangement of "acting in an advisory capacity only." By early December insistence on this point was quickly dropped in favor of a view which suggested that close collaboration would produce automatic unanimity:
What we have in mind is that, in operations directly related to the security situation, partnership will be so close that one party will not take decisions or actions affecting the other without full and frank prior consultations.
Unless such exchanges invariably resulted in unanimity one of the partners would have to give way to the other or inactivity would result. What line to follow if this occurred seems not to have been examined. This simply would not happen.
The "close partnership" envisaged by General Taylor--and endorsed by President Kennedy--suggested something akin to the "total commitment" which General Lansdale had earlier urged as one criterion in selecting advisors for South Vietnam. This, in turn, implied at the very minimum a period of long exposure to the operational problem (and personalities) with which these advisors would deal. In the event, it was decided to expand both the military and sector (provincial military) advisory efforts without any such long term exposure. These questions were settled in detail when Secretary McNamara met in mid-January 1962 at Honolulu with the principal managers of the U.S. effort. It was decided to establish battalion level military advisory teams within ARVN, each to consist of either 5 (infantry battalion) or 3 (artillery battalion) personnel. Each province (sector) would receive 3 U.S. advisors, one officer and 2 enlisted intelligence specialists. The Civil Guard would be trained in a series of 6 training centers by 120 advisors (20 in each center) plus 12 mobile teams of 3 men each. The SDC would be trained in 30 centers. Secretary McNamara made it clear that he wanted these deployments completed as quickly as possible. He suggested that if an ARVN unit was not prepared to receive its advisors the designated individuals be sent to RVN and placed temporarily with another unit to gain experience. He agreed that temporary duty assignments to Vietnam were generally undesirable and asked the JCS to address the question of optimum tour length for advisors.
The length of time a military member spent in Vietnam at that time varied slightly from service to service, according to whether or not dependents accompanied the serviceman and whether he served in Saigon or in some other part of the country. In October 1961 it was allegedly decided at OSD level--without consulting the services--to make the tour of duty 30 months with dependents and 18 without dependents rather than the 24 and 12 month tours that were then typical. The effect of this decision would have been to increase the field advisors' tours of duty from one year to one and a half years. Each of the assignment branches within the Army opposed this change as one which would be inequitable unless reflected in changed tour length for other "unaccompanied" (by dependent) tours. The order was not put into effect. Thus, there was some background against which to reexamine the time which advisors (among others) should spend in RVN. The decision--again based on considerations of equity in "hardship" assignments, health, and resultant morale issues--was to retain the one year tour in the field.*
* It has remained basically unchanged, it should be noted, until the present. An unstructured program of voluntary 6 month extensions was inaugurated throughout Vietnam in 1967, a voluntary extension program begun for "selected officers" in key positions in the same year, and a small program initiated in 1968 by which selected Province Advisors would agree to serve two years in Vietnam, then receive almost one year's training prior to deployment. No officers have departed the U.S. under this last program as of the present writing (mid-1968).
9. U.S. Expectations: The Benefits from More Advisors
To sum up the decision to expand the advisory effort to battalion and province level, it was one reached without extended study or debate. There was neither opposition to it nor any comprehensive explication of what would be involved and the benefits to be expected. This was due in large part to the fact that it was a decision made almost offhandedly in the shadow of a larger issue, the deployment of U.S. combat forces to RVN. When it was decided not to send the combat forces it was a foregone conclusion that more advisors would be sent. This was consistent with the U.S. desire in late 1961 to demonstrate its commitment to South Vietnam and apparently compatible with the oft-expressed belief that only the South Vietnamese could bring their struggle to a satisfactory conclusion.
But the decision to expand the advisory effort attempted, at the same time, to finesse the question of leverage. GVN was informed that the U.S. expected certain reform measures to be adopted in exchange for increased U.S. assistance. It received no clear signals about withholding U.S. help if these actions were not taken. The U.S. had, in fact, made no decisions along this line; it had avoided addressing the issue because of conflicting desires to act forcefully, yet to avoid Americanizing the war. Thus, the U.S. did not know what it would do if GVN failed to respond as it was hoped that it would. In this sense the U.S. advisors became potential pawns in a leverage game of uncertain intensity with no set rules. This de facto position was in continuous potential conflict with the expressed hope that a greater U.S. presence would lead--by example, persuasion, and mutual interest--to increased effectiveness both within ARVN and in the political administration of the provinces governed by U.S.-advised ARVN officers.
Not only did the Kennedy Administration decide to enter in General Taylor's "limited partnership" without a careful examination of the relationships being established, it also apparently did not state or debate precisely what benefits were expected as a result of an increased advisory effort. There was, it appears, a generalized and unchallenged assumption that more Americans in more places addressing Vietnamese training and operations could not but have an overall beneficial effect. The available record reflects no explicit discussion of expected benefits. While oral discussions must have addressed this point at some time, it seems most likely that policymakers agreed tacitly on three overlapping categories of expectations--each susceptible to varying interpretations and degrees of relative importance and emphasis--which were neither clearly stated nor critically examined.
The first, and most obvious, was the expectation that an increased U.S. military presence with tactical units and at training centers would lead to improved technical-tactical competence within ARVN. The assumption which underlay this expectation was that the teaching of basic military skills was probably a sufficient (rather than merely necessary) condition to enable ARVN to begin to operate more effectively-and more energetically and aggressively. Earlier experience in Greece and Korea would have seemed to validate this expectation within reasonable limits.
Second, U.S. policymakers probably expected the increased military advisory effort to result in a more effective informational "network." It must have seemed reasonable to expect that an increased but diffuse U.S. presence would not only enhance information on VC actions and probable plans but also improve U.S. knowledge of ARVN plans and performance.
Finally--and most difficult to pinpoint in terms of what policymaker or policymaking group emphasized which aspects--the U.S. expected to gain additional influence from an increased advisory effort. General Taylor viewed this as the natural product of individuals with parallel interests working hand-in-glove in the field (as distinct from large headquarters). This would enable them to escape the petty differences which grow up in the absence of operational responsibility and permit the U.S. advisors to "lead by example" even though they would not be technically empowered to lead.
Other expectations of increased U.S. influence could take a variety of forms. Improved information, for instance, in a hierarchically ordered U.S. advisory system, would permit the U.S. to push more effectively any line of endeavor which it wished GVN to adopt. This potential for improved "salesmanship" was not unrelated to an increased potential for coercive influence. What the U.S. would give in material support it might also withhold selectively. Influence need not be dependent upon example alone.
None of these expectations were, however, articulated fully or spelled out in terms which would provide operational guidelines for the new U.S. advisors who were being deployed to SVN. The expectations of benefits were implicit and generalized. The potential existed for a comprehensive, coordinated U.S approach to advising but the potential was not the reality.
10. Implementing the First Build-Up
The decision just examined to increase the U.S. advisory effort was preceded by a series of marginal increases in the U.S. military strength in Vietnam. (Actual "in-country" strengths are available for only a few months during the early build-up period so it will frequently be necessary to use authorization figures and to realize that newly authorized spaces were generally not filled until some time had passed after their establishment.) Presidential deciisions in April and May 1961, taken in the light of a central concern with Laos rather than Vietnam, increased the authorized size of MAAG Vietnam from 685 to 785. The 100-man increase was divided almost equally between technical advisors and advisors for ARVN's tactical training centers. In October 1961 the authorized strength was increased again, to 972, of which 948 spaces were for U.S. Army personnel; 603 of these 948 spaces were actually filled by the end of November.
The increases in advisory strength which reflected the NSAM 111 decisions were authorized in December 1961 and January 1962. By the end of 1961 MAAG's authorized strength had been more than doubled, to 2067. This number was increased again in January to more than 3000. Included in these increases were the new dimensions of U.S. advice: battalion advisors, province advisors, and an additional 500 Special Forces advisors (making a new total of 805 in the Special Forces program under CIA control).
It has already been noted that Secretary McNamara gave forceful impetus to manning these newly created positions in the shortest possible time. They were, indeed, filled quickly. By April 1962 the total number of Army field advisory personnel in RVN exceeded the authorized number. By this time, too, the authorized total for all services had been stabilized at about 3400. This total was reduced in November to 3150, then remained essentially constant until a new round of increases was inaugurated in mid-1964. Thus, the build-up associated with the Taylor mission consisted of a fourfold increase in U.S. advisory presence (a much larger increase if one counts U.S. support units). After the build-up was completed, in the spring of 1962, the number of advisors remained stable until many months after the fall of the Diem government.
While the total number of advisors remained fairly constant, however, shifts occurred in the distribution of advisory personnel. From completion of the build-up, for instance, until the coup which overthrew Diem, the number of field advisors at corps and division level increased severalfold and the number of province advisors doubled while other field advisory strengths remained about the same. These developments are shown in detail in the tabular summary at the end of this study and summarized in the following table:
SELECTED FIELD ADVISORS
|Schools and Training Centers||
11. The U.S. View: 1962-1963
Six months after Diem fell the U.S. would conclude that these advisory levels were inadequate, but during the Diem area the predominant official attitude was one of sustained optimism. The war was being won, it was maintained, by adherence to the newly articulated theory of counterinsurgency. The U.S. even made tentative plans to begin reducing the American presence in Vietnam. By the time the U.S. began seriously to consider attempts to exercise leverage against the Ngo family's conduct of affairs Diem's regime was already well down the road to its eventual overthrow.
The Strategic Hamlet Program was the principal operational vehicle by which the recently articulated theory of counterinsurgency was to be translated into reality. In general, the plan was to begin by providing to the rural populace a degree of security sufficient to serve as a precondition for further military and political action. In the military field the peasants' increased security was to be the wedge by which more effective intelligence gathering could take place. The rural population could not be expected to inform on VC whereabouts, it was reasoned, unless it was safe from retaliatory acts by the insurgents. Political action to promote identification between the central government and the rural population was also to take place in the shadow of these improved physical security arrangements. Security was viewed, then, as the precondition to the military and political gains at which General Taylor's mission had aimed its recommendations.
The evolution and demise of the Strategic Hamlet Program is examined in another volume of the present series. It is pertinent to the present study, however, to note the points of stress in this program as they pertained to RVNAF. Most of the new American advisory effort was directed to improving ARVN, in its equipment and mobility capability and in its aggressiveness. The central U.S. expectation was that a greater capability to move quickly could be combined with improved leadership so that ARVN could, on one hand, be capable of responding quickly and in force wherever and whenever the VC chose to concentrate for local superiority and, on the other, be made aggressive enough to beat the Viet Cong at their own game-to "take the night away" from the VC and to use guerrilla techniques to hunt down and defeat the insurgents in their own bailiwicks.
The realization of these expectations was dependent upon several developments,
each of which had to occur if ARVN was to become capable of turning the tide
in the insurgent battle. First, the CG and SDC had to become sufficiently effective
to permit ARVN to be used as a mobile reserve for protective purposes rather
than as part of the static protection force. Second, ARVN had to be given adequate
capability to move quickly, whether in reacting or in seizing the initiative.
Finally, both ARVN's leaders and the political leaders to whom they were responsible
had to accept and put into operational practice
spirit of aggressiveness to take advantage of the existing static defenses and the newly-gained mobility.
12. The Actuality: 1962-1963
What happened during 1962-1963 is that only the second of these developments actually occurred to any significant degree. The U.S. provided helicopter companies for rapid tactical transport, small arms and automatic weapons for increased firepower, and tactical air and artillery support to assure ARVN firepower superiority over the insurgents. There were complaints--as there have been ever since--that individual weapons were too heavy for the Vietnamese, that one helicopter company for each Corps area was too little, and that supporting air and artillery were an inducement to rely on indiscriminate firepower as a substitute for aggressiveness. But the basic tools were provided.
The other developments did not take place. Training of the CG and SDC was speeded up at Secretary McNamara's insistence in order to get a more effective protective force quickly in being. Even by cutting the course of instruction in half it required the remainder of CY 1962 to give a basic familiarization course to even the bulk of the CG and SDC. GVN was not eager to put weapons into SDC hands, fearing that the weapons might wind up in the possession of the VC. In the event, both forces emerged as something much less effective than had been expected. The strategic hamlets which they were to protect proliferated in quantity in an uncontrolled manner and varied widely in quality. It never really became possible for ARVN to free itself from static defensive duties.
Even if it had become possible for ARVN to be cut loose from static duties it is questionable that it could have risen to U.S. expectations. The period in question is one in which the Ngo family felt itself constrained constantly to play off the military against the provincial officials (who controlled the CG and SDC) in order to forestall attempts at a coup d'etat. Military leaders seemed inclined to rely increasingly on firepower as a substitute for aggressive maneuver. Rosy reports from the provinces made it unappealing to sustain casualties engaging an enemy who was said to have already been driven from the area. The all-too-common result was that ARVN did not improve as the U.S. had expected it would. U.S. advisors became frustrated and embittered. Even rare opportunities for decisive engagement on the ground were allowed to pass or were mishandled. The debacle at Ap Bac, in____, 1962, stands as a landmark of this continued impotence.
The failure of ARVN to develop as expected was, however, not officially recognized until much later. Even then the reasons for this failure were variously interpreted. In mid-1962, after the initial advisory build-up had been completed, the commander of the recently established U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), General Paul D. Harkins, estimated that the U.S. task was simply one of training ARVN leaders on a one-time basis and that the VC could be eliminated as a disturbing force within a year after this had been accomplished. (This was a clear instance of the "technical-tactical competence" expectation.) Secretary McNamara-probably wishing also to form prudent contingency plans and to have the capability to exert pressure on the Diem regime-directed that the U.S. plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over a three year period. This decision and the subsequent plans for its implementation, indicates the extent to which optimistic expectations existed at some high official U.S. levels even while (as we were later to learn) the situation in the countryside continued to deteriorate. This, in turn, helps to explain why the advisory build-up completed in April 1962 was not followed by any additional increases in advisors for more than two years.
The central problem in this regard was that the U.S. had neither a firm grasp on reliable indicators to determine how the war was progressing nor a willingness to accept claims that it was not going well. The second of these tendencies was attributable to the approach which finally emerged from the decisions following the Taylor mission: The U.S. would support Diem unstintingly and expect, in return, meaningful reforms and improvements within GVN. But it was caught in a dilemma when the expected reforms did not take place. To continue to support Diem without reforms meant quite simply that he, not we, would determine the course of the counterinsurgent effort and that the steps he took to assure his continuance in power would continue to take priority over all else. To deny him support in any of a variety of ways would erode his power without a viable alternative in sight. The tendency may not have been precisely to "sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem," as Homer Bigart phrased it, but it came very close to this.
The inability to know just how things were going presented an even more difficult problem. The tendency was to use forces retrained or newly equipped, strategic hamlets constructed, and trends in VC activity, as indicators of the progress of the war. But training does not necessarily equal effectiveness, the number of hamlets constructed does not tell one of the loyalty of their populations, and enemy attacks might be a misleading guide. Were GVN making progress in a contested area, for instance, Viet Cong reactions might be expected to increase rather than to diminish in frequency and intensity. Conversely, the insurgents would have no good reason to attack populated areas which they had already succeeded in penetrating and over which they had established effective de facto control. Data and observations could be variously interpreted-so variously, in fact, that President Kennedy was led to ask two observers just returned from Vietnam who gave him divergent reports, "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?"
13. The Stage Is Set for "Better GVN Receptivity"
While the U.S. groped for a better way to determine how the counterinsurgent effort was going and debated how (or if) to exercise leverage against Diem, it was overtaken by events. The 1963 Buddhist crisis in RVN was met by increasingly repressive measures by the GVN. These developments finally led the U.S. to reassess its support for Diem and to consider other non-communist alternatives to his leadership. On 1 November 1963 Diem was overthrown by a military coup d'etat. The pacification effort organized around the Strategic Hamlet Program died with him; the advisory effort was left untouched in terms of size and scope. To the extent that Diem and his family were the ones preventing ARVN from meeting the expectations of late 1961, it was reasoned, now was the time for the military advisory system to begin to function more effectively. To the extent that ARVN commanders in the field had been unresponsive to U.S. advice because of indifference and opposition in the Gia Long Palace, it was hoped the difficulties of the past might be rectified by the new military regime.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-Up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Glossary of Acronyms and Terms
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241
Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency
in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
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