The Pentagon Papers
Chapter 5, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Section 1, pp. 277-323
Summary and Analysis
In 1964 the U.S. tried to make GVN strong, effective, and stable, and it failed. When the U.S. offered more aid, GVN accepted it without improving; they promised to mobilize, but failed to speed up the slow buildup of their forces. When the U.S. offered a firmer commitment to encourage them, including possible later bombing of North Vietnam, the GVN tried to pressure us to do it sooner. When the U.S. endorsed Khanh, he overplayed his hand, provoked mob violence, and had to back down to a weaker position than before. When Taylor lectured them and threatened them, the ruling generals of GVN defied him, and allied themselves with the street rioters. After several changes of government in Vietnam, the U.S. could set no higher goal than GVN stability. During this period, the USG was already starting to think about doing the job ourselves if our Vietnamese ally did not perform.
At first the U.S. thought that the power of the Vietnamese generals would make GVN strong and effective. In fact, the U.S. preference, at this time, was for military leadership in the GVN. However, the generals proved to be less than perfectly united. They found they had to bow to the power of student and Buddhist street mobs, and they lacked the will and the ability to compel the civil government to perform. Yet, the U.S. saw no alternative but to back them-to put up with Vietnamese hypersensitivity, their easy compliance combined with non-performance, and their occasional defiance. Moreover, MACV was even less ready to pressure the generals than was the Embassy and the Embassy less willing than Washington. MACV controlled the resources that mattered most to the South Vietnamese.
Pacification lagged, and the military picture steadily worsened. Planning of pressures against the North became more urgent, and the prospect of increasing U.S. inputs to all phases of the war loomed larger. The U.S. was more and more abandoning the hope that the Vietnamese could win the war by them;elves. At the same time, the U.S. was preparing itself internally (NSAM 288 with the objective of an "independent non-communist Vietnam") and readyng the American people (the Tonkin Gulf Resolution) for deeper commitments.
The period saw six major changes of government. At the end of January, 1964, Khanh seized power from the Minh government. In August, after his attempt to formalize military control, mob violence forced him to give way and to join a Triumvirate. It presided over formation of the civilian High National Council, which wrote a Constitution and elected the civilian President Suu and Prime Minister Huong to replace the Triumvirate. In December the military dissolved the High National Council, and in January 1965 they dismissed Huong, replacing him by Khanh as caretaker. In February, they appointed a new civilian government, with Suu still President and with Quat as Prime Minister. In June, Ky took over. Besides all this, coup groups seized Saigon twice before being faced down each time.
During the first few months of this period the U.S. abandoned the plan for the phased withdrawal of most of our military assistance personnel, and stopped believing that the main-force war would come to a successful end by the close of 1965. With the start of planning pressures against the North, the U.S. first hoped that repeated preliminary signals to Hanoi would brmg a response before bombing began; and we hoped that the promise of U.S. force commitments would strengthen Vietnamese unity and resolve. Both hopes proved vain, and we started bombing North Vietnam systematically without getting anything from either Hanoi or GVN. Then the bombing itself failed to stop Hanoi's intervention. Seeing no other choice, the U.S. poured troops into the country.
Throughout 1964, the U.S. pursued the objective of a strong, effective GVN like the Holy Grail. Increasingly, we felt we had to reassure our Saigon ally about the U.S. resolve, and hoped that a firm U.S. commitment through extending advisors and through bombing would improve GVN performance. Recurrently, we looked to the military as the one coherent, anti-communist force in the country. We leaned on them and on their strong-man, who for most of the period was Khanh, at first hoping that he or Minh would play the role that Magsaysay did in the Philippines. We were interested in legitimacy and democratic forms only as a long-run deferrable proposition; although more and more we recognized the need for broad political support-especially after the Buddhist crisis in August, 1964, had proved its importance.
As early as the Honolulu Conference in June, 1964, we worried about the possible emergence of a hostile government or anarchy; and the South Vietnamese played effectively on our fears. We lectured them repeatedly on the importance of national unity, both in periods of political calm and in crises. When the mobs in the streetsfaced down the generals, we then clung to the position that no one should rock the boat.
Yet, well beyond our control, General Khanh was a central figure in most of these changes. He took over in a coup in January, 1964, and played one role after another, for over twelve turbulent months. Then when a coup attempt failed against a newly installed government in February, 1965, the generals turned on Khanh and exiled him. Only the final coup, in which Ky took over, saw Khanh absent from the scene.
Withall, the military improved their hold on GVN machinery. The high turnover of district and province officials around the time of the Khanh coup put ARVN officers everywhere; and the corps commanders gradually consolidated their power throughout 1964. This tendency reached a climax and received a temporary setback in the rebellion that followed the August constitution. As a result of the successful Buddhist opposition, cabinet changes and the charter of the government in Saigon required Buddhist acquiescence.
These problems were aggravated by the clear and growing lack of legitimacy of GVN. The generals led by Minh, who overthrew Diem, gained an aura of respectability by this act because Diem had so completely alienated the people. Whatever their "respectability" may have been worth went down the drain, however, when Khanh seized power and then later maneuvered Minh out of the country. Khanh's position as a brash usurper gave him little room for maneuver among Saigon's complex political currents, although for a time the U.S. counted on his "raw power." With subsequent shifts in the form and composition of government, the expediency and lack of legitimacy of GVN grew more conspicuous and more debilitating.
U.S. attempts to strengthen the GVN's will to govern and to pacify the countryside failed. Moreover, the attempts, conceived in haste, often backfired. In contrast to the steady discussion of alternatives among Washington agencies, the Embassy, and MACV on the subject of pressures on the North, the idea of pressures on GVN seldom surfaced. When it did surface, it was either brushed aside or rushed into. Leverage planning failed to receive even that quality and quantity of attention that pressures against North Vietnam planning did.
As a general rule, Washington was more interested in putting pressure on GVN than was the Embassy, with the notable exception of Taylor's initiatives in December, and MACV was the least interested of all. But these differences were less notable than was the almost universal consensus (most of the time) that the Vietnamese were too sensitive for such pressures to work, and that we had to accept the GVN's non-performance as the best available.
Starting with Rusk's conversation with Khanh at the end of May, 1964, and ending with Taylor's initiative in early December, the U.S. tried to use the prospect of U.S. force commitment as an inducement to the Vietnamese to do better. However, Taylor said that if this inducement were to fail, the U.S. should go ahead with its pressures against the North anyway. Taking this position meant that the attempted inducement was bluff. There is every sign, both in their non-performance and in their December-January defiance, that the GVN sized it up that way and called the bluff.
Our attempted leverage included both inducements and threats at one time and another; and neither worked out well. Rusk's May, 1964, conversation with Khanh, the intensification of pressures planning following the Honolulu Conference in June, and the shift of the Chairman, JCS to the post of Ambassador to SVN, all showed U.S. commitment. We hoped these measures and talks would directly contribute to GVN morale and effectiveness. However, they were followed by the July press leaks and by direct pressure to bomb North immediately. The July public endorsement of Khanh was intended to reassure all concerned of our support, and so to strengthen GVN. Then, the Gulf of Tonkin incidents were followed promptly by Khanh's Constitution, which backfired against him and against us, weakening rather than strengthening GVN.
Taylor's bill of particulars against GVN in December was followed immediately by attacks on GVN by the Buddhists, and then shortly by the military, bringing down the government. Taylor's stern lecture to the Young Turks at this time met only with their defiance. They agreed to a compromise solution to the crisis when Taylor held up the GVN Defense Budget, and then reversed themselves after he released it. The first Flaming Dart raids, opening the deliberate U.S. bombing campaign against the North, were followed shortly by another coup attempt.
There was no disagreement among Washington, the Embassy, and MACV that U.S. commitments should be used to improve GVN's morale and performance. In contrast, however, they often disagreed about putting pressure on GVN. In January, 1964, State showed far more interest than did Lodge in using the AID negotiations to press GVN for more effort; in the upshot we gave them an AID increase with no strings attached. This disagreement continued for several months. McNamara leaned consistently toward giving GVN whatever it needed; only later did he begin to mention increasing our influence. But McNamara and JCS did prod Lodge into asking GVN why they were not progressing well. In May, 1964, Sullivan proposed direct entry of U.S. personnel into the Vietnamese chain of command; his idea was watered down considerably in the State Department and disappeared at the Honolulu Conference because of opposition by Lodge and Westmoreland. Other proposals agreed to at the conference, relating to new actions and improved programs by GVN, interested State far more than they did the Embassy and MACV, as revealed in the follow-up.
By and large the same contrasts prevailed when Taylor was the Ambassador, although in December he was far more willing to press GVN than Lodge ever was. Even then, at the peak of the crisis, Taylor expressly rejected sanctions. MACV generally rejected sanctions also, and seemed less willing to apply leverage in day-to-day matters than were U.S. civilians in the field. MACV studies on GVN ineffectiveness usually proposed more studies and never proposed pressure on GVN.
If U.S. force commitments and the record of GVN non-performance reflect the failure of leverage, what does the record tell us about how leverage could be made to work? Regrettably, the record tells us nothing about that; it merely shows that everything we tried went wrong. As noted, attempts at leverage or pressure on GVN were seldom thought through and studied carefully. One searches in vain for studies, memoranda, or widespread discussion of alternative techniques for leverage and of what our experience shows about how they might work. Pressures against the North, whose results have disappointed us, were a model of planning, foresight, and detailed consideration, compared to the subject of pressures on GVN. Yet GVN's failure was the heart of our policy problem throughout the period, as many feel it still is.
The Embassy's Lack of Political Contact
The shifts of political loyalties, coups, rebellions, and major changes of public figures often caught the Embassy by surprise. It had no effective system, either through overt or covert contacts, for finding out what was going on. CAS people talked to a few official contacts, who told them things the Vietnamese wanted the U.S. to believe; but CAS had and has no mandate or mission to perform systematic intelligence and espionage in friendly countries, and so lacks the resources to gather and evaluate the large amounts of information required on political forces, corruption, connections, and so on. Moreover, there is no sign that the Embassy understood events after the fact, or saw the connection between what we did and what the Vietnamese did next. It appears that the U.S. had few people experienced at maneuvering and manipulating among oriental politicians.
In the following cases the Embassy was in the dark. (1) We had no information on the degree of truth of Khanh's charges against the four "pro-neutralist" generals plus Minh, and we knew about his coup a day in advance only because he sounded us out on it. (2) During the months of maneuvering between Khanh and Minh after the coup, we had no way to evaluate the coup rumors that always went around, and that peaked around moments of crisis like the trial of the four generals in May. (3) Khanh's complaints of Vietnamese war-weariness starting in late May, in retrospect a transparent tactic to pressure the U.S. to bomb North, took in the USG completely; we eagerly went ahead and planned to bomb "to improve their unity and resolve." (4) Khanh's defiant leaks on cross-border operations in July surprised and perplexed the Embassy; Taylor described them as an attempt to improve his own people's morale, not as an attempt to stampede us. (5) When Khanh asked for our public endorsement and then talked about "reorganization," we failed to see the connection. When he tried to reorganize Minh out of the government, Taylor made no move to save Minh until after street rioting had broken up the whole plan. (6) The September 13 coup attempt surprised everybody. (7) The HNC decision to make Suu President and Huong Prime Minister surprised and angered us. (8) Taylor's December plan to strengthen GVN by lecturing to it about its failures provoked a completely unexpected reaction; both Buddhists and the military turned against the GVN. Taylor's subsequent stern lecture to the Young Turks likewise produced the opposite of the desired result. (9) The generals' January, 1965, moves to renege on the agreed crisis settlement and to dismiss Huong surprised us. (10) The February 19 coup attempt surprised everybody. (11) We did not know what to think of the alleged coup attempt in May, 1965.
In some noteworthy cases we did better. (1) Taylor correctly foresaw that Khanh's August constitution would cause trouble. (2) Westmoreland detected Ky's budding coup attempt in November and, with Embassy authority, squelched it. (3) Taylor foresaw (and tacitly accepted) the Ky coup.
The MACV Role
The MACV organization played an important, mostly hidden, role in US/GVN relations. At every level from Saigon to the districts, the advisory structure was the most pervasive instrument of intergovernmental contact. ARVN officers were accustomed to being spoon-fed military advice; so when military dominance of GVN brought these same officers to high positions in government, the advisor relationship conferred a latent diplomatic role upon MACV. Advisors were used as channels of communications on political matters and became the most reliable sources of information on impending coups. (On occasions such as the Rhade uprising and Ky's first attempt at a coup, senior MACV officers openly became diplomatic emissaries.)
We have less record than we would like of COMUSMACV's influence. He reported regularly to his military seniors only on strictly military matters. Detailed reports of his routine, daily dealings with counterparts were not required of MACV as they were of the Embassy.
From time to time COMUSMACV revealed his own independent objectives. He sought protection of the ARVN officer corps from political machinations and from unfavorable press stories in order to preserve their solidarity and morale; he pressed zealously for early introduction of U.S. ground forces and for their rapid build-up; he opposed encadrement and combined command with ARVN; he resisted exclusion of the military from pacification; he rejected sanctions against ARVN; he objected to the initial constraints on the use of American forces and wanted to be free to operate independently of ARVN.
General Westmoreland's strong position usually assured that his view prevailed. Extension of advisors, increased MAP resources, and the introduction of U.S. ground forces enhanced his relative position. His freedom from detailed reporting of daily contacts was itself an element of strength. When he received unwanted advice and directives, he set up studies (as in the Civic Action Program) to stall for time; when he lacked authority to operate freely, he planned ahead with the Vietnamese (as in the use of U.S. forces for independent offensive operations) and then presented the matter to Washington as a virtual fait accompli.
Vietnamese Non-Performance and Sensitivity
Throughout this period the GVN failed to perform in almost every constructive respect. Pacification lagged, when not visibly retreating, even though the GVN was always willing to issue decrees, set up organizations we suggested, and so on. Khanh's promise to mobilize came to nothing. The VC defeated ARVN in bigger and bigger battles, until the military assessment of the situation permitted Westmoreland to call for over 200,000 U.S. troops.
Moreover, on issues purportedly relating to sovereignty or "face," the Vietnamese were and are quite sensitive, and the U.S. was consistently afraid to inflame this sensitivity. Both sides avoided many delicate topics. A prime example is the matter of the lack of a bilateral treaty. The U.S. operated, and still operates, under a Pentalateral protocol signed by the French and Bao Dai under the U.S. military assistance program to France before 1954. It gave U.S. advisers and officials virtual diplomatic status, which was reasonable back when there were less than two hundred of them in all Indochina. But it now applies to all U.S. personnel, and no one has wanted to stir things up.
The sensitivity problem cropped up often. For a time early in 1964, the GVN backed off from an agreement to extend U.S. advisors to district level, and when the GVN did approve, they insisted that the advice be strictly military and that the advisors be labelled "subsector." In like manner, the III Marine Expeditionary Force became the III Marine Amphibious Force, because the French had called their Indochina force "expeditionary." But the GVN, and especially the military, agreed readily to new U.S. troop commitments.
The Vietnamese would often greet a U.S. representative, in moments of tension, with false or exaggerated stories of U.S. dealings, such as a complaint in January, 1964, about U.S. training and CIA contacts with the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. In contrast, on cabinet appointments they often asked the Ambassador's opinion, and he customarily leaned over backward to avoid giving specific recommendations. Shared sensitivity, closely related to the lack of a treaty governing status of U.S. forces, prevented any move toward joint command and U.S. control of all military operations in Vietnam; both Westmoreland and the Vietnamese preferred to operate separately. The Embassy looked the other way from repressive police measures and political arrests unless these led to embarrassing press stories. When the Ambassador would raise this type of issue with the GVN, it proved always to be touchy.
Vietnamese sensitivity sometimes led to open displays of anti-Americanism. These happened on three main occasions: (1) when Khanh grumbled about being a puppet after the go-North leaks in July, 1964; (2) in the open rupture between Khanh and Taylor in December-January; and (3) in the January riots when rioters overran USfS buildings in Saigon and Hue.
Vietnamese Compliance More in Form Than in Substance
The Vietnamese nevertheless showed a ready willingness throughout the period to declare new policies, sign decrees, and engage in joint studies at our request. But as noted above, that did not mean we got the substance of what we wanted on such matters. The most important case of this kind was Khanh's ready agreement in March to "mobilize" South Vietnam. He promptly made a token announcement; and while students and other potential draft-eligibles waited anxiously to learn what he meant (as did we, he delayed several weeks before any further announcement. Starting in May, he began announcing specifics and signing decrees, and kept the idea live for several months. However, strength of the RVNAF rose less in 1964 than it did in 1963*, and the talk of non-military mobilization came to nothing.
* The end-year figures are as follows:
|RVNAF Strength ('000)||397||514||571|
|Total Armed Strength ('000) (Included CIDG, police, etc.)||526||612||692|
Source: OSD SEA Statistical Summary, Tables 1 and 2.
The military and the more militant civilians, on whom the U.S. counted most heavily and regularly supported, turned out to have far more enthusiasm for going North and for other external adventures than they did for getting on with the job of effective government and pacification. They promised much on this latter score, but could not or would not deliver. Knowing that we had no one else to turn to, they continued their old habits and often openly did what they pleased about important matters. The go-North problem was particularly troublesome because the militants rejected the permanent division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, upheld in practice by the U.S.
The following are interesting instances, among many, of their superficial compliance. They agreed readily to use U.S advisers at the ministerial level (the brain trust), although there is no sign that the brain-trusters accomplished anything. Indeed, on all ten suggestions that accompanied President Johnson's 1964 New Year's Message to Minh, only the one on amnesty found them hesitant to express their full agreement. They regularly agreed on budgetary limits to keep inflation from getting out of hand, but never satisfied us on specifics through 1964 or the first half of 1965. They repeatedly agreed to relieve ineffective, corrupt commanders and officials, but delayed endlessly on doing it and generally promoted those whom they relieved. At Westmoreland's request, Khanh created the Hop Tac plan for pacification around Saigon; but it foundered, and eventually the Vietnamese killed it. When Lodge left Vietnam in June, 1964, he sealed his tour with a general agreement with Khanh on concept, scope, and organization of the pacification efforts; obtaining such agreements presented absolutely no problem. In December, 1964, the JGS issued a directive containing every MACV suggestion on how RVNAF should help pacification.
In July, 1964, Khanh created a National Security Council similar to ours, and it met regularly with the top group of Embassy people to talk agreeably about pacification and manpower problems. MACV set up joint inspection teams and joint studies with JGS people several times a year. The only thing of this class that had any visible follow-through was the joint planning group on bombing North and on other cross-border operations. Two battalions specifically declared ineffective by MACV suffered no penalty or improvement.
The militants' predilection for external adventures began to show in May, 1964, after the Embassy started pressing Khanh about his March agreements with McNamara. Khanh responded within a few days by saying he wanted to declare war, bomb the North with U.S. participation, bring 10,000 U.S. Army Special Forces troops into South Vietnam, "get rid of the politicians," and put Saigon strictly on a war footing. Lodge tried to cool him off, but Khanh brought up a less extreme version again with Rusk at the end of the month, saying that his government could not win without action outside South Vietnam. When Lodge returned from the Honolulu Conference in early June, Khanh responded to discussions of ARVN strength by trying to draw Lodge out on actions against the North. Then, when we did not move fast enough to suit him and Ky, they started a press campaign on the subject, and pressed Taylor more insistently. Finally, in December, when Taylor told GVN all the many ways they should improve to justify further U.S. involvement, their immediate reply included the comment that the U.S. program said nothing about Viet Cong use of Cambodia.
The press leaks about going North were the first major instance of their defiantly going ahead as they pleased against our wishes. Khanh's August constitution was a less flagrant case, because Taylor's words of caution were comparatively diffident. (Moreover, in the following August-September turbulence, Khanh let himself become clearly dependent on the Embassy when he talked to the Buddhist leaders.) In the December crisis the Young Turks defied Taylor at every turn following their dissolution of the HNC; and after a temporary agreement in January double-crossed Taylor, dismissed Huong, and took control of the formation of a new government. They guessed correctly that we saw no choice but to go along.
JUNE 1965-FALL 1967
By the summer of 1965, the war in Vietnam had dramatically changed its complexion from the previous two years. More and more, with U.S. combat forces pouring into SVN and Rolling Thunder underway, it looked like the U.S. against the DRV. The war was no longer being fought with U.S. advice and aid alone; there was now a massive U.S. presence. While official documents still repeated the credo that it was, in the last analysis, a struggle for the G\'N to win or lose, the focus of U.S. concern shifted. As the U.S. role increased and then predominated, the need for GVN effectiveness in the now and short-run received less attention. The U.S. would take care of the war now--defeat the enemy main forces and destroy Hanoi's will to persist--then, the GVN could and would reform and resuscitate itself. Only after the immediate security threat to the GVN was blunted and forced to subside did we expect our South Vietnamese ally to improve its performance on all fronts. Until then and in order to get to that point, the U.S. would concentrate on what it could do.
This view--a massive U.S. effort in the short-run leading to and enabling a GVN effort in the long-run--set the tone and content of U.S.-GVN relations. In policy terms, it meant caution in the use of U.S. leverage. There seemed to be no compelling requirement to be tough with Saigon; it would only prematurely rock the boat. To press for efficiency would be likely, it was reasoned, to generate instability. Our objective became simple: if we could not expect more GVN efficiency, we could at least get a more stable and legitimate GVN. Nation-building was the key phrase. This required a constitution and free elections. Moreover, if we could not have the reality, we would start with appearances. U.S. influence was successfully directed at developing a democratic GVN in form. Beginning in September 1966, a series of free elections were held, first for a Constituent Assembly and later for village officials, the Presidency, House and Senate.
U.S.-GVN relations from June of 1965 to 1968, then, have to be understood in terms of the new parameters of the war. Before this date, our overriding objective had to be and was governmental stability. After the Diem coup, the GVN underwent six changes in leadership in the space of one and a half years. From June 1965 on, there was relative stability. Ky and Thieu, while challenged, proved strong enough to keep their power and position. In putting down the Struggle Movement (following General Thi's dismissal by Ky) in the first half of 1966, and then delivering on the September, 1966 election, GVN effectively discredited the militant Buddhist leadership and for the time being ended its threat to political stablility. Concern about possible neutralism or anarchy, which had been important in U.S. thinking in 1964 and early 1965, subsided accordingly. The uneasy agreement between Thieu and Ky to run on the same ticket, resulting partly from U.S. pressure for military unity, and the subsequent transition to legitimacy, gave the U.S. a sense of relief and satisfaction, although no one suggested that GVN had yet built a broad political base or had solved its effectiveness problems. This GVN stability made possible the increased attention to pacification and nation-building.
The pacification parameter had changed as well. From 1961 to June of 1965, the U.S. flooded SVN with the advisory resources of men and money to keep the GVN afloat and RVNAF fighting. This input lacked a clear plan. After June j 1965, we made a concerted effort to organize pacification. We exacted an agreement from the GVN in the fall of 1966 to shift half of its ground forces into pacification-although U.S. forces carried a share of this burden and attempted to show RVNAF how to do it. We tried to centralize pacification programs by creating a new GVN structure to control and allocate resources. This was made manifest by the establishment of a separate Ministry for Revolutionary Development. U.S. moves by stages to the unified civil-military CORDS organization in Vietnam paralleled this super-ministry for pacification. And, pacification statistics showed steady increase of GVN control in the countryside, reversing the downward trend of previous years--but, U.S. dissatisfaction with GVN performance also increased nonetheless.
Beyond and more important than all this were the U.S. efforts themselves. By the close of 1965, 170,000 U.S. combat forces were in SVN. By the end of 1967, this figure was almost half a million. By mid-1965, U.S. air strikes against North Vietnam had extended in geographic coverage up to 20°30', and approved targets had widened beyond LOC's. Total sorties rose to about 900 per week. By 1968, we were bombing throughout the North, with very few though important targets still being prohibited. Total sorties per week reached about 4,000.
It was in this context that U.S.-GVN relations took shape.
Having suffered several backfires in the attempts to require or encourage GVN effectiveness in 1964, the Embassy and Washington generally preferred to let well enough alone in 1965 through 1967. The U.S. limited itself to only a few demands, and usually avoided direct confrontations at the top levels of government-to-government contact.
The U.S. had one repetition of its old backfire problem following the Honolulu Conference of February 1966. President Johnson embraced Ky publicly and endorsed his government; Ky then felt strong enough to move against General Thi, who had been making trouble generally and was almost openly waiting for his chance to take over the GVN. Ky eventually succeeded in removing Thi and getting him out of the country, but at the cost of returning to a degree of chaos in May that was in some ways worse than any suffered in 1964 under Khanh. At the height of the crisis, the U.S. went so far as to use force and the threat of force against both sides to keep the confrontation between GVN and the Struggle Movement within bounds. There was no sign of ill effects from our boldness in this instance.
Whatever interest there was in putting pressure on the top levels of GVN was stronger in Washington than in the Embassy, and stronger in the Embassy than in MACV, as it had been in the past. But the past failures of such pressures made everyone gunshy. At one point, Washington felt so strongly about the high GVN dollar balances that it sent out its own representative to negotiate with GVN, and he freely threatened to cut down U.S. dollar aid. However, neither Washington nor the Embassy suggested doing anything so drastic as holding up aid payments and projects until a satisfactory agreement could be reached. Confident that the threats were empty, GVN dug in its heels and gave us nothing but more promises.
Although the U.S. played down pressure or leverage on the top level of GVN, the idea of leverage at lower levels enjoyed a resurgence. Interest in the subject reached a low point in June 1965, when we abandoned the "troika signoff," which had given U.S. province representatives veto control over the use of AID direct-support commodities. For four months starting October 1, 1965, MACV experimented with giving its sector advisors a petty cash fund for urgent projects; however, MACV then dropped the idea. In April 1966, Lodge urged restoration of these types of leverage, and the idea kept coming up thereafter. Two major studies, one in Saigon in 1966 and one in Washington in 1967, came down strongly for regular procedures to use our material support to put pressure on lower echelons of GVN. They particularly emphasized signoff systems and the like, including U.S. distribution of MAP support within Vietnam. But the fear that such methods would prove counter-productive, either by provoking resistance or by making Vietnamese officials more dependent on our people and less able to perform on their own, prevented adoption of the proposals.
In at least three instances, AID cut off its support to a province in order to pressure the province chief. In September 1965, AID accused the province chief of Binh Tuy of misuse of AID funds, and had to withdraw its personnel from the province and cut off support to it after threats on their lives. The incident got into the papers and embarrassed both GVN and the Embassy; after several weeks GVN moved the accused officer to another job, and AID resumed its program in the province. In June 1966, AID cut off shipments to Kontum province for four days to force the province chief to account for the end uses of AID commodities. In August 1967, CORDS cut off shipments to Bien Hoa province for eleven weeks for similar reasons.
In contrast, MACV scrupulously avoided withholding MAP support from military units, regardless of circumstances. The single case of record of taking away MAP support involved two fishing boats owned by the Vietnam Navy that were found ineligible for such support. In his reaction to the PROVN Report in May 1966, in his directives to advisers around the time of the ChinhHunnicutt affair in the fall of 1966, and in his reaction to Washington inquiries in May 1967, COMUSMACV consistently brushed aside criticism of ARVN and told both his superiors and his subordinates to lay off. Whatever interest in leverage there was at lower levels in the field received no backing from COMUSMACV. In March 1966, a decision to transfer MAP for Vietnam to service funding had no effect on leverage because MACV continued to put material support in Vietnamese hands as soon as it entered the country.
Although AID tried some leverage in this period, and although the Ambassador, the Mission, and officials tuned to U.S. domestic pressures urged U.S. leverage for GVN reforms, there is still no documented study of GVN's failures, of the reasons for it, and of the ways that leverage of different types might help improve GVN permanently. The basic problem of concern is GVN's overall failure to do its civil and military jobs. Leverage in the hands of U.S. personnel might assure that GVN would do particular things we want; but we have no information on what kind of leverage, if any, would reform GVN. From 1964 onwards, high U.S. officials, including McGeorge Bundy and Secretary McNamara, have said at one time and another that thorough reform of GVN is necessary; but no one has found or even seriously proposed a way to do it. Encadrement proposals, prominent before June 1965, still received occasional mention; but these proposed to make up for GVN's deficiencies by substituting U.S. control for GVN control, and do not purport to reform GVN itself. If this problem has a solution, we have yet to find it.
The Embassy's Lack of Political Contact
The turbulent events of 1964 and early 1965 had shown that the Embassy had no effective system, either through overt or covert contacts, for finding out what was going on. Nothing was done subsequently to correct this problem. CAS people talked to a few official contacts, who told them things the Vietnamese wanted the U.S. to believe; but the CIA had and has no mandate or mission to perform systematic intelligence and espionage in friendly countries, and so lacks the resources to gather and evaluate the large amounts of information required on political forces, corruption, connections, and so on.
General Thi began sounding out his U.S. contacts on whether the U.S. appreciated his superior qualities as a potential leader of Vietnam as early as August 1965; and in other ways we had plenty of warning that there would be trouble. However, we showed no feel for cause and effect. President Johnson's embrace of Ky at Honolulu in February, 1966, could only have had a divisive effect when Ky commanded so little solid support within his own country. On the one hand, civilians and the military had fluoted U.S. wishes so often in the past that express U.S. support scarcely counted for much; but on the other hand Ky's weakness and Thi's known ambitions tempted Ky to get whatever mileage he could out of our support. In the subsequent turbulence, all parties again flouted U.S. wishes freely, stopping short only when the U.S. used force and the credible threat of force to oppose them. The maneuverings of the various political groups seemed to surprise the Embassy repeatedly. The same problems arose in the GVN cabinet split and crisis just before the Manila Conference in October 1966. The blandly naive language of the "Blueprint for Vietnam" in late 1967, unmodified by any back channel elaboration, offered no hope of any foreseeable improvement.
The MACV Role
The MACV organization played an important, mostly hidden, role in U.S.GVN relations. At every level from Saigon to the districts, the advisory structure was the most pervasive instrument of intergovernmental contact. ARVN officers were accustomed to being spoon-fed military advice; so when military dominance of GVN brought these same officers to high positions in government, the advisor relationship conferred a latent diplomatic role upon MACV. Advisors were used as channels of communications on political and pacification matters. (On occasions such as the attempts to get Thi to meet Ky or to leave the country, senior MACV officers openly became diplomatic emissaries.)
We have less record than we would like of COMUSMACV's influence. He reported regularly to his military seniors only on strictly military matters. Detailed reports of his routine, daily dealings with counterparts were not required of MACV as they were of the Embassy.
From time to time, COMUSMACV revealed his own independent objectives. He sought protection of the ARVN officer corps from unfavorable press stories in order to preserve their solidarity and morale; he pressed zealously for the rapid build-up of U.S. ground forces; he opposed encadrement and combined command with ARVN; he rejected sanctions against ARVN; he objected to the initial constraints on the use of American forces and wanted to be free to operate independently of ARVN.
General Westmoreland's strong position usually assured that his view prevailed. Extension of advisors, increased MAP resources, and the build-up of U.S. ground forces enhanced his relative position. By October 1966, MACV had numerical superiority of forces over Regular RVNAF; by late 1967, MACV had over 400 square miles of bases. His freedom from detailed reporting of daily contacts was itself an element of strength. When he received unwanted advice and directives, he set up studies, and, after a time, proceeded as usual. This tendency was most notable in the case of leverage, already noted, and combined command. Likewise, MACV successfully resisted taking over the bulk of Saigon Port operations, despite pressure from Washington, and delayed for about a year the move to take division commanders out of the pacification chain of command. Another instance of MACV independence showed up when Rusk and Lodge wanted to keep U.S. men and equipment out of the confrontation between GVN and the Struggle Movement in I Corps, but they failed to tell MACV about it. On April 5, MACV went ahead and airlifted two battalions of Vietnamese Rangers to Danang; after that Lodge put a stop to it.
Vietnamese Non-Performance and Sensitivity
Although population control statistics began to improve in 1966 and continued to do so in the first half of 1967, and although this seemed partly associated with the creation of the Ministry of Revolutionary Development and with the emphasis on its programs, few suggested that this progress could be held if U.S. forces withdrew. The drumbeat of criticism from field personnel, and the documented cases of non-performance on high-level matters, made it clear that there was no real improvement in GVN performance. Corruption and inaction showed no signs of improvement; province chiefs and military commanders singled out by U.S. advisers as urgently needing removal were simply shuffled around, if moved at all, and often promoted. Increasing traffic in the Port of Saigon led to acute congestion problems, which GVN failed to clear up or materially improve.
Moreover, on issues purportedly relating to sovereignty or "face," the Vietnamese continued to be quite sensitive, and the U.S. was afraid to inflame this sensitivity. Both sides avoided many delicate topics. A prime example is the lack of a bilateral treaty. The U.S. presence has always been based on the Pentalateral Protocol of 1950, signed by France, the Bao Dai government, Laos, Cambodia and the U.S., which gave U.S. advisers and officials virtual diplomatic status-an arrangement reasonable back when there were less than two hundred of them in all Indochina, but of dubious applicability to the hundreds of thousands now there. This matter has cropped up from time to time, as in the case of American civilians being tried for currency violations in Vietnamese courts, where they were subject to extortion. Both governments cooperated in smoothing things over after a momentary disagreement over jurisdiction, and have avoided stirring things up.
Shared sensitivity (and legitimate concern for an independent RVNAF role), closely related to the lack of a bilateral treaty, prevented any move toward joint command and U.S. control of all military operations in Vietnam. Both West-moreland and the Vietnamese preferred to operate either separately or in loosely coordinated joint operations. The Embassy looked the other way from repressive police measures and political arrests unless these led to embarrassing press stories; and when the Ambassador would raise this type of issue with the GVN, it proved always to be touchy. Especially under Lodge, the Embassy tried to protect GVN from the press and to help it build a favorable image.
Vietnamese sensitivity sometimes led to open displays of anti-Americanism. These displays reached a climax in the Struggle Movement crisis in the first half of 1966, when the Buddhists openly accused the U.S. of helping GVN crush them, and they sacked and burned the U.S. Consulate in Hue. Moreover, newspapers reflecting officials views would occasionally publish stories expressing fear of a U.S. sellout in negotiations, anger at U.S. intervention in Vietnamese affairs (as happened during the Chinh-Hunnicutt affair), and other anti-American themes.
Vietnamese Compliance More in Form Than in Substance
The Vietnamese, nevertheless, showed a ready willingness to declare new policies, sign decrees, and engage in joint studies at our request. But as noted, that scarcely means that we got what we wanted on such matters. Ky was always willing to issue decrees purporting to clear up the port problem, and to make public declarations against corruption. On economic policy, Ky and Hanh gave us one agreement after another promising to control inflation and to run down their dollar balances. The relations of their military with MACV showed the same pattern.
The Vietnamese military, on whom the U.S. counted most heavily, continued as in earlier periods to have far more enthusiasm for external adventures than they did for getting on with the job of effective government and pacification. They promised much on this latter score, but delivered little. Knowing that we had no one else to turn to, they continued their old habits and often openly did what they pleased about important matters, such as the airlift of troops to Danang in May, 1966.
Examples of superficial compliance are almost too numerous to mention. The Honolulu Conference of February 1966, produced over sixty agreed points between the two governments on all areas of mutual interest; getting any follow-up proved to be like pulling teeth, and then the follow-up we got was nothing more as a rule than more promises. Likewise, at the Manila Conference much the same thing happened, where GVN agreed to programs for social revolution, economic progress, and so on. However, at our insistence they did go ahead with the constitution and elections, and they shifted half of ARVN into pacification. How much substantive improvement these moves will produce still remains to be seen.
GVN taste for foreign adventure showed up in small, irritating ways. In July
1965, Thi planned unauthorized operations in the DMZ, but we stopped him. In
1967, we discovered that GVN had brought in Chinese Nationalists disguised as
Nungs, to engage in operations in Laos; also, they sent a group to put an airfield
on an island 170 miles south of Hainan, apparently without consulting
Increasingly throughout 1967, GVN legitimacy and performance became a domestic political issue in the U.S. as well as a source of concern for policy-makers. No matter what issue was raised, the central importance of the GVN remained. If we wanted to pacify more, we had to turn to the Vietnamese themselves. If we desired to push for a negotiated settlement, we had to seriously weigh the possibilities of SVN collapse. In the last analysis, it was and is a war which only GVN legitimacy and effectiveness can win.
End of Summary and Analysis
1 Jan 64 State to Saigon 1000 30 Dec 63
President's New Year's message to Minh contains reassurance; advice also rendered. Brain trust approved.
10 Jan 64 Lodge to State 1287 10 Jan
Lodge and Minh discuss President's advice agree they're doing fine except on anmesty. GVN backs away from previously agreed extension of advisors to districts.
30 Jan 64 Saigon to State 1433 30 Jan
Khanh seizes power, arrests four top generals of MRC, but lets Minh continue as President at USG urging.
13 Feb 64 Memorandum to Secretary of State
Rostow recommends enforcing NVN compliance with 1962 Geneva agreement.
21 Feb 64 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC Feb 64
GVN accepts advisors in 13 districts of the Delta.
21 Feb 64 Saigon to AID 2334 21 Feb
GVN asks USG for rice standby commitment, for the first time.
8 Mar 64 SD PM 16 Mar Sec. III; and Memorandum of Conversation at JGS Hqtrs. 12 Mar
Secretary McNamara arrives in Saigon for several days of talks, including talks with GVN. Goes away pessimistic, recommends more AID and larger RVNAF, plus unqualified backing for Khanh. Khanh promises mobilization.
17 Mar 64 NSAM 288
President approves Secretary of Defense recommendations, directs their execution.
20 Mar 64 White House Press Release
White House announces Khanh's mobilization plan.
4 Apr 64 State to Saigon 1602 4 Apr
Mobilization decree, dissolution of Council of Notables, promise of eventual Constituent Assembly and civil government.
10 Apr 64 Saigon to State 1964 11 Apr
Beginning of AID and related economic negotiations for fiscal 1965.
29 Apr 64 Saigon to State 2089 30 Apr
Khanh renews request for brain trust; Lodge euphoric.
30 Apr 64 Saigon to State 2091 30 Apr
USOM and GVN badger each other on pacification and economic delays.
4 May 64 Saigon to State 2108 4 May
Khanh wants to bomb NVN, have 10,000 US troops, and set up all-military government in SVN. Lodge says no, no, yes.
13 May 64 Saigon to State 2203 14 May
McNamara sees Khanh in Saigon; they reach agreement on desirability of progress.
13-27 May 64 Saigon to State DTG 271200Z May
Forrestal of White House staff "negotiates" AID with GVN, gives GVN AID increases.
25 May 64 Memorandum to President
McGeorge Bundy recommends force against NVN as the only path to success.
27 May 64 State to Saigon 1251 18 Feb.
Sullivan distributes proposal for semi-encadrement of GVN as a necessary step for progress.
28-29 May 64 Saigon to State 2332 and 2338 28 May
MRC censures four "neutralist plot" generals that had been arrested in Khanh coup. Keeps Minh, as urged by Lodge.
30 May 64 CINCPAC to State 372 Jun
Rusk sees Khanh, leaves nothing to the imagination on possible US all-the-way commitment, stresses need for GVN unity.
2-3 Jun 64 Memo for the Record, Special Meeting on SE Asia. CINCPAC 000211 DTG 8 Jun and Memo for Secretary (State) "Highlights of Honolulu Conference" from W. P. Bundy DTG 3 Jun
Honolulu Conference. Conferees (include Rusk, McNamara, Lodge, Taylor and Westmoreland) agree on increased advisory effort, agree to refine plans for pressures on NVN.
4 Jun 64 Saigon to State 2405 4 Jun
Lodge hints to Khanh that USG will prepare US public opinion for actions against NVN.
29 Jun 64 COMUSMACV Command History 1964, p. 69
AID sets up sector adviser fund, with troika signoff to bypass GVN-Saigon.
30 Jun 64 COMUSMACV 011057Z Jul
US and GVN agree to joint planning for cross-border operations
8 Jul 64 Saigon to State 56 8 Jul
Ambassador Taylor presents his credentials to Khanh.
9 Jul 64 Saigon to State 65 9 Jul
Ambassador Taylor hears the complaints of civilian cabinet members.
17 Jul 64 Saigon to State 124 17 Jul
USOM starts periodic meetings with GVN's National Security Council.
19 Jul 64 Saigon to State 185 23 Jul
Khanh and Ky lobby publicly for cross-border operations and air strikes into Laos and NVN.
23 Jul 64 Saigon to State 185 23 Jul
Khanh presses Taylor for action, keeps up the lobbying.
24 Jul 64 Saigon to State 203 24 Jul
Khanh asks Taylor if he (Khanh) should resign; Taylor says no. Khanh asks for publicly stated US backing and gets it.
25 Jul 64 Saigon to State 232 27 Jul
Khanh promises to quit lobbying, reacts favorably to proposed joint planning for air strikes on NVN, and says he plans GVN reorganization.
2-4 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 269
Gulf of Tonkin incidents, US retaliation.
7 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 270
Khanh proclaims state of emergency, with press censorship.
8 Aug 64 COMUSMACV to CJNCPAC DTG 080715Z Aug
Westy and Khanh discuss joint planning, agree not to discuss combined command.
12 Aug 64 Saigon to State 393 12 Aug
Khanh's "reorganization" is a new constitution with military openly on top, and with Khanh President. Taylor sceptical, counsels caution.
16 Aug 64 Saigon to State 415 15 Aug
Khanh gets MRC approval of constitution after hurried USOM drafting assistance.
18 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 270-71
Ambassador Taylor firmly recommends plans for gradual pressures North to start 1 January contingent on improved GVN performance, or not contingent if things get bad enough. Suggests the package include Marines at Danang.
21-27 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 272-74
Student demonstrations followed by general rioting.
24 Aug 64 Saigon to State 542 24 Aug
Taylor advises Khanh to move fast on new cabinet.
25 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 274-75
One o'clock A.M. Taylor advises Khanh to make some concessions but keep constitution. Khanh does and riots continue. Khanh "resigns." Riots continue.
27 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 275-78
MRC revokes constitution, keeps Khanh now as member of temporary triumvirate (including Minh and Khiem). New HNC to be appointed.
29 Aug 64 State to Saigon 555 29 Aug
Paratroopers with bayonets restore order in Saigon.
6 Sep 64 Saigon to State 785 8 Sep
Taylor takes off on a trip to Washington. Recommends pressures on NVN to begin 1 December.
10 Sep 64 NSAM 314 10 Sep
Says strengthen GVN.
13 Sep 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 287-290; Saigon to State 836 13 Sep; Saigon to State 878 16 Sep
Abortive coup attempt temporarily captures Saigon. Ky and Thieu back Khanh, defeat coup forces.
20 Sep 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 290; Saigon to State 923 22 Sep; 936 23 Sep 937, 952, and 954 24 Sep; 985 29 Sep; and 1046 7 Oct.COMUSMACV to CJNCPAC DTG 031137Z Oct
Rhade tribesmen in 4 CIDG camps rebel against GVN.
24 Sep 64 Saigon to State 938 24 Sep
The new HNC begins deliberations to write a constitution.
30 Sep 64 NYTimes Articles
W. Bundy predicts publicly that bombing NVN would cut down the threat to GVN in a matter of months.
27 Oct 64 Saigon to State 1292 27 Oct; State to Saigon 944 29 Oct. Shaplen Lost Revolution, pp. 290-9
HNC finishes on time, surprises by naming Suu President, not Minh.
30 Oct 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 293; State to Saigon 978 1 Nov; CINCPAC to JCS DTG 020400Z Nov; Saigon to State 1382 2 Nov
Mortar attack on Bien Hoa airbase. State rejects Taylor's recommendation of immediate reprisal raid on NVN.
11 Nov 64 Saigon to State 1452 and 1460 10 Nov
MRC publishes military reorganization without MACV review; MACV protests and MRC withdraws it for changes.
26 Nov 64 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 0260945Z Nov
Westmoreland slaps Ky down just before apparent coup attempt. Taylor is in Washington.
7 Dec 64 Embassy to State Airgram A-468 15 Dec
Taylor, just back from Washington with fresh guidance, presents GVN with a candid statement of its failures and couples demands for progress in stated areas to promises of US escalation.
8-20 Dec 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 294-95
Student and Buddhist demonstrations against Huong government and growing crisis.
20 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1869, 1870, and 1874 20 Dec; MACV to CINCPAC rec'd NMCC 200816Z Dec
Khanh and Generals disregard Taylor's protests, dissolve HNC and arrest opposition; "Young Turks" (Ky, Thieu, Thi and Cang) consolidate their dominance by creating a small Armed Forces Council (AFC) as the top governing body. Taylor reads them the riot act.
21 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1881 21 Dec
Taylor asks Khanh to resign and leave the country.
23 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1914 23 Dec; 1929 and 1930 24 Dec
Young Turks attack Taylor publicly, and privately seek his recall.
24 Dec 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 295-97
Taylor tells press that Khanh has outstayed his usefulness.
25 Dec 64 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 229
Vietnamese JGS issues Directive A-B 139, at MACV request, on how RVNAF should be employed to improve pacification program
7 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2081 7 Jan 2089 8 Jan 2102 9 Jan
AFC Generals decide to give way by restoring civilian government under a new name (i.e. without HNC) leaving Suu-Huong combination in.
9 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 297-98
With Taylor's reluctant concurrence, the AFC announces the 7 January decision.
11 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2112 and 212011 Jan
US and GVN publicly patch up relations. Young Turks will enter cabinet
12 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 298-99
New demonstrations begin, demanding Huong's resignation.
14 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2155 14 Jan
Khanh shows Taylor a new cabinet list; Taylor tries to slow him down.
18 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2176 18 Jan
Khanh gives Taylor completed cabinet list and schedules installation for the next day.
19 Jan 65 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 191235Z Jan
Khanh tries to reassure Westmoreland on military repercussions of tying up some generals in the cabinet; then Khanh suddenly "postpones" cabinet installation.
19-24 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 298-99
Buddhist demonstrations build up, including sacking of USIS buildings in Saigon and Hue. Buddhist merchants respond to campaign to boycott Americans. Buddhists demand military take-over.
25 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2276 and 2283 25 Jan
Khanh tells Deputy Ambassador Alex Johnson that Huong and Suu want to resign and let the military take over. Johnson says no.
27 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 299-302; Saigon to State 2322 27 Jan; State to Saigon 1542 27 Jan and 1565 29 Jan
AFC topples Suu-Huong government, openly puts Khanh back in charge. JCS approves COMUSMACV request to use US jet aircraft in a strike role in-country in emergencies, subject to Embassy approval in each instance.
3-4 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2399 4 Feb
McGeorge Bundy visits Saigon, has tea with Khanh and the generals.
7-12 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 305-6 State to Saigon 1438 6 Feb; Saigon to State 2426 7 Feb 2495 11 Feb
Flaming Dart bombings in North Vietnam. All US dependents ordered to leave Vietnam.
7 Feb 65 Memorandum to the President
McGeorge Bundy says the military are the backbone of the country, that the Buddhists should be constructive, and that Vietnam needs a social revolution.
16 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2617 16 Feb
After two false starts, AFC selects Quat to form a new cabinet.
18 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 306-7
Quat cabinet installed; Buddhists acquiesce.
19 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 307-12
New coup groups seizes Saigon, then bows to superior AFC force.
20 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 307-12
AFC votes Khanh out.
24 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2685 20 Feb; 2698 22 Feb; 2720 23 Feb; 2731 24 Feb; and COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 241600Z Feb
Khanh goes abroad; Rolling Thunder rolls.
27 Feb 65 Saigon to State 278727 Feb
USOM resumes action level meetings with GVN; both sides agreed to prepare proposals for accelerating pacification and to go forward together with effective execution.
28 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2800 1 Mar
State issues White Paper on Vietnam.
6 Mar 65 COMUSMACV Command History, 1965, p. 132
MACV gives budget guidelines to RVN Ministry of Defense.
8 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2991 8 Mar
Quat discusses sensitive combined-command issue with Taylor.
8-9 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2908 1 Mar
Two battalions of Marines land at Danang.
24 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2065 24 Mar
Ambassador Taylor formulates a 41-point program for stability and pacification.
26 Mar 65 COMUSMACV Commander's Estimate of the Situation 26 Mar
Westmoreland issues Commander's Estimate of the Situation, which treads lightly on combined-command issue.
1-2 Apr 65 NSAM 328 6 Apr
Taylor (in Washington) talks to President and NSC, who approve Taylor's 41-point program and General Johnson's 21 recommendations.
15 Apr 65 Saigon to State 3419 17 Apr
Taylor objects to proposed Peers mission.
15 Apr 65 DOD 9164 15 Apr
The 7-point message from State/Defense tells Saigon to encadre RVNAF/GVN and to expect additional US forces, with new missions.
17 Apr 65 Saigon to State 3421, 3422 and 3423 17 Apr
Taylor objects to 7-point message, and Westmoreland objects to encadrement.
19-20 Apr 65 ASD McNaughton's Minutes of Honolulu Meeting 23 Apr
Honolulu Conference meets to resolve disagreements on 7-point message. Conferees agree on force increase and medcap, scuttle encadrement, and agree on studies of combined command.
5 May 65 Saigon to State 3097 and 3100 26 Mar; and 2140 31 Mar
AFC dissolves itself.
20-21 May 65 Saigon to State 3878 25 May
Abortive coup attempt alleged by GVN, though not firmly confirmed by US observers.
May 22-12 June 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 342-45
Suu-Quat disagreement on cabinet changes.
27 May 65 Joint State/ Defense 80466 27 May
State/Defense message agrees to defer approaching GVN on combined command.
12 Jun 65 COMUSMACV MAC 1-3, 19912 to CINCPAC DTG 120828Z Jun
Westmoreland presses for commitment of US forces to offensive operations, has already planned it hand-in-hand with our Vietnamese ally.
12 Jun 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 345-46. Saigon to State 4065 4 Jun, 4119 9 Jun, 4156 11 Jun, 4190 14 Jun, 4312 21 Jun
Generals fire Suu and Quat, create National Leadership Council of ten Generals chaired by Thieu, and make Ky Prime Minister. Taylor reluctantly acquiesces to Ky's appointment.
22 Jun 65 Memorandum from Vincent Puritano to James P. Grant 25 Sep 65, "Joint Provincial Sign-off Authority," with attachment
Troika sign-off abandoned.
1 Jul 65 SD PM 1 Jul 65 Sec 8B
SecDef Memorandum to the President recommends more aid for Vietnam.
1 Jul 65 Saigon to State 14, 2 Jul
Taylor writes a letter to Ky asking him to support constructive USOM/GVN consultations on economic matters and the port.
8 Jul 65 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 080020Z Jul
MACV and RVNAF agree on coordination and cooperation, and do not discuss combined command.
20 Jul 65 SD PM 20 Jul para. 8B
SecDef Memorandum to the President recommends U.S. veto on major GVN commanders and on GVN statements about going North.
28 Jul 65 Saigon to State 266, 25 Jul
USOM and GVN agree on AID package with no leverage.
15-26 Aug 65 Saigon to State 626, 26 Aug
Lodge replaces Taylor, takes charge of the Embassy. Ky tells Lodge the U.S. forces should hold strategic points so that RVNAF can concentrate on pacification, and says that the Chieu Hoi Program is a waste of money.
28 Aug 65 Saigon to State 671, 28 Aug
Thi tells Lodge he can govern better than Ky can.
22 Sep 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 240
COMUSMACV presents proposals for revitalization of Hop Tac to USOM.
1 Oct 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 240
MACV begins four-month experiment with sector and subsector advisor funds.
3 Nov 65 SecDef DPM
McNamara urges more active role for U.S. advisors.
15 Dec 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 241
JGS Directive AB 140 gives GVN military plan to support 1966 Rural Construction program.
24 Dec 65 State to Saigon 1855 31 Dec
Beginning of 37 day bombing pause and peace offensive.
6-8 Feb 66 State to Saigon 2252 4 Feb "Vietnam: Honolulu Conference Summary of Goals and Status of Activity," 30 Mar
Honolulu Conference to press GVN for action on pacification and on political
and economic reforms. Thieu and Ky obligingly agreed to U.S. demands. Vice-President
Humphrey flies with them back to Saigon.
10 Mar 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 244 and passim; Saigon to State 3260 and 3265 9 Mar
Ky persuades military leadership to approve his plan to exile I Corps Commander, General Thi. Thi resigns.
12 Mar 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 245; and Saigon 3333 14 Mar
Annamese Buddhists and students begin demonstration in Danang and Hue.
16 Mar 66 Saigon to State 3381 17 Mar
Thi permitted to return to Danang to quiet demonstrations.
March 1966 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 510 CJNCUSARPAC 240312Z May
PROVN Study completed.
3 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824
Ky declares Danang to be in Communist hands.
5 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824; MACV toCINCPAC DTG 051125Z Apr; Saigon to State 29865 Apr
MACV airlifts two ARVN Ranger battalions to Danang. 1st ARVN division commander declares for the Struggle Movement; U.S. advisors withdrawn.
6 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824
Non-essential U.S. civilians removed from Hue.
8 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824
GVN flies two additional Ranger battalions to Danang after MACV refused to do so.
9 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824
U.S. protest to Struggle Movement leaders induces them to pull back howitzers. Two hundred U.S. and third country civilians evacuated from Danang.
12 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 324; Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256
GVN withdraws its Ranger battalions from Danang. Relative quiet returns.
14 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 324; Kahin and Lewis The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256
The Directorate promises elections for a constituent assembly with 3-5 months. Buddhists and others call off demonstrations.
4 May 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256; Saigon to State 4368 4 May and 4605 15 May
Ky publicly reneges on promises to hold August elections, says perhaps they will be possible by October. Lodge absent on long trip to Washington. Porter follows State guidance closely.
15 May 66 State to Saigon 3448, 3449, 3450 and 3451 15 May
GVN airlifts troops to Danang and Hue to quell new disorders. U.S. withholds airlift protests GVN failure to consult, withdraws advisors from both sides.
16 May 66 Saigon to State 4627 and 4635 16 May
USMC General Walt threatens to use U.S. jets to shoot down any VNAF aircraft used against dissident ARVN units. The threat succeeds.
21 May 66 State to Saigon 3575 21 May
Lodge returns, tells Ky to be conciliatory, use force with restraint.He does around Saigon pogodas, but naked force in Hue produces self-immolations. U.S. evacuates its consulate and other facilities there.
27 May 66 Saigon to State 4837 21 May 4849 and 4878 23 May, 4943 and 4963 25 May, 4966 26 May, 5037 27 May, 5073 28 May, 5178 1 Jun, and 1947 7 Jul; Kahin and Lewis ibid.
Ky and Thi meet; latter offered unspecified ARVN job.
31 May 66 Saigon to State 5163 and 5178 1 Jun
Ky meets leaders of the Buddhist Institute, offers civilian participation in an enlarged Directorate. They appear conciliatory and agree to appointment of General Lam as Commander of I Corps.
1 Jun 66 NYTimes Article
Student mob burns U.S. consulate and consular residence in Hue.Struggle Movement fills the streets with Buddhist altars.
5 Jun 66 NYTimes Article
Electoral Law Commission presents its proposals.
18 Jun 66 NYTimes Article
Piaster devalued to official rate of 80.
18 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 257
Anniversary of Thieu-Ky government proclaimed a GVN holiday; one-day general strike called by the Buddhists.
19 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, pp. 258-59
Directorate schedules elections for the Constituent Assembly for 11 September.
22 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 257.
Conditions quiet in I Corps; GVN steadily regaining control.
8-9 Jun 66 NYTimes Article
Secretary McNamara visits Honolulu for talks with CINCPAC.
31 Jul 66 State to Saigon 169429 Jul 2564 3 Aug
Thi goes into exile.
13-14 Aug 66 NYTimes Article
General Westmoreland reports to the President at his Texas ranch.
24 Aug 66 "Roles and Missions" Study 24 Aug
"Roles and Missions" Study to the Embassy.
11 Sep 66 NYTimes Article
Constituent Assembly elections.
4 Oct 66 Saigon to State 7616 4 Oct, 7732 and 7752 5 Oct, 6043 7 Oct, 8681
17 Oct, 8749 18 Oct, 8833 19 Oct, 8839 20 Oct. State to Saigon 66781 14 Oct
and 68339 18 Oct
GVN cabinet crisis brews as six civilian ministers, the only Southern members threaten to resign.
5 Oct 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 526
JGS chairs a high level joint conference to develop a schedule of action to implement road development.
6 Oct 66 State to Saigon 49294 16 Sep 49399 17 Sep Saigon to State 6997 27 Sep State to Saigon 58092 30 Sep 61330 6 Oct 58280 2 Oct
Hanh and Komer reach vague and general agreement on GVN budget and financial matters.
10-13 Oct 66 NYTimes Article
Secretary McNamara, accompanied by newly appointed Under Secretary of State Katzenback visits Saigon. Saigon Port congestion grows worse.
14 Oct 66 SecDef Memorandum to the President
In PM McNamara urges shift of ARVN to pacification, change of US responsibility to MACV, "drastic" reform of GVN.
19 Oct 66 Saigon to State 7616 4 Oct, 7732 and 7752 5 Oct, 8681 17 Oct, 8749 18 Oct, 8833 19 Oct, and 8839 20 Oct, State to Saigon 66781 14 Oct, 68339 18 Oct
Cabinet crisis patched up at least until after Manila Conference.
24-25 Oct 66 NYTimes Article Texts of Communique and Declarations Signed at Close of Manila Conference 26 Oct
Manila conference of the seven nations aiding South Vietnam. Basic problem is still to get GVN commitment to action on nonmilitary measures.
1 Nov 66 Saigon to State 10312 7 Nov, 1195829 Nov
Promised GVN National Reconciliation proclamation fails to appear; instead only vague reference in a speech on other subjects. Ky promised a NR speech and proclamation in "early December."
2 Nov 66 Saigon to State 9963 3 Nov
Komer and Porter in Saigon reach agreement with GVN on foreign exchange.
2 Nov 66 Saigon to State 7815 6 Oct and 8161 1 Oct
Ky promises a tough decree on port management.
18 Nov 66 Saigon to State 11249 18 Nov 11431 21 Nov State to Saigon 93314 28 Nov
General Quang, deposed IV Corps Commander, appointed to head the new cabinet portfolio "Planning and Development." Concern continues in Washington over AID diversions.
21 Nov 66 COMUSMACV msg 50331 21 Nov
In a policy statement, COMUSMACV tells advisors that deficiencies of non-compliance are to be resolved within RVNAF channels.
29 Nov 66 IvfACV Commanders Conference 20 Nov
Washington reminds the Mission that GVN has not yet delivered on its Manila promises about NR, pacification, and land reform; suggests Lodge press Ky.
2 Dec 66 Saigon to State 12321 2 Dec
Saigon declines to suggest formation of a joint inspectorate general to follow up AID diversions.
December 1966 Saigon to State 14009 22 Dcc, 12733 7 Dec, 12908 and 12950
1966 9 Dec, 13046 10 Dcc, 14009 and 13023 22 Dec, 14112 23 Dec,
14230 26 Dec
Further GVN-USOM negotiations on the dollar balance problem.
8 Dec 66 COMUSMACV to CJNCPAC 080245Z Dec
Ceremonial signing of the 1967 Combined Campaign Plan by COMUSMACV and Chief, JGS.
December 1966 Saigon to State 15569 13 Jan 67
Saigon Port congestion grows worse during GVN port commander's "great barge" experiment. State authorizes drastic action which Saigon declines to use.
21 Dec 66 COMUSMACV History 1966 pp. 471-72
Chinh-Hunnicutt affair terminated with transfer of the U.S. adviser outside the theatre and issuance of a memorandum by the division commander stating that the past must be forgotten.
January 1967 NYTimes Article
U Thant advances proposals for peace. President promises careful evaluation. Ky forsees negotiations nearing. Lodge predicts sensational military gains in 1967.
2 Jan 67 Saigon to State 14725 2 Jan
U.S. Mission estimates GVN inflationary budget gap at 14-20 billion piasters.
7 Jan 67 NYTimes Article
Ky signs law providing for spring elections in 1000 villages and 4000 hamlets.
13 Jan 67 Saigon to State 15569 13 Jan
Saigon resists Washington suggestion for complete MACV take over of Saigon port.
20 Jan 67 Saigon to State 16037 20 Jan
GVN issues Cy 1967 budget of 75 billion piasters without prior consultation with U.S.
23 Jan 67 State to Saigon 123223 21 Jan
Renewed economic negotiations forseen with Hanh in Washington.
24 Jan 67 NYTimes Article
JGS Chief of Staff Vien appointed to replace corrupt Defense Minister Co, who is informed on visit to Taiwan not to return.
20 Feb 67 Saigon to State 18646 22 Feb
GVN agrees to work on an interim memorandum of understanding to include implementation of the previous November's foreign exchange agreements. Komer threatens to reduce CIP; Hanh hints at a raise in the piaster rate.
24 Feb 67 NYTimes Article State to Saigon 140250 19 Feb Saigon to State18303 18 Feb
Ky postpones U.S. visit to assure free and fair elections.
10 Mar 67 Saigon to State 19902 9 Mar, 20053 10 Mar, 20201 13 Mar, State to Saigon 153512 11 Mar
U.S. announces military jurisdiction over American civilians, thus skirts the problems of corrupt GVN justice and status of forces.
17 Mar 67 State to Saigon 157064 17 Mar
Another "Interim Agreement" reached with GVN on foreign exchange.
19 Mar 67 NYTimes Article
Constituent Assembly unanimously approves new constitution. Next day it is unanimously approved by the military junta and a copy presented to President Johnson at Guam meetings between top level GVN-US leadership.
20-21 Mar 67 NYTimes Article Joint Communique Guam Meetings 21 Mar
Guam meetings between top level GVN-US leadership. President Johnson introduces the new U.S. team in Saigon; Bunker to be Ambassador, Locke his deputy, Komer the new pacification czar within the MACV framework.
6 Apr 67 NYTimes Article
General Abrams appointed Deputy to COMUSMACV.
18 Apr 67 Saigon to State 23376 18 Apr
GVN issues a National Reconciliation proclamation that proves to be a mirage; it emphasizes solidarity vice reconciliation.
25 Apr 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 23749 23 Apr
Lodge completes his stint, leaves Saigon.
27 Apr 67 NYTimes Article
General Westmoreland confers with LBJ in Washington, addresses Congress the next day.
7 May 67 COMUSMACV MAC J 341 15064 to C1NCPAC 071035Z May
General Westmoreland reports on his command project to improve RVNAF performance, offers $7800 saving in cut-off of MAP support to two VNN fishing boats as sign of progress. ARVN evaluation only partially completed.
12 May 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 25554 12 May
Premier Ky announces he will seek the Presidency. Thieu-Ky rivalry intensifies.
20 Jun 67 Saigon to State 28409 20 Jun
Thieu and Ky invited to informal luncheon hosted by Bunker at which unity of the Armed Forces is discussed.
22 Jun 67 State to Saigon 213380 22 Jun
Mission estimates rate of inflation in SVN to be 45-50% per year.
29-30 Jun 67 Saigon to State 29258 30 Jun
The Armed Forces Council of 50-60 officers holds two day continuous session from which emerges the Thieu-Ky ticket.
7-8 Jul 67 NYTimes Article OSD(SA) Memorandum 25 Jul, "SecDef VN Trip Briefings"
Secretary McNamara makes his 9th visit to SVN.
17 Jul 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 1381 to 19 Jul 1475 20 Jul
CA approves Thieu-Ky ticket; rejects the threatening Big Minh candidacy.
24-25 Jul 67 NYTimes Article
Clifford-Taylor mission receives Saigon briefings.
12 Aug 67 NYTimes Article
Army C/S General H. K. Johnson reports we are winning, latest 45,000 man troop increase to be the last.
26 Aug 67 AmEmb Saigon to SecDef, Blueprint for Viet-Nam, 26 Aug
Mission completes "Blueprint for Vietnam."
3 Sep 67 NYTimes Article
Elections for President and Senate.
I. AFTERMATH OF THE DIEM COUP
First Half of 1964
A. THE INHERITANCE FROM 1963
The top ruling body of the Government of Vietnam at the end of 1963 was a Military Revolutionary Council of twelve generals, under the chairmanship of the affable and popular but weak General Duong Van "Big" Minh. The Council governed through an all-civilian cabinet headed by Premier Tho, having forbade all military officers to engage in politics. A Council of Notables served as a pseudo-parliament, with a purely advisory role; it included well-known Vietnamese politicians, but could not claim support of a broad popular base or the main political forces in Vietnam. While Premier Tho's previous connection with the Diem government was now a political liability, there was a shortage of national figures who were not tarred with this brush one way or another.
On the U.S. side, General Harkins, COMUSMACV, who had long been known to be pro-Diem, was clearly on his way out, although his departure was to be delayed until the middle of 1964. Ambassador Lodge had replaced Nolting just before the Diem coup, and was held in that cautious respect appropriate to the widespread belief among Vietnamese that he had engineered it.
In the last weeks of 1963, the U.S. government reassessed the progress of the counterinsurgency effort and the policy options. Plans for phased withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. advisers by end-1963 went through the motions by concentrating rotations home in December and letting strength rebound in the subsequent two months. A realistic appraisal by Secretary McNamara showed that the VC were continuing to gain steadily, especially in the Delta. U.S. policy continued to be to provide U.S. resources and personnel to the extent necessary.
The tone of USG internal documents and of its dealings with GVN was that of a benevolent big brother anxious to see little brother make good on his own- but with the benefit of extensive advice. U.S. pressure induced the GVN to break up the palace guard and to move coup-protection Ranger units out into the countryside, though it turned out that other units stayed near Saigon for this purpose. A proposal to put all ammunition stocks in Vietnam under U.S. control surfaced in November, only to sink without a trace. There was gentle pressure to persuade the GVN to allow USOM economics staffs to share the offices of their counterparts, and to let them get involved extensively in GVN budgeting. The USIS and Ambassador Lodge tried to persuade General Minh to travel around the countryside to build a following and convince the people that the government cared about them, but with little success. The overall USG appraisal was that the GVN was weak and drifting at the top level, failing to set firm national policies and to issue detailed instructions, and that at lower levels it was in complete turmoil because of the turnover of personnel following the coup and because of the lack of firm national leadership.
Whether to push the GVN harder was a subject of disagreement between State and Ambassador Lodge. The State view was that the GVN must prove its resolution to adopt economic, social and political measures to support the effort against the VC, and must move toward self-support. Moreover, State said:
We will obscure the actual need for GVN adjustments if we yield too easily at this stage to GVN pressure for more commercial import aid.
In contrast, Lodge said it was essential
to provide some increase in overall level of economic aid . . . It is in my view politically unacceptable and psychologically impossible to tell Big Minh that he is going to get less than Diem.
Besides wanting to go easy on the GVN on aid leverage, he opposed pressure for early elections. Lodge's position is clear from the Honolulu Conference (November 1963) Report, which stated:
The Ambassador . . . considers it essential that the U.S. not press the new government unduly. He stated that they are in a most delicate state, and are not ready for a system which replaces governments by elective process rather than by violence; that this is beyond their horizon at this time and we should not seek to recreate in Vietnam our image of the democratic ideal.
Early in January, 1964, Lodge restated this view in a cable:
It is obvious that [the Vietnamese generalsi are all we have got and that we must try as hard to make them into successful politicians as we are trying to make them into successful military men.
Behind these differences within the USG and between the USG and the GVN lay a certain lack of confidence in future behavior. Some in the U.S. were concerned that the GVN might drift toward a "neutralism" like that of Laos. At the same time, the GVN feared the U.S. would negotiate behind its back or force it to accept an unfavorable settlement. These concerns made it appropriate for the President to issue his New Year's greeting to the GVN:
As we enter the New Year of 1964, I want to wish you, your revolutionary government, and your people full success in the long and arduous war which you are waging so tenaciously and bravely against the Viet Cong forces directed and supported by the Communist regime in Hanoi....Our aims are, I know, identical with yours: to enable your government to protect its people from the acts of terror perpetrated by Communist insurgents from the North. As the forces of your government become increasingly capable of dealing with this aggression, American military personnel in South Viet-Nam can be progressively withdrawn.
The United States Government shares the view of your government that "neutralization" of South Viet-Nam is unacceptable. As long as the Communist regime in North Viet-Nam persists in its aggressive policy, neutralization of South Viet-Nam would only be another name for a Communist take-over. Peace will return to your country just as soon as the authorities in Hanoi cease and desist from their terrorist aggression.
In keeping with the attitude of concern but not alarm about the GVN's conduct of the war, SecState's cable transmitting the President's message directed Lodge to offer the following eleven points of confidential advice on behalf of the President:
1. It is vitally important to act now to reverse the trend of the war as rapidly as possible.
2. We trust that personnel changes are now virtually complete and that both military commanders and province chiefs can now get down to the job at hand.
3. We hope that General Minh can designate a Chief of the Joint General Staff and a commander of the III Corps who will have no other responsibilities and can devote themselves exclusively to these mammoth tasks.
4. We assume that, as General Don promised Secretary McNamara, the GVN will make available sufficient troops in the six key provinces in the III Corps to give its forces the necessary numerical superiority.
5. We have been glad to learn of the stress which General Minh places on small-unit actions, particularly in the Mekong Delta. We hope that equal stress will be placed on night actions, both for ambushing Viet Cong and for relieving villages under attack. To win the support of the population it needs to be emphatically demonstrated that the Viet Cong are being beaten precisely at their own game.
6. We consider it extremely important that the necessary civil-military coordinating machinery for clear-and-hold operations, followed by an effective program to give the villages protection and security, be established in Saigon.
7. It is likewise extremely important that program directives be issued at an early stage by the central government to lower echelons for proper implementation of all aspects of the program for giving villagers protection.
8. We also urge early revitalization of the amnesty program.
9. We are encouraged by the exploratory talks which the Vietnamese Government has held with Cambodian Government officials for improving relations between the two countries. We hope that both Governments can proceed to actual negotiations for the settlement of their bilateral problems.
10. We accept with pleasure General Minh's invitation to set up an American brain-trust to work with his government and we are prepared to furnish any personnel needed for this purpose.
11. General Minh can also be sure that he has the complete support of the United States Government as the leader of Viet-Nam. We believe he can magnetically rally the Vietnamese people if he will really try to do so. He should be told leadership is an essential political ingredient of victory such as was the case with Magsaysay in the Philippines.
In this overall context the U.S. had already moved discreetly toward greater involvement in Vietnamese administration at lower levels. Late in 1963, the USG and GVN agreed on a "Decentralization of Action" package. Using AID de facto control of AID commodities to the province level (even though they passed to Vietnamese ownership at the dock), U.S. advisers could assure that no AID commodities came out to the province without their consent. They could and did extend this control to cover releases of these commodities from province warehouses. U.S. officials controlled the distribution of AID commodities because they controlled all Saigon warehouses set aside for these commodities, even though the warehouses, like the commodities, belonged to the Vietnamese.
Among the many problems that were to keep recurring was that of freedom of the press. Following an initial honeymoon period after the coup, trouble broke out between GVN and the U.S. press corps. This reached a climax with the temporary barring of the New York Times from Vietnamese distribution channels when it ran a story reporting dissension among the Vietnamese Generals. In general, Lodge sided with GVN on this issue, as shown in his reported views at the November, 1963, Honolulu Conference:
The U.S. press should be induced to leave the new government alone. They have exerted great influence on events in Vietnam in the past, and can be expected to do so again. Extensive press criticism, at this juncture, could be disastrous.
On January 1, 1964, there were 15,914 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam. Fewer than 2,000 of these were advisors to RVNAF, but the advisor structure extended down to ARVN line battalions, and advisors accompanied combat units on operations. The MAP budget for South Vietnam in FY 1964 was $175 million, although it was expected that an additional $12.5 million would be required before the end of the year.
In summary, the USG's decisions near the end of 1963 started modest changes in our Vietnam programs. Program levels held even, and earlier hopes of immediate phasedown faded. The USG moved toward more involvement in Vietnamese day-to-day administration, particularly at the province level. The move was gentle, and stopped far short of a takeover; nothing of the sort was contemplated at that time. The USG was sceptical of GVN's leadership and administration at all levels, and continued to offer extensive and detailed advice, but had no drastic policy changes in mind.
B. THE FIRST MINH GOVERNMENT GOES DOWN, JANUARY, 1964
The year began with increasing Vietnamese criticism of the Minh government. It had done little to gain popularity in the country, and felt the sting of accusations of discrimination from both Buddhists and Catholics. Buddhists attacked Prime Minister Tho, who was Vice President under Diem. Catholics accused the GVN of having gone too far to placate the Buddhists in reaction to repressions under Diem. There were also accusations of secret negotiations with the French to neutralize South Vietnam.
A spate of news stories about U.S. advisor disgust over ARVN's timid attitude toward combat provoked a cable from State to Saigon asking the Ambassador to prevent such stories in the future. (This standard phrase meant to tell the advisors to stop talking to the press.) Thus the Department aligned itself with Lodge's view of bad press stories, which emphasized news silence rather than corrective action.
The Lodge idea of making politicians out of the members of the Military Revolutionary Council translated into a plan for them to send out carefully watched political action teams. (He also suggested ways for the generals to improve their speech-making style.) For example, he proposed there should be three teams of eight men each in each district of Long An Province. He pressed the MRC to produce a program along these lines with priority attention to security. "The workers would be technically government employees, but most of the work they will do would be what we would call political work." On the U.S. role, he said, "U.S. personnel should inspect, without looking as though they were doing it, and see to it that a very high standard is set."
When discussing general objectives, Lodge and his team got on smoothly with GVN. In a meeting with all the top members of General Minh's government early in January to discuss the eleven points transmitted with President Johnson's New Year's greeting, they persuaded Lodge that they were moving effectively on all points except number 8, relating to amnesty. This one evoked little enthusiasm, but they said they had it under study. The USOM team that discussed economic policy matters with GVN economists with the objective of limiting the GVN budget deficit and drawing down its dollar balances found them willing to talk frankly and to examine alternatives freely. GVN was also willing to set up joint working committees to analyze the budget, the import program, and agricultural policy. However, the U.S. team found that getting jointly agreed bench mark data and a clear line of authority for policy actions "may yet prove difficult."
Moreover, a snag developed on the previously agreed plan to extend U.S. advisors to district level. In a one hour meeting January 10 between Ambassador Lodge and General Minh and other top Vietnamese officers and officials, General Kim stressed the extreme undesirability of Americans going into districts and villages. It would play into the hands of the VC and make the Vietnamese officials look like lackeys. There would be a colonial flavor to the whole pacification effort. Minh added that even in the worst and clumsiest days of the French they never went into the villages or districts. Others present went on to add that they thought the USIS should carry out its work strictly hand-in-hand with the province chief. When Lodge pointed out that most of the USIS teams were Vietnamese, Minh said, "Yes, but they are considered the same as Vietnamese who worked for the Japanese and the same as the Vietnamese who drive for Americans and break traffic laws." General Minh went on to complain about the U.S. hand in the training of Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. This was bad because they then became American type soldiers, not Vietnamese soldiers. Later in the discussion, General Minh complained that the ICA had made direct contacts with the above groups. "We simply cannot govern this country if this kind of conduct continues," he said.
In reply to the report of this meeting, the Joint Chiefs of Staff cabled CINCPAC on January 14:
SecDef seriously concerned regarding . . . General Don's earlier agreement on district level advisors as well as Minh's assertion that no advisors are desired beyond the regimental level. The Secretary considers, and JCS agree, that this would be an unacceptable rearward step. State is preparing a response . . . in which SecDef and JCS will have a hand.
The State guidance to Lodge on January 17 said:
We deem it essential to retain advisors down to sector and battalion level as we now have them, and consider establishment of subsector advisors as highly desirable improvement from our viewpoint. Such advisors are best assurance that the U.S. material we supply is used to full advantage. Beyond this, we cannot give adequate justification for our great involvement in Vietnam . . . if we are to be denied access to the facts.
However, State indicated a willingness to limit subsector advisors to an experimental program in a few districts, as suggested by Col. Thang, with a review of the question to follow a few weeks later. State suggested that General Minh's erroneous statement regarding U.S. training of Cao Dai and Hoa Hao deserved prompt refutation. "It is suggested Harkins accompany you to meetings where military matters may come up."
In contrast to their reticence about extending U.S. advisors to lower levels, Minh's government had volunteered the idea in December of a group of high-level U.S. advisors to work with the top levels of the GVN. The State Department replied enthusiastically:
In elaboration of the brain trust concept suggested by General Minh and accepted by President Johnson (DepTel 1000), our view is that high-level advisors may be essential key to ingredient most sorely lacking in GVN: Efficiency and urgency of action. Minh's invitation to establish brain trust and readiness to accept U.S. advice and cooperate . . . should be seized upon . . . We have in mind advisors working directly with VN officials on day-to-day implementation of agreed policy lines. They would of course be completely responsible to you for policy guidance and would in no sense supplant your policy role with top GVN officials nor would they infringe direct and comprehensive military advisory role of COMUSMACV . . . We recognize such advisors must operate behind the scenes and that their persistent prodding must be done with great tact....
The guidance continued that the department specifically had in mind the assignment of three experienced full-time advisors (and senior assistants) to work with top levels of GVN. One senior FSO would work with Minh and Tho on broad program implementation, one ranking AID official would be with GVN counterinsurgency and economic officials, one high-ranking military would work with the Minister of Defense and JGS. Both advisors and assistants would have office space in a GVN building close to the office they would advise. Authority was given to discuss this with GVN. Lodge was told to ask them whom they would like for these positions.
Meanwhile, political tension increased. Then on January 28, General Nguyen Khanh told his U.S. advisor and friend, Col. Jasper Wilson, that a group of generals, including Minh and Don, were plotting with the French to stage a pro-neutralist "coup" by January 31. He asked whether the U.S. would support him in staging a counter-coup which would assure a stepped-up GVN effort against the Viet Cong. There is no record of an official U.S. reply before Khanh resolved to act. The evening of January 29, Khanh told Wilson he would take over the GVN at 4 a.m. the next morning. Lodge informed State, which directed him to keep a hands-off attitude and to make it clear that the USG had nothing to do with the coup. It also directed Lodge to try to keep "Big Minh" in the government, at least as a figurehead. The next morning, right on schedule, Khanh took over.
C. THE USG ACCEPTS KHANH AND OPENS THE BIDDING AGAINST THE NORTH, FEBRUARY, 1964
Keeping Minh was to prove difficult. Khanh wanted to try four arrested generals for conspiring with the French to neutralize SVN; and not only were these officers Minh's close friends, but Khanh said Minh was a party to the plot also. The affair was to drag on into September, adding to the political uncertainties and thus to the paralysis of government.
To improve government stability, Khanh broadened his government to make the cabinet more representative of all the political and religious groups, and expanded the MRC to include 17 generals and 32 other officers. (By the end of March the MRC had 53 members.) Partly at USOM urging, General Minh travelled around the country and reportedly gained popularity. The Council of Notables continued in its advisory role.
Following the coup, the USG reopened the question of extending U.S. advisors into the districts. On February 7, 1964, the State Department told Saigon:
Inasmuch as recently displaced government evidently took no definitive position on extension U.S. advisory structure to subsector level .
we believe [the] Ambassador and General Harkins should raise this subject at early date with General Khanh. It might be useful to point out to Khanh that in addition reasons cited in our 1072, proposed extension U.S. advisory structure would represent expansion U.S. commitment to support GVN in war against VC.
State anticipated that Khanh might object but believed the possible harm would be more than counterbalanced by improved effectiveness of GVN operations in countryside:
....if Khanh will not accept subsector advisors on scale originally envisaged he should be urged to agree at least to their establishment on experimental basis in few districts in order to lay basis for determining whether there is any substantial ill effect in political sense from their presence.
Two weeks later COMUSMACV reported Vietnamese acceptance of district advisors in 13 districts of central Delta provinces. MACV J-3 had casually arranged it with General Khiem, apparently without any new top-level U.S./GVN discussion.
Khan's government was as receptive at first to top-level U.S. advice as it
was to advisors at lower levels, although the "brain trust" idea dropped
between the cracks. General Khanh made two requests for U.S. recommendations
of Vietnamese persons to be members of his cabinet. Ambassador Lodge furnished
a list from which a panel could be picked, but refused to make specific recommendations
for particular positions.
However, there was still no sign of effective GVN action, with or without U.S. advice. In mid-February JCS recommended a concentrated "counterinsurgency offensive" in Long An province to restore GVN control and to make that a model for other critical provinces. Deputy Ambassador Nes, in Lodge's absence, objected strongly; for he said such a proposal was based on the false assumptions that:
(1) Indigenous Communist insurgency with full external support could be defeated by an "offensive" of finite duration.
(2) GVN had adequate political cohesion, leadership, etc., to launch an offensive.
(3) The U.S. Mission had sufficient influence and control over GVN to persuade it to do so.
A February 19 report from COMUSMACV tells of continuing delay on pacification because the Dien Huang (or Dong Hien) had to be revalidated by the new government. A new plan was presented to General Khanh on the 17th and was to be called Chien Thang ("struggle for victory").
On February 21, 1964, Ambassador Lodge, Admiral Felt, and General Harkins saw Khanh with a proposal for creating a corps of civil administrators to take over the villages and hamlets as soon as pacification was complete. Khanh replied that he was just about to put into effect a program in the seven key provinces around Saigon which would provide the help of doctors, teachers, and government advisors from Saigon.
The subject of funds for ARVN and para-military pay increases came up because counterpart and PL 480 proceeds were U.S. contributions to the GVN budget. Washington requested additional facts and recommendations on how added U.S. input could best be channeled but advised that an outright U.S. grant would be highly undesirable. USOM and MAAG were told to analyze the situation and develop joint U.S./GVN action to meet the threat of inflation. Saigon replied that their analysis indicated (1) the budget deficits would probably be smaller than originally expected, and (2) the economic consequences were extremely difficult to predict. Economic Minister Oanh shunned any immediate "complex study" of the economic outlook because he was completely tied up with a series of important planning exercises for the government, and Oanh felt the potential cost of the pay raise (700 million piasters in 1964) could be absorbed within the present expenditure levels.
The Embassy reported being informed on February 21 by the Minister of National Economy of a threatened Saigon rice shortage. He requested that the U.S. stand ready to provide 40,000 tons under title II PL 480 for distribution to the Armed Forces. No U.S. commitments were made. Talks were exploratory.
Although the USG recognized the weaknesses of GVN, as noted at the end of Section 1, these merely aroused concern at the highest levels, not alarm. An extreme example of the emphasis of this period is found in W.W. Rostow's memorandum to the Secretary of State dated February 13, 1964. In a context emphasizing the importance of success in Vietnam to U.S. interests everywhere, Rostow wrote only about the role of North Vietnam in the insurgency, relegating South Vietnam's governmental problems (and those of Laos) to a vague clause in one sentence:
South Vietnam is in danger. The internal position in South Vietnam created by the systematic operations conducted from North Vietnam is precarious . . . although difficult tasks would still be faced in South Vietnam and Laos if North Vietnamese compliance with the 1962 agreement was enforced, we see no possibility of achieving short-run or long-run stability in the area until it is enforced."
In a cable to the President, Lodge expressed the same view. In addition, he compared the sanctions used against Diem with the sanctions being considered against the North, and thus by implication treated the fall of Diem as the end of the problem of good government in the South. Rightly or wrongly, the USG viewed North Vietnamese support and direction of the insurgency as the overriding problem, not merely in its public posture (as represented by President Johnson's new year's greeting to General Minh, quoted on page 3, above, and by the State White Paper, "Aggression From the North," issued February 27), but also in its internal policy discussions. Rostow's statement says that there is no way to achieve short-run or long-run stability in Southeast Asia without putting a stop to this support and direction, and gives short shrift to GVN reform. To the extent that this view was accepted, it tended to set the face of U.S. policy looking outward across South Vietnam's borders, putting South Vietnamese weaknesses in the background, mainly to be dealt with after the 1962 Agreement is enforced.
When the issue came up of the GVN's internal military and political failures, all agreed that these were serious, but there was seldom any action. Occasional references (e.g., Honolulu, 1964), and conversations with some of the principals, make it clear that the explanation for this lack of action was the fear that the GVN was a house of cards, which would collapse if we pushed too hard. This fear of GVN weakness proved to be a consistent source of strength to GVN in its negotiations with the Embassy and with the USG.
D. McNAMARA'S MARCH TRIP AND NSAM 288
For several days beginning on March 8, 1964, Secretary McNamara conferred with GVN leaders and with U.S. officials in Saigon. The trip reinforced his pessimistic views of the previous December. In his trip report to the President, he said:
C. The situation has unquestionably been growing worse, at least since September:
1. In terms of government control of the countryside, about 40% of the territory is under Viet Cong control or predominant influence. .
2. Large groups of the population are now showing signs of apathy and indifference, and there are some signs of frustration within the U.S. contingent:
a. The ARVN and paramilitary desertion rates, and particularly the latter, are high and increasing.
b. Draft dodging is high while the Viet Cong are recruiting energetically and effectively.
c. The morale of the hamlet militia and of the Self Defense Corps, on which the security of the hamlets depends, is poor and falling.
3. In the last 90 days the weakening of the government's position has been particularly noticeable. . .
4. The political control structure extending from Saigon down into the hamlets dissppeared following the November coup. Of the 41 incumbent province chiefs on November 1, 35 have been replaced (nine provinces had three province chiefs in three months; one province had four). Scores of lesser officials were replaced. Almost all major military commands have changed hands twice since the November coup. The faith of the peasants has been shaken by the disruptions in experienced leadership and the loss of physical security. In many areas, power vacuums have developed causing confusion among the people, and a rising rate of rural disorders.
D. The greatest weakness in the present situation is the uncertain viability of the Khanh government . . . After two coups, as was mentioned above, there has been a sharp drop in morale and organization, and Khanh has not yet been able to build these up satisfactorily. There is a constant threat of assassination or of another coup, which would drop morale and organization nearly to zero. Whether or not French nationals are actively encouraging such a coup, de Gaulle's position and the continuing pessimism and anti-Americanism of the French community in South Vietnam provide constant fuel to neutralist sentiment and the coup possibility. If a coup is set underway, the odds of our detecting and preventing it in the tactical sense are not high.
E. On the positive side, we have found many reasons for encouragement in the performance of the Khanh government to date. Although its top layer is thin, it is highly responsive to U.S. advice, and with a good grasp of the basic elements of rooting out the Viet Cong. Opposition groups are fragmentary, and Khanh has brought in at least token representation from many key groups hitherto left out. He is keenly aware of the danger of assassination or coup and is taking resourceful steps to minimize these risks. All told, these evidences of energy, comprehension, and decision add up to a sufficiently strong chance of Khanh's really taking hold in the next few months for us to devote all possible energy and resources to his support.
A memorandum of the conversation held at Joint General Staff (JGS) headquarters between Secretary McNamara and General Khanh, the Prime Minister, on March 12, shows that the U.S. pressed for a national service act. General Khanh agreeably assured the Secretary that the GVN was prepared to embark on a program of national mobilization. The principal question raised by the Vietnamese was the desirability of raising the Civil Guard to the same relative status as ARVN on such matter as salary, pensions, and survivor benefits at a total additional cost of 1 billion piasters. Mr. McNamara's reply that he thought this highly desirable was obviously interpreted by the Vietnamese as an agreement to underwrite much of the bill.
After considering various options in his reports, McNamara recommended the following basic U.S. posture:
1. The U.S. at all levels must continue to make it emphatically clear that we are prepared to furnish assistance and support for as long as it takes to bring the insurgency under control.
2. The U.S. at all levels should continue to make it clear that we fully support the Khanh government and are totally opposed to any further coups. The ambassador should instruct all elements, including the military advisors, to report intelligence information of possible coups promptly, with the decision to be made by the ambassador whether to report such information to Khanh....
3. We should support fully the Pacification Plan now announced by Khanh . . . This so-called "oil spot" theory is excellent, and its acceptance is a major step forward. However, it is necessary to push hard to get specific instructions out to the provinces, so that there is real unity of effort at all levels. .
Many of the actions described in succeeding paragraphs fit right into the framework of the Plan as announced by Khanh. Wherever possible, we should tie our urging of such actions to Khanh's own formulation of them, so that he will be carrying out a Vietnamese plan and not one imposed by the U.S.
4. To put the whole nation on a war footing . . . a new National Mobilization Plan (to include a National Service Law) should be urgently developed by the Country Team in collaboration with the Khanh Government.....
5. The strength of the Armed Forces (regular plus paramilitary) must be increased by at least 50,000 men. ...
6. A Civil Administrative Corps is urgently required to work in the provincial capitals, the district towns, the villages, and the hamlets....The U.S. should work with the GVN urgently to devise the necessary recruiting plans, training facilities, financing methods, and organizational arrangements, and should furnish training personnel at once, under the auspices of the AID Mission....
7. The paramilitary forces are now understrength and lacking in effectiveness. They must be improved and reorganized.
d. Additional U.S. personnel should be assigned to the training of all these paramilitary forces.
e. The National Police require special consideration. Their strength in the provinces should be substantially increased and consideration should be given to including them as part of an overall "Popular Defense Force....
8. An offensive guerrilla force should be created to operate along the border and in areas where VC control is dominant....
He recommended more military equipment for ARVN, which along with the expansion recommendations above, added up to a total cost to the U.S. of some $50-60 million in the first year and $30-40 million thereafter. He reasoned:
There were and are sound reasons for the limits imposed by present policy-the South Vietnamese must win their own fight; U.S. intervention on a larger scale, and/or GVN actions against the North, would disturb key allies and other nations; etc. In any case, it is vital that we continue to take every reasonable measure to assure success in South Vietnam. The policy choice is not an "either/or" between this course of action and possible pressures against the North; the former is essential without regard to our decision with respect to the latter. The latter can, at best, only reinforce the former.
The following are the actions we believe can be taken in order to improve the situation both in the immediate future and over a longer term period. To emphasize that a new phase has begun, the measures to be taken by the Khanh government should be described by some term such as "South Vietnam's Program for National Mobilization."
Two courses of action that Secretary McNamara considered and rejected were destined to come up time and again. With respect to the suggestion that the U.S. furnish an American combat unit to secure Saigon, the Secretary reported "It is the universal opinion of our senior people in Saigon, with which we concur, that this action would now have serious adverse psychological consequences and should not be undertaken."
On U.S. assumption of command, he said:
.....the judgments of all senior people in Saigon, with which we concur, is that the possible military advantages of such action would be far out-weighted by its adverse psychological impact. It would cut across the whole basic picture of the VN running their own war and lay us wide open to hostile propaganda both within SVN and outside. Moreoever the present responsiveness of the GVN to our advice-although it has not yet reduced military reaction time-makes it less urgent. At the same time MACV is steadily taking actions to bring U.S. and GVN operating staff closer together at all levels, including joint operating rooms at key command levels.
The President met with the National Security Council on March 17 and approved McNamara's recommendations; NSAM 288 of that date directed all agencies to execute the parts applying to them. To underline one point further, State cabled USOM Saigon on March 18 to make sure to report all rumors of coups heard by any U.S. personnel to the Ambassador at once; and it gave the Ambassador full reaction authority. Then the President summarized his view of the main thrust of the new policy, in a cable to Lodge on March 20:
As we agreed in our previous messages to each other, judgment is reserved for the present on overt military action in view of the consensus from Saigon conversations of McNamara mission with General Khanh and you on judgment that movement against the North at the present would be premature. We here share General Khanh's judgment that the immediate and essential task is to strengthen the southern base. For this reason our planning for action against the North is on a contingency basis at present, and immediate problem in this area is to develop the strongest possible military and political base for possible later action.
Anticipating great things, the White House announced Khanh's "mobilization plan" on March 17, and implied USG support for him:
To meet the situation, General Khanh and his government are acting vigorously and effectively. They have produced a sound central plan....To carry out this plan . . . General Khanh has informed us that he pro-proposes in the near future to put into effect a National Mobilization Plan....
The policy should continue of withdrawing United States personnel where their roles can be assumed by South Vietnamese and of sending additional men if they are needed. It will remain the policy of the United States to furnish assistance and support to South Vietnam for as long as it is required....
Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their overall conclusion that with continued vigorous leadership from General Khanh and
his government, and the carrying out of these steps, the situation can be significantly improved in the coming months.
In a speech in Washington on March 26, Secretary McNamara more explicitly supported the Khanh government, and gave the accepted priorities of U.S. policy:
....In early 1963, President Kennedy was able to report to the nation that "the spearpoint of aggression has been blunted in South Vietnam." It was evident that the Government had seized the initiative in most areas from the insurgents. But this progress was interrupted in 1963 by the political crises arising from troubles between the Government and the Buddhists, students, and other non-Communist oppositionists. President Diem lost the confidence and loyalty of his people; there were accusations of maladministration and injustice. There were two changes of government within three months. The fabric of government was torn. The political control structure extending from Saigon down into the hamlets virtually disappeared. Of the 41 incumbent province chiefs on November 1 of last year, 35 were replaced. Nine provinces had three chiefs in three months; one province had four. Scores of lesser officials were replaced. Almost all major military commands changed hands twice. The confidence of the peasants was inevitably shaken by the disruptions in leadership and the loss of physical security . . . Much therefore depends on the new government under General Khanh, for which we have high hopes....
Today the government of General Khanh is vigorously rebuilding the machinery of administration and reshaping plans to carry the war to the Viet Cong. He is an able and energetic leader. He has demonstrated his grasp of the basic elements-political, economic and psychological, as well as military-required to defeat the Viet Cong. He is planning a program of economic and social advances for the welfare of his people. He has brought into support of the government representatives of key groups previously excluded. He and his colleagues have developed plans for systematic liberation of areas now submissive to Viet Cong duress and for mobilization of all available Vietnamese resources in the defense of the homeland.
At the same time, General Khanh has understood the need to improve South Vietnam's relations with its neighbors . . . In short, he has demonstrated the energy, comprehension, and decision required by the difficult circumstances that he faces....
The third option before the President [after withdrawal and neutralization, both rejected] was initiation of military actions outside South Vietnam, particularly against North Vietnam, in order to supplement the counterinsurgency program in South Vietnam.
This course of action--its implications and ways of carrying it out--has been carefully studied.
What ever ultimate course of action may be forced upon us by the other side, it is clear that actions under this option would be only a supplement to, not a substitute for, progress within South Vietnam's own borders.
The fourth course of action was to concentrate on helping the South Vietnamese win the battle in their own country. This, all agree, is essential no matter what else is done. . .
We have reaffirmed U.S. support for South Vietnam's Government and pledged economic assistance and military training and logistical support for as long as it takes to bring the insurgency under control.
We will support the Government of South Vietnam in carrying out its Anti-Insurgency Plan.
The next day McNamara formally ended the hope of phased withdrawal, by stopping the lower-echelon joint planning activities that had aimed at replacing U.S. elements in Vietnam by Vietnamese. Although the Vietnamese knew that the "withdrawal" of 1000 men in December 1963 had been a pretense, his action now removed any remaining doubt about our intentions. The message was brief:
Model Plan projection for phasedown of U.S. forces and GVN forces is superseded. Policy is as announced by White House on 17 March 64.
E. OPENING BIDS ON ADVICE, LEVERAGE, AND AID, APRIL-MAY, 1964
Armed with our declaration of support and with the promised further material assistance, General Khanh signed a mobilization decree on April 4; at the time the decree satisfied the USG as meeting McNamara's recommendation on the subject. However, Khanh delayed signing implementing decrees for the mobilization decree indefinitely; and it has never become clear what it would have meant, if implemented. In May, Khanh purportedly broadened the draft to include older and younger men, and announced formation of a new "Civil Defense Corps"; but neither came to anything. On April 4, Khanh also abolished the Council of Notables. This latter step he did on his own, without prior discussion with Lodge. As noted in section 1, Lodge, who always believed in the need and importance of constitutional government in SVN, felt no urgency for creating a democratic form of government, although many in State may have wanted to object to Khanh's actions. Such actions without prior consultation were to become a sore point later on with both State and the Embassy. Thus, what the USG actually got for the recognition and material support it gave Khanh in March was the dissolution of the Council of Notables.
During April, Lodge and State continued to debate how hard to push GVN using AID leverage. Lodge agreed with the general principle that the Commercial Import Program (CIP) should not be increased until increased GVN expenditures quickened the economy and drove imports up. However, he noted that GVN had been given to understand that they could expect at least the $95 million CIP in 1964 that Diem had in 1963, and that McNamara had said in Saigon and Washington that U.S. assistance to Vietnam would increase by about $50 million. These assurances had spurred Oanh, Minister of National Economy, to ask for specific increases in CIP. Lodge thought the time unpropitious for detailed joint planning and for austerity measures as conditions for the last increment of 1964 CIP. Oanh received credit for being too busy with pacification planning and other matters to discuss such matters. Therefore, Lodge proposed to use the planning of the CY 1965 program as the right place to apply leverage.
State reacted sharply, questioning whether the USG should let GVN off the hook on its March commitments that easily. Nevertheless, State acknowledged that "formal negotiations may not be desirable at this time," and settled instead for "constant dialogue to keep GVN aware of U.S. adherence to the new approach and of firm desire to see it implemented." The desired GVN actions included drawdown of foreign exchange reserves, promotion of exports, import austerity, and an anti-inflationary domestic policy.
USOM then talked to Oanh about the commitments on the two sides. USOM felt that Oanh understood that GVN was to move first and be backed up by the USG as needed, but thought that some segments of GVN were dragging their heels to avoid living up to their commitments. USOM estimated a $15-30 million drawdown of GVN foreign exchange reserves in 1964.
In the last week of April, General Khanh asked Lodge for one American expert each in the fields of Finance-Economics, Foreign Affairs, and Press relations to be assigned to him personally and to have offices in "a convenient villa . . . We Vietnamese want the Americans to be responsible with us and not merely as advisors." This request revived the "brain trust" concept discussed with the Minh government around the first of the year. Commenting, Lodge noted that he had opposed pushing Americans into GVN because of Colonialist overtones; they would cause resentment, and a lessening of effort by the GVN, placing the blame on the U.S. Therefore, he had avoided raising the idea with Khanh. However, that Khanh himself now proposed it removed that objection, and Lodge felt that the U.S. should respond because it was an urgent necessity.
Late in the same meeting, Lodge told Khanh of a State Department proposal for civil administrators on a crash basis in partially pacified areas. His quick reply, "Yes . . . if you will accept losses."
Lodge recommended a Civil Administrative advisor to join the three others mentioned
above, but he advised against more. He said there was no sense
dumping several hundred advisors out there. In view of the "trail-blazing" nature of the move, he requested a member of the White House staff, possibly F )rrestal, to come out for a conference. Ordinarily, it would be surprising that Lodge would make such a big issue of Khanh's revival of an idea that GVN had already advanced through Lodge and that the President himself had approved. However, his effusive reaction in this case merely underlines his oft repeated reluctance to push GVN. Lodge presented the first three advisors to Khanh on May 6.
On April 30, Lodge, Westmoreland, and USOM Director Brent met with : several top members of GVN to discuss GVN's failure to disburse operating funds to the provinces, sectors and divisions and to correct the manpower shortage in ARVN and the paramilitary units. Lodge argued that the McNamara program was failing, not because U.S. support lagged, but because the necessary piaster support was missing. Moreover, he said, there was no shortage of piasters available to GVN. In reply, Oanh of the GVN said they had inherited a bad system from the French, and that he was now trying to implement new procedures. Khanh replied on the manpower problem that to raise the strength would require an ultimatum to the Corps Commanders, but then he also said that remedial moves were underway and were known to MACV. Khanh countered the budgetary argument by saying that he had still not received money from the U.S. to support increased pay for the paramilitary; Lodge replied that if he went ahead with the increased pay, the U.S. would meet the bill. Overall, the meeting was one of thrust and parry rather than of consultation. This meeting followed prodding from McNamara and JCS in a cable sent April 29.
On May 4, Khanh told Lodge he wanted to declare war, bomb North Vietnam with U.S. bombers, put the country on a war footing, including "getting rid of the so-called politicians and having . . . a government of technicians," and bring in 10,000 U.S. Army special forces to "cover the whole Cambodian-Laotian frontier." Lodge was non-cothmittal on U.S. forces, but said that the war came first and that democratic forms could wait. However, Khanh publicly called for an election by October of a Constitutional Assembly, apparently to bolster his public support; he had his share of rumors and political infighting.
On May 13, during a trip to Saigon to review progress on the March decisions, McNamara met with Khanh to express his concern over GVN inaction. McNamara's main complaints were that RVNAF was failing to reach authorized strength levels and that budget delays were holding up pacification. He felt that GVN should announce that failure to disburse funds is a crime. He also expressed concern about the replacement of incompetent officers, such as the Commanding General of the ARVN Fifth Division. The meeting went agreeably, and produced the following consensus:
(1) All present expressed satisfaction at Khanh's having accepted the importance of speeding up disbursements.
(2) The case of the commander of the Fifth Division "presented something of an internal problem, but it would be arranged." (This was the second time around for the Fifth Division case. As the result of a personal request from General Harkins, Khanh had agreed on April 25 to change this same officer "immediately."
(3) Khanh hoped to spend more time on military and pacification matters if only "this political stomach trouble" that took so much of his time could be quieted.
MACV presented McNamara with a proposal to give the province advisors a total of $278,000 in petty cash and "seed money," to be used solely at the U.S. advisors' discretion. This initial proposal suggested putting the money under control of the psychological operations committee. The idea received mixed reactions, and went on the agenda of the Honolulu Conference in June.
M. Forrestal of the White House Staff came with McNamara, and led a negotiating team that met Minister Oanh and his staff to discuss budgetary and economic matters. The U.S. team wanted GVN to keep its budget under strict control; GVN wanted the USG to increase CIP, and to give it an additional $18 million from fiscal 1964 funds. On May 27, when the talks ended, the USG had released the requested $18 million, and committed itself to a fiscal 1965 CIP of $135 million, $40 million more than in fiscal 1964, plus a standby arrangement for an additional $30 million. GVN protested that this commitment was not enough to prevent inflation, and did what it pleased about its own budget; the talks ended with an agreement to disagree.
E. THE POLITICAL CLIMATE AND PREVAILING VIEWS OF THE WAR, MAY 1964
Khanh's "political stomach trouble" was merely a fresh case of a chronic Vietnamese problem. His troubles with General Minh over the four jailed generals continued, and coup rumors abounded. On May 21, Lodge told him of the harmful effects of such rumors, and suggested he talk tough with his cabinet. When their conversation turned to General Minh, Khanh insisted that Minh could be proved to have conspired with the others and with the French to make Vietnam neutral. Khanh and the MRC planned to try the four generals in Dalat by the 29th of May. State then directed Lodge to try to prevent the trial, and failing that to soften its effects and prevent Minh's deposition. Lodge put this position to Khanh on May 28, asserting the special need for unity in view of possible cross-border problems with Laos; Khanh accepted the point and agreed to soften the blow on the generals. He flew immediately to Dalat, and the next day announced to Lodge an amicable settlement of the problem, with lenient treatment of the generals and new-found complete unity among the members of the ruling MRC. State and Lodge were gratified, and agreed that the thing to do was to press for unity in support of getting on with the war. However, it was soon common knowledge that the "settlement," amounting to censure of the accused officers, satisfied no one; and the problem festered on.
In May the first sign appeared of varying emphasis at the highest levels on particular necessary steps for success against the VC. In a DPM dated May 25, 1964, McGeorge Bundy restated the theme of the Rostow memorandum to SecState of February 13:
It is recommended that you make a Presidential decision that the U.S. will use selected and carefully graduated military force against North Vietnam . . . on these premises:
(1) That the U.S. cannot tolerate the loss of Southeast Asia to Communism;
(2) That without a decision to resort to military action if necessary, the present prospect is not hopeful, in South Vietnam or in Laos.
Of course, Bundy knew of the GVN's weaknesses and on other occasions asserted the need to reform GVN; but here he focussed exclusively on using force against NVN.
In contrast, Chairman Sullivan of the newly-created inter-agency Vietnam Committee said in a proposed memorandum for the President (May, 1964, undated):
The Vietnamese Government is not operating efficiently enough to reverse the adverse trend in the war with the Viet Cong. The Khanh Government has good intentions; it has announced good general plans and broad programs; but these plans are not being translated into effective action against the Viet Cong on either the military or the civil side. It has, therefore, become urgently necessary to find a means to infuse the efficiency into the governmental system that it now lacks.
To remedy the GVN's lack of efficiency, Sullivan proposed that Americans assume de facto command of GVN's machinery.
American personnel, who have hitherto served only as advisors, should be integrated into the Vietnamese chain of command, both military and civil. They should become direct operational components of the Vietnamese Governmental structure. For cosmetic purposes American personnel would not assume titles which would show command functions, but would rather be listed as "assistants" to the Vietnamese principals at the various levels of government ....
Americans should be integrated to all levels of the Vietnamese Government . . . Americans would be integrated into the Central Government to insure that decisions are taken, orders are issued and funds, supplies and personnel are made available for their implementation, and execution actually takes place. At the regional level Americans, both military and civilian, would also be introduced . . . Americans would likewise be brought into the government machinery at province and district level to insure that the counterinsurgency programs are actually executed at the level where the people live.
Aside from the command aspect which Americans would assume, the principal other new element in this concept would be the introduction of American civilians at the district level. Their purpose would be to insure that programs are put into effect at the village and hamlet level to gain the support of the people...
Personnel at the district level would confront a maximum risk and casualties are virtually certain. Since the U.S. should take any feasible measure to assure their security, it is important that Vietnamese units of the Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps, which operate at this level, be encadred with an adequate number of American military personnel to insure that they will operate effectively.
This DPM also proposed extensive reshuffling of the lines of authority in the GVN itself, including the elimination of divisions from the Vietnamese military structure and placing all authority for pacification, military and civilian, in the hands of the province chiefs under the corps commanders.
The Vietnam Committee watered down this proposal immediately, however. On May 27, it went to four high-level addressees as a talking paper, with the second sentence of the above recommendation altered to say, "They should become more than advisors, but should not become an integral part of the chain of command." (Emphasis added.) Recognizing Vietnamese sensitivities and the GVN's political vulnerability, the revised paper recommended a gradual, phased approach. But even the watered-down version was termed "radical" in the cable putting it on the agenda for the upcoming Honolulu Conference.
In the new advisory program already underway, MACV reported a big improvement by late May in the experimental districts with U.S. advisors. People rather than messages moved back and forth. Economic and social bonds were reported improved. Further extension of advisors to districts was put on the agenda. In preliminary communications, General Taylor, Chairman of the JCS, assumed that their mission would be to supervise unit training, operational performance, and operational planning of para-military units in the districts; but he also suggested discussion of other ways in which military personnel could be used to advantage in forwarding the pacification program.
The month ended with a Rusk-Khanh meeting that re-emphasized the accepted priorities of U.S. policy, and unquestionably confirmed to the Vietnamese how far we were thinking of going. First, Rusk emphasized to Khanh the effect of Vietnamese quarreling on the U.S. and on other potential allies in the struggle. Second, they discussed immediate extensions of the war, such as attacking the Laotian corridor, and the various further extensions that might follow. Third, Khanh pushed hard on the idea, which as noted above had already been discussed in Washington, that he could not win without extending the war. Finally, Khanh pledged to keep all these matters secret until the U.S. agreed to overt statement or action.
The language of the cable reporting this meeting is candid and revealing:
1. Solidarity Within South Vietnam
....Secretary [Rusk] stated one of main problems President faces in justifying to American people whatever course of action may be necessary or indicated as matter of internal solidarity of SVN. Secretary noted that if struggle escalates, only U.S. will have the forces to cope with it.
This basic reality means President has heavy responsibility of making vital decisions and leading American public opinion to accept them. Difficult to do this if SVN appears hopelessly divided and rent by internal quarrels.
....Secretary said he was not thinking in terms of displaying solidarity so as to convince Paris that struggle could be won, but rather was thinking in terms of sustaining the faith in the possibilities of ultimate success of our Vietnamese effort among those nations we hoped "would be in the foxholes with us" if escalation became necessary and if enemy forces reacted in strength. For example, UK, Australia, New Zealand. Solidarity and unit of purpose in SVN was keystone of whole effort. Was General Khanh doing all he could to bring about such national unity?
Khanh replied affirmatively, saying he fully aware of importance of unity. His recent handling of the case of the arrested Generals showed this. His clemency showed he was primarily interested in protecting unity of Army. But there were many problems. Underlying structure and heritage of country was such that only Army could lead Nation in unity. Only Army had the requisite organization, cadres, discipline, and sense of purpose. The intellectuals would never be able to adopt a common point of view unless it was imposed by a dictatorship--by a party as the Communists did, or a "family dictatorship" such as Diem's. This situation was made worse because of disproportion between measure of political and civil liberties granted in wartime situation on one hand and lack of background and sense of responsibility of recipients on [the] other . . . He was aware he had perhaps given more freedom than really prudent handling of situation would have dictated, but he had to be mindful oft-proclaimed democratic goals of the Vietnamese revolution. All in all, this disunity would not be fatal because Army itself was united, and no potentially disruptive force could hope to oppose Army and overthrow GVN. (N.B. No reference to religious problems, sects, or labor under this heading.)
2. Need for Action Outside South Vietnam.
....Khanh dwelt at length on this, laying out some fairly precise ideas about the kind of action that might be taken.
Basically, he said that despite the pacification plan and some individual successes he and his government were "on the defensive" against the Viet Cong. He said pretty flatly that they could not win unless action was taken outside South Vietnam, and that this needed a firm U.S. decision for such action.
....He [Khanh] then said that the "immediate" response should be to clean out the Communists in Eastern Laos, who were the same kind of threat to him, and that we should not get bogged down in negotiations but act.
....Secretary then noted we could never predict enemy reaction with certainty. How would SVN people react if NVN and China responded by attacking SVN? Khanh replied this would have even more favorable effect on SVN national unity and faith in victory, and would mobilize usual patriotic reactions in face of more clearcut external threat.
3. Timing of Action Against the North and Necessary Prior Action Within South Vietnam.
Khanh asked if Secretary and Ambassador believed he should proclaim state of war existed during next few days and now that Generals' case was settled. Both advised him to wait at least until after Honolulu Conference and in no case ever to take action on such matter without consulting. He agreed, and remarked that if he proclaimed state of war, NVN would know this was preparatory to some form of escalation and he would never act unilaterally and thereby run risk of tipping America's hand. Although the matter was not specifically mentioned, Khanh appeared to accept as entirely natural that he would not necessarily know in advance if U.S. decided to strike outside VN.
....Some question as to how enemy camp will react. At various points in conversation Khanh was obviously seeking some more definite statement of specific American intentions in immediate future. Secretary told him he could say nothing on this because he simply did not know. The Honolulu meeting would produce some firm recommendations to the President and some plans, but ultimately only President could decide. His decision would be influenced by consideration of all implications of escalation: On our forces, on our allies, and perhaps even on mankind itself if nuclear warfare should result. Only U.S. had the means to cope with problems escalation would pose, and only President could make the ultimate decisions.
Nevertheless, Secretary said he wished to emphasize the following:
A. Since 1945 U.S. had taken 165,000 casualties in defense of free world against Communist encroachments, and most of these casualties were in Asia.
B. U.S. would never again get involved in a land war in Asia limited to conventional forces. Our population was 190,000,000. Mainland China had at least 700,000,000. We would not allow ourselves to be bled white fighting them with conventional weapons.
C. This meant that if escalation brought about major Chinese attack, it would also involve use of nuclear arms. Many free world leaders would oppose this. Chiang Kai-Shek had told him fervently he did, and so did U Thant. Many Asians seemed to see an element of racial discrimination in use of nuclear arms; something we would do to Asians but not to Westerners. Khanh replied he certainly had no quarrel with American use of nuclear arms, noted that decisive use of Atomic bombs on Japan had in ending war saved not only American but also Japanese lives. One must use the force one had; if Chinese used masses of Humanity, we would use superior fire power.
D. Regardless what decisions were reached at Honolulu, their implementation would require positioning of our forces. This would take time. Khanh must remember we had other responsibilities in Asia and must be able react anywhere we had forces or commitments. Not by chance was this Conference being held at Honolulu; the combined headquarters of all American forces in Pacific was there.
As can be seen, the Secretary let Khanh develop his ideas fairly fully and do most of the talking.* Khanh talked firmly and effectively, and responded well to
* Comment: Nevertheless, as can be seen, the Secretary spoke freely.
the Secretary's several points. He showed clearly that he was aware of the gravity of the decisions (tho he did seem a touch cavalier about the political problems of hitting eastern Laos at once), and did not seem to want a firm U.S. answer the day after tomorrow. But it seemed clear that he did want it pretty soon, and was now convinced he could not win in South Vietnam without hitting other areas including the North. He was careful to point out that the pacification campaign was making gains and would continue to do so. Still, it was essentially defensive.
On the timing, the Secretary said that any action would be preceded in any event by some period of time for force deployments. (He did not refer to diplomatic steps re Laos, the UN side, the U.S. Congressional problem, or other types of factors.) Khanh understood this, and also accepted the Secretary's point that we would need to consult very closely with Khanh himself, try to bring the British and Australians aboard (the Secretary referred only to these two possible active participants), and generally synchronize and work out the whole plan with great care.
Thus although the USG had pressed GVN on many details of economic policy, administration, and pacification, contacts at the highest level told GVN that if the Vietnamese leaders would only stick together to prosecute the war, and if we compelled the North Vietnamese to cease and desist, everything would be all right. Provided the GVN didn't embarrass the USG too much, there was no limit to how far we would go to support them; and apart from "unity" and a reasonable show of effort, there was no onus on them to deliver the goods. Khanh's claim that he could not win without extending the war, and that the Vietnamese were tired of the long dreary grind of pacification, met no U.S. objection.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 2, Chapter 5, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967"
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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