Selected Press Reactions to the Honolulu Conference, February 1966

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, Chapter 7, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 555-560.

EDITORIAL: The New York Herald Tribune, February 8:

The meeting presents the prospect of our resuming the war in more favorable circumstances. The meeting of the heads of the American and South Vietnamese governments is a fresh and stronger demonstration of mutual confidence. On this basis they can now proceed to mount measures for dealing with the equally important military and civilian aspects of the war.

The two are intimately related . . . the loyalty and support of the peasants in the interior are essential. President Johnson is bidding for them by offering some of the benefits of his Great Society program to the South Vietnamese. It will not be easy, in time of war, . . . but . . . they must be pursued with the same vigor as we press the war on the battlefield.

EDITORIAL: The Washington Evening Star, February 7:

It is particularly significant that the American delegation included HEW Secretary Gardner and Orville Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture. Their presence certainly means that a greater "pacification" effort will be made as the fighting goes on . . ."

COLUMNIST: Marquis Childs, February 9 (from Honolulu)

This conference called by President Johnson is a large blue chip put on the survival value of the wiry, exuberant Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, and the generals who rule with him. It is expected that Ky will not only survive but that with massive economic help from the U.S. the national leadership committee will eventually win the support of the peasant in the countryside . . . Any sensible bookmaker would quote long odds against the bet paying off. But after so many false starts this seems to be the right direction--a determined drive to raise the level of living in the countryside and close the gap of indifference and hostility between the peasant and the sophisticated city dweller . . . Over and over we have been told that only by winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people will we achieve a victory that has meaning beyond the grim choice of pulverization of American occupation into the indefinite future
This is the reason teams of American specialists in agriculture, health, and education are going to Vietnam....

EDITORIAL: The New York Herald Tribune, February 9:

Perhaps the most constructive part of the Honolulu conference was the emphasis it placed on this hitherto badly neglected aspect of the Viet Nam war [Pacification]. It is unfortunate that Chief of State Thieu diverted attention from it by heaping more fuel on the controversy over whether the Viet Cong should or should not sit at a peace conference table....

EDITORIAL: The New York Times, February 9 and 13:

The Honolulu conference has followed the classic pattern of Summit meetings that are hastily called without thorough preparation in advance; it has left confusion in its wake, with more questions raised than answered.....The one important area of agreement at Honolulu, apart from continuation of the military efforts, was on an expanded program of "rural construction." The prospective doubling of American economic aid, however, will be futile unless it is accompanied by a veritable social revolution, including vigorous land reform. Premier Ky cast some doubt in his emphasis on moving slowly. His Minister of Rural Pacification envisages action in only 1,900 of South Vietnam's 15,000 hamlets this year.

Vice President Humphrey evidently has his work cut out for him in his follow-up visit to Saigon. Unless some way can be found to give more momentum to this effort, the new economic aid program may go down the same drain as all previous programs of this kind.

It would be a cruel deception for Americans to get the idea that social reforms carried out by the Ky government with American money are going to make any perceptible difference in the near future to the Vietnamese people or to the course of the war.

COLUMNIST: Ted Lewis, New York Daily News, February 10 (from Washington):

Why, all of a sudden, has President Johnson begun to come to grips with the "other war" in South Vietnam? . . . Johnson, with his typical oratorical flourishes, has given the impression that he launched something totally new at Honolulu ....The fact is that for several years this problem of the "other war" has been recognized as vital by the State Department, the Pentagon and even by the White House. But nobody did much about it, except in an offhand way
Johnson is a master of timing. He has definitely gained a political advantage over his Viet policy critics by stressing right now the need of win-fling over the peasants.....[Senator Robert] Kennedy complained in a Senate speech just ten days ago that there were 'many indications that we have not yet even begun to develop a program....It is absolutely urgent," the Senator said, "that we now act to institute new programs of education, land reform, public health, political participation......"

NEWS ANALYSIS: Richard Critchfield in The Washington Evening Star, February 9 (from Saigon):

President Johnson's historic decision at Honolulu backing an American-sponsored brand of social revolution as an alternative to communism in South Vietnam was warmly hailed today by veteran political observers. The Honolulu declaration was viewed as ending postwar era of American foreign policy aimed at stabilizing the status quo in Asia.

The key phrase, in the view of many diplomats here, was the offer of full American "support to measures of social revolution, including land reform based upon the principle of building upward from the hopes and purposes of all the people of Vietnam."

.....Johnson's decisions to put political remedies on a par with military action are also regarded here as a major personal triumph for Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and his top aide, Major General Edward G. Lansdale, the two main advocates of "social revolution" in South Vietnam.....The Honolulu declaration appears to signify a major shift away from the policy of primarily military support established by President Kennedy in 1961 and closely identified with General Maxwell Taylor, Defense Secretary McNamara, and Secretary of State Rusk....The Lodge-Lansdale formula was a striking departure in that it saw the eventual solution not so much in Hanoi's capitulation as in successful pacification in South Vietnam . . . The Honolulu declaration amounts to almost a point by point acceptance of this formula and both its phraseology and philosophy bear Lansdale's unmistakable imprint.....

EDITORIAL: The Baltimore Sun, February 10:

Unless there was more substance to the Honolulu Conference than meets the eye, it could be summed up as much ado-not much ado about nothing but simply much ado . . . It was all spectacular and diverting but so far as we can see the problem of the war is where it was before the burst of activity began . . . It is probably worthwhile to have a reiteration of the social and economic measures needed in South Vietnam . . . It is essential to underscore the political nature of the war, along with the continuing military operations. But these matters were generally understood before the Honolulu meetings. Perhaps events to come will make the purpose of the meeting clearer.

EDITORIAL: The New York Post, February 9:

The Hawaii meetings were advertised as the beginning of a vast new movement of economic and social reform in Vietnam, President Johnson, we were told, went to Honolulu to launch the new approach with maximum drama.

Instead, the session inadvertently underscored the lack of interest of the junta in Saigon in anything but military conquest of the Viet Cong, to be carried out by stepped up U.S. armed efforts....

NEWS STORY: AP, February 10 (from Honolulu):

Vice President Humphrey left for Saigon today with South Vietnam's top leaders to spur action on programs attacking hunger, disease, and ignorance in that war-torn country....

NEWS ANALYSIS: Charles Mohr, The New York Times, February 10 (from Saigon):

In the atmosphere of Honolulu, there was much emphasis on form, so much that in some ways it may have obscured substance. The Americans appeared so delighted with Marshal Ky's "style"--with his showing as a politically salable young man with the right instincts rather than as a young warlord--that there seemed to be almost no emphasis on the important differences between the Governments . . . What Marshal Ky told President Johnson was something he had often said before: South Vietnamese society is still riddled with social injustices and political weaknesses; there is not one political party worthy of the name . . . The South Vietnamese leaders believe that they could not survive a "peaceful settlement" that left the VC political structure in place, even if the VC guerrilla units were disbanded. Therefore, the South Vietnamese feel that "rural pacification," of which much was said at Honolulu, is necessary not only to help them achieve military victory but also to prevent a political reversal of that victory . . . As the Vietnamese see pacification, its core is not merely "helping the people to a better life," the aspect on which many American speakers dwelled, it is rather the destruction of the clandestine VC political structure and the creation of an ironlike system of government political control over the population....

But the two governments have never been closer than they are in the aftermath of Honolulu, and the atmosphere of good feeling seems genuine....

NEWS ANALYSIS: Roscoe Drummond, February 14 (from Washington):

.....The decisions taken at Honolulu by President Johnson and Premier Ky go to the heart of winning. They were primarily social, economic, and political decisions. They come at a malleable and perhaps decisive turn in the war....

NEWS ANALYSIS: Tom Wicker in The New York Times, February 13 (from Saigon):

Vice President Humphrey . . . has left Saigon reverberating with what he said was the "single message" he had come to deliver. The message was that the war in Vietnam was a war to bring social justice and economic and political progress to the Vietnamese people . . . Humphrey said at a news conference here: "Social and economic revolution does not belong to the V.C. Non-communist forces are the ones forwarding the revolution."

The emphasis on social reform could also quiet critics who contend that Washington has concentrated too much on the military problem and not enough on civic action to win the loyalty of the Vietnamese people....

NEWS ANALYSIS: Charles Mohr, The New York Times, February 13 (from Saigon):

By giving enormous emphasis and publicity to it, an impression was left that pacification is something new. In a sense, there was some truth in this. The men running the program, both Vietnamese and American, are new. And the 1966 plan itself is a new one in many respects.

Pacification is vitally important to success in the guerrilla war in South Vietnam. Without it, purely military success becomes empty even if all the battles are "won."

NEWS ANALYSIS: Joseph Alsop, February 14 (from Saigon):

CART BEFORE HORSE . . . All that really mattered at Honolulu was a Presidential decision to provide the forces needed to keep the pressure on the enemy here in Vietnam. The odds are heavy that the President, who seems to prefer doing good by stealth, actually took this decision behind the electorate smokescreen of talk about other matters. The question remains whether the needed forces will be provided soon enough. One must wait and see.

But at the risk of sounding captious, and for the sake of honesty and realism, it must be noted that there was a big Madison Avenue element in all the talk about "pacification" during the Hawaii meeting and Vice President Humphrey's subsequent visit to Vietnam.

This does not mean that pacification of the Vietnamese countryside is an unimportant and/or secondary problem. On the contrary, it will eventually be all-important and primary. But one need only glance at the list of priority areas marked for pacification now, to see the adman's touch in the present commotion.

There are: An Giang Province, which belongs to the Hoa Hao sect and has been long since pacified by the Hoa Hao; the Hop Tac region near Saigon, where General Harkins experimented unhappily with the so-called oil spot technique; parts of Binh Dinh Province along the north-south highway; and the fringes of the Marine enclave at Da Nang.

Each area differs from the others. In the case of the nine villages on the fringes of the Marines' Da Nang enclave, for instance, pacification is needed to insure airfield security from mortar fire. Most of these villages have been Viet Cong strongholds for over 20 years, and they could be dangerous.

.....Pacification by the Marines looks very fine . . . But it takes far too many Marines to do the job.

Nonetheless, the real objections to making a big-immediate show of pacification are quite different. The Hop Tac experience tells the story. Here a great effort was made by the Vietnamese authorities with the strong support of General Harkins. A good deal was initially accomplished. Boasts began to be heard. Whereat the enemy sailed forth from the nearest redoubt area, knocked down everything that had been built up, murdered all the villagers who had worked with the government, and left things much worse than they had been before . . . An attempt to make a big immediate show of pacification needs to be warned against, because of the Washington pressure to do just that. A large element of the U.S. Mission was called home a month or so ago. And in effect, these men were commanded to produce a plan for making a show as soon as possible.

Fortunately, they had the courage to point out that the cart was being put before the horse once again. Fortunately, Ambassador Lodge is well aware of the dangers of putting the cart before the horse. The pressure for something showy may continue, but it is likely to be resisted.

If so, the pressure will not be altogether useless. The Vietnamese and the Americans here are getting ready for pacification on a big scale and in an imaginative way, partly because of that pressure.

It is vital to have everything in readiness to do the job of pacification as soon as favorable circumstances arise. But it is also vital to bear in mind that really favorable circumstances cannot arise until the enemy's backbone of regular units is at last very close to the breaking point, if not actually beginning to break.

EDITORIAL: Christian Science Monitor, February 11:

If Saigon and Washington fight South Vietnam's economic and social war as vigorously as they fight its military war, the Communist thrust against that country will fail. Yet this is the biggest "if" of the war. Over and over lip-service has been paid to the inescapable need of winning over the peasantry. But time and again this has come to naught.

We are cautiously encouraged by the latest steps being taken. The strong emphasis laid in the Honolulu Declaration on civic reforms is a commitment in the right direction. The sending of Vice-President Humphrey to study South Vietnamese reform programs on the spot is an even stronger earnest of American's intention not to let this program slip back into another do-nothing doldrum.....

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