Section 1, pp. 1-56
Summary and Analysis
During the period from the overthrow of the Diem government in November 1963 until the Honolulu Conference in April 1965, U.S. policymakers were concerned with a continuing, central dilemma in South Vietnam. An agonizing, year-long internal debate took place against the double backdrop of this dilemma and Presidential election year politics. Although the results of this debate could not be clearly seen until mid-1965, the seeds which produced those results are clearly visible in the official files at least a year earlier.
The basic problem in U.S. policy was to generate programs and other means adequate to secure the objectives being pursued. The central dilemma lay in the fact that while U.S. policy objectives were stated in the most comprehensive terms the means employed were both consciously limited and purposely indirect. That is, the U.S. eschewed employing all of its military might--or even a substantial portion of it--in a battle which was viewed in Washington as determinative of the fate of all of Southeast Asia, probably crucial to the future of South Asia, and as the definitive test of U.S. ability to counteract communist support for "wars of national liberation." Moreover, this limited U.S. resource commitment to practically unlimited ends took an indirect form. U.S. efforts 'were aimed at helping the Government of Vietnam (GVN) to win its own struggle against the insurgents. This meant that the newly established GVN had to somehow mobilize its human and other resources, improve its military performance against the Viet Cong, and shift the tide of the war.
As events in 1964 and 1965 were to demonstrate, the GVN did not succeed in achieving political stability. Its military forces did not stem the pattern of VC successes. Rather, a series of coups produced "revolving door" governments in Saigon. The military pattern showed, particularly by the spring of 1965, a precipitous decline in the fortunes of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Yet there was no serious debate in Washington on the desirability of modifying U.S. objectives. These remained essentially fixed even as the means for their realization-limited U.S. material support for GVN-underwent one crisis and disappointment after another.
There were no immediate or forceful U.S. reactions in 1964 to this continuing political instability and military frustration in South Vietnam. Declaratory policy raced far ahead of resource allocations and use decisions. As events continued along an unfavorable course the U.S. pursued an ever-expanding number of minor, specific, programmatic measures which were inherently inadequate either to reverse the decline or to satisfy broad U.S. objectives. Concurrently, the U.S. began to make contingency plans for increasing pressures against NVN. It did not make similar plans for the commitment of U.S. ground forces in SVN.
In the aftermath of President Johnson's landslide electoral victory in November 1964, and in the face of persistent instability in SVN, the Administration finally expanded the war to include a limited, carefully controlled air campaign against the north. Early in 1965 it deployed Marine battalions to South Vietnam. By April 1965, while continuing to follow the announced policy of efforts to enable GVN to win its own war, the U.S. had adumbrated a policy of U.S. military participation which presaged a high degree of Americanization of the war effort.
This evolving expansion and demonstration of commitment was neither continuous nor steady. The steps forward were warmly debated, often hesitant, sometimes reluctant.--But all of the steps taken were still forward toward a larger commitment; there were none to the rear.
THE INITIAL PERIOD: NOVEMBER 1963-MARCH 1964
The Diem coup preceded President Kennedy's assassination by less than a month. Thus, a new leader took the helm in the U.S. at a natural time to reevaluate U.S. policies and U.S.-GVN relations. President Johnson's first policy announcement on the Vietnamese war, contained in NSAM 273 (26 November 1963), only three days after he had assumed the Presidency, was intended primarily to endorse the policies pursued by President Kennedy and to ratify provisional decisions reached in Honolulu just before the assassination. Even in its attempt to direct GVN's efforts toward concentration on the Delta area, NSAM 273 reflected earlier U.S. preferences which had been thwarted or ignored by Diem. Now was the time, many of the top U.S. policymakers hoped, when convincing U.S. support for the new regime in Saigon might allow GVN to start winning its own war.
Two developments--in addition to the VC successes which followed Diem's downfall--undercut this aura of optimism. First, it was discovered that the situation in SVN had been worse all along than reports had indicated. Examples of misleading reports were soon available in Washington at the highest levels. Second, the hoped-for political stability was never even established before it disintegrated in the Khanh coup in January 1964. By February MACV's year-end report for 1963 was available in Washington. Its gloomy statistics showed downward trends in almost every area.
Included in the MACV assessment was the opinion that military effort could not succeed in the absence of effective political leadership. A special CIA report, forwarded to Secretary McNamara at about the same time made the opposite point: military victories were needed to nourish the popular attitudes conducive to political stability. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman--who would shortly leave office after his views were rejected--stressed the need for physical security in the rural areas and the adoption of counterguerrilla tactics as the preconditions to success. These interesting reversals of nominal functional preferences indicate that there was at least a sufficiently broad awareness within U.S. Officialdom to permit a useful debate on U.S. actions which might deal more successfully with this seamless web of political-military issues. Certainly the intelligence picture was dark enough to prompt such a debate: the SNIE on short-term prospects in Southeast Asia warned that ". . . South Vietnam has, at best, an even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next few weeks or months."
The debate did begin, but in hobbles. The generally agreed necessity to work through GVN and the felt imperative to strengthen GVN left the U.S. in a position of weakness. It was at least as dependent on GVN leaders as were the latter on U.S. support. Moreover, mid-1964 was not an auspicious time for new departures in policy by a President who wished to portray "moderate" alternatives to his opponent's "radical" proposals. Nor was any time prior to or immediately following the elections very appealing for the same reason. Thus, while the debate in high official circles was very, very different from the public debate it still reflected the existence of the public debate.
LIMITED MEASURES FOR LIMITLESS AIMS
The first official internal pronouncement to reflect this difficult policymaking milieu was NSAM 288, in March 1964. Approved verbatim from the report of the most recent McNamara-Taylor visit to Vietnam, it was virtually silent on one issue (U.S. troops) and minimal in the scale of its recommendations at the same time that it stated U.S. objectives in the most sweeping terms used up to that time. The U.S. objective was stated to be an "independent, non-communist South Vietnam, free to accept assistance as required to maintain its security" even though not necessarily a member of the Western alliance. The importance of this objective was underscored in a classic statement of the domino theory:
Unless we can achieve this objective in South Vietnam, almost all of Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance (all of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), accommodate to Communism so as to remove effective U.S. and anti-Communist influence (Burma), or fall under the domination of forces not now explicitly Communist but likely then to become so (Indonesia taking over Malaysia). Thailand might hold for a period with our help, but would be under grave pressure. Even the Philippines would become shaky, and the threat to India to the west, Australia and New Zealand to the south, and Taiwan, Korea, and Japan to the north and east would be greatly increased.
The present situation in SVN was painted in somber tones of declining GVN control and deterioration within ARVN while VC strength and NVN-supplied arms were on the rise. To introduce U.S. combat troops for the protection of Saigon under these circumstances, McNamara stated, would create "serious adverse psychological consequences and should not be undertaken." A U.S. movement from the advisory role to a role which would amount to command of the war effort was similarly rejected without discussion because of anticipated adverse psychological effects. Thus, the fear of undesirable impacts upon a weak GVN caused at least one major course of action to be ruled out. Although fears of adverse impacts in domestic U.S. politics were not mentioned it is inconceivable that such fears were not present.
Having ruled out U.S. active leadership and the commitment of U.S. troops, Secretary McNamara analyzed three possible courses of action: (1) negotiations leading to the "neutralization" of SVN; (2) the initiation of military actions against NVN; and (3) measures to improve the situation in SVN. The first of these was incompatible with the U.S. objective stated at the beginning of the NSAM; the time was not propitious for adoption of the second; the third was recommended for adoption. Additionally, Secretary McNamara recommended NSAM 288 proclaimed that plans be made so that the U.S. would be in a position at a later date to initiate military pressures against NVN within a relatively brief time after any decision to do so might be made.
Many of the steps approved in NSAM 288 were highly programmatic. It should be observed that they were also palliative, both in scope and degree. Of the twelve approved actions, two addressed possible future actions beyond the borders of South Vietnam. Of the remaining ten, three were declaratory in nature (e.g., "To make it clear that we fully support the Khanh government and are opposed to any further coups"). The seven actions implying additional U.S. assistance (some of it advice) dealt with such matters as exchanging 25 VNAF aircraft for a newer model, replacing armored personnel carriers with a more reliable model, and trebling the fertilizer program within two years. The additional cost of the programs was only slightly more than $60 million at the most: $30-$40 million to support a 50,000 man increase in RVNAF and to raise pay scales; $1.5 million to support an enlarged civil administrative cadre; and a one time cost of $20 million for additional and replacement military equipment.
It is clear with the advantage of hindsight that these steps were grossly inadequate to the magnitude of the tasks at hand-particularly if the broad U.S. objectives stated in the NSAM were to be realized. But such hindsight misses the policymakers' dilemma and the probable process by which the approved actions were decided upon. President Johnson had neither a congressional nor a popular mandate to Americanize the war or to expand it dramatically by "going north." U.S. hopes were pinned on assisting in the development of a GVN strong enough to win its own war. Overt U.S. leadership might undercut the development of such a government in Saigon. The course of policy adopted was not the product of an attempt to select the "best" alternative by means of examining expected benefits; it resulted from a determination of the "least bad" alternative through an examination of risks and disadvantages. It reflected what was politically feasible rather than what was desirable in relation to stated objectives. The practical effect of this understandable--perhaps inescapable and inevitable--way of deciding upon U.S. policy was to place almost complete responsibility in the hands of the GVN for the attainment of U.S. objectives-it being assumed that GVN's objectives were compatible with ours.
Midway through 1964 President Johnson changed the entire top level of U.S. leadership in Saigon. General Maxwell D. Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired from active military duty (for the second time) to become the U.S. Ambassador. An experienced and highly regarded career diplomat, U. Alexis Johnson, was appointed deputy to Taylor. General William C. Westmoreland stepped up from deputy to commander of U.S. military forces in Vietnam. The new "first team" was not without knowledge about Vietnam but it inescapably lacked the close personal knowledge of leading GVN figures which only time and close association can develop. It set about attempting to help the Khanh government to help itself.
General Khanh, in the event, proved unable to marshal SVN's resources and to establish his regime in a position of authority adequate either to stem or to turn the VC tide. Khanh's failure was, however, neither precipitous nor easily perceivable at the time. As the U.S. entered and passed through a Presidential campaign in which the proper policy to pursue in Vietnam was a major issue, it sometimes appeared that the GVN was making headway and sometimes appeared that it was not.
U.S. policy remained virtually unchanged during this period although significant planning steps were accomplished to permit the U.S. to exercise military pressures against NVN should it appear desirable (and politically feasible) to do so. Thanks to such planning, the Tonkin Gulf incidents of 2-4 August 1964 were answered by "tit-for-tat" reprisal raids with considerable dispatch. The cost was minimal in terms of world opinion and communist reaction. Moreover, President Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf incidents as the springboard to a broad endorsement by the Congress of his leadership and relative freedom of action. When this was followed in November by what can only be described as a smashing victory at the polis, the President's hands were not completely untied but the bonds were figuratively loosened. His feasible options increased.
LIMITED ESCALATION LEADS TO OPEN-ENDED INTER VENT/ON
Immediately following his election, the President initiated an intense, month-long policy review. An executive branch consensus developed for a two phase expansion of the war. Phase I was limited to intensification of air strikes in Laos and to covert actions in NVN. Phase II would extend the war to a sustained, escalating air campaign against North Vietnamese targets. The President approved Phase I for implementation in December 1964 but approved Phase II only "in principle."
The effect of this decision was to increase the expectation that the air campaign against NVN would be undertaken if the proper time arose. What conditions were proper was the subject of considerable disagreement and confusion. Tactically, the U.S. desired to respond to North Vietnamese acts rather than to appear to initiate a wider war. But the strategic purposes of bombing in NVN were in dispute. The initiation of an air campaign was deferred early in 1964 as a prod to GVN reform. By 1965 such initiation was argued for as a support for GVN morale. Some adherents claimed that bombing in NVN could destroy the DRV's will to support the war in South Vietnam. Others expected it to raise the price of North Vietnam's effort and to demonstrate U.S. commitment but not to be decisive in and of itself. The only indisputable facts seem to be that the long planning and debate over expanding the air war, the claimed benefits (although disputed), and the relatively low cost and risk of an air campaign as compared to the commitment of U.S. ground forces combined to indicate that the bombing of NVN would be the next step taken if nothing else worked.
Nothing else was, in fact, working. General Khanh's government was reorganized in November 1964 to give it the appearance of civilian leadership. Khanh finally fell in mid-February 1965 and was replaced by the Quat regime. Earlier that month the insurgents had attacked the U.S. base at Pleiku, killing eight Americans. Similar attacks late in 1964 had brought about recommendations for reprisal attacks. These had been disapproved because of timing. On this occasion, however, the President approved the FLAMING DART retaliatory measures.
Presidential assistant McGeorge Bundy was in SVN when the Viet Cong attacked the U.S. facilities in Pleiku. He recommended to the President that, in addition to retaliatory measures, the U.S. initiate phase II of the military measures against NVN. The fall of the Khanh regime a week later resurrected the worst U.S. fears of GVN political instability. The decision to bomb north was made, announced on 28 February, and strikes initiated on 2 March. A week later, after a request from Generals Taylor and Westmoreland which was debated little if at all, two battalion landing teams of Marines went ashore at DaNang to assume responsibility for security of the air base there. U.S. ground combat units were in an active theater on the mainland of Asia for the first time since the Korean War. This may not have been the Rubicon of the Johnson administration's Vietnam policy but it was a departure of immeasurable significance. The question was no longer one of whether U.S. units should be deployed to SVN; rather, it was one of how many units should be deployed and for what strategic purposes.
The Army Chief of Staff, General Harold K. Johnson, went to Saigon in mid-March and recommended that bombing restrictions be lifted and that a U.S. division be deployed to SVN for active combat. General Taylor strongly opposed an active combat-as distinct from base security-role for U.S. ground forces. But the President decided on 1 April to expand the bombing, to add an air wing in SVN, and to send two more Marine battalions ashore. These decisions were announced internally on 6 April in NSAM 328.
General Taylor continued to voice strong opposition to a ground combat role for U.S. forces but his voice was drowned out by two developments. First, the air campaign against NVN (ROLLING THUNDER) did not appear to be shaking the DRV's determination. Second, ARVN experienced a series of disastrous defeats in the spring of 1965 which convinced a number of observers that a political-military collapse within GVN was imminent.
As the debate in Washington on next steps revealed, something closely akin to the broad objectives stated over a year earlier in NSAM 288 represented a consensus among U.S. policymakers as a statement of proper U.S. aims. The domestic political situation had changed materi.ally since early 1964. President Johnson was now armed with both a popular mandate and broad Congressional authorization (the extent of which would be challenged later, but not in 1965). Palliative measures had not been adequate to the task although they had continued and multiplied throughout the period. As General Taylor wryly remarked to McGeorge Bundy in a back channel message quoted in the following paper, the U.S. Mission in Saigon was charged with implementing a 21-point military program, a 41-point non-military program, a 16-point USIS program, and a 12-point CIA program ". . . as if we can win here somehow on a point score."
As fears rose in Washington it must have seemed that everything had been tried except one course-active U.S. participation in the ground battle in SVN. Palliative measures had failed. ROLLING THUNDER offered little hope for a quick decision in view of the rapid deterioration of ARVN. The psychological barrier against the presence of U.S. combat units had been breached. If the revalidated U.S. objectives were to be achieved it was necessary for the U.S. to make quickly some radical departures. It was politically feasible to commit U.S. ground forces and it seemed desirable to do so.
Secretary McNamara met in Honolulu on 20 April with the principal U.S. leaders from Saigon and agreed to recommend an enclave strategy requiring a quantum increase above the four Marine battalions. An account of the rapidity with which this strategy was overtaken by an offensively oriented concept is described in Chapter 4. The present volume describes the situational changes, the arguments, and the frustrations as the U.S. attempted for over a year to move toward the realization of ambitious objectives by the indirect use of very limited resources and in the shadow of a Presidential election campaign.
End of Summary and Analysis
20 Nov 1963 Honolulu Conference
Secretaries McNamara and Rusk and their party meet with the entire US country team and review the South Vietnamese situation after the Diem coup.
22 Nov 1963 Kennedy Assassination
President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Lodge confers with the new President, Johnson, in Washington, during the next few days.
26 Nov 1963 NSAM 273
Drawing on the Honolulu Conference and Lodge's conversations with the President, NSAM 273 established US support for the new Minh government and emphasized that the level of effort, economic and military, would be maintained at least as high as to Diem. All US and GVN efforts were to be concentrated on the Delta where the VC danger was greatest. But the war remained basically a South Vietnamese affair to win or lose.
6 Dec 1963 Report on Long An Province
A report by a USOM provincial representative on Long An Province, adjacent to Saigon, describes the near complete disintegration of the strategic hamlet program. The basic problem is the inability or unwillingness of the ARVN to provide timely support when villages are under attack. Hamlets are being overrun by the VC on an almost daily basis. Ambassador Lodge forwards the report to Washington.
17 Dec 1963 NSC Meeting
After hearing a briefing by General Krulak that falls short of giving an adequate explanation for the Long An report, the President decides to send McNamara on another fact-finding trip.
18-20 Dec 1963 SecDef Trip to Vietnam
During this quick visit to South Vietnam, McNamara ordered certain immediate actions to be taken by the US Mission to improve the situation in the 13 critical provinces. He returns directly to Washington to report to the President.
21 Dec 1963 McNamara Report to the President
McNamara's report substantiates the existence of significant deterioration in the war since the preceding summer. He recommends strengthened ARVN formations in the key provinces, increased US military and civilian staffs, the creation of a new pacification plan, and better coordination between Lodge and Harkins. His report is especially pessimistic about the situation in the Delta.
7 Jan 1964 McCone Proposes Covert Reporting
The serious failure of the reporting system to indicate the critical state of deterioration of the war prompts McCone to recommend to McNamara a special TDY covert CIA check on the in-country reporting system to make recommendations for improving it.
16 Jan 1964 McNamara Accepts Revised McCone Proposal
McNamara accepts a revised form of McCone's proposal, specifically ruling out any IG-like aspects to the study.
28 Jan 1964 Khanh Warns US Aide of Pro-Neutralist Coup
General Khanh, I Corps Commander, warns his US advisor, Colonel Wilson that pro-neutralist members of the MRC--Xuan, Don, and Kim--are plotting a coup.
29 Jan 1964 Khanh Warns Lodge
Khanh repeats to Lodge the warning that pro-neutralist elements are planning a coup. Lodge recommends an intervention with Paris to get DeGaulle to restrict his activity in Saigon. Khanh's efforts are really a screen for his own planned coup.
30 Jan 1964 Khanh Coup
Early in the morning, Khanh acts to take over control of the government in a bloodless internal coup that removes the civilian government and puts him in power.
2 Feb 1964 MACV Personal Assessment o/ 4th Qtr CY 1963
The Diem coup and the subsequent political instability in the fall of 1963 are given by MACV as the main reasons for the rise in VC activity and the decline in GVN control of the country. The tempo of GVN operations was good but the effectiveness low. Military failures were largely attributed to political problems.
10 Feb 1964 CAS Group's Preliminary Report
The preliminary report of the special CAS group cross-checking the reporting system confirms the deterioration of the strategic hamlet program. It documents the decline in rural security and the increase in VC attacks.
12 Feb 1964 SNIE 50-64
This intelligence community evaluation of the short-term prospects for Vietnam confirms the pessimism now felt in all quarters. The political instability is the hard core problem.
18 Feb 1964 Final CAS Group Report
The final CAS group report confirms the black picture of its initial estimate in greater detail and further confirms the previous failings of the reporting system.
In addition to a long list of recommendations for GVN action, the JCS propose to SecDef major US escalatory steps including bombing of the North.
21 Feb 1964 MACV Comment on CAS Group Findings
General Harkins takes issue not with the specific factual reporting of the CAS Group, but with their broader conclusions about the direction the war is going, and the respective effectiveness of the VC and GVN.
2 Mar 1964 JCSM-174-64
The JCS outline their proposal for punitive action against the DRV to halt Northern support for the VC insurgency. Bombing is specifically called for.
8 Mar 1964 SecDef and CJCS Begin Five-Day Trip to SVN
The President sends Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on another fact-finding trip to prepare for a major re-evaluation of the war and US involvement. While there, a set of recommendations to the President is decided upon.
12 Mar 1964 McNamara-Taylor see Khanh
Prior to their departure, McNamara and Taylor present their principal conclusions to General Khanh who is responsive to their suggestions and, in particular, declares his readiness to move promptly on a national mobilization and increasing ARVN and Civil Guard.
14 Mar 1964 Hilsman sends Final Memos to SecState
Having resigned over policy disagreement, Hilsman sends Rusk parting memos on SEA and SVN. He describes two principles basic to success in guerrilla warfare: (1) the oil blot approach to progressive rural security; and (2) the avoidance of large-scale operations. He further opposes redirecting the war effort against the North. Political stability is absolutely essential to eventual victory.
The JCS, in commenting on McNamara's proposed recommendations to the President, reiterate their views of 2 March that a program of actions against the North is required to effectively strike at the sources of the insurgency. The overall military recommendations proposed by McNamara are inadequate, they feel.
16 Mar 1964 SecDef Recommendations to the President
Largely ignoring the JCS reclama, McNamara reports on the conclusions of his trip to Vietnam and recommends the full civilian and military mobilization to which General Khanh has committed himself. This is to be accompanied by an extensive set of internal reforms and organizational improvements. Some increases in US personnel are recommended along with increased materiel support for the GVN.
17 Mar 1964 NSAM 288
The President accepts McNamara's full report and has it adopted as NSAM 288 to guide national policy. The importance of South Vietnam to US policy and security is underlined and the extent of the US commitment to it increased. While significant increases in actual US participation in the war are rejected as not warranted for the moment, the JCS are authorized to begin planning studies for striking at the sources of insurgency in the DRV.
1 Apr 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 1880
Lodge reports per State request that Khanh's proposed mobilization measures call for both civilian and military build-ups.
4 Apr 1964 Khanh Announces Mobilization
Khanh announces that all able-bodied males aged 20 to 45 will be subject to national public service, either military or civilian.
W. P. Bundy Letter to Lodge
In a letter to Lodge, Bundy asks him to comment on a scenario for mobilizing domestic US political support for action against the DRV.
15 Apr 1964 Lodge reports on Mobilization
Lodge reports that Khanh's 4 April announcement was only the precursor of the legal decrees the essence of which he described.
15-20 Apr 1964 General Wheeler, Co/S/USA, Visits Vietnam
The Army Chief of Staff, General Earl Wheeler visits Vietnam to make a survey and represent the SecDef during the visit of Secretary Rusk. On 16 April, he meets with Khanh who first mentions his view that the war will eventually have to be taken to the North.
17-20 Apr 1964 Rusk Visits Saigon
Secretary Rusk and party visit Saigon. On 18 April, Rusk sees Khanh who again mentions the eventual necessity of carrying the fight to the North. Rusk replies that such a significant escalation of the war would require much thought and preparation. At the 19 April meeting with the Country Team, much of the discussion is devoted to the problem of pressures against the North.
25 Apr 1964 President Names General Westmoreland to Succeed General Harkins
General William Westmoreland is named to succeed General Harkins in the summer.
29 Apr1964 JCS Msg 6073 to MACV
The JCS, worried at the GVN delay, ask MACV to submit the force plan for 1964 by 7 May.
30 Apr 1964 Lodge, Brent and Westmoreland See Khanh
In a showdown with Khanh, Lodge, Brent and Westmoreland state that the fundamental problem is lack of administrative support for the provincial war against the VC, particularly the inadequacy of the piastre support for the pacification program. Khanh promises more effort.
Embassy Saigon Msg 1889 EXDIS for the President
Lodge informs the President that Khanh has agreed to US advisors in the pacified areas if we are willing to accept casualties. Lodge recommends one advisor for each corps area and one for Khanh, all reporting to Lodge.
2 May 1964 Lodge Reports on Delay in Mobilization
Lodge reports that the draft mobilization decrees have still not been signed or promulgated.
4 May 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 2112
Having asked to see Lodge, Khanh asks him whether he, Lodge, thinks the country should be put on a war footing. Khanh wants to carry the war to the North and sees this as necessary preliminary.
6 May 1964 NSC Meeting
The NSC confirms Rusk's caution to Khanh on any moves against the North. The President asks McNamara to make a fact-finder to Vietnam.
7 May 1964 MACV, US/GVN 1964 Force Level Agreement
MACV informs the JCS that agreement has been reached with the GVN on the level of forces to be reached by year's end.
12-14 May 1964 McNamara-Taylor Mission
McNamara-Taylor visit SVN. They are briefed on 12-13 April by the Mission. On 14 April they see Khanh who again talks of going North. McNamara demurs, but insists on more political stability and program effectiveness.
30 May 1964 Honolulu Conference
Rusk, McNamara, McCone and aides meet in Honolulu with the Country Team. A full dress discussion of pressures takes place, but no decisions or recommendations are approved. Rather, more emphasis on the critical provinces is approved, along with an expanded advisory effort.
5 Jun 1964 Department of State Msg 2184
Lodge is informed of the President's approval of the expanded effort in the critical provinces.
15 Jun 1964 W. P. Bundy memo to SecState and SecDef
Attached to a Bundy memo for consideration at a meeting later the same day, are six annexes each dealing with a different aspect of the problem of getting a Congressional resolution of support for the current US Southeast Asian policy. One of the important themes is that an act of irreversible US commitment might provide the necessary psychological support to get real reform and effectiveness from the GVN.
23 Jun 1964 President Announces JCS Chairman Taylor as New Ambassador
President Johnson announces the appointment of JCS Chairman, Maxwell Taylor, to succeed Lodge, who is returning to engage in Republican Presidential politics.
30 Jun 1964 Taylor Succeeds Lodge
Lodge leaves Saigon and Taylor takes over as US Ambassador with U. Alexis Johnson as Deputy.
7 Jul 1964 Taylor Forms Mission Council
In an effort to streamline the Embassy and increase his policy control, Taylor forms the Mission Council at the Country Team level.
8 Jul 1964 Taylor Calls on Khanh
Taylor calls on Khanh who expresses satisfaction with the new personnel, approves the Mission Council idea and offers to create a counter part organization.
10 Jul 1964 Department of State Msg 108
The President asks Taylor to submit regular month-end progress reports on all aspects of the program.
15 Jul 1964 Taylor reports increased VC strength, Embassy Saigon Msgs 107 and 108
Taylor raises the estimate of Viet Cong strength from the previous total of 28,000 to 34,000. This does not represent a sudden increase, but rather intelligence confirmation of long suspected units.
17 Jul 1964 USOM Meets With GVN NSC
As he had promised, Khanh creates a coordinating group within the GVN to deal with the new Mission Council and calls it the NSC.
19 Jul 1964 Khanh Makes Public Reference to "Going North"
In a public speech, Khanh refers to the "March to the North." In a separate statement to the press, General Ky also refers to the "march North."
23 Jul 1964 Taylor Meets with Khanh and NSC
In a meeting with Khanh and the NSC, Taylor is told by Khanh that the move against the North is indispensable to the success of the counterinsurgency campaign in the South.
24 Jul 1964 Taylor and Khanh discuss Coups
In a discussion of coup rumors, Khanh complains that it is US sup-port of Minh that is behind all the trouble, Taylor reiterates US support for Khanh.
2 Aug 1964 USS Maddox Attacked in Tonkin Gulf
The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked in the Tonkin Gulf by DRV patrol craft while on a DE SOTO patrol off the DRV coast. Several patrol boats sunk.
4 Aug 1964 Maddox and C. Turner Joy Attacked
In a repetition of the 2 August incident, the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy are attacked. After strenuous efforts to confirm the attacks, the President authorizes reprisal air strikes against the North.
5 Aug 1964 US Reprisals
US aircraft attack several DRV patrol boat bases, destroying ships and facilities.
7 Aug 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolutions
At the time of the attacks, the President briefed leaders of Congress, and had a resolution of support for US policy introduced. It is passed with near-unanimity by both Houses.
Khanh Announces State of Emergency
Khanh announces a state of emergency that gives him near-dictatorial powers.
10 Aug 1964 Taylor's first Monthly Report
In his first monthly report to the President, Taylor gives a gloomy view of the political situation and of Khanh's capacities for effectively pursuing the war. He is equally pessimistic about other aspects of the situation.
11 Aug 1964 President Signs Tonkin Resolution
The President signs the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and pledges full support for the GVN.
12 Aug 1964 Taylor and Khanh Meet
Khanh discusses with Taylor his plan to draw up a new constitution enhancing his own powers. Taylor tries to discourage him.
14 Aug 1964 Khanh shows Taylor Draft Charter
At GVN NSC meeting, Khanh shows Taylor his proposed draft Constitution. Taylor dislikes its blatant ratification of Khanh as dictator.
16 Aug 1964 Khanh Names President
With the promulgation of the new constitution, Khanh is elected President by the MRC.
27 Aug 1964 MRC Disbands
After ten days of political turmoil and demonstrations, Khanh withdraws the constitution, the MRC names Khanh, Minh and Khiem to rule provisionally and disbands itself.
4 Sep 1964 Khanh Resumes Premiership
Khanh returns from Dalat and ends the crisis by resuming the Premiership.
6 Sep 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 768
Taylor cables an assessment that ". . . at best the emerging governmental structure might be capable of maintaining a holding operation against the Viet Cong."
7 Sep 1964 Washington Conference
Taylor meets with the President and the NSC Principals and decisions are made to resume DE SOTO operations, resume 34A operations, and prepare for further tit-for-tat reprisals.
l0 Sep 1964 NSAM 314
The 7 September decisions are promulgated.
13 Sep 1964 Abortive Phat Coup
General Phat launches a coup but it is defeated by forces loyal to Khanh. This establishes the power of younger officers such as Ky and Thi.
18 Sep 1964 DE SOTO Patrol Attacked
The first resumed DE SOTO patrol comes under apparent attack. To avoid future incidents, the President suspends the patrols.
26 Sep 1964 Vietnam High National Council
The MRC names a High National Council of distinguished citizens to prepare a constitution.
20 Oct 1964 New Constitution Revealed
The MRC presents the new constitution drafted by the High National Council. A prompt return to civilian government is promised.
1 Nov 1964 Huong Names Premier
Tran Van Huong, a civilian, is named Premier after the appointment of Phan Khac Suu as Chief of State, thus returning the government to civilian control.
Nov 1964 VC Attack Bien Hoa Airport
The VC launch a mortar attack on the Bien Hoa airfield that kills Americans and damages aircraft. The military recommend a reprisal against the North; the President refuses.
Nov 1964 Johnson re-elected
Lyndon Johnson is re-elected President with a crushing majority.
Task Force Begins Policy Review
At the President's request, W. P. Bundy heads an inter-agency Task Force for an in-depth review of US Vietnam policy and options. The work goes on throughout the month.
26 Nov 1964 Bundy Group Submits Three Options
The Bundy Task Force submits its draft conclusions to the Principals. They propose three alternative courses of action: (1) continuation of current policy with no escalation and a resistance to negotiations; (2) a significant set of pressures against the North accompanied by vigorous efforts to start negotiations; (3) a modest campaign against the North with resistance to negotiations.
30 Nov 1964 NSC Principals Modify Bundy Proposals
The NSC Principals reject the pure form of any of the recommendations and instead substitute a two-phase recommendation for the President: the first phase is a slight intensification of current covert activities against the North and in Laos, the second after 30 days would be a moderate campaign of air strikes against the DRV.
1 Dec 1964 President Meets with NSC and Taylor
The President, in a meeting with the NSC Principals, and Taylor, who returned on 23 November, hears the latter's report on the grave conditions in SVN, then approves Phase I of the proposal. He gives tentative approval to Phase II but makes it contingent on improvement by the GVN.
3 Dec 1964 President Confers with Taylor
In a last meeting with Taylor, the President stresses the need to get action from the GVN before Phase II.
8 Dec 1964 Taylor Sees Huong
Taylor presents the President's requirements to Premier Huong who promises to get new action on programs.
14 Dec 1964 BARREL ROLL Begins
BARREL ROLL armed reconnaissance in Laos begins as called for in Phase I of the program approved 1 December.
20 Dec 1964 Military Stage Purge
The struggle within the MRC takes the form of a purge by the younger officers Ky and Thi. They are seeking to curb the power of the Huong Government.
21 Dec 1964 Khanh Declares Support for Purge
Khanh declares his support of the purge and opposes the US, Taylor in particular. He states he will not "carry out the policy of any foreign country." Rumors that Taylor will be declared personna non grata circulate.
24 Dec 1964 US Billet in Saigon Bombed
The VC bomb a US billet in Saigon on Christmas Eve, killing several Americans. The President disapproves military recommendations for a reprisal against the North.
31 Dec 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 2010
Taylor recommends going ahead with the Phase II air campaign against the North in spite of the political instability and confusion in the South. He now argues that the strikes may help stabilize the situation.
6 Jan 1965 Bundy Memo to SecState
In a memo to the Secretary of State, Wm Bundy urges that we consider some additional actions short of Phase II of the December plan in spite of the chaos is Saigon. It is the only possible course to save the situation.
8 Jan 1965 ROK Troops go to SVN
South Korea sends 2,000 military advisors to South Vietnam.
27 Jan 1965 McNaughton Memo to SecDef
In a memo to SecDef, McNaughton underscores the importance of SEA for the US and then suggests that we may have to adopt Phase II as the only way to save the current situation.
27 Jan 1965 Khanh Ousts Huong Government
Khanh and the younger officers oust the civilian Huong government. Khanh nominates General Oanh to head an interim regime the next day.
7 Feb 1965 VC Mortar Attack Pleiku
The VC launch a mortar attack on a US billet in Pleiku and an associated helicopter field. Many Americans are killed and helos damaged. The President, with the unanimous recommendation of his advisors, authorizes a reprisal.
FLAMING DART I
The reprisal strikes involve both US and VNAF planes. A second mission is flown the following day.
McGeorge Bundy Memo to the President
In an influential memo to the President after a fact-finding trip to Vietnam, Bundy concludes that the situation can only be righted by beginning sustained and escalating air attacks on the North a la Phase II. He had telephoned his concurrence in the FLAMING DART reprisal to the President from Vietnam.
8 Feb 1965 McNamara Memo to JCS
In a memo to the JCS, McNamara requests the development of a limited bombing program against the North. The JCS later submit the "Eight-week Program."
10 Feb 1965 VC Attack Qui Nhon
Thumbing their noses at the US reprisal, the VC attack a US billet in Qui Nhon and kill 23.
11 Feb 1965 FLAMING DART II
The second reprisal strikes authorized by the President attack targets in the North.
18 Feb 1965 Coup Fails, but Khanh Ousted
A coup against the new Premier, Quat, fails when the Armed Forces Council intervenes. They seize the opportunity to remove Khanh and he is forced to leave the country several days later.
24 Feb 1965 ROLLING THUNDER Approved
The President approves the first strikes for the ROLLING THUNDER sustained, escalating air campaign against the DRV.
2 Mar 1965 ROLLING THUNDER Begins
After being once postponed, the first ROLLING THUNDER strikes take place.
6 Mar 1965 Marines to DaNang
The President decides to send two US Marine Battalion Landing Teams to DaNang to take up the base security function. They arrive two days later.
14 Mar 1965 General H. K. Johnson Report
After a trip to Vietnam, the Army Chief of Staff, General Johnson, recommends a 21-point program to the President. Included are increased attacks on the North and removal of restrictions on these missions.
29 Mar 1965 US Embassy Bombed
Just as Ambassador Taylor is leaving for a policy conference in Washington, the US Embassy in Saigon is bombed by VC terrorists with loss of life and extensive property damage.
31 Mar 1965 State Memo to the President
In a 41-point non-military recommendation to the President, State elaborates on a Taylor proposal.
1 Apr 1965 President Meets With NSC and Taylor
At a meeting with Taylor and the NSC Principals, the President approves the 41-point non-military proposal, plus General Johnson's 21-point proposal. In addition, he decides to send two more Marine battalions and an air wing to Vietnam and to authorize an active combat role for these forces. He also authorizes 18,000-20,000 more support forces.
2 Apr 1965 McCone Dissents from 1 Apr Decisions
In a memo to SecState, SecDef, and Ambassador Taylor, CIA Director John McCone takes exception to the decision to give US troops a ground role. It is not justified unless we take radically stronger measures against North Vietnam.
6 Apr 1965 NSAM 288
NSAM 288 promulgates the decisions of the 1 April meeting.
7 Apr 1965 President's Johns Hopkins Speech
The President, in a speech at John Hopkins, offers unconditional talks with the DRV plus help in rebuilding after the war if they will cease aggression.
8 Apr 1965 Pham Van Dong Announces 4 Points
DRV Foreign Minister, Pham Van Dong, announces his four points for a Vietnam settlement. They are a defiant, unyielding repudiation of Johnson's offer.
15 Apr 1965 State Department Msg 2332
McGeorge Bundy informs Taylor that further increments of troops are being considered, plus use of US Army civil affairs personnel.
17 Apr 1965 Embassy Saigon Msg 3419
Taylor takes angry exception to the proposal to increase troops and to introduce military civil affairs personnel into the provinces. He did not think he had agreed on 1 April to a land war in Asia.
20 Apr 1965 Honolulu Conference
In a hastily called conference, McNamara informs Taylor in detail of the new policy directions and "brings him along." An attempt is made to mollify him.
A. NSAM-273--THE AFTERMATH OF DIEM
NSAM 273 of 26 November 1963 came just four days after the assassination of President Kennedy and less than a month after the assassination of the Ngo brothers and their replacement by the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC). NSAM 273 was an interim, don't rock-the-boat document. Its central significance was that although the two assassinations had changed many things, U.S. policy proposed to remain substantially the same. In retrospect, it is unmistakably clear, but it was certainly not unmistakably clear at that time, that this was a period of crucial and accelerated change in the situation in South Vietnam. NSAM 273 reflected the general judgment of the situation in Vietnam that had gained official acceptance during the previous period, most recently and notably during the visit of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor to Vietnam in late September of that year.
This generally sanguine appraisal had been the basis for the recommendation in that report to establish a program to train Vietnamese to carry out, by the end of 1965, the essential functions then performed by U.S. military personnel--by which time "it should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel." As an immediate gesture in this direction, the report recommended that "the Defense Department should announce in the very near future, presently prepared plans to withdraw one thousand U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963." The latter recommendation was acted upon the same day (2 October 1963) by making it part of a White House statement of U.S. Policy on Vietnam. This White House statement included the following pronouncement.
Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where one thousand U.S. personnel assigned to South Vietnam can be withdrawn.
The visit of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to Saigon at the end of September was followed by the report to the President in early October and agreements reached with the President at the White House early in October following the Diem coup, a special meeting on Vietnam was held at CINCPAC headquarters on 20 November. Although this Honolulu meeting was marked by some concern over the administrative dislocation that had resulted from the coup of three weeks before, the tone remained one of optimism along the lines of the October 2 report to the President. Ambassador Lodge took note of what he called the "political fragility" of the new regime, but he was on the whole optimistic, and even mentioned that the statement on u.s. military withdrawal was having a continued "tonic" effect on the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). General Harkins in his report mentioned a sharp increase in Viet Cong (VC) incidents right after the coup, but added that these had dropped to normal within a week, and that there had, moreover, been compensating events such as additional Montagnards coming out of the hills to get government protection. All in all there was some uneasiness, perhaps, about unknown effects of the coup, but nothing was said to suggest that any serious departure was contemplated from the generally optimistic official outlook of late September and early October. And so, with reference to the statements of October 2, NSAM 273 repeated:
The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.
Before examining further the background of NSAM 273-especially the appraisals of the Vietnam situation that it reflected-it is well to review some of the main provisions of that policy statement of 26 November 1963.
NSAM 273 was not comprehensive, as the McNamara-Taylor report of 2 October (discussed below) had been, nor as NSAM 288 was later to be. Mainly it served to indicate continuance by the new President of policies already agreed upon, and to demonstrate full support by the United States of the new government of Vietnam (GVN). Both military and economic programs, it was emphasized, should be maintained at levels as high as those in the time of the Diem regime. In addition, there was an unusual Presidential exhortation-reflecting the internal U.S. dispute over policy concerning Diem and Nhu that had made embarrassing headlines in October--that:
The President expects that all senior officers of the government will move energetically to insure the full unity of support for established U.S. policy in South Vietnam. Both in Washington and in the field, it is essential that the government be unified. It is of particular importance that express or implied criticism of officers of other branches be assiduously avoided in all contacts with the Vietnamese government and with the press.
NSAM 273 was specifically programatic so far as SVN was concerned only in directing priority of effort to the Delta.
(5) We should concentrate our efforts, and insofar as possible we should persuade the government of South Vietnam to concentrate its effort, on the critical situation in the Mekong Delta. This concentration should include not only military but political, economic, social, educational and informational effort. We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle but of belief, and we should seek to increase not only the controlled hamlets but the productivity of this area, especially where the proceeds can be held for the advantage of anti-Communist forces.
In general, the policies expressed by NSAM 273 were responsive to the older philosophy of our intervention there, which was that the central function of the U.S. effort was to help the South Vietnamese to help themselves because only if they did the major job themselves could that job in reality be done at all. We would assist stabilization of the new regime and head it in that direction.
(3) It is a major interest of the United States government that the present provisional government of South Vietnam should be assisted in consolidating itself in holding and developing increased public support.
Definition of the central task in South Vietnam as that of winning the hearts and minds of the people and of gaining for the GVN the support of the people had been the central consideration in the late summer and early fall of what to do about Diem and Nhu. The argument concerning the Diem government centered on the concept that the struggle in South Vietnam could not be won without the support of the South Vietnamese people and that under the Diem regime--especially because of the growing power and dominance of Nhu-the essential popular base was beyond reach. In the 2 October report to the President as well as in the discussions later at Honolulu on 20 November this theme was prominent. The U.S. could not win the struggle, only the Vietnamese could do that. For instance, in the report to the President of 2 October, there were these words in the section on "the U.S. military advisory and support effort."
We may all be proud of the effectiveness of the U.S. military advisory and support. With few exceptions, U.S. military advisors report excellent relations with their Vietnamese counterparts, whom they characterize as proud and willing soldiers. The stiffening and exemplary effect of U.S. behavior and attitudes has had an impact which is not confined to the war effort, but which extends deeply into the whole Vietnamese way of doing things.
The U.S. advisory effort, however, cannot assure ultimate success. This is a Vietnamese war and the country and the war must in the end be run solely by the Vietnamese. It will impair their independence and development of their initiative if we leave our advisors in place beyond the time they are really needed . . . [emphasis supplied]
Policy concerning aid to the Vietnamese may be considered to range between two polar extremes. One extreme would be our doing almost everything difficult for the Vietnamese, and the other would consist of limiting our own actions to provision of no more than material aid and advice while leaving everything important to be done by the Vietnamese themselves. Choice of a policy at any point on this continuum reflects a judgment concerning the basic nature of the problem; i.e. to what extent political and to what extent military; to what extent reasonable by political means and to what extent resolvable by military means even by outsiders. But in this case the choice of policy also reflected confidence that success was being achieved by the kind and level of effort that had already been devoted to this venture. The policy of NSAM 273 was predicated on such confidence. It constituted by its reference to the 2 October statement an explicit anticipation, with tentative time phases expressly stated, of the assumption by the Vietnamese of direct responsibility for doing all the important things themselves sometime in 1965, the U.S. thereafter providing only material aid and non-participating advice at the end of that period. That optimism was explicit in the report to the President of 2 October wherein the conclusion of the section on "The US Military Advisory and Support Effort" consisted of this paragraph:
Acknowledging the progress achieved to date, there still remains the question of when the final victory can be obtained. If, by victory, we mean the reduction of the insurgency to something little more than sporadic banditry in outlying districts, it is the view of the vast majority of military commanders consulted that success may be achieved in the I, II, and III Corps area by the end of CY 1964. Victory in IV Corps will take longer-at least well into 1965. These estimates assume that the political situation does not significantly impede the effort. [emphasis supplied]
B. FIRST REAPPRAISALS OF THE SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM
The caveat given expression in the last sentence of the conclusions cited above offered an escape clause, but it was clearly not employed as a basis for planning and for programming. It was not emphasized, and the lack of emphasis was consistent with the general tone of optimism in the report as a whole. This general optimism in fact reflected the judgments proferred by most of the senior officials upon whom the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had principally relied for advice. It is obvious, however, that the optimism was scarcely consistent with the grave apprehension with which the political situation was viewed at the time.
Ever since the Buddhist crisis began in early summer, the fear had been felt at the highest U.S. policy levels that the explosiveness and instability of the political situation in Vietnam might undermine completely our efforts there. This apprehension had been the reason why the President first dispatched the Mendenhall-Krulak mission to Vietnam in early September, and then, a fortnight later, sent the McNamara-Taylor mission. The political crisis existing in Vietnam was indeed a subject of great concern at the very time of the latter visit. During this visit a decision was made that a proposed Presidential letter of remonstrance to Diem for his repressive policies concerning the Buddhists was tactically unwise and that, instead, a letter over the signature of the Joint Chiefs, ostensibly directed primarily to the military situation, should be delivered to Diem carrying a somewhat modified expression of protest. That letter dated October 1 was delivered to Diem on October 2 and included these judgments:
Now, as Secretary McNamara has told you, a serious doubt hangs over our hopes for the future. Can we win together in the face of the reaction to the measures taken by your government against the Buddhists and the students? As a military man I would say that we can win provided there are no further political setbacks. The military indicators are still generally favorable and can be made more so by actions readily within the power of your government. If you allow me, I would mention a few of the military actions which I believe necessary for this improvement.
And, in closing the letter the CJCS expressed himself in these words:
In closing, Mr. President, may I give you my most important overall impression? Up to now the battle against the Viet Cong had seemed endless; no one has been willing to set a date for its successful conclusion. After talking to scores of officers, Vietnamese and American, I am convinced that the Viet Cong insurgency in the North and Center can be reduced to little more than sporadic incidents by the end of 1964. The Delta will take longer but should be completed by the end of 1965. But for these predictions to be valid, certain conditions must be met. Your government should be prepared to energize all agencies, military and civil, to a higher output of activity than up to now. Ineffective commanders and province officials must be replaced as soon as identified. Finally, there should be a restoration of domestic tranquility on the homefront if political tensions are to be allayed and external criticism is to abate. Conditions are needed for the creation of an atmosphere conducive to an effective campaign directed at the objectives, vital to both of us, of defeating the Viet Cong and of restoring peace to your country.
This letter was a policy instrument, of course, rather than exclusively an expression of an appraisal. As a matter of tactics it was softened considerably from the first proposed letter which was to say that the United States would consider disassociating itself from the Vietnam Government and discontinue support unless the GVN altered its repressive policies. It is cited here mainly to indicate the concern, made explicit by the senior members of the U.S. Mission in late September, concerning the possible effect upon military effectiveness of the political unrest.
About a week later, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Secretary McNamara repeated the theme that the military situation was good, that the political situation was bad, that the political situation could have a bad effect on the military situation, but it had not had such a bad effect yet.
Following an appraisal of the military situation by Gen. Taylor, Chairman Morgan asked the SecDef "Mr. Secretary, then you feel and I am sure the General feels, that the military effort is going very well?" To this the SecDef's response was:
Secretary McNamara. Yes we do. I think Gen. Taylor has emphasized and I would like to emphasize again, that while we believe the serious political unrest has not to date seriously and adversely affected the military effort, it may do so in the future, if it continues.
Chairman Morgan. General, or Mr. Secretary, could we say that the military situation is moving well, but the political situation is not-the political situation is bad?
Secretary McNamara. Yes, I think that is a fair summary.
Chairman Morgan. Mr. Secretary, then, from your observations, both you and the General, from the 8 days you spent in the country, you can't see any deterioration in the military effort of SVN because of the political situation in the country?
Secretary McNamara. This is a fair statement.
Chairman Morgan. You feel that the Vietnamese Army is moving ahead and is cooperating with our forces in there?
Secretary McNamara. Yes. Certain of the affairs of the Vietnamese Army have been affected by the political unrest of recent months. As Gen. Taylor pointed out, some of their relatives have been arrested and subjected to a violation of their personal freedoms and liberties, and undoubtedly this has tended to turn some of the officers away from support of their government.
But they are strongly motivated by the desire to resist the Communist encroachment . . . and their anti-Communist feelings are stronger than their distrust of government. So to date there has been no reduction in the effectiveness of their military operations.
There is no record that this express recognition that the bad political situation
might affect the military capability was considered a contingency to be foreseen
in the program, or that anyone suggested it should be.
Nearly four months later Secretary McNamara had an explanation to offer concerning his view of the situation at the time of this testimony. Appearing once more in Executive Session to testify on the authorization bill for the fiscal year 1965, before the House Committee on Armed Services on 27 January 1964, the Secretary was asked by Mr. Chamberman of the House Committee to explain why
his press conference comments on the situation the day before were clearly more optimistic than those in his Congressional statement. Both were more optimistic than recent news reports from Viet Nam.
In response, the Secretary went back to his Joint Report to the President of 2 October, to cite again the caveat which had been expressed as follows.
The political situation in South Viet Nam remains deeply serious. The United States has made clear its continuing opposition to any repressive actions in South Viet Nam. While such actions have not yet significantly affected the military effort, they could do so in the future.
In further amplification of this point the Secretary almost claimed, in effect, to have foreseen and to have forecast the degradation of capability that it was then clear (in January 1964) had occurred and, had, in fact continued ever since November. These were his words,
We didn't say--but I think you could have predicted that what we had in mind was--that (1) either Diem would continue his repressive measures and remain in power, in which case he would continue to lose public support and, since that is the foundation of successful counter guerilla operations, the military operations would be adversely affected, or (2) alternatively he would continue his repressive measures and build so much resistance that he would be thrown out, then a coup would take place, and during the period of reorganization following . . . there would be instability and uncertainty and military operations would be adversely affected.
No fully persuasive explanation has been discovered of the apparent discrepancy between this foresight concerning the possible ill effects of political instability and the generally optimistic prognosis and the program based upon that optimism. The Secretary had had no enthusiasm for the coup. Possibly he adjusted, though reluctantly, to the idea and decided that the political difficulties would either be overcome by means he did not feel it was his duty to explore, or would not be serious or lasting enough to be critical. However, all of the thinking then in vogue about counterinsurgency insisted that favorable political circumstances were essential to success. Therefore, unless it was assumed that favorable political circumstances could be brought about, the counterinsurgency effort was bound to fail. So long as the adverse case was not proved one had to assume ultimately favorable political conditions because it was unthinkable to stop trying.
Even before NSAM 273 was adopted, evidence began to accumulate that the optimistic assumptions underlying it were suspect. First, there was unmistakable and accumulating evidence that, in the period immediately after the coup, the situation had deteriorated in many places as a direct result of the coup. Then came increasing expression of a judgment that this deterioration was not merely an immediate and short lived phenomenon, but something, rather, that continued well after the worst administrative confusions immediately after the coup had been reduced. Finally, the impression, developed in many quarters, and eventually spread to all, that be/ore the coup, the situation had been much more adverse than we had recognized officially at the time. Before the end of December, we decided to institute a system of covert checks on the accuracy of our basic intelligence-a large part of which came from Vietnamese sources. (There was suspicion that the interests of these officials were often served by reporting to us or to their superiors within the GVN what we or the GVN high officials wanted to hear.) As December and January and February passed, the situation reports trended consistently downward, the accumulating evidence seemed to indicate quite clearly that appreciation of setbacks and of adverse developments was regularly belated. The result was that programs tended commonly to be premised upon a more optimistic appraisal of the situation than was valid for the time when they were adopted, whether or not they were valid for an earlier period.
Judgments of the trend of events in Vietnam and of the progress of our program had long been a subject of controversy, both public and within the councils of government. That there had been an undercurrent of pessimism concerning the situation in Vietnam was no secret to the responsible officials who visited Vietnam in September and who reported to the President on 2 October, or to the larger group that convened at CINCPAC HQ on 20 November. Most of the qualifications in their minds related to imponderables of the political situation, which it was always hoped and assumed would be successfully resolved. The focus of the disagreement had generally been the policies of Diem and Nhu especially with respect to the Buddhists. During the summer of 1963, disagreement over the state of affairs in Vietnam had not only been aired in closed official councils, but had flared into open controversy in the public press in a manner that seemed to many to be detrimental to the U.S. It was possible to get directly conflicting views from the experts. One of the better known illustrations of this bewildering diversity of opinions among those with some claim to know is the instance recounted by both Schlesinger and Hilsman of the reports to President Kennedy on 10 September 1963 by General Victor Krulak and Mr. Joseph A. Mendenhall upon their return from their special mission to Vietnam. General Krulak was a specialist in counterinsurgency and Mr. Mendenhall had, not long before, completed a tour of duty in Saigon as Deputy Chief of Mission under Ambassador Durbrow. After hearing them both out (with Krulak painting the rosy picture and Mendenhall the gloomy one), the President, in the words of the Hilsman account, "looked quizzically from one to the other. You two did visit the same country, didn't you?"
Much of the disagreement concerning the progress of the anti-Viet Cong effort during the middle of 1963 was related intimately to issues posed by the Buddhist revolt. Where there was pessimism or scepticism about the progress of the war in general or the success of the pacification program, the attitude was generally associated with the judgment that Diem and Nhu were not administering affairs right and were alienating rather than winning the support of the masses of South Vietnamese people. Aside from Diem and Nhu and the Buddhist revolt, the major center of controversy was the situation in the Delta. The fact that NSAM 273 called for priority effort in the Delta reflected official recognition that the situation in the Delta demanded it. The ground work for this was laid during the McNamara-Taylor visit, but recognition of the serious problem there had come slowly and not without controversy.
A public controversy on the subject was touched off by an article filed in Saigon on 15 August 1963 by David Halberstam of the New York Times. The Halberstam article said that the RVN military situation in the Delta had deteriorated seriously over the past year, and was getting increasingly worse. The VC bad been increasing greatly in number, were in possession of more and better arms and had larger stores of them, and their boldness to operate in large units-up to 600 or even 1,000 men-had become marked. The VC weapon losses were down, and the GVN weapon losses were up. U.S. military men and civilian officials in the field, according to this article, were reported to be very apprehensive of the effect of all this upon the Strategic Hamlet Program, and the whole future of GVN control in the Delta was in doubt. But, it was hinted strongly, higher echelon authorities were unwilling to perceive the dangers. "Some long-time observers are comparing official American optimism about the Delta to the French optimism that preceded France's route from Indochina in 1954. They warn of high-level self-deception."
The official refutation of the Halberstam article, prepared for the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs by SACSA, categorically denied everything. Based upon what it termed "the most reliable and accurate data available from both classified and unclassified sources" the analysis showed, in the language of its summary, that "the military situation is improving throughout the Republic of Vietnam, not as rapidly in the Mekong Delta as in the North, but improving markedly none the less. The picture is precisely the opposite of the one painted by Mr. Halberstam." In the body of the refutation, 13 of the principle charges in the Halberstam article were analyzed, one-by-one, and battered by an array of percentages, statistics presented both tabularly and in graphs, and all of the numbers were very impressive and persuasive if taken at face value. They showed, for instance, that the VC armed attacks and VC initiated incidents (not armed), in mid-summer 1963 were below the 1962 average, that the average net weekly loss of GVN weapons to the VC had fallen from 62 in 1961 to 12 in 1962 to only 6 of 1963, and that the rate of both company-sized and battalion-sized VN attacks had fallen markedly, in 1963 from the 1962 level.
Generalizations about how the different groups, agencies, and echelons sided on the issue of the Vietnam situation tend to oversimplify because however they are made, there are exceptions. Most of the senior officers in-field in the direct line of operational responsibility tended to accept the more optimistic interpretation. Examples in this category would include CINCPAC (Admiral Felt), COMUSMACV (General Harkins), Ambassador Nolting (who was soon to be replaced, however, by Ambassador Lodge, who tended to be less optimistic), and CIA Station Chief Richardson. Nolting and Richardson had been charged to develop a close and friendly relationship with Diem, and this involved necessarily a special sort of sympathy for his outlook. The lives of most senior officers charged with operating responsibility have been pointed to giving leadership in situations of stress. This leadership includes setting an example of high morale, by their own conduct, to encourage enthusiastic esprit de corps among subordinates, and to project an unfailing image of confidence to the outside world. Such men are likely to find it almost impossible to recognize and to acknowledge existence of a situation seriously adverse to their assigned mission. It is contrary to their lifetime training never to be daunted. This characteristic makes them good leaders for difficult missions but it does not especially qualify them for rendering dispassionate judgments of the feasibility of missions or of the progress they are making. Admiral Felt and General Harkins in the field, and General Krulak in Washington, appear to have been more the gung ho type of leaders of men in combat situations than the cautious reflective weighers of complex circumstances and feasibilities, including political complications.
Officials and agencies in Washington who depended directly or primarily upon these officers for an understanding of the situation tended, very naturally, to put their greatest faith in the judgment of those in the field who were administratively responsible and who had access to the most comprehensive official reports and data. If there were disadvantages in the position of these people, a major one was that most of their information was supplied by GVN officials, who often had a vested interest in making things look good. Moreover, the U.S. officials in positions of operational responsibility had a professional commitment to programs which, often, they had had a hand in establishing. This normally inhibited them from giving the worst interpretation to evidence that was incomplete, ambiguous or inconclusive-and most evidence was one or more of these. Moreover, the public relations aspects of most positions of operating responsibility make it seem necessary to put a good face on things as a part of that operating responsibility. The morale of the organization seems to demand it. Finally, the intelligence provided on an official basis generally followed formats devised for uniform formal compilation and standard statistical treatment. All along the line, lower echelons were judged, rewarded or penalized by higher echelons in terms of the progress revealed by the reports they turned in. This practice encouraged and facilitated feeding unjustifiably optimistic data into the reporting machinery.
The darker view was easier for those who lacked career commitment to the success of the programs in the form in which they had been adopted. The more pessimistic interpretations were generally based, also, upon sources of information which were intimate, personal, out-of-channels, and with non-official personages. They were particularistic rather than comprehensive, intimate and intuitive rather than formal, impressionistic rather than statistical.
Moreover, some of the principal Cassandras were newsmen whose stories, ther
correct or incorrect, made the front page and sometimes even the head-
This suggested a vested interest in what for one reason or another was ational. Other Cassandras were military advisors of junior grades, or lesser M officers especially those in the provinces, whose views were easy to disit by higher officials because, however familiar the junior officers might be local acts or particular details, they generally lacked knowledge of the all picture.
There was unquestionable ambivalence in U.S. official attitudes concerning progress and prospects. Despite the repeatedly expressed qualifications concerning the potentially grave effect of the political instability in Vietnam, the programming and policy formulation, as already noted, was without qualification based on optimistic assumptions. In an over-view of the Vietnam War (1960-1963) prepared by SACSA and delivered to the Secretary shortly after his return from South Vietnam, the mission's assessment of military progress was summarized in these terms:
The evidences of overall military progress were so unmistakably clear that the mission, acknowledging the implications and uncertainties of the power crisis underway in Vietnam, concluded that the GVN military effort had achieved a momentum of progress which held further promise of ultimate victory over the Viet Cong; further, that victory was possible within reasonable limits of time and investment of U.S. resources.
The high priority of the Delta problem was recognized, in this same over-view, with the statement that "the mission was impressed with the evidence that the decisive conflict of the war was approaching in the Mekong Delta." The major difficulty there was identified somewhat euphemistically as due to the fact that "the mission found evidences that the Government of Vietnam had overextended its hamlet construction program in these southern provinces."
Not long before this, however, Michael Forrestal in the White House had sent to Secretary McNamara a copy of a Second In formal Appreciation of the Status of the Strategic Hamlet Program dated 1 September 1963, and prepared by USOM Regional Affairs officers. This Appreciation gave province by province summaries that were far from encouraging concerning the Delta. In addition to Long An and Dinh Tuong provinces which were the worst, it was said of Kien Tuong that
the program continues to be slow . . . few hamlets are completed and a fraction of planned militia trained . . . the one bright spot . . . remains the Pri Phap area, which is, however, vulnerable militarily should the VC decide to concentrate their efforts against it. The Chief of Province we feel is totally unqualified. Vinh Binh, although the hamlet program continued to increase in numbers . . . the security situation deteriorated in July and August. The removal of a recently introduced RVN battalion damaged the effort, and a change in leadership dislocated projects underway . . . Nhi Long has been severely threatened in August, the route to Vinh Long is again insecure . . . elsewhere the hamlet program appears to be over-extended and with insufficient troop support is under serious threat in former VC strongholds. Security in southernmost Long Toan District, the province VC haven, continues to be very poor . . . Major Thao, an extremely competent leader, . . . was replaced in late July....
Vinh Long: Although most signs indicate progress . . . evaluation of Vinh Long remains largely an evaluation of Lt. Col. Phuoc, Chief of Province
whose idea had previously led him to construct through corvee labor kilometer after kilometer of useless walls, and whose insensitivity to the population had led to considerable popular antipathy. An apparent change of attitude has taken place . . . and Phuoc now says that the strategic hamlet is a state of mind rather than a fortification. Phuoc's sincerity and commitment to the program are still problematical, however, as is public acceptance of him and of the program . . . some pessimists feel that this may well prove . . . the most difficult province in the Delta to pacify.
Chuong Thien: The Communists still control most of the people and land in Chuong Thien . . . [the] new province chief . . . has been evasive and has shown no desire really to cooperate . . . the large relocation effort....risks loss of the province to the VC because the people involved have been alienated.
Ba Xuyen: Shortcoming in the implementation of the hamlet program, as well as a lack of confidence in the province chief . . . led to the recall in late August of the USOM provincial representative and possible unofficial suspension of USOM . . . in an effort to build statistics, the province had constructed a number of vulnerable and non-viable hamlets. There has been a forced wholesale relocation, insufficiently justified, poorly financed numerous occurrences have convinced us that there is venality . . . and lack of good faith. A new province chief (not presently in prospect) might permit progress in this rich and important area . . . a major effort to gain popular support for government is needed in this as in many other Delta provinces.
An Xuyen: The province remains under VC control with the exception of a handful of widely separated government strong points . . . An Xuyen,
comprising much of the enemy's main Delta power center, is a primary source of men, money and supplies for the Communists.
Whether or not the full seriousness of the situation in the Delta was appreciated at the time of the McNamara-Taylor mission in September 1963, it is entirely clear that the Delta was recognized as a high priority problem. The recommendations set forth in their joint Report to the President of 2 October called for "the training and arming of hamlet militia at an accelerated rate, especially in the Delta" and for "a consolidation of the Strategic Hamlet Program, especially in the Delta, and action to insure that in the future strategic hamlets are not built until they can be protected and until civic action programs can be introduced." And in the appraisal of overall progress, the judgments were rendered that
The Delta remains the toughest area of all, and now requires top priority in both GVN and U.S. efforts. Approximately 40 percent of the people live there; the area is rich and has traditionally resisted central authority; it is the center of Viet Cong strength--over one-third of the "hard-core" are found there; and the maritime nature of the terrain renders it much the most difficult region to pacify.
During the Honolulu meeting of 20 November when Gen. Harkins presented a summary of the situation in 13 critical provinces, 7 were in the Delta. Secretary McNamara in a detailed discussion on that occasion of the situation on these provinces suggested that there were three things to be done in the Delta: (1) to get the Chieu Hoi program moving; (2) to get the fertilizer program going in order to increase the output of rice, and (3) most important, to improve the security of strategic hamlets by arming and training and increasing the numbers of the militia. It is recorded that at this point General Taylor made a suggestion that perhaps we needed joint U.S.-Vietnamese province teams to attack problems at the province level because the problems were in fact different in each province. This latter seems worth noting in view of the emphasis that was to be placed, some months later, upon getting more Americans into a supervisory or advisory capacity in the provincial areas.
When General Harkins presented his review of the military situation at this meeting, he indicated that weapon losses were quite high, particularly in November when the government forces lost nearly 3 weapons to every one captured from the VC. The losses were incurred largely by the Civil Guard, the Self-Defense Corps and the hamlet militia. It was also indicated at the meeting that the greatest single difficulty of a pacification program was in the problem of security in the hamlets. The assumptions were retained that: (1) the Communist insurgency would be brought under control in the Northern two-thirds of the country by the end of calendar year '64, the phase down of the RVNAF could be started at the beginning of calendar year 1965 (instead of the previous estimate of calendar year '66); and this resulted in a reduction from previous estimates of funding for the RVNAF (excluding para-military and police) as follows: (in millions of dollars)
Fiscal year '65: 225.2-213.3
Fiscal year '66: 225.5-197.4
Fiscal year '67: 143.5-131.2
Fiscal year '68: 122.7-119.7
Fiscal year '69: 121.9-119.5
While those from Washington who were attending the conference at Honolulu, and Ambassador Lodge, were returning to Washington, President Kennedy was assassinated. The following day, on 23 November, a memorandum was prepared to guide the new President for his meeting with Ambassador Lodge. The main points of this guidance stressed the need for teamwork within this U.S. mission.
It is absolutely vital that the whole of the country team, and particularly Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, work in close harmony and with full consultation, back-and-forth. There must be no back-biting or sniping at low levels such as may have contributed to recent news stories about General Harkins being out of favor with the new regime
C. FIRST ACTIONS ON NSAM-273 AND FIRST MISGIVINGS
In response to the call for priority of effort to turn the tide in the Delta, an additional ARVN division was shifted to the Delta, and directives were issued to COMUSMACV to effect an increase in military tempo there, especially to improve tactics, to maintain full strength in combat elements, in arming and training hamlet militia. Along with this, he was to consolidate strategic hamlet programs to bring the pace of construction to a level consistent with GVN capabilities both to provide essential protection and to introduce civic action programs. AID actions to increase production in the Delta were also initiated and accelerated-fertilizer, pesticides, rice seed, the hamlet school program and hamlet medics, generators and radio sets, etc. USOM had, further, conveyed to the GVN its assurance that, subject to Congressional appropriations, the U.S. fully intended to maintain the level of aid previously given to the Diem Government.
Scarcely more than a week after the formalization of NSAM 273 on 26 November 1963, the adverse trend of events that previously had been only rumored or feared moved much closer to being acknowledged to be an unmistakable and inescapable reality. On 7 December (Saigon time), Ambassador Lodge forwarded a report of USOM provincial representative Young on the situation in Long An province as of 6 Demember. Part of that report was as follows:
(1) The only progress made in Long An province during the month of November, 1963 has been by the Communist Viet Cong. The past thirty days have produced a day-by-day elimination of US/Vietnamese sponsored strategic hamlets and the marked increase in Viet Cong influence, military operations, physical control of the countryside and Communist controlled combat hamlets.
(2) At the end of September, 1963 province officials stated that 219 strategic hamlets were completed and met the 6 criteria. Effective 30 November 1963 this figure has been reduced to about 45 on the best estimates of MAAG, USOM and new province chief, Major Dao. Twenty-seven hamlets were attacked in November compared with a figure of 77 for June. This would appear to be an improvement. However, the explanation is a simple one: so many strategic hamlets have been rendered ineffective by the Viet Cong that only 27 were worth attacking this month....
(4) The reason for this unhappy situation is the failure of the government of Vietnam to support and protect the hamlets. The concept of the strategic hamlet called for a self-defense corps capable of holding off enemy attack for a brief period until regular forces (ARVN, Civil Guard, or SDC) could come to the rescue. In hamlet after hamlet this assistance never came, or in most cases, arrived the following morning during daylight hours....
(5) Two explanations are presented for the lack of assistance: (a) there are not sufficient troops to protect key installations and district headquarters
and at the same time go to the assistance of the hamlet. (b) Both official orders and policy prohibit the movement of troops after dark to go to the assistance of hamlets or isolated military posts....
(9) The strategic hamlet program in this province can be made workable and very effective against the Viet Cong. But help must come immediately in the form of additional troops and new concepts of operation, not in the same reheated French tactics of 1954, beefed up with more helicopters and tanks. The hamlets must be defended if this province is not to fall under complete control of the Viet Cong in the next few
(11) See also General Don's statement to me on Long An, notably his statement that totally useless and impractical hamlets were built with forced labor so that grafters would receive the money allocated to strategic hamlets....
(12) I am asking MACV and USOM to find out how the above and the scandalous conditions described by General Don escaped inspection.
This report on Long An province reached Washington about the same time that a Cabinet level meeting at the Department of State was being held to review the situation in Vietnam and discuss possible further actions. A briefing on the situation was presented, on behalf of the Defense Department and the Secretary, by General Krulak. General Krulak's briefing included the following conclusions:
a. The new GVN shows a desire to respond to U.S. advice and improve its military effectiveness and has the capability to do so. Its plans are basically sound but it is in a state of organizational turmoil which cannot fail to affect its capabilities adversely for the short term.
b. The VC are making an intensive although loosely coordinated effort to increase their hold on the countryside while the new government is shaking down.
c. The VC have exhibited a powerful military capability for at least a brief period of intensified operations and their skill at least in counter airborne operations is improving.
d. There is ground for concern that infiltration of materiel support has increased in the Delta area but there is little hard proof. This is a prime intelligence deficiency since it affects not only the military tactics but our overall Southeast Asia strategy.
The prevailing view at this time seems to have been more apprehensive than
Gen. Krulak's briefing would suggest. It was immediately decided that the Secretary
have another look at the situation by returning from the December NATO meeting via Saigon.
The Backup Book for the Secretary of Defense's Saigon trip of 18-20 December contains indications of the major questions that he proposed to look into during his brief projected visit to Vietnam. The Young Report on Long An Province as of 6 December had evidently made a strong impression, and it seems the Secretary was especially anxious to safeguard against being misled in the future about the status of programs. With respect to the Strategic Hamlet Program generally, it is evident that there was apprehension concerning the questionable statistics that had been used in the Diem regime's portrayal of the program. It was hoped that it would be possible to identify the requirements for a program of on-going current assessments of the program as quickly as possible. There was also an intention to publish an appropriate set of new guidelines for the coordination of construction, civic action and military programs, and, perhaps more important, to accomplish the consolidation and correction of hamlet programs in the shortest possible time. Five problem areas with respect to the strategic hamlet program were identified prior to the trip, these were:
a. What progress is being achieved by the surveys and when will the reports be available?
b. What specific actions were then underway to coordinate the companion military, political and social programs?
c. When would the new guidelines be published?
d. What action was underway to indoctrinate the newly assigned province officials to enable them to pursue the program effectively?
e. Was it plain that one big problem would be to insure that the province and district officials understood and executed vigorously their revised programs? Had any thought been given to adding an additional advisor or two, in the critical provinces, to work at the district level and to insure that the officials actually drove programs forward.
A point to be noted in these is the growing idea of placing an increasing number of advisors at the province and district level.
The Secretary made certain decisions of an immediate nature concerning programs in Vietnam while he was still in Saigon; and immediately upon his return he made his report to the President in which he described the situation as he had found it, and made further recommendations that he had evidently not felt empowered to enact without Presidential approval.
Among the actions agreed upon during the visit to Saigon on 19-20 December were the following:
1. The GVN should be pressed to increase troop density in six provinces in III Corps by about 100% (ten infantry and three engineering batallions), in accordance with plans discussed at a meeting with COMUSMACV and the Ambassador.
2. Revise the pacification plans for critical provinces to insure that they reflect scheduling and programming "based on a realistic appraisal of the actual status of the hamlets, the SDC and Civil Guard and ARVN as well as the rehabilitation materials available."
3. Increase U.S. military advisory strength in the thirteen critical provinces (agreed to be critical at Honolulu) in accordance with a table submitted by
4. Reinforce USOM representation in thirteen critical provinces starting with Long An in accordance with a proposal from USOM Saigon.
5. Provide uniforms for the SDC with priority on the Delta area.
6. Press the GVN for a clear statement, in form of orders to province chiefs, for continuance and reshaping of the hamlet program.
7. Press the GVN to provide for a Joint General Staff (JCS) chief, and
for a III Corps commander with no other responsibilities.
8. Continue to stress to the GVN the need for forceful central leadership and effective and visible popular leadership.
The Secretary's report for the President dated 21 December '63 [Doc. 52] was gloomy and expressed fear that the situation had been deteriorating long before any deterioration had been suspected (officially). The report began by saying that the situation was "very disturbing," and that unless current trends were reversed within two or three months they would "lead to neutralization at best and more likely to a Communist-controlled state." The new government of Big Minh was identified as the greatest source of concern because it seemed indecisive and drifting. There seemed to be a clear lack of administrative talent and of political experience. While on the other hand generals who should have been directing military affairs were preoccupied with political matters [i.e., working to assure or to increase their own political power within the RMC].
A second major weakness seemed to the Secretary to be the Country Team. He felt that it lacked leadership and had been "poorly informed" and was "not working according to a common plan." He had found as an example of confusion conflicts between USOM and military recommendations, in cases of recommendations to the government of Vietnam and Washington concerning the size of the military budget. "Above all, Lodge has virtually no official contact with Harkins." The Ambassador, the Secretary felt, simply could not conduct a coordinated administration--not because he did not wish to, but because he had "operated as a loner all his life and cannot readily change now." Concerning enemy progress, the report said
Viet Cong progress has been great during the period since the coup, with my best guess being that the situation has in fact been deteriorating in the countryside since July to a far greater extent than we realized because of undue dependence on distorted Vietnamese reporting. The Viet Cong now control very high proportions of the people in certain key provinces, particularly those directly South and West of Saigon. [Doc. 52] [emphasis supplied]
As remedial measures he recommended that the government of Vietnam be required to reallocate its military forces so that its effective strength in these key provinces would be essentially doubled. There would also have to be major increases in both the U.S. military staff and the USOM staff, to the point where the numbers of Americans assigned in the field would give the U.S. a reliable independent U.S. appraisal of the status of operations. (This was a clear enough indication of the Secretary's unhappiness with past reporting.) Third, he stated that a "realistic pacification plan" would have to be prepared. Specifically, they should allocate adequate time to make the remaining government controlled areas secure, and only then work from them into contiguous surrounding areas.
The Secretary stressed that the situation was worst in the Delta and surrounding the capitol, and that in the North things were better, and that General Harkins remained hopeful that the latter areas could be made reasonably secure late in the year. The report expressed considerable concern over the increasing infiltration of men and equipment from North Vietnam. Various proposals to counter this infiltration had been discussed in Saigon, but the Secretary was not yet convinced that there were means that were politically acceptable and militarily feasible of stopping that infiltration.
Minh had strongly opposed any ideas of possible neutralization of Vietnam. (This was taken to dispose of proposals suggested by Senator Mansfield, President DeGaulle, the New York Times, columnist Walter Lippman and others).
Concerning a possible escalation of U.S. effort, the Secretary indicated that he had directed supply of a modest increase in artillery, but, "US resources and personnel cannot usefully be substantially increased."
In concluding, the Secretary said that his appraisal might be overly pessimistic, and that Lodge, Harkins and Minh, while agreeing on specific points, seemed to feel that January might bring a significant improvement.
Following his report to the President, the Secretary made the following remarks to the press, at the White House:
.....We have just completed our report to the President . . . We observed the results of the very substantial increase in VC activity, an increase which began shortly after the new government was formed, and has extended over a period of several weeks.
During this time, the Viet Cong have attacked and attacked successfully, a substantial number of the strategic hamlets. The rate of that VC activity, however, has substantially dropped within the past week to ten days.
This rapid expansion of activity, I think, could have been expected. It was obviously intended to take advantage of the period of organization in the new government . . . We received in great detail the plans of the South Vietnamese and the plans of our military advisors for operations during 1964. We have every reason to believe they will be successful. We are determined that they shall be.
D. EFFORTS TO IMPROVE INTELLIGENCE ON PROGRESS OF THE WAR
The Secretary had made evident in his memo of 21 December to the President that he had become seriously disturbed at the failure of the reporting system in Vietnam to alert him promptly to the deterioration of the situation there. CIA Director McCone had accompanied him on the trip to Saigon and, immediately upon his return, Mr. McCone initiated efforts to improve the reporting system. On 23 December he wrote the Secretary:
.....information furnished to us from MACV and the Embassy concerning the current Viet Cong activities in a number of provinces and the relative position of the SVN Government versus the Viet Cong forces was incorrect, due to the fact that the field officers of the MAAG and USOM had been grossly misinformed by the province and district chiefs. It was reported to us, and I believe correctly, that the province and district chiefs felt obliged to "create statistics" which would meet the approbation of the Central Government.
I believe it is quite probable that the same practice might be repeated by the new province and district chiefs appointed by the MRC.....
McCone, therefore, proposed development of a new, covert method of checking on the information supplied by these regular reporting authorities on the progress of the war and on pacification and other counterinsurgency efforts. A plan was developed within CIA by 3 January 1964 which called for the formation of a mission of 10 to 12 experienced intelligence officers, all drawn from CIA, to proceed to Saigon for a 60 to 90 day TDY beginning about 12 January. There, under the direction of the CAS Station Chief, they would undertake:
1. A survey of Vietnamese/American counterinsurgency reporting machinery;
2. Develop, assess, and recruit new covert sources of information, to serve as a check, and finally,
3. Assist the station chief in developing recommendations, for submission to Washington through the Saigon country team, on means of improving overall GVN and US reporting machinery.
McCone forwarded these plans to McNamara on 7 January for discussion at a meeting that same day. Following the meeting of 7 January on this original proposal, a revised proposal was drawn up and submitted by McCone to McNamara for concurrence on 9 January. The revision was largely responsive to a fear of the Secretary that, as originally proposed, the TDY team would serve as a sort of Inspector General functioning independently of both the Country Team and the CAS Station/Saigon. Accordingly the new draft expressly specified that a separate reporting system would not be established, nor a reorganization of the existing reporting system attempted. It would attempt, however, to develop through covert techniques a method of spot checking the accuracy of regular reporting and develop also new covert sources of information on the progress of the war.
In accepting the proposal in a written reply dated 16 January, Secretary McNamara expressed insistence on making this a team effort, first by emphasizing that "I do not believe that the team should have an inspectoral function for the overall reporting system," and second by adding to the draft submitted for his signature the clause, "but it should be a joint program involving all of the affected members of the country team." When the definitive messages went out to Saigon they had the concurrence of State, Defense and CIA.
It is understandable enough from an administrative point of view that a formally coordinated unified effort seemed preferable. There had been notable discords, and failures of communication, and policy disagreement within the Mission in the past and these had caused serious problems. Important sources of disagreement remained, and anything resembling an IG inquiry might have brought about morale problems that it was well to avoid. The reverse of the coin was that formalized coordination of intelligence stood the chance of stifling or concealing minority dissent. It was indeed the basic mission of the group to set up checks. But in the extent to which this system of checks was to be coordinated with the system as a whole, it risked losing some part of its independence of the accepted view. And it had been the accepted view that had been proved wrong.
By the time full agreement was reached on the terms of reference for the team, the team was already in Saigon. A month later it submitted a report evaluating the situation in Viet Nam at about the same time that the CAS station chiefs submitted two other evaluations which were apparently for a time mistakenly attributed to the TDY team. These evaluations caused enough uneasiness Within the country team to indicate that interpretation of intelligence and situation appraisals remained the touchy matter that the Secretary had foreseen. The "Initial Report of CAS Group Findings in SVN," dated 10 February 1964 began by acknowledging that the group activities had been temporarily disrupted by the Khanh Coup of 30 January (which will be described later), and did not attempt to report on the covert cross checks because before covert cross checks could be established it was necessary to learn the pattern and nature of the reporting system then in use, both American and Vietnamese. The first appraisals, therefore, were expressly based solely on a new look at what the existing system reported. The first impression of the group was that for the most part the Vietnamese had been reporting honestly to their American counterparts since the 1 November coup and that if current reporting was indeed biased it was biased against the Diem regime.
The first general impression of the situation, expressly subject to further inquiry, was that "the momentum of the strategic hamlet program has slowed practically to a halt." More specific evaluations, which focused on local situations north and east of Saigon and took up most of this initial report, were more pessimistic than the "general impression." Within Binh Long Province, security had deteriorated rapidly during January and the VC now controlled route 13. Well planned and viciously executed VC attacks on hamlets had caused wide fear, and produced doubt among the populace that the GVN could protect them. The former province chief and deputy chief for military operations had been replaced just two days before the Khanh coup. The response to the Khanh coup had been one of disgust. Phuoc Thanh Province, according to the province chief, was 80% controlled by the VC. The VC controlled the roads, making GVN travel impossible without large armed escorts. The VC were moving freely in battalion size units with heavy weapons throughout the province. COMUSMACV had reported that the one to one GVN/VC ratio in the province was misleading because many of the GVN units were tied down in static positions whereas the VC were mobile.
When the Special CAS group turned in its final appraisal on 18 February, Gen. Harkins was asked by the CGCS to comment. Gen. Harkins offered, 3 days later, a paragraph by paragraph commentary, much of which agreed with the CAS group findings. There were a few minor points of fact that were in disagreement. Where General Harkins pointedly disagreed was in the matter of interpretation and emphasis and where both the CAS group and Gen. Harkins agreed that past performance had not been good, Gen. Harkins tended to emphasize the hope, as the CAS group did not, that under Khanh the situation would perhaps improve. Beyond this, Gen. Harkins was, in general, somewhat disturbed that the CAS group might be exceeding its terms of reference by reporting unilaterally, and misleading the national decision process by forwarding information not coordinated and cleared with other elements of the U.S. reporting mechanism in Vietnam. Perhaps most significant of all, at the very beginning of his comments he offered an observation that, internationally or otherwise, raised very basic issues of the nature, function, and limitations of the intelligence and estimation process.
Except for the spectacular and eye catching lead sentence ["Tide of insurgency in all four corps areas appears to be going against GVN"], I have no quarrel with most of the statements contained in the CAS Survey Team appraisal. Where the statements are clean-cut, the supporting information was usually provided by my field personnel and reflected in reports already sent to Washington by this headquarters. Where the statements are sweeping, they are based on opinion or an unfortunate penchant for generalizing from the specific. My detailed comments follow and are geared to the specific paragraphs of the CAS message. [emphasis supplied.]
If we examine this statement with particular reference to the words and phrases underlined, the large, epistemological problem of the junction of intelligence and national decision-making is pointedly indicated. By "clean-cut," Gen. Harkins undoubtedly referred to phenomena that were concrete, highly specific and narrowly factual. These were the sort of phenomena about which there could seldom or never be any serious dispute. By "sweeping" statements, and by "unfortunate penchant for generalizing from the specific," he was referring to the mental process of bridging the gap from the small concrete detail--which was seldom or never by itself a basis for large decision--to the interpretation of that detail--to the judgment of the significant of that detail. Only upon the basis of interpretations (judgments) of the importance, meaning and relevance of things could policy decisions be made. And that judgment or interpretation was seldom or never inescapably inherent in the measurable, sharply definable, completely unarguable concrete detail. It might be derived from or directly reflect such data, but its form would be determined equally, or even more, from the perspective in which it was viewed. And this perspective was comprised of the whole context of incompletely described, not fully identified values, and imperfectly defined priorities, that determined the weight and place given to that factual detail in the mysterious calculus of the decision-maker. If this were not the case, any bright college boy given the same set of "facts" would inevitably derive from them the same judgments of what national policy should be, as the canniest, most generally knowledgeable and experienced veteran.
E. THE UNREALIZED JANUARY UPTURN AND THE KHANH COUP
There was hope that as January 1964 wore on the situation would take a turn for the better. But, as the CAS reports cited in the foregoing section suggest, things did not get better. The hope was that the Minh regime would find itself, but before it did the Khanh coup of 30 January came as another blow to progress in the operating program and as a disillusioning surprise to the hopes for the stable political situation generally agreed to the prerequisite to ultimate success.
Despite the unfavorable news--which was beginning to excite the first serious proposals within the JCS for carrying the war to the north by expanded clandestine operations and finally by overt bombing--the Secretary managed to maintain the earlier philosophy that the U.S. involvement would remain limited and that in fact the counterinsurgency effort could not really attain its goals unless the U.S. role continued to be limited and the South Vietnamese did the main job themselves.
Just before the Khanh coup, in testimony on 27 and 29 January before the House Armed Services Committee, the Secretary encountered some sharply probing questions on the continuing costs of the war. The questions centered on the inconclusiveness of the efforts to date and upon the apparent discrepancies between autumnal optimism and the winter discouragements, and between official optimism and the pessimistic reports appearing in newspaper stories. Even Mr. Mendel Rivers, evidently impatient that the VC had not already been subdued and perhaps suspecting that this was due to lack of vigor in our prosecution of the war, asked during these hearings if we were planning to "do anything to bring this war to the VC, any more than what we have done already . . ." The Secretary tried to explain that ". . . It is a Vietnamese war. They are going to have to assume the primary responsibility for winning it. Our policy is to limit our support to logistical and training support." To this, Mr. Rivers replied with the following question: "There are no plans to change the modus operandi of this war, so far as the bleeding of this country is concerned?"
A little later, Representative Chamberlain asked the Secretary if he continued to be as "optimistic" about the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. personnel as he had been in October. The Secretary in reply reaffirmed that he believed that:
.....the war in South Vietnam will be won primarily through the South Vietnamese efforts; it is a South Vietnamese war. It is a war of the counter guerrillas as against the guerrillas. We are only assisting them through training and logistical support.
We started the major program of assistance in training and logistical support toward the latter part of 1961. 1 think it is reasonable to expect that after four years of such training we should be able gradually to withdraw certain of our training personnel.
Following this, Representative Stratton addressed an inquiry to the Secretary:
Mr. Secretary, I am a little bit worried about your statement in answer to Mr. Chamberlain, that you still contemplate continuing withdrawal of our forces from Vietnam, in line with your previously announced plan. Isn't this a little unrealistic, in view of the fact that when you first made the announcement things were going a bit better than they appear to be going at the moment? And wouldn't you say that in the event that things do not go as well as you hope they will, that unquestionably we can't continue to withdraw any more of our forces?
Secretary McNamara's reply:
No Sir, I would not. I don't believe that we as a nation should assume the primary responsibility for the war in South Vietnam. It is a counter-guerrilla war, it is a war that can only be won by the Vietnamese themselves. Our responsibility is not to substitute ourselves for the Vietnamese, but to train them to carry on the operations that they themselves are capable of.
The theme was next picked up by Representative Cohelan. He said that "One of the things that some of us are quite concerned about is this constant tendency toward a sanguine approach to the problem of Southeast Asia." He went on to recall that when he and other committee members had been out to South Vietnam in November of 1962, when General Harkins was saying the war would be won in 2 years and Admiral Felt said it would be won in 3 years-although Halberstam and other newsmen were pessimistic at that time and now seemed, to Representative Cohelan, to have been right
transport anything for fear of ambush by ground, although the Vietnamese themselves could move the freight by some kind of pay-off to the Viet Cong.
In response to this the Secretary said that we were in a very different position than the French had been and that in this sort of war improvement was bound to be slow-a matter of years. But this did not mean we should retain all of our existing personnel in South Vietnam. It would be a waste to do so, and by "keeping the crutch there too long we would weaken the Vietnamese rather than strengthen them."
Within a day or two after this testimony was given there came the Khanh coup, which constituted not only another hard blow to our efforts in Vietnam but also to our confidence that we knew what was going on there. The Khanh coup of 30 January 1964 came as an almost complete surprise to the mission and to Washington. What may be considered in retrospect, but only in retrospect, as the first very general danger signal came in the form of a conversation between the US/DCM in Saigon and Italian Ambassador D'Orlandi, on 20 January, and reported that same evening to Washington. In discussing the current French initiative in Asia (recognition of Communist China and advocacy of neutralization of SEA), the Italian Ambassador had said that the greatest danger to the U.S. position in Southeast Asia lay in the effect it might have upon certain pro-French and potentially neutralist members of the MRC. When asked to clarify, D'Orlandi named Generals Tran Van Don and Ton Thap Dinh as potential leaders of a group that might accept a French neutralization formula, especially if the U.S. position on that issue were not clarified immediately. In reporting the incident the Embassy commented it had no hard evidence of either of these two flirting with neutralization, although because of French training they were frequently cited as pro-French.
A few days later Ambassador Lodge issued a public statement which acknowledged existence of neutralization rumors and proceeded to affirm that U.S. policy remained unchanged and that the U.S., "In solidarity with the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, firmly rejects the spurious idea of 'neutralizing' South Vietnam since 'neutralization' would simply be another means of Communist take-over."
The first warning of the coup that may be considered specific and definite, however, did not come until 28 January, when General Khanh told Colonel Jasper Wilson, U.S. Senior MAAG advisor for I Corps, that pro-French, pro-neutralist members of the MRC-Generals Xuan, Don, and Kim-were planning a palace coup that would take place as early as 31 January. Once the coup was effected, they would call for neutralization of South Vietnam. It was not reported that in the conversation with Wilson, Khanh had expressly suggested that he might try a counter coup action. He did say, however, that he planned to go to Saigon that day or on the morrow. In reporting this conversation to Lodge and Harkins in Saigon and to CIA/Washington, CAS cited four other recent intelligence items, from other sources, which might have lent some credence to the Khanh allegations (although in the course of time Khanh's allegations were discounted almost entirely). These were (1) Tran Van Ly gained impression in conversation with Xuan that Xuan favored a coup. (2) Lt. Col. Tran Dinh Lam, recently brought back from Paris at the request of Generals Tran Van Don and Le Van Kim, was reported to have French authorization to spend 2 billion piastres to achieve a neutralization of South Vietnam. (3) An American had observed several military trucks bringing weapons and ammunition to Xuan's police headquarters at Camp DuMare. (4) Generals Kim, Don, Nguyen Van Vy, and Duong Van Duc had been identified by Major General Le Van Nghiem as pro-French and privately in favor of neutralization. Nevertheless, Khanh's charges along with other reports were described by CAS as difficult to evaluate; and it was speculated that he and others making similar charges might be motivated by disgruntlement over failure to obtain better positions for themselves Within the MRC.
The next move in this sequence of events was when General Khanh talked to Ambassador Lodge in Saigon on the afternoon of 29 January. The striking thing is that although Khanh evidently made his intentions clear, the Ambassador's first thought was to protest to DeGaulle rather than to warn the GVN. That evening at 8:00 p.m., Ambassador Lodge filed a NODIS (Embtel 1431) suggesting that representations should be made to DeGaulle against French clandestine plotting to upset the GVN and set it thereby upon a neutralist course. General Khanh had apparently made an impression on the Ambassador with his allegations of French machinations, asking for assurance that the U.S. opposed neutralization and if necessary would help him, Khanh, get his family, then in Da Nang, out of the country. He claimed that he had the support of General Khiem of III Corps and General Tn of II Corps as well as 90 percent of the army and 70 percent of the existing government. Lodge further reported that Khanh made a special point of wanting to continue to use Colonel Jasper Wilson as his exclusive contact with the U.S. Khanh refused absolutely to deal with any other than Wilson because he had had "an unfortunate experience with a CIA representative named Spera, before the 31 October coup." Lodge went on to say that although he had no great faith in Xuan, he believed that Don and Kim were patriotic Vietnamese and "therefore, what General Khanh says about them goes against my deepest instincts." Lodge sensed the intent of a coup, but evidently did not appreciate its imminence; for although he said he expected that there would be more to report later, he decided not to alter the government of Vietnam and had confided the news from Wilson only to Harkins and DeSilva.
However, it was a matter of only about seven hours after reporting this first Khanh feeler that Lodge at 3:15 a.m. of 30 January (Saigon time) advised Secretaries Rusk and McNamara that:
General Khanh has informed us through his contact, Colonel Jasper Wilson, MAAG advisor I Corps, that he together with General Phat and Khiem intend to move at 0400 this morning to secure changes in the composition of the MRC. General Khiem states that General Minh has been informed of his move and agrees. The only definite statement we have as yet is that Premier Tho must go.
Over the next two or three days Ambassador Lodge altered considerably his first opinions about the justification for the coup. The U.S. chose to view the act as merely a change of personnel within the same MRC format; and the Ambassador's first attempt to explain the affair revealed his hope that an effort to put a good face on it might not be amiss. (There was little else he could do.)
Herewith my preliminary assessment of the new Government in Viet Nam. It is very much subject to change as we move along.
1. General Khanh's coup was obviously extremely disconcerting at first blush. We felt we were beginning to make real progress here with the Minh Government-in the conduct of the effort against the Viet Cong; and in making General Minh into a popular figure. To overthrow a Government which was progressing fairly satisfactorily seemed like a violent and disorderly procedure
2. On second thought, however, one realized the Generals Don and Kim had never at any time foresworn the possibility of a neutral solution at which might seem to them to be the proper time. They had clearly been working, and working effectively, to strengthen the effort against the Viet Cong. But none of us had ever discussed what the next step would be after the Government of Viet Nam had reached a position of strength. Perhaps they did favor the French neutrality solution at that time. We had all concentrated exclusively on winning . . . Finally, Ambassador D'Orlandi of Italy, who is one of the shrewdest men here, has thought ever since November that the Minh Government was actively in support of General De Gaulle's ideas and would turn overtly neutralist at the proper time. He had said this to me several times and had made much of the fact that both Don and Kim were still French citizens, had been aides to Marshal de Lattre when he was here, and had actively worked in the French Secret Service in the past. Therefore, opinion of the French intentions for neutralization coup might be correct.....
4. Finally, in this country it rarely occurs to anyone that an election is an efficient or appropriate way to get anything important accomplished. The traditional way of doing important things here is by well planned, well thought out use of force. What General Khanh has done does not appear to have shocked the Vietnamese . . . However, numerous Vietnamese have expressed the opinion to members of my staff that it was a pity that General Minh was removed because he is a "good man."
5. The real question is, therefore: Is Khanh able? Will he really supply some drive in connection with the effort against the Viet Cong? The evidence to date is that he is able, that he has a lot of drive, and that he is not tolerating any delay.....
6. If Khanh is able, his advent to power may give this country one-man command in place of a junta. This may be good. We have everything we need in Viet Nam. The U.S. has provided military advice, training, equipment; economic and social help; and political advice. The Government of Viet Nam has put relatively large number of good men into important positions and has evolved civil and military procedures which appear to be workable. Therefore, our side knows how to do it; we have the means with which to do it; we simply need to do it. This requires a tough and ruthless commander. Perhaps Khanh is it.
Privately we continued, however, to be deeply chagrined and even shaken that we had not seen the coup coming. We recognized it was a severe blow to the stability of government that we had believed was so necessary for South Vietnam, and we doubted the charges that Khanh used as a justification for his actions. But we accepted his explanations, promised to support him, and hoped for the best. About all we could do was threaten to withhold aid and that was ineffective because it was increasingly apparent that we were as committed to the struggle as our clients were--possibly even more committed. Whatever the real possibilies of influence may have been, we accepted as inescapable the fact that there was nothing we could do but go along with it. The President of the United States quickly offered his public expression of recognition and strong support. And one of our strongest resolves was to see what we might hit upon as a means to assure that we would not be taken again by a similar surprise.
F. DEEPENING GLOOM IN FEBRUARY
Among the flood of SitReps that came in soon after the coup was "Commander's Personal Military Assessment of the Fourth Quarter, CY-63." This was a report that MACV had been directed to establish at the end of the September 1963 visit of the Secretary and the CJCS in order to establish checkpoints by which to measure progress toward achievement of the goals agreed upon at that time. It is not essential here to review all of MACV's report but there are interesting details that are worth noting. MACV's report gave central attention to the fact that the political turbulence during the last quarter of 1963 had been reflected in a regression in government control, and corresponding opportunities for the VC. The political instability had resulted, especially, in a decline of GVN control within the 13 provinces listed as critical at Honolulu on 20 November. The strategic hamlet program had received setbacks which forced the GVN's military forces to adopt a defensive posture. After this there came a somewhat equivocal statement that:
Analysis disclosed that, in spite of political turbulence, a satisfactory tempo of operation was maintained during this quarter. On the other hand, statistics clearly supported previous convictions that GVN operations were not effective when judged by reasonable standards of results versus effort expended. The immediate response to this analysis is to focus the advisory effort at all levels on the need for radical improvement in the effectiveness of operations.
What this seems to say is that GVN operations were satisfactory by the criteria which had been adopted for judging them, yet they did not achieve results. This seems to amount to an admission that the criteria by which operations were judged did not lead to good judgments concerning the results that were being achieved by these operations.
This appears, indeed, to have been very near the truth. Throughout this report there was a recognition of the effect of political and psychological and motivational factors upon real and effective capabilities. On the matter of training, the assessment was that it had "proven to be quantitatively satisfactory and flexible enough to meet the pressures and accelerated time schedules." But this expression of satisfaction that the nominal goals of training had been met was followed by the qualification that "the degree to which training can, in fact, develop combat aggressiveness or compensate for the lack of other motivation remains a matter for concern and continuing scrutiny." The anomaly was expressed in words, but the fact of it seems to have gone almost unrecognized.
When he turned to the two major areas of military action, first in the north and center and later in the Delta, MACV was obliged to admit that "there was little substantial progress toward completing the military progress in either of the two major regions." But he seemed to have been so thoroughly imbued with a chin-up, never-say-die spirit that he rejected the pessimistic implications which he explicitly acknowledged were present.
If the military aspects of the fourth quarter of calendar year 1963 were viewed in isolation, or could in any way be considered typical, the forecast would be pessimistic in nature and a complete reappraisal of U.S. effort, approach, and even policy would be indicated. However, viewed in the light of January operational improvements, the forecast remains one of potential long term military progress.
The improvements cited as grounds for not accepting the pessimistic implications were a new military plan to support the pacification program; adoption of U.S. advice concerning GVN management to cope with increasing VC threats, especially around Saigon; and some government operations that seemed to demonstrate improved military leadership, and what he called "victories" while adrnltting they were not decisive. The difficulty here was that the judgment did not include consideration that these happier signs had come under the regime which had Just been overturned by the Khanh coup a day or two before this report was dispatched, which coup, it was acknowledged, would have a disturbing and disruptive effect upon GVN capabilities as they had existed before the coup. Although it was still too soon to predict the full impact of the coup, it seemed "likely that at least part of the operational momentum which was being slowly generated earlier this month will be slowed for a time....
In closing this assessment, MACV philosophized, in words with which few would disagree, that experiences of the last quarter of calendar year 1963 disclosed "the extent to which military opportunities are dependent upon political and psychological policies and accomplishments in a counter-insurgency environment." And he found the big lesson--"the broad implication"--was, that
no amount of military effort or capability can compensate for poor politics. Therefore, although the prospects for an improved military posture are good, the ultimate achievement of the established military goal depends primarily upon the quality of support achieved by the political leadership of the government of Vietnam at all levels.
Here again was an explicit judgment that the sine qua non of an effective counter-insurgency operation was a stable, broadly based, popular and effective government. It was acknowledged at this time, as it had been acknowledged before concerning other governments, that a government of these qualities did not exist. But along with the acknowledgment that what was described as the sine qua non did not exist, there was apparently always the hope that fate would not close in before something happened to change the situation.
The U.S. mission Monthly Status Report, dated 9 February 1964, agreed with MACV that it was too soon to judge the effects of the Khanh coup. In the "overall evaluation," there was the following key paragraph:
January witnessed distinct, if limited, progress in GVN's organization and action, both on political front in Saigon and on counter-insurgency front in countryside. Nevertheless, by January 30, when General Khanh moved swiftly and bloodlessly to take over reins of government, GVN had still not achieved sufficient momentum either to stem growing tide of popular criticism against it or to register meaningful gains against VC. In retrospect, greatest single positive achievement during three months of post-Diem regime was measurable success of General Minh in establishing himself as popular national leader. Measure of his success reflected in General Khanh's obvious effort to keep Minh on his side and exploit Minh's growing popularity for benefit of second post-Diem regime.
On the same day that the Mission Report was dispatched, CIA addressed to the Secretary of Defense a special report which had just been received by the Director of CIA by Mr. Peer de Silva (CAS station chief in Saigon) and Mr. Lyman D. Kirkpatrick, concerning the situation in Vietnam with particular respect to the conduct of the war and the prognosis of the stability of the Khanh regime. The de Silva judgment was that
The situation at this moment must be characterized as one in which the population at large appears apathetic, without enthusiasm either for the GVN or the VC sides but responsive to the latter because it fears the VC. The most important single factor appears to be whether or not the rural population will be willing to defend itself against the VC and to support GVN actions against the VC. In this sector there now seems to be less conviction and resolution, and a more widespread inclination to avoid the problems of opposing the VC, and to play both sides in hopes of somehow getting on peacefully and without personal commitment.
What is needed in this regard and very soon are a series of GVN successes in the military sphere which would go toward implanting and nourishing a popular attitude that the GVN has the means of bringing security and a sense of ease to the rural population and is clearly determined to do so on an ever broadening front throughout the countryside. Only within some such atmosphere of hopefulness can the will and resolve to oppose the VC be strengthened, and it must be if this war is to be won.
Mr. Kirkpatrick's comment was based upon his recent trip to South Vietnam:
I agree with the above but must note that even armed with your pessimistic comments following your last visit, I have been shocked by the number of our (CIA) people and of the military, even those whose jobs is always to say we are winning, who feel that the tide is against us. Admittedly, this is based on a limited number of discussions here and in Danang in three days. There are ominous indications that the VC are able to mount larger operations than in the past using bigger arms, including antiaircraft. Vietnamese government reactions are still slow, defensive and reminiscent of French tactics here a decade ago. There are still really no fundamental internal security measures of any effectiveness such as identity cards, block wardens, travel controls, etc. . . . It is evident that a major factor in VC victories is their superior intelligence based on nationwide penetrations and intimidations at all levels. . . . Finally, with the Laos and Cambodia borders opened, this entire pacification effort is like trying to mop the floor before turning off the faucet.
Two days later the Secretary received an advance copy of SNIE 50-64, "Short-term Prospects in Southeast Asia." Its leading conclusion was:
(a) That the situation in South Vietnam is very serious and prospects uncertain. Even with U.S. assistance as it is now, we believe that, unless there is a marked improvement in the effectiveness of the South Vietnamese government and armed forces, South Vietnam has, at best, an even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next few weeks or months.
In further explanation of this judgment, it was stated that the situation had been serious for a long time and in recent months it had deteriorated further. The VC had exploited dislocations caused by the November coup and then more recently by the January coup. Just as Minh's reorganization was beginning to be established, Khanh's coup upset everything, and Khanh's regime was not yet assessable. Meanwhile, the VC had improved in their organization and armament, were increasingly aggressive and acting in larger units.
G. TWO GENERAL ALTERNATIVE DIRECTIONS OF POLICY
Thus as winter drew to an end in February-March 1964, it was recognized, as it had never been fully recognized before, that the situation in Vietnam was deteriorating so rapidly that the dimensions and kinds of effort so far invested could not hope to reverse the trend. This was indeed a turning point. The proposals for neutralization that had been loosely suggested in late fall and early winter having been rejected, the issue to be resolved was what kinds of new efforts, and what new dimensions of U.S. effort, would be decided upon. One direction of effort which might have been chosen had, as its most articulate advocate, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman. This was the policy line that, for better or for worse, was largely rejected. Mainly because of this policy disagreement, Mr. Hilsman left his post at almost the time it became evident that his views were conclusively overruled. At the time of his departure he wrote two memos to the Secretary of State (dated 14 March 1964); one on the Southeast Asia problem generally, one on South Vietnam. The latter of the two affords not only a good summary of his views on the subject, but also a statement of the policy alternatives that were, in significant measure, rejected. (The rejection was of course by no means total. It was a matter of degree and a question of where emphasis should lie among some programs that were not in dispute generically. But the matter of degree and emphasis was in dispute, and it was sufficient not only to induce Hilsman to resign but to alter drastically the course of U.S. involvement.) Hilsman wrote:
In my judgment, the strategic concept that was developed for South Vietnam remains basically sound. If we can ever manage to have it implemented with vigor, the result will be victory.
The concept is based on the assumption that villages in Southeast Asia are turned inward on themselves and have little or no sense of identification with either the national government or Communist ideology-that the villagers are isolated physically, politically, and psychologically. In such circumstances it is not difficult to develop a guerrilla movement....
A corollary . . . is that the villagers' greatest desire is security and that if the villagers are given security, some simple progress towards a better life, and--most important of all--a sense that the government cares about them and their future, they will respond with loyalty....
On the basis of . . . [this] assumption, the strategic concept calls for primary emphasis on giving security to the villagers. The tactics are the so-called oil-blot approach, starting with a secure area and extending it slowly, making sure no Viet Cong pockets are left behind, and using police units to winkle out [sic] the Viet Cong agents in each particular village. This calls for the use of military forces in a different way from that of orthodox, conventional war. Rather than chasing Viet Cong, the military must put primary emphasis on clear-and-hold operations and on rapid reinforcement of villages under attack. It is also important, of course, to keep the Viet Cong regular units off balance by conventional offensive operations, but these should be secondary to the major task of extending security....
At the heart of this strategic concept are two basic principles:
The first is that of the oil blot. In the past the GVN sought to blanket the whole country with so-called strategic hamlets . . . The result was to blanket the Delta with little Dienbienphus--indefensible, inadequately armed hamlets far from reinforcements . . . In effect these were storage places of arms for the Viet Cong which could be seized at any time. After November first, the military began to demobilize some of these vulnerable villages.....and a race developed between the government and the Viet Cong. The race may have ended in a tie, but . . . the Viet Cong now have much better weapons and greater stocks of ammunition than they ever had before.
The second basic principle is that the way to fight a guerrilla is to adopt the tactics of a guerrilla . . . In spite of all our pressures, this has never been done in Vietnam. Instead, the emphasis has been on large operations....
As to the question of operations against North Vietnam, I would suggest that such operations may at a certain stage be a useful supplement to an effective counterinsurgency program, but . . . not be an effective substitute....
My own preference would be to continue the covert, or at least deniable operations . . . Then, after we had made sufficient progress in the Delta so that all concerned began to realize that the Viet Cong were losing the support of the population, and that their ability to continue the war depended solely on North Vietnamese support, I think we should indicate as much privately to the North Vietnamese and follow this by selected attacks on their infiltration bases and training camps.
In my judgment, significant action against North Vietnam that is taken before we have demonstrated success in our counterinsurgency program will be interpreted by the Communists as an act of desperation, and will, therefore, not be effective in persuading the North Vietnamese to cease and desist. What is worse, I think that premature action will so alarm our friends and allies and a significant segment of domestic opinion that the pressures for neutralization will become formidable.
In sum, I believe that we can win in Vietnam with a number of provisos.
The first proviso is that we do not over-militarize the war--that we concentrate not on killing Viet Cong . . . but on an effective program for extending the areas of security gradually, systematically, and thoroughly....
My second proviso is that there be political stability in Saigon....
Some of the Hilsman recommendations were to be adopted, none rejected out-of-hand. The so-called oil blot principle had many adherents, and was in fact already coming into vogue. Over the ensuing months, the phrase was much honored, though the execution may have faltered. No one disputed the principle that the hamlets needed security above all else, nor that everything depended on a stable government in Saigon. Nevertheless, emphasis shifted toward greater emphasis on military operations, perhaps for the pressing reason that the VC were out now in increasing numbers, with more and better weapons, seeming to invite, if not to require, conventional military operations if the VC threatening the hamlets were to be destroyed or reduced to powerlessness. And, above all, the more elusive the VC were, the stronger they grew, and the more unstable and unpopular the GVN became, the more tempting the idea of attacking the north seemed to be.
Much more influential than these Hilsman views were those of the JCS, especially as set forth in the memorandum of 18 February 1964 to the SecDef from the CJCS:
1. Reference is made to the memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated 22 January 1964 . . . It sets forth a number of actions which the United States should be prepared to take in order to ensure victory . . . the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the situation in South Vietnam with the view of determining additional actions which can be recommended for implementation immediately.
2. The Government of Vietnam has developed, with the close collaboration of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, a new National Pacification Plan which provides for the orderly pacification of the insurgency in accordance with a realistic phasing schedule . . . and it provides for consolidation of secure areas and expansion of them (the "spreading oil drop"). U.S. military assets in Vietnam will fully support this plan. What is now required is implementation of additional actions which will insure an integrated political, socio-economic, and psychological offensive to support more fully the military effort. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the Country Team be directed to implement the following actions at the earliest practicable time:
a. Induce the GVN (General Khanh) military to accept U.S. advisors at all levels considered necessary by COMUSMACV. (This is particularly applicable in the critical provinces)....
b. Intensify the use of herbicides for crop destruction against identified Viet Cong areas as recommended by the GVN.
c. Improve border control measures....
d. Direct the U.S. civilian agencies involved in Vietnam to assist the GVN in producing a civilian counterpart package plan to the GVN National Pacification Plan....
e. Provide U.S. civilian advisors to all necessary echelons and GVN agencies....
f. Encourage early and effective action to implement a realistic land reform program.
g. Support the GVN in a policy of tax forgiveness for low income population in areas where the GVN determir~es that a critical state of insurgency exists....
h. Assist the GVN in developing a National Psychological Operations Plan . . . to establish the GVN and Khanh's "images," create a "cause" which can serve as a rallying point for the youth/students of Vietnam, and develop the long term national objectives of a free Vietnam.
i. Intensify efforts to gain support of U.S. news media representatives in Washington....
j. Arrange U.S. sponsored trips to Vietnam by groups of prominent journalists and editors.
k. Inform all GVN military and civilian officials . . . that the United States (a) considers it imperative that the present government be stabilized, (b) would oppose another coup, and (c) that the United States is prepared to offer all possible assistance in forming a stable government . . . all U.S. intelligence agencies and advisors must be alert to and report cases of dissension and plotting in order to prevent such actions.
3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that the implementation of the foregoing measures will not be sufficient to exercise a decisive effect on the campaign against the Viet Cong. They are continuing study of the actions suggested in the memorandum of 22 January 1964, as well as other proposals . . . Among the subjects to be studied as a matter of urgency are the following:
a. Intensified operations against North Vietnam to include air bombings of selected targets.
b. Removal of restrictions for air and ground cross-border operations.
c. Intelligence and reporting.
d. U.S. organizational changes.
e. Increased U.S. Navy participation in shore and river patrol activities.
f. Introduction of jet aircraft into the Vietnamese Air Force and the U.S. Air Commando unit . .
Except for 2f, 2g, 2i, 2j, and the escalatory military actions of paragraph 3 that had been suggested previously by the JCS, this memorandum outlined much of the program that was to be adopted by the SecDef in March after his trip to Saigon, and approved by the President thereafter as NSAM 288.
H. THE FACT FINDING MISSION AND NSAM-288
Before the Secretary left for Vietnam, trip books were prepared for his use and the use of others in his official party. In this trip was an appraisal of the Vietnam situation, dated 3 March 1964, prepared especially for this occasion by the normally optimistic SACSA. It began with this summary:
The RVN faces the most critical situation in its nearly 10 years of existence. This situation is the result of political erosion, culminating in two changes of government within three months and in a nationwide revamping of civil administrators, and of the continued growth of a well-organized, dedicated Communist insurgency movement.
This was followed by a political discussion wherein there was mention of the chronic shortage of competent administrators. The government was credited with superior material resources, but, "unless it is able to demonstrate the willpower and political skill to bring this potential to bear, the political and security situation will continue to deteriorate." It was considered hopeful that Khanh seemed determined to provide dynamic leadership, but it was observed that he would have to overcome "widespread public and official apathy, lack of confidence, low morale, and factionalism among key personnel."
Khanh's efforts and attributes were catalogued approvingly, but this only led to a concluding paragraph as follows:
Encouraging as Khanh's performance has been to date, he has not been able to counteract the overall trend of events in South Vietnam. In many of the most critical provinces, pacification programs remain at a virtual standstill and there is an evident lack of urgency and clear direction.
This was followed by a section entitled "Military and Security Situation." This section contained an interesting judgment, which represented a reversal by SACSA of opinions expressed six months or more before concerning the time when the situation had begun to deteriorate.
By the final quarter of 1963, the conclusion was inescapable that despite the considerable improvement in the offensive capabilities of the RVN's counter-insurgency forces, the VC likewise had improved their own capabilities. It became apparent that a gradual erosion of the government's position throughout the country had been underway since at least August 1963. This erosion became progressively worse after the November coup, although late in January 1964, the Minh government exhibited some signs of assuming the initiative. This initiative dissolved with the Khanh coup on 30 January. Organizational dislocations brought about by coups have weakened the national direction of most of the counter-insurgency programs underway throughout the country. The large number of personnel changes, both locally and nationally, have played a crucial role in the indecision and lack of energetic direction of the government's programs.
Despite General Khanh's expressed determination to prosecute the war vigorously, available statistics since his coup reflect a gradual decline in small-scale ARVN operations. In addition, Communist forces continue to enjoy the initiative and to execute disruptive operations at times and places of their own choosing.....
All available evidence points to a steady improvement in the VC's military posture, both quantitatively and qualitatively, throughout 1963 and the first two months of 1964 . . . [Emphasis supplied.]
In advising the Embassy in Saigon of the intended visit of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor in March, a Joint State/Defense message outlined the issues that it was hoped would be taken up during the visit. Five major subject areas were named, each of which was divided into parts. Objectives were described, in general, as "to produce best possible evaluation of situation, assist you in measures to improve it, and help Washington make future policy decisions."
The first subject area was a Review of Situation, in three parts: political, economic, and military. It was suggested that the political review should be in executive session limited to the three principals (McNamara, Lodge and Taylor) and the DCM, Harkins, Brent, de Silva, and perhaps Zorthian. The subjects of prime interest were how Khanh was taking hold, and the dangers of further coups. Next in importance were the effectiveness of the civil administration and the morale of major religious and political groups, and measures to strengthen and buttress the Khanh regime. On the economic side, the Secretary hoped to get a full review of the economy, the budget, price and supply trends, AID operations, and, finally, the possibility of land reform and tax forgiveness. On the military side, it was suggested they begin with the broad picture, and later proceed to selected critical provinces and specific provincial plans.
The main interest, with respect to intelligence and reporting, was to review Country Team recommendations concerning periodic assessments and joint reporting requirements. After this the interest centered on intelligence concerning the VC-specifically the extent of their control and activities in the provinces, intentions and tactics, and indicators thereof. Then, clearly in anticipation of possible requirement for public relations materials for us in U.S.:
4. Handling of intelligence bearing on control and direction of Viet Cong from North Vietnam including infiltration of personnel and weapons and operation of communications net. One of our basic projects here is preparing strongest possible material on this subject for use as appropriate to support stronger measures. We need to be sure your intelligence effort is geared to furnish such information promptly in usable form.
5. Review of draft (which we will supply) of control and support of VC by North Vietnam.
Concerning current operational problems, the items foreseen to be of interest were policy on possible evacuation of dependents, review of GVN national and provincial plans, rural rehabilitation plans, adequacy and deployment of ARVN, status and problems of paramilitary forces, current status and possible expansion of the U.S. Special Forces' role in connection with Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG), status of plans to reduce or reorganize U.S. forces as GVN became capable of performing functions currently performed by U.S., review of political and psywar progress, and of military tactics against VC, and "possible modification of existing operation[al] restrictions."
The special third country problems of French activities in RVN, and of Cambodia
and Laos, would be dealt with in executive session.
The last item listed for special consideration was to review Operations Plan 34A-64, for feasibility, adequacy, and possible expansion, with special consideration to advantages derivable from making it an overt Vietnamese program with participation by U.S. as required to obtain adequate results."
The language and the tone of this message suggest that, however pessimistic may have been the appraisals of the situation, there was no disposition to recognize any doubt that the struggle could be won or that we would undertake whatever measures were necessary to win it. Previously unprecedented escalatory measures of a military nature were beginning to be studied tentatively as a response to the bad news that kept coming. Most of these were to be rejected, for the time being, except for moves to convey to NVN that an exchange of air blows between NVN and SVN was a possibility. This, it was hoped, might exploit NVN fears that if they persisted aiding the VC they faced the loss of their industrial establishment. The inferential significance of our considerations at this time seems to have been that we were already committed, by the momentum of our past actions, to a course which forbade turning back, however reluctant we might be about taking any forward step.
A schedule for the trip was set up extending from the planned arrival on 8 March 1964 through 12 March. In the course of five days of briefings, conferences, and field trips, most of the details of a program, to implement policies already evidently largely agreed upon, were decided upon in the light of views and information elicited from our own and GVN officials. In the final meeting with General Khanh and his GVN associates, most of the programs for Vietnam which were later to be recommended to the President by Secretary McNamara were discussed. The exchange of views at that time was made a matter of record by a memcon, a summary of which was transmitted the next day by Ambassador Lodge.
General Khanh . . . proposed National Service Act for SVN. Khanh said his government prepared embark upon program to mobilize all human and material resources to fight VC. As envisaged by General Khanh proposed National Service Act would have two major components: military service and civil defense....
Military service comprised of: RVNAF . . . (actual strength: 227,000; planned: 251,683); Civil Guard (actual: 90,032; planned: 119,636). SDC & Hamlet Militia . . . (actual: 257,960; planned: 422,874). Civil Defense comprised of Civil Service Corps, Cadre Corps, National Youth, and Political-Administration Corps....
Civil Defense component included Civil Administration Corps for work in countryside. Khanh emphasized that in civil defense sector all civilians would be included.....
Khanh emphasized figures were planning figures only and designed give idea of number of military and civilians required and indicate financial implications of plan.....
McNamara stated that U.S. . . . would wish to study strength figures carefully; however, his first impression was that figure of 422,874 SDC and Hamlet Militia appeared unduly large and would be difficult to support. Khanh responded that in actual practice total numbers may not reach this level. In fact, number may not exceed 300,000 SDC and Hamlet Militia actually deployed against VC.....
Thieu stated that all men from age 18 through 40 would be required to participate in national pacification effort. Most of them . . . would serve in same positions they now occupy. Others, such as National Youth Group up to age 40, would be required serve in city and countryside and would be organized into small groups to assist ARVN and Civil Guard. Category of Political-Administration Corps would consist of cadres planned for assignment to villages and hamlets. General Thieu estimated that 125,-000 such cadre would be required . . . McNamara stated that general approach appeared excellent but he questioned whether GVN would need 125,000 cadre . . . This number added to total figures for Civil Guard, SDC and Hamlet Militia, constituted an extremely large figure . . . population appeared disproportionate . . . desirable to look most closely at planning figures.
Khanh replied that he intended make maximum effort in first instance in 8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon . . . However, a National Service Act would have a very good effect in Saigon and the other urban areas.
McNamara inquired whether upon his return to Washington he could tell President Johnson that General Khanh's government was prepared embark on a program of national mobilization of human and material resources and whether President Johnson in turn could inform the American people . . . Khanh replied in the affirmative . . . McNamara indicated that he viewed concept favorably and . . . Ambassador stated that he favored general concept but thought that detailed figures should be looked into carefully. Ambassador also believed that emphasis should be placed first on 8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon.....
General Harkins noted that a mobilization law was in fact in existence but that few people know about it. He pointed out that ARVN, CG and SDC were not up to their authorized military strengths. Khanh said that he realized this but believed it still desirable to have a new law setting forth a national service or mobilization program. Harkins stated that MACV and other elements of U.S. Mission would like to work closely with Khanh . . . in developing such a law. Khanh replied this well understood. McNamara said it was agreed on American side that general concept was a wise one and that we should proceed on this basis.
Khanh then inquired whether it was desirable to raise CG to same relative status as ARVN as regards salary, pensions, survivors benefits, etc. He estimated that total cost would be in neighborhood of one billion piasters. McNamara thought this was highly desirable.....
McNamara inquired how long . . . it would take to recruit and train administrative cadre for 8 critical provinces near Saigon. Khanh estimated approximately one month, in any event he believed cadres could be in place by end of April. Khanh said GVN would aim for volunteers for this effort and it was not necessary to await promulgation of National Service Act.
In response Taylor's question as to how long Khanh anticipated it would take to draft and promulgate National Service Law, Khanh observed that
law could be ready for his signature in very short time. Taylor pointed to necessity give due regard to democratic forms in developing and announcing a National Service Act. Khanh agreed and said that at same time a major effort was being made to pacify the countryside. He intended push for concurrent development of democratic institutions and forms. McNamara suggested that when Khanh ready announce a National Service Act that he also re-emphasize related actions . . . such as those for expansion of national economy, for increased educational opportunities in hamlets, for increased production of rice, for marketing of fish, and so forth. McNamara believed a well publicized announcement of this nature would find ready response among people and would materially assist Khanh to obtain and hold support of Vietnamese people.
The program formulated in March 1964 in connection with the trip to Vietnam was reported orally to the President by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on their return, then presented formally to the President and the NSC by memorandum to the President dated 16 March. [Doc. 54] It was finally approved as NSAM 288 dated 17 March 1964. As such NSC documents go, NSAM 288 was comprehensive and programmatic. It reviewed U.S. objectives, appraised the situation, discussed various alternative courses of action, and finally recommended a rather detailed program intended to serve the defined objectives and to meet the situation as it had been described. It consisted of seven parts. The first was a discussion and definition of objectives, the second a description of U.S. policy, the third an appraisal of the present situation, the fourth a discussion of alternative courses of action, the fifth a consideration of possible actions, the sixth a mention of other actions considered but rejected, and seventh and last, a statement of specific recommendations.
NSAM 288, being based on the official recognition that the situation in Vietnam was considerably worse than had been realized at the time of the adoption of NSAM 273, outlined a program that called for considerable enlargement of U.S. effort. It involved an assumption by the United States of a greater part of the task, and an increased involvement by the United States in the internal affairs of South Vietnam, and for these reasons it carried with it an enlarged commitment of U.S. prestige to the success of our effort in that area.
In tacit acknowledgement that this greater commitment of prestige called for an enlargement of stated objectives, NSAM 288 did indeed enlarge these objectives. Whereas, in NSAM 273 the objectives were expressly limited to helping the government of South Vietnam win its contest against an externally directed Communist conspiracy, NSAM 288 escalated the objectives into a defense of all of Southeast Asia and the West Pacific and redefined American foreign policy and American security generally. In.NSAM 273 the statement of objectives was comparatively simple and limited:
It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and the government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contribution to this purpose.
In contrast to this, the statement of "U.S. Objectives in South Vietnam" in NSAM 288 was considerably more extensive and more central to U.S. security interests:
We seek an independent non-Communist South Vietnam. We do not require that it serve as a Western base or as a member of a Western alliance. South Vietnam must be free, however, to accept outside assistance as required to maintain its security. This assistance should be able to take the form not only of economic and social measures but also police and military help to root out and control insurgent elements.
Unless we can achieve this objective in South Vietnam, almost all of Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance (all of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), accommodate to Communism so as to remove effective U.S. and anti-Communist influence (Burma), or fall under the domination of forces not now explicitly Communist but likely then to become so (Indonesia taking over Malaysia). Thailand might hold, for a period without help, but would be under grave pressure. Even the Philippines would become shaky, and the threat to India on the West, Australia and New Zealand to the South, and Taiwan, Korea, and Japan to the North and East would be greatly increased.
All of these consequences would probably have been true even if the U.S. had not since 1954, and especially since 1961, become so heavily engaged in South Vietnam. However, that fact accentuates the impact of a Communist South Vietnam not only in Asia but in the rest of the world, where the South Vietnam conflict is regarded as a test case of U.S. capacity to help a nation to meet the Communist "war of liberation."
Thus, purely in terms of foreign policy, the stakes are high .
The argument in the next to last paragraph of NSAM 288 that "all these consequences would probably have been true even if the U.S. had not since 1954, and especially since 1961, become so heavily engaged in SVN" is clearly debatable. But the logic that the increasing U.S. involvement led to increasing commitment of U.S. prestige is probably beyond argument. And it is probably also true that, in the extent to which we defined the issues simply and centrally as a symbolic confrontation with Communism, wherein far more is at stake than the immediate battlefield (in South Vietnam) on which we fought--and acted upon this definition and proclaimed it as the issue--we tended more and more to endow the issue with that significance whether or not it had in fact been the issue in the first place. And this point, if closely examined, might logically have raised the question of whether it is absolutely necessary to accept any challenge put to us, and if so what advantage this confers upon our enemies in granting them the choice of issue and of battleground. Finally, a struggle so defined came close to calling for war a outrance--not the centrally political war, with severe restriction upon violent means, following counter-guerrilla warfare theory.
Despite the encompassing nature of the definition of objectives, and although NSAM 288 had proposed a marked increase in U.S. involvement, our implementing programs remained comparatively limited as if we did not fully believe these strong words. We even expressed agreement with the older idea of helping the Vietnamese help themselvs.
We are now trying to help South Vietnam defeat the Viet Cong, supported from the North, by means short of the unqualified use of U.S. combat forces. We are not acting against North Vietnam except by a modest "covert" program operated by South Vietnamese (and a few Chinese Nationalists)--a program so limited that it is unlikely to have any significant effect . .
There was a further statement of this older policy theme:
There were and are some sound reasons for the limits imposed by the 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 and without regard to our decision with respect to the latter. The latter can, at best, only reinforce the former.
At the end of this section, which described measures that we would take to assist the Khanh government in administering internal programs, there was a final admonition:
Many of the actions described in the succeeding paragraphs fit right into the framework of the [Pacification] plan as announced by Khanh. Wherever possible, we should tie our urgings 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 United States. [Emphasis supplied]
The discussion of the situation in Vietnam began with the statement that the military tools and concepts that had been adopted were sound and adequate. But much needed to be done in terms of a more effective employment both of military forces and of the economic and civic action means already available. This improved effort might require some selective increases in the U.S. presence. These increases were not considered to be necessarily major in nature and not in contradiction to "the U.S. policy of reducing existing military personnel where South Vietnamese are in a position to assume the functions...."
No major reductions of U.S. personnel in the near future were expected, but it continued to be the basic policy that there would be gradual U.S. withdrawal from participation. This was considered to be sound because of its effect "in portraying to the U.S. and the world that we continue to regard the war as a conflict the South Vietnamese must win and take ultimate responsibility for." And along this line there was the continued hope that "substantial reductions in the numbers of U.S. military training personnel should be possible before the end of 1965. (The language here suggested a beginning retreat from NSAM 273).
It was conceded, however, that "the situation has unquestionably been growing worse, at least since September . . ." Forty percent of the territory was then under the Viet Cong control or predominant influence, and twenty-two of the forty-three provinces were controlled fifty percent or more by the Viet Cong. Other indications of the continuing deterioration were that large groups of the population displayed signs of apathy and indifference, while frustration was evident within the U.S. contingent. Desertion rates within the ARVN and the Vietnamese paramilitary were particularly high and increasing-especially in the latter. Draft-dodging was high; but the Viet Cong were recruiting energetically and effectively. The morale of the hamlet militia and of the SDC, upon which the security of the hamlets depended, was poor and falling. The position of the government within the provinces was weakening.
The machinery of political control extending from Saigon down to the hamlets had virtually disappeared following the November coup. Of forty-one incumbent province chiefs on November 1, thirty-five had been replaced. Nine provinces had had three province chiefs in three months, and one province had had four. Lesser officials had been replaced by the score. Almost all major military commands had changed hands twice since the November coup and the faith of the peasants had been shaken by disruptions in experienced leadership and loss of physical security.
There was an increase in North Vietnamese support, and communication between Hanoi and the Viet Cong had increased. CHICOM 75 millimeter recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns were increasingly in evidence among the Viet Cong.
The greatest source of weakness in the present situation was the uncertain viability of the Khanh government. The greatest need, therefore, was to do the things that would enhance the stability of that government, and at the same time provide the advice and assistance that was necessary to increase its capabilities to deal with the problems confronting it.
Among the alternatives considered, but rejected for the time being (along with complete adoption of the Hilsman formulations), were overt military pressure on North Vietnam, neutralization, return of U.S. dependents, furnishing of a U.S. combat unit to secure the Saigon area, and a full takeover of the command in South Vietnam by the U.S. With respect to this last proposal, it was said that
......the judgement of all senior people in Saigon, with which we concur, was that the possible military advantages of such action would be far outweighed by adverse psychological impact. It would cut across the whole basic picture of the Vietnamese winning their own war and lay us wide open to hostile propaganda both within South Vietnam and outside.
The areas of action that were favored and that formed the basis of the specific recommendations to which the paper led, fell under two major and two minor headings. The two major headings were, (1) civil and military mobilization and (2) improvement of military forces. The two minor headings were (1) additional military equipment for the GVN and (2) economic actions.
The first point under civil and military mobilization was to put the whole country on a war footing. The purpose was to maintain and strengthen the armed forces, to assist other national efforts, and to remedy the recognized inequities and under-utilization of current manpower policies. Specifically, there was proposed a new national mobilization plan including a national service law, which was to be developed on an urgent basis by the Country Team in collaboration with the Khanh Government. To this end the third of the several recommendations at the conclusion of the report called for the U.S. to "support a program of national mobilization (including a national service law) to put South Vietnam on a war footing."
A second measure under this heading was to strengthen the armed forces, both regular and paramilitary by at least 50,000 men. Of these, about 15,000 would be required to fill the regular armed forces (ARVN) to their current authorized strength, 5,000 would be needed to fill the existing paramilitary forces to their authorized strengths, and the remaining 30,000 would be to increase the strength of the paramilitary forces. To this end it was specifically recommended that the U.S. "assist the Vietnamese to increase the armed forces (regular plus paramilitary) by at least 50,000 men."
The third measure of mobilization was to assist in an increase of the civil administrative corps of Vietnam by an additional 7,500 in 1964, with the ultimate target of at least 40,000 men for service in 8,000 hamlets and 2,500 villages, and in 3 provincial centers. It was specified that in accomplishing this the United States should work with the GVN to devise necessary recruiting plans, training facilities, financing methods and organizational arrangements, and should furnish training personnel at once under the auspices of the AID mission. The specific recommendation was "to assist the Vietnamese to create a greatly enlarged civil administrative corps for work at province, district and hamlet levels."
The improvement of SVN military forces was to be accomplished not only by the increase in numbers specified above, but also by internal reforms and organizational improvements. What remained of the current hamlet militia and related forces of part-time nature for hamlet defense should be consolidated with the self-defense corps into a single force which would be compensated by the national government. The pay and collateral benefits of the paramilitary groups should be substantially improved. Strength of the forces should be maintained and expanded by effectively enforced conscription measures and by more centrally directed recruitment policies. It was recommended that U.S. personnel should be assigned to the training of the paramilitary forces. The National Police required further special consideration. An offensive guerrilla force should be created to operate along the border and in areas where VC control was dominant. These measures were included in specific recommendations to "assist the Vietnamese to improve and reorganize the paramilitary forces and to increase their compensation" and "to assist the Vietnamese to create an offensive guerrilla force."
Under the last two headings there were recommendations to provide the Vietnamese Air Force with 25 A-1H aircraft in exchange for their T-28s and to provide the Vietnamese Army additional M-1 13 APCs (withdrawing the M-l 14s there) and also to provide additional river boats and approximately 5 to 10 million dollars worth of related additional materiel. A fertilizer program to increase the production of rice in areas safely controlled by the government was to be expanded and announced very soon.
Although VC successes in rural areas had been the prime feature of the downswing over the past half year or more, pacification was to receive less comparative emphasis, in fact, in the next year or so than it had before. Nevertheless, Khanh's statement of a pacification strategy--which was later to form a conceptual basis for the ill-fated Hop Tac program--was approved in principle, and a critique of it was accorded a place as Annex B of NSAM 288.
In simplified outline, the plan was based on a "clear and hold" concept, including for each area these steps:
1. Clearing organized VC units from the area by military action;
2. Establishing permanent security for the area by the Civil Guard, Self Defense Corps, hamlet militia, and national police;
3. Rooting out the VC "infrastructure" in the hamlets (particularly the VC tax collector and the chief of the VC political cadre);
4. Providing the elements of economic and social progress for the people of the area: schools, health services, water supply, agricultural improvements, etc.
These general ideas were to be (1) adapted and applied flexibly . . . (2) applied under the clear, undivided and decentralized control of the province chief; and (3) applied in a gradually spreading area moving from secure to less secure areas and from more populated to less populated areas (the "oil drop" principle)
The major requirements for success of the Pacification Plan were:
First, and of by far the greatest importance, clear, strong, and continuous political leadership....
General Khanh and his top colleagues were to supply this requirement. Their ability to do so was as yet untested, but some early evidence was good.....
A second major requirement for success of the Pacification Plan was the adoption of government policies which would give greater promise of economic progress and greater incentives to rural people. The three key areas were:
--the price of rice to farmers, which was artifically depressed and held substantially below the world market price;
--uncertain or oppressive tenure conditions for many farmers (a land reform program was half completed some years ago); the VC had been exploiting the situation very effectively;
--oppressive marketing conditions for fishermen (fisheries accounted for 25 per cent of the rural product of SVN).
General Khanh's initial statement about the land reform problem was not very encouraging; Mr. Oanh was not even aware of the rice problem until a conversation with U.S. visitors on March 10th.
A third major requirement for success of the Pacification Plan was to improve greatly the leadership, pay, training, and numbers of some of the kinds of personnel needed, notably:
--pay and allowances for Civil Guards and S.D.C....
--recruitment and training for more civilian technicians . . . also increased pay and supporting costs for them; and recruitment and training of a new kind of rural worker--"hamlet action teams"--to move into newly cleared hamlets and start improvement programs....
The real problems were managerial: to develop concepts, training schools, action programs, and above all, leadership at the provincial level and below.
Other requirements for success of the Pacification Plan included: improvement in the leadership and attitudes of the ARVN particularly at levels which came into contact with villagers; greatly increased military civic action programs by the ARVN; much more flexibility and decentralization of authority in the administration of GVN civilian agencies; and a far clearer and more consistent pattern of rewarding excellence and penalizing poor performance in the management of both military and civilian agencies of the GVN.
Finally, there was one predominant recommendation (it was in fact the second of twelve): that the U.S. "make it clear that we fully support the Khanh government and are opposed to any further coups." This reflected our deep concern over the political instability and our dismay at having been surprised by the Khanh coup at the end of January.
An immediate measure to provide this kind of support to Khanh was the issuance on the following day (17 March) of a White House release which gave Presidential public blessing to the Khanh regime, saying in part that, to meet the difficulties and setbacks that had arisen since last October, "General Khanh and his government are acting vigorously and effectively . . . [having] produced a sound central plan for the prosecution of the war, recognizing to a far greater degree than before the crucial role of economic and social, as well as military action....."
This statement helped to solidify the Khanh regime by giving it explicit assurance of continuing u.s. support. It did not fully take care of our dismay over the surprise that the Khanh coup had been, and our fear that such a coup might be repeated. In addition to making it clear that we fully supported the incumbent regime, therefore, it seemed necessary that we should discourage attempted coups, or, getting wind of them, head them off before they passed the point of no return. On 18 March, w. H. Sullivan of State sent out a message to Saigon as follows:
....Point 2 . . . [of NSAM 288] stipulated that U.S. government agencies should make clear our full support for Khanh government and our opposition to any further coups. While it is recognized that our chances of detecting coup plotting are far from fool-proof . . . all elements [of] U.S. mission in Vietnam should be alerted against coup contingencies.
Mission should establish appropriate procedure which will assure that all rumors of coup plotting which come to attention [of] any U.S. government personnel in Vietnam will be brought to attention of Ambassador without delay. This is not, repeat not, a responsibility solely for intelligence elements [of the] U.S. mission.
The program embodied in NSAM 288 was by no means judged adequate by all concerned. One major dissent had been registered by the JCS, who tended to view the problem primarily in its military dimensions, and who believed that the source of VC strength in the North must be neutralized. In a memorandum dated 14 March 1964, the CJCS had provided the Secretary of Defense with comments on the SecDef's draft memo to the President (NSAM 288). The general view of the JCS was that the program being recommended by the Secretary of Defense was inadequate militarily, and that much more aggressive policies, mainly against NVN, but also against the Cambodian sanctuaries of VC forces, were necessary.
a. The JCS do not believe that the recommended program in itself will be sufficient to turn the tide against the Viet Cong in SVN without positive action being taken against the Hanoi government at an early date. They have in mind the conduct of the kind of program designed to bring about cessation of DRV support for operations in SVN and Laos outlined in JCSM-174-64, subject "Vietnam," dated 2 March 1964. Such a program would not only deter the aggressive actions of the DRV but would be a source of encouragement to SVN which should significantly facilitate the counterinsurgency program in that country. To increase our readiness for such actions, the U.S. Government should establish at once the political and military bases in the U.S. and SVN for offensive actions against the North and across the Laotian and Cambodian borders, including measures for the control of contraband traffic on the Mekong.
b. In view of the current attitude of the Sihanouk Government in Cambodia, the JCS recommend authorizing now hot pursuit into that country...
As already noted, however, this sort of escalation had already been rejected for the time being. And in any event, there were both a new regime in Vietnam and an enlarged program of U.S. aid to support it, although not as enlarged militarily, as the JCS would wish. (That form of enlargement would not come until later.) But it was the first program since 1961 enlarged in explicit recognition that the programs preceding it had not succeeded, had indeed fallen far short of their goals. And in that sense at least it was the end of one period and the beginning of another.
Go the Next Section of Volume 3, Chapter I of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
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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