Address by William P. Bundy Before Dallas Council on World Affairs on May 13, 1965, "Reality and Myth Concerning South Vietnam"


Source: Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 738-741


Address by William P. Bundy Before Dallas Council on World Affairs on May 13, 1965, "Reality and Myth Concerning South Vietnam," Department of State Bulletin, June 7, 1965, p. 893.

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Myths on the South Viet-Nam Story

"This is the simple basic story of what has happened in South Viet-Nam since 1954. Let me now turn to certain myths that have arisen concerning that story.

"First, there is the question of the attitude of the South Vietnamese Government and ourselves toward the reunification of Viet-Nam through free elections. The 1954 Geneva accords had provided for free elections by secret ballot in 1956, and it has been alleged that the failure to proceed with these elections in some way justified Hanoi's action in resorting to military measures, first slowly and then by the stepped-up infiltration beginning in 1959 and 1960.

The facts are quite otherwise. The Eisenhower administration had fully supported the principle of free elections under international supervision, in VietNam as in other situations where a country was divided, Korea and Germany.

A similar position was taken by President Diem of South Viet-Nam. For example, in January 1955 Diem made it clear to an American correspondent that:

"The clauses providing for the 1956 elections are extremely vague. But at one point they are clear-in stipulating that the elections are to be free. Everything will now depend on how free elections are defined. The President said he would wait to see whether the conditions of freedom would exist in North Viet-Nam at the time scheduled for the elections. He asked what would be the good of an impartial counting of votes if the voting had been preceded in North VietNam by the ruthless propaganda and terrorism on the part of a police state."

I do not think any of us would dissent from this description of what is required for free elections. And the simple fact is that, when the issue arose concretely in 1956, the regime in Hanoi--while it kept calling for elections in its propaganda--made no effort to respond to the call of the Soviet Union and Great Britain, as cochairmen of the 1954 Geneva conference, for the setting up of the appropriate machinery for free elections.

The reason is not far to seek. For North Viet-Nam in 1956--and indeed today--is a Communist state and in 1956 North Viet-Nam was in deep trouble. Its own leaders admitted as much in their party congress in the fall of 1956 in a statement by General [Vo Nguyen] Giap referring to widespread terror, failure to respect the principles of faith and worship in the so-called land reform program, the use of torture as a normal practice, and a whole list of excesses which even the Communists had come to realize went too far.

So the answer is, I repeat, simple. There was no chance of free elections in North Viet-Nam in 1956. We shall wait to see whether there will ever be such a chance in the future.

Second, there is the myth that the Viet Cong movement has any significant relationship to the political opposition to President Diem. I have referred already to the unfortunate trends that developed after 1959 in President Diem's rule. There was unquestionably opposition to him within South Viet-Nam, and that opposition included many distinguished South Vietnamese, some of whom went into exile as a result. Others stayed in Saigon, and some were imprisoned.

But the point is this. The men who led the opposition to Diem are not today in the Viet Cong. On the contrary, the present Prime Minister, Dr. [Phan Huy] Quat, and his group of so-called Caravellistes, all of whom opposed Diem, are today the leaders of the Government. These men, and their followers, are nationalists and strongly anti-Communist; not one of them, of any significance, went over to the Viet Cong.

This brings me to the question of the so-called National Liberation Front, which is the political facade, made in Hanoi, for the Viet Cong movement. I doubt if
any of you can name a single leader of the National Liberation Front. But these are faceless men installed by Hanoi to give the appearance of bourgeois and truly South Vietnamese support for the operation.

Lest you think I exaggerate, I refer you to the excellent recent account by Georges Chaffard, a French correspondent for L'Express in Paris, who recently visited the Viet Cong and interviewed some of its "leaders." Chaffard describes vividly what these men are, including their strong desire to find a replacement for the obscure lawyer named Tho who is the titular head of the front and who apparently is the only figure Hanoi can find who was even in Saigon or participating in South Vietnamese political life during the latter Diem period. Chaffard's conclusion, which I quote, is that:

"The Front for National Liberation structure is the classic structure of a 'National Front' before the taking over of power by the Communists."

So there should be no doubt of the true nature of the Viet Cong and its Liberation Front, or that they are a completely different movement from the political opposition to Diem. As to the latter, and its present emergence into a truly nationalistic amalgam of forces--regional, religious, military, and civilian--I can perhaps best refer you to the excellent lead article by Mr. George Carver, an American with long experience in Saigon, in the April issue of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Carver tells a fascinating story of the emergence of these new nationalistic forces in South Viet-Nam, with all their difficulties and weaknesses, but with the fundamental and overriding fact that they are the true new voice of South VietNam and that they have never had anything to do with the Viet Cong.

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The Korean War also had an important message for the Communists--and as a result we may have seen the last of the old classical war of open invasions. Korea proved to the Communists that they had to find a more effective strategy of conquest. They chose to refine a technique that they had used on a primitive scale and to their ultimate defeat in Greece, Malaya, and the Philippines. I am referring to the so-called "war of national liberation." This is the label Khrushchev employed in 1961 to describe Communist strategy for the future--aggression directed and supplied from outside a nation, but disguised in nationalist trappings so that it might pass as an indigenous insurrection.

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The Communists have expanded upon their "wars of liberation" technique. Africa and Latin America are already feeling the threat of such thrusts. But by far the most highly sophisticated and ambitious attempt at such aggression by the Communists is taking place today in Viet-Nam.

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The "wars of liberation" strategy is at this time an essential element of the expansionist policy of Communist China and her Asian ally, North Viet-Nam. If we allow it to succeed in Viet-Nam, we would be confirming Peiping's assertion that armed struggle is a more productive Communist course than Moscow's doctrine of peaceful coexistence. "Wars of national liberation" would most certainly spread. Red China has already identified Thailand as the next target for a so-called "liberation struggle," and its Foreign Minister Chen Yi has promised that it will be launched before the end of this year.

The major test to date of this new Communist strategy is taking place today in Viet-Nam. Even the Asian Communists have acknowledged the larger implications of this confrontation. Not long ago General Giap, the well-known leader of North Viet-Nam's army, declared that,

"South Viet-Nam is the model of the national liberation movement of our time. . . If the special warfare that the U.S. imperialists are testing in South VietNam is overcome, then it can be defeated everywhere in the world."

In another recent comment, North Viet-Nam's Premier Pham Van Dong said that:

"The experience of our compatriots in South Viet-Nam attracts the attention of the world, especially the peoples of South America."

The People's Daily, Peiping's official newspaper, echoed those statements in an editorial on May Day of this year. It said:

"The Vietnamese people's struggle against U.S. imperialism has become the focal point of the international class struggle at this moment. This is an acid test for all political forces in the world."

Our firm posture in Viet-Nam, then, seeks peace and security in three related dimensions: for South Viet-Nam, for the sake of Southeast Asia's independence and security generally, and for the other small nations everywhere that would face the same kind of subversive threat from.without if the Communists were to succeed in Vietnam . . .

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