Memo from George Ball to Rusk, McNamara, both Bundys, McNaughton, and Unger, Part II Only, 29 June 1965


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 609-610


Memo: 29 June 1965-by George Ball to Rusk, McNamara, both Bundys, McNaughton and Unger

PART II [PART I missing]

1. Plan for Cutting Our Losses

In essence, what we should seek to achieve is a posture vis-a-vis the various leaders in Saigon that will appear to the world as reasonable and lacking any suggestion of arbitrariness. What I have proposed is that we make it a condition of continued assistance that the various elements in Saigon put aside their petty differences and organize themselves to fight the war. The only argument against the reasonableness of this proposition is that we have not insisted on such performance in the past. This is not persuasive. From the point of view of legitimacy, effective representation of the major elements of opinion, and social and economic progressiveness, the present government seems even worse than its predecessors.

2. The Task of Re-education

It should by now be apparent that we have to a large extent created our own predicament. In our determination to rally support, we have tended to give the South Vietnamese struggle an exaggerated and symbolic significance (Mea culpa, since I personally participated in this effort).

The problem for us now--if we determine not to broaden and deepen our commitments--is to re-educate the American people and our friends and allies that:

(a) The phasing out of American power in South Vietnam should not be regarded as a major defeat--either military or political--but a tactical redeployment to more favorable terrain in the overall cold war struggle;
(b) The loss of South Vietnam does not mean the loss of all of Southeast Asia to the Communist power. Admittedly, Thailand is a special problem that will be dealt with later in this memo;
(c) We have more than met our commitments to the South Vietnamese people. We have poured men and equipment into the area, and run risks and taken casualties, and have been prepared to continue the struggle provided the South Vietnamese leaders met even the most rudimentary standards of political performance;
(d) The Viet Cong--while supported and guided from the North--is largely an indigenous movement. Although we have emphasized its cold war aspects, the conflict in South Vietnam is essentially a civil war within that country;
(e) Our commitment to the South Vietnamese people is of a wholly different order from our major commitments elsewhere--to Berlin, to NATO, to South Korea, etc. We ourselves have insisted the curtailment of our activities in South Vietnam would cast doubt on our fidelity to the other commitments. Now we must begin a process of differentiation being founded on fact and law. We have never had a treaty commitment obligating us to the South Vietnamese people or to a South Vietnamese government. Our only treaty commitment in that area is to our SEATO partners, and they have-without exception-viewed the situation in South Vietnam as not calling a treaty into play. To be sure, we did make a promise to the South Vietnamese people. But that promise is conditioned on their own performance, and they have not performed.


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