Interview with Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara on a Columbia Broadcasting System television program by Peter Kalischer, Alexander Kendrick, and Harry Reasoner, on August 9, 1965, "Political and Military Aspects of U.S. Policy in Viet-Nam," Department of State Bulletin, August 30, 1965, p. 342.


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 635-639


Mr. Reasoner: ". . . I would like to begin by asking both Secretaries two basic questions: First, how is our honor involved in Viet-Nam? And second, how is our security involved in those rice paddies and remote villages? And since sometimes in international relations security comes before honor, I will ask Mr. McNamara to answer first.

Why U.S. National Security Is Involved

Secretary McNamara: "First, let me make clear, Mr. Reasoner, that this is not primarily a military problem. Above all else, I want to emphasize that. It is a battle for the hearts and the minds of the people of South Viet-Nam, and it will only be won if we make clear to those people that their longrun security depends on the development of a stable political institution and an expanding economy. That is our objective.

"As a prerequisite to that, we must be able to guarantee their physical security. How does our physical security, our national interest, become involved in this? That is your question. Secretary Rusk will elaborate on it, but let me say to start with that it is apparent that underlying the terror, the harassment, of the South Vietnamese by the Viet Cong is the purpose and the objective of North Viet-Nam, backed by Communist China, to expand Communist control over the peoples of the independent nations of Southeast Asia and to use this as a test of their method of expanding control over independent peoples throughout the world in the undeveloped areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The leaders of those two nations have on numerous instances stated this as their purpose. For example, General [Vo Nguyen] Giap, who is the head of the North Vietnamese military forces, said not long ago that South Viet-Nam is the model of the national liberation movement of our time. If the special warfare that the United States is testing in South Viet-Nam is overcome, then it can be defeated anywhere in the world.

"And perhaps more pertinently in relation to Latin America is the comment of Pham Van Dong, who is the Prime Minister of North Viet-Nam, who said recently: 'The experience of our compatriots in South Viet-Nam attracts the attention of the world, especially the peoples of Latin America,' and the interests of the Chinese Communists in advancing Asian communism by force are well known.

"But I want to call your attention to two important statements emphasizing that. The Peiping People's Daily said about 12 months ago from Peiping, China:
'It is advantageous from the point of view of tactics to refer to the desire for peaceful transition from capitalism to communism, but it would be inappropriate to emphasize that possibility. The Communist Party must never entertain the illusion that the transition to communism can be achieved through the parliamentary road. . . . Violent revolution is a universal law of proletarian revolution. To realize the transition to communism the proletariat must wage armed struggle. . . .' And, put even more succinctly, Mao Tse-tung said recently, 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.'

"That is why our national security is involved in South Viet-Nam."

Integrity of American Commitment

Mr. Reasoner: "And the honor, Secretary Rusk?"

Secretary Rusk: "Mr. Reasoner, the answer to this question is extremely simple and need not be complicated.

"When President Johnson talks about our national honor, he is not using some empty phrase of 18th-century diplomacy. He is talking about the life and death of the Nation. Now, the essential fact from which we start is that North VietNam has sent tens of thousands of men and large quantities of arms into South Viet-Nam to take over that country by force. We have a very simple commitment to South Viet-Nam. It derives out of the Southeast Asia Treaty, out of the bilateral arrangements that President Eisenhower made with the Government of South Viet-Nam, out of regular authorizations and appropriations of the Congress in giving aid to South Viet-Nam, out of the resolution of the Congress of last August, out of the most formal declarations of three Presidents of both political parties.

"Now, there is no need to parse these commitments in great detail. The fact is that we know we have a commitment. The South Vietnamese know we have a commitment. The Communist world knows we have a commitment. The rest of the world knows it.

"Now, this means that the integrity of the American commitment is at the heart of this problem. I believe that the integrity of the American commitment is the principal structure of peace throughout the world. We have 42 allies. Those alliances were approved by overwhelming votes of our Senate. We didn't go into those alliances through some sense of amiability or through some philanthropic attitude toward other nations. We went into them because we consider these alliances utterly essential for the security of our own nation.

"Now, if our allies or, more particularly, if our adversaries should discover that the American commitment is not worth anything, then the world would face dangers of which we have not yet dreamed. And so it is important for us to make good on that American commitment to South Viet-Nam."

Mr. Kendrick: "But, sir, don't you have to reckon honor at its cost? I mean, it is not an abstract thing. It has to be evalued and weighed according to what it costs
you. And what about dishonor? What about the world image that we now present? We are burning villages, we are killing civilians. Now, don't you weigh one against the other?"

Secretary Rusk: "Well, let me say that you also weigh the costs of dishonor, that is, the failure of an American commitment. And I would hope that our own American news media would go to some effort to present a balanced picture of what is going on in South Viet-Nam: the thousands of local officials who have been kidnaped, the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians who have been killed or wounded by North Vietnamese mortars and by the constant depredations of these acts of violence against the civilian population.

"No, there are costs involved in meeting your commitments of honor. There always have been, there always will be. But I would suggest, if we look at the history of the last 30 or 40 years, that the costs of not meeting your obligations are far greater than those of meeting your obligations."

Political and Military Situation in Viet-Nam

Mr. Reasoner: "Gentlemen, having set the stage, more or less, with your opening statements, I would like to start off first in the area of what we hope to achieve there this year and how we are doing militarily and politically. Peter?"

Mr. Kalischer: "Well, I would like to bring up the subject of who we are committed to. You mentioned the fact, Mr. Secretary, that we have had a commitment to the Vietnamese Government. That government has changed some seven or eight times in the last 18 to 20 months, and when we say we have this commitment to this government, are we reasonably assured that this government represents the people of South Viet-Nam or even a large number of the people in South Viet-Nam?"

Secretary Rusk: "Well, we recognize, of course, that there are difficulties in the top leadership in South Viet-Nam and have been over the months, but that does not mean that our commitment to the nation and to the people of South VietNam is changed any more than the fact that we have had three changes of government in our own Government during the period of this commitment."

Mr. Kalischer: "In a slightly different form."

Secretary Rusk: "The impression we have is that among the 14 million people in South Viet-Nam we do not find any significant group outside of the Viet Cong itself, relatively limited in numbers, that seems to be looking to Hanoi for the answer. The Buddhists are not, the Catholics are not, the other sects are not, the montagnards are not, the million Cambodians living in South Viet-Nam are not. In other words, we, I think, would know very quickly, because we have lots of Americans living throughout the countryside-we would know very quickly if these people of South Viet-Nam wanted the program of the Liberation Front or wanted domination from Hanoi. That we do not find."

* * *

Mr. Kendrick: ". . . I wonder, now, if we are still fighting the same war with Communist China that we were fighting in Korea; is that really the enemy?"

Secretary Rusk: "Well, the present enemy on the ground is North Viet-Nam and infiltration from North Viet-Nam, as far as we are concerned. This appeal by the Liberation Front to Hanoi and Hanoi's response to it simply repeats the factual situation. Hanoi has been sending tens of thousands of men and large quantities of arms into South Viet-Nam. This is not new.

"Now, in terms of the more general problem, as you know, there have been very important disputes within the Communist world, and specifically between Moscow and Peiping, on the question of strategy and tactics in promoting the world revolution. Moscow has been more prudent, more cautious in this respect. Peiping has announced a doctrine of militancy which has caused great problems even within the Communist world. Now, if Peiping should discover that a doctrine of militancy is a successful policy through what happens to Southeast Asia, then the dangers throughout the rest of the world mount very quickly and very substantially."

* * *

U.S. Commitment Fundamental to Peace

Mr. Reasoner: "Secretary Rusk, I think Americans sometimes have-while they support this policy-have trouble understanding just what we mean when we speak in the pattern of having to defend it here or we will have to fight in some less suitable place. To be hypothetical, what would happen if Secretary McNamara announced that we had done all we could and we were now withdrawing because we needed the boys at home and we left? What do you think would ensue?"
Secretary Rusk: "I think that it would not be for me to answer that one directly. But imagine yourself to be a Thai, and ask what the American commitment to Thailand would mean to you under those circumstances. Think of yourself as a West Berliner, and ask yourself what the American commitment to you would mean under those circumstances.

"At the very heart, gentlemen, of the maintenance of peace in the world is the integrity of the American commitment under our alliances."

Mr. Kendrick: "Is it possible that it is an overcommitment?"

Secretary Rusk: "Well, that can be argued. But it should have been argued at the time, at the various stages. I personally do not think so, because we have made 42 allies, as you know, in this postwar period, and at the time it seemed to be in the vital interest of the United States that these alliances be formed."

* * *

"So we do not have a worldwide commitment as the gendarme of the universe, but we do have 42 allies, and South Viet-Nam is a protocol state of the Southeast Asia Treaty and it does have a commitment from us. Therefore, the nature of that commitment is fundamental here if we are to maintain peace in the years ahead."

Mr. Reasoner: "Are we overcommitted from your standpoint, Mr. Secretary? Can you handle everything you foresee?"

Secretary McNamara: "I believe so, The military forces of this country have been built up in strength, as you know. We do have 45 percent more combat-ready divisions today than we did 3 or 4 years ago. We do have nearly 50 percent more tactical fighter squadrons today than we did then. We have been building up our inventories in men and equipment.

"I think the question is really more fundamental than are we overcommitted. The question is, what kind of a world would we and our children live in if we failed to carry out the commitments we have or sought to reduce them?"

* * *


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