En route from
Saigon to Washington, February 7, 1965.
RE The Situation
attempts to describe the situation, the stakes and the measures
which I think should now be taken.
in Vietnam is deteriorating, and without new U.S. action defeat
appears inevitable--probably not in a matter of weeks or perhaps
even months, but within the next year or so. There is still time
to turn it around, but not much.
in Vietnam are extremely high. The American investment is very
large, and American responsibility is a fact of life which is
palpable in the atmosphere of Asia, and even elsewhere. The international
prestige of the United States, and a substantial part of our influence,
are directly at risk in Vietnam. There is no way of unloading
the burden on the Vietnamese themselves, and there is no way of
negotiating ourselves out of Vietnam which offers any serious
promise at present. It is possible that at some future time a
neutral non-Communist force may emerge, perhaps under Buddhist
leadership, but no such force currently exists, and any negotiated
U.S. withdrawal today would mean surrender on the installment
of graduated and continuing reprisal outlined in Annex A is the
most promising course available, in my judgment. That judgment
is shared by all who accompanied me from Washington, and I think
by all members of the country team.
of the last twenty-four hours have produced a practicable point
of departure for this policy of reprisal, and for the removal
of U.S. dependents. They may also have catalyzed the formation
of a new Vietnamese government. If so, the situation may be at
a turning point.
There is much
that can and should be done to support and to supplement our present
effort, while adding sustained reprisals. But I want to stress
one important general conclusion which again is shared by all
members of my party: the U.S. mission is composed of outstanding
men, and U.S. policy within Vietnam is mainly right and well directed.
None of the special solutions or criticisms put forward with zeal
by individual reformers in government or in the press is of major
importance, and many of them are flatly wrong. No man is perfect,
and not every tactical step of recent months has been perfectly
chosen, but when you described the Americans in Vietnam as your
first team, you were right.
II. The General
For the last
year--and perhaps for longer--the overall situation in Vietnam
has been deteriorating. The Communists have been gaining and the
anti-Communist forces have been losing. As a result there is now
great uncertainty among Vietnamese as well as Americans as to
whether Communist victory can be prevented. There is nervousness
about the determination of the U.S. Government. There is recrimination
and fear among Vietnamese political leaders. There is an appearance
of wariness among some military leaders. There is a worrisome
lassitude among the Vietnamese generally. There is a distressing
absence of positive commitment to any serious social or political
purpose. Outside observers are ready to write the patient off.
All of this tends to bring latent anti-Americanism dangerously
near to the surface.
To be an American
in Saigon today is to have a gnawing feeling that time is against
us. Junior officers in all services are able, zealous and effective
within the limits of their means. Their morale is sustained by
the fact that they know that they are doing their jobs well and
that they will not have to accept the responsibility for defeat.
But near the top, where responsibility is heavy and accountability
real, one can sense the inner doubts of men whose outward behavior
is not all black. The overall military effectiveness of the Vietnamese
armed forces in open combat continues to grow. The month of January
was one of outstanding and genuine success in offensive military
action, showing the highest gross count of Viet Cong dead of any
month of the war, and a very high ratio also of enemy to friendly
losses. We believe that General Westmoreland is right (and General
Alsop wrong) when he says that the Viet Cong do not now plan to
expose themselves to large-scale military engagements in which
their losses on the average would be high and their gains low.
(The operation at Binh Gia (2) is analyzed as
a special case, representing the taking of a friendly Catholic
village as bait rather than a decision to force pitched battle--more
such cases are expected and the particular military problem posed
the Vietnamese people, although war weary, are also remarkably
tough and resilient, and they do not find the prospect of Communist
domination attractive. Their readiness to quit is much lower than
the discouraging events of recent months might lead one to expect.
It is probable that most Vietnamese think American withdrawal
is more likely than an early switch to neutralism or surrender
by major elements within Vietnam. Nevertheless the social and
political fabric is stretched thin, and extremely unpleasant surprises
are increasingly possible--both political and military.
And it remains
a stubborn fact that the percentage of the countryside which is
dominated or threatened by the Viet Cong continues to grow. Even
in areas which are "cleared," the follow-on pacification
is stalled because of widespread belief that the Viet Cong are
going to win in the long run. The areas which can be regarded
as truly cleared and pacified and safe are few and shrinking.
(An important exception to this is the area of Saigon and its
immediate surroundings. The Hop Tac program of pacification in
this area has not been an unqualified success, but it has not
been a failure, and it has certainly prevented any strangling
siege of Saigon. We did not have a chance to form an independent
judgment on Hop Tac, but we did conclude that whatever its precise
measure of success, it is of great importance that this operation
be pursued with full vigor. That is the current policy of the
III. The Political
to the overall state of the struggle against the Viet Cong, the
shape and structure of the government is the most important element
of the Saigon situation. We made it our particular business to
examine the question whether and to what degree a stable government
is a necessity for the successful prosecution of our policy in
Vietnam. We reached a mixed conclusion.
purposes--and especially for the initiation of reprisal policy,
we believe that the government need be no stronger than it is
today with General Khanh as the focus of raw power while a weak
caretaker government goes through the motions. Such a government
can execute military decisions and it can give formal political
support to joint US/GVN policy. That is about all it can do.
In the longer
run, it is necessary that a government be established which will
in one way or another be able to maintain its political authority
against all challenges over a longer time than the governments
of the last year and a half.
and direction of such a government is a most difficult problem,
and we do not wholly agree with the mission in our estimate of
The mood of
the mission with respect to the prospect of obtaining such a government
is one of pessimism and frustration. This is only natural in terms
of the events of the past many weeks. Two dominant themes predominate:
a government headed by Khanh will be difficult if not impossible
to deal with and, in any case, would be short lived; the Buddhists
(or, more specifically, the few politically activist bonzes) must
be confronted and faced down (by military means if necessary)
lest they maintain their power to unseat any government that does
not bow to their every demand. We tend to differ with the mission
on both counts.
we believe that General Khanh, with all his faults, is by long
odds the outstanding military man currently in sight--and the
most impressive personality generally. We do not share the conclusion
of Ambassador Taylor that he must somehow be removed from the
military and political scene.
strong reasons for the Ambassador's total lack of confidence in
Khanh. At least twice Khanh has acted in ways that directly spoiled
Ambassador Taylor's high hopes for December. When he abolished
the High National Council he undercut the prospect of the stable
government needed for Phase II action against the North. In January
he overthrew Huong just when the latter, in the Embassy's view,
was about to succeed in putting the bonzes in their place.
Khanh is not
an easy man to deal with. It is clear that he takes a highly tactical
view of truth, although General Westmoreland asserts that Khanh
has never deceived him. He is intensely ambitious and intent above
all else on maintaining and advancing his own power. He gravely
lacks the confidence of many of his colleagues--military and civilian--and
he seems not to be personally popular with the public. He is correctly
assessed as tricky. He remains able, energetic, perceptive and
resilient, and in our judgment he will pursue the fight against
the Communists as long as he can count on U.S. help. (If he should
conclude that the U.S. was violently against him personally, he
might well seek a way to power by some anti-American path, a path
which would lead to disaster for both Vietnam and the United States.)
But our principal
reason for opposing any sharp break with Khanh is that we see
no one else in sight with anything like his ability to combine
military authority with some sense of politics.
We also differ
from the Embassy in our estimate of the Buddhist leaders. The
dominant Embassy view is that "the Buddhists" are really
just a handful of irresponsible and designing clerics and that
they must be curbed by firmness. We agree that they may well have
to be limited at some point, especially in their use of mobs,
but we also think they must be offered some accommodation.
We feel that
the operative concept should be incorporation into the affairs
of government rather than confrontation. This is easier said than
done, because the Buddhists have many of the bad habits of men
who have prospered by irresponsible opposition. Still there are
signs that both Buddhist laymen and bonzes are now taking a more
positive stance. We feel that the mission might do more in attempting
to direct or channel the Buddhists into a more useful and positive
role--an active rather than a passive approach. The Buddhists
now play a key role in the balance of political forces, so that
something more than "confrontation" must be achieved
if there is to be any active government at all.
these two immediate and important differences of emphasis, we
should add that in our judgment the mission has acted at about
the right level of general involvement in the problem of Vietnamese
government-making. American advice is sought by all elements,
and all try to bend it to their own ends. The mission attempts
to keep before all elements the importance of stable government,
and it quietly presses the value of those who are known to be
good, solid, able ministerial timber.
In a situation
in which confidence is low and uncertainty great, strongly ambitious
forces like Khanh and the Buddhists might react very vigorously
against an overt American attempt to form or actively support
a government against their liking. Anti-Americanism is a theme
that is potentially explosive, and therefore tempting to those
who feel that we are blocking their ambitions. This is one lesson,
to us, of the outburst in Hue last month.
On the other
hand, no power whose stake is as great and whose presence as clear
as those of the United States in Vietnam can afford to stand aside
entirely, and such a passive posture would not be understood or
approved by the Vietnamese themselves.
It is important,
therefore, that the mission maintain a constant and active concern
with the politics of government-making. This it is doing. While
it is very difficult to second-guess this effort, we do recommend
a telegram of guidance which might take into account the marginal
differences from mission thinking which are suggested above. In
the light of further discussion, a message of this sort will be
drafted for consideration.
the Pacification Program
If we suppose
that new hopes are raised--at least temporarily--by a reprisal
program, and if we suppose further that a government somewhat
better than the bare minimum is established, the most urgent order
of business will then be the improvement and broadening of the
pacification program, especially in its non-military elements.
fully concurs in the importance of this effort. We believe, however,
that consideration should be given to important modifications
in its organization for this purpose. In particular we believe
that there should be intensive effort to strengthen our program
at the margin between military advice and economic development--in
the area which implies civil government for the soldiers and police
action for the aid mission. These efforts, important as they are
understood to be, are somehow at the edge of vision for both parties.
General Westmoreland and his people inevitably think first of
military programs, though they have been imaginative and understanding
about the importance of other aspects. Mr. Killen and the USOM
people are centrally concerned with problems of aid and of economic
improvement, although they talk with conviction and energy about
their increasing police effort. It remains a fact that its own
organization for helping to provide real security for an area
which has been "cleared" in crude military terms is
unfinished business for the U.S. mission. What is true of our
side is doubly true of the Vietnamese.
We do not
offer a definite solution to this problem. We are inclined to
suggest, however, that one important and unemployed asset is the
Special Forces of the Defense Department. Because of the predominant
role of the U.S. military, and because of the generous spirit
and broad mind of General Westmoreland himself, we are inclined
to believe that the easiest growing edge for this work may be
through the use of some of these versatile and flexible units.
We would think
it important, however, that an effort of this kind be coordinated
at a high level between the Defense Department and AID, and we
believe that a joint mission which would include either Director
Bell or Mr. Gaud from AID is urgently needed for the purpose of
building this missing link into our program.
V. A Sense
of Positive Hope
talk is full of the need for "revolution." Vietnamese
practice is empty of action to match the talk--so much so that
the word "revolution" sometimes seems to have no real
meaning. Yet in fact there is plainly a deep and strong yearning
among the young and the unprivileged for a new and better social
order. This is what the Buddhist leaders are groping toward; this
is what the students and young Turk generals are seeking. This
yearning does not find an adequate response in American policy
as Vietnamese see it. This is one cause of latent anti-American
feeling. We only perceived this problem toward the end of our
visit. We think it needs urgent further attention. We make no
present recommendations. We do believe that over the long pull
our military and political firmness must be matched by our political
and economic support for the hopes that are embodied to Vietnamese
in the word "revolution."
VI. The Basic
in Vietnam is grim. The energy and persistence of the Viet Cong
are astonishing. They can appear anywhere--and at almost any time.
They have accepted extraordinary losses and they come back for
more. They show skill in their sneak attacks and ferocity when
cornered. Yet the weary country does not want them to win.
a host of things the Vietnamese need to do better and areas in
which we need to help them. The place where we can help most is
in the clarity and firmness of our own commitment to what is in
fact as well as in rhetoric a common cause. There is one grave
weakness in our posture in Vietnam which is within our own power
to fix--and that is a widespread belief that we do not have the
will and force and patience and determination to take the necessary
action and stay the course.
This is the
overriding reason for our present recommendation of a policy of
sustained reprisal. Once such a policy is put in force, we shall
be able to speak in Vietnam on many topics and in many ways, with
growing force and effectiveness.
word. At its very best the struggle in Vietnam will be long. It
seems to us important that this fundamental fact be made clear
and our understanding of it be made clear to our own people and
to the people of Vietnam. Too often in the past we have conveyed
the impression that we expect an early solution when those who
live with this war know that no early solution is possible. It
is our own belief that the people of the United States have the
necessary will to accept and to execute a policy that rests upon
the reality that there is no short cut to success in South Vietnam.
Annex A (3)
by the Members of the Bundy Mission
A POLICY OF
that the best available way of increasing our chance of success
in Vietnam is the development and execution of a policy of sustained
reprisal against North Vietnam--a policy in which air and naval
action against the North is justified by and related to the whole
Viet Cong campaign of violence and terror in the South.
While we believe
that the risks of such a policy are acceptable, we emphasize that
its costs are real. It implies significant U.S. air losses even
if no full air war is joined, and it seems likely that it would
eventually require an extensive and costly effort against the
whole air defense system of North Vietnam. U.S. casualties would
be higher--and more visible to American feelings--than those sustained
in the struggle in South Vietnam.
against the costs of defeat in Vietnam, this program seems cheap.
And even if it fails to turn the tide--as it may--the value of
the effort seems to us to exceed its cost.
of the Policy
1. In partnership
with the Government of Vietnam, we should develop and exercise
the option to retaliate against any VC act of violence to persons
2. In practice,
we may wish at the outset to relate our reprisals to those acts
of relatively high visibility such as the Pleiku incident. Later,
we might retaliate against the assassination of a province chief,
but not necessarily the murder of a hamlet official; we might
retaliate against a grenade thrown into a crowded cafe in Saigon,
but not necessarily to a shot fired into a small shop in the countryside.
3. Once a
program of reprisals is clearly underway, it should not be necessary
to connect each specific act against North Vietnam to a particular
outrage in the South. It should be possible, for example, to publish
weekly lists of outrages in the South and to have it clearly understood
that these outrages are the cause of such action against the North
as may be occurring in the current period. Such a more generalized
pattern of reprisal would remove much of the difficulty involved
in finding precisely matching targets in response to specific
atrocities. Even in such a more general pattern, however, it would
be important to insure that the general level of reprisal action
remained in close correspondence with the level of outrages in
the South. We must keep it clear at every stage both to Hanoi
and to the world, that our reprisals will be reduced or stopped
when outrages in the South are reduced or stopped--and that we
are not attempting to destroy or conquer North Vietnam.
4. In the
early stages of such a course, we should take the appropriate
occasion to make clear our firm intent to undertake reprisals
on any further acts, major or minor, that appear to us and the
GVN as indicating Hanoi's support. We would announce that our
two governments have been patient and forbearing in the hope that
Hanoi would come to its senses without the necessity of our having
to take further action; but the outrages continue and now we must
react against those who are responsible; we will not provoke;
we will not use our force indiscriminately; but we can no longer
sit by in the face of repeated acts of terror and violence for
which the DRV is responsible.
once made this announcement, we should execute our reprisal policy
with as low a level of public noise as possible. It is to our
interest that our acts should be seen--but we do not wish to boast
about them in ways that make it hard for Hanoi to shift its ground.
We should instead direct maximum attention to the continuing acts
of violence which are the cause of our continuing reprisals.
6. This reprisal
policy should begin at a low level. Its level of force and pressure
should be increased only gradually--and as indicated above it
should be decreased if VC terror visibly decreases. The object
would not be to "win" an air war against Hanoi, but
rather to influence the course of the struggle in the South.
7. At the
same time it should be recognized that in order to maintain the
power of reprisal without risk of excessive loss, an "air
war" may in fact be necessary. We should therefore be ready
to develop a separate justification for energetic flak suppression
and if necessary for the destruction of Communist air power. The
essence of such an explanation should be that these actions are
intended solely to insure the effectiveness of a policy of reprisal,
and in no sense represent any intent to wage offensive war against
the North. These distinctions should not be difficult to develop.
8. It remains
quite possible, however, that this reprisal policy would get us
quickly into the level of military activity contemplated in the
so-called Phase II of our December planning. It may even get us
beyond this level with both Hanoi and Peiping, if there is Communist
counter-action. We and the GVN should also be prepared for a spurt
of VC terrorism, especially in urban areas, that would dwarf anything
yet experienced. These are the risks of any action. They should
be carefully reviewed--but we believe them to be acceptable.
9. We are
convinced that the political values of reprisal require a continuous
operation. Episodic responses geared on a one-for-one basis to
"spectacular" outrages would lack the persuasive force
of sustained pressure. More important still, they would leave
it open to the Communists to avoid reprisals entirely by giving
up only a small element of their own program. The Gulf of Tonkin
affair produced a sharp upturn in morale in South Vietnam. When
it remained an isolated episode, however, there was a severe relapse.
It is the great merit of the proposed scheme that to stop it the
Communists would have to stop enough of their activity in the
South to permit the probable success of a determined pacification
Effect of Sustained Reprisal Policy
1. We emphasize
that our primary target in advocating a reprisal policy is the
improvement of the situation in South Vietnam. Action against
the North is usually urged as a means of affecting the will of
Hanoi to direct and support the VC. We consider this an important
but longer-range purpose. The immediate and critical targets are
in the South--in the minds of the South Vietnamese and in the
minds of the Viet Cong cadres.
of the effect of any given course of action upon the states of
mind of people are difficult. It seems very clear that if the
United States and the Government of Vietnam join in a policy of
reprisal, there will be a sharp immediate increase in optimism
in the South, among nearly all articulate groups. The Mission
believes--and our own conversations confirm--that in all sectors
of Vietnamese opinion there is a strong belief that the United
States could do much more if it would, and that they are suspicious
of our failure to use more of our obviously enormous power. At
least in the short run, the reaction to reprisal policy would
be very favorable.
3. This favorable
reaction should offer opportunity for increased American influence
in pressing for a more effective government--at least in the short
run. Joint reprisals would imply military planning in which the
American role would necessarily be controlling, and this new relation
should add to our bargaining power in other military efforts--and
conceivably on a wider plane as well if a more stable government
is formed. We have the whip hand in reprisals as we do not in
4. The Vietnamese
increase in hope could well increase the readiness of Vietnamese
factions themselves to join together in forming a more effective
5. We think
it plausible that effective and sustained reprisals, even in a
low key, would have a substantial depressing effect upon the morale
of Viet Cong cadres in South Vietnam. This is the strong opinion
of CIA Saigon. It is based upon reliable reports of the initial
Viet Cong reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin episode, and also upon
the solid general assessment that the determination of Hanoi and
the apparent timidity of the mighty United States are both major
items in Viet Cong confidence.
6. The long-run
effect of reprisals in the South is far less clear. It may be
that like other stimulants, the value of this one would decline
over time. Indeed the risk of this result is large enough so that
we ourselves believe that a very major effort all along the line
should be made in South Vietnam to take full advantage of the
immediate stimulus of reprisal policy in its early stages. Our
object should be to use this new policy to effect a visible upward
turn in pacification, in governmental effectiveness, in operations
against the Viet Cong, and in the whole U.S./GVN relationship.
It is changes in these areas that can have enduring long-term
7. While emphasizing
the importance of reprisals in the South, we do not exclude the
impact on Hanoi. We believe, indeed, that it is of great importance
that the level of reprisal be adjusted rapidly and visibly to
both upward and downward shifts in the level of Viet Cong offenses.
We want to keep before Hanoi the carrot of our desisting as well
as the stick of continued pressure. We also need to conduct the
application of the force so that there is always a prospect of
worse to come.
8. We cannot
assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing
the course of the contest in Vietnam. It may fail, and we cannot
estimate the odds of success with any accuracy--they may be somewhere
between 25% and 75%. What we can say is that even if it fails,
the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the
charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this
charge will be important in many countries, including our own.
Beyond that, a reprisal policy--to the extent that it demonstrates
U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counter-insurgency--will
set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerrilla
warfare, and it should therefore somewhat increase our ability
to deter such adventures. We must recognize, however, that that
ability will be gravely weakened if there is failure for any reason
1. This general
recommendation was developed in intensive discussions in the days
just before the attacks on Pleiku. These attacks and our reaction
to them have created an ideal opportunity for the prompt development
and execution of sustained reprisals. Conversely, if no such policy
is now developed, we face the grave danger that Pleiku, like the
Gulf of Tonkin, may be a short-run stimulant and a long-term depressant.
We therefore recommend that the necessary preparations be made
for continuing reprisals. The major necessary steps to be taken
appear to us to be the following:
(1) We should
complete the evacuation of dependents.
(2) We should
quietly start the necessary westward deployments of back-up contingency
(3) We should
develop and refine a running catalogue of Viet Cong offenses which
can be published regularly and related clearly to our own reprisals.
Such a catalogue should perhaps build on the foundation of an
initial White Paper.
(4) We should
initiate joint planning with the GVN on both the civil and military
level. Specifically, we should give a clear and strong signal
to those now forming a government that we will be ready for this
policy when they are.
(5) We should
develop the necessary public and diplomatic statements to accompany
the initiation and continuation of this program.
(6) We should
insure that a reprisal program is matched by renewed public commitment
to our family of programs in the South, so that the central importance
of the southern struggle may never be neglected.
(7) We should
plan quiet diplomatic communication of the precise meaning of
what we are and are not doing, to Hanoi, to Peking and to Moscow.
(8) We should
be prepared to defend and to justify this new policy by concentrating
attention in every forum upon its cause--the aggression in the
(9) We should
accept discussion on these terms in any forum, but we should not
now accept the idea of negotiations of any sort except on the
basis of a stand down of Viet Cong violence. A program of sustained
reprisal, with its direct link to Hanoi's continuing aggressive
actions in the South, will not involve us in nearly the level
of international recrimination which would be precipitated by
a go-North program which was not so connected. For this reason
the international pressures for negotiation should be quite manageable.