23. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council
(Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk (1)
May 20, 1965.
Victory and Defeat in Guerrilla Wars: The Case of South Vietnam
In the press,
at least, there is a certain fuzziness about the possibility of
clear-cut victory in South Viet-N am; and the President's statement
that a military victory is impossible (2) is
open to misinterpretation.
guerrilla wars have generally been lost or won cleanly: Greece,
China mainland, North Vietnam, Malaya, Philippines. Laos in 1954
was an exception, with two provinces granted the Communists and
a de facto split imposed on the country.
2. In all
the cases won by Free World forces, there was a phase when the
guerrillas commanded a good part of the countryside and, indeed,
placed Athens, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila under something close
to siege. They failed to win because all the possible routes to
guerrilla victory were closed and, in failing to win, they lost.
They finally gave up in discouragement. The routes to victory
Mao Stage Three: going to all-out conventional war and winning
as in China in 1947-49;
Political collapse and takeover: North Vietnam;
Political collapse and a coalition government in which the Communists
get control over the security machinery; that is, army and/or
police. This has been an evident Viet Cong objective in this
war; but the nearest precedents are Eastern European takeovers
after 1945, rather than guerrilla war cases.
Converting the bargaining pressure generated by the guerrilla
forces into a partial victory by splitting the country: Laos.
Also, in a sense, North Vietnam in 1954 and the Irish Rebellion
after the First World War.
3. If we succeed
in blocking these four routes to victory, discouraging the Communist
force in the South, and making the continuance of the war sufficiently
costly to the North there is no reason we cannot win as clear
a victory in South Vietnam as in Greece, Malaya, and the Philippines.
Unless political morale in Saigon collapses and the ARVN tends
to break up, case c), the most realistic hope of the VC, should
be avoidable. This danger argues for more rather than less pressure
on the North, while conducting the battle in the South in such
a way as to make VC hopes of military and
political progress wane.
4. The objective
of the exercise is to convince Hanoi that its bargaining position
is being reduced with the passage of time; for, even in the worst
case for Hanoi, it wants some bargaining position (rather than
simply dropping the war) to get U.S. forces radically reduced
in South Vietnam and to get some minimum face-saving formula for
5. I believe
Hanoi understands its dilemma well. As of early February it saw
a good chance of a quite clean victory via route c). It now is
staring at quite clear-cut defeat, with the rising U.S. strength
and GVN morale in the South and rising costs in the North. That
readjustment in prospects is painful; and they won't, in my view,
accept its consequences unless they are convinced time has ceased
to be their friend, despite the full use of their assets on the
ground in South Vietnam, in political warfare around the world,
and in diplomacy.
6. Their last
and best hope will be, of course, that if they end the war and
get us out, the political, social, and economic situation in South
Vietnam will deteriorate in such a way as to permit Communist
political takeover, with or without a revival of guerrilla warfare.
It is in this phase that we will have to consolidate, with the
South Vietnamese, a victory that is nearer our grasp than we (but
not Hanoi) may think.
Source: Johnson Library, Rostow Papers, Southeast Asia. Secret.
Copies were sent to Ball, Harriman, Thompson, William Bundy, Unger,
and circulated to interested members of the S/P staff.
An apparent reference to the President's address to members of
the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists at the White
House on May 13. For text of the address, see Public Papers
of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965,
Book I, pp. 522-526.