130. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Marks) to President Johnson1

In reviewing the foreign press I was struck with a recent change in attitude on the Harrison Salisbury articles from Hanoi.2

Since the first shock of the Salisbury articles in the New York Times one month ago, free world media reaction may be divided roughly into three stages, each one covering about ten days.

The initial outcry against U.S. bombing of North Viet Nam deplored civilian casualties while denouncing official American statements for not acknowledging them all along. This first burst of media reaction had spent itself by January 6 and was followed by a lull which lasted until mid-month. The third stage in the latter part of January produced a new crop of editorials, with a growing number asking why severe critics of occasional U.S. bombing accidents virtually ignored the Viet Cong’s deliberate campaign of terrorism and murder. Some suggested that Hanoi had skillfully exploited the New York Times to divert world opinion from the basic realities of the war.

To illustrate the third stage, the following quotations from representative papers are significant:

Hong Kong’s China Mail said:

The “accidental killing of North Vietnamese civilians in American bombing raids has been widely publicized and criticized,” but “strangely, the critics are generally silent when South Vietnamese civilians are brutally put to death by Viet Cong guerrillas whose operations are directed from Hanoi.” The paper referred to the recent “massacre of 41 men, women, and children in the Mekong delta.”

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Amsterdam’s Catholic Volkskrant warned:

“Emotional involvement with the Vietnamese war can easily lead to placing the charge of cruelty at the wrong doorstep.” It said that the latest “ruthless actions” of the Viet Cong against non-combatants were “basic Viet Cong strategy.”

In Milan, Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s most influential dailies, said:

“The truth is that the Americans could win if they really were barbaric, terroristic, atrocious. The truth is that they are none of these things and they never will be.”

I am sending a copy of this memorandum to George Christian with the hope that he can use it for background information.

Leonard H. Marks3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1967–1967, Entry UD WW 108, Box 3, Field—East Asia and Pacific (Viet Nam), 1967. No classification marking. Drafted by Marks. Sent through Kintner. Copies were sent to Christian and Rostow. A typed notation in the upper left-hand corner of the memorandum reads: “SAME TO: Secretary of State Rusk.” Attached to the memorandum but not printed is an undated paper prepared in USIA entitled, “Trend of Reaction to Salisbury Articles Show Recent Shift of Emphasis.”
  2. Reference is to a series of articles authored by Salisbury: “A Visitor to Hanoi Inspects Damage Laid to U.S. Raids,” New York Times, December 25, 1966, p. 1; “Hanoi During an Air Alert: Waitresses Take Up Rifles,” New York Times, December 18, 1966, p. 1; “Villagers Tell of Raids in North,” New York Times, January 2, 1967, p. 3; and “A Newsman, Home From Hanoi, Says Dispatches Will Help U.S.,” New York Times, January 19, 1967, p. 3. For further details about Salisbury’s articles and their impact on the Johnson administration, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Vietnam, 1966, Document 352.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.