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


During the past ten days we have witnessed throughout Europe a well-coordinated and planned attack on the U.S. position in Viet-Nam. There have been demonstrations against USIS libraries and events at Cultural Centers in Germany, France, Spain, Austria and in Scandinavia.2 In reviewing reports from our missions, I came to the following conclusions:

1. The demonstrations and public outrages appear to be the work of professional anti-Americans who have been on the European scene for the past two decades. They will continue to hate America, if not for Viet-Nam, then for some other reason. It also appears that they have clear associations with Communist organizations and accept the “line from Moscow.”

2. Europeans are generally puzzled as to what is happening in Viet-Nam and show a great anxiety that the war there may have some detrimental effect in our relationships with Europe. They constantly ask, “How and when is the war going to end?”

3. As part of this background, I want to quote from a recent report from one of our officers:

“European scholars who are sympathetic to the U.S. position in Viet-Nam told me that there is a terrible tyranny being enforced on academics in Europe, especially in Sweden, Italy and Britain. Their [Page 562] complaint seemed to be that the anti-Viet-Nam forces control the universities, which means they control faculty appointments, promotions, decisions on publishing, etc., and thus can and do bring great pressures to bear on what they consider the deviants, those not totally hostile to U.S. and Viet-Nam, including scholars who seek simply to maintain scholarly objectivity.

“One of the knottiest problems to handle are Europeans of good will and open mind who ask about anti-Viet-Nam statements by prominent Americans, Lippmann, Fulbright, Robert Kennedy, etc., U.S. television footage. We are undoubtedly our own worst enemy in Europe.”

4. One can discuss our participation in Viet-Nam on three levels:

A. The factual level—A discussion of the historical background, how we got there and what we are doing there today, militarily and economically.

B. The policy level—What the U.S. is trying to do in Viet-Nam and its broader meanings to Asia and the rest of the world.

C. The opinion level—This involves a discussion of moral judgments in abstract terms such as idealism.

A discussion on the “factual” or “policy level” can be productive with reasonably fair-minded audiences. A discuss on the “opinion level” is rarely productive and quickly becomes a debate in which “heat” rather than “light” is generated.

Our Missions note that the questions most frequently raised are:

1. Why can’t the war be brought to a rapid conclusion in view of the great power and strength of the U.S.?

2. What are the Viet Cong fighting for? What do they want? Why do they continue to fight? What would they settle for?

3. What difference does it make to the U.S. in terms of its national interest? What happens in this small distant country?

4. Why is there so much hostility to the war among so many prominent scholars, community and political figures, particularly in the U.S.?

5. What would the U.S. actually settle for?

6. Is the war in Viet-Nam going to be the principle issue in the 1968 Presidential elections?3

Our output has addressed itself to these questions and our Missions have been instructed to anticipate these concerns in all seminars and face-to-face meetings. Reasonable progress is being reported.

Finally, throughout the reports from our officers in Europe is the plea that “more Vietnamese ought to be telling the Viet-Nam story.” I have repeat [Page 563] edly made this suggestion in Saigon to both Thieu and Ky and their Ministers of Information and Foreign Affairs. Regrettably, very little has been done.

Leonard H. Marks
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, Agency Reports, Box 135 [2 of 2], United States Information Agency, 1967 [2 of 3]. Confidential. Sent through Maguire, who did not initial the memorandum. Temple sent the memorandum to the President under a typewritten note, dated February 15, 7:30 p.m. in which he stressed that he thought the “USIA report was of such significance that you would want to see it separately from the agency summaries.” (Ibid.)
  2. The Tet offensive was launched on January 30 and 31 by North Vietnam and National Liberation Front forces in a coordinated attack against various targets in South Vietnam, including those with a large U.S. military presence in the cities of Saigon and Hue. The offensive would have two more phases in May and August. Although suffering serious casualties, the military forces of the United States and South Vietnam were able to respond to and effectively repel the North Vietnamese and NLF forces and regain control of the parts of South Vietnam they had initially lost. According to a Christian Science Monitor article published on January 30: “Most Europeans used to consider themselves good friends of the United States, and the feeling was mutual. But recently primarily because of the Vietnam conflict, the American image in Europe has become severely tarnished.” (Barry Edgar, “Opinionmakers Sought: How USIS reaches the Danes,” Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 1968, p. 4)
  3. The U.S. Presidential election was November 5.