19. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson1


  • Saigon Press Comment on U.S. Policy

While the Vietnamese press continues to reflect concern with the progress of the war and with what it characterizes as a “defensive” U.S. policy toward Viet-Nam, there is some indication of a developing reassurance as to the firmness of the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia.

Prior to the most recent forceful actions of the United States in Southeast Asia, strong criticism of U.S. policies by the Saigon-Cholon2 press remained unrelieved. Persistently dwelling on themes which began to be evident early in 1964, the Vietnamese press generally expressed concern over the “ambiguity” of U.S. policy statements, consistently castigated the U.S. for “making all the decisions in Viet-Nam” and/or expressed fear that the United States will abandon South Viet-Nam.

Neither the Honolulu Conference3 nor the McNamara visits4 produced a significant change in press attitudes. In fact, by May 1964 press opinion seemed to have reached a low point of pessimism. Typically, Dan Quyen declared on May 13 that “when the McNamara delegation came here in March, the situation in South Viet-Nam was not as critical as it is today.” Indirectly reflected in this attitude was the belief that the United States must adopt a stronger policy, but that—in view of the election year—it was unlikely to do so.

In the past few days, however, Vietnamese press attitudes have shown signs of change, apparently in response to the overflights in [Page 55] Laos5 and the generally stronger U.S. show of strength in Southeast Asia. With most Saigon newspapers viewing renewed Communist aggression in the neighboring kingdom as part of the overall red design to conquer all of Southeast Asia, Saigon dailies have spoken out editorially in full support of U.S. actions in the new crisis. The influential Chinese-language Thang Cong Jih Pao, which on May 7 had bitterly complained that the United States did not want to take “decisive action” against the Communists because it wanted “a peaceful, pre-election breathing spell, had by June 9 lined up with U.S. action and proclaimed “the world-wide communist front is indivisible.”

Other leading papers have shown similar confidence, and while it is obviously too early to predict that the short-term comment so far available from Saigon marks a trend, it is significant that caustic criticism of the U.S. no longer goes unchallenged in Viet-Nam. Thus, while the Saigon Post recently expressed dismay at the “gullible and naive” attitude of the U.S. in “once more resorting merely to raising the quota of economic and military aid,” A Chau Jih Pao voiced a strong note of reassurance on June 10.

“It is still premature to tell what change Southeast Asia will undergo,” declares A Chau, “but one thing is certain: the United States would never abandon Southeast Asia, nor will she make any withdrawal from this part of the world.”

Carl T. Rowan6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Foreign Affairs, Box FO–1, EX FO, FO 6/1/64–7/10/64. No classification marking.
  2. Presumably a reference to the Chinese-influenced section of Saigon.
  3. On November 20, 1963, Rusk, McNamara, and other U.S. diplomatic and military officials, including U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, held a conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, to discuss the future course of U.S. policy in Vietnam. For a summary of the meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, Vietnam, August–December 1963, Document 321.
  4. McNamara made three trips to South Vietnam prior to the date of Rowan’s memorandum to evaluate the situation on the ground and make recommendations. He traveled in September 1963 and March 1964 with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor, and in December 1963 made a solo trip. For summaries of these trips, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, Vietnam August–December 1963, Documents 167 and 374, and Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Vietnam 1964, Document 84.
  5. In May 1964, the United States started flying reconnaissance flights over Laos. (Hedrick Smith, “Air Aid Requested,” New York Times, May 22, 1964, p. 1)
  6. Rowan signed “Carl” above this typed signature.