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

I would like to outline briefly the problems which we face in Viet Nam in disseminating information on U.S. participation in the existing conflict. The following represents a summary of the principal issues which I have noted from my review of world press and study of reports received from our various field posts:

1. There is an uncertainty about the convictions of the Vietnamese people in prosecuting the present war.

2. There is an uncertainty about the character of the present leadership of South Viet Nam—whether or not it is a genuine government or a military clique—whether it is a principal in the war or an adjunct of U.S. forces.

3. There are doubts about the support which Hanoi has given to the Viet Cong, about whether the PAVN is on the scene in South Viet Nam and about which side was responsible for the escalation of the war.

4. There is confusion over the U.S. attitude toward the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962, about the role we played in the Geneva Conferences and about our acceptance of these Agreements as a basis for negotiations.2

5. Doubts have been expressed on whether we want the United Nations to play a major role in negotiations for settlement of the Vietnamese war, or whether we merely want it to support us in our efforts to arrive at the conference table.

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6. There is uncertainty about our long term attitude toward Southeast Asia and whether we are seeking peace, the establishment of independent countries, area social and economic developments, or a base for anti-communist activities on this continent.

None of these doubts, uncertainties or ambiguities are justified. However, they represent practical problems with which the USIA must deal in telling the Vietnamese story to foreign audiences.

To meet these problems, I plan the following:

A. In the event of a continuation of the peace campaign and the bombing pause:

1. We will arrange for interviews of world leaders who are conspicuous in the search for peace and whose views will be significant in influencing world opinion. These interviews will be carried over the VOA, presented on film, over television, in newsreels, and texts distributed to the press.

2. We will prepare a written record showing the history of U.S. initiatives through private and diplomatic channels to reach a peaceful settlement. Pamphlets will be prepared with a chronology of events, photographs and significant exhibits from speeches by you, Secretary Rusk, Ambassador Goldberg and other diplomatic representatives.

3. We will increase substantially through all media our coverage of the U.S. efforts to develop South Viet Nam socially and politically. I intend to stimulate an increase in the visits of foreign correspondents to Viet Nam, to distribute additional written and film material and to have documentaries and interviews carried on the VOA. In this connection, I have conferred with Secretary of Agriculture Freeman about press coverage on his proposed trip to Viet Nam to study agricultural developments by the Vietnamese carried out with U.S. assistance in the field of crop and livestock production, agricultural extension, irrigation and drainage, fisheries, plant protection and related topics.3 This should lend itself to dramatic developments in films and in picture stories for the press.

I propose to send a first-rate motion picture producer to Saigon for an unspecified time to make films for distribution abroad on AID activities, medical care, rehabilitation, education and other social economic programs.

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In all of the above efforts, we will stress the Vietnamese Government’s efforts and focus attention on the independence of that government and its efforts to provide a better way of life for the Vietnamese people. As a corollary, it is important that the Government of South Viet Nam participate in the peace efforts as well as the general diplomacy surrounding the war. I recognize that all interested agencies support this view and I have instructed our staff to constantly keep this point in mind.

4. I intend to increase our film production on the non-military aspects of our assistance to South Viet Nam. We need the counterpart of “The Night of the Dragon”4 stressing the work that is being done in assisting the villages in rebuilding their economic and social structure.

B. In the event that there is a diplomatic response from Hanoi leading to active peace discussions, we would begin to stress with appropriate caution and an awareness of the need not to raise false hopes such activities as:

1. Publicizing our commitment to the economic development to Viet Nam (North as well as South) through the Asian Development Bank and other agencies.

2. The U.S. objectives for the ultimate non-alignment of Viet Nam and the right of the people of that country to determine their future.

C. In the event of a resumption of bombing in North Viet Nam, with or without military escalation in the South, I propose the following:

1. Publicizing your statements and those of Secretary Rusk and others that the search for peace will continue.

2. An emphasis upon all previous initiatives towards peace, private as well as public.

3. Preparation of documentary evidence of PAVN infiltration into South Viet Nam, showing the number of regiments and military equipment. South Vietnamese spokesmen can be used to document these facts by disclosing evidence offered by captured soldiers, pictures of equipment that has been confiscated, and similar material.

4. Stressing the criteria for bombing North Viet Nam targets—the military nature of these targets and the efforts to avoid injury to civilians.

5. We would also publicize the activities of the Viet Cong, the damage and death that it has caused and the terrorist activities directed to the civilian population.

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These programs will be most effective if we have time to plan them and to carry them out with the complete cooperation of all other interested agencies. I have received this cooperation in the past.

At this time I would also like to suggest that you consider taking the following steps in the event that bombing is resumed in North Viet Nam.

1. Either you or Secretary Rusk should issue a public statement repeating the many offers to meet at the conference table at any time with any person to discuss a resolution of the conflict. A channel of communication for this purpose should be named publicly to avoid any argument that the offer is “window dressing.”

2. You might also wish to consider the desirability of having Ambassador Goldberg present at the United Nations a proposal that the Geneva Conference powers, or a group of them, be asked to meet again to review the Geneva Agreements. When that proposal is presented, the U.S. can pledge to adherence to the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962.

Leonard H. Marks5
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1963–1967, Entry UD WW 101, Box 4, Government Agencies—White House—General 1966. Secret. There is no indication that the President saw this memorandum.
  2. Reference is to the Geneva Conference, which took place between April 26 and July 20, 1954. The following countries participated: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the People’s Republic of China, Laos, the Soviet Union, and the representatives of what would become South Vietnam and North Vietnam. The Geneva Agreement of July 21, 1954, commonly known as the Geneva Accords, was negotiated during the Geneva Conference and brought about the cessation of hostilities between the Viet Minh and France. Some of the key provisions of the Accord included the establishment of a boundary line along the 17th parallel, which divided Vietnam in two as north and south entities; a call for Communist Viet Minh forces, and their civilian sympathizers, to be above the 17th parallel and French and anti-Communist Vietnamese to be below it; and a mandate for national elections in Vietnam, under international supervision, in 1956. For additional information regarding United States policy and the Geneva Conference and 1954 Accords, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XIII, Indochina, Part 2, Documents 8021079. The Geneva Agreement of 1962 brought to a close the hostilities between left- and right-wing factions in Laos and called for the country to become neutral and for the formation of a tripartite government that represented the conflicting factions.
  3. Freeman visited South Vietnam February 11–February 16. (“Signs of Progress on Vietnam Farms Hailed by Freeman,” New York Times, February 15, 1966, p. 3; “Freeman Calls Agriculture Key to Victory in Vietnam,” New York Times, February 16, 1966, p. L2) For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Vietnam, 1966, Documents 15, 28, and 74.
  4. “Night of the Dragon” is a film produced by USIA and released in 1966 that addresses U.S. involvement in Vietnam. An unknown hand placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.