Memorandum by Mr. Charlton Ogburn, Jr.,1 to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth)

top secret

Subject: The missing link in Indochina

In replying to your request for my views on Saigon’s telegram no. 190,2 I must admit that I simply do not know how much or how little warrant there is for Gullion’s assumption that the quick delivery of weapons from the United States rather than further French concessions would supply the missing component. Maybe it would so discourage Ho Chi-minh’s followers and shoot so much adrenalin into the Bao Dai Government as to bring about a fundamental change in prospects. Maybe it wouldn’t. The trouble is that none of us knows enough about Indochina (unless perhaps it’s Gibson, whom I’ve [Page 767] never met) to hazard a really intelligent guess. As I had occasion to observe in a staff meeting while you were away, we have had no real political reporting from Indochina since Reed3 and O’Sullivan4 left, and that was two years ago.

What most worries me is that Gullion can certainly not have learned enough in the short time he has been in Indochina to justify his making the assertions he sends us. For example, in his telegram no. 191,5 Gullion states that Ho Chi-minh is always four or five days late in his reactions due to the necessity of his consulting “the bosses.” I should like to see him called on that one. It may well be true, but I believe Gullion would have difficulty supporting that breezy statement with facts.

Until we get an able chief of mission in Saigon, I suppose we shall have to shoot in the dark. On the understanding that that is how it is, I shall venture a guess that Gullion is wrong and that the quick appearance of US aid is not going to turn the tide in itself. For the first year after the war the French were continually unloading American military equipment in Saigon plainly marked with our insignia. In fact, the widespread employment of this equipment with our insignia still on it was a troublesome issue between us and the French. But though the Vietnamese resistance was exasperated it gave no evidence of discouragement. Incidentally, pretty much the same situation prevailed in Indonesia.

My hunch is that Ho Chi-minh’s cohorts having stood off 130–150 thousand French colonial troops for four years (during which time they must have conceived a blazing hatred for France and France’s friends), are not going to wilt under the psychological impact of American military assistance. They might on the other hand give way under the physical impact of American weapons—if we send enough. Should things get too hot for them, they will, I suppose, do what the Indonesian Republicans used to tell us they would do—i.e., go underground until a more propitious occasion presented itself. So unless the French are prepared to police Vietnam indefinitely or are enabled by the magnitude of our assistance actually to kill off a hundred thousand of the more ardent Vietnamese rebels, it may well be that a military decision now—even if it can be achieved—will be followed a couple of years hence by a take-over by Ho’s party.

  1. Policy information officer, Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs.
  2. Ante, p. 764.
  3. Charles S. Reed, Consul General at Florence; Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, 1948–1949.
  4. James L. O’Sullivan, Acting Officer in Charge of Indonesian and Pacific Island Affairs; Vice Consul at Hanoi, 1946–1947.
  5. Not printed.