611.51G/6–2951: Telegram

The Minister at Saigon (Heath) to the Secretary of State 1


2355. Attention which has recently been focussed on De Lattre, on his mil qualities which border genius, on his personal irascibilities and psychological motivations, on his political prejudices shld not obscure [Page 433] the urgently important issues of political and economic substance which lie behind the complex personality of this present-day Lyautey. These issues are vital to the attainment of our foreign policy ends in SEA.

I believe time has come for Dept to review its policy toward IC. I believe certain decisions must now be taken and instructions given.

In epitome, the directive I was given when I left for this post a year ago, was that it was policy of US “to supplement but not to supplant” Fr in IC. This policy had not only economic implications—that. France wld continue to carry major share of IC burden—but political connotations as well—that US wld not seek to replace or to oust France from IC or Assoc States from Fr Union. I understood Dept believed in and accepted assurances of Fr Govt that its policy was evolutionary and designed to perfect independence of the three Assoc States within the framework of the Fr Union. With those assurances and in face of Communist aggression we inaugurated programs of mil and economic aid to the Assoc States as independent govts within the framework of the Fr Union. If our policy toward those states cld be summarized in briefest and collateral form, it was “to support but not to subvert”. We wld support them as we cld, we wld assist in strengthening their nascent political and admin structures, we wld help to shelter them while they acquired civic maturity and mil experience, we wld not attempt to turn their loyalties from the Fr Union.

I believed this was a workable policy for mid-1950 and I believe that it is workable today. Moreover, in my opinion successive events have strengthened the necessity for strict and unswerving adherence to its fundamentals.

In 1950 we were troubled by three orders of doubt concerning IC. The first was our apprehension that the Fr were moving too slowly and too grudgingly in granting evolutionary concessions toward the independence of the three IC states. We became very rightly concerned that there were unused political and economic competencies within the Assoc States’ govts which were not being mobilized for the common struggle. These doubts largely disappeared with the substantial concessions made by France in the Pau accords signed in Dec 1950.

The second was our even greater apprehension re mil situation. Whatever Gen Carpentier’s virtues, he evidently did not have the full ability to cope with the IC mil problem or the prestige necessary to obtain from the Fr Defense Min needed reinforcements and supplies. With the arrival of Gen De Lattre and the equally timely delivery of US MDAP supplies, the mil situation and the morale and efficiency of the Fr Union forces changed, almost overnight, for the better. IC wld henceforward be no easy prey for the Communists.

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Our third uncertainty in 1950 concerned the Vietnamese themselves, the ability of their govt to enlist popular enthusiasm, the willingness of their people to make the sacrifices of their own treasure and their own sons that the defense of their present and future liberties wld require. The events of 1950 and early 1951 in this regard have been the most disappointing. Yet progress even here has not been negligible. If the cabinet reorganization of last Feb, following perhaps too close upon the Fr Union Tonkin defeats of Nov and Dec, was not productive of a broad-gauged govt of natl unity, the famed Vietnamese fencesitters did not yet choose to make their personal commitment to the fortunes of the Franco-Vietnamese alliance, if narrower interests of faction and sectional rivalries proved obdurate before this test of the common good, one contrary and beneficent fact of enormous import was also demonstrated. The people stood firm. In the face of an unrelieved series of Fr Union mil reverses there was little panic, no bandwagon onrush to come to terms with the Commies, no mass defection to the Viet Minh.

The second Huu Govt was formed, has survived, is continuing to make slow, painful progress toward the acquisition of governmental exercise and authority. Resentment honestly felt by many Viets during Cabinet crisis over De Lattre’s brusque insistence that he be consuited re Def Fin and Interior portfolios has abated as De Lattre has acquired greater finesse in treating with Viet Govt and as justice of his position during present emergency has come into better perspective. De Lattre is primarily a soldier but he is by no means insensible to political considerations; indeed his role in the 1951 Cabinet crisis was managed with rather more skill than Pignon’s in the 1950 change. He has succeeded in convincing both Bao Dai and Huu of the sincerity of his interpretation of the Fr position and of his respect for Vietnamese aspirations. As he comes into wider contacts with Vietnamese circles and particularly as he meets with Bao Dai more regularly, the influence of his personal dedication to the Viet cause will spread. The natl army project upon which any ultimate hope for solution in IC must rest is proceeding more slowly than cld perhaps be desired, but it is proceeding and Fr caution that the new native officer corps shall first of all be loyal to Fr Union concept is the one that we can challenge only at the peril of repetition of the China aid program.

These developments are assets. They in no wise relieve the continuing gravity of the IC situation. The frontier between Red China and upper Laos–Northern Tonkin has ceased to exist as a barrier to the shipment of Commie arms and the transfer of Commie reinforcements. 150,000 VM regulars with 150,000 coolies are emplaced in Tonkin; the former are professional soldiers in every sense of the term. They possess to their rear “a privileged sanctuary” for training, rest and re-equipment; they hold in the field at least tactical and [Page 435] even strategic initiative. The decisive battle for IC is yet to be fought. Pressures for this larger IC battle can be expected steadily to mount; if hostilities in Korea are brought to a halt they may come to a head by this fall. Within the time periods within which we must work only Fr arms and Fr resources can hold IC, can check the Communist advance thru SEA, can guarantee the conditions for the integrity of Vietnam. No other means are at hand. Free and independent Vietnam in the jargon of Viet intellectuals cld not survive for six weeks. Present-day Vietnam returned to peace by an international agency and given a coalition govt as a result of some form of internationally-observed free election wld fall to the Commies no less surely, no less slowly, and perhaps rather more cheaply than did the East Eur states of the immed postwar period. Only Fr willingness to spend $850 million annually in IC and only the Fr will to persevere in casualty rates of 30,000 men annually can hold this critical pass against Commie domination and exploitation. The Fr ask only that while they defend the country and continue to move steadily away from colonialism they be supported loyally and that nothing be done to encourage or assist separatism or subversion in their rear. These are claims we cannot lightly disregard.

That there are increasing indications that the Fr believe the operation of our econ aid program is contrary to US policy followed in almost all other aspects of our relations with IC is not I believe to be denied. They feel that our insistence on a bilateral approach not only in negs for the form of an aid agreement but in our day to day relations with each of the three Associated States conflicts with the Fr Union idea and the triangular nature of any econ relations between an Associated State Fr and any third power. They find our direct transactional negots with Associated States officials, which they often learn of only from those officials themselves after the event offensive to the spirit of Franco-American cooperation. Above all they regard the publicity which in the local press and elsewhere has attended ECA operations as disproportionate to the US contribution, as invidious to the much greater econ and mil sacrifices made by France in IC, and as suspect in motive and objective since it has almost never been discussed in advance with the High Commissariat.

The Fr know well that part of this publicity is due sly Viet delight in playing up the US as against Fr. They have long appreciated what might be called Viets “ambivalence”. They realize fully both that many Viets in and out of govt take advantage their contacts with members Leg and US missions to voice distrust and criticism of the Fr—sometimes justified—and that Viets separatism and division feed on Amer assents which may often be only careless courtesy or on silences indicative in most cases not of assent but only of an unwillingness or an incapacity to debate these complex matters.

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(I feel I shld observe that so far as my own relations with De Lattre are concerned the Gen sincerely believes that I personally in my contacts have argued against improper criticism of the Fr. I do not believe he is wrong in thinking that such has not always been case in all contacts of the 200 officers and clerks in Leg STEM, MAAG and USIE. Of some significance was his remark to me in Hanoi that he had entire confidence in sincerity of my cooperative intentions but realized that time wld be necessary before I cld overcome certain difficulties, which he did not specify, in giving them full effect.)

It may well be pointed out that this Fr sensitivity is (a) irrational or excessive, (b) that it represents undue concern with face, and (c) that it shld not be permitted interfere with content or admin of our econ aid program. I cld agree as to a and b, and to c, but am convinced that unless prompt remedial action is taken c will almost certainly result. Advantages of the bilateral approach are ably argued in Saigon Toeca 721 June 19.2 I believe these advantages can be preserved with a more consultative approach in the admin of STEM and in preparation its publicity. I must rpt here as I did in mytel 2218 June 14 that these observations are in no sense criticism of efficient and tactful direction of STEM by Robert Blum. He has in all respects faithfully executed instrs Wash has given him. What seems required is reassessment, in the light of basic US policy toward IG, of the development of STEM procedures here. Our common concern is that STEM be in position make it maximum contribution to Amer policy in IC. I wld like therefore at an early date be able say to De Lattre on Dept instrs fol:

He take steps to stop anti-Amer and false reports of his entourage and secret police re Amer aims and operations in IC.
ECA will discuss in gen way in advance both their projects and their publicity with any members his staff he may designate. We [Page 437] will by no means promise invariably accept all Fr suggestions but they will be welcome, they will be sought in advance, and there will be unremittant and sympathetic understanding of Fr position. (To extent that this approach is at present being followed it will represent no change; to extent that it is not, change is required.)
Although for the moment I believe I can assure De Lattre that there are no other Amer Govt operations in progress in IC beyond those he is informed of, I feel it wld be desirable give him further assurances that there will be no such operations undertaken in IC without his full advance knowledge and consent. I do not consider, of course, as “operations” the individual and entirely legitimate activities of members of this Leg, the atts, etc in receiving info and intel from any source available. (I wld observe at this point that these futher assurances involve no real sacrifice on our part since our whole experience here indicates impossibility conducting such operations without their discovery by Fr and Viets auths.)
The officer and clerical staffs all US missions here are being personally briefed by me to insure that they fully understand extent and value to the gen cause of freedom of the Fr effort here and the validity of the Fr desire that the Assoc States remain in Fr Union.
I will make it clear that they must not listen or give encouragement to improper criticism of Fr sacrifices and intentions and that violation this rule will be regarded as insubordination. (Re this point Brit Min here tells me his instrs are make very clear to Viets that while UK sympathizes with Assoc States gaining their independence, that independence shld be within the association of Fr Union. He tells me his instrs are categoric at this point and I have reports his staff are taking his categoric line in their contacts with Viets).
Within terms our mutual cooperation and to assist us in discharge of responsibilities we have undertaken not only in IC but elsewhere in SEA, we expect greater and fuller frankness on all matters capable of affecting types and quantities our aid. We believe specific instrs necessary to certain key officials on his staff to enter into more forthcoming relationship with designated polit and econ officers of the Leg. While our mil liaison is much improved since his arrival, we are particularly concerned re info concerning Commie dispositions and intentions both strategic and polit and measures contemplated to counter these enemy plans.

I have not chosen in this cable to discuss operation of the other agencies in IC.

I believe instrs I am requesting are fully consonant with the line of our policy in IC. I believe they are necessary.

It is unquestionably true nonetheless that this approach will seem to some of our officials now in IC either a departure from previous practice or a freezing of policy in an undesirable direction. They argue, as do certain of our Amer publicists, that central facts IC problem are the rising tides of Asian nationalism and embittered hatred of Viets people for Fr; they maintain that enemy here is regarded as the Fr rather than VM or Commies, that all sections of opinion unite on proposition Fr must go and differ only as to means of their expulsion.

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They hold that Fr can never make the massive contribution necessary win war in IC and that attempts sustain the conflict at the present level constitute only an abscess for the Western world. They seem feel moreover there is something shameful in the Fr concept of the still undefined Fr union; they point to the absence of parliamentary institutions, to the censorship, to the secret police, to the lack of true polit party or trade union activity, to the econ monopoly the Fr continue or continued until recently to enjoy, to the corruption tolerated and the gambling profits shared, to the opium trade, and to the omnipresence of Fr officials, names and culture as manifestations of the most sordid and restrictive colonialism. And they say the US shld withdraw from this pestilence or shld perhaps stay and attempt covertly to undercut the Fr and assure Viets that the US also desires the elimination of Fr from the FE and shares the blithe conviction that all social ills will depart with the Fr, while an aroused citizenry metes out to the Commie armies the fate they so richly deserve.

The determination of the merits of these several propositions and of this gen view point will very largely be function of history. Number of assumptions are obviously highly debatable. Number of them have certain weight and it is this weight that makes the definition and application of policy in IC supremely difficult. But even if far more validity attached to these views than can in all justice be granted them, even if results of withdrawals of other colonizing powers in Asia were far more impressive than they have been to date, it is childish think of ousting the Fr from IC and stemming Communism in SEA with the means now at hand. Militarily, I take it no other non-Commie power or combination of powers is today prepared take over from the Fr expeditionary corps. Politically, whatever might have been situation 2 years ago, no party, no newspaper, no group no individual in Vietnam today publicly espouses the elimination of Fr except the VM. There is literally no place behind which such Amer influence cld be exerted, and none is likely be permitted arise. Nor cld such a party or such a pro-Amer movement be built overnight out of mil and econ aid programs of the size available for IC. Economically, present ECA and MAAG budgets are minor compared with Fr expenditures. They are sufficient if wrongly applied to embitter Franco-Amer relations; they are not enough replace the Fr contribution.

Present IC phase is a holding operation and it is idle to seek or expect an IC solution out of the context of durable Far Eastern settlement. All the evidence now at hand suggests that settlement will not precede but be an integral part of the world-wide resolution of Stalinist aggression. In this holding phase, differences will doubtless arise in the future as they have in the past between the Fr and the Amer concepts of practicable IC evolution. Our counsel has been helpful [Page 439] in past and will continue be if we operate within framework of loyal and trusted cooperation. If we squander our influence and our energies on projects of uncertain aim and intent we will accomplish nothing and lose opportunities we have for discreet but continual pressure.

There is of course one final factor which suggests our loyal cooperation with the Fr. Our common interests neither begin nor end in IC. Our mutual endeavors demand give and take and spirit of adjustment. The interests of the partnership require in IC our loyal, ungrudging but not uncritical support of the Fr. Their objectives here and ours are not so very different in the present period as to make that cooperation any sacrifice of any part our vital interests.

I shld be grateful for earliest expression of the Dept’s views and if it concurs, for instrs I have requested.3 This cable has been shown Mr. Blum, chief of IC STEM.

Sent Dept 2355, rptd info Paris 944.

  1. This telegram was transmitted in five parts.
  2. Telegram Toeca 721 was transmitted by Robert Blum, Chief of the Special Technical and Economic Mission at Saigon, to William C. Foster, Economic Cooperation Administrator, and R. Allen Griffin, Director of the Far Eastern Program, ECA. It referred to telegram 2218 from Saigon, June 14 (p. 425) and read in part as follows:

    “It is clear, therefore, that entire subject discussed in reftel goes to heart of ECA’s activity in IC. ECA was asked by State Dept to undertake program of direct economic aid to Assoc States in belief that this program wld strengthen young and fragile political and administrative institutions of Assoc States, cementing the loyalties of masses of people to anti-Communist govts, wld provide peoples of these countries with demonstration of interest in their independence and welfare of US with its liberty-loving and anti-colonial tradition, and wld contribute toward revival of economic activity. Altho it is difficult to judge how far we have succeeded, our efforts have been principal ones extended toward achievement of these goals. I believe that if we are to continue to serve same purposes our program must be carried on along same lines as heretofore. That there are possible points of friction between this policy and that of Fr was recognized from beginning but did not deter us a year ago. We shld try to eliminate these if we can but we shld change our policy only if you feel situation has altered since last year so as to require it or if you decide that earlier policy was wrong.” (ECA Cable File: FRC Acc. No. 53A278)

  3. In telegram 26 to Saigon, July 7 (repeated to Paris as telegram 155), the Department of State advised Heath as follows:

    “Legs excellent analysis present sit IC fully appreciated. Dept believes you shld proceed at appropriate time with representations proposed Legtel 2355 Jun 29, incorporating therein such modifications in tone as Paris 77 Jul 5 [post, p. 442] suggests, except for #3 see immed fol para. Dept assumes however that you agree that no such representations shld be made until present difficulties surrounding consumation of ECA bilateral agreement have been resolved.

    “As for proposed numbered 3 section 3 urtel, you will receive special instr soonest. Meanwhile you shld not volunteer representation on this pt.

    “Dept, for its part, proposes to engage in full and frank discussion US policy and objectives IC with Amb Bonnet and Min Daridan soonest after resolution of bilateral difficulty.” (611.51G/7–551)