Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 320

The Special Adviser to the United States Delegation (Heath) to the Head of the Delegation (Smith)

top secret

My Dear General: In addition to your vast military experience and insight you have for years now successfully dealt at first hand and at high level with international affairs.

Since the attached confidential letter1 represents your considered judgment of the present situation and its possible solution, you as the boss of this delegation must, of course, send it.

I would hope, however, that you will modify it to the extent of admitting a possible alternative, a possible if not too likely loophole for a better way out of this mess.

That loophole consists of several big “ifs”—if military, congressional and public opinion can be rallied to the idea of American military intervention in Indochina, if we can persuade the Philippines and Thailand to at least token co-intervention, if Bidault’s ideas prevail and the French Assembly agrees to keep up the fight, if with or without Bao Dai we can install a Vietnamese regime of honesty and will (perhaps under Ngo Dinh Diem) and if EDC is ratified presenting Russia with a militarily United Western Europe with German divisions at its back-door, perhaps China might persuade herself or be persuaded by Russia not to intervene overtly in Indochina even if the battle turned against the Vietminh, which indeed it could.

Before embarking on intervention with its risk of bringing not only China but the entire Communist world into war we should offer a peaceful alternative to world opinion. That alternative would be: a massive genuinely neutral, preferably United Nations, international control commission—disposing of say, two divisions—with its elements stationed in the Vietminh as well as the Vietnam zones, able to move at will within them and along the Chinese frontier, able to enforce disarmament of all irregular troops, able to prevent entry of fresh troops and matériel and, in preparation of UN supervised elections, able to ensure that political parties, press and radio of both sides could campaign freely in the territories of the other. National elections might be held, say, within one year after hostilities—and terrorism—had ceased. We would run the risk that elections would go against the Vietnam Government. I don’t think that risk would ever develop because the Communists would not really accept such a spelled-out control.

[Page 1049]

If the foregoing seems to you too unlikely an alternative I nevertheless venture to suggest two changes in your letter:

I personally believe the Communists would accept a partition line further north than the Col de Nuages which latter would give them a good 60 percent of the population and the territory. I believe they would accept northern Vietnam which would still give them Hanoi, the cultural capital, the hardiest breed of Vietnamese and nearly one-half of the Vietnam’s population.
I personally would modify the phrase “the enormous adverse effect” partition would have on Asiatic opinion. I suggest that Formosa, Thailand, Philippines and even Burma would understand our intervention is not colonialist and that we might develop understanding in Ceylon, Pakistan and Turkey.

  1. Reference to letter from Under Secretary Smith to Secretary Dulles. For text of letter, see telegram Dulte 157, June 7, p. 1054.