199. Letter From the Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs (Young) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Reinhardt)1

Dear Freddie: By the time this reaches you Saigon’s newness will have worn off, I presume, and your mission will be well on its way.2 There are several things I would like to jot down. The Vietnamese hot flame has simmered a bit. Of course it may flash back at any moment but fortunately this quiet time has given us a little chance to reflect on various matters.

The FEC: It seems to me we ought to have a somewhat more definite attitude as to what we want the FEC to do, if anything. My own view is we should quietly encourage the gradual and steady reduction of the FEC down to a division or corps level to be stationed near the 17th Parallel, for a few months or perhaps pulled out entirely, with naval and air units possibly remaining on. I don’t see the value of the FEC even as a deterrent. It is not so much the size of the force as the legal and political relationships that may bother us, unless the Viet Minh reopens hostilities. How long will the Vietnamese tolerate a Frenchman as Commander in Chief? Is there anything in Ngo Dinh Luyen’s idea that Vietnamese and French forces should not be operated from one command but rather placed under some Manila Pact organization? I feel a good deal of sympathy for the Vietnamese views that the command structure, the size and location of French forces, the over-all security of Viet-Nam, and the issue of elections are closely interrelated. I would certainly appreciate your reactions and impressions in this matter when you feel free to give them. It may be a good idea for you to send a summary of your views in a telegram, particularly on the FEC. I have recommended to Walter Robertson that we take this up with the Defense Department and the JCS pretty soon.

1956 Elections: Bob Hoey and I feel we are running into stormy weather. The Vietnamese may become more and more allergic to talking with the Viet Minh in July or thereafter. They may fear this ipso facto acceptance of the Geneva Accord and of the Viet Minh. We foresee a lot of trouble here if the Vietnamese are stubborn in the Korean fashion. I personally have a lot of sympathy for their position and hope we will not twist their arm to talk with the Communists. On the other hand their refusal will become an international issue which might be most untimely this summer whether at the [Page 429] summit, on the slopes or particularly down in the foothills. A policy of discretion is probably better than an attitude of outright defiance but we may have some real diplomatic problems here.

You may find that your counsel of caution and circumspection will not convince Diem he should indicate a willingness to open talks with the Viet Minh on July 20. This problem could become a highly inflamed public issue in Free Viet-Nam if Diem, his colleagues, the Revolutionary Committee and others begin to seize on it. It might even replace the anti-Bao Dai, anti-French theme with a great deal more effect if based on the idea genuine nationalism cannot compromise with communism in any way, shape or form. This of course would put us in a very difficult position. I think the heart of the matter would be that American public opinion would not easily support Diem if he were the obvious cause of the breakdown in the whole election problem, and if the Viet Minh threatened to intervene or caused uprisings in the South, or even moved across the 17th Parallel. Diem’s refusal to talk could result in his isolation; it would all depend on how much support he had in Free Viet-Nam. As indicated in the following paragraph, Diem and the Vietnamese Government are not strongly organized throughout Free Viet-Nam, which worries us very much. Accordingly, at some point we may have to speak fairly strongly to Diem to the effect that he cannot count on us for assistance if he is the principal reason for a breakdown on the election issue resulting in a possible Viet Minh military action of some sort. We have not come to this point but it may be taken up in connection with the NSC paper on elections which is up for consideration on June 9. I am merely mentioning this matter by way of anticipation and this is purely informal.

Free Vietnamese Elections: In a recent telegram [title deleted] asked the Embassy for ideas on a decree for a National Assembly. The Embassy in turn asked us for advice.3 Perhaps the best way for us to go about this is to engage the services of an American constitutional expert or political scientist who could go out to Saigon for a month or two. The trouble is we are so short-handed here we don’t have time to really study the matter even if we had the knowledge and background. In this connection I hope we can get Paul Kattenburg out in the next two weeks.
Control in Free Viet-Nam: I am really troubled by the lack of control and authority throughout Free Viet-Nam. This is reflected in Ladejinsky’s reports and in Embassy despatches and telegrams. I hope you will have a chance to talk at length with Wolf. He is a wonderfully perceptive and reliable observer. He is far more than an agricultural [Page 430] expert and I commend him to you most highly. If there are any additional measures we should take or urge the Vietnamese Government to take to reestablish its authority and administrative apparatus to fill the vacuum in the countryside please let us know.
Force Levels for Viet-Nam: We were impressed by the excellent job done by McKesson in Despatch No. 358.4 The recommendation that the force goal of the national army be 150,000 was contradicted by Collins’ comments in Despatch No. 3935 which we received today. He holds to the figure of 100,000. This will have to be worked out on the ground, since the Pentagon will not originate a study but will only comment on or approve a figure submitted by MAAG. I suggest you ask O’Daniel to institute a recommendation through CINCPAC and CNO, based on Despatch 358 and commenting on 393, for consideration by the JCS. I would appreciate your comments to the Department on this matter, parallel to the communication from O’Daniel to the Department of Defense.6
Reports: We received a mountain of telegrams during the Collins mission many of which were in effect memoranda of conversation. The interest in Viet-Nam is so extensive here in Washington and the stakes are so high that I have been wondering about some adequate form of periodic evaluations or situation reports. The Weeka does not meet this. Perhaps it could be recast but I think a telegraphic weekly review of the situation with evaluation would be helpful. In this connection, there may be a discussion of Viet-Nam at San Francisco between the Secretary and Pinay, so we should like to have your summary of the situation on or about mid-June, but we are telegraphing you about this.
Personnel: We are certainly short-handed here and in Saigon for good political officers. We need another officer here on Viet-Nam, if we could find one. I am now wondering about the desirability of pulling Corcoran out of Hanoi and putting him in the Political Section as Acting Chief until McKillop arrives, then we could bring Frank Meloy back here in late summer or early fall. Corcoran would [Page 431] greatly strengthen the Embassy and I hate to see his talents unused in Hanoi although he is doing a splendid job there. If you think Frank should be considered for work on Viet-Nam here in PSA, would you ask him whether he would be interested and also ask him to let me know before this proceeds too far.

I think that is everything for the moment. I hope you don’t mind my sending you all the above, but several of the things in the first five paragraphs are difficult to handle telegraphically. Please let me know whenever I can be of help to your mission. Very best wishes.


Kenneth T. Young, Jr.
  1. Source: Department of State, PSA Files: Lot 58 D 207, SEA, Viet-Nam Correspondence—1955. Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. Reinhardt presented his credentials on May 28.
  3. In telegram 5452 from Saigon, May 24. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/5–2455)
  4. In this despatch from Saigon, April 28, John A. McKesson, Second Secretary and Consul at Saigon, coordinated a 32-page country-team enclosure entitled “Problem of Combatting Communist Subversion in South Vietnam”, in response to an instruction by the Department of State to provide information to the OCB in its formulation of policy toward U.S. assistance to security forces in countries threatened by “communist subversion”. The gist of the report was that the threat of subversion in South Vietnam was of major proportions and likely to increase in the coming months. To combat this danger, the country team recommended delay of the schedule for demobilization of the VNA; emphasis on police training in the army; strengthening of those parts of the Vietnamese civil administration dealing with internal security, law enforcement, and local government; and continuation of the USIS propaganda campaign in South Vietnam. (Ibid., 751G.5/4–2855)
  5. Dated May 11, not printed. (Ibid., 751G.5/5–1155)
  6. See Documents 208 and 215.