2. Memorandum From the Chief of the National Security Division, Training Relations Instruction Mission (Lansdale) to the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins)1
Saigon, January 3, 1955.
- Here is some New Year’s thinking about the problem you and we face, and a request.
- As a start, it is worth taking a look at the real value of the chips given to you by President Eisenhower for the game we are [Page 4] playing here. The chips are our direct aid to the Vietnamese. To most Americans, they mean money, material, and technical (advisory) manpower. In the eyes of the world, and especially Asia, they mean something more. In this view, the value of the chips becomes Asia itself and parts of the Middle East.
- The Asian view is that “direct aid” means that Communism’s strongest enemy, the United States, is now in close support of the Free Vietnamese against the Communists. Certainly each of the free nations which has a pact with the United States, in which we will give them close support against the Communists, sees a bit of itself in the situation of the Vietnamese. And, each of those nations, in varying degree, will be measuring what our support actually means. Thus, if we lose here or withdraw however gracefully, politically powerful people in those nations will read their own futures into our action. This means that the do-business-with-China folks of Japan, the anti-American-bases folks of the Philippines, and so on, will find their arguments strengthened locally to the critical strain point for the United States in places we now find difficult enough under neutralist and Communist political pressures. This is far beyond the usual observation of the loss of Vietnam opening Southeast Asia to the impact of Communist dynamism, which is dangerous enough in itself.
- Thus, I feel that we have too much to lose to consider loosing [sic] or withdrawing. We have no other choice but to win here or face an increasingly grim future, a heritage which none of us wants to pass along to our offspring.
- What will it take to win? It is going to take everything we are now doing and planning to do, plus more—and I believe that the “more” now exists here as a potential awaiting proper employment.
- I have narrowed down the elements we need for winning the present
struggle here to three, which is perhaps over-simplifying. I believe
that if we can make these three elements a reality here, the
initiative will pass to us and we will start winning. I feel,
further, that we must have clear evidence by June 1955 that we can
make the three elements a reality. They are:
- Successful teamwork
- Strengthen the free Vietnamese
- Make the bulk of the population willing to risk all for freedom
- Successful teamwork. The enemy is enjoying considerable success in his teamwork, among the Vietminh, between Vietminh and supporting population, and between Chinese advisors and Vietminh. We have a distance to go before we can match this teamwork, even among us Americans here, for several reasons (including the slower [Page 5] progress of our type of discipline as compared to the “iron discipline” of the Communists). Competent friendly observers have told me of dangerous frictions existing among key members of the U.S. team here; perhaps the root cause of such friction is that we still are not in agreement on exactly what the U.S. wants to achieve here regardless of risk, exactly how to achieve such result, and exactly who will undertake specific parts of the whole mission.2 This root cause undoubtedly is fertilized by any personal antipathies arising out of the strains we have all been under in trying so hard to solve problems here. Most of these frictions can be eased through the mechanisms you have established already.
- Our teamwork with the French, as fellow westerners in an Asian area, has progressed well despite many handicaps.3 However, this teamwork has grown more and more into a secretly tripartite type of working arrangement, in practice we incorporate a substantial amount of French thinking in our plans and advice, rather than the bipartite working arrangement originally described by you and as our public policy, wherein we inform the French of our intents, then take the matter up with the Vietnamese. This can lead to the same mistakes being made in all major fields which helped weaken the free world’s position here prior to Geneva, by causing the adoption of methods which offer prime targets to the Communists in promulgating their “total-mass protracted resistance”. I feel that we must not visibly help extend French influence into areas of present non-influence; we must be steadfast to our own principles which gave us strength while being the friendly ally. Perhaps some handicaps to our teamwork with the French could be overcome if a mechanism were constructed to nullify the rumors which course through French circles re U.S. intents here.
- A great deal of thought and effort has been given to our teamwork with the Vietnamese. However, there still seems to be some confusion on our part between partisanship and desired objectives, capabilities of the Vietnamese, and the most rewarding methods of doing business with them. There seems to be an increasing suspicion of our good intentions and ability to help successfully, which if it grows unchecked can endanger our whole effort here; an intensification of personal contacts all down the line of the American team with individual Vietnamese, on a footing of equality, and with patient explanation of reasons for requests or advice, would help. We must hold and extend our friendships among the Vietnamese, in [Page 6] order to give successful meaning to our aid, since we are now looked upon as the only strong true friend of Vietnam (other than China and the Soviets) and probably are the only catalysts who can induce the Vietnamese on our side to unify.
- Teamwork among the Free Vietnamese has progressed slowly. There is still too much partisanship, distrust, and obstructive jealousy. Prominent among the remedies for this complex trouble are: growth of effective people–government–army cooperation, hope of establishment of some form of representative government which the people and factions of people feel honestly represents [them], and, perhaps, development of political techniques among leaders (apt bestowal of praise, interest in individual welfare, informing the people adequately of the state of the nation with emphasis on plus factors, and so on).
- Strengthening Vietnamese. I am concerned about whether all our aid and efforts here will strengthen the Vietnamese or merely make them more dependent upon us. Certainly none of us who must justify actions eventually at home would desire to place the U.S. in the position of continuing major help here for endless years, on the basis that if our aid were lessened then the enemy would win. Certainly the responsible Americans here would like to see the Vietnamese capably assuming an increasing share of their own burdens in all fields of national life.
- Thus, I would like to see our efforts here geared as completely as possible to the operating philosophy of helping the Vietnamese to help themselves, not only Vietnamese government or army, but the people themselves. It will mean insisting on more extensive and effective use of our help by the Vietnamese—and our acceptance of workable Vietnamese standards rather than our own perhaps to a greater extent. This will increase proprietary interest in what is constructed (whether it be army division or individual farm), build the muscularity of national abilities, and start giving the Free Vietnamese the confidence in their own competence which the Vietminh have demonstrated so remarkably on their side. These are all factors of strength in a struggle with the Communists. It is also true that a man is more apt to defend what he has constructed for himself—and we will strengthen the Free Vietnamese as we increase the size or amount of what they want to defend from the Communists.
- Willingness to risk all for freedom. Mao Tse-tung once clearly expressed a basic fact in the type of struggle we are now engaged in here by stating: “There is no possibility for it (he was speaking of guerrilla warfare) to survive and develop once it is cut loose from the people or fails to attract the participation and co-operation of the broad masses”. The Vietminh have learned this lesson well, applied it in their military guerrilla warfare prior to the Cease-Fire, and are [Page 7] now applying it south of the 17th Parallel in their political guerrilla warfare. Our defeat is certain unless we learn and apply this same lesson of today’s warfare, and do so more effectively than the enemy. We must face up to the fact our side was “cut loose from the people” in too many areas we must now win back, and our method of winning them back must be to attract their participation and co-operation in what we free people do and cherish, not force, scare or coerce, but attract.
- How do we attract people to our side, hold them, and develop in them a willingness to risk their lives and fortunes if need be for liberty or freedom? Our approach, and the approach of all forces and organizations on our side, must be as friends (not as bossy supervisors, not as cops as envisioned in the so-called “pacification” plans produced under the influence of 1946–53 here, not as dressed-up speechmakers appearing briefly before the “peasants”, not as purveyors of masses of printed arguments to the illiterate).
- If the entire team on our side makes the right approach to the people, we will have taken the first major step in attracting people to our side. We must then set about convincing, and accomplishment is most convincing, the people that their own future (and that of their children and children’s children) will be more rewarding under our system than under Communism—more rewarding politically or socially, economically, and spiritually. When the hope of such a rewarding future is raised within the people, coupled with hope of its possible attainment (which includes military means to protect the attainment), then the first big cleavage between the Communists and the bulk of the population will start taking place.
- Much of the program you outlined soon after your arrival here as Ambassador is intended to establish and protect a rewarding future for the Free Vietnamese. However, a critical piece appears to be missing: giving the people a truly representative government. This must be keyed around a charter or constitution which sets forth plainly how the people have their own government and a bill of rights. A national assembly or congress would fail to satisfy an urgent need unless it were pointing towards the writing and adoption of a constitution in the soonest possible future. The Vietminh have beaten us at this basic national principle of ours (proof again of the skill of the Vietminh enemy) and even rubbed our noses in the beating by generous use of verbiage from the U.S. Constitution. Our strong point is that their document does not do what the constitution of a free people can—and the sooner we have such a document, the sooner we can start making this plain to the people. The political hazards of getting such a document are considerable, but these hazards must be risked and can be kept to a minimum by adroit tactical development.
- Along with moving as rapidly as possible towards a Constitution, the Free Vietnamese must establish government and the benefits of government as rapidly as possible throughout Vietnam south of the 17th Parallel. This is what we have termed “national action”, of which military “pacification” is an integral part. It is the approach to the people and the first means of raising hopes within them, as mentioned in paragraph 15 before. Neither Vietnamese government operations currently on “national action”, nor U.S. actions to help, are too well coordinated today. Which brings me to my request.
- Request. It is requested that you bring about a coordination of the efforts of our entire team, starting with the U.S. team and, through them, the Vietnamese and French, in the fields of “national action”. As a member of your personal staff, I would like to devote the major share of my time as your deputy or assistant or staff member in such coordination work. Officers associated with me are capable of effective help in this field. We would be able to re-commence the meetings formerly held by us which had made a good start towards a workable operation, in conjunction with all interested U.S. and Vietnamese agencies. This time, we could add the French, if desired.4
- The basis for my request is that I believe I can help you most in this way and that I have recently had three years’ experience in a similar field under similar conditions. Neither I nor any officers associated with me are seeking more work or to deter or detract from the work of others. We do seek the opportunity to come to firm grips with a most pressing problem and to help the rest of the U.S. team in their work on it. This we cannot do unless given the mission by you.
Edward G. Lansdale
Edward G. Lansdale
- Source: Collins Papers, Vietnam File, Series VII, L. Secret.↩
- The following handwritten marginal note by Collins appears beside the second and third sentences of this paragraph: “Rumors from newspapermen based on cocktail stories. C”↩
- Collins’ following handwritten marginal note appears beside the first sentence of this paragraph: “Not so. C”↩
- The following handwritten marginal note by Collins appears beside paragraph 18: “Designated Lansdale to coordinate our phases of program under Gen. O’Daniel’s direction. C”↩