182. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense’s Deputy Assistant for Special Operations (Lansdale) to the President’s Military Representative (Taylor)1


  • Talk with Nhu, 19 October

Ngo Dinh Nhu invited me to visit him the morning of 19 October. I did so, …. met Nhu in his office in Freedom Palace.

The substance of Nhu’s remarks were:

The events in Laos have given a psychological shock to anti-Communists in Asia. The governments of Thailand, Vietnam, Formosa, Korea, and the Philippines have expressed disapproval of events in Laos, on a government level. This may give the impression that it is only the governments which are concerned, and not public [Page 412] opinion. Just the opposite is true. The Asian man-in-the-street is profoundly affected.

For example, in South Viet-Nam the Communist guerrillas now present themselves in the villages as having just come from the successful Communist forces in Laos. This is not true, of course, but it is very effective psy war on the Vietnamese villagers.

The shock of Laos does not seem to be understood in the West. The West apparently looks upon this as governmental actions to blow up the Laos situation for their own ends. However, to the citizens in Asian countries, the events in Laos mean the end of SEATO and that the U.S. is now ready to abandon all anti-Communists. Therefore, the Asians are becoming demoralized.

The biggest weak point of the U.S. is the lack of psychological action on the world. There seems to be no unity of theme or action. The important thing is to make the people know what the U.S. wants. For example, during a visit to Morocco this summer, I noted an almost complete absence of U.S. propaganda. The journalists in Rabat asked about the meeting of the neutralists in Belgrade. After giving them some frank opinions on the neutralists, the journalists commented: “You have shown us the other side of the moon.”

The Free World, including the Government of Vietnam, is working against Communism in an administrative fashion. This way of working doesn’t create a movement of opinion. Without a movement of opinion, there can be no quick action. The Government of Viet-Nam is incapable of creating a great movement, even though it is doing many things.

Western propaganda against Communism doesn’t exist. Western journalism often attacks the West and puts the West in the wrong. That’s why people here were awaiting General Taylor’s visit, to create a psychological shock both in South Viet-Nam and in North Vietnam. The visit is very important from the psychological standpoint.

Public opinion in Viet-Nam has it that General Taylor’s mission has the power of decision, which I realize is not true. That’s why I think there should be something in the communiqué about a decision. Perhaps the statement could be in the form of saying: “Something needs doing in Vietnam, but I am not saying just what right now. I am going back to Washington, where the decision will be made.” (Comment: It was suggested that Nhu might touch on this topic when he talks with Dr. Rostow, which he intends to do.2 Nhu agreed.)

The Communists make use of human capital to wage their subversive war. They can do all sorts of things with this human [Page 413] capital, such as terrorism and blackmail. After the Geneva Agreement in 1954, the Communists regrouped people for later efforts. 60,000 were readied for Cochin China, 40,000 for Central Viet-Nam and the High Plateau, and 35,000 for Cambodia. 10,000 of the people for Cambodia were Cambodians taken to the North from Cambodia itself.

The key point in Communist doctrine is the belief in eventual victory. It is essential. You don’t find this in the Free World. Everybody seems paralyzed by the prospect of Communist victory. Therefore, we have the serious problem of stopping this decomposition. Since 1945, the Free World has been thinking that it can defeat the Communists by strategic solutions. We want to fight the Communists by victory. This is exactly as though we were to say, “In order to win the war, you need victory.” People think this is easy and this is the Western point of view.

In the Western world, we have the human capital of freedom. This is something that everybody has. So, this is not only the capital, but it also can be the motive for action. So, the equation is made: “To win the war, you must have liberty.”

In countries not yet free, if you apply this equation to them, you are going to be beaten: “To be a developed country, don’t be underdeveloped. You must not let yourself be attacked by the Communists. If you are attacked, you are guilty.” It is felt that liberty exists without economics. Socialism has attacked capitalism on this very point.

Normally, when a house starts burning down, people help and call the firemen. Now this has changed. If your house burns down, you are somehow guilty. Those who come to aid you are somehow guilty, too. That’s the history of Laos, and of other Asian countries. The Laotians feel they are guilty. Why did they provoke the Communists by wanting to be independent? Because they wanted to choose their own friends in the West freely, they were attacked by the Communists.

Now the Laotians who sought liberty are being called corrupt. Phoumi and Boun Oum are labelled “reactionaries”. Souvanna Phouma and Kong Le are labelled “pure”. Nobody says that Souvanna Phouma holds lots of economic resources, that the bank and the airline are his. Not a single reporter in the Free World seems to want to talk about that. Nobody points out that Kong Le has several wives and a Chinese concubine. At the same time, Western reporters say that Diem, Phoumi, and so on, are corrupt. Why? Because they were attacked by the Communists. So, in some way, they are guilty and all that is needed is to look for the details of guilt.

Until now, Cambodia has been fine. However, Cambodia wouldn’t be looked upon so favorably if it were realized that it can [Page 414] be taken over by the Communists in 48 hours. Actually, Cambodia is not strong, is not to be counted upon.

Apparently, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh reported to Washington a few months ago that there were no Communist concentrations in Laos, that any reports to this effect were Vietnamese inventions aimed at getting increased U.S. aid for South Vietnam. 3 Word of this report seeped from the French military experts in Cambodia who claimed to have collaborated in the American report. This is the kind of false information which doesn’t inform Washington properly.

In hearing of this report, the Vietnamese then asked Washington for aerial reconnaissance of the Cambodian frontier.3 This request was mainly in order to be certain that Washington had the correct information. The Cambodian frontier is truly fantastic as far as Communist military camps go. The Vietnamese have little capability for professional aerial reconnaissance. The Americans can do it so much better themselves.

In order to believe a report that there are no Communists in Cambodia, you would have to believe that the Communists have given up guerrilla warfare. Everybody knows that one of the cardinal principles of guerrilla warfare is to have bases on a border. Essentially, if the Communists gave up this principle, they would have to give up Communism. Communism which doesn’t expand isn’t Communism.

The Communists in South Viet-Nam are waging war in a brutal fashion. They rely heavily on terror. They are applying military doctrine, not Mao Tse Tung’s doctrine.

The present Communist doctrine in South Viet-Nam appears to be: the sum of tactical victories establishes a favorable strategic situation. The tactical actions are not political, but lead towards the hope of victory. This puts the population off balance, without time enough to organize itself for defense.

There is much lack of unity in Communist forces in South Vietnam. Some of the Communist cadre are not in agreement with Hanoi’s policy of terror. But, they can’t get out of it. They are too enmeshed in the gears of Communism. Mostly, these are the people who were in the 1945-1954 war. During that war, they were favored by the population, which loved them. Now, due to the terror campaign, they are feared and hated. Many of the prisoners, and the Communists who defect, have told this.

We Vietnamese are not applying the same doctrine of the sum of tactical victories. We are looking for decisive battles. This is a real [Page 415] mistake. We must increase the number of ambushes of the Viet Cong, the tactical victories.

At a recent meeting in Ban Me Thuot, with local civilian and military officials, we went over details of the local problem. Frankly, they were not really waging war against the Communists there, either in civic or military action. The main reason was the old one of a lack in Asians of using systematic procedures. The Communists apply a Germanic system, in a very methodical manner. Communism is a Western movement, applying method and a thorough followthrough which really is quite foreign to Asians.

The Vietnamese is intelligent, but lacks the methodical spirit. Each takes action, but not systematically. If things don’t work, they feel the reason must be elsewhere. In the two recent reverses in the High Plateau, garrisons were swept away and the troops coming to their relief were ambushed. The local officials admitted that they had previous information of possible attack, but that the commanders and troops involved were not vigilant enough. How does it happen then that nobody has learned the lesson? It is because orders were poorly given. (Comment: Nhu then explained the new orders that were to be given. Troops going to the relief of an attacked garrison are to have the primary mission of liquidating the Viet Cong ambush on the line of march. Otherwise, the commander will just rush his troops to the beleagured garrison in single file, be ambushed, and never get there. Thus, the new orders will be: don’t say go to the rescue, but give the mission as annihilate the ambush. By provoking ambushes, you can retain the initiative. This can be called “drawing the tiger out of the forest”.)

The military always say, “we don’t have intelligence”, to excuse inaction. But, with the present system, there is exploitable information. Admittedly, there is a need for more organization. (Comment: Here I interposed a question about the Central Intelligence Organization. I said that the Americans wanted the Vietnamese to win, that we had really counted on Nhu himself to act strongly on getting this CIO started dynamically and meaningfully. From various reports, this seemed to be going slowly.)

People put the problem the wrong way. The Intelligence cadres on the higher levels have not been trained. The Americans have been helping, but they trained the lower-level cadres, in large numbers. Not the chiefs, though. In the old days, the French directed everything from the top. Now, the Americans have promised to train the chiefs. But, the chiefs have not been trained, and without trained chiefs, there is nobody to direct the effort.

This is an example of accusing an underdeveloped country of being underdeveloped. I am accused of many things. Probably the accusations are correct, because I have to substitute for ministers in a [Page 416] lot of matters. The communists say that I take care of everything, probably so that I’ll be paralyzed by the fear of being criticized. But, then, people say that I am responsible for the bad things, never the good things. I’m afraid that I’ve let myself become paralyzed by the fear of criticism.

(Comment: The meeting was breaking up. I reassured him firmly that we wanted Viet-Nam to win and that we were counting on his personal help strongly.)

Edward G. Lansdale4
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 66 A 878, Vietnam-Taylor. Secret. Copies were sent to Nolting and Rostow. The source text is apparently Nolting’s copy.
  2. No record of a conversation between Nhu and Rostow was found.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.