241. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State1


  • VietNam


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Herve Alphand, French Embassy
  • Mr. Marcel Barthelemy, First Secretary, French Embassy
  • Mr. L. Dean Brown, WE
  • Mr. Chalmers B. Wood,SEA

The Ambassador came in to discuss Viet-Nam in light of General Taylor’s mission.

The Secretary said he would not try to give a run-down of General Taylor’s report but would outline what we intend to do. We plan to take the necessary measures which will make it possible for Viet-Nam to win its own war. We will put in additional economic and ordinary military assistance and supply some types of support the Vietnamese cannot supply themselves. The latter will include American-manned photo reconnaissance and airlift capability. We will supply personnel and certain equipment to assist reorganizing parts of the government and its intelligence functions. More military instructors will be made available at lower levels within the Vietnamese forces so as to overcome immobility. Food will be supplied in connection with flood relief. We will provide assistance so as to enable the Vietnamese to block Viet-Minh movement by sea.

The Secretary continued by saying Diem must reorganize to give authority to civilian and military parts of his government so that these can operate effectively without his direct supervision. National mobilization of Viet-Nam is the goal. We do not, however, visualize sending U.S. forces of the battle-group type, although this may become necessary later.

The Ambassador said that the French Government fears that the U.S. will send fighting forces, perhaps starting with engineers.

The Secretary replied that the idea of sending engineers had been dropped as the flood is now receding. We will, instead, backstop Vietnamese flood relief efforts with supplies.

The Ambassador expanded on French opposition to U.S. troops. First, no pretext should be given the Soviets to make trouble at [Page 585] Geneva. Second, the Soviets should not be given a pretext to intervene in mass in VietNam.

The Secretary said we share the concern. So far as the second point is concerned, intervention is already on a large scale and is increasing. It is now company-sized forces with Western weapons. Three Viet-Minh regiments may be involved.

The Ambassador continued by stating the West is in a bad position to fight in Viet-Nam as the French know by experience. It would be disastrous to lose Viet-Nam but France does not want to see the involvement of forces escalated by the introduction of American troops.

The Secretary replied that we cannot see the story of Laos repeated in VietNam. Friendly and United States public opinion would not accept this; isolationism would increase. NATO allies have questioned our resolve on Laos. Laos is a bad precedent. We press Phoumi to negotiate while the other side concedes nothing. If the result of Geneva does not lead to a genuine coalition and true neutrality but rather to a disguised surrender, then it is difficult to see how the United States can sign the Geneva accords or convince the American people that a neutral Laos has been established. In VietNam, meantime, the Soviets blandly aid the Viet-Minh and say that all that is taking place is a popular revolt against Diem. They see no need to compromise if they can pick-up Southeast Asia without it. We are seeking to build up Vietnamese morale through our assistance, realizing that it is up to the Vietnamese government to do the main job.

The Ambassador asked if the United States position is that it will not now send forces but will not discard the possibility.

The Secretary replied affirmatively. We realize that sending troops would represent a risk. It might be a greater risk not to send them. If Southeast Asia is lost, our alliances throughout the world will be affected. The United States must look across the Pacific as well as the Atlantic. This attitude is different than that of Western European countries.

The Ambassador said he wished to sum up his government’s views which he believed were shared by the British: it favors U.S. support of Vietnamese forces but believes the introduction of American forces would have a bad result.

The Secretary replied that the loss of Southeast Asia would be more important to the U.S. than to Europe. We hope that we can work together, but if the issue comes to be one of the possible loss of Southeast Asia and our European friends do not agree with our policies to prevent this, then our paths may have to diverge.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/11-1361. Secret. Drafted by Brown and approved in the Office of the Secretary of State on November 26. The time of the meeting is from the Secretary of State’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Books)