256. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President1


A. Vietnam

1. The problem of management in Washington

I’ve told the Secretary frankly that you feel the need to have someone on this job that is wholly responsive to your policy, and that you really do not get that sense from most of us. I suggested Averell. He said Averell was needed in Geneva and that Alexis would loyally carry out any policy you directed. I don’t think this is the same as having your own man-Alexis isn’t that dispassionate-or that much of an executive. Averell is your man, as Assistant Secretary.

2. The problem of management in Saigon

The Secretary thinks Nolting is good and has Diem’s confidence. He wants to keep him there. I expressed my uncertainty. He persists. On military leadership he agrees strongly that no routine four-star general will do. I would still consider McGhee (for one thing, if he thinks it won’t work after a good look, he’ll tell you, and he has the authority of the victor of Greece).

3. The problem of allied support

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You want to get as much backing as possible from Allies. I think this means a strong line with British, an appeal for Australian help, and pressure via Galbraith on Indians. (Galbraith assured me he would put all the heat you wanted on Indians and thought he could do anything in reason, short of bringing Indian troops into Saigon for combat.) I think Secretary will respond well on this, subject to point 5 below.

4. The problem of enemy reactions

I asked Secretary if he thought action now recommended would be enough if enemy stepped up infiltration. He thought more might be needed, but within SVN. He is against bombing Hanoi as a response to guerrilla infiltration. He believes we should do enough to put the result up to Diem.

5. The problem of U.S. clarity of purpose

Secretary thinks the good of our actions depends on belief we mean to hold in Southeast Asia. He knows we may lose, and he knows we want no Korea, but he thinks we must try to hold and must show determination to all concerned. He suggests you should let this be a Rusk-McNamara Plan and fire all concerned if it doesn’t work. He thinks we must meet Khrushchev in Viet-Nam or take a terrible defeat. I attach cables showing what Mr. Rusk told Alphand amp; Ormsby Gore.3 This shows the tone he thinks we must take, and it is obviously important that you either approve or disapprove.

6. Specific questions

I have alerted the Secretary and Alexis Johnson to your questions on several specific points and he hopes to have comments:

What does U Nu really think and want, in light of his cable?4
Is it a good sign that Diem put his brother in charge of flood relief?
Shouldn’t we float the Jorden report as soon as possible? (Alexis says it will take ten days, at least, to print-I wonder).
What can ICC really be expected to do?

B. Department Organization

If Averell, or any other strong man, is to take McConaughy’s place, it should be in the context of a general game of musical chairs, something like this:

  • Ball for Bowles
  • Bowles for Harriman
  • Harriman for McConaughv
  • McConaughy for the Philippines
  • McGhee for Nolting(?)
  • Rostow for McGhee(?)
  • Goodwin for Coerr
  • Achilles or Coerr for Morrison (OAS)
  • Morrison for a Commission
  • Dutton for Hays
  • Hays for a quiet Embassy
  • Hamilton for Ball

Secretary won’t do this till you tell him to.5

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series. Top Secret.
  2. In a memorandum of November 15, entitled “Points for discussion with Secretary Rusk, November 15, 2:30 p.m.,” McGeorge Bundy listed the following areas in which he understood “the President has concern about our South Viet-Nam operations: (1) command and control in Washington, (2) command and control in South Vietnam, (3) coordination with the Allies, and (4) the prospects of limiting the other side’s activity.” He also listed the following specific questions raised by the President:

    • “1. Should we not float the Jorden report at once?
    • “2. Why did Diem put his brother in charge of the flood relief task force, and is this not a bad sign?
    • “3. Do we really think the ICC can do very much in South Vietnam?
    • “4. Why was he told that U Nu wants to see us act when U Nu has just warned him privately against sending troops?” (Ibid.)

    Bundy met with the Secretary of State at 2:38 p.m. that day. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Books) Although the memorandum printed here is entitled “Notes for Talk with Secretary Rusk,” it apparently is a record of what was actually said at that meeting.

    Bundy had called Rusk at 1:05 p.m. that day; the following conversation was held:

    “Mr. B. said the Pres. is still thinking hard and has spoken to Harriman and Taylor and now thinks it would be a great help if he and the Secretary could have a talk on the next steps to be taken. Mr. B. will come over at 2:30 to fill the Sec. in on a few things and Sec. will come to WH at 4:15 p.m.” (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)

  3. Neither found attached, but reference is to the conversations described in Documents 241 and 243.
  4. Document 248.
  5. Regarding the organizational changes that took place within the Department of State later in the month, see Document 281.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.