74. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt), to the Joint Chiefs of Staff1

2622342. Navy message.

I would like to offer some tangible evidence of aid programs which have kept a free nation out of the Communist orbit. The following illustrates the vital requirement for military assistance in the preservation of internal security of countries currently under attack from within by the Communists.
At the end of the Indo-China war, South Viet-Nam was politically, economically and militarily weak and a ripe target for Communist expansion. High level analysts concluded that unless the South Vietnamese showed an inclination to make individual and collective sacrifices, which they had not made as of that time, no amount of external assistance could long delay complete Communist victory in So. Vietnam. As a point of fact, after the passage of seven years, the Communists have not been successful in taking over So. Vietnam. I would suggest that there are three reasons why they have not been successful:
Substantial US military and economic aid.
Pres Ngo Dinh Diem’s determined leadership and successes.
Communist strategy and tactics.
The internal problems facing Diem in 1954 ranged from nearly complete demoralization of the nation in general and the armed forces in particular, to seemingly inevitable unification with North Viet-Nam which would have resulted in Communist domination over all of Vietnam. However, in the late spring of 1955, Diem managed to work a minor miracle by standing up against the sects-the Binh Xuyen, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai-contrary to recommendations of his key advisers. He had been urged to accommodate with these groups, allowing them concessions and a continuation of their essentially feudalistic privileges in exchange for their tolerance of his govt and avoidance of deals with the Viet Cong. Diem’s moralistic stand on this issue won him wide support among Vietnamese intellectuals and attentistes and also favorably affected international opinion.
Diem’s successes in this period were due in great part to the steadfast support he received across the board from the US-political, economic and military. It was the success of the Vietnamese [Page 183] Army against the Binh Xuyen in Apr-May 1955 that gave the other dissident groups pause for thought, made the Communists realize that So. Viet-Nam was ready to fight for her freedom and provided the loyal So. Vietnamese with a renewed confidence in the govt’s ability to provide for their security.
When the Jul 1956 unification deadline approached, Diem again displayed wise leadership. Despite remonstrances from the French and others, he circumvented the issue by the simple device of maintaining that the French, not the Vietnamese, had made the commitment and that Viet-Nam would not be bound thereby. Diem was able to take this strong stand solely by virtue of his growing power assets, the most conspicuous element of which was his armed forces in being, by this time solely supported by the US. It can be hypothesized that Diem’s ability to circumvent an undoubtedly disastrous unification in 1956 was possible only because of US support-military and otherwise-of So. Vietnam.
By Jul 1957, the Communists’ passive and political efforts had been frustrated by Diem’s action, and the Viet Cong concluded that a change in strategy was necessary. The Viet Cong strength in armed personnel at this time was about 2000. Their new objective was to create a lack of confidence in the ability of Diem’s govt to guarantee security. A reign of terror was substituted for peaceful penetration, acts of terrorism were started against local govt officials and the peasantry, murders and abductions were an integral part of this strategy of terror. Fortunately, this change of tactic did not take place until after Diem had achieved a considerable degree of military and political stability. Further, economic reforms introduced by Diem gave him increased support from the populace. This stability provided Diem a base from which he could fight the Communists. Without military and economic assistance, the development of this base would not have been possible.
Pres Diem, supported by increased US military and economic aid, acted to counter these increased Communist activities. In Nov 1957, the 1st Observation Group of the ARVN Special Forces was activated. The number of ARVN personnel undergoing special forces training was increased. A full-time special forces qualified US adviser was assigned to the MAAG, and the ARVN increased and expanded their psywar and civic action programs.
The Communists continued their propaganda and acts of terrorism, and during 1958 began successfully to infiltrate the remaining dissident element of the sects. This campaign produced results. By the spring of 1959, the Viet Cong strength was estimated at 3500, and the hostile acts had increased.
In early 1960, US personnel in Saigon obtained detailed information of a Viet Cong master plan which called for the Communist [Page 184] take-over of So. Viet-Nam during 1960. Communist activities during the past eighteen months confirm that their goal is domination of So. Vietnam. Also, during the past eighteen months, the Vietnamese have demonstrated a willingness to make individual and collective sacrifices, i.e.:
The results of the 1961 presidential election reflected to a considerable degree the confidence of the Vietnamese in Diem’s govt in spite of the fact that many of his anti-Communist programs required great sacrifices on the part of a majority of his populace.
In the first months of 1961, the Civil Guard and self defense units have displayed an increased level of aggressiveness in many small operations against the Viet Cong. This increase in operational efficiency and attitude can be directly attributed to US military support and assistance now provided to these units since their reorganization under the Ministry of Defense.
Again, as a tangible result of US military advisory efforts and assistance, the regular units of the ARVN have initiated in 1961 more attacks against the Viet Cong than those taken against them by the Viet Cong. This initiative has resulted in a larger number of Viet Cong reported killed and has definitely bolstered ARVN morale and capability.
It is clear that the Communists view the attainment of control of SVN with deadly seriousness. In their eyes, they are only delayed in obtaining what they presume to be theirs as the spoils of the Indo-China war. The only real block to a Communist take-over in SVN today is the combination of Diem’s strong leadership and the increased capability of SVN armed forces. It is this combination which we must continue to support. While the Communists have not accomplished their goal in So. Vietnam, neither have they been beaten, nor have they desisted. In fact, the new threat occasioned by Communist successes in Laos has produced the most crucial period in S. Vietnam’s short history.
A predominantly Communist-controlled Laos would vitally threaten So. Vietnam’s independence; would greatly extend the Communist frontiers with So. Vietnam; would bring substantially greater Communist military power to bear on the crucial Saigon defense complex; and would facilitate Communist infiltration and subversion.
The pattern of Communist activities in SE Asia is clear. Laos is a stepping stone on the Communist road to So. Vietnam. It is now evident that the Communists plan to split Laos from north to south in order to give them better access to So. Vietnam. The key terrain in current Communist operations is that part of southern Laos which is contiguous to So. Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
Other authorities and Task Force Viet-Nam may be able to use the foregoing.
  1. Source: Department of State, G/PM Files: Lot 64 D 354. Top Secret; Priority. Repeated to the Departments of State and Defense and three military installations. The copy printed here is the one sent to the Department of State.