179. Minutes of Staff Meeting, United States Information Service, Saigon, May 2, 19621
Mr. Baumgartner opened the meeting by welcoming Mr. Mecklin to USIS Saigon and said that Mr. Mecklin had met everyone the night before, so there was need for introductions. Then he turned the meeting over to Mr. Mecklin who said he would like to say a few words he had prepared on the flight to Saigon from Paris.
He began by asking each member of the staff to prepare a memo of not over two pages, based on the assumption that he, Mr. Mecklin, did not know Vietnam, nor USIS Saigon nor what the staff was doing. [Page 371]He asked that he be told exactly what each staff member does, what his problems are and what complaints he might have, and ideas of how we might do things differently. When all of the memos are in, Mr. Mecklin would have individual talks with the staff to go over specifics.
Mr. Mecklin said that in his three weeks in Washington he was much impressed with what we are doing here. Mr. Anspacherʼs debriefing, significantly, was attended by 85 people. Mr. Anspacher, he said, spoke decisively and fervently of Vietnam and its problems with particular reference to USISʼs role. Mr. Anspacher was a hard man to succeed because of his excellent performance here. Mr. Mecklin spoke briefly about his own background, noting that he had spent three years here during and after Dien Bien Phu. He said he had a high regard for President Diemʼs performance at that time in an extraordinarily difficult situation.
Mr. Mecklin has been with USIA for only eight months and he asked the staff for forbearance and patience. He said the USIS job here is particularly important because half the struggle in Vietnam is psychological and that, of course, is our field. There should be no doubt that the Communists in Vietnam are going to be defeated. What counts is to get done what needs to be done and it isn't important who does it. There must be no back-biting among elements of the U.S. Mission.
Mr. Mecklin said he would welcome advice and that there is urgent need to generate ideas. He said that one of our most important targets is the illiterate peasant in the bush, for example. We need every available bit of information on whether our product is reaching these people and every available idea on how to improve the effort. We need to be sure somebody is listening.
While in Washington, Mr. Mecklin met Mr. Robert Thompson of the British Mission to Vietnam, who suggested that there should be a new name for the Viet Cong, eliminating the term “Viet”. Mr. Mecklin said he would initiate a contest among the USIS local staff, offering a prize of $50.00, to coin a new phrase which would describe the Communists as foreign puppets, or something of that sort, to make them lose face.
Re American policy in Vietnam: a Communist victory here is unacceptable. This is the determined, hard thinking of our government. The U.S. will give Vietnam all possible help short of combat troops. Our mission, in cooperation with other U.S. agencies, is to persuade the man who has been given a rifle to stand up and use it. Confidence, both ways, is thus of vital importance.
Mr. Mecklin then made what he termed a “pronouncement”: in this USIS post, there is complete freedom of speech. Comment and criticism are encouraged. Mr. Mecklinʼs door is open to any staff member at any time. But this kind of talk must be confined to the family. It [Page 372]is of paramount importance that Vietnamese confidence in the U.S. and in their own efforts be restored and expanded. “Doom-saying” outside the family is intolerable.
As for the foreign press: it is a difficult situation, especially in view of the “official” presence of only 685 Americans in all of Vietnam. Telegram 10062 is still our guidance and Mr. Mecklin thought we could live with it. This postʼs policy is: (1) what is said to the press is the responsibility of Ambassador Nolting; (2) USIS officers are free to talk with the press at any time, but as far as possible, within the framework of the Ambassadorʼs guidance relayed by Mr. Mecklin. We must try to avoid stories that attribute undesirable comment or embarrassing fact to “American sources”, since the GVN is sensitive to this sort of thing, (3) it is equally important to recognize that a free press is a part of the fundamental fabric of the American way of life, and the rule is therefore to level with American newsmen as far as possible, and never engage in deception. Mr. Mecklin added that deception doesn't pay, anyway.
Finally, Mr. Mecklin reminded every one that USIS has a supporting role to play. The less said about USIS-Saigon in the press or anywhere else, the better are the chances of success.