249. Memorandum From the Naval Aide to the Presidentʼs Military Representative (Bagley) to the Presidentʼs Military Representative (Taylor)1


  • State Policy Planning Council Paper on Political Actions in South Viet-Nam
You will recall in November and December 1961 that Diem was reluctant to accept U.S. advice or specific political actions incident to increased U.S. military and economic assistance. At the time, the U.S. decided to accept Diemʼs reservations and move forward with the positive military aspects of your mission, with the hope that Diem could be encouraged later to carry out parallel political reforms. Subsequently the military position has improved, but progress on the political side has been slow. The final report of the Vietnamese Task Force2 [Page 557] concluded that Diemʼs popularity has, in fact, decreased in the past year. During this period there has been continuing public criticism of Diemʼs regime. If the possible Communist proposal for an international conference on South Viet-Nam materializes, South Vietnam will be without a favorable political base from which to bargain. At the same time, our strengthened military capabilities may be facing their severest test by increased Communist infiltration of personnel and improved equipment via Laos which occurred just prior to signing of the Accords.
You have broached the subject of political progress within the Special Group (CI) on several occasions during the past six months. Both within that forum and the Viet-Nam Task Force, State has emphasized the need for patience in encouraging Diem to make necessary reforms. The acceptable procedures are stated to be selected approaches to Diem by the Ambassador, a hoped-for evolution of Diemʼs own comprehension of the needs, and limited placement of U.S. advisors in the countryside to effect improvement at the lower end of the administrative chain without recourse to the Saigon hierarchy. Though State adhered to this strategy, there has been conviction on the Defense side that action is urgently required to make the political gains essential to further improvement of the military situation.
In the past month or so Mr. Rostow has apparently decided to grab this ball. He told Bob Johnson to study the political relationships in South Viet-Nam and determine steps that might be taken to improve the political environment. He also asked for suggestions as to how to implement such actions. Johnson completed his paper3 last week, and it is to be discussed at the NSC Standing Group luncheon today. Copies were taken by Mr. Cottrell to Honolulu to be passed to Ambassador Nolting for his comment.
The basis from which the paper was formulated does not depart from the policy established some months ago. The following extract from the introduction will illustrate this:

“… We have approached this problem, at least in recent months, with certain basic assumptions:4

  • “a. That re-establishment of security in the countryside was the sine qua non; that it is difficult or impossible to establish a relationship of cooperation and mutual confidence when the countryside is under heavy coercive pressure.
  • “b. That we should not seek to impose our concepts of government on a society which is not ready for them and which is, in any event, not presently in a position where it can realistically adopt many of them.
  • “c. That we must work with the Diem Government.

“The analysis in this paper accepts these assumptions. The argument that security must come first, however, also recognizes that improved intelligence on VC activities is a precondition to successful military action and that improved intelligence depends upon improved cooperation of the rural population. If the present vicious circle is to be broken non-military measures to improve identification of the government with the population are important to military success. Democracy per se is clearly not the answer in Viet Nam, but our analysis will suggest that improved channels of upward communication are important and that one way to improve channels may be to provide new means of participation. We must work with the Diem government, but we must also be prepared to make a sustained effort to press for essential non-military reforms. Sustained failure could raise questions about the assumption.”

A revealing conclusion of this study is the major lack of information available on the nature of political actions taken by the Diem government. This includes many programs viewed by the Country Team as positive accomplishments, i.e., land reform, training of civic action cadres for the strategic hamlets and province pacification, and administration of the strategic hamlet program. Some of the recommendations made in the study are conditioned on the subsequent provision of such information. Bob Johnson specifically deplores the GVN failure to implement the province surveys which emanated from your report.5 (He does not cite the fact that this survey was agreed to in the joint U.S.-GVN Memorandum of Understanding of 4 December 1961.6)
In general the paper implies that difficulties in government relationships with the populace are due in part to lack of action, but beyond that is due to poor implementation. There is a flow of administrative authority downward, but no provision for a flow upward from which subsequent decisions can be predicated on actions, recommendations, and situations existing at the village level. Rural officials are accorded responsibilities without parallel authority.
The recommendations which stem from this study are summarized on dipped pages 3 through 8 which you may wish to scan. In brief form, these recommendations call for:
Closer collaboration between the U.S. and the GVN.
Proper training of province and district chiefs aimed, by positive demonstration, to achieve a change in attitude.
Training of village and hamlet chiefs similar to that for the higher officials in b above, with the participation of AID advisors.
Refinement of the training of civic action cadres for strategic hamlets.
The inclusion of a simple training program covering the elements of procedural protection in judicial proceedings against individuals.
Supplement appointed village and hamlet councils by elected advisory councils and establish procedures whereby an entire village and/or hamlet population can contribute regularly to local administration.
Reduce the number of mass organizations at the hamlet level to the one or two organizations which can be useful.
Obtain GVN approval for the placement of an AID advisor in each of the provinces.
Seek GVN action to complete implementation of the land reform program.
Press the GVN for a decision on the Montagnard program proposed by the Country Team.
Seek a means of reducing the price of fertilizer to the farmer through subsidy or otherwise.
Develop a feasible public works program to improve the lot of the poor farmer by keeping him employed at work during off seasons.
Establish fair salaries for village and hamlet chiefs.
Press the GVN for action on U.S. proposals for military civic action.
Study the possibilities of having the sects throw their political weight behind the GVN.
Establish a defector interrogation program under U.S. leadership designed to get at the reasons why individuals join the Viet Cong.
Improve our information on the sources of dissidence, status of GVN programs, quality of local officials, and other essential information, using U.S. personnel now in the countryside.
On implementation, the paper suggests that these recommendations be reviewed carefully and, as a starter, two or three items be selected as a subject of a serious high level démarche to Diem, using as a pretext prospective economic discussions. The requirement for a Presidential communication is recognized.
This paper is important because it recognizes our actions on the non-military side are moving behind, and hazarding, the military effort. If this premise gains acceptance, it raises basic issues:
Can improvements be achieved through Diem or is a change necessary?
Can the military handle prospective increased VC actions within the environment of the current rate of political progress or are accelerated political reforms required?
Is the current political atmosphere in SEA conducive to a direct confrontation with Diem on this issue?
If the risks outweigh the prospective gains of pressing Diem for reforms, what alternatives will gain time for the current evolution of political reform to take effect in the countryside?
[Page 560]

There will be an early need to assess these questions here and in Saigon. You may wish to raise the subject again in the Special Group (CI), subject to the reaction in the NSC Standing Group today.

W.H.B. 7
  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-238-69. Secret.
  2. Document 233.
  3. Reference is to a 55-page draft paper entitled “South Viet-Nam: The Political Relationship Between the Central Government and the Countryside”, July 17. Divided into seven sections, it traced the relationship from the colonial period to post-war Vietnam and analyzed the sources of disaffection in the countryside. (Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 69 D 121, Vietnam 1962) The final text of the paper, dated July 27, was 78 pages including a summary and recommendations along the lines, summarized here. (Ibid.)
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 210.
  6. See the enclosure to Noltingʼs December 5 letter to Diem, Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 307.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.