269. Memorandum From the Vice Presidentʼs Military Aide (Burris) to the Vice President1


  • Vietnam

The program for South Vietnam which you delineated in your memorandum to the President in May of last year2 continues to be the basis for U.S. effort in that area. Your program was modified only slightly by General Taylorʼs mission3 in three specific military areas, as follows: (1) improve intelligence, (2) improve communications, (3) provide air logistics. The net result of General Taylorʼs recommendations was to provide information as soon as possible on Viet Cong activities and to offer a means of transport whereby Government troops could move swiftly to attack the Communists.

In the economic field, your recommendations were augmented and amplified by the Staley Committee,4 with which recommendations you are familiar. The recommendations of Dr. Staley were generally accepted and the measures which have been implemented have been generally successful.

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The specific measures in your program have therefore been proven to be sufficiently comprehensive. The goals which were set remain essentially unchanged, and constant surveillance is maintained in State and Defense on the degree of achievement or accomplishments in each specific point or area (see attached memorandum).

On the practical side, there has been concern as to just what these measures have contributed toward winning the war, or at least toward reversing the trend sufficiently in favor of Government forces to permit victory in the foreseeable future. While the conditions described in the recent Newsweek article5 are rejected by State and Defense, it is virtually impossible to elicit specific replies from either of those Departments as to the degree of success or failure, particularly in the military field. While confidence in eventual victory is generally accepted, only General Harkins has said that “we are on the winning side”. Mr. Wood in State assessed the situation by saying that the trend against the U.S. in South Vietnam was halted last November, but presently we are just about holding our own and an upward trend in our favor is not yet clearly in sight.

Politically, Diem is, if anything, weaker than he was when you met him, but the U.S. is determined to work with him in the absence of a reasonable alternative. Economically, progress is being made through the excellent cooperation of the Vietnamese on the principles set down by the Staley Committee. Socially, much progress has been made in health measures, agriculture credits and improvements, education, and information. Great emphasis is being placed on these social activities because of the recognition that the real strength of Vietnam lies with the peasants and the Army and not with the central Government. Certain achievements here, however, are going to be more gradual. Militarily, such statistics as incidents, casualty rates, desertions, loss and capture of weapons, frequency and size of attacks, border infiltration, etc., do not reflect such a favorable picture. We are now in a period where the impact of U.S. training, supplies, assistance, doctrine and technique should soon be felt and yield results.

Mr. McNamara has held six conferences in Hawaii with the Ambassadors and principal military people from the area. While the voluminous transcripts of those conferences reflect great attention to detail in providing for optimum success of American effort, there is also a repetition of Mr. McNamaraʼs philosophy that the United States must make an effective showing in Vietnam as quickly as possible or be misunderstood by the American people, Congress and indeed by the world. There is also motivation to avoid the charge of “too little, too late”.

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With the settlement in Laos, great attention has been paid to the transfer of Viet Cong forces, but such an increase has not yet been detected. However, the border crossing problem, as it has long existed, remains practically unsolved. There have also been rumors that the Communists would seek a Laos-type settlement in South Vietnam, but such a settlement is currently ruled out because the South Vietnamese people will not willingly accept the kind of settlement imposed in Laos. While Mr. McNamara has pursued the military effort with a great sense of urgency, he has, for planning purposes, established a time factor to carry out the Presidentʼs decision last year to seek the settlement in Laos and to defend South Vietnam. In addition to the elements of urgency described above, he has also set forth the assumption that the present effort will be maintained for three years. This is not to say that the effort will be terminated or phased out in this period, but rather it is a realistic expression of a reasonable period during which success must be achieved or at least be in sight. Under present circumstances we appear to be just about turning the corner.


Memorandum Prepared in the Vietnam Working Group6


  • Viet-Nam—Current Status of Items Discussed Between Vice President Johnson and President Diem

The following points were discussed (some appeared in the Joint Communique of May 13, 19617). Each is followed by a description of its present status:


Agreed to infuse into our actions high sense of urgency and dedication.

Achieved on both sides, as evidenced by the American military build-up, improved Vietnamese morale, exchanges of messages between President Kennedy and President Diem, and the momentum behind the strategic hamlet program in Viet-Nam. President Diem told Ambassador Nolting last month that US-Vietnamese cooperation was excellent. Both sides are agreed on the importance of helping the peasants quickly by means of the strategic hamlet program.


Diem pleased US has approved MAP support for 20,000 force increase but pointed to problem of paying local currency costs for this increase.

The present regular armed forces level is now about 200,000, or 50,000 above the level in May 1961. The local currency problem has not been completely solved. However, GVN deficit financing, higher yields on US-financed imports, increased tax collections, combined with US assurances that we will provide resources needed to stem possible inflation, have been sufficient to move ahead with the buildup.


Agreed parallel political and economic action has equal importance with military measures but stated political and economic actions must be those appropriate to Viet-Nam as country which is underdeveloped and subject Communist subversion.

There has been political and economic progress since May 1961, although Diemʼs popular support has probably declined. This is counterbalanced by momentum achieved m the strategic hamlet program already underway, which shows great promise to reverse the trend as villagers get security, more local self government, economic benefits and a greater stake in the outcome of the war.


Agreed to increase in MAAG personnel.

A steady increase of U.S. training, advisory and logistic support personnel commenced in May 1961. The number has risen from 700 to 10,000, including those in operational units attached to the new Military Assistance Command/Viet-Nam (MAC/V), of which MAAG is now a component. MAAG advisers in each province are doing a terrific job.


Agreed to MAAG support and advice to Self-Defense Corps.

The training and rearming of SDC units is proceeding rapidly and they are giving a good account of themselves.


Diem pleased with MAP support for entire Civil Guard force of 68,000.

Training has been speeded up with a target of training and rearming all CG units by the end of calendar 1962. The strength target for FY 1964 is now 90,000.


Diem accepted offer of material support for the Junk Force.

Construction is underway to develop a force of 28 Divisions (20 junks per Division). Four divisions are now operational and performing their mission to harass VC seaborne communications and stop infiltration from outside.


Noted that we are prepared to consider the case for further increase in the strength of GVN armed forces.

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We have established a force goal of 225,000 (an increase of 50% from May 1961) to be achieved by June 1964.


Agreed to further urgent joint study of border control techniques.

Plans and concepts for border control are still under study by RVNAF and U.S. advisors. Intelligence on infiltration is improving, especially as patrols of mountaineers are being rapidly formed. US planes and helicopters and improved radio communication now make it possible to bring Vietnamese troops quickly to any threatened point.


Agreed to consider establishment in southeast Asia of research and development facilities.

Combat test development centers have been established and are in operation in Viet-Nam and Thailand. Research has led to many improvements, e.g. better arms and armament for helicopters.


Agreed to use of US military specialists to assist Vietnamese armed forces in health, welfare and public works activities at village level. Stressed importance of tact of foreign officials in working in this field.

US forces are working in all forty provinces to train the Vietnamese Armed Forces in civic action and civil affairs, as well as mounting their own civic action programs.


Agreed to renew border control negotiations with the Cambodian Government.

In spite of repeated efforts by the US, joint Vietnamese-Cambodian control has not been effected and incidents are frequent, causing friction and helping the Viet Cong. Cambodia did, however, invite the GVN to send a military commission to visit border areas and determine the extent of Viet Cong activity on the Cambodian side. The GVN has accepted and will dispatch a team shortly. It might develop into a joint operation.


Agreed on desirability of using foreign non-American experts in counter-guerrilla field, but stressed it would be up to initiative GVN to request these experts and they would have to work under its control.

The British have sent a highly qualified advisory mission. Many of its recommendations have been accepted. Australia has sent thirty trainers to augment US MAAG activities. Other countries have sent survey missions or are being approached to provide help.


Agreed to proposal for sending US economic and fiscal experts to work out financial plan as basis for joint efforts.

A mission under Dr. Eugene Staley worked out a plan with the Vietnamese and completed its work in Viet-Nam in July 1961. The plan was adopted and embodied in National Security Action Memorandum 65, [Page 606] August 11, 1961.8 As a result the Vietnamese have added import taxes so that aid dollars now generate more piasters.


Agreed we should work together on a longer range economic development program.

The GVN has announced a formal 5-year plan, but it is more in the nature of a catalogue of projects than an integrated plan. The ongoing AID program is continuing to contribute to long range development, but conditions in Viet-Nam have required a shift in emphasis to programs with an early pay-off which can help win the war sooner.


Diem presented memo to Vice President on need for additional commodity aid and for relaxation of “Buy American” policy on aid to Viet-Nam.9

The amount of assistance which could be absorbed by Viet-Nam was a matter of dispute in May 1961. The Staley Mission subsequently established criteria which have proven workable for that portion of commodity aid channeled through the private sector. In addition, commodities and equipment procured directly for the public sector (e.g. materials for strategic hamlet construction), which are not affected by the absorptive capacity of the private sector, have been increased significantly.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Vice Presidential Security File, Colonel Burris Reports. Secret.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 59.
  3. For documentation on Taylorʼs visit to Saigon, October 18-25, 1961, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Documents 169 ff.
  4. The Staley Report on South Vietnam is not printed, but see the letter transmitting the report, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 93.
  5. Presumably a reference to Francois Sullyʼs article in the August 20, 1962, edition of Newsweek.
  6. Drafted by Wood and C. Richard Spurgin.
  7. For text of this communiqué, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1043-1045.
  8. Not printed, but see the editorial note in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, Document 118.
  9. Transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 519 from Saigon, May 16, 1961. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5-1661)