283. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President1

SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM

A recent cable (Saigonʼs 283 to the Department, attached)2 contains a somewhat bullish review of the political and military situation in that country.

Several indicators of progress are given in the cable which, taken together, give us some hope that the various measures we have undertaken are beginning to prove effective.

A.
The month of August saw the highest enemy casualty totals since September 1961: 3,297 total casualties, of which 2,284 killed in action, 379 wounded and 634 captured. Total Viet Cong losses for the [Page 650]first 8 months of 1962 are reported to be 19,404, of which 12,791 were killed in action. GVN losses for the same period totaled 8,634 of which 2,984 were killed in action. I do not believe that one can rely entirely on these figures, although I am assured by State Department that there has been considerable improvement both in the accuracy of casualty reports and the degree of checking done by our own people. These figures suggest a 2-to-1 ratio in over-all casualties and almost a 4-to-1 ratio in the number of troops killed in action in favor of the GVN. If these ratios are sustained they will inevitably have an important adverse psychological effect on the enemy. I have asked the State Department to re-check these figures with the field in an attempt to get their most pessimistic estimate.
B.
Minister Thuan also reports that for the first time in 15 years the price of rice is dropping between two crop harvests—a time when it usually rises. He accounts for this phenomenon by referring to increased deliveries from the Delta where clearing operations have recently been more successful.
C.
The British, who have historically been most bearish on the success of our efforts in South Vietnam, have recently expressed “cautious optimism” for the future, and have spoken favorably about the progress we have been making;
D.
Although the evidence is still somewhat spotty, the results of an improved civic program are beginning to show up in terms of an uplift in village morale in some areas. The same is also true of the strategic hamlet program, which is now being conducted more nationally and in such a way as to minimize the unfavorable reaction which the villagers originally had to being forcibly removed to new locations.

The attached cable gives somewhat more detailed information on the above, and you may wish to peruse it yourself.

While we cannot yet sit back in the confidence that the job is well in hand, nevertheless it does appear that we have finally developed a series of techniques which, if properly applied, do seem to produce results. Furthermore we seem to have developed a group of Americans both in the field and in Washington who are capable of carrying these techniques forward with increasing effectiveness. Lastly there is evidence that the GVN is gradually coming to understand and agree with us on the importance of winning over the villagers to their side.

There is reason to be concerned about domestic reaction to our policies in South Vietnam. There has been a considerable amount of bad publicity emanating from Saigon in recent months. Part of this is due to the fact that the newspapers and news magazines have not sent top drawer people to the area, and partly due to the attitude of the GVN toward the press in general. I think an effort should be made both here and in Saigon to correct both of these faults, and I am pressing the Department to give more attention to the problem. Should you have the occasion to discuss Southeast Asia with the editors or publishers of any of our larger news media, you might refer to this problem in general terms. Perhaps Ed Murrow could also give a hand.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. Secret. Drafted by Forrestal.
  2. Not found attached. Dated September 11, it transmitted Task Force Saigonʼs weekly progress report that featured an account of a conversation with Thuan on September 7. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-1162)