29. Letter From the Commander in Chief, Pacificʼs Political Adviser (Martin) to the Director of the Vietnam Task Force (Cottrell)1

Dear Cot: Encouraged by your letter of thanks for my letter2 reporting highlights of the first SecDef Conference last month, I thought I would repeat the performance for the second conference held Monday.3 However, if you have full access to the Record of the Conference (as you indicated) and feel that my reporting letters are therefore superfluous please let me know.

I continue to think the confrontation of Washington, Honolulu and Saigon in an intensive all-day session produces a lot of worthwhile results, not only in terms of SecDef decisions but also in terms of mutual education and enlightenment. The Secretary several times expressed great satisfaction with the accomplishments of PACOM and MAAG Viet-Nam since the last meeting, particularly for what he called an “extraordinary effort” in the “movement of men and material”. He indicated, however, that at the next meeting he would want to know what results had been accomplished in Viet-Nam by this splendid effort.

At one point during the conference General McGarr presented the views of Diem and Thuan on counterinsurgency.4 They felt that all forms of action, including military, should be designed to achieve permanent results. While U.S. efforts are greatly appreciated, we are pushing the young GVN too hard and too fast. GVN leadership cannot react as quickly as the Americans wish. American concepts, policies and capabilities do not always fit the oriental mind. Permanent victory depends on restoring the confidence of the people in the GVN and in themselves. It is necessary to separate the Viet Cong from the people; communism cannot be defeated by military means alone. The U.S. is pushing military plans faster than they can be absorbed, and they cannot achieve permanent results without a long-range approach.

The Secretary, I believe, recognized the validity of these GVN views, for he said we must move speedily to support Diemʼs program. He stressed the importance of holding on to areas that have been cleared militarily. He also recognized that the process of clearing and [Page 53]holding would be a long one. Thus in approving a 12 1/2 million dollar communications package for Viet-Nam, he commented that the U.S. would probably be involved in Viet-Nam for a long time.

While agreeing entirely with Diem that permanent victory cannot be won by military means alone, and that to hold areas cleared militarily the necessary “civic” infrastructure must be installed, I am skill convinced that the most urgent need now is to strengthen the military (including paramilitary) capabilities of the GVN. It does not yet appear capable of clearing and holding a substantial key area (such as the province of Binh Duong) without drawing off military forces from other areas to an unacceptable degree. It must reach at least this level of capability before the tide will turn.

I have summarized below some of the other principal decisions and opinions of SecDef.

On defoliants the Secretary wanted further experimentation to continue so that we could ascertain how effective the spray was on all types of vegetation. Only when this was done would we have a sound basis for judging the operational effectiveness of defoliants.

In discussing training and personnel the Secretary manifested great interest in speeding up the arrival of advisers. He wanted them to get out to Viet-Nam as fast as they could be processed in Washington, even though the Vietnamese units to which they were to be assigned were not yet ready to receive them. He agreed with General O’Donnell that too many of our military personnel in Viet-Nam are on TDY with the result that tours are too short. More personnel should be sent on PCS rather than TDY.

There was considerable discussion of the Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps. Both the Secretary and General Lemnitzer felt the CG and SDC should be given high priority attention. The Secretary expressed the opinion that the order of priority for expansion of size and training should be the CG, SDC and ARVN. He wanted recommendations on this by the next meeting.

The Secretary also wanted to get carbines into the hands of the SDC as soon as possible. Rather than wait for the completion of a 12-week training cycle before such weapons are issued to an SDC unit, he suggested they be issued following a preliminary training phase just sufficient to teach them how to handle these weapons. He authorized the shipment of another 40,000 carbines to Viet-Nam (in addition to the 37,000 already on hand there) for the use of any GVN military or paramilitary units which could properly use them.

During discussion of the province survey teams, the Secretary expressed regret that these teams were being confined to military and intelligence matters. He wanted the American members of the teams to send in comprehensive reports as soon as possible (without waiting [Page 54]for the combined US-Vietnamese report) which would give the American membersʼ observations on political, economic, civic action and other matters as well as on military and intelligence questions.

There was considerable discussion of plans for clearing and holding a single province or area. It was decided to eliminate Zone D as an immediate target, since it did not lend itself to the concept of clearing with the ARVN and holding with civic action teams, CG and SDC, being a sparsely populated, heavily forested area. Moreover, its military significance has decreased with the apparent evacuation of the Viet Cong “Nambo headquarters”. The Chief MAAG is to work up a plan for clearing and holding an area where permanent results can be achieved. Such an area may or may not be confined to one province.

The Secretary expressed great concern about the US press treatment of the GVN. He felt that the pessimistic anti-Diem line of the press was hurting our cause with Congress and the public. He directed that we step up public information programs at all levels—Washington, Honolulu and Viet-Nam. He left to the judgment of CINCPAC and Chief MAAG Viet-Nam what could be declassified to assist in these programs. Fritz Nolting cautioned that in briefing the press we should give full credit to the GVN and not make it look as though the U.S. were running the war in SVN, making the plans, or pulling all the strings.

In a brief discussion of aid from third countries, Admiral Felt mentioned the interest of the ROKs in sending some of their forces to assist the GVN. The Secretaryʼs reaction was that we would have to pay for this, and we might as well pay the Vietnamese to do the job themselves. As for Australian help, however, the Secretary said that if it were politically wise to accept Australian help we should do so. General McGarr said he would be glad to have small numbers of Australians if they were willing to serve under the MAAG.

Sincerely,

Ed

P.S. It strikes me that the concern expressed in Deptel 890 to Saigon5 re “leak” on helicopters is inconsistent with attitude of SecDef on declassifying as much as possible of our aid to GVN and our operations there in order to get better press. Unless State and Defense coordinate on this, I can see State frantically investigating items purposely “leaked” by Defense, MAAG, etc.

E
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-M SP/1-1962. Top Secret; Official-Informal.
  2. Neither found.
  3. January 15.
  4. For an account of Diemʼs views, see Document 13.
  5. Telegram 890 to Saigon, January 18, asked the Task Force in Vietnam to consider whether to try to track the source of the leak concerning the introduction of U.S. helicopters into South Vietnam, in violation of the Geneva Accords. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/1-1862)