325. Letter From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Wood) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Nolting)1

Dear Fritz: This letter can be put aside and read later when you have fewer visitors.

We were very pleased here with Ken Crawfordʼs cover story in Newsweek on Viet-Nam of December 10, 1962. If anything it was a bit optimistic, but we can use some balancing cheer in the public prints. I hope to get to the Saturday Evening Post people about the two poor articles in their November 24th issue. Bernard Fallʼs recommendations certainly follow very close to the neutralist, crypto-communist line. I donʼt think he is a communist, but his emotions have been so long wrapped up in Viet-Nam that his judgement is false. I must say I was surprised that the Post published it. The article on South Viet-Nam in [Page 758] the same issue by Harold H. Martin left one with the impression that all of the Americans are champing at the bit for more military action, but are being held back by a timid President Diem. This non-accurate assessment presumably reflects the many and galling frustrations under which all military advisors work in the field and is probably also connected with the fact that they canʼt know everything or even enough of whatʼs going on in Saigon. Halberstamʼs articles also rely heavily on military sources.

I have been discussing this here with some of our public relations people and we would like to encourage you to give even more time than you now do to the newspaper men so that their reporting will reflect a better overall assessment of the war from the point of view of all American interests involved. I donʼt know what your present practice is, but wonder if you would consider giving a weekly backgrounder. I realize this can be time consuming, annoying and that they donʼt always appear to listen, but I do believe it will pay off not only as a means of briefing them, but also as an occasion of give and take exchange of news and as a chance for them to vent their frustrations to the top American. The reporters are there and they are going to report the war to the free world press. Since the Vietnamese are doing such a poor job, it devolves on us to see that we get better understanding and support from the American press. I remember how well you handled the press during the backgrounder which you gave here last winter, as well as your TV appearance.2 Since you have both the capacity and the position to speak for the Americans, allow me to sell you on doing as much as you can, I am sure that this will give us the results in the press here which we badly need. In fact this gap—the explanation of the war to the American citizen—seems to us the biggest remaining problem to be licked in our efforts to maintain an effective and long-continuing American support of the Vietnamese defense effort. Furthermore, if you demonstrate that the American press can be briefed successfully and that they are, after all, human, the Vietnamese may be encouraged to be more forthcoming and to take on more fully the job of describing their own war to the foreign newsmen. However, I realize the deep emotional problem which you face here with Counselor Nhu.

I was asked recently about how Americans are briefed on the concept that as guests in the Vietnamese house they should not be publicly critical of Vietnamese efforts. I recall in 1959 that incoming personnel, both military and civilian, used to receive several days briefing and I suppose that this continues. I realize that to circulate anything in writing which could be interpreted by the newspaper men as an order to U.S. personnel to keep their traps shut would hit the [Page 759] headlines the next day. I therefore suppose the guest-in-the-house idea is presented orally, in the course of indoctrination briefing. In view of the frustrations all Americans face in Viet-Nam, particularly those in the field, I suppose it is one of those topics on which people need frequent oral reminders. If fish and guests stink after three days, sometimes the guestʼs view of the host can become jaundiced during the course of the visit.

New subject. I have pouched to you yesterday several old despatches and telegrams which I drafted on the history of the Vietnamese-Cambodian frontier and other aspects of the relations of the two countries. This is not only pride of authorship but also because there seem to be no other documents in the files. I concluded in 1958 that there was no sacred document which would reveal the one, true line. There does appear to have been a series of decrees (cited in the telegrams I sent you) issued at about the time the French pulled out but apparently the decrees did not have any maps annexed to them. Within a few days I will get together with the Geographerʼs Office and send a telegram to Saigon and Phnom Penh giving a round-up of the information available in Washington. This incidentally includes a full set of 1:40,000 aerial photographs made in the late 1950s for the Army Map Service. More on this anon.

Ted gave a most excellent discourse on the situation in Viet-Nam yesterday to the assembled members of Cotʼs SEA Task Force. It evoked much interest and sympathy. He will pouch you his report very soon.3

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Chalmers B. Wood4
  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193. Secret; Official-Informal. Drafted by Wood.
  2. Regarding Noltingʼs visit, January 5-14, see Documents 1416.
  3. Document 328.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.