327. Notes on Visits to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Okinawa by the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1

[Here follow reports on Johnsonʼs visits to Bangkok and Vientiane.]


In Saigon I had conversations with President Diem, Foreign Minister Mau, Defense Minister Thuan and several members of the Assembly.2 [Page 761] In addition to the Ambassador, I also met with selected members of the Country Team, particularly the CIA Station Chief and the DCM, Mr. Trueheart, and some U.S. military officers. I also visited two provinces in the highland area (Pleiku and the new province of Phu Bon) and one in the coastal area (Tuy Hao), as well as the new Pleiyit mountain commando school.

My general impressions and observations are as follows:

The spirit of the Vietnamese officials and the U.S. officials and advisers, and the relations between them, are very impressive. While there is a subjective tendency on the part of both to emphasize the positive and to minimize the negative, the undoubted gains are substantial. The negative factor for which it is difficult to find a satisfactory answer is that both the U.S. and Vietnamese estimates indicate a significant increase in organized Viet Cong strength during the past year. It is also difficult, even in the field close to the area, to obtain a clear view of the level and relative importance of present infiltration through Laos.
There is no basis for believing the “war can be over” in another year. Thuanʼs most optimistic estimate is three years.
USOM is now doing a vigorous and effective job, and there is excellent coordination between all elements of the Country Team as well as with the Vietnamese Government.
Diem continues to be very suspicious of French motives and these suspicions have been reinforced by the French attitude on the recent Sihanouk neutrality proposals.3 Diem constantly seeks reassurance that we are not going to be influenced by the French to seek a negotiated “neutral solution” in South Vietnam.
Both Thailand and South Vietnam see Cambodia as “their Cuba” and hope that if Sihanouk invites in the Chinese Communists we will take an equally vigorous stand.
The Montagnard program is very impressive and the Vietnamese have embraced it with enthusiasm. In some ways they seem to be going to greater lengths to woo the Montagnards than their own people.
In the field one feels much less squeamishness on using chemical crop destruction than when back here in Washington. First, napalm has for long been used quite extensively. Also, one gets the feeling that the local officials and military have a fairly accurate picture of what [Page 762] crops are going where. Also, one is reassured by the evident effective measures for relief of Montagnard refugees. In addition, there seems to be much less of a psychological or political problem in the use of such methods against Montagnard crops than would be the case against the crops of the more sophisticated Vietnamese.
The $189 million ceiling on MAP for FY ʼ63 is substantially interfering with our ability to fund the very important “strategic hamlet kits” and the less important TR-5 hamlet radios. Nolting feels the ceiling should, if possible, be raised to $205 million.
The “Province Rehabilitation Committee” chaired on the U.S. side by DCM Trueheart and on the Vietnamese side by Nhu, with the Minister of Interior as Nhuʼs “action officer”, is working excellently and is the point at which military, political and economic plans and programs are really tied together. One very senior U.S. military officer told me “Trueheart comes closer to carrying out the day-to-day overall direction of the war as a whole than any other individual in Saigon”.
A conversation with Diem is an experience never to be forgotten. The words flow in an unending stream and for one whose French is less than perfect the strain of following is intense, particularly as he makes many of his points very indirectly. He has opinions on most subjects from the relationship of taxi dancers to espionage to Chinese Communist tactics in Guinea. However, he listened carefully and with evident interest to a short summary of the events with respect to Cuba.
In the eight-day period from November 29 to December 6 eight separate Congressional delegations visited Saigon, of which four called on President Diem. While Saigon, as does any other post, welcomes serious Congressional visits such a number of uncoordinated visits and the often exacting nature of the visitorsʼ demands not only impose extraordinary burdens on the staffs of the posts, but also on the good nature of the local officials. For example, one delegation demanded that all members of the party, including wives and subordinate staff members, be present at the meeting with President Diem and established a strict limit on the time they would make available for the meeting. Another insisted on advance approval of table seating. In Vientiane at the last minute another advanced its departure time, requiring the Ambassador to produce the Prime Minister (which he did) for a hurried 11:30 lunch, etc., etc. It is the feeling of the posts that much of this results from excessive zeal on the part of escort officers in interpreting the supposed wishes of the principals. However, much of it leaves an impression of bad manners and all too often an impression on local officials that they and our Ambassadors abroad are expected to jump at the whim of any Congressional visitor. This is not good for the United States. There are, of course, notable exceptions in which I would include Senator Jackson, from what I observed.

[Here follows a report on Johnsonʼs visit to Okinawa.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, IJKL. Confidential. Attached to a transmittal note from Johnson to Harriman, dated December 10. The visits took place December 1-9; Johnson was in Saigon December 6-8.
  2. A memorandum of the conversation with Mau, which dealt with the situation in Laos, is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 67 A 677, 350 GVN. A record of a similar conversation with Ambassador Nolting on Cambodia is ibid., 320 Cambodia. No record of the other conversations has been found.
  3. For text of Sihanoukʼs letter to President Kennedy, August 20, requesting official recognition of Cambodian neutrality, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1002-1003.