328. Report by the Deputy Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Heavner)1


I. Recommendations

Continue to place top priority on the strategic hamlet program. Adopt and refine present plans and programs but prove out what we are now doing before turning to new plans or tactics. Set up evaluation machinery to determine the best means of establishing effective strategic hamlets.
Use our influence and resources to insure that hamlet authorities have adequate means and powers, including the control of separate hamlet budgets and the power to inflict minor punishments. Seek to increase the competence and prestige of hamlet authorities by training, publicity, and rewards.
Strengthen the SDC by more contact with American advisors, frequent on-spot retraining, and more emphasis on civic action training.
Continue limited support for the Force Populaire as an experimental and promising form of CIDG, but resist GVN plans to cut SDC funds or strength in order to finance the Force Populaire.
In connection with recommendations B and C, seek to assign US advisors to district chiefs.
Work for better overall control of Citizens Irregular Defense Groups. Standardization or formalization of the CIDG is not desirable, but improved machinery for coordination with other counterinsurgency measures and plans is necessary.
Anticipate and plan for increased infiltration, particularly via Cambodia. Study on a high priority basis all means of closing the Cambodian frontier to infiltration.
Further refine the use of air power in this kind of unconventional war. Avoid bombing “VC villages.” Emphasize the fast reaction time and surveillance capabilities of aircraft.
Study the problem of VC rehabilitation in the context of the strategic hamlet program and influence the GVN to develop an appropriate rehabilitation program for VC sympathizers in the hamlets.2

II. General Remarks

I spent 40 days in Viet-Nam and visited 17 provinces, making a special effort to compare the present situation with conditions as I observed them in March and April of this year and during the period July 1958 to July 1961. The following report is necessarily impressionistic. I did not have time to go into any one problem exhaustively, and fact is not always easy to come by in Viet-Nam.

Since the fall of last year, we have moved from a situation in which the VC were clearly winning to a stand-off. This is real progress, particularly in a guerrilla war. But the tide has not fumed. The VC are still very strong, and our key programs are still in many respects experimental.

I see no prospect of completely eliminating the Viet Cong by actions in South Viet-Nam. So long as the country is undergoing the strains and tensions of modernization, and so long as it is relatively safe and cheap for the DRV to exploit those strains and tensions, we will have the VC with us. But I do believe that the programs now in motion in South Viet-Nam, if pursued consistently and vigorously, will reduce VC strength and activity to the point where the GVN can handle the situation with greatly reduced US military assistance. This is likely to take several years at least.

The strategic hamlet program is the heart of our effort and deserves top priority. While it has not—and probably will not—bring democracy to rural Viet-Nam, it provides truly local administration for the first time. Coupled with measures to increase rice production and farmer income, these local administrations can work a revolution in rural Viet-Nam. But it will not come quickly and it is by no means assured.

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On the military side, there is no question that ARVN and the paramilitary are fuming in markedly better performance. Morale is high, they are doing more night work, killing fewer prisoners, and getting more intelligence from the people. There is also no blinking the fact that the VC do not seem to be declining in numbers, weapons or ability. Moreover, the DRV could probably increase VC strength substantially in a short period of time by stepping up infiltration.

The most encouraging things I noted on this trip include the general success of our people in winning confidence and working with the Vietnamese (this is significant progress over the suspicion I observed six months ago), the training and arming of the Montagnard, increased GVN and US emphasis on rural economic programs, and a general lift in morale.

III. Strategic Hamlets

A. General Observations

This program is off to a good start. Except in Central Viet-Nam, where the program has been weakened by Ngo Dinh Canʼs failure to support it, provincial and local authorities have a far better understanding of the concept than was the case six months ago. The hamlets vary greatly in quality, and the program suffers from the general, chronic shortage of leadership and organization. But as a mixture of political, economic, and military measures, the strategic hamlet effort appears to offer the best hope of defeating the Viet Cong. As such, it should be the main focus of our planning, and we should resist any tendency to reduce its top priority.

We must recognize that our experience with strategic hamlets is quite limited. The concept in its present form may not be the best means of dealing with the VC. We should not be doctrinaire about standards or models at this time.

We should undertake systematic and continuing evaluation of the program. Ideally, this would be done by a joint US-GVN team with its own transport and with authority to visit any hamlet at any time. Failing this, we should at least encourage the GVN to undertake systematic evaluation, independent of the provincial authorities, while we make an effort to do the same on our side through sector advisors and the new embassy provincial reporting program.

One example of the need for evaluation—and the importance of not being doctrinaire at this time—is the matter of fences. Flimsy, halfhearted bamboo barriers around some of the hamlets are often the subject of scornful criticism by our people. But there is no point in demanding elaborate perimeters everywhere before we really know how important the perimeter is. Conversations with missionaries and local authorities, including several hamlet chiefs, suggest that the so [Page 766] called “political fences” are far from useless. They have the immediate psychological value of making the hamlet a visible geographical entity, automatically set up “in” and “out” groups, force the VC to at least symbolically violate the whole hamlet to get at any individual. Also, the Vietnamese generally like hedges and fences around their homes and have a feeling of family security and unity behind them. Even a poor hamlet fence has something of this effect on the whole community, and what counts in an attack is the attitudes on the inside of the fence

B. Some Immediate Results

It is a truism to say that this war is as much political as military. The political side of the strategic hamlet program is sometimes described as the establishment of rice roots democracy by means of hamlet elections. I donʼt believe this is happening (see below). But the new hamlets do achieve at least two immediate political effects.

One of the first results of setting up a strategic hamlet is that it tends to bring loyalties into the open and force choice on the uncommitted. Some who are pro-VC can of course hide their sympathies and contribute to the building of the hamlet with enough enthusiasm to be regarded as good citizens. Some of the uncommitted can do what is required of them and still maintain their neutral posture. But the building of the fence is a symbolic act which is lost on neither the peasant nor the VC. Few peasants are consummate actors, and as the hamlet is built, their sympathies become apparent to neighbors and friends and hamlet authorities.

This separation of hamlet populations into groups of various shades of loyalty and disloyalty to the government is already partly accomplished. In Hai Yen visitors are told how many of the people are pro-VC, how many have relatives with the Communists, and how many actively support the government. District chiefs have always kept records on suspect elements, and these records are available to the hamlet authorities. I think we can reasonably hope that the process will be carried out over the next year to the point where there are relatively few Vietnamese whose political coloration is not known to the government. This will be a major step toward the ultimate separation of the people from the VC.

Another immediate political result of the program is the building, for the first time, of truly local administrations. The hamlet officials may not be democratically selected by our lights, but they are not immune to social pressures. They live in the hamlet. Village officials may be able to ignore real grievances to some extent. District chiefs certainly can. It will be far more difficult for the hamlet officials who, on the average, are dealing with only about 1,000 of their friends, neighbors and relatives.

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C. The Matter of Elections

I observed closely, in the provinces, the 1959 National Assembly elections. The question uppermost in the minds of the peasants then was not “Who should I choose to represent me?” but simply “What do they want of me?” I saw no evidence of fraud, and I donʼt think there was any in the areas I visited. But the government candidates got 99% of the vote. It was a simple matter of the peasantʼs observing that one of the candidates wore the government label and concluding that the prudent course was to vote for him.

Much the same sort of process appears to be at work in the hamlet elections. The village or district chief can informally let it be known who he favors for office—usually the present hamlet chief—and the election is carried out accordingly. Evidence of this came to me in the remarks of a number of Vietnamese officials. Nearly all conceded the necessity for close control of the elections. In several cases, they said frankly that rural Viet-Nam will have to wait a generation or longer to have real democracy.

One Province Chief said that of course he was controlling the elections: “Democracy here cannot come before security. It will take at least ten years.” The chief of a provincial council observed that the people require strong leadership and so the officials must put forward the candidates. A Regional Delegateʼs deputy remarked that there are two or three families in each hamlet who have always called the shots, and they will continue to do so for at least another generation. A missionary pointed out that the kind of direct confrontation involved in western style elections is repugnant to the Vietnamese; they would rather make such decisions informally to prevent loss of face: “Of course the elections are decided in advance. The people would be very uncomfortable if they were not.”

I was also told by MAAG advisors that the old hamlet chief is usually elected to be the new hamlet chief. Three hamlet chiefs themselves told me that they had been the “thon troung” or hamlet chief long before they were elected to the job. While a hamlet charter which I obtained in Binh Tuy sets the term of office at one year, other hamlet charters shown to me had no term of office, and provincial officials generally said that there is none: “We will have new elections when they are necessary.”

In short, given the character of rural Vietnamese society plus the Communist threat, there is at this time little likelihood of free elections as we conceive them.

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D. The Aims of the Program

The basic aim is, of course, to separate the people from the VC. To achieve this, I am not convinced that there is any present need to impose our political ideas on the Vietnamese peasants. Free elections and town meetings can come later. If we can get effective local administration—albeit paternalistic—plugged into the national administration, if we can open up a few lines of communication up as well as down, and if we can involve the peasant in the defense of a felt stake in a developing hamlet economy tied into the national economy, we will have done quite enough to freeze out the VC. We are by no means sure of doing any of these things. To help bring them about, I think the following ideas should be considered:


Adequate means and authority for hamlet officials.

If the hamlet chief and his council are forced to refer all decisions to the village chief and rely on him for sanctions, if they must depend on allotments from the village budget to carry out their improvement plans, and in general, if they appear only as feeble appendages of the village and district authorities, they are not likely to be very successful.

The hamlet charters now being written by each strategic hamlet invest the hamlet council with very slight powers (almost exclusively advisory) and no sanctions. They are completely silent on the authority of the hamlet administrative committee, which is to be the real governing body in the hamlet. (The charters follow very closely the model charter issued by the GVN as a training document.)

I am told that the GVN is considering authorizing hamlet budgets. I am much in favor of this, and feel strongly that the powers of the hamlet administrative committee ought to be spelled out in a GVN decree or law and incorporated into the hamlet charters as well. They should have the power to collect and disburse hamlet funds, enact and enforce local regulations, and be armed with authority to inflict minor penalties on offenders.

Our monetary assistance to the hamlet “self-help” projects in Hai Yen will help to arm the hamlet authorities with the necessary means and authority. But this can not be more than a partial and transitory answer. The GVN will have to accomplish this itself, probably at the expense of village administration.


Training, rewards, prestige for hamlet officials.

Getting the right people in office is important, of course, but getting the most out of them is probably more so. Being a good hamlet chief is well within the native abilities of a great many peasants, but [Page 769] few are sufficiently trained and motivated. We should press for better training and retraining of these people, get into the process ourselves (perhaps via sector advisors) when we can.

Perhaps USIS and USOM could help prepare a weekly or monthly publication for hamlet chiefs. Such a publication could include practical administrative advice, using the experiences and successes of various hamlet chiefs as concrete examples. The publication would serve both as a training device and a morale builder for hamlet officials. We might also consider partially underwriting contact training teams, to include perhaps a US administrative or PsyWar expert, to train hamlet officials on the spot.

A national congress of strategic hamlet chiefs held some time, say next spring, would serve as a useful device for training and exchange of ideas, while building the prestige of the hamlet chiefs. Awards for outstanding performance, with appropriate ballyhoo, might do a lot to improve the prestige and morale of those prime targets for VC assassination. Perhaps the President could be induced to make the awards at the national Strategic Hamlet Congress.


Economic Development.

A real stake in the status quo at the hamlet level for every peasant could be a powerful weapon for the GVN. The GVN is wisely putting its funds for schools, agricultural credit, dispensaries, etc. into the strategic hamlets. Our aid in the form of fertilizer, plant protection chemicals, surplus food, and the pig program is effectively reinforcing this effort.

But the heart of rural Viet-Nam is rice. If we want to help the peasant in a way that really makes sense to him, if we want to increase peasant income and GVN resources, if we mean to give the hamlets a real economic lease on life, we must increase rice production dramatically. Vietnamese rice yields are very low compared with Taiwan and Japan. The yield could be increased, perhaps doubled, if we brought in, on a big scale, the fertilizers and the third country technicians to carry out effective, large-scale agricultural extension and improvement.

This would be expensive. It would require facing the fact that Vietnamese rice would be in competition with Louisiana rice because a large increase in rice production would mean exports (some could be exported in the form of pork, beef and alcohol, of course). It would take time, probably a minimum of several years. It would also require a sharp about-face in GVN price policies, which are now aimed at deliberately holding down the domestic price of rice.

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I am told that the world rice market is good now and that long term prospects are also good. I understand that Vietnamese rice sells in Saigon now for about half what it would bring in Hong Kong. In 1939 Viet-Nam exported something like 1-1/2 million tons of rice.

Analysts such as Rostow say an agricultural revolution is the necessary first step toward take-off in economic development. Our aid to roads and light industries, helpful though it has been, has not over the past seven years brought the take-off point visibly nearer in Viet-Nam. I think rice might. In any event, an increase in peasant income should help against the VC and perhaps enable the GVN to shoulder a little more of the cost of defending SEA.

Even if increased US aid for rice production is not possible, I believe we should use our influence to persuade the GVN to alter its price policy. I am certainly no expert on this matter, but conversations here and in Washington, with both Vietnamese and Americans, makes me think the GVN could safely increase the price of rice, perhaps could even insure a direct income increase for the peasant by controlling directly or indirectly the distribution channels. (If they can protect the harvest against the VC, I think they can protect the farmer against the middleman.)

If such a policy were announced by the President as a direct effort to help the farmer, it would have a lot of political impact. I am told a moderate price increase would not much affect living costs for urban Vietnamese, which the GVN generally controls in any event. Diemʼs policy of favoring and developing the agricultural sector, announced in his State of the Union message, suggests he could be persuaded. I am told only he could make the decision to change price policy. Certainly only he could get maximum political mileage out of it.


District Advisors.

Sector advisors have had a marked effect on the attitudes and performance of provincial officials. Although it varies greatly from province to province, I believe there is no doubt of the value of their influence on provincial administration. Much of this has been a matter of osmosis in day to day contact.

District, village and hamlet officials are not benefiting from this kind of contact because the sector advisor simply has too little time. While GVN reluctance to permit Americans to operate at district level might prove insuperable, I believe the assignment of district advisors should be considered as an important means of improving local administration.

District advisors would mean a personnel increase of about 250 men plus the added burden of supporting them. They would be in exposed positions in many cases and we could expect casualties. But I think they could do a very important job.

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IV. Some Signs of Progress

A. Morale

Morale is greatly improved among government officials at all levels. I have the distinct impression that many if not most civil servants believe the GVN will win in the space of a year or two. It is certainly risky to try to judge the attitude of the people as a whole, but I think there can be little doubt that in their eyes, too, the GVN is now in a much more favorable position than it was in late 1961.

Supporting my impression that the people believe the GVN will win is the report that the government is getting more information from ordinary people. American advisors in the field told me of a number of instances in which villagers tipped off the authorities to impending VC attacks. Six months ago, I heard almost no instances of this kind of intelligence.

B. Better Military Performance

Though there were some vociferous dissents, our advisors say that the GVN forces are doing more and better night work. There is still room for much improvement in patrolling and ambushing. But the night no longer belongs only to the VC.

Handling and exploitation of VC prisoners is also better. While rough interrogation is still too common, the outright killing of prisoners has been cut by at least 80%, according to our advisors in the field. Whereas in the past almost every operation saw prisoners deliberately killed, this is now rare. The reason: pressure from our advisors. One man told me he fumed his own weapon on a Vietnamese officer to prevent the killing of a prisoner. Advisors often call for helicopters to rush prisoners out, thus getting them rapidly to competent interrogators as well as saving their skins.

C. Use of Montagnards

I was very favorably impressed by the job CIA and our Special Forces are doing with the Montagnards. Judging by what I saw and was told at Buon Enao and in northern Kontum, there is every reason to believe that we can choke off most infiltration via the high plateau in about a yearʼs time.

The GVN is also doing better by the Montagnards than ever before. While most Vietnamese officials still privately regard the Montagnards as something less than human, they have for the most part thoroughly grasped the importance of using the Montagnards against the VC. It is not true that the Montagnards are coming over to the GVN because of the GVNʼs benevolence. Their chief motivation is a natural desire to get out of a crossfire. But the GVN has recognized [Page 772] the opportunity presented, and while sometimes still moving far too slowly to suit our people, is honestly attempting to help the tribespeople. One example: an ARVN commander cut his own menʼs rations to provide food for the Montagnards until relief supplies arrived.

D. U.S. Advisors

The quality of our people in the field is high. They have gained more acceptance than I thought possible six months ago. They have steadily eroded, if not solved, many military and some local semi-political problems by ad hoc, personal pressure and persuasion. They are particularly impressive where I might have expected them to be weakest: the lower ranking officers, from lieutenant to major, are proving themselves adaptable and imaginative.

I think it worth pointing out that our military people are almost universally suffering from various degrees of acute frustration. They canʼt command, they only advise. This is surely the hardest role a good officer can play. To this must be added the frustrations of dealing intimately every day with the Vietnamese mind, an underdeveloped technology and transport system, a major language problem, and the unfamiliar tactics of an enemy they can rarely come to grips with. In spite of all this, they are doing a good job. My hat is off to them.

V. Some Soft Spots

A. SDC vs. Force Populaire

I am concerned by reports that the SDC may be dropped or cut in favor of an expanded Force Populaire. While the SDC has many faults as it is now constituted, it has borne the brunt of the VC attack for a long time. With better training and arms, it is beginning to take a heavy toll of VC. It is a local force, bound in most cases to the defense of the village by personal ties.

The Force Populaire is frankly experimental. It has to my knowledge taken no casualties. The number of VC killed or captured by the FP must be around 10-20, judging by the accounts of a number of people who should know. It has worked, I believe, exclusively in safe areas, and although it has been in existence for about a year has admittedly made no clear contribution to security. The concept as explained to me in Hue is excellent—but it is not clear that in actual practice it has been or can be applied.

The Force Populaire also raises some troublesome problems. It is not controlled by the province chief or by the division commander in the area. It is run by a provincial committee, with overall direction from Brother Can in Hue. In many cases it is not apparently meshed in any way with the strategic hamlet program, though I believe some province chiefs are trying hard to bring it into the overall plan. In at [Page 773] least one instance, the FP got itself into a lively firefight with the Civil Guard through this lack of coordination. The FP is engaged in essentially political work as an arm of the Ngo Dinh Can organization; there is here more than a hint of an armed political faction.

Though trained in part by special forces, the FP for some reason is an organization so secret that most MAAG advisors have never heard of it. This includes at least two senior advisors, one of them the senior advisor in a Corps area. I fail to understand the need for such secrecy, especially as the presence of FP in a village is not … a secret.

This is an interesting experiment, and I think we should continue to support it to some degree. The idea of direct personal contact, peasant to peasant, on behalf of the GVN has much to recommend it. But this organization can only supplement, not replace, the SDC. The FP demands of its members a very large measure of patriotism, political sophistication, practical psychology, initiative, and a willingness to undertake hard and dangerous work for no material advantage. Such people are in short supply.

SDC vs. Hamlet Militia

There is also discussion of dropping the SDC in favor of unpaid village and hamlet youth defenders. This may be possible ultimately, but at the moment would be very unwise. Inadequately trained and motivated though they may be, the SDC are generally still much better in these departments than the youth defenders. They are likely to be so for some time. Moreover, even when the youth defenders are in much better shape, they will still require a nearby reserve or strike force at the village level. The SDC can continue to serve that function. And of course, dropping the SDC would likely result in an increased rural underemployment problem, further depressing the rural economy and quite possibly adding very substantially to rural grievances against the GVN. A number of the ex-SDC might join the VC.

What is needed is an improved SDC. Our training and arms for the SDC was an important step in the right direction. We could protest vigorously any tendency by the GVN to throw away this aid. But I think we ought to go further.

More SDC Advisors. I am told we are spending 95% of our advisor strength on the ARVN. The SDC, which takes most of the casualties and sees most of the action, does not have the advantage of daily contact and example from our advisors. The SDC is trained at a center and allowed to return to their home villages and relapse into their old ways. Anyone who knows the rural Vietnamese knows that they seldom learn a new thing for once and for all. The SDC above all need continued training and contact with American advisors. I [Page 774] strongly recommend more contact training teams in the villages to brush up the SDC frequently. District advisors could also help in this respect.
Civic Action for All. An important part of our effort—and one that is paying off—is the emphasis on civic action for the ARVN. The ARVN has improved its image with the people in the course of the past year. Not so the SDC. They are still in there stealing chickens and pushing people around. The solution is not to replace them with Force Populaire or village youth. (Many would be the same people, anyhow.) What is needed is more emphasis on civic action training at the training centers. We have left this part of SDC training up to the Vietnamese in spite of our success in getting into the civic action training of ARVN. More contact with American advisors after the SDC have left the training centers would also improve their civic action performance.

B. VC Rehabilitation

The strategic hamlet program promises to reveal the political loyalties of most of the people in the hamlets. It is not clear, however, how the GVN intends to deal with elements inside the hamlets which are not active VC, but who nevertheless remain basically sympathetic to the Communists. In cases where most of the people are pro-GVN or neutral, identification may be enough. Strict control plus social pressures will probably be all that is required to bring these people around.

The ease with which the VC recruit men and support their activities in some provinces suggests, however, that at least in some areas large segments of hamlet populations will have to be classified as VC sympathizers. The GVN evidently intends to make these people third class citizens at best, political prisoners at worst. I donʼt think this will have the desired result. What is needed is a rehabilitation program, and I am not aware that the strategic hamlet effort now includes any systematic plan for winning over VC sympathizers and supporters.

One approach might be to make it clear to VC sympathizers and supporters that, while their past is known, the future is unprejudiced. Everyone starts even in the new hamlet, with equal access to agricultural credit, free medicine, schools, communal land, etc. However, if after six months, there is evidence of continued support for the VC, the guilty parties would have their rights and privileges abridged by the hamlet council. If they behaved for, say six months thereafter, the rights and privileges could be restored by the council.

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C. Infiltration

Information on the nature and amount of infiltration remains unsatisfactory. As the Montagnard trail watchers and strike forces get into action, I think we will get a better picture of what is happening on the plateau. If all goes well, these forces may in fact pretty well stop infiltration across the highlands.

This will not end the threat of infiltration, however, for there remains the Cambodian frontier in the lowlands. I am not at all sure that strategic hamlets can keep infiltrators from moving directly into the delta from Cambodia. This will be all the more difficult if, as seems likely, GVN-RKG relations continue bad.

The threat of infiltration seems very serious. I believe Ho could probably double his hard core VC rather quickly by infiltration if it seemed necessary. He could do this before we could seal off the plateau. After the plateau is closed, it could still be done via Cambodia.

Such a move would be relatively cheap and safe for Ho and the Bloc, and the stakes are high. After Cuba, Khrushchev will be looking for a way to humiliate us and placate the ChiComs. It seems unlikely that he will want to restrain Ho. I donʼt think there can be any doubt about Hoʼs determination to reunite Viet-Nam. In short, I believe we ought to be prepared for a heavy increase in infiltration and the consequent increase in VC strength at any time.

D. Coordinating the CIDG

At Hoa Cam training center alone, I reamed we are training and arming Montagnard Commandos, Trail Watchers, Nungs, armed Civic Action teams, Force Populaire, Nong Son Security Force, District Volunteers, Quang Nam Volunteers, and Tam Ky Commandos. Colonel Hoai in Hue was said to boss the Montagnard Commandos. I am told provincial committees with a line to Brother Can run the Force Populaire, the District Volunteers are no doubt under the control of the District Chiefs, while various Catholic armed irregulars are controlled by their priests.

I am afraid these people will not be able to bring their force to bear effectively on the VC unless they are tied together more systematically. My thought is that there ought to be a CIDG committee, under the control of the Chief of Province, to represent and coordinate all such groups at the Province level. In Saigon a central bureau or committee could handle and coordinate on the national level. I am in favor of the esprit and dynamism of small, individual CIDG outfits and donʼt think they should be “formalized” or “standardized.” But they [Page 776] do need to be controlled and coordinated. Lessons reamed in one area might also be most usefully applied elsewhere by a central control mechanism.

E. The Use of Air Power

I am not convinced that the use of aircraft against the VC has been sufficiently refined even yet. I was told of a number of recent incidents in which friendly people or women and children were killed by air attacks.

Relieving posts and units under attack is certainly a very valuable and legitimate role for air power. In some cases, VC bases are isolated sufficiently to justify tactical bombing. But I am convinced that bombing “VC villages” rarely pays off in the sense that it hurts the VC more than the GVN. We cannot lose sight of the fact that this is a special kind of warfare and that our basic objective is to separate the VC from the people. This means we cannot treat areas under VC control as enemy territory subject to the rules of warfare that applied in Korea and World War II.

F. Chain of Command

The chain of command problem, while much improved as a result of U.S. pressures, is still troublesome. Division commanders cannot remove subordinate commanders. Division commanders still can and do refuse orders from Corps, often taking the matter to Diem. Major items of supply (trucks, radios, weapons, aircraft) are assigned by Saigon to a given unit. If the division commander wants to assign them to another unit in his command, he must get permission from Saigon. Transferring radios from hospital units not yet ready for them to fighting units that needed them took two months. The boys are hammering away on this, but we shouldnʼt overlook it.

Connected with chain of command difficulties is the matter of GVN reaction to combat losses. A number of MAAG advisors feel that good Vietnamese commanders are hamstrung by fear of casualties. They describe these officers as personally brave, but professionally cowards. By this they mean that Diem will remove or demote any officer who suffers heavy losses, even though he is successful.

The example brought most forcefully to my attention by MAAG advisors was that of Colonel Cao, commander of the 7th division. Although recently decorated for highly successful operations against the VC, Cao was reportedly called on the carpet by Diem because 18 CG were killed in a VC ambush. The President kept him waiting without breakfast or lunch, so frightened him—he was on pins and needles hoping to make Brigadier—that he cut back heavily on his operations. (Since my return, Caoʼs promotion has been announced.)

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I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this story. As a matter of fact, Cao was carrying out a helicopter operation when I met him, and he certainly gave no indication of being frozen by fear of casualties. But I heard similar comments by advisors in other Corps areas, which leads me to think this is a real problem.

  1. Source: Department of State, Special Group Counterinsurgency Files: Lot 68 D 451, 10/30/62-12/31/62. Secret. The source text was attached to a memorandum from Cottrell to the Special Group (CI), dated December 11, which stated that it was being circulated for the information of the members. On December 18, Forrestal sent a copy of the report to President Kennedy, saying that it was one of “the more informative reports we have.” (Kennedy Library, Presidentʼs Office File, Staff Memoranda, Forrestal) On the same day Robert Johnson also sent a copy to Rostow stating that it was excellent and well worth reading. (Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 69 D 121, R. Johnson Chron, 1962) On November 13, Heavner had written to Wood giving his initial impressions on the situation in Vietnam. A copy of this 4-page letter, which dealt mainly with the strategic hamlets, is ibid., Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, 20.6 WG/VN-Meetings. Before leaving Vietnam Heavner had also prepared a 16-page memorandum for Nolting on his visit. Dated December 4 and comprising the following sections: General; Strategic Hamlets; SDC, Force Populaire, Village Defenders; and Random Observations on the Military Effort, this document is the same in substance as the report dated December 11. (Ibid., 1.A-2, Briefing Papers, GVN 1962)
  2. In a memorandum dated December 17, Heavner added a paragraph “J” to the list of recommendations. It reads: “J. Develop urgently a large-scale program for greatly increasing rice production and rice exports in order to increase farmer income and provide the necessary agricultural base for further economic development.” (Ibid., Special Group Counterinsurgency Files: Lot 68 D 451, 10/30/62-12/31/62)