332. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)1



  • Capsule Assessment of the Effort in South Vietnam

The strategic concept for South Vietnam calls for military, political, economic, and social actions on such a scale and so coordinated as to constitute a national response to the Viet Cong challenge. Broadly, the concept calls for: [Page 790]

developing military and para-military counterguerrilla capabilities;
separating and protecting the population from the Viet Cong, and
applying the political, economic, and social measures necessary to convert military successes into political gains.

There appears to be no reason as yet to question the soundness of the concept. But there is a very real question as to how well and wholeheartedly it is being put into effect. The purpose of this paper is to assess the implementation of the concept during 1962.

Counterguerrilla Capabilities

This phase of the concept is relatively separable and non-political and the one in which direct US aid and advice play the largest role.



There has been notable progress in improving counterguerrilla capabilities, largely as a direct result of US military aid and advice.

  • —Vietnamʼs forces are now supplied with the weapons and instructed in the tactics suitable for counterguerrilla warfare.
  • —US helicopters and radios have vastly improved Vietnamese tachca1 mobility.
  • —Vietnamese forces are beginning to engage the Viet Cong in small-unit achons. Night operations, though skill limited, are increasing.
  • —Nearly 2,000 US-trained Montagnards are now conducting armed patrols designed to provide intelligence and, to some extent, to interdict Viet Cong access routes through Laos.
  • —Self Defense Corps and Civil Guard units have been roughly doubled in the past year and are being further expanded in order to provide local defense to the strategic hamlets.
  • —During September and October, the GVN forces were able for the first time to capture more weapons from the Viet Cong than they lost



These increased capabilities, however, have not yet been exploited as effectively as they might be.

  • GVN military forces continue to rely heavily on large-scale operations and conventional tactics.
  • —Excessive use of air strikes in the absence of ground contact with the enemy continues to kill a lot of innocent peasants.
  • —Inadequate delegation of authority and political interference by the Vietnamese leadership has restricted initiative in the field.
  • —Independent and offensive deployment of Civil Guard and SDC units has weakened strategic hamlet defense and produced heavy casualties.

[Page 791]

Isolating the Viet Cong and Winning the Peasants

Establishment of strategic hamlets and systematic military-political pacification are distinct but necessarily integrated phases of the strategic concept. The purpose of these measures is to isolate and protect the peasants from the Communists, to gain their support in the counterguerrilla effort, and, ultimately, to produce lasting political and socio-economic gains at the local level.



The government has given high priority to the strategic hamlet program which since March has been progressively infused with a systematic military-political pacification effort.

  • —According to the GVN, more than 3,500 strategic hamlets have been completed, more than 2,000 are under construction. The current rate of construction is 300-400 a month. It is not certain, however, how much of the strategic hamlet program has been carried out. In many, nothing seems to have been done but to construct a barbed wire or bamboo fence.
  • —The hamlets have become a major Viet Cong target, suggesting that Viet Cong feel that their access to the people is being threatened. However, we cannot generalize about the success with which hamlets have withstood Viet Cong attacks.
  • —In March 1962 President Diem approved the “Delta Pacification Plan”2 which provides for a systematic military-political pacification of eleven provinces integrated with the strategic hamlet program. Similar plans have since been drawn up for individual provinces elsewhere. Pacification operations are actually in progress in six provinces—Binh Duong (Operation Sunrise, later expanded to parts of Tay Ninh and Phuoc Tuy), Phu Yen (Operation Sea Swallow), Binh Dinh (Operation Letʼs Go), and Quang Ngai (Operation Royal Phoenix). Plans for four more provinces (Vinh Long, Dinh Tuong, Vinh Binh, and Long An) have recently been approved.
  • —Preliminary results of the integrated pacification programs are encouraging. The strategic hamlets in these areas are generally well organized and defended. Considerable effort is being devoted to follow-up social and political measures aimed at improving the lot of the peasants and developing their identification with the governmentʼs counterinsurgency effort. Peasant discontent over mistreatment, forced labor, and probably inadequate compensation has been reduced perceptibly in recent operations.



However, the hamlet program on the whole has been precipitous and uncoordinated and the pacification plans slow to be implemented. [Page 792]

  • —Vietnamese leadership looks upon the strategic hamlet program as a panacea, and there is skill considerable confusion among local officials as to the objectives of the program and procedures for implementing it.
  • —Strategic hamlets have been and are still being thrown together in the absence of a coordinated pacification effort, such as conceived in the Delta Plan, and with only perfunctory attention to defense, social, economic, and administrative improvements. In spite of government efforts to maintain standards and to provide personnel to administer such hamlets effectively, many are inadequately defended and few are providing benefits to the peasants.
  • —Pacification operations have been applied to only six of the South Vietnamʼs 41 provinces and have been completed in none. Although Diem formally assigned top priority to the Delta Plan provinces in August, he has failed-probably for political reasons-to subordinate the strategic hamlet program to the Delta Plan and, indeed, to the general pacification effort itself.


The GVN has developed an effective strategic concept for counterinsurgency and has in fact mounted a nabona1 effort to implement it. The principal defects appear to arise mainly from improper emphasis applied to various aspects of the concept.

  • —The Army has overemphasized large-scale actions and the use of artillery and airpower, as compared with small-unit actions and intelligence collections. Although emphasis on patrols and ambushes appears to be increasing, continued and excessive use of air power and crop destruction-however well controlled-may well develop a militant opposition from the peasants and their positive identification with the Viet Cong.
  • —The GVN has overemphasized the establishment of strategic hamlets per se and has only begun to fit them into integrated military-political pacification efforts.
  • GVN failure to emphasize political, social, and economic reform at the outset may deprive the entire effort of much of its impact. Much depends on the ability of the government to show convincing evidence of its intent to improve the lot of the peasants. Instead, government efforts appear to be aimed largely at increasing government control over the peasants.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. Secret; Noforn. Signed by Hilsman. A stamp on the source text shows that it was received by the NSC on December 26. Copies were also circulated to the Special Group (CI) on December 31. Also printed in part in Hilsman, To Move a Nation, pp. 451-453.
  2. See Document 51.