120. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President 1

SOUTH VIETNAM

Roger Hilsman asked me to show you the attached memorandum2 from him to me. I also attach an airgram3 from Fritz Nolting also on the subject of interdiction of air strikes against the Viet Cong. The issue resolves to whether or not the United States and Vietnamese military are effectively carrying out our policy of treating the war in South Vietnam as essentially a political battle.

Hilsman also asked about the effect of the bombing campaign on the loyalty of the people of South Vietnam. The major expressed “considerable skepticism” about the findings of a recent study which indicated that the use of air power in Vietnam was under tight control.

I don’t think that the problem raised by Roger’s memorandum can be effectively handled from Washington. What we need is fresh leadership in the field. In this connection, State has still not come up with a replacement for Fritz Nolting who is returning on home leave late this month, although several candidates have been suggested.

Mike
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 4/63-5/63. Secret.
  2. In the attached May 4 memorandum, Hilsman indicated that the officer whom Forrestal had sent to see him, who is identified as a major recently returned from 10 months service in Vietnam, had made a number of points which Hilsman felt merited consideration:

    “1. That simply killing Viet Cong was not the way to win in South Viet-Nam,

    “2. That the only way to win was by getting the support of the people, and

    “3. That the strategic hamlet program was the means to accomplish this.

    “He said that not all the Vietnamese—Americans—understood this, but that more and more were coming to.”

  3. Document 100.