2. Memorandum for the Record by the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman)1

At this point some thirty-six hours after having arrived in Saigon, I have the impression that things are going much much better than they were a year ago, but that they are not going nearly so well as the [Page 4]people here in Saigon both military and civilian think they are. They have a concept in the strategic hamlet program.2 They have aid and they have lots of people and this inevitably gives a sense of movement and progress. The trouble is, however, that the progress and the movement is highly uneven. One would wish that this is the fault of the Vietnamese, and it is to a considerable extent. But I am afraid that a great share of the responsibility belongs with the Americans. We have the impression that any one of these programs such as the strategic hamlet program or really any of the others requires precise and efficient coordination of the different activities of many different American agencies. And you also have the impression that this coordination is not really being accomplished. One example is the failure to provide a police program that even remotely is phased in with the provision of wire for the strategic hamlets and radios for the strategic hamlets. Thus you have strategic hamlets going up enclosing Communists inside their boundaries with no provisions for wrinkling [winkling?] out those Communists. Other things are similar. You have also the impression that the military is still too heavily oriented towards sweep-type operations. There is still the same emphasis on air power as there was before. Almost every operation so far as I can tell still begins with an air strike which inevitably kills innocent people and warns the Viet Cong that they should get moving for the troops will be coming soon. I think it justifies [signifies?] that the Americans are as much to blame for this as the Vietnamese. That MACV has requested an augmentation of the Farmgate group.3

I think Nolting and Trueheart are doing an excellent job of trying to coordinate the activities of all the U.S. agencies within the leverage that they have at their command. What I am afraid of is that it is not enough leverage. I can’t help thinking that the history of the establishment of MACV inhibits both the Ambassador and the DCM in their aggressiveness in providing leadership.

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(I stress, however, that this is a first impression very much subject to revision as we learn more about what is going on here.)

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam. Confidential. Hilsman and Forrestal visited Vietnam from December 31, 1962, to January 9, 1963, during a fact-finding trip which began on December 28 with a stop in Honolulu for consultations with Admiral Felt, and concluded with stops in Laos, Thailand, and Indonesia before returning to Washington on January 15. According to Hilsman, the trip was undertaken at President Kennedy’s request “to see if there was anything more that might be done” to improve the situation in Vietnam. (Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 453) This memorandum is excerpted in Hilsman’s memoirs.(Ibid., pp. 453-454) It is one of 17 memoranda dictated by Hilsman on tape during the trip and subsequently transcribed. A few of the memoranda are dated; some, such as the one printed here, can be dated from references in the text. All apparently were dictated during the visit to South Vietnam. Nine of the memoranda are not printed here but are in the same file in the Kennedy Library. After resuming to Washington, Hilsman and Forrestal prepared a report on South Vietnam which was submitted to President Kennedy on January 25; see Document 19.
  2. The Strategic Hamlet Program was established by President Diem on a nationwide basis on February 3, 1962, with the creation of an Interministerial Committee for Strategic Hamlets, headed by Ngo Dinh Nhu; see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Document 46.
  3. “Farmgate” was the code name of the U.S. Air Force Squadron introduced into South Vietnam in 1961 to train South Vietnamese pilots and to fly coordinated missions with Vietnamese personnel in support of Vietnamese ground forces. President Kennedy authorized the dispatch of the Farmgate squadron on October 11, 1961. Regarding this decision, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 156.) On December 21, 1962, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric proposed an augmentation of the Farmgate program, which was approved by President Kennedy; see ibid., vol. II, Document 333.