259. Memorandum From Thomas F. Conlon of the Vietnam Working Group to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)1
- Article by David Halberstam in New York Times of August 15 Alleging Viet Cong Gains in Mekonz Delta Area2
Detailed comments have been received from Task Force Saigon and separately through military channels on the subject article. These comments are unanimous in contradicting the essential thesis developed in the article. Contrary to the assertions by Mr. Halberstam, attributed for the most part to unidentified American military sources, the conclusion of Task Force Saigon is that the overall military situation in the Mekong Delta area has improved steadily during the past year, although at a slower rate than in the High Plateau area of Central Viet-Nam, for example.
Attached as Tab A is Saigon’s 261 of August 19,3 which contains the detailed comments of Task Force Saigon on the Halberstam article and on the numerous errors and inaccuracies contained therein. Attached as Tab B is a detailed analysis of the article prepared by General Krulak’s office for the Joint Chiefs, containing the text of the Halberstam article, as well as statistical and other comments thereon.4 Tab C is a report on the same subject from the Naval Attache in Saigon.5 The study prepared for the Joint Chiefs (Tab B) is the most complete of the three attachments.[Page 590]
In view of the well-organized and systematic presentation of the attachments, there is little purpose to be served in going into the details of the rebuttals to the Halberstam article. Perhaps it will suffice for your purposes to note Task Force Saigon’s overall comment. that the IV Corps Area, which is that covered by the Halberstam article, is a well-established Viet Cong base area, long neglected by the GVN, and therefore the most difficult for the Government to operate in. As the Naval Attache notes, the National Military Campaign plan was developed on the premise that the Mekong Delta area would be the most difficult in which to defeat the VC and reestablish GVN control. Techniques which have worked well elsewhere, such as the food control program on the High Plateau, have been impossible to execute in the Mekong Delta. With its abundant supplies of food, the Mekong Delta has not been a suitable area for application of food control programs. The low-lying, swampy nature of the terrain has seriously hampered military operations. Accordingly, there has been a lag in the progress of the military and strategic hamlet programs in the Delta, as compared to other Corps areas.
However, Task Force Saigon concludes that the situation in the Delta as a whole has not only not deteriorated in the past year but that continual progress has been made in isolating the Viet Cong from the population. There is no doubt that continuing intensified effort, tailored to its special problems will be required for the Delta area in the future.
- Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Press Relations. According to a memorandum for the record, August 15, President Kennedy requested from Secretaries McNamara and Rusk information on “military operations in South Vietnam.” He did so, according to the memorandum, “after the President had read an article in today’s New York Times by David Halberstam which indicated that things are going badly in Vietnam.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)↩
- See footnote 2, Document 257.↩
- Not attached and not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-S VIET)↩
- A copy of this detailed analysis, entitled “A Critical Analysis of the Article: Vietnamese Reds Gain Key Area,” August 19, is Ibid., Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, PR-11, Press Relations. President Kennedy was given a copy of the analysis by Forrestal. Krulak gave a copy to McNamara, who read it on August 28. Krulak informed McNamara: “It was easy to discredit the article, but it has not silenced—or influenced—Halberstam.” (Undated covering memorandum from Krulak to McNamara, attached to the analysis)↩
- Message from CINCPAC to the JCS and DIA, DTG 172325Z August 1963, not printed here. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series) It is published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 267B.↩