73. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State1


  • Situation in Viet-Nam


  • Governor W. Averell Harriman
  • Mr. R.G K Thompson, Head, British Advisory Mission to Viet-Nam
  • Mr. Michael V. Forrestal,NSC Member
  • Mr. William H. Sullivan, Asst. to Undersecretary for Political Affairs
  • Mr. Chalmers B. Wood, Director, Working Group/Viet-Nam

There follow the chief topics in the conversation between Governor Harriman and Mr. Thompson:

Confidence. Thompson emphasized the necessity of building confidence on the part of the GVN and in Washington. This was a matter of making it clear that we were determined to see this through. The Governor asked whether it was possible to build Vietnamese confidence in Diem. Thompson replied that where you needed confidence most was in the villages and that it was increasing there. An index of this confidence was the fact that so much rice was getting through from the villages to Saigon. The GVN might be able to export 300,000 tons during 1963. The Mansfield Report had a depressing effect, particularly because it complimented Sihanouk. The Governor wondered whether Senator Mansfield knew this.
Press Relations. The Governor felt that the chief responsibility for improving press relations rests with the GVN President Diem and that everything possible had been done in Washington. Thompson said that he had strongly emphasized the importance of this matter to President Diem and to Thuan.
U.S. Forces Level. Thompson said that Secretary McNamara has asked him about the advisability of reducing U.S. forces. He had replied that if progress during 1963 continued good, and if it were possible to have a white area during the summer, it might be wise to reduce U.S. strength by a significant amount, say 1,000 men. This would take the steam out of Viet Cong propaganda and it would reaffirm the honesty of American intentions.
Population Control. Thompson believed this program should have priority in order to regain control of the hamlets. Many villagers were pleased that the Government cared enough to give them I.D. cards. The program so far has been a thorough and useful census. The Governor felt that the name was unfortunate and should be changed.
Surrender Program. Thompson emphasized that the top level of the GVN now understood that persons who surrender must be well treated. Nhu attached great importance to this.
Strategic Hamlets. In general it is no longer possible for the Viet Cong to run in and out of these hamlets at will. Before the U.S. took a decisive hand the hamlet program had been shallow and inadequate. Since September, 1962, it has been much better.
Size of Viet Cong Forces. The Governor noted that the number of Viet Cong continued to increase. Thompson said that this was done mainly by recruitment, pointing out that the Viet Cong control large enough areas to recruit the numbers they need.
Montagnards. Thompson was pleased with the Montagnards but cautioned that they were less dependable than the Vietnamese villagers, more easily influenced by unfounded rumors, and therefore prone to switching sides.
Republican Youth Movement and Women’s Solidarity Movement. Thompson said he was chary of these organizations. He did not know much about the Women’s Solidarity Movement. These organizations were very much Vietnamese affairs. However, if it was necessary to give training to people who were already Republican Youth in order to improve hamlet defense, we should not hesitate to do so.
GVN Foreign Relations. The Governor felt that Diem could obtain better control of his frontiers by changing his attitude toward Sihanouk. Thompson was dubious.
Authority of Local Officials. The Governor felt that the GVN should give more authority to its local officials and pick better people for these jobs. Thompson emphasized the greatly improved caliber of the province chiefs.
Corps Headquarters. Thompson felt that the creation of headquarters for the four Corps in Viet-Nam added one more layer to the chain-of-command, that they were obstructive, and used up too many officers.
Recruiting for Civilian Jobs. This was difficult as the Army has had the cream for eight years. The middle ranks of the Civil Service must, in the future, come from the Army. Parenthetically, there is no longer any difficulty in recruiting for the Civil Guard. This is an important indication, said Thompson, of improved rural morale.
Diem and the Chain-of-Command. Thompson felt that President Diem should delegate more authority.
Tactical Air. Thompson was strongly opposed to bombing populated areas which were not under Viet Cong attack.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET Secret. Drafted by Wood on April 5 and approved in M on April 15. Thompson spent 2 weeks in Washington at the end of March and the first week in April. During the period April 1-4, Thompson met with a number of officials concerned with developments in Vietnam including Hilsman, Harriman, Rusk, Murrow, McNamara, and Kennedy. No records of Thompson’s conversations with Hilsman, Rusk, Murrow and McNamara have been found. Regarding Thompson’s conversation with President Kennedy, see Document 77.