142. Memorandum From the President to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1

It may be useful to put on paper our understanding of the purpose of your visit to South Vietnam. I am asking you to go because of my desire to have the best possible on-the-spot appraisal of the military and paramilitary effort to defeat the Viet Cong. The program developed after General Taylor's mission and carried forward under your [Page 279]close supervision has brought heartening results, at least until recently. The events in South Vietnam since May have now raised serious questions both about the present prospects for success against the Viet Cong and still more about the future effectiveness of this effort unless there can be important political improvement in the country. It is in this context that I now need your appraisal of the situation. If the prognosis in your judgment is not hopeful, I would like your views on what action must be taken by the South Vietnamese Government and what steps our Government should take to lead the Vietnamese to the action.

Ambassador Lodge has joined heartily in supporting this mission and I will rely on you both for the closest exchange of views. It is obvious that the overall political situation and the military and paramilitary effort are closely interconnected in all sorts of ways, and in executing your responsibility for appraisal of the military and paramilitary problem I expect that you will consult fully with Ambassador Lodge on related political and social questions. I will also expect you to examine with Ambassador Lodge ways and means of fashioning all forms of our assistance to South Vietnam so that it will support our foreign policy objectives more precisely.

I am providing you separately with a letter from me to President Diem2 which Ambassador Lodge and you should discuss and which the Ambassador should deliver on the occasion of a call on President Diem if after discussion and reference to me I conclude that such a letter is desirable.

In my judgment the question of the progress of the contest in South Vietnam is of the first importance and in executing this mission you should take as much time as is necessary for a thorough examination both in Saigon and in the field.

John F. Kennedy
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Report 10/2/63. Top Secret. McGeorge Bundy sent Rusk a copy of this memorandum under cover of a memorandum, September 21, which reads as follows:

    “This is the McNamara instruction as the President finally approved it today. Bob asked me to take back to him the additional sentence which you and I discussed yesterday, saying that his notes showed that the President specifically approved this addition. I did take it back to the President and he did approve it, although I presented the arguments against it as you and I have discussed them. I don't think it's a major matter.” (Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 OSD)

    There is no indication on the source text to which sentence Bundy is referring. Attached to another copy is a draft of this memorandum with revisions in Bundy's handwriting. The major revision is the insertion at the end of the first paragraph of the sentence beginning '‘If the prognosis in your judgment’2 There are two other minor revisions in Bundy's hand. The first is the insertion, in the second sentence of the second paragraph, of the phrase, ‘, consult fully with Ambassador Lodge on, and the second is the substitution in the first and only sentence of the third paragraph of a call', for your formal call.” (Kennedy Library, National security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous) This memorandum was sent to Saigon eyes only for Lodge in an unnumbered telegram, September 22. (Department of state, Central Files, POL US-MCNAMARA) Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 551-552.

  2. See Document 147.