143. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Meeting on McNamara/Taylor Mission to South Vietnam
  • Present at the meeting at 10:00 a.m. this date were: President, Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Acting Secretary Ball, Mr. McGeorge Bundy

The President signed the draft instructions to Secretary McNamara 2 and then supplemented those instructions by a number of comments.

He thought that it would in fact be necessary for Secretary McNamara to see President Diem twice. In these visits he should press the need for reform and change as a pragmatic necessity and not as a moral judgment. If the Secretary and General Taylor reach the conclusion from their own investigations that such change is essential for the winning of the war, they should press this conclusion strongly.
The President did not think that threats to cut off aid were likely to be effective. Since in fact only small changes were likely to be made in the immediate future, it would be better to let such adjustments speak for themselves.
The President thought that Diem would undoubtedly be aware of U.S. connections with his opposition and that Secretary McNamara and General Taylor should simply avoid such matters and concentrate upon the positive accomplishments of the last decade and upon the very high level of U.S. support and cooperation which has characterized the period as a whole. He also thought that General Taylor in particular could emphasize the affirmative decision of 1961 and the hopeful prospects as they appeared a year ago, as against the graver situation which has now developed.
The President thought it would be desirable for some member of Secretary McNamara’s party-perhaps General Taylor-to press these same points with brother Nhu separately, especially if President Diem did not include his brother in meetings with Secretary McNamara. It would be important that the setting and background of any such meeting should be such as to minimize the danger of its use by Nhu as a proof of continuing American support for him.
The President asked Secretary McNamara if the members of his expedition could be counted on for security vis-a-vis the press, and Secretary McNamara assured him that he planned to take most energetic measures to prevent leaks by members of his mission.
Mr. Ball suggested, and the President agreed, that a further effort be made to emphasize to the SVN government the folly of sending Mme. Nhu to the U.S. at this time. (In this connection the President noted that Mme. Nhu had now included “junior U.S. officers” under her fire; he remarked that as long as she had limited her criticism to the President, her opposition had not been serious but that an attack on subordinates of the Pentagon was obviously intolerable.)
The President emphasized to Secretary McNamara the importance of getting to the bottom of differences in reporting from U.S. representatives in Vietnam. Secretary McNamara agreed that this was a major element in his mission and said that his own judgment was more and more that the Ambassador and his associates were thinking in terms of the future course of the struggle in the light of the present behavior of the regime, while General Harkins and the military were reporting on the present or very recent military situation and discounting the possible impact of political events on the future course of operations. (This estimate coincided precisely with what the President himself had said some days earlier after reading Lodge’s major cable 478 from Saigon.)3
The President was sure that Diem would spend a good deal of time on his troubles with the press. He thought Secretary McNamara should agree that the press has not always been right in its accounts. (The President thought there was a great deal of truth in Joe Alsop’s column that morning4 which dealt with the zealous spirit of criticism and complaint among certain newspapermen in Saigon.) But the only way to deal with such press criticism was to get on with the job. “The way to confound the press is to win the war.”
General Taylor thought it would be useful to work out a time schedule within which we expect to get this job done and to say plainly to Diem that we were not going to be able to stay beyond such and such a time with such and such forces, and that the war must be won in this time period. The President did not say “yes” or “no” to this proposal.
It was agreed that the President would send out to Saigon a draft letter to Diem, and in signing the memorandum of instructions he said that he believed the question of delivery of the letter could be settled by the Secretary with Ambassador Lodge, without further reference to him for approval.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 OSD. Top Secret. Drafted by McGeorge Bundy who sent a copy to Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman under cover of a memorandum, September 23, which noted: “The last sentence of the first paragraph of the instructions was inserted by the President after I reported the divergent views on it to him at Bob McNamara’s request.” The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. Document 142.
  3. Document 86.
  4. Joseph Alsop’s column, “Matter of Fact,” entitled “The Crusaders,” appeared in The Washington Post, September 23.