144. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)1

Dear Cabot: I am taking advantage of Mike Forrestal’s safe hands to add four rather personal points.

The first is that I have the feeling that more and more of the town is coming around to our view and that if you in Saigon and we in the Department stick to our guns the rest will also come around. As Mike will tell you, a determined group here will back you all the way.

I think you are probably right in the judgment that no pressures—even a cut-off in aid—will cause Diem and Nhu to make the changes we desire and that what we must work for is a change in government. But I also think that selective aid cuts are the first step in putting starch in the spaghetti—which is the second point I wanted to make.

The third point is the reasons behind this judgment. High-ranking generals in a country like Viet-Nam are reluctant to set loose the forces that will follow a change in government. Inevitably in such a period of flux, able colonels and majors will displace at least some of them and they know it. Thus, generals are not going to move until the forces below them—the middle-grade officers—generate enough pressure to convince the generals that they must act first. The only way to generate this broad pressure from below, it seems to me, is for the U.S. to maintain its posture of public disapproval and to make this disapproval real and credible by cuts directed at what we disapprove. (At the same time we should be preparing for a quick reorientation of the LOC’s to support the field units and programs directly, bypassing the Saigon Government entirely.)

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My fourth and final point is entirely personal-to say that you have handled an incredibly difficult task superbly. My very heartiest and most sincere congratulations.2

“But I agree with you on the United States maintaining its posture of silent disapproval. In fact I have never realized before in my life how much attention silence could attract. As you know, Madame Nhu is attacking me in her newspaper for being so silent.” (Ibid.)

Good Luck,

Roger Hilsman3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam. Top Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Hilsman.
  2. Lodge responded in a letter to Hilsman, September 26, which reads in part as follows: “We are working on selective aid cuts without too much confidence in their effectiveness.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.