197. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

712. Eyes only for the President, pass White House directly. Herewith my best answers to your questions in Deptel 576.2 In response to your request will report again in a week. If you prefer a different length or format, please advise.

[Page 402]

“Are we gaining or losing on balance and day by day in the contest with the Viet Cong?”

[Page 403]

Answer: We appear to me to be doing little more than holding our own. This looks like a long, smoldering struggle, with political and military aspects intertwined, each of which is stubborn in its own way.

Our presence here is a stabilizing influence in Viet-Nam and in Southeast Asia; it also keeps the GVN from being overthrown, which would undoubtedly happen if we were not here. But the U.S. cannot make the people like the Government of Viet-Nam-and hatred of the government could ultimately be deadly serious as regards Army personnel, Army performance, and holding the gains which the Army makes by putting into operation a really effective social and economic program in the strategic hamlets.


“Is the government responding at any point to our three fold need for improvement in (a) campaign against VC, (b) internal political developments and (c) actions affecting relations with American people and government?”

Answer: Under (a) General Harkins reports a shift of boundaries and reallocation of forces. As regards (b) and (c), it is perhaps too early to conclude that the government will not make some positive moves, but it is now doing the opposite of what we would like to see done.


“What does the evidence suggest on the strengthening or weakening of effectiveness of GVN in relation to its own people?”

Answer: The evidence suggests that the Government of Viet-Nam has some of the strength which the government of a police state has, as long as the police remain strong and dependable and the government continues to control the police. Clearly Viet-Nam has such a force and the GVN clearly controls it. But Viet-Nam is not a thoroughly strong police state (much as the “family” would like to make it one) because, unlike Hitler’s Germany, it is not efficient and it has in the Viet Cong a large and well-organized underground opponent strongly and ever-freshly motivated by vigorous hatred. And its numbers never diminish.

Viet-Nam has had some kind of war on its soil for more than twenty years, and the people appear to be more than ever anxious to be left alone. In the country, where 85 percent of the people live, as Graham Greene said, “They want enough rice; they don’t want to be shot at; they want one day to be much the same as another.” Vietnamese are said to be capable of great violence on occasion, but there is no sign of it at the present time.


“And more specifically, what effect are we getting from our own actions under Deptel 534 and what modifications in either direction do you think advisable?”

Answer: So far we appear to be getting virtually no effect from our actions under Deptel 534, but we would not have expected effects this early. The salient action under that program is the withholding of commercial imports. Some local businessmen are worried, but our withholding has not brought a request to me from President Diem, even though Thuan has told me that Diem is worried too. Frankly, I do not expect him to speak to me about it because of his suspicion that, if he asks me to do something for him, I would ask him what he is prepared to do for the U.S. He can, of course, dip into his foreign exchange reserves to meet the cost of the Army for a few months and, in my judgment, that is what he ought to do. If the Army does not mean that much to him, then how can he expect it to mean so much to us? But I oppose continuing to withhold commercial imports to the point where an economic crisis is produced which might bring about a popular outbreak. This could be extremely dangerous and might result in important and perhaps irreversible Communist gains.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 9:28 a.m. and passed to the White House at 10:25 a.m. and to the CIA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
  2. Document 195.