223. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)1


  • Herbicide Operations in Viet-Nam

The attached telegram (Tab A)2 provides a condensation of TF/Saigon’s evaluation of defoliation and crop destruction operations in Viet-Nam. The full report is being pouched.3 The telegram concludes:

Chemical defoliation and crop destruction operations are effective weapons against the VC;
Present approval procedures are too cumbersome;
The psychological and civic action aspects of the operation are not particularly good. No one, for instance, has been reimbursed for accidental damage.

TF/Saigon asks for a basic Washington decision on whether or not herbicides are an effective tactical weapon against the VC. If the decision is in the affirmative TF/Saigon recommends that:

Authority to approve chemical crop destruction be delegated to Ambassador and COMUSMACV per guidelines in Deptel 1055 (Tab B)4 and

Deptel 1055 be amended to allow wider use of herbicides;

TF/Saigon says it will seek to streamline request procedures and seek maximum US advisory assistance, particularly on the local level.

Authority for hand spray defoliation and crop destruction operations be decentralized to RVNAF advisors. Aerial spray will still be under control of the Ambassador and COMUSMACV.

I believe that we have sufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of herbicide operations. It has been demonstrated that the cost in adverse propaganda is relatively low. I agree that present [Page 449] approval procedures are too slow. I believe more effort should be made to improve the civic action aspects of this operation and that reimbursements for accidental damage should be paid promptly. More emphasis should be put on non-chemical defoliation.

I recommend that you sign the attached telegram.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Pol 27-10 Rpts, 1963. Secret. Drafted by Montgomery and initialed by Kattenburg and Hilsman.
  2. Not attached; reference is to telegram 668 from Saigon, October 9. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 27-10 S VIET)
  3. The full report, “Evaluation of Herbicide Operations in the Republic of Vietnam (September 1962-September 1963),” was submitted on October 10 and approved by Harkins and Lodge. This 56-page report is in Washington National Records Center, RG 334, MACV Files: FRC 69 A 702, 204-58 Organization and Planning Files (1963).
  4. vol. III, p. 274.
  5. A handwritten note on the source text reads: “done by R[oger] H[ilsman], 11:30 a.m. on 10/31. Tel sent to S/S 10/31.” The telegram has not been found.