371. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Secretary of State1
- The Situation in South Viet-Nam
The over-all situation in South Viet-Nam is a matter of serious concern. There are a number of reasons for this-in the wake of the November 1 coup there has inevitably been considerable confusion and disorganization as the new leaders have begun to shape the Government to their liking; the military situation, particularly in the delta, has deteriorated because of a high level of Viet-Cong activity against a background of Government reorganization of its own military efforts. Nevertheless, the new Government appears to recognize the problems confronting it and seems eager to seek our advice and assistance. The generals have moved, although slowly, toward bringing increased civilian influence into the Government, and they appear to recognize the vital importance of working out an effective resolution of their serious economic problems.[Page 720]
The Government announced on December 19 the appointment to a civilian Council of Sages of 60 persons, including a number of non-Communist oppositionists to the Diem Government. The terms of reference and effective powers of the Council are still unknown, but, if the new Government gives it an effective voice in the direction of national policy, it could represent a considerable step forward. Otherwise, the generals who led the coup still seem to be working together in reasonable harmony, although it cannot yet be said that they have effectively coped with the problem of reorganizing the Government in a fashion calculated to inspire increasing national support. Whether they will succeed in doing so is the central question which now confronts us in Viet-Nam.
The Viet Cong took advantage of the confusion following the November 1 coup to step up their attacks on strategic hamlets, particularly in the delta area. The number of attacks carried out by the Viet Cong has now dropped to pre-coup levels, but the capability for increased activity on their part remains unimpaired. The confusion attending the Government's reassignment and replacement of virtually all province chiefs and many district chiefs clearly affected its ability to respond effectively to the increased Viet Cong activity. However, the level of Government military action against the Viet Cong has increased to some extent and is reflected in an improved ratio of Viet Cong killed in action as opposed to Government killed in action (from 2-1 to 4-1).
The important military question now confronting us is whether the Government, with our assistance, can effectively concentrate its effort in the delta area in a manner capable of overcoming the Viet Cong threat.
We have embarked upon extensive joint talks with the Vietnamese Government, centering mainly on the aid program, but covering a wide range of economic problems. Carl Kaysen is now in Viet-Nam to guide these discussions. The question which confronts us here is whether the Government can attack its major economic problems in a constructive way thus improving mobilization of its economic resources in support of the war effort and the peace to follow.
- Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 1 General Political. Secret. Drafted by Joseph W. Neubert, Koren, Conlon, and Montgomery and signed by Hilsman. A note on the source text indicates that Rusk saw this memorandum.↩