43. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts1

CAP 63475. There follows a draft statement on South Vietnam for use in Cronkite interview.2 This draft has been discussed with Hilsman and Forrestal who concur in general. It is being circulated to Rusk, McNamara and Lodge, and we will know their views early Monday morning.3

Second following document is a set of possible comments on the French statement.4 It has been a pleasure to draft them, but I continue to think they should not be used. In particular, the possibility of a reference to French position in Laos has been discussed with Harriman who strongly advises against it. Argument is that we really do not want larger French presence in Laos, where French military missions have been most unhelpful, and that any linkage of Laos with South Vietnam raises specter of neutralist solution. More generally, we find only our own personal irritation as an argument against well-established conclusion that we do best when we ignore Nosey Charlie.

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A. Draft comment on South Vietnam for Cronkite interview

The difficulties in South Vietnam are serious, but it is important to keep the issues clear.

We agree with the Government of South Vietnam on many central issues. We both want to see South Vietnam strong and free. We both want to defeat the brutal and aggressive effort of the Communists to take the country over by force. So we both support the campaign against the Communists. We both support the Strategic Hamlet Program, which has the double purpose of assisting self-defense in the villages and promoting strong programs of economic and social development. It is important not to forget that President Diem has in the past given outstanding leadership to his people at a time when many of those in the West who had most experience in the country thought that everything was lost.
Yet now there are serious differences with the Government of South Vietnam over certain acts of arbitrary power, some of them strongly repressive, which that government has allowed. Our difficulty over such acts is double: First, as a democratic people, we cannot approve of this kind of repression in a situation in which we are closely engaged and where our resources provide much of the government’s strength. Second, we believe that such acts undermine the unity of the people of the country, weaken confidence in the government, and so play into the hands of the Communists.
We have an obligation to make our position clear on this matter, and we certainly cannot approve such acts of repression. Our concern and our sense of the urgent need for improvement are being continuously communicated to the Vietnamese Government.
The larger question of the shape and structure of the Vietnamese Government is one for the Vietnamese people themselves. The interest of the United States here is that the Government of South Vietnam be able to secure the effective support of its people in defending the freedom of the country. We are making a large effort in South Vietnam, where approximately 35 thousand American troops have served since General Taylor’s mission in 1961,5 and where 46 American lives have been lost by hostile action. It is hard to see how we could continue this effort if the essential conditions for success were no longer present.
But it is too soon to conclude that we cannot find a good way out of the present difficulties. Our support for the people of South Vietnam against the Communist aggressors will continue as long as it is wanted and can be effective.
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B. Alternative comments on General De Gaulle’s statement, for possible use on Monday TV interview

We have noted the French statement. General De Gaulle expressed similar views to the President in 1961 in Paris,6 but at that time it was his conviction that the West should give no military help to South Vietnam against the Communists. If that is still his view, it is hard to see how his expression of sympathy for the Vietnamese can much affect the present situation. The U.S. will always welcome additional French support for the independent non-Communist forces of Southeast Asia, and we have been hoping for stronger French participation in the support of the Government of Laos, where the current policy of our two countries is in agreement.

We have noted the French statement. As we understand the matter from Ambassador Alphand, this is merely a restatement of a view General De Gaulle has held for a long time. He apparently believes in neutralizing Vietnam, and not in giving help at present to those who would resist Communism there. We of course have a different view; we do not see how there can be independence and freedom for any part of Vietnam if those who are ready to resist the Communists are not supported.

So we have disagreed with the French over Vietnam. Fortunately in Laos we have an agreed policy; there is much room there for increased French activities and for increased French support of that hard-pressed government.

We have noted the French statement, but we do not know just what it means. If it means that France is now ready to share in the work of resisting Communist aggression in Vietnam, we can only applaud this change in French policy. Certainly, if the people of South Vietnam want such French help, it will be welcome to us too. But if the statement means that France does not believe in helping those who resist Communism, we can only say that we continue to disagree. And if the statement means that the Communist character of the regime in Hanoi and its aggressive support of subversion in South Vietnam are not matters of central importance, we simply do not understand it.
As we understand this statement, it is simply a general expression of good will from a country which has no present responsibility in the area and no intention of making any commitment of military or economic resources to the defense of South Vietnam against Communist subversion supported from the North. Expressions of good will are always welcome.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent to Clifton and Salinger for the President. A note on the source text indicates that Salinger delivered it to the President.
  2. The President was scheduled to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite of CBS News on September 2; see Document 50.
  3. September 2.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 26.
  5. For documentation on the Taylor Mission to Vietnam, October 15-November 3, 1961, see vol. I, pp. 380 ff.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 29.