67. Memorandum From President Kennedy to Secretary of Defense McNamara0

I am not satisfied that the Department of Defense, and in particular the Army, is according the necessary degree of attention and effort to the threat of Communist-directed subversive insurgency and guerrilla warfare, although it is clear that these constitute a major form of politico-military conflict for which we must carefully prepare. The effort devoted to this challenge should be comparable in importance to preparations for conventional warfare.

I would like you to assure that this new attitude is reflected in the organization, training, equipment and doctrine of the United States Armed Forces, at home and abroad. As I suggested above, at this time I do not see that this degree of effort is being made. The Army has a particularly important role to play, and I would like to find recognition of this importance in Army organization and training. As an immediate step, I should like an Army general officer serving in the immediate area of the Chief of Staff to be designated as the focal point for Army activities directed at this problem. I should like another general officer designated in the Joint Staff to perform a corresponding function there.1 I leave it to your judgment whether similar action is necessary in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

I am aware of the work being done under NSAM 562 to inventory U.S. paramilitary and counter-guerrilla assets and to determine future requirements. It is my understanding that a final report on this matter will be available about February 1st, at which time I hope to receive your specific recommendations as to how to proceed.3

Even before having the benefit of this report, I am sure that the Department of Defense and the Services should be making a thorough [Page 236] review of the training programs for officers, beginning at the Service academy level and carrying through to the National War College, to determine whether sufficient attention is being paid to instruction in subversive insurgency and related forms of indirect aggression. I have previously directed the Army to send selected officers to South Viet-Nam for short periods of orientation and training in order to expose them to the experience of actual conditions of guerrilla warfare. I would like that program expedited and appropriate officers of the other Services included.

Additionally, I have directed that the Armed Forces consider giving special training and orientation on guerrilla warfare (and the political implications thereof in countries where Communist threats are evident) for those officers being assigned to MAAG’s and as attaches to countries where Communist subversive threats are apparent. To accomplish this, it would seem that a period of training at the Army Special Warfare Center, prior to departure for their posts, would be appropriate in many cases.

As you perceive from my foregoing remarks, in preparing to meet “wars of liberation” I should like the Department of Defense to move to a new level of increased activity across the board. I expect to direct similar action in other executive departments which have a part to play in this matter.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Defense 1/62-3/62. Secret.
  2. In a January 24 memorandum to the President on counterinsurgency, McNamara stated that the Army had selected Brigadier General William B. Rosson to serve as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Special Warfare and that a temporary coordinating officer for counterinsurgency had been named to the Joint Staff pending a regular appointment. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 33.
  4. On February 10, Clifton forwarded to the President an 82-page report on “Cold War Activities of the United States Army, 1 January 1961 to 26 January 1962.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Army, Cold War Activities 2/62) In a February 12 memorandum to Colonel Hoskot, an aide to Secretary of the Army Stahr, Clifton wrote that Kennedy “read it from cover to cover, with appreciation” and raised several questions. Kennedy’s questions were answered in a memorandum from Decker to Clifton dated February 26. (All ibid.) On February 19, the Department of Defense circulated a status report on “Guerrilla Warfare and Related Matters.” (Ibid., Department of Defense, Special Warfare Volume I, 8/62-12/62)