133. Letter From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Secretary of State1

Dear Dean: The following is in furtherance of the conversation which we had in my office recently on the subject of the post of U.S. Ambassador to Viet-Nam:2

Everything that I have read, reamed and observed brings me to the conclusion that the wisest thing which has been said about VietNam was Bedell Smith’s statement in 1954 that “Any second rate general should be able to win in Indo-China if there were a proper political atmosphere”.
The creation of this atmosphere is still the essential aim and everything else that we do must contribute to it. The AID program does so through its economic and social program. MAC/V does so by helping to bring about order, so that people can sleep at night. The USIS in a very obvious and utterly essential sense contributes by helping saturate the minds of the people, giving them the idea, based on practical achievement, that it is to the government-and not the communists-that people must look to bring about the much needed social revolution. The Embassy leads and coordinates the entire effort.
We have given much more time, attention and money to the military than to the civil. Had we developed the civil side as much as we have the military, we would be well on our way to a solution, because once the people really like the government, the Viet Cong’s days are numbered, and the military job is well nigh done.
For the future, therefore, the United States must organize itself to help to create this “proper political atmosphere”. The Ambassador as the leader of the U.S. effort should, therefore, be a man to whom [Page 280] civil-political factors are very real indeed, possibly from actual experience. He should also have a well known record of achievement. It is not in the interest of the military for the Ambassador at this stage to be a military man. The military’s best interests are served by having the civil-political side energetically and expertly developed.
The Ambassador, contrary to the understanding in very high quarters, has not got authority over all military activities of the U.S. Government in Viet-Nam. Two papers govern. A.) One is the President’s letter of May 29, 1961,3 which puts the Military Assistance Advisory Group under the Ambassador, but specifically excludes “United States military forces operating in the field where such forces are under the command of the United States area military commander”. When MAAG and MAC/V were consolidated, all U.S. military ceased to be members of the country team. B.) In addition is a memorandum4 of which I do not possess the date, but which embodies the terms of reference signed by the President and agreed to by Secretary McNamara and Secretary Rusk, and given to General Harkins personally, paragraph 2 of which says:

“Commander, United States Military Assistance Command will:”

“(a) have direct responsibility for all United States military policy, operations, and assistance in that country and the authority to discuss both the United States and Vietnamese military operations directly with the President of Viet-Nam and the leaders of the Government of Viet-Nam.”

This clearly means that the military commander has direct access to the chief of state and that the Ambassador does not control all U. S. access to the chief of state and therefore has no way of assuring that all Americans speak with one voice.

Is this special status truly to the advantage of the military? Does it contribute to creating the “proper political atmosphere”?

With warm regards,

As ever yours,

Cabot L.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Rusk/Lodge/Wm Bundy Correspondence. Confidential, Nodis.
  2. No record of this conversation has been found, but see Document 116.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. I, p. 655, footnote 5.
  4. See ibid., vol. II, pp. 111–112.