162. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

2022. For the Ambassador from the Secretary. As you and I agreed during my recent visit to Saigon, it is extremely important that the material effort we are investing in Viet Nam should have a visible impact upon the rural areas of the country where the Viet Cong terror strikes hardest. In discussions here in the United States and with our friends abroad, I am increasingly impressed with the general feeling that we have done little or nothing to improve the lot of the rural population. While I know that this feeling is inaccurate, I still wonder whether we are doing all we can, given the vast scope of our resources, to be sure that the peasant is receiving his share of the aid we are supplying or are prepared to supply.

It seems to me that some of the most useful evidences of concern for the peasant would be farm tools, seeds, pesticides, fertilizer, etc. which would ease his labor and increase his productivity and income; medical supplies and services which would meet his health needs; hamlet schools where none existed before to educate his children; and [Page 341] radio sets, which would place him in contact with Saigon and increase his appreciation of what the GVN is doing for him. All of these items are within the scope of materials being supplied by our AID Mission and I am informed that, with the exception of some lag in the arrangements with the GVN for the handling of radio sets, there are generally plentiful supplies either on hand in Viet Nam or in the pipeline.

However, the obvious bureaucratic inadequacies of the Vietnamese administrative apparatus—especially plaster releases, staffing and transportation bottlenecks—cause us to have great doubts that many of these benefits are actually reaching the hamlets and the villages.

I hope you will personally look into this matter, have your USOM team give you a full report on the status of their programs in these and related fields, and satisfy yourself that we are doing all we can to achieve the intended results. It may be that in addition to force-feeding these materials into the Vietnamese distribution channels at Saigon, we will need more Americans at the rural end of the distribution system extracting the commodities themselves and placing them in the hands of Vietnamese officials to present to the peasants as benefits from the Khanh Government.

It is reported to me that Trang Quoc Buu, the Vietnamese Labor Leader now in Washington, feels that Americans are needed in the countryside to handle this sort of problem. I know that this raises the risk of casualties, especially to civilians who are not supposedly intended to take combat risks. On the other hand I can think of no other way to be sure that what we are trying to do is actually accomplished.

I would appreciate your comments on this or any alternative proposals which will help ensure that our aid to the rural population is truly reaching its destination.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) 8 VIET S. Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Sullivan, cleared in draft by Stoneman, and initialed by Rusk.
  2. In telegram 2330 from Saigon, May 29, Lodge reported that USOM felt that its rural programs were benefiting the peasant population, but there could be improvements in the logistical system. He reminded Rusk that USOM had requested 80 additional American positions and additional third-country nationals. In its 1965 request, USOM would stress the kinds of basic farming tools, health services, local schools, and radio communication which Rusk suggested. The Mission would continue to press the South Vietnamese to improve bureaucratic procedures. Lodge then stated that too many Americans in Vietnam would diminish the Vietnamese consciousness of their responsibility for the war and the need to make their government effective, and concluded that the best thing for the Vietnamese peasant was security, followed by social justice, efficient administration, and economic vitality unencumbered by inefficient government bureaucracy. (Ibid.)