197. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to the President 1
IMPROVEMENT OF INFORMATIONAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL PROGRAM IN SOUTH VIET-NAM
Sixteen officers representing State, Defense, CIA and USIA, all with long experience in the fields of public information and psychological warfare, met for several hours in Honolulu and discussed thoroughly problems relating to South Viet-Nam. There was a remarkable degree of unanimity with regard to the steps that ought to be taken in order to effect the following:
- Improve the morale of the people of South Viet-Nam so as to inspire them to pursue more zealously the war against the Viet Cong.
- Carry our story to the peoples of North Viet-Nam so as to warn them sufficiently of the risks imposed upon them by the Hanoi regime’s continued aggressions.
- Better inform the American people and our allies in Europe and elsewhere so as to maintain their support for necessary efforts to keep Southeast Asia from falling under Communist domination.
The Committee felt that in passing along its recommendations, I should make two points of over-riding importance.[Page 451]
- First—The situation in South Viet-Nam, as described in briefing sessions in Honolulu, is gloomy and quite unsatisfactory on many counts. American newsmen know this (indeed, they contend that they were reporting this when American officials were pretending that things were proceeding satisfactorily) and there is every reason to expect that they will continue to write it. Further, there is no conceivable information program that will make defeats look like victories, or GVN lassitude appear to be fiery enthusiasm. No single thing will do more to provide a positive information-psychological outlook than a few sparkling victories for our side.
- Second—There are ways, however, in which a more effective public affairs program can be built, even in the present situation. But it will require, from the topmost level in Washington and Saigon, to the lowest level in the villages and hamlets, a fuller appreciation of the role of propaganda than has heretofore been exhibited. It will require a fuller understanding on the part of our top policy makers that the information-psychological program is not a tangential operation, but must be a planned, built-in part of every program drawn up to meet the crisis in Southeast Asia.
The Committee felt that if the problem is approached with awareness of the two points made above, the following steps will do much to enhance the free world position in Southeast Asia.
How to Improve the Situation in South Viet-Nam
Top policy makers pointed out that dynamic or “inspired” leadership has been the key to the solidarity of several Asian nations since World War II. Ambassador Lodge pointed out, however, that no such leadership seems to be available in South Viet-Nam. The Committee expressed the view, then, that nothing is more important than to exert every effort to make the present leadership appear to be inspired leadership. The group recommends that Ambassador Lodge continue to press Premier Khanh vigorously to make fire-side chats on a regular basis. The Committee visualizes the chats as being no longer than ten minutes, and as dealing with such things as the Government’s health program or other socio-economic programs designed to improve the well-being of the peoples of South Viet-Nam.
Because Premier Khanh is obviously busy, it is hoped that he would tape three or four chats at a single sitting. These would be recorded sync-sound so as to make them usable not only as radio broadcasts, but in films where the Premier could then be shown doing the commentary.
The significance of the latter point can be seen in the fact that Vietnamese audiences at USIS film showings last year totalled an estimated 28 million. As the information program is expanded in the provinces, the potential use of these filmed chats will be even greater.[Page 452]
The Committee urged that these chats emphasize what the Government is doing for the people, and not what Khanh the individual is doing. Thus, as the political situation permits, the Committee urged that other leading Vietnamese be brought into this program.
- Steps must be taken to insure that the people in villages and hamlets hear the talks referred to in Recommendation 1, and that they are reachable through other radio programs. Thus the Committee urged that immediate steps be taken to alter a situation where the great majority of radio receivers are concentrated in Saigon. It urged that USOM move speedily to secure and distribute the 100,000 transistors already allocated to South Viet-Nam and that the State Department request that the Japanese Government contribute another 100,000 transistor radios.
In order to facilitate meaningful programming both for radio and the press, every military unit in the field where there is a substantial number of American advisors should have one American whose sole concern is information and propaganda. There are two vitally important functions that this individual would pursue:
- Watch alertly for Viet Cong atrocities and mistakes, the public exploitation of which would win support for the GVN-US effort both in Viet-Nam and in the rest of the free world. For example, if the Viet Cong murdered a Vietnamese who was teaching school or helping people to grow more food, this American would, with the assistance of a GVN counterpart, tape-record the widow’s story of the atrocity with the idea of using it on press and radio so as to arouse contempt for the Viet Cong.
- Watch for acts of heroism on the part of the GVN soldiers and report it immediately for possible usage in the program referred to in Recommendation 4.
(There are now 42 military men in training for this kind of role in the provinces of South Viet-Nam. It is estimated that their training program will end in November. The Committee urged that steps be taken to condense their training and get them into the field much sooner. It was agreed that USIA would add 7 individuals to its South Viet-Nam staff for service as advisors in the field.)
The Committee believes that courage is contagious, and that there would be a double benefit if the American military command would order the continuous collection of stories of heroism by GVN soldiers or units, and insure that these stories are immediately exploited by the newspapers and radio stations of South Viet-Nam. The Committee urged, also, that the American Mission explore with the GVN the possibility of an award of cash or, even better, a plot of land, to GVN soldiers showing extraordinary courage in battle.[Page 453]
This kind of program will, first of all, inspire courage on the part of other GVN soldiers and will refute in the most effective way reports now emanating from Viet-Nam that people of that country are unwilling to fight their own battle.
- The U.S. Mission should press for a start to the long-promised land reform program in the Delta area.
- The Committee hailed the CIA program under which more than 200 small propaganda (agitprop) teams have been formed in the villages, largely to spread by word of mouth the GVN story. The Committee urged full support for additional teams, many of which are being formed voluntarily, or at the urging of village chiefs.
- It was recommended that USIA and the State Department explore the role that U.S. youth might play in firing up South Vietnamese youth to greater activity on behalf of their Government. It was recommended also that a more vigorous effort be made in the United States to recruit American (and possibly Canadian and other third nation) professors for Vietnamese institutions.
- The Committee felt other more “sophisticated” propaganda steps can be taken in the near future. For example, it was noted that in every war, the American sense of unity has been enhanced by such popular songs as “Remember the Alamo,” “Remember Pearl Harbor,” etc. It was recommended that an effort be made to find a Vietnamese who can write a GVN version of “God Bless America.”
Propaganda Directed to the North
It was the Committee’s belief that many of the efforts listed above would be meaningful assets in the propaganda program directed at North Viet-Nam. For example, the Committee expressed the belief that radio programs and other efforts showing Khanh as a popular, inspired leader, or detailing the success of a socio-economic program in the South, would also be good for the Northern audience. The Committee recommended also that steps be taken to provide more Vietnamese radio talent. It was noted that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the U.S. needs to launch a much larger in-service training program. USIA pledged the use of VOA facilities and/or personnel in such a program.
It was recommended that USIA provide personnel to advise and guide a portion of the radio programming on Radio Hue, also known as “The Voice of Freedom.” USIA agreed to assign such personnel when needed.[Page 454]
Information to the United States and the Rest of the World
The Committee felt that this category was of vital importance and offered more difficulties and perhaps less opportunity for governmental influence than the two areas listed above. The Committee made several recommendations, however, based on an utterly frank appraisal of the present situation.
The U.S. Government must take steps to restore some measure of credibility with American correspondents covering the war in Viet-Nam. Information specialists on the scene reported that, to a man, American newsmen feel that the U.S. Government, particularly the military people, have lied to them on several occasions. Belief was expressed that much of the reporting coming out of Viet-Nam is tinged with hostility born of this belief.
The Committee recommends, therefore, that the Government issue a new information directive that would wipe out the several directives now on the books which some military information people interpret as requiring them to lie under certain circumstances. The Committee expressed the belief that Lt. Col. Baker, present head of the Military Information Unit, has been so discredited because of previous requirements to lie, that he no longer is useful in his present position.
The Committee felt that to solve the aforementioned problem and to meet the equally great need to provide cohesion to our press program in Viet-Nam, a single individual ought to be given across-the-board authority-under the direction of the Ambassador. The Committee recommended that this individual be one with the confidence of Lt. General Westmoreland and Ambassador Lodge, and that he be included in all meetings and briefings so as to be fully informed of what is taking place on both the military and civilian side.
This individual’s role would be to advise the Ambassador and the MACV Commander as to which newsmen to see and as to the points they ought to make; he would direct efforts to refute immediately misinformation in press reports from Viet-Nam; he would direct the development of a program designed to get the positive side of the story to Americans and other newsmen. In doing so, he would have the authority to call upon all the resources of the Embassy, the Military, USOM and USIA. It was anticipated that this overall press advisor would be given personnel from all the agencies involved to the extent necessary to do the job effectively. (The principals in Honolulu agreed that Barry Zorthian, the chief Public Affairs Officer, should have this responsibility and a telegram to the field spelling out his new responsibilities is being prepared.2
- It was recommended that steps be taken to assure the immediate availability of transportation for newsmen. Military members of the Committee pointed out that Col. Baker “is bumming rides every day,” and never can be sure of his ability to get newsmen to a development where reporting is in the national interest. The Committee recommended that aircraft be specifically and permanently set aside for use by the press whenever decided by the overall Press Counselor.
- The Committee, and most vocally the Military members, felt that high priority should be given to the improvement of the quality of Military public information officers. It was asserted that most of those sent to Viet-Nam lack experience or the general ability to do the kind of job required under the present circumstances. It was pointed out that several qualified information officers have resigned rather than go to Viet-Nam, but the view was expressed that there are adequate information people of the highest competence in the Military, and that all that is required is a vigorous effort to get them into this area where they are almost desperately needed.
- It was recommended that the Military launch a more vigorous internal education program. It was pointed out that virtually all of the damaging articles written by correspondents like Jim Lucas were really almost direct quotes from gripe sessions by Military men which are overheard by correspondents. It is the Committee’s belief that even a modest educational campaign will reduce the incidents where soldiers “sound off” to the press in such a way that the press reports themselves make the soldiers’ task more difficult.
The Committee made the overall observation that every effort must be made to push the Viet-Nam Government to move from general agreement on an informational-psychological program to putting it into effect. It was recommended that the Director of USIA develop further a helpful relationship with the Minister of Information and that Ambassador Lodge continue to press the GVN, in general, as to the importance of the information-psychological program in the execution of the war.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Southeast Asia, Vol. 11, Memos (A). Secret. Rowan sent this memorandum to the President with a covering memorandum explaining the issue was discussed at Honolulu. Rowan believed the steps proposed were “of great importance” and hoped that the President would find time to read the report. It is uncertain whether the President did so. McGeorge Bundy received the original and Forrestal got a copy.↩
- Document 203.↩