208. Memorandum From Senator Hubert H. Humphrey to the President1
- Southeast Asia
At your request I have attempted in this memorandum to give you my personal view as to the course we should follow in Southeast Asia. As a result of confidential discussions with Vietnamese officials and with Americans who have served recently in Vietnam and who know the military and political situation in Vietnam intimately, I feel that there is a clear and positive alternative to either pulling out of Southeast Asia, or of launching what is essentially a Korea-type conventional war in the area.
Attached to this memorandum is a detailed proposal “Concept for Victory in Vietnam”,2 which I strongly urge that you personally read. It was prepared by a small group of men3 who have impressed me with their brilliance, their patriotism, and their tough and sophisticated approach to the task of winning a U.S. victory in Vietnam. They are all veterans of campaigns where we gave the Communists memorable lickings. They have written about what they themselves would be prepared to go out and do.[Page 478]
I shall also hope to have attached by the time this memorandum is delivered a third memorandum, prepared at my request by a high Vietnamese official, covering the subject of his conversation with me last week.4
- General Situation
- The military/political situation is no more hopeless than it was in 1954, but it is extremely critical.
- The restoration of security in South Vietnam and the neighboring states is not something that can wholly be accomplished in a short period (probably requiring a commitment of 8 to 10 years before the total job is finally done). Hearteningly, however, marked progress can be shown in a year.
- Neither the Vietnamese, the Viet-Cong, the Chinese Communists, nor people of Southeast Asia are now convinced that we are there to stay until there is a free and independent Southeast Asia.
- The area must be considered integrally, for what happens in South Vietnam will inevitably affect Cambodia, Thailand, and further east. If South Vietnam is lost, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma will follow.
- Military Situation
- The Viet-Cong are allowed virtual control of most of South Vietnam at night. Vietnamese forces and U.S. forces generally hole-up at night behind barbed wire and concrete and the countryside is, in effect, controlled by the V.C. There is little effective counter-action by Vietnamese armed forces. The security situation is extremely bad. The Mekong Delta is mostly under control of a Viet-Cong Government with taxation powers, virtually independent logistically, although support also comes in by ship to Cambodia and then down the canals. Experienced observers believe that cutting off all outside support to the Viet-Cong would not materially affect the outcome of the war. (See the accompanying report on pacification in Long An Province for details of Vietnamese and U.S. ineffectiveness.)5
- The strategic hamlet program has essentially failed to provide security for the peasants, partly because of the lack of back-up security. At first 18 or 20 armed villagers could either kill or repel the two or three Viet-Cong intruders at night. Then when the Viet-Cong organized their larger-scaled 40-or-50-men attacks with automatic weapons (followed by ambushes of relief columns from the larger military centers) the effect was to lose the confidence of the villagers in the hamlets that they could be backed up and secured. Now one current practice apparently is to fire off artillery in the direction of a hamlet being attacked, which often indiscriminately kills friendly villagers. The use of aircraft and artillery has too often been a “substitute” for effective night and day ground action.
- Relatively little intelligence about the whereabouts of Viet-Cong guerrillas can be obtained from a population which is both intimidated by the Viet-Cong and which has nothing but dislike or even hatred for the Vietnamese regular forces. It appears within the capability of the Viet-Cong to mount two or three dramatic strokes for psychological effect within the next weeks or months—such as the occupation for 24 hours of a provincial capital.
- The Vietnamese Army suffers from having a large number of its people who have been in combat too long and are playing it safe; their principal mission is to stay alive. There has been an extraordinarily low proportion of Vietnamese officer casualties compared to enlisted casualties. The attitude of officers toward men is too often a master-servant relationship, and there seems to be a lack of trust between officers and men. Officers are unwilling, and not encouraged, to assume responsibility. The attitude of both officers and men toward the civilian population is bad, on the whole. There is real estrangement [Page 480] between the people and the Army. Such incidents as Vietnamese soldiers driving U.S. furnished trucks down through the streets of villages and killing children and livestock, without stopping, plus the relatively indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and napalm are not calculated to win the support of the people.
- While there is an overwhelming number of U.S. personnel in Vietnam, too many are in Saigon. The prevailing attitude of the U.S. commanders has been to press the war against the Viet-Cong and if anyone gets in the way that is too bad-“war is hell”, etc. The result has been a concentration on heavier weapons, with nearly zero attention to civic action, nearly zero attention to winning the people of Vietnam to the side of the Vietnamese Government and the Vietnamese Army. Air Force flyers, for example, have too often followed a policy of shooting anything that moves-on the theory that only the Viet-Cong will be running away from a strafing airplane.
- Political/Psychological Situation
- In general the Vietnamese people are not so much anti-government as indifferent to the Government, and the general attitude is “a plague on both houses.” They are weary of twenty or more years of war. Clearly there is little commitment and motivation, nor belief in a government program for the people, although there is a considerable reservoir of idealistic young people who could be organized into a national movement.
- The Vietnamese Government appears uncertain as to how to proceed, with the U.S. advisers overconscious of the national sovereignty of the Vietnamese, with relatively little rapport with the Vietnamese leaders, and neither the understanding nor ability to insist upon political/psychological emphasis in the war. The Vietnamese leadership is divided and mistrustful of each other.
- The Vietnamese Government has promulgated no goals for the people that are believed, and has begun no action programs that would give the people something to be for. Although there is a fair-sized budget for “civic action” by the Vietnamese Army, it has not been spent with any effective results in the countryside.
- There is no consistent or effective program of troop indoctrination-in sharp contrast to the very heavy and steady indoctrination employed by the Viet-Cong forces.
- American AID personnel, particularly those in rural development work of increasing agricultural production and food distribution, are working with a small team of 40 some people in the rural areas, and are not hindered by the Viet-Cong. The people have confidence in these men, who are by and large young and idealistic and are recognized as such by the Vietnamese people. They have been making rather dramatic advances in agricultural production and other improvements wherever they are working. However, the Vietnamese [Page 481] Army and Government, who should get the credit, obtain little benefit from the work of these Americans. Too often such Vietnamese do not participate in meaningful ways in the activities of the rural development people.
II. What Should Be Done
- There should be a U.S. decision to stay, stabilize, and help the Vietnamese build. To pull out now or to permit a “neutralist” solution at this time when the security situation is so difficult will be to signal to the people of Southeast Asia that we have lost confidence in them and that the game is lost.
- There should be a U.S. determination and an announcement of our primary goal-not of creating an anti-Communist bastion in Southeast Asia, but the creation of an independent and free Southeast Asia.
- The Vietnamese must be skillfully and firmly guided, but it is they (not us) who must win their war.
- The two most urgent fundamental needs in Vietnam are: stabilizing the Vietnamese leadership and giving some hope to which the Vietnamese people can rally. Vietnamese civilian leaders appear to have an effective plan for stabilizing leadership which should be supported. A political base is needed to support all other actions toward gaining victory. The winning of the people’s minds and hearts is imperative. No amount of additional military involvement can be successful without accomplishing this task.
- Political Goals
- The Government of Vietnam should announce a sweeping program of economic and social reform and progress, and the identification of its own role as a caretaker. Looking toward more self-government and democratic rule, a practical program for establishing a new Constitution, for eventual national elections, and a return to civilian government must be set forth.
- There should be widespread propaganda and information disseminated about specific political and economic goals-such as land reform, increasing agricultural production by x percentage in one or two years, the construction of new schools in every hamlet, etc.
- The VN Army must undergo a thorough and detailed indoctrination to change its attitude and practices toward the civilian population, to ensure that their primary mission is understood to be to protect the people of South Vietnam and their secondary mission to help them.
- Vietnamese civilian administrators and village teams must be recruited on a volunteer basis, not bureaucrats sent out unwillingly from the capital. Young people who are willing to work with the peasants in the villages and on the farms should be given encouragement and incentives to do so.
- Military Program
- Since SEATO has shown itself to be apparently an impractical instrument for defending Southeast Asia from Communist subversive insurgency, SEATO either should be changed drastically or a substitute organization created to permit some multi-lateral military action in Southeast Asia. One practical alternative would be the creation of the kind of international volunteer group which was once created in the Philippines, which would accept volunteers for service and act, nominally, perhaps, under contract with the Vietnamese Government as advisers and technicians.
- Training and combat in night fighting must be instituted and the concept of close infantry combat substituted for the present reliance upon heavy weapons, especially napalm, bombs, and heavy artillery, except under specialized circumstances. Experienced counter-guerrilla forces from other nations, especially in Southeast Asia, ought to be invited in-such as the Filipinos with Huk campaign experience.
- A possible dramatic stroke to demonstrate the U.S. intention to stay and help defend the Southeast Asian people would be a multilateral military cordon established across the area from Thailand eastward, and westward from the South Vietnamese coast immediately below the 17th parallel-joining across Laos. While this would have only a relatively small role in drying up the logistic support for the Viet-Cong guerrillas, it would have a tremendous dramatic impact throughout Southeast Asia. Perhaps SEATO could undertake this task.
- The key would appear to be not to increase the number of U.S. personnel committed in Vietnam, but to restructure the command and control organization. This could be done by sending in a seasoned team of men who have demonstrated their ability to defeat Asian insurgents who fight by Mao Tse-tung’s doctrines of guerrilla warfare. The team that went into the Philippines to help Magsaysay defeat the Huks was effectively only three men. The team that went into Vietnam in 1954 to help Diem stabilize the country was effectively only ten men. To emphasize the relative non-importance of additional numbers of people, the rural development program in South Vietnam, which is one of the great successes, is being run by only about 40 dedicated and motivated men.
- Basic changes in the U.S. advisory effort in Vietnam are required:
- Advisers must be motivated and convinced that the way to win in Southeast Asia is to win the minds and hearts of the people and they must want to do so. The present emphasis is on killing the Viet Cong and God help anything that stands in the way. Advisers who become personally committed must be encouraged to extend their tours, or return after leave.
- Key advisers, having the confidence of the key Vietnamese leaders, and the backing of the U.S. Government, must be positioned to coordinate the U.S. and Vietnamese efforts, exercising when necessary strong, firm guidance, practically effective control, in both military and civilian areas. Clearly the present U.S. advisory leadership is both over-sensitive about Vietnamese “sovereignty”, and too little sensitive to the feelings and needs of the Vietnamese people.
- Effective support must be given to U.S. advisors at lower echelons, so that the advised, if they disregard their advice, know that their actions will be promptly and effectively brought to the attention of Vietnamese and U.S. advisors at as high an echelon as might be necessary. Major errors must be rectified, or their perpetrators suitably dealt with, even at risk of infringements on sovereignty.
- The Vietnamese Government should be moved and effectively assisted to make the necessary public announcements regarding political and economic goals, to develop an active program of civil action and indoctrination of the troops, and to engage in an intensive program of training and combat in night fighting.
- To deal with North Vietnam, a committee on national liberation should be formed in South Vietnam with announcements that the eventual goal is the unification of a free and independent Vietnam. This would regain some of the psychological initiative that the North Vietnamese now have. The committee could use the new SOKW VOA transmitter (with a changed frequency) which is now in Vietnam.
- Direct U.S. military action against North Vietnam, U.S. assumption of command roles, or the participation in combat of U.S. troop units are unnecessary and undesirable.
That a team be immediately selected by the President from among those men who have had experience in inspiring and guiding counter-guerrilla forces in Asia, who are known to and have the confidence of the Vietnamese leaders, who are motivated to win the political and psychological war, as well as the military war, in Vietnam, and who have a similar direct authority stemming from the President of the United States that Gerald Templer had in Malaysia and that Edward Lansdale had in Vietnam in 1954.[Page 484]
At least two key individuals ought to be called in by. the President personally to discuss the possibility of organizing such a team: Major General Edward G. Lansdale, presently serving in the White House on Food for Peace; and Rufus Phillips, presently head of his own engineering company in the Washington area, who, up until 6 months ago, was the director of rural affairs for AID in South Vietnam. Both Lansdale and Phillips served in the pacification program in South Vietnam in 1954 and 1955—Lansdale as the key adviser to Diem, and Phillips in the field as an airborne officer. Both are highly motivated, highly trained, decisive and imaginative people. Lansdale, whose biographical sheet is attached,6 was the key American figure in Magsaysay’s defeat of the Huk forces in the Philippines, the key figure in the development of counter-insurgency work in the Defense Department, as well as being the key adviser to Diem in the first two years of his reign. He was an adviser to President Kennedy on South Vietnam and is known to McNamara, the Joint Chiefs, and Lodge. It is strongly suggested that the President ask Lansdale to discuss this whole matter with him.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Southeast Asia, Vol III, Memos (A). Secret.↩
- Not attached, but a copy is in the Hoover Institution, Lansdale Papers, Saigon Liaison Office, “Concept for Victory in Vietnam.”↩
- Edward G. Lansdale, Rufus Phillips, and Charles T.R. Bohannan.↩
Not found. Humphrey met with Foreign Minister Quat on June 5. Rusk telephoned Humphrey on Friday, June 5, at 5:09 p.m., to hear about his conversation. The transcription of the call reads as follows:
“See said President had asked him to call H to hear his interesting remarks on his meeting with Quat. He said he was preparing a detailed memo and would have that Monday. H said in summary that Quat said he wanted to talk to H not as Foreign Minister but as private individual; he was not speaking publicly and could not; US had respected Vietnamese sovereignty but now if something not done so that US takes over a good deal more, we are not going to have any sovereignty; Vietnam does not have administrators; we need not an adviser but a brother; someone who is not afraid to criticize; Quat paid tribute to AID people; there were not yet any policy goals which aroused Vietnamese people; this could not be said publicly; Quat said he thought the military situation could be stabilized. H asked for a detailed memo, unsigned, that he could have to be very careful with, give it only to Sec or to President. He said since then he had called in Fraleigh of AID and Gen Lansdale whom he found interesting. H said the impact of the total conversation with Quat was that military can help stabilize but cannot win in that way; said Quat told him interesting facts re infighting in his own administration. Sec said he was looking forward to getting the material. H said he would get it to Sec Monday morning.”
“H said he told President last night that we have no one for spokesman up here; H wanted to know more; many of us are just confused; H said he thought we had to lay down some fundamentals and see what we can do. Sec said he needed more time with the Committee.”
“H said further on the Quat talk, he gathered there is good enough formal relationship with the Embassy but there is a lack of people who really understand the area; he said he was not certain of Quat’s meaning in this regard.” (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)↩
- Not attached. Apparent reference to a supplement to the “Weekly Report: The Situation in South Vietnam,” May 8, entitled “Situation in Long An Province.” Johnson Library. National Security File. Vietnam Country File, Vol. IX, Memos)↩
- Not found.↩