422. Letter From the Deputy Ambassador in Vietnam (Johnson) to the Secretary of State1

Dear Dean: I am giving below my replies to your queries as I understand them.2


You can feel confident that our reporting from here is as accurate as we can make it. Our political section and provincial reporters call the shots as they see them with no one attempting to edit them back.

With respect to Max and myself as far as senior officials and developments are concerned, Max’s glasses were initially inclined to be a little more rosy than perhaps my too black glasses. We always talked it out—and still do for that matter—Max could just not be more thoughtful in this regard. At present there are no significant differences in our view of the situation although if there is a shade I still tend toward the pessimistic. Understandably Max tends to look at the statistics on military operations somewhat more than I, who tend perhaps to look too much at moods.

Westmoreland and Zorthian are absolutely first class. Killen is sound for the most part but he prejudices his case by his manner and Max and I find him somewhat more difficult to work with than we hoped. He still thinks “the military” are also an “enemy” that must be dealt with in a firm manner.
Can this be won? I perhaps should give the answer I give newspapermen—it must be won. Given the weaknesses here it cannot be won just in SVN. In some way the DRV must be gotten off their backs. This will not guarantee anything here but without it, it is not possible.

I am in full agreement with the plan Max is bringing back.3 The only question is timing—I am inclined to start somewhat earlier than would Max, while Westmoreland is inclined to start somewhat later. Westmoreland thinks that in the next few months we can turn things up a little on the military side. While this might be true, I do not think it is generally true.

Incidentally I was very disappointed in the quality of what Mike brought out. It did not give me the feeling that the two sides of the river had really worked it out together. Without beating the drum for [Page 938] my old shop, I think Jeff Kitchen could help on this type of thing. Max is carrying with him my own concept of our approach.4

I am deeply conscious of the risk but—as with Cuba—the risks of doing nothing are much greater. At the minimum we must stick with it and play for the breaks. The other side must also be having their problems.


  1. Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Correspondence—J. No classification marking. The source text is handwritten.
  2. Rusk’s letter has not been found.
  3. Presumably this is the program presented in Document 426.
  4. Johnson’s plan has not been further identified.