51. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • Vietnam and Southeast Asia
Reference is made to the memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated 22 January 1964,2 subject as above, which expressed the view that a loss of South Vietnam to the communists would presage a loss of the remainder of the United States position in Southeast Asia. It sets forth a number of actions which the United States should be prepared to take in order to ensure victory. Since submission of that [Page 87] memorandum, mindful of the need to revitalize the counterinsurgency campaign in South Vietnam, which has been interrupted and slowed by the confusion resulting from recent changes in government, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the situation in South Vietnam with the view of determining additional actions which can be recommended for implementation immediately.
The Government of Vietnam has developed, with the close collaboration of the US Military Assistance Command, a new National Pacification Plan3 which provides for the orderly pacification of the insurgency in accordance with a realistic phasing schedule. From a military planning viewpoint, this program should correct many of the past deficiencies of the effort, and it provides for consolidation of secure areas and expansion of them (the “spreading oil drop”). US military assets in Vietnam will fully support this plan. What is now required is implementation of additional actions which will insure an integrated political, socio-economic, and psychological offensive to support more fully the military effort. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the Country Team be directed to implement the following actions at the earliest practicable time:
Induce the GVN (General Khanh) military to accept US advisors at all levels considered necessary by COMUSMACV. (This is particularly applicable in the critical provinces where the advisory effort should be expanded and should reach down to the subsector level.)
Intensify the use of herbicides for crop destruction against identified Viet Cong areas as recommended by the GVN.
Improve border control measures:
Direct border surveillance elements to establish intelligence nets without regard to the existing geographic borders.
Exploit smugglers and the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and other border minority groups.
Establish denied areas where a “shoot on sight” policy will be followed.
Direct the US civilian agencies involved in Vietnam to assist the GVN in producing a civilian counterpart package plan to the GVN National Pacification Plan. (Any area in Vietnam can be temporarily cleared of Viet Cong, but it is the GVN civil administration which must win the people and stabilize the area in concert with the military. This plan should support and revitalize the Vietnamese “New Life Hamlet Program.”)
Provide US civilian advisors to all necessary echelons and GVN agencies to provide civil administration “know-how” until a GVN corps of administrators can be trained.
Encourage early and effective action to implement a realistic land reform program.
Support the GVN in a policy of tax forgiveness for low income population in areas where the GVN determines that a critical state of insurgency exists. (In some areas the Viet Cong and GVN both levy taxes on the peasant population. Relief of the GVN tax would provide a small monetary relief but, more important, would have psychological value.)
Assist the GVN in developing a National Psychological Operations Plan and conducting psychological operations to insure an intensive nationwide coordinated propaganda campaign to establish the GVN and Khanh’s “images,” create a “cause” which can serve as a rallying point for the youth/students of Vietnam, and develop the long term national objectives of a free Vietnam.
Intensify efforts to gain the support of US news media representatives in Vietnam by exploring with them measures that can be taken to improve this situation.
Arrange US sponsored trips to Vietnam by groups of prominent journalists and editors.
Inform all GVN military and civilian officials through various means, to include their US advisors and counterparts, that the United States (a) considers it imperative that the present government be stabilized, (b) would oppose another coup, and (c) that the United States is prepared to offer all possible assistance in forming a stable government which will eliminate the necessity for another coup. In this instance, all US intelligence agencies and advisors must be alert to and report cases of dissension and plotting in order to prevent such actions.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that the implementation of the foregoing measures will not be sufficient to exercise a decisive effect on the campaign against the Viet Cong. They are continuing study of the actions suggested in the memorandum of 22 January 1964, as well as other proposals which require further study, and will recommend to you progressively the execution of such actions considered militarily required. Among the subjects to be studied as a matter of urgency are the following:
Intensified operations against North Vietnam to include air bombings of selected targets.
Removal of restrictions for air and ground cross-border operations.
Intelligence and reporting.
US organizational changes.
Increased US Navy participation in shore and river patrol activities.
Introduction of jet aircraft into the Vietnamese Air Force and the US Air Commando unit.
DOD-CIA relationship changes.
Reduction of test and evaluation activities.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Maxwell D. Taylor4
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, 092 Vietnam. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See Document 17.
  3. On February 18, the Khanh government approved the National Pacification Plan which set forth a combined military, political, and economic offensive against the Viet Cong in two stages. Phase I envisioned a coordinated military and civilian effort to clear territory of the Viet Cong, moving successively from secure and highly populated areas into insecure and less densely populated ones. The concept became known as “spreading the oil drop.” In Phase II, Vietnamese military forces would destroy the Viet Cong in their secret military bases and end the insurgency. The first priority of Phase I was the provinces surrounding Saigon and extending south into the Delta with an estimated completion date of July 1, 1965. The next priority was the remainder of the Delta and certain critical provinces north of Saigon, with a completion date of January 1, 1966. All of Corps I and II, with the exception of VC strongholds reserved for Phase II, were to be pacified by January 1, 1965. JCS Historical Division, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The War in Vietnam. 1960–1968, Part 1, chapter 8, pp. 23–24)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.