55. Message From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the President1

This is in further reply to your 1256.2

I believe various pressures can and should be applied to North Viet Nam to cause them to cease and desist from their murderous intrusion into South Viet Nam. I have made detailed recommendations in a memo dated October 30, 1963,3 of which Under Secretary Harriman has a copy, and to which I believe I referred briefly to you when you received me on November 24.4
In light of recent terrorism against Americans in Saigon,5 I believe North Viet Nam should be told secretly that every terrorist act against Americans in South Viet Nam will provoke swift retaliation against North Viet Nam.
On the basis of knowledge available to me, I do not think this will bring on nuclear war with ChiComs or with anyone. It simply puts U.S. and South Viet Nam on a par with ChiComs and North Viet Nam in the struggle against the Viet Cong. At present, we let them have a sanctuary from which they operate against us, whereas we not only have no sanctuary, but do not operate against them in any significant way.
If the above recommendation is adopted, we should consider announcing just before undertaking it that we are evacuating all U.S. dependents. Our announcement should make it crystal clear that this step is being taken because we are cleaning the decks for action and intend to make things tougher for the V.C. Evacuation should not appear to be a frightened response due to Viet Cong terrorism.
Believe the South Vietnamese expect us to be brave and that there are big advantages to be gained by not disappointing them.
My present policy regarding American dependents is that any American who wishes to leave Viet Nam and return to the U.S. be allowed to do so. I reckon that only a few will want to go but that those who are unhappy here should not be required to stay.
In regards U.S. children in Saigon, I am in close touch with parents’ organization whose present attitude is not to close school. They have question under constant review. General Khanh told me this morning he hopes to move school very soon to a more secure location.
In answering your telegrams, I am most anxious to keep you fully informed, and at the same time, not give you too much to read. If you wish my wires to be different in length and format, please advise.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Transmitted as telegram 1594 from Saigon which is the source text. A note on the White House copy of this telegram indicates that the President saw it. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. IV, Cables)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 53.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, pp. 656–659. Sullivan sent a copy of Lodge’s paper of October 30, 1963, to McNamara on February 24, 1964. (Memorandum from Sullivan to McNamara, February 24; Department of State, Bundy Files, WPB Special Papers, I of II, 1963)
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, p. 635–637.
  5. Thus far in February, there had been 15 terrorist attacks against Americans, including bombings of a U.S. theater and a softball game in which 5 Americans were killed and over 50, including official dependents, were wounded.
  6. Telegram 1594 bears this typed signature.