78. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

1744. CINCPAC for POLAD. Following based on uncleared memorandum of conversation of final meeting between Secretary McNamara and party with General Khanh and GVN representatives on March 12.

General Khanh opened discussion by referring to preliminary discussions with Secretary McNamara during trip to Hue on March 11 concerning a proposed National Service Act for SVN. Khanh said his government prepared embark upon program to mobilize all human and material resources to fight VC. As envisaged by General Khanh proposed National Service Act would have two major components: military service and civil defense. Breakdown as follows:

Military service comprised of: RVNAF (3 years service; actual strength: 227,000; planned: 251,683). Civil Guard (3–1/2 years; actual: 90,032; planned: 119,636). SDC & hamlet militia (4 years; actual: 257,960; planned: 422,874). Civil defense comprised of civil service corps, cadre corps, National Youth, and political-administration corps.

Khanh noted military service component self-evident and, response McNamara’s question, confirmed that civil defense component included civil administration corps for work in countryside. Khanh emphasized that in civil defense sector all civilians would be included; for example, in Saigon might be possible assign trained youth to perform some of static police functions while police were pursuing more important police duties. This segment also included civic action teams for hamlets and villages.

Khanh emphasized figures were planning figures only and designed give idea of number of military and civilians required and indicate financial implications of plan. Eventual numbers would be flexible in that they would depend on such factors as population in a particular area, whether area was actually in danger of VC attack, and strength of VC in particular area, etc.

McNamara stated that US, and he assumed GVN, would wish to study strength figures carefully; however, his first impression was that figure of 422,874 SDC and hamlet militia appeared unduly large and would be difficult to support. Khanh responded that in actual practice total numbers may not reach this level. In fact, number may [Page 143]not exceed 300,000 SDC and hamlet militia actually deployed against VC. Here again figures were flexible and would have be refined depending on actual situation in various areas.

General Taylor noted ascending length of service for Civil Guard (3–1/2 years) and the SDC/hamlet militia (4 years) over RVNAF (3 years) and inquired whether it was because the former groups would be operating close to home. Khanh affirmed this, noting soldiers in ARVN have to move often and take their families with them. Now difficult recruit CG and SDC forces for deployment like ARVN troops. Therefore Khanh felt since they stay close to home they could be expected serve a slightly longer period of service.

Khanh then asked General Thieu to explain breakdown under civil defense sector of proposed National Service Act. Thieu stated that all men from age 18 through 40 would be required to participate in the national pacification effort. Most of them, such as those in civil service corps and cadre corps (those now in countryside) would serve in same positions they now occupy. Others, such as national youth group up to age 40, would be required serve in city and countryside and would be organized into small groups to assist ARVN and Civil Guard. Category of political-administration corps would consist of cadres planned for assignment to villages and hamlets. General Thieu estimated that 125,000 such cadre would be required. In first instance, GVN will ask for volunteers; if insufficient volunteers come forward, the necessary cadres will be drafted. Time spent in political-administration corps would count against military service. McNamara stated general approach appeared excellent but he questioned whether GVN would need 125,000 cadre. McNamara pointed out this number added to total figures for Civil Guard, SDC and hamlet militia, constituted an extremely large figure. If assumed there are approximately 6 million men of draft age in SVN, ratio of estimated figures to total draft-eligible population appeared disproportionate. While genera] concept was excellent it would be desirable to look most closely at planning figures.

Khanh replied that he intended make maximum effort in first instance in 8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon, noting that in certain hamlets now de facto situation exists where people must defend themselves. However, a National Service Act would have a very good effect in Saigon and the other urban areas.

McNamara inquired whether upon his return to Washington he could tell President Johnson that General Khanh’s government was prepared embark on a program of national mobilization of human and material resources and whether President Johnson in turn could inform the American people that General Khanh has put SVN on the national mobilization basis. Khanh replied in the affirmative and [Page 144]asked for agreement in principle from us to his proceeding with concept as outlined. McNamara indicated that he viewed concept favorably and asked Ambassador Lodge for his views.

Ambassador stated that he favored general concept but thought that detailed figures should be looked into carefully. Ambassador also believed that emphasis should be placed first on 8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon. General Khanh expressed his thanks for agreement in principle.

General Harkins noted that a mobilization law was in fact in existence but that few people knew about it. He pointed out that ARVN, CG and SDC were not up to their authorized military strengths. Khanh said that he realized this but believed it still desirable to have a new law setting forth a national service or mobilization program. Harkins stated that MACV and other elements of US Mission would like to work closely with Khanh and his chief aides in developing such a law. Khanh replied this well understood. McNamara said it was agreed on American side that general concept was a wise one and that we should proceed on this basis.

Khanh then inquired whether it was desirable to raise CG to same relative status as ARVN as regards salary, pensions, survivors benefits, etc. He estimated that total cost would be in neighborhood of one billion plasters. McNamara thought this was highly desirable. General Taylor inquired whether this would involve any change in role or mission of Civil Guard. Khanh replied in negative stating that it was merely question putting Civil Guard on comparable basis with ARVN as concerns benefits he had mentioned. McNamara observed that he felt all agreed in principle on this.

McNamara inquired how long Khanh estimated it would take to recruit and train administrative cadre for 8 critical provinces near Saigon. Khanh estimated approximately one month, in any event he believed cadres could be in place by end of April. Khanh said GVN would aim for volunteers for this effort and it was not necessary to await promulgation of National Service Act.

In response Taylor’s question as to how long Khanh anticipated it would take to draft and promulgate National Service Law, Khanh observed that GVN was a fairly compact organization at present and that law could be ready for his signature in very short time. Taylor pointed to necessity give due regard to democratic forms in developing and announcing a National Service Act. Khanh agreed and said that at same time a major effort was being made to pacify the countryside, he intended to push for concurrent development of democratic institutions and forms. McNamara suggested that when Khanh ready announce a National Service Act that he also re-emphasize related actions already taken and those planned for the future, such as those for expansion of national economy, for increased educational opportunities [Page 145]in hamlets, for increased production of rice, for marketing of fish, and so forth. McNamara believed a well publicized announcement of this nature would find ready response among people and would materially assist Khanh to obtain and hold support of Vietnamese people. Ambassador Lodge agreed and added that, despite statement of General De Gaulle to the effect that we could not win a military war in SVN, Americans were well aware that war here is an inter-related one having political, economic, social and psychological aspects. Memcon being pouched.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23 VIET S. Secret; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Not found.