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

Thank you for your 1454.2 I will carry out the program with maximum energy.
It seems appropriate to comment further on two matters: first, the proposal to put pressure on North Vietnam, as referred to in your pare 4, subparagraph 3, so that they will cease their aggression; and, second, the imaginative and interesting suggestion, which deserves careful analysis, that I see General De Gaulle.
As regards pressure on NVN, I submit the following:
US problem in any underdeveloped country is how to apply our power. The Communists, confident that we will not use our missiles, are trying to take over the people in the underdeveloped countries right under our noses. It is as though we had a tremendous warship capable of dominating the seas, but were facing a problem in the middle of the desert. In such a situation our power seems useless.
Last autumn the US did face the problem of how to apply our power in South Vietnam. President Kennedy, very properly I thought, wanted to bring about some fundamental changes in the behavior of the GVN. But we seemed to be up against a blank wall. There seemed to be no way we could use our great power which would not either damage the war effort or bring on an economic panic with widespread unemployment and starvation.
Yet, finally, much thought and study in Washington and in the Embassy discovered ways to apply US power. We hammered away at one place and then at another and, after awhile, there was a crack in the blank wall. The beginning of a change in Diem’s attitude was becoming apparent when the Nov 1 coup came. A description of these methods is in my 949, Nov 6.3
Now we face the problem of how to apply our power to NVN, and we seem also to be up against a blank wall. Yet we seem to be quite sure of two things: (a) one single saturation raid on NVN could destroy the fruits of eight years’ fighting against the French and of ten years backbreaking labor since 1954; and (b) while there would be some sort of ChiCom reaction, the above raid would not bring on nuclear war or a real world war.
If NVN thought that the US had the will to use just what we have out here in Southeast Asia (the 7th Fleet, US Air Force units, etc.), they would see that they cannot afford a Viet Cong victory in SVN. The price would be too high.
The problem is how to persuade NVN, and a corollary is how to apply our power in relatively limited doses so as to give them a sample of how really dangerous we are. Some overt reconnaissance flights might be useful as an initial step.
What we can do to them should also be linked to what we can do for them-in terms of rice and removing whatever US personnel we intend to remove anyway.
I recommend that the same kind of intensive study be now given to the above in Washington that was given last fall to applying sanctions to Diem. I am confident that good results would be obtained and that some things which look pretty strong today would start falling apart.
As regards De Gaulle, I look forward to chance to comment, which you mentioned in your last paragraph, on instructions to Ambassador Bohlen. Paris seems honestly to believe that 1964 is 1954, which leads them into still other dangerous errors.
As regards my going to Paris to explain realities to the General, the following can be said in favor:
A life-time of association with the French, the wartime connection of which you spoke, and more recent contacts in 1960 and in 1961, at which time I located the headquarters of the Atlantic Institute in Paris, above all, the fact that I would be visiting him as your representative should bring about a change in attitude, if anything can.
On the negative side is the reaction in the GVN. Prolonged reflection convinces me that GVN, from General Khanh on down, would be filled with apprehension and that, given their mentality, nothing could convince them that I was not going to Paris to sell them down the river. As US representative, I am extremely prominent here, and a trip by me to Paris to see De Gaulle, at this time, would be a body blow to morale and would, with one hand, destroy what we are trying to do with the passage of time.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Exdis. Transmitted as telegram 1776 from Saigon, which is the source text. Passed to the White House on receipt in the Department of State.
  2. Document 85.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. V, pp. 575–578.
  4. Telegram 1776 bears this typed signature.