94. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

1806. For the Secretary from Lodge. Regarding your priority 1487,2 I recommend that the fourth unnumbered paragraph in instruction [Page 187] to Bohlen make it clear that what we want from De Gaulle is a statement that he does not favor his “neutralization” at the present time. We are not asking him to drop his idea for all eternity. What we want is a statement saying that he does not think it applies now.

“What we actually want from De Gaulle is a public statement, prior to SEATO meeting, that the idea of ‘neutralization’ does not relate to the attitudes or policies of the Government of Vietnam or its friends in the face of the current communist aggression.”

Perhaps the following line of argument may be helpful to Ambassador Bohlen for his own information and use as he deems opportune. It seeks to refute some of the misconceptions which have been put out in Paris, and also seeks to deal with the circumstances which are particularly vivid in Saigon. The argument runs as follows:

France and the U.S. are headed for a collision as regards VietNam. This is not due to a fundamental difference of interests but to a misunderstanding, which it is the business of diplomacy to straighten out. As one who rejoices in French strength, I am worried that so many highly placed Vietnamese sincerely believe that General De Gaulle wishes the destruction of the Republic of Viet-Nam; that French agents are trying to incite the assassination of the Chief of State; and that French agents have worked with the Viet Cong in the recent terrorism against Americans. I have on every occasion made it clear that I think these rumors are fantastic and impossible to substantiate and have often tried to persuade the Chief of State not to break off relations with France. But much more than my efforts is needed.
Also on February 20 the VC, in an official communication, said it “approves particularly President De Gaulle’s proposal to establish a regime of neutrality in South Viet-Nam”.
For these reasons, a statement by General De Gaulle himself to the effect that his idea of “neutralism” was not meant to apply at the present time would have a very constructive effect.
Beyond the helpful effect which it would have, it is also clearly justified by the situation in Viet-Nam and for the following reasons:
The situation here is not hopeless at all. 1964 is not 1954. Vietnamese military are definitely on the track for the first time since the deterioration began in April of ’63. The brave are being rewarded; the cowards are being relieved. In order to enable the GVN to hold an area once it has been cleared, the U.S. is helping strengthen the militia and create a corps of civil administrators. A National Service Law will soon be in effect.
Also, contrary to what is often said in Europe, the Americans and Vietnamese are not seeking an exclusively military solution of the problem. Indeed we agree that an exclusively military solution of the problem would be impossible. Hand in hand with the attempt of the military to bring about order is a social revolution in which the U.S. is taking an active part and which also aims to bring education, health, economic well-being, land ownership, to the ordinary people. The U.S. agrees emphatically that this struggle cannot be won exclusively by military methods.
It should be emphasized that the U.S. is not, as is being said in Europe, trying to do with “16,000 men what France did not do with 200,000 men”. The U.S. effort is totally different; it has entirely distinct aims; it is not nearly as extensive and has not nearly as ambitious a goal as did the French aims in the early 1950’s.
The statement often made in Europe that “while the U.S. has its strategic interests in Viet-Nam, the French have their cultural and economic interests” is profoundly misleading. Actually, the strategic interest in the American-Vietnamese effort in Viet-Nam is directly to the advantage of the French doctor, the French schoolteacher, and the French businessman in Viet-Nam, just as their presence here helps Viet-Nam and thus helps U.S. interests here. American and French interests should not be put in contra-distinction with each other as they are mutually consistent.
The Communists realize that the American-Vietnamese effort is actually getting off the ground, which is why they are intensifying their neutralist talk. In the language of the Viet Cong, “neutralism” is the same thing as Communist victory. We realize that it is a coincidence, but it is a most unfortunate coincidence that General De Gaulle’s phrase “neutralism” is the identical phrase used by the Communists.
France has an influence in Viet-Nam way beyond what it contributes in the way of men, weapons and money. This is because French is still the Western language which is possessed by the largest number of Vietnamese (although the younger generation is trying hard to get away from French and to learn English). But at the present, the so-called people who count in Viet-Nam read French newspapers; in particular, they read the background news stories which the Agence France Presse gets from the Quai d’Orsay. Some are impressed by it and others are infuriated by it, and altogether no good purpose is served. If what is desired is the eventual neutralization of Indo-China or of Viet-Nam, the way not to do it is to create the furor which these statements out of Paris create. General De Gaulle is thus a very influential figure in Viet-Nam and, unwittingly, in a way which is defeating his own stated purpose.
A De Gaulle statement stating that he did not favor “neutralism” now would go far to correct the present bad situation, and at the same time, to promote a good result.
Such a statement not only does not foreclose a unified and neutral Indo-China at some future date; it would actually greatly facilitate such a result.
If a neutral Indo-China, or even a neutral Viet-Nam, were attempted at the present time, it would be foredoomed to failure. Since South Viet-Nam is not strong enough to bargain on an equal basis with North Viet-Nam, the holding of the conference would end the [Page 189] will to win in South Viet-Nam, and the net result would be to turn South Viet-Nam over to the North. By no stretch of the imagination can this be considered neutralism.
If so-called “neutralism” had been applied to France at any time between 1940 and 1944, the German Army would have remained in occupation in France. In fact, the initial German occupation before the collapse of the Vichy government was virtually the same kind of neutralism with regard to France which some appear to advocate today with regard to Viet-Nam. Those of us who have always wanted a strong France and are glad that France is strong today would have opposed “neutralism” for a France occupied by an hostile army in the ’40’s, just as we oppose “neutralism” for a Viet-Nam, which, though not occupied in the same sense, is under hostile attack in the ’60’s. And, one might add, just as we oppose “neutralism” for Berlin.3
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 92. The fourth unnumbered paragraph reads as follows:
  3. In telegram 1510 to Saigon, March 24, Rusk thanked Lodge for his suggestions, which were being repeated verbatim to Ambassador Bohlen. He also noted: “The President has incorporated your suggested phrasing into paragraph four of his instructions to Bohlen and those instructions are being sent to Paris today.” Department of State. Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)