99. Memorandum for the Record of the White House Daily Staff Meeting,1
- Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.
- Vietnam. The entire meeting was spent in a long discussion of our problems in Vietnam. Forrestal had sent Bundy the latest Sit Rep on Vietnam, with the comment that he was not sure our military operations in the field were in consonance with our political objectives.2 Bundy said he had found the Forrestal memorandum very interesting, and asked why the military seemed to have the impression that napalm solves everything, and why they spent so much time chasing the enemy. In fact, he said, the enemy was not as readily identifiable as those operations made him sound. He asked if I had followed these matters closely, and I replied I had not, with respect to day to day operations.
Bundy then asked Cooper what he thought, and he responded that he was very concerned because we only had two or three months left to really get things moving, and it did not look like the field operations were going as they should. I then interjected that I could see some disadvantages and difficulties in using napalm and in chasing the enemy, but wondered what alternatives the other people really had in mind.
My question lead to two different kinds of responses, one from Forrestal and Bundy, and the second from Cooper. Forrestal referred to a book by a Frenchman, Modern Warfare, by Roger Trinquier,3 which he said was a report on the French experiences in Southeast Asia and Algeria. According to Forrestal, you can see from this book that we are making the same mistakes the French did, and are forgetting to profit by their lessons. The only specific concerning Vietnam he mentioned was that unless something changes, when the rainy season sets in, RVN morale will drop so far that the army may not be able to be salvaged. Cooper, on the other hand, said that we needed some “dramatic victories” to bolster the Vietnamese people. After the meeting I asked Cooper how he could reconcile dramatic victories with no identifiable enemy. He said he was not quite sure, but that we should be able to make raids on political and military command posts and bring back some Viet Cong alive. He thought the military could think of other possibilities. Both Cooper’s and Forrestal’s comments had one thing in common: neither was sure that the present military staffs in Saigon were capable of moving fast enough to solve these problems.
Bundy again commented that the basic problem was that the military thought of the war in Vietnam too much in terms of regular conventional warfare with an identifiable enemy and specific military objectives. In fact the problem was quite different. The result of this type of military thinking was that all the Chiefs except General Taylor [Page 198] wanted to go north. He asked that Forrestal recast his comments in his weekend memorandum,4 raising questions on the course of operations in Vietnam in terms that Bundy could send to Secretary McNamara. Bundy would tell McNamara that these questions had been raised, and Bundy felt they should be discussed with the President. Forrestal replied that the instances he cited did not really make a strong enough case since McNamara could cite some other “Krulak statistics” to show the other side. Bundy said then that he and Cooper should get together to draft such a memorandum. After the meeting I talked with Cooper and Forrestal, at Forrestal’s suggestion, to see what assistance I can be in these conversations. Forrestal said that his basic point was that the operations the military consider important, such as the search and clear, are not the type of actions that will be most effective in achieving US objectives. He realizes that this is more an attitude of mind than anything else, but believes that it should be dealt with somehow. He is clearly groping, in a constructive way.
The military weren’t the only ones in trouble this morning. The new AID man in Saigon is not considered the best possible choice. Forrestal thinks Bell’s approach is to treat the Vietnam situation as any other bureaucratic problem. In reality, however, special treatment is called for. Bell wants to send a man named Van Dyke to Saigon, a good, capable, conservative administrator. The White House evidently is pushing Amory. Komer suggested another alternative, a Jim Killen. Bundy will see if the issue is still open.
The upshot of this discussion was that there may soon be some White House initiative to look more closely into the types of military operations being conducted in Vietnam. More important, however, to me it demonstrated the frustration of certain elements of the civilian side of the government over progress in Vietnam. If the military are frustrated and want to go north, the civilians are equally frustrated and want to do something more-they didn’t know what-in the south. The basic point is that everyone is increasingly frustrated, and this is not good.
[Here follows discussion of subjects unrelated to Vietnam.]
7. Vietnam War Game.5 I asked Bundy if the Vietnam war game next week would help deal with any of the problems with which he [Page 199] was concerned. He said it would not, since it properly would be dealing with higher levels of escalation. Having had no other comment from him, I take this as his concurrence of the scenario I gave him Friday.6
- Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers. T–217–69. Secret: Eyes Only. Drafted by William Y. Smith.↩
- It was the weekly report from USMACV dated 23 May. [Footnote in the source text in Smith’s hand. Forrestal’s covering memorandum has not been found.]↩
- Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency (New York: Praeger, 1964).↩
- Apparent reference to the covering memorandum by Forrestal; see footnote 2 above.↩
- Reference is to a political-military game, code-named Sigma 1–64, sponsored by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and organized by the Joint Wargames Agency of the JCS. The game took place from April 6 to 9 and had as participants most of the senior officials in the Johnson administration. The focus was the insurgency in South Vietnam and ways to combat it. The report of the war game is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Agencies’ File, JCS War Games. William Sullivan, in Obbligato, pp. 178–182, describes this war game in detail, but misdates it as occurring in the spring of 1963, not 1964.↩
- March 27. The scenario for Sigma 1–64 is not printed. (Ibid.)↩