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

2055. For the President—Section II of V Sections.2 Ref. par. 7(1) CAP-64375.3 I fully understand and appreciate your concern with respect to the problem of dependents. As we see it here, there are two aspects to this—first, the actual physical danger to the dependents themselves and, secondly, the psychological effects both on our friends here and on the enemy of a decision to withdraw them. Although no one can exclude the possibility at any time of accidental or deliberate injury being inflicted upon some of our dependents, for the moment I am most concerned with the latter problem, that is, the psychological effects on our friends and enemies.

Immediate withdrawal in the present atmosphere would, I am certain, be interpreted both here and in Hanoi and Peking as a sign of weakness and desperation which could result in panic among our friends and great encouragement to the enemy. (It would also adversely influence our ability to obtain third country assistance from our less sturdy friends.) However, if the withdrawal is directly related to other action against the DRV, it can, if properly handled, be used to reinforce the tonic effects such action will have for our friends and the seriousness of purpose that we will desire to communicate to the enemy. I have, for example, in mind the successful way in which we used the evacuation of our dependents from Guantanamo during the Cuban crisis to reinforce the signals that we were seeking to communicate to both Havana and Moscow.

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At the same time, I entirely agree that until the time comes that we want to use mandatory withdrawal of dependents to reinforce wider action we are taking elsewhere, we should seek to do all we can to reduce the size of the problem. We have already done much to reduce their numbers by voluntary and administrative action. For some time USOM has hired no new personnel with small children. MACV has also been reducing the number of positions requiring two-year tours and thus, under present DOD policy, the presence of dependents if desired by their sponsor. All the agencies have also informally discouraged the bringing of dependents and encouraged the voluntary return of those already here. However, we can, and subject to your own thoughts, I propose to do much more.

We could have all agencies immediately initiate a policy of not permitting newly assigned personnel or those returning from home leave to be accompanied by their dependents. We could also initiate a policy of encouraging the advanced departure of dependents whose sponsors are scheduled to leave Viet-Nam permanently or on home leave orders in the next few months. Additionally, all the agencies represented here could take a harder look at their staffing patterns to see whether staff members, particularly those with dependents, could be reduced without impairing our effectiveness. All of this will inevitably result in some publicity but I think that this is manageable.

With respect to the remaining dependents, I would propose that at the time we initiate a retaliatory strike against the DRV or initiate Phase 2 action against the North we simultaneously announce and undertake an evacuation of all remaining dependents. I suggest that such an announcement should be carefully timed in relation to whatever else we will publicly be saying at the time. I believe that an orderly evacuation of the remaining dependents could be carried out at that time over a period of say seven to ten days with minimum personal hardship and risk to them and without the seriously adverse effects of doing it before that.

Needless to say, if at any time civil disorders in Saigon or other developments indicate an imminent and serious risk to dependents, I will have no hesitancy in ordering their immediate evacuation.

All of my principal colleagues strongly agree with the foregoing views except Jim Killen who, while recognizing the political problems of immediate evacuation, favors a complete evacuation initiated now phased over perhaps a two-month period.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received in the Department of State at 3:56 a.m.
  2. Sections I and III-V are Documents 9 and 1113.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 477.