12. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2057. For the President. Section IV of V Sections.2 Ref par 7(3) CAP-64375.3 Because of his wide qualifications, I have leaned heavily on Alex Johnson, assisted by the political section of the Embassy, to respond to your comments with regard to the need for a much wider and more varied attempt to get good political relations with all Vietnamese groups. In his opinion, there is no country in the world in which we have more extensive or deeper communication with the local population as well as the govt than here. Between the Emb and CAS officers, we have some 45 French-speaking and 10 Vietnamese-speaking officers whose primary duty is maintaining such communication. They have literally hundreds of contacts with every important walk of Vietnamese life. Although we would not suggest your reading its entirety, I do believe it would be interesting for you to turn the pages of Embtel 18364 to get an impression of the extent of our contacts with various political groups.
In addition to the Embassy and CAS contacts, through our integrated USIS/GVN programs, we speak by radio, moving pictures, pamphlets and newspapers to the broad mass of the people. Through the Voice of America, which is very extensively listened to here, particularly in times of crisis, we communicate selectively the views of the US and the world press.
Additionally, we have unusual ability to reach the armed forces of Vietnam and provincial officials through the hundreds of US military officers and USOM field reps who are in intimate and daily contact with their Vietnamese counterparts. They are linked together by a US communications system which allows us very quickly to pass them appropriate guidance on current matters. We have been using them extensively in the current crisis to make known the US position.
On the whole, the quality of our personnel in Vietnam is high and I believe they meet pretty well your description of “sensitive, persistent and attentive Americans.” We could perhaps improve on our use of them but we definitely do not need more. The Vietnamese may even be somewhat smothered now by the quantity of US contacts.
In our use of these contacts, there are two aspects of communications with the Vietnamese which we must bear in mind—the long term [Page 24]and the short term. The long term is directed toward influencing the basic attitudes and characters of the Vietnamese people. The short term is directed against working with these Vietnamese as they are today in order to accomplish our immediate purposes. No amount of persuasion or communication is going to make them other than what they are over the short term. Nothing that anyone can say in the short term is going to change their deep-seated suspicions and fears of each other, their political fragmentation and their lack of any true sense of nationhood. The French background and education of most of the elite have caused them to absorb some of the less desirable French characteristics in this regard and, in addition, given them a certain schizophrenia, being torn between the native Vietnamese and the French cultural backgrounds. Thus, they have no single frame of reference in which to react to events—hence the seeming volatility of their attitude and the lack of firm principle to guide their judgment.
With such an unstable audience, the question is what to say in order to influence them in the direction of US policy. No doubt with greater experience we can become more effective, but our overriding problem is the inability up to now to give them any hope for an eventual end to their tribulations imposed by 20 years of war. In the absence of a light at the end of the tunnel, they tend to blame us rather than themselves for the continued darkness.
I realize that the foregoing sounds as if we were saying that we are doing as well as possible in this vital area of political relationships. Rather I would say we do not see how additional reinforcements would help us to do better and that this is not an area in which likely improvement offers a hope of reversing the declining situation. The gains here are likely to be for the long term whereas our immediate problem is to change a situation which is very much with us now.
In order to assure yourself that we are missing no real bets in this political field, would you consider sending someone like Mac Bundy here for a few weeks to look at this particular field? I think of Mac particularly because of his perceptiveness in such matters and the fact that he has been physically detached from the local scene and hence would have an objectivity which an old Vietnamese hand would lack. I can think of no one from the outside who could give you a better first hand report on this subject.