127. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Greenfield) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Viet Nam and the Public

The public problem on Viet-Nam currently breaks down into two problems: One, the need for some public statement, either on a Presidential or Secretarial level, that reiterates the United States stake in Viet-Nam and sets the tone for public discussion in this country. Two, the more intricate, detailed and searching investigation by the press of future U.S. aims and actions. These questions are both legitimate and pressing, but at the moment they reflect journalistic rather than public pressure.

Within government the tendency so far is to brush aside the general public statement on the excuse that it cannot include all the details demanded by the press. This argument is not valid.

The Public Statement

A public statement, either Presidential or on a high State Department level, should spell out some of the guidelines which will motivate our future actions in Viet-Nam. But this look into the future need not form the bulk of such a statement.

Instead, the statement should be dominated by a simple, direct restatement of U.S. policy. This restatement should outline the reasons why we are in South Viet-Nam, the nature of guerrilla warfare, the importance of the Pacific area to the United States, the alternatives that the U.S. faces and the consequences for both the U.S. and the free world that would occur if the United States did not carry out its commitment in Asia.

To people dealing closely with the problem this is old-hat, even boring stuff. But it would not be to the American public.

The argument that we have said all this before—and therefore should not repeat ourselves—is equally invalid. The rationale for our actions during the past few weeks was almost entirely dropped from most of the stories that appeared after the first day of bombings. In ninety percent of the stories, the reasons for our actions fell victim to the more dramatic factual news of bombings, Americans wounded, statements, threats and counter threats.

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People, I am convinced, have lost sight of many of the past statements (and bits of statements) made in the past on Viet-Nam by the President and the Secretary. Our own two White House statements in the last ten days2 shifted emphasis without explanation. Almost no one remembers what the accords of 1954 and 1962 were all about, the rationale upon which they were based, or their applicability to the present situation.

Someone, therefore, should take them back through the essentials of our policy—back through the accords, back through our mounting involvement as this new kind of warfare unfolded, back through our countless statements that we want no bases and no territory for ourselves. We should remind the public that a free Viet-Nam is worth the risks, both because of our obligations to the Vietnamese and to ourselves.

It is not enough simply to say that we are in Viet-Nam because Ike got us there or because the Vietnamese have asked us in, although both facts should be recalled.

Such a statement should end up by a clear declaration that what we seek is peace and as clear a statement as possible as to what we expect from the other side in order to gain that peace.

Such a statement will reassure the country, give it a common starting point to judge future U.S. actions.

The Questions of the Press

It will not, however, satisfy many of the questions being asked by the press such as those listed below. Many of them are currently unanswerable.

What is our objective in bombing the North?
  • — Is it unconditional surrender?
  • — Is it to drive the Viet Cong out of South Viet-Nam?
  • — Is it a cease-fire?
  • — Is it negotiations: if so with whom, what conditions, how arranged?

Why do we think the Viet Cong will give up if we bomb the North?

(Granted they are supplied and directed from Hanoi, but we acknowledge they have a strong local base and large measure of independence.)

Under what circumstances will we continue to bomb the North?
  • —only if major attacks on U.S. facilities continue? (i.e., tit-for-tat: theme of February 8 statement)
  • —at our discretion irrespective of specific attacks on U.S. personnel or installations? (White House statement of February 11)
What are we doing to prevent situation from returning to wasting guerrilla war that we haven’t been able to win, with continuation of political instability in Saigon?
Any efforts going on to edge confrontation onto political track? What are circumstances under which we would talk to Hanoi, to Peiking, to South Viet-Nam National Liberation Front and/or Viet Cong leadership?

If we won’t talk do we have any objective other than complete withdrawal of Viet Cong to north of 17th Parallel?


Either the President or you should make a statement setting forth the fundamentals of our position and relating recent events to those fundamentals. If you hold a press conference you must be prepared to open with a full statement on Viet-Nam, since many of the questions you will get are unanswerable—or better left unanswered.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Confidential. Drafted by Greenfield. Rusk’s handwritten initials appear at the top of page 1 of the source text.
  2. For the White House statements of February 7 and 11, see Department of State Bulletin, pp. 238–239 and 290.