189. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson1


  • Cabot Lodge
Here are Cabot Lodge’s views, carefully drawn in the shape of an informal memorandum which has been handed to me and to no one else. He does want you to see them, and you have his promise that there will be no written “Lodge report” of any sort.
I also told Lodge frankly that it might be troublesome in his and my Party if he were to be seen ostentatiously discussing Vietnam with you again. He said nobody understood this problem better than he, and of course he understood that he was not being consulted as a Republican but simply as a former Ambassador with relevant experience. He will quite understand it if you do not wish to see him tomorrow, but I believe it would be a graceful gesture to give him a phone call at least. Depending on your own earlier understanding with him, you might also wish to have him in to shake hands and to thank him for his work.
In any case, I will talk with him at length about his recommendations tomorrow before he leaves, and I will also make sure that he is in touch with others around town informally.
I repeat that Lodge was most understanding on this matter and that you have a free hand in whether you talk to him in any way tomorrow.2
McG. B.
[Page 415]


Memorandum by the Presidential Consultant on Vietnam (Lodge)


  • Recommendations Regarding Vietnam

The following would be in addition to the wise decisions and effective actions which have already been taken:

A. Pacification

Communist subversion-terrorism is the great unsolved problem in South Vietnam. It is also the greatest single foreign danger to the U.S. and the Free World, actually threatening a Communist takeover of many underdeveloped countries. It is, in a sense, a bigger threat than the nuclear, where we have superiority and a well understood procedure.

In South Vietnam our military, economic, social and informational programs are individually good. But none of these tools accurately fits the puzzle of subversion-terrorism. The political and executive “glue” to hold them together and bring them to sharp focus is lacking. Until we do this, we cannot win—nor can we convince Hanoi that its aggression is unprofitable.

The only overall executive or “generalist” in Vietnam for all these “special” American programs is, as regards counter-subversion-terrorism, the Ambassador. This is not good organization. In Malaya there were “generalists” at every level of government.

There is no time for further elaborate studies in the theory of subversion-terrorism. The subject has already been over-analyzed and over-intellectualized. Workable methods are well known. The need is for quick action.

Recommendation No. 1

Some one man in the U.S. Government should now be made responsible for subversion-terrorism; given enough authority; rewarded if he gets results; and relieved if he fails. His representative in Saigon would, under the Ambassador, pull our separate programs together throughout the country to wipe out subversion and terrorism and train the Vietnamese to do the same.

[Page 416]

Instead of giving this new official a name connected with “counter-subversion-terrorism”, a positive note might be struck calling it the “Agency for Support of National Independence”.

The head of the agency would recruit personnel—less than 50 persons—for whom counter-subversion-terrorism would be a career, for whom it would be the primary interest, and on the basis of which they would get promoted. This does not exist today.

This is not said in criticism of anyone; and individual agencies have done good work. But the organization of the whole has obviously not produced the needed result. Neither we nor the Vietnamese are organized so as to give counter-subversion-terrorism the unified thrust which it needs.

Counter-subversion-terrorism in its first stage involves military, propaganda, police and political personnel, who carry out: saturation of the popular mind; strict resources and population control (including a curfew); national registration of everyone over 12; detention of suspects; and search without warrant. (In the second stage, at utmost speed, come economic and social measures.)

In addition to the existing military and propaganda programs, which are adequate in size, and to the proposed political program, I make the following:

Recommendation No. 2

Maximum increase in police forces, which is the basic long-term answer to terrorism. (In Malaya the police force was almost tripled.)

Recommendation No. 3

There should be a greater degree of decentralization of the U.S. political effort in Vietnam.

As an example, I suggest naming a politically-minded representative of the Ambassador who would be in touch with the Cao Dai, a religious sect numbering some 3 million people and another, who would keep in touch with the Hoa Haos, a religious sect numbering 2 million people. There might also be political advisers in the corps area headquarters. These persons could also be “generalists” who would coordinate our present inadequately organized effort locally.

The operative concepts should be flexibility and adaptation to local circumstances and problems rather than national programs, centralized direction and control from the center. Every region is different from every other. The program therefore should flow from the bottom (i.e. the people) up, rather than from the top (i.e. Saigon) down.

The Vietnamese have no tradition of national government. They do not do it well. Until the advent of Chinese Communist imperialism, it [Page 417] never seemed necessary to have a national government. On the other hand, there is considerable vitality in regional, tribal and religious groupings. These local people have shown that they know how to get the word around. We should work more on them, and not hamper ourselves by the classic, diplomatic idea that for us to deal with anything below the national level is interference in internal affairs.

The Vietnamese lack of a sense of nationhood (in spite of a real sense of peoplehood) makes coups easy, including a “neutralist” pro-Communist coup, the winners of which would ask us to leave—an invitation to be rejected out of hand as specious, spurious and not representing the true interests or desire of the Vietnamese people. The reasons which prompt us to be there now obviously prompt us to stay there until the Vietnamese can stand on their own feet.

Recommendation No. 4

We should study a situation in which we and the Free Vietnamese hold only the area around Saigon and such places as the coastal cities of Nha Trang, Da Nang and Hue.

In the early days of French colonialism there were no major roads and travel was largely along the coast. As part of such a situation we should consider recognition of a de facto government or perhaps working locally without even a semblance of a national government. This is another reason for having a U.S. presence at Cam Ranh Bay. (See Recommendation No. 12)

Note: While the pacification record in North and South Vietnam is bad, progress in the key (so-called “Hop Tac”) area surrounding Saigon appears encouraging. According to the weekly CIA report of February 24,4 ten more hamlets were pacified during the week, bringing the total to 309 (out of a total of 1,146 hamlets in this area) in two and half months and leading to “positive actions by hamlet chiefs to help the people”, which “has rapidly motivated the people to supply the Government with information”. In the report for March 3,5 the figure was raised to 322 hamlets, meaning that some 870,000 people are now reckoned to be living in secure areas and some 448,000 in areas in the process of being secured. All this could be fundamental. It is the way to accomplish something durable in Vietnam which, if done, will surely destroy the VC as we have always known it.

[Page 418]

Recommendation No. 5

This success, if true, should be intensively used as a laboratory to train the people to speed pacification into the rest of the country. The area now being pacified should be a showcase.

The seven provinces around Saigon, of which the Hop Tac area is the first phase, cover 40% of the population of Vietnam—and the most important 40%. If this gets dependably pacified, the pacification of the rest of Vietnam should be easier.

Recommendation No. 6

The above appears to be a real success, which, if confirmed by later reports, should be publicized in the U.S. and world press.

B. Buddhists

The Buddhists are crucial in Vietnam. Among the Buddhist clergy are the only Vietnamese with genuine political talent. Weak though the Buddhist clergy’s sense of nationalism is, they do not want to be engulfed by Communism. They can be reasoned with. I know of instances when they have been persuaded to change plans which would have caused violence and bloodshed. The outlook is not hopeless. A greater assumption of responsibility by Vietnamese Buddhists could lead to big things within Vietnam; and a greater participation by Buddhist leaders outside of Vietnam might one day be useful in connection with possible future international aspects of the Vietnamese problem.

Recommendation No. 7

We should favor distribution of surplus foods through the Buddhist clergy, thus giving them a responsible stake in the preservation of law and order. But this must not be done so as to appear as a bribe. It must appear as a mark of friendship and regard.

By doing this, we should facilitate contacts between Americans and Buddhists, which should in turn lead to further friendships.

The Communists are actively trying to infiltrate the Buddhist movement. If they succeed, it will be disastrous, not only in Vietnam, but in Ceylon, India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Japan. It is through friendship, respect and warm personal relations that we can best work to prevent this.

Recommendation No. 8

There should also be support of Buddhist educational, cultural and religious activities, not only by the Government, but also through foundations and religious groups, including funds for hospitals and schools.

[Page 419]

Recommendation No. 9

It would also be very constructive if the Ecumenical leaders meeting in Rome should strive to bring Catholics and Buddhists together.

There is an outstanding priest in Japan, Rev. Riri Nakayama, with whom I am on excellent and friendly terms; who considers that I did him a favor when I first met him in Japan en route as Ambassador to Vietnam; who is highly respected and well known by the Vietnamese Buddhist clergy; and who is well thought of at the Vatican because of his work to protect the Catholic Church in Japan during World War II. Rev. Nakayama is devoting his life to improving relations between Buddhists and Christians; and if you approve the recommendation to help the Buddhist movement generally as regards surplus foods, schools and hospitals, this decision could be tactfully communicated to Rev. Nakayama, which would protect us from being accused of making an attempt to bribe the Vietnamese clergy. Rev. Nakayama is also in a particularly good position to work for good Catholic-Buddhist relations.

Recommendation No. 10

The Dalai Lama should be brought to Saigon as an object lesson of the dreadful things Communism does to high ranking Buddhist clergy.

C. Plan for Development of Southeast Asia

Recommendation No. 11

There should be a Plan for the Development of Southeast Asia, comparable in scope to the Marshall Plan and in addition to what we are doing already.

The inter-action of the Marshall Plan and NATO on each other was dynamic and spectacular in Europe; so can the inter-action of a Plan for the Development of Southeast Asia on our effort in Vietnam. This plan should include the Mekong River, as suggested by the American Friends of Vietnam. But it should also aim at Southeast Asia as a whole, including Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. It should involve the wealth and energy of Japan. It should aim at eliminating illness and widening the area in which justice prevails.

D. Miscellaneous

Recommendations No. 12, 13 and 14

12. Intensive study should be given to establishing a U.S. “beachhead” at Cam Ranh Bay. It is easy to conceive of a situation in which travel up the 60-mile length of the Saigon River to Saigon would become extremely dangerous. Cam Ranh Bay is a deep-water anchorage—with few people. Without constructing anything permanent or expensive, it should be possible to establish a U.S. Naval [Page 420] presence which could be of tremendous value—politically, militarily and at a conference table.

13. Renewed study and drive should be put behind forming an international consortium, under whose auspices the Vietnam operation could be conducted. This could give the Vietnam operation a better international appearance and ought to lead to some increase in third-country support.

14. The U.S. Navy, with the Vietnamese Navy, should take intensive measures to prevent the landing of supplies and personnel on the coast of South Vietnam.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXX, Memos. No classification marking.
  2. On March 9 between 12:39 and 12:50 p.m., the President, McGeorge Bundy, and Henry Cabot Lodge went for a walk on the South Grounds of the White House. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No other record of their conversation has been found.
  3. Top Secret. A draft dated March 4 is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXX, Memos.
  4. “The Situation in South Vietnam,” February 24. (Ibid., Vol. XXIX)
  5. “The Situation in South Vietnam,” March 3. (Ibid., Vol. XXX)