146. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
991. For the President.
- The Govt of Vietnam has finished its twelfth week of stability—a rather astonishing fact which I attribute in large part to the conviction that the U.S. is truly committed to staying as long as is necessary and to doing whatever is necessary to ward off the Viet Cong aggression. This conviction is created by the U.S. combat presence on the ground.
- The above statement is impossible to prove, but some unusually well informed and sagacious persons believe it. In other words, your decision on troops is not only a great thing militarily, but is paying big dividends politically.
- Let us hope that this stability continues, and I try to leave no stone unturned to see that it does. I have made it clear in strategic places that a coup would be most unwelcome. I also am taking steps to make sure we are organized to hear about coup plotting in time to do something about it.
- The Viet Cong defection rate is still disappointing, and the level of VC activity remains high, disruptive and not effectively checked by the GVN.
- But there is encouragement in figures indicating an increase in the amount of information which Vietnamese citizens are giving to the govt concerning the Viet Cong. Surely this is a most significant index. In a very real sense, the citizen is not just expressing a Gallup Poll type preference; he is actually “voting with his life.” If he decides to give information about the Viet Cong and then gets caught, he may very well get killed. This, therefore, represents a vital judgment. I am having the CIA look into it.
- I also hear that an order has gone out in some places to the Viet Cong not to congregate in groups of more than 100 men, or at any one place for more than 48 hours. If this becomes a general Viet Cong policy, it would be significant. Much of their strength has been because, in this medievally structured country, they, too, organized themselves in medieval fortresses which were totally impregnable on the ground, where they could stay in safety with plenty of rest for long periods, coming out only to make very well prepared attacks on what the govt had been doing in the countryside. This made the govt's job quite hopeless. Now we are destroying the fortresses.
- Americans in Vietnam report “cautious optimism”—based on belief in the GVN's ability to carry out its programs, in awareness of Viet Cong reverses, and in passive resistance to Viet Cong “taxes” on recruiting.
- Yet, all of the above is only the beginning of the impact of the American presence—an impact before the First Cavalry and before most of the First Infantry Division were here at all. Moreover, the U.S. troops which are here have by no means done everything they can do to organize the Vietnamese “regional” and “popular” forces for joint American/Vietnamese police type tactics and night patrolling. Thorough pacification has thus yet to be done even within the U.S. base areas. When this happens, the psychological effect should be marked.
- The proposed deployment of the First Infantry Division should allow successful operations against the oldest and most vital Viet Cong redoubt which is not only what has been threatening Saigon for so long, but which is the line of communication from the food source in the Delta to the Viet Cong north of Saigon.
- On another political front,PriMin Ky traveled to Ban Me Thuot and personally presided over the return of 483 Montagnard dissidents who had rallied to the govt. In two speeches, Ky stressed the need for national solidarity, freedom from discrimination, and for the complete merger of the Montagnard and lowland people. He also told me he had evidently taken my advice and had urged his local military commander[Page 401]to be gradual and tactful in his relationships with the Montagnards. Tension continues and tangible measures must be taken to relieve their inferior status. The U.S. stands ready to help.
- In Quang Nam Province of central Vietnam, govt forces broke up demonstrations protesting against govt air and artillery bombardments, demanding reimbursement for damages caused by military operations and calling for the release of husbands and sons from military service. These demonstrations apparently had nothing to do with the recent Hue struggle movement. They followed the pattern of disturbances which have occurred at widely separated points in the past, often as a result of Viet Cong agitation.
A. Combined forces (U.S., Vietnamese, Australian, and New Zealand) thrust into a Viet Cong base area in Binh Duong Province to upset Viet Cong plans to concentrate strong forces in the area. The 101st Airborne Brigade defeated a major Viet Cong unit north of An Khe in Binh Dinh Province. Meanwhile the Viet Cong mounted only one battalion-size attack, their main activity continuing to be interdiction of communication routes.
A. The death of Minister for Rural Construction Nguyen Tat Ung was a serious loss to the rural construction (pacification) effort. He was a forceful Minister and Lansdale had begun a relationship with him which promised to be fruitful.
A. Wholesale rice prices began edging up, reflecting low rice stocks in Saigon, poor prospects for further deliveries from the Delta this season, and estimates that the 1966 crop will be 10 to 12 percent below the level of the 1965 crop. The GVN is now relying on PL-480 imports for immediate needs and for stockpile buildup.
5. General Ky
A. I took the occasion during our most recent joint meeting with the Vietnamese to commend Ky's approach to the desertion problem. He is stressing the necessity of eliminating corruption among top officers, of improving the troops' understanding of the war, and of carrying out in practice the policy of equal sharing by officers of hardships and dangers. I also congratulated him for his imaginative attitude regarding the refugee problem.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received at 3:37 a.m. and passed to the White House. There is an indication on another copy of this telegram that the President saw it. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XL, Cables)↩