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

1100. For the President. Politico-Military.

Progress along strictly military lines appears to be considerably ahead of progress along civil and political lines. Yet civil-political progress is utterly indispensable to a successful outcome.
For one thing, the majority of Viet Cong are probably still in small groups rather than in main force units and will thus not be reached by the planned military offensives. These small VC groups cannot be overcome without the support of the population, organized on a precinct basis. If these VC are not overcome, the worst of the aggression will still be going on, requiring continuing presence of American ground troops.
It seems clear that U.S. military can prevent the Viet Cong from taking over the state, can destroy or neutralize main force units, and can destroy hitherto impregnable redoubts. These are very big achievements indeed. But they do not prevent the Viet Cong from continuing to have a disruptive and debilitating effect on the country which would mean that as soon as we left, the Viet Cong would take over again. In other words, a durable result would not have been accomplished.
In order to hasten the day when a true precinct organization exists which will destroy the Viet Cong in small groupings, I called a meeting on Monday and presented a working paper for illustrative purposes which was discussed in detail paragraph by paragraph. As a result, there is in the U.S. Mission an organized effort under the chairmanship of Ambassador Porter to help the GVN create their own precinct type structure which will enable it to overcome the VC in small groups.

The text of the working paper is as follows:

“In each city precinct and each rural hamlet immediately adjacent to a thoroughly pacified city (i.e. the smallest unit from a public safety standpoint) the following program should be undertaken in the following order:

Saturate the minds of the people with some socially conscious and attractive ideology, which is susceptible of being carried out.
Organize the people politically with a hamlet chief and committee whose actions would be backed by the police or the military using police-type tactics. This committee should have representatives of the political, military, economic and social organizations and should have an executive who directs.
With the help of the police or military, conduct a census.
Issue identification cards.
Issue permits for the movement of goods and people.
When necessary, hold a curfew.
Thanks to all those methods, go through each hamlet with a fine tooth comb to apprehend the terrorists.
At the first quiet moment, bring in agricultural experts, school teachers, etc.
The hamlet should also be organized for its own defense against small Viet Cong external attacks.

When the above has been done, hold local elections.

End text of working paper

I believe that all Americans here are pulling together on this—which is the indispensable first step towards getting the GVN to move. [Page 423] We now await appointment of a Minister of Rural Construction (Pacification) by Prime Minister Ky—at which time we are prepared to move in.

After the Viet Cong has been overcome by force, both in its large and small grouping, there must be a certain degree of indigenous political development. Otherwise, our defeat of the VC by force could be followed by a Communist takeover by political means. It could then well be said: the operation was a great success, but the patient died. Tran Van Do, the sagacious Vietnamese Foreign Minister, says:

“If peace were suddenly to return to the land and if elections were to take place soon afterwards, the results would be catastrophic. What would happen if there were to be a cease-fire? The Communists would simply step in to fill a political vacuum.”


The United States must thus leave no stone unturned politically, working through both the official and the unofficial (but highly influential) Vietnamese to insure that our victory over the Viet Cong by force is not followed by a Communist takeover by politics. End of politico-military.

Government of Vietnam

The government shot three VC ringleaders at Danang on the night of September 22. The VC subsequently shot two American military prisoners. U.S. Mission actively studying implications of this tragic subject. Separate telegram coming.2
Prime Minister Ky went to Hue on September 23 and shared the platform with General Thi, I Corps Commander, who castigated those who caused trouble on the home front while troops were dying in the field. This represents a change in Thi’s public attitude.
We hear that Ky is planning to make a number of changes in key military posts and in the Cabinet in the interests of increased efficiency. The military changes may in fact reflect a response to sentiments expressed by junior officers during the recent armed forces convention in Saigon.
While waiting for the Korean Prime Minister’s arrival at the airport Ky talked at length and quite freely with the press. He probably did some injudicious ad libbing, but the overall impression he gave was one of complete self-assurance.

The Viet Cong became considerably more active militarily during the week particularly in central Vietnam, but so far have taken heavy [Page 424] losses. They seem to be making a major effort along Highway No. 1 north of Qui Nhon.


The Prime Minister and Chief of State put out a decree increasing custom duties on a wide range of goods which should increase annual customs revenues on the order of some 1.8 billion piasters.
I have appointed a small economic warfare working group to recommend policy measures to deny needed resources to the VC and to monitor the execution of such denial programs. This has great potential importance.

The rice situation in central Vietnam is improving with the arrival of PL-480 and Thai rice. Last week I signed a PL-480 Title I agreement with the Prime Minister providing for shipment of an additional 100,000 metric tons of rice to meet November and December needs. This too is vital.



Field reports and Vietnamese newspaper coverage reflected considerable optimism, perhaps almost over-optimism, among Vietnamese regarding the progress of the war.

Added note:

Since writing the above, I have just learned that Prime Minister Ky sent for Lansdale Wednesday morning in Lansdale’s capacity as Chairman of the U.S. Liaison Committee to the Vietnamese Agency for Pacification.3 Lansdale arrived with members of his committee. Ky kept them for five hours, provided lunch and went over his ideas for pacification which appear to be in harmony with ours. Encouraging is his awareness of the psychological factor. He discussed places to receive priority for pacification. He wants our views. He announced his intention of appointing Le Van Tien as Minister of Pacification—an appointment he said he had thought about a great deal, and a man whom he considers very able. Tien has reputation as a brilliant braintruster and idea man. A Catholic, he is said to “retain Buddhist tenets”.
Ky said that he will run pacification himself—which he should do, as its importance to Vietnam and to the U.S. is absolutely central.
I called a special meeting of the U.S. Mission Council so that we can all take fullest advantage of this unusual and promising opportunity.
I am advising Ky that he must not have his pacification plan known as the “Ky plan” because this will automatically put a lot of people to work to sabotage it. He must manage to get credit for many others and to involve all the leading men in Vietnam personally in the plan’s success.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. The source text does not indicate a time of transmission; the telegram was received at 2:02 a.m. A retyped copy of this telegram indicates that the President saw the telegram. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. XV)
  2. The Department of State publicly condemned the execution of U.S. military prisoners Captain Humbert R. Versace and Sergeant Kenneth M. Roroback; see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 901-902. In telegram 1109 from Saigon, September 30, the Embassy offered courses of action in response to these executions. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-7 VIET) See footnote 2, Document 167.
  3. See Document 157.