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


  • RAND Studies of Viet Cong Motivation and Morale

The RAND Corporation has recently completed studies of Viet Cong motivation and morale based on interviews with Viet Cong PWs [Page 67]and defectors. The studies indicate that while older, hard-core VC have a deep commitment to Communist objectives, the younger, newer recruits have a much more shallow sense of commitment. Morale of the VC armed units has been significantly affected by air attacks within South Vietnam. Indeed, preliminary and unpublished findings based on recent interviews indicate that morale has fallen significantly over the past few months as a result of our air harassment.


The Viet Cong movement embraces a mass of Vietnamese, ranging from the casual peasant supporter who occasionally buys supplies for the Viet Cong on a trip to the local market, to the most deeply dedicated cadre in the main forces. The main forces fall into two generations of recruits: the hard-core Viet Cong cadre and Party member who usually is a Southern Vietnamese “returnee” from North Vietnam where he received, after 1954, five to ten years of systematic training and indoctrination; and the younger generation comprising those recruited mainly after 1958.

The Hard Core Cadre

This group fought as Viet Minh against the French. Many of them were regrouped in the North, but some remained underground in the South. These men form the backbone of the revolutionary effort in the South, which they regard as a continuation of the war of independence against the French. The regroupees were bitter at the United States and the GVN for the cancellation of 1956 reunification elections and the consequent prolonged separation from their homes in the South. Although many were antagonized by the harshness of the DRV land reform of that period, they nonetheless appear to have maintained their faith in the wisdom of the leadership in Hanoi.

The Younger Generation

Whereas the older group joined the Viet Cong mainly for nationalist reasons, the younger generation joined for a variety of motives: protest against social injustice at the village level, lack of opportunities on the GVN side for education and employment, avoidance of the GVN draft, fun and games. Intertwined with these as a result of Viet Cong political indoctrination is a desire to protect Vietnam from “the American imperialists and their lackey, the GVN.” Although coercion is used in recruitment by the VC, it is usually combined with persuasion and patriotic appeals.

Both Generations

The Viet Cong claim that they “live splendidly and die gloriously,” even though their living conditions are in fact miserable. Most of those [Page 68]interviewed believed that the war would last a long time and would end as a result of a gradual exhaustion of the enemy, rather than through a dramatic VC victory.

Defections from the Viet Cong have resulted mainly from personal rather than ideological factors. While defectors and some PWs did criticize the Viet Cong, they more frequently expressed embarrassment or guilt over their own inability to stand the rigors of guerrilla life.

The second generation of Viet Cong has a shallower comprehension of Communist doctrine and cites the revolution's goals as simply “peace, independence, democracy and neutralism.”

Both generations regard the revolution as an indigenous Southern movement, albeit with some welcome assistance from Hanoi. The nationalistic idealism of the movement is stressed rather than Socialism or Communism. Many Southerners appear uninformed on the extent of Hanoi's role in the war.

RAND (and we) are convinced that the flow of defectors could be markedly increased by improved GVN treatment of its PWs. The Viet Cong is now able to convince its men that surrender to or capture by the GVN will only bring torture or execution. (As indeed it too often does.) We have a special mission out on this one now.


On the basis of its interviews of Viet Cong captives and defectors, RAND suggests that air harassment should be a major objective of our operations in Vietnam. The Viet Cong are especially fearful of detection and attack from the air, and intensified and continuous air surveillance and harassing activities by day and night are likely to have a major disruptive effect on Viet Cong living conditions, morale, movement, and operations. Air envelopment operations, because of surprise, have a major effect on Viet Cong morale and inflict heavy losses. Recent interviews, not yet published, indicate a growing belief that the VC can no longer win the war militarily.

Artillery fire is feared by the Viet Cong. Because of good Viet Cong intelligence, however, there seems to be a need for more ARVN artillery and frequent changes in the location of the pieces and concentrations.

The interviews suggest that intensified ground patrolling has had a significant disruptive effect on Viet Cong operations, and that protracted ground sweeps should be assessed primarily in terms of their harassing impact rather than the casualties they inflict on the Viet Cong.


“Although the interviews indicate that certain weapons, tactics and operations have a significant effect on the Viet Cong, their impact will [Page 69]depend not only on their scale and intensity, but also on the way they are integrated into and supported by a range of political, psychological, economic, and social programs designed to exploit fully their effects on the Viet Cong. For example, Viet Cong morale may significantly decline as a result of intensified aerial surveillance and harassment, but the rate of Viet Cong defections will continue to depend largely on the treatment the GVN accords to its Viet Cong captives and defectors.

Similarly, aerial harassment and attacks may directly lower the scale, intensity and effectiveness of Viet Cong activities, but in the end only the ground forces can transform the Viet Cong from hunters into hunted, defeat them decisively, and establish complete control and security over the population.”

McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. XI. Confidential. The source text is marked with an indication that the President saw it on June 28.