1. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

2343. For the Secretary from Lodge.

Thank you for your 18512 and 1853.3 It is good to know of the efforts which we are making to end the bloodshed and bring this war to the conference table. I only hope we are successful.
However, one thing in your messages is most disturbing. That is the reference to possible independent Viet Cong participation in the talks.
Our traditional—and commendable—position on that subject has been that the Viet Cong can then [participate?] as part of the Hanoi delegation or that they would have no difficulties making themselves heard, presumably through the Hanoi delegation or some other indirect means. This position combines firm adherence to principle with a demonstrated desire to be conciliatory and not to let little things stand in our way.
Actually inviting the Viet Cong to the table, however, under any formula, would be no little thing. It would have the most serious consequences here in Viet Nam and of our international position, and would be very unwise, for the following reasons:
Even if the Viet Cong did not join the talks, our invitation would automatically give an aura of legitimacy to the apparatus of terror and intimidation which the Viet Cong have set up in South Viet Nam. Viet Cong cells and agents would immediately stand up and claim to represent [Page 2] the true government. They would initiate an even more ruthless campaign of terror in the country and would also rapidly take over administrative functions. The population would be at their mercy. Nobody would dare to resist them because they would be able to claim that they are no longer bandits but members of a legitimate organization whose claim to speak for the people of South Viet Nam has been recognized by the United States. The result is that we would find the country literally swept out from under us.
Affirming the position of GVN as sole legitimate government of South Viet Nam will be pretty empty talk if we have accepted a Viet Cong regime competitive with it. We should realize that such a blow is one which the present [government?] cannot survive. It would produce political chaos among democratic elements in South Viet Nam, and would prompt fence-sitting elements to go neutralist quickly and pave the way for a Communist take-over. It would thus undercut our military effort.
The formula suggested by Rapacki is even more dangerous. If the Soviets invite the Viet Cong to sit at the table, and we invite the GVN and the Buddhists, Catholics, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and others, then the Viet Cong, which claim to represent all South Viet Nam political, religious, and minority groups, would be unaffected by the other invitations. Only the power and influence of the GVN (if it could even consent to such an arrangement) would suffer from such a situation. The Viet Cong, having been legitimized by our invitation to the conference table, would claim to represent the wave of the future. Other groups would try to make their peace with them, and we would have no choice but to accept defeat and to leave Viet Nam and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, equating the Viet Cong, which is a rebel murder group, with peaceful law abiding organizations, in particular the great and noble Roman Catholic Church can only make sense to a Communist. It strikes at the heart of our moral position in Viet Nam. If “world opinion” believes otherwise, it is up to us to educate world opinion rather than yield to it. We cannot in good conscience ignore the facts.
We appear politically and morally unaware when we take at face value and unquestioningly accept the Viet Cong description of themselves as a “National Liberation Front” or Hanoiʼs description of itself as the “Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam.” Actually, the Viet Cong is an “enslavement front,” and the Hanoi regime is not only not democratic nor republican but dictatorial and Communist.
In attaching importance to the role of the Viet Cong we are focusing on a question which does not concern Hanoi very much but which does concern Saigon and our position vitally. Hanoi has often told us that it does not consider the presence of the Viet Cong at the bargaining table to be as important an issue as several other questions. Therefore, if we [Page 3] cave in on the Viet Cong representation question, we are not going to get much in return from Hanoi but we will have struck a deadly blow at the non-Communists in South Viet Nam.
By offering recognition and a direct voice to the Viet Cong, we would be making another concession in an effort to bring about talks, whereas Hanoi so far has made none. Hanoi would assume that we are anxious for talks, that we would make further concessions, and they would toughen their attitude rather than soften it. We would therefore be strengthening the voice of those elements in Hanoi which claim that America is a paper tiger and that we cannot maintain our determination in a long struggle.
I cannot help but be reminded of the Communist effort in 1953 to get the Soviet Union seated as a neutral at the Korean peace conference. It was a particularly outrageous and thoroughly impotent attempt inasmuch as the Soviet Union had actively sided and abetted the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans. But Krishna Menon and others were able to wrap it up in the cotton wool of sophistry and some of our “enlightened” press and politicians discussed it more solemnly and respectfully than they did most State Department proposals. We had to work hard for several months to get rid of it. To propose treating these murderous Viet Cong dragonʼs teeth in Viet Nam as a respectable government is just as outrageous and it would be wiser to step on it early rather than let it gain currency—and respectability—among the unthinking.
I have discussed this issue at great length in this telegram because I believe it is so vital to our position here that we cannot afford to yield on it if we want to keep our position in Southeast Asia and to maintain the integrity of our commitments around the world. It would collapse the GVN, would be regarded as the beginning of a Communist take-over, and would disintegrate virtually everything that we have worked so hard to create. This is not a simple matter of stubborn adherence to meaningless legalism but a crucial issue of substance. I hope that you and our emissaries abroad at this critical juncture will quickly and unequivocally reaffirm our previous stand.
If I may comment on 1851, let me submit that para 3 (A) is dangerously unrealistic. All experience shows that “a period of calm and tranquility” is not conducive to Communist cooperation. On the contrary, results can only be expected in negotiations with the Communists by the application of military pressures before the talks begin and while they are in progress. See Panmunjon.
The statement in 3 (A) of 1851 that “the U.S. expects that the Vietnam side will reciprocate with a parallel gesture” is an unsound expectation which would only be valid if Hanoi consisted of Americans who value human life and deeply want peace, but, as Hanoi consists of Communists [Page 4] who are contemptuous of human life and want to conquer, the expectation is false. Also, the reference to “mutual desire” is not clear since the Communist side has made none.
Para 3 (C) of 1851 states that the U.S. is “flexible” concerning the Viet Cong and “is ready to consider the possibilities of talks in all variations and with different participants including also the National Liberation Front.” This is dangerous for the reasons stated above. This is one issue on which flexibility can be fatal.4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Pinta. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 2:04 a.m.
  2. Dated December 31, 1965, telegram 1851 was a retransmission of telegram 1073 from Warsaw, December 30. For text of telegram 1073, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. III, pp. 751753.
  3. For text, see ibid., pp. 753755.
  4. In telegram 1865 to Saigon January 1, Rusk thanked Lodge for telegram 2343 and responded: “Your reasoning is compelling and reflects my own evaluation of problem of Viet Cong representation.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)