111. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Valenti) to President Johnson1
You are being counseled by those far wiser than I, but I pass along these thoughts to you for whatever value, if any, they may have. These are troubling times for you and I am only trying to help clear the dark alternatives that seem to be available.
Where are we?
- The Ky government will hold on or
- The Ky government will fall
- Either another government takes over that will choose to continue both the fight and the peaceful reconstruction or
- Another government will determine to strike a bargain with the Viet Cong.
Two questions present themselves:
- How can we help preserve Ky?
- What do we do if Ky falls?
I. Preserve Ky:
We can help with the use of United States force. This would be dangerous. It would erode our moral, even our treaty obligations. It would smack of colonialism.
Thus, the decision is how to preserve Ky without the deployment of United States force.
This is hazardous. The Viet Cong may win in the heat of the anti-government demonstrations; a public whipped up to march against the government is likelier than not to vote against that government.
But if Ky were to set a date—say June 1—for a national election it may take the starch out of the demonstrations. At least it would give Ky some breathing room to present the case for a unified central government whose objective is to defeat the Viet Cong, not commit suicide.
Bring in four to five Buddhist-Catholic leaders as part of the directorate.
This might ease the pressures, if this move were coupled with a definite election date.
Surface Viet Cong agents as provocateurs—and link them to the demonstration leadership.
The drawback to this is the lack of time available to make the case. Communicating with the Vietnam public is not as easy as in this country.
But suppose we airlifted 100 soundtrucks to Vietnam (or sound gear to put in South Vietnamese trucks) and the government put on a campaign (U.S. style) to convince the people the Viet Cong were inciting the demonstrations? Suppose we didnʼt indict the Buddhist leadership, but focused on a known enemy (the VC), and the perils that would come if the VC intrigue won (i.e. if the central government fell). It is a long shot, but it might work.
Split the Buddhist leadership.
This has possibilities. There is no durable cohesion in the Buddhist leadership. Can we pit some of the leaders against Tri Quang? Can we use the Dalai Lama and Buddhists outside Saigon, Hue and Da Nang to our advantage?
As a corollary to this—why canʼt Ky ask that all the Buddhist factions—indeed all religious factions—gather together for a meeting to discuss the future of the government. Perhaps Ed Lansdale and his group could be useful in getting this meeting together. Object of the meeting: To try to drive a wedge between the leadership groups—and to bring to bear the argument that the real enemy is the Viet Cong and if the leaders would allow the government to have an orderly free election all groups would benefit. It might be worth a try.
Urge Ky to use force.
Only those on the scene can assess the value of this. It looks like this would not work for the demonstrators have seemingly gathered too much momentum. Before it would work, Ky must restore the usefulness of the 1st. Corps soldiers.
Is it possible to restore Thi—and back him in efforts to retrieve the sagging loyalties of the 1st Corps? This is admittedly dangerous, but as a final, totally last resort it could be tolerated.
II. If Ky Falls:
We could wait and see what a new government would bring. Past history indicates it would have the same durability as Quat—or even worse.
A new government will
- Be a weak reed, but insist that we stay. At least we retain our credentials as an invited guest rather than an interloper.
- Demand that we leave—which is unlikely since the Buddhists have an irrational goal of destroying central governments but under our over-all security.
- Be satisfactory to us for the moment, but leave a sour taste in the domestic mouth. Our antagonists would seize this change-in-government [Page 322]as final evidence we are fighting windmills and pour the steam on for us to get out. It would be a cheerless several months in the White House.
- We could announce we were going to leave Vietnam because of a lack of national will to secure stability and freedom.2
If we did this, our reasons are, as follows:
- We adhere to our beliefs in self-determination—and in our resolve to protect a small country from being chewed up by its neighbors, but we cannot force anyone to choose stability and liberty. We can only aid when the people are determined to help protect themselves.
- We would, if the Thais invited us, assist them, for as long as they chose to have our aid, to help them resist intrusions on their national sovereignty.
Thus, we should withdraw from Vietnam, not because our resolve or our objectives are shaken, but because there existed no longer a central authority with a desire to remain free of aggression.
This would have the following effects:
1. The Vietnamese might be so shocked it would cause even the erratic Buddhist leaders to sober up. Perhaps a really stable government could then be formed. Thus, we could turn political catastrophe into a hopeful direction.
2. We could rid ourselves of the Vietnamese- bone-in-our-throat and at the same time give sustenance to those allies and friends where a truly nationalistic spirit and tradition exists.
At the same time, we would call for a neutral zone along the Mekong to get on with the development of that region. United Nations authority would be asked for—with our troops supporting much of the force. In this way, we get rid of the South Vietnamese albatross, secure the rich Mekong, and hold the Thai resolve to resist. We would have demonstrated that we will stick with an ally and a commitment until the one becomes insane and the other no longer has real meaning.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. L. No classification marking. In his April 4 covering memorandum to the President, Valenti noted that there was one vital piece of information that he had not yet seen concerning the “so-called mutiny of SVN troops.” (Ibid.)↩
- At 9:30 p.m. on April 3, Valenti drafted a personal note to the President that began, “I truly believe we need to find some way out of Vietnam. All that you strive for and believe in and are accomplishing is in danger, as long as this war goes on. If there were a way out, some hint of the end with honor, I would believe it best to stay there til the bitter conclusion. But there is no reasonable hope. All your military advisors insist you must double your force, and still they give you no prophecy of victory, however shapeless, however mild.” No record has been found that Valenti sent the note to Johnson. (Ibid., Office of the President File, Jack Valenti)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩