180. Memorandum From William Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • The Viet Cong and Liberation Front

We have been looking at the Viet Cong Liberation Front as the enemy, to be ignored politically or destroyed militarily. I think it is time to look at them as a target of opportunity.

We keep getting reports, based on POW interrogations and other sources, that many VC are getting fed up.2 If this is true of the fighting [Page 503] man in the field, it must also be true of some in the political structure of the Front. Surely there are some nationalists who are fed up with tight Communist control. Surely there are some Southerners disgusted with ever-increasing domination by the Northerners. There must also be many in both military and political echelons who are not happy with the prospect of continuing battles and bloodshed and who feel that their sacrifices are going to be in vain.

I believe we and the GVN should be working on this in a forceful and coordinated way. The effort should be both overt and covert.

On the covert side, we should be trying by every possible means to promote high-level defections from the VC and the Front. We have said that the failure of any genuine nationalist to defect to the Viet Cong is clear proof that they have no major appeal to the South Vietnamese. The other side of that coin is that there have been no major defections from the VC. We ought to try by every available means to generate some—the more the better. I need not point out how the appearance in Saigon suddenly of Nguyen Huu Tho or some of the other leading figures in the Front would influence U.S. and world opinion. The group defection of a VC military unit, however small, would be equally impressive.

It would be worth millions—or worth a division—or both.

On the overt side, I think Prime Minister Ky ought to make a major appeal to the VC. This would follow up that part of the Honolulu Pledge which stated the “Purposes of the Government of Viet-Nam.”

I think Ky should make a major speech on this subject. He would point out that China is prepared to see the Viet-Nam War continue to the last Vietnamese; that Hanoi was ready to see the war go on to the last South Vietnamese. He would contrast his governmentʼs purposes—peace, independence, progress, security—with those stated just two days ago by Ho Chi Minh.3

Ky calls for peace; Ho calls for war.

Ky wants independence for Viet-Nam; Ho would put his people under the control of an alien ideology.

Ky wants to work with his neighbors and with friendly states to build a new Viet-Nam and a new Southeast Asia; Ho wants to rule all of Viet-Nam and to put it at the mercy of the Communist world—which has neither the resources nor the desire to do anything useful for the Vietnamese. Etc., etc.

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Ky would call on the VC to look at what is happening around them, to recognize that military victory cannot be achieved. He would ask them to foreswear the use of terror and armed attack and to join with their fellow Vietnamese in the works and the satisfactions of peace. He would promise safe conduct, jobs and other assistance to those who come in with their weapons. He would cite the coming elections and ask them to participate in this new and exciting effort at nation-building and in the creation of a truly democratic state.

He would challenge both the VC and Hanoi to a contest. He would urge that the fighting end. And he would say: “Let us see which system is better in peaceful competition! Let us see whether the Communist system in the North—with help from its communist comrades—or the system of freedom and independence in the South—with help from the free world—can produce more and achieve more!”

And he would ask those southerners who have been impressed or misled into the VC ranks to join with him and their southern compatriots in building a new nation.

I think Ky could take a powerful initiative in this manner. If it produced results—in terms of VC defections—all the better. But even without such defections on a large scale, it would be an impressive document—good for him and for his cause.

With your approval, I will explore what has been done—and what further efforts can be undertaken—on the covert side.

I will also draft a speech for Ky which we might get Ambassador Lodge to provide for him on a confidential basis.

What do you think?4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LVI. Secret. Copies were sent to William Bundy and Moyers.
  2. Presumably a reference in part to Lodgeʼs report in telegram 879 from Saigon, July 13, of his conversation with Leon Goure of the Rand Corporation, who had just finished a study based on interviews with prisoners of war and defectors during the first 6 months of 1966. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S) For Rostowʼs view of the implications of Goureʼs findings, see Document 198.
  3. In his appeal to “compatriots and fighters throughout the country,” reported in Hanoi newspapers on July 17 and over Hanoi radio in English on July 18, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed that “our people and army, united like one man, will resolutely fight until complete victory, whatever the sacrifices and hardships might be.” For text, see The New York Times, July 17, 1966.
  4. In telegram 23332 to Saigon, August 6, drafted by Jorden, the Department of State proposed a “psywar campaign”—launched by a speech by Ky and using appeals similar to those sketched in Jordenʼs memorandum—to encourage defections from VC and NVN forces. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)