198. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

The attached latest report on Viet Cong motivation and morale, January-June 1966,2 is important both as an intelligence document and as a basis for action. Not included in the report is the following estimate which I am having refined in Saigon and will present to you in about a week:

  • —When Rand first began to interview the VC, 65% of those who defected or whom we captured believed that the VC would win; 25% felt the GVN would win; 10% were uncertain.
  • —The present figures are: 20% now believe the VC will win: 60% believe the GVN will win: 20% are uncertain.

The rise in those “uncertain” reflects, in itself, an important fact. The number of hard core Communist defectors has increased. These men find it difficult to go beyond a statement other than “uncertainty” about victory.

What this report shows is a progressive decline in the morale and the fighting capacity of the VC. As you said at lunch yesterday to the newspaper men, no one can tell you when this progressive decline will lead to the breaking up of units or to the ending of the war. But the process under way among the VC is clear.

The operational implication, in my view, is that we must now persuade the government in Saigon to mount a campaign which effectively appeals to the VC and the North Vietnamese troops along the following lines:

All Vietnamese should now rally to stop the killing and end the war.
The Americans will go home as soon as peace is assured.
It is time for all Vietnamese to turn to economic and social development of their country.

I have put Bill Jorden to work this morning with State to produce an operational scenario which would hammer away at these three simple themes.

[Page 551]

Two final observations. We must get a team in Saigon to work now on a post-war Vietnamese development plan. One aspect of that plan should be the constructive post-war use of Camranh Base. Apparently nothing makes Vietnamese more skeptical that we will ever leave than our willingness to construct that marvelous installation. We ought now to encourage thought and planning as to how it might be used in the future development of the country. Second, all the interrogators (Vietnamese and U.S.) are convinced that if the VC fail this time in the South they—and the whole country—will be swept by a mood of wanting no further violence and killing. They are close to having had enough. As Goure put it, they will be like the Spanish after the civil war—prepared to take even a bad government rather than to risk civil war again. We have seen that mood also in the Dominican Republic and earlier in the 1920ʼs in Mexico after their bloody revolution. I cite this to illustrate the need of getting the government in Saigon to shift from talk about invading the North to a policy of appealing for peace, order, and progress in the South.

It may be that you would like to hear directly from Goure his reflections on the evidence which now, as you can see, includes not only interrogations but a mass of captured documents which bear on morale. He will be here a few more days.

It is, of course, extremely important that we not overestimate these trends and develop excessive optimism; but it is equally important that we look at them soberly and, especially, mount the kind of political as well as military operations which will accelerate them.


Bring Goure in (I spent an hour with him today)

Not necessary3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LVII. Confidential. The source text is marked with an indication that the President saw the memorandum. A copy was sent to Moyers.
  2. Attached but not printed, is “Some Findings of the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Study, January-June 1966: A Briefing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” August 1, prepared by Leon Goure for the Rand Corporation. Goure spent an hour with Rostow on August 2 and briefed McNamara on August 3.
  3. The President did not mark either option. The Presidentʼs Daily Diary indicates that he did not meet with Goure during August 1966. (Johnson Library)