20. Telegram From the Embasy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

2514. For the President from Lodge.

In my weekly telegram no. 2399 of January 5,2 I referred to the idea of the American public learning to live year in and year out with the Communist China style cold war in Asia as we had learned to live with the Soviet style cold war in Europe. I realize that I may have appeared unaware that it is not reasonable to expect American public opinion to live year in and year out with a hot war, in which substantial numbers of casualties are being incurred.
Let me therefore add to my telegram of January 5 this thought:
The purely military war against the main force units of the Viet Cong and against the units of the North Vietnamese Army must really have its back broken within the year 1966. (I assume we have the military wherewithal to do it.) But the pacification-uplift program to rebuild the countryside, which the Viet Cong have been systematically destroying [Page 58] for five years, necessarily will take longer. This pacification program, however, is a program which cannot involve heavy American casualties. While it does involve violence and killing, it is of a kind which must be done by the Vietnamese, and largely with police type techniques. The American participation is indispensable, but it is in the way of advice, providing the straight economic and social programs and being political catalysts for the whole.
I recommend, therefore:
That in this new war, which the North Vietnamese have recently inflicted on us and the South Vietnamese by bringing in NVN troops, we take extremely drastic action against everything that pertains to North Viet-Nam, wherever it may be, so as completely and rapidly to neutralize and render harmless their military potential; and
In South Viet-Nam, continue to help the pacification-countryside-rebuilding-uplift program (which would not involve substantial American casualties) but which would go on for several years and which, I hope, the American public could learn to live with. Your handling of public opinion is so able—particularly at this difficult time—that I do not doubt your ability to do this.
Iʼm sorry if I was obscure on this point, but I try in all my telegrams to give you the thing that is preoccupying me at the moment—in a way, to think out loud—hoping that this may be suggestive and helpful.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 4:52 a.m. McGeorge Bundy forwarded the telegram to President Johnson at 11 a.m. on January 13 under cover of a memorandum stating that Lodge “is as optimistic as McNamara is pessimistic about the timing and likelihood of straight military success as against pacification. But I think he is right in his notion that the two should be kept separate in our minds.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—McGeorge Bundy, vol. 18)
  2. Document 6.