221. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1


  • “Concept of Military Operations in South Viet-Nam”

I have just seen General Westmorelandʼs message on the above subject2 and have found it thought-provoking reading. He has set forth very clearly what kind of war he thinks we should fight and the role of U.S. forces both in offensive operations and in support of “revolutionary development.” While there is little completely new in his paper, there are indications of emphasis which could carry very important implications for the future with respect to the size and the manner of employment of our ground forces in South Viet-Nam.

The most significant change of emphasis is the reorientation of the military effort both of ARVN and of U.S. forces to support “revolutionary development.” General Ky made the proposal to me over a year ago that the U.S. forces should operate generally as a shield for population centers in front of ARVN forces which would assume as a primary mission the direct support of the development effort. Westy is now proposing the same kind of shield mission but goes two steps farther in putting U.S./Free World forces into the business of pacification. He endorses the expansion by U.S./Free World forces of control over terrain and population around base areas in application of the “oil spot” concept as the Marines have been doing in the I Corps area (and other U.S. forces elsewhere to a lesser degree). Beyond the creation of an indeterminate number of such American “oil spots”, Westy also contemplates mixed pacification operations in which U.S. forces would act in close cooperation with Vietnamese military and paramilitary forces in order to bolster their effectiveness in protecting pacification activities.

An additional mission to be stressed in the coming months is the reopening of rail and highway communications, an activity which, while of the utmost importance, will require large numbers of troops if these communications are to be kept open.

Several thoughts occur to me in reflecting on the consequences of the application of this new concept of military operations. The first is [Page 608] that, if successfully carried out, it offers the hope of speeding up the termination of hostilities in South Viet-Nam and of advancing the important non-military programs directed at controlling the population and rebuilding the shattered society and economy. On the other hand, there will be a cost to pay for this progress in a rise in the U.S. casualty rate and in the ratio of U.S. casualties to those of the GVN. Such a rise will reinforce the charges at home that the U.S. has taken over the war and is accepting a disproportionate share of the losses.

Most importantly, the acceptance of this concept would seem to create an open-ended requirement for U.S. forces. If our goal is to reestablish GVN authority over the entire territory, open and keep open the road and rail communications, and make good the manpower deficiencies in the revolutionary development program, General Westmoreland will be justified in asking for almost any figure in terms of future reinforcements. If we undertake to meet such requirements, there will be ground for renewed concern for the increased strains on the GVN economy and for the effect on U.S./GVN relations if we become deeply involved in revolutionary development activities.

In this connection, when General Ky raised the proposition I mentioned above, he was very explicit in saying that he felt the U.S. troops should be kept away from the Vietnamese population insofar as possible. At the time, I thought he had in mind the consequences of the U.S.-Montagnard relationship developed a few years ago in the Highland region. There, we became so popular with the Montagnards that GVN officials became convinced that we were trying to subvert the loyalty of the Montagnards to the government and to attach them to us. The recriminations arising from that episode are still heard from time to time. I have been expecting to hear some reaction of this sort from the very effective civic action efforts of the Marines in their “oil spot” activities. It is very easy for our representatives in Viet-Nam to forget that we are seeking to develop popularity for the Saigon government and not for ourselves. I have always been doubtful of the long-term benefits of U.S. actions, no matter how beneficent, in replacement of those of the responsible Vietnamese ministries.

These thoughts boil down to the following. General Westmoreland has sent us a very thoughtful and important cable, outlining his proposed future military policy in South Viet-Nam. It is full of important implications and deserves close study and a considered reply. It should not be accepted without a reply as this would convey tacit approval and would justify Westmoreland to feel that his concept had official approval. Perhaps it should be approved but only after a careful analysis and in full knowledge of its implications.

I recommend that you ask DOD for such an analysis.

Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Box 260, Gen. Taylor. Top Secret. Rostow forwarded the memorandum to President Johnson on August 30 under cover of a memorandum stating that the danger foreseen by Taylor must be met by 1) engaging elite ARVN units fully in fighting VC and North Vietnam main force units; and 2) “getting the ARVN engaged effectively in pacification.” The President indicated on Rostowʼs memorandum that, prior to getting Defense, State, and Komer to prepare analyses and recommendations, Rostow should first “talk over” pacification with McNamara. (Ibid.)
  2. Attachment to Document 220.