252. Action Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Secretary McNamaraʼs Proposal for Placing Pacification Program in South Viet-Nam Under COMUSMACV 2

1. Secretary McNamara is seeking your concurrence in a Memorandum for the President proposing that all activities which are primarily a part of the pacification program and all persons engaged in such activities be placed under the command of COMUSMACV. This action is intended to increase the efficiency of the operation and remedy the split responsibility for the program on the US side. The proposal also rests in part on the fact that an important segment of the US personnel engaged in pacification are military, although some of them are presently working under civilian direction.

2. Secretary McNamaraʼs concern about the limited progress shown by the pacification program thus far is justified, and I agree with his emphasis on the program as central to the ultimate achievement of our objectives in South Viet-Nam. Here I would observe only that a much more serious liability of the program is the failure of the GVN to devote adequate ARVN forces to the task and take such forces out from under the corps commander whose interests lie elsewhere.

3. Secretary McNamaraʼs proposal does offer one possible means of remedying the problem of split responsibility, but before adopting this remedy I believe we should look very closely at some of its effects:

We have made extended efforts to emphasize the “other war” and to project an increasing role for the civilian side in South Viet-Nam. This would be seriously undermined both in appearance and in fact by put-ting pacification under military command. It would be difficult to remove the impression that pacification had not become a civil affairs/military government matter, with all the overtones of the US taking over in an occupied country.
As a military organization MACV quite naturally works through the corps and division, and orders to the sector level, where pacification must really be carried out, come through these filters. Placing pacification under MACV command would thus tend to emphasize the military [Page 681] channel through higher commands whose interests and competence lie much more in the military field than in pacification. This would also work against the civilianization of pacification which we are seeking in our efforts, among other things, to bring sector-level activities (including regional and popular forces) more directly under the authority of Revolutionary Development Minister Thang. In a more general sense both Thang and the civilian leaders now beginning to emerge on the political scene in the constituent assembly could also be expected to see the placing of pacification entirely under MACV as a set-back and reflecting a return to military rule.
It is a fact of life whether justified or not that the morale of the many US civilians now working on pacification and indispensable to the program would be affected most adversely if they were put under military direction.

4. Without any intention of “fighting the problem”, I question whether the problem of split responsibility on the American side is such a serious one and so urgently in need of remedy that we should take on the liabilities mentioned above. Moreover, the present framework on the US side has been in operation barely six months and the RD program itself is hardly any older, and while I am certainly not satisfied with the progress of pacification, I am not sure that we yet have a reliable enough reading on how it is proceeding and where the problems lie to justify our again upsetting the organization and starting over. Furthermore, there are alternative means of reducing the problem of split responsibility which should be examined. A possible alternative would be the appointment of a Deputy COMUSMACV for Pacification who would also be adviser to the pacification czar, Ambassador Porter; Porter would have as deputies the chiefs of the civilian agencies (AID, JUSPAO and CIA) also involved in pacification, and those deputies and Dep COMUSMACV might form a Pacification Council under Porterʼs direction. While Dep COMUSMACV would himself command, under General Westmorelandʼs authority, the MACV elements advising the GVN military and para-military elements engaged in pacification, he would be made as integral as possible a member of Ambassador Porterʼs staff in order to achieve the fullest possible coordination.

5. The questions discussed above have received extended consideration in the Mission in Saigon and this is as it should be since there are involved many complex questions of US–GVN relationships and the need for an intimate knowledge of the workings of the machinery from top to bottom. Although we have not yet received any comprehensive comments from the Mission, Ambassador Porter will arrive in the United States this weekend and could tell us where this question stands in the Mission and could give us his own views.

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Recommendation 3

6. Before Secretary McNamaraʼs proposal is given final consideration, we should have the considered views of our Mission in Saigon on the overall question of organization for pacification on the US side. Meanwhile, you may wish to point out to Secretary McNamara our reservations about placing responsibility under COMUSMACV and our hope that a means should be found to put Ambassador Porter in a position to carry out his responsibilities, as originally envisaged, fully and effectively.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S Miscellaneous Vietnam Reports: Lot 70 D 48, Briefing Materials on Vietnam. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Unger.
  2. Document 245.
  3. There is no indication on the source text whether Rusk approved the recommendation. In a telephone conversation with McNamara on October 3, Rusk stated that his “principal problem” with turning over pacification to the military “was that we seem to be moving toward military govt when South Viet Nam was moving the other way.” McNamara responded that he “realized this but his chief concern was that the administration of it be effective.” (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telcons)