344. Notes of Meeting With President Johnson1


  • Secretary McNamara
  • Under Secretary Katzenbach
  • Ambassador Harriman
  • Ambassador Lodge
  • Ambassador Goldberg
  • W.W. Rostow

The President asked Amb. Lodge for his views on the situation in Viet Nam.2

Amb. Lodge stated that many of the worries they had in Saigon a year ago they did not have now.

  • —They no longer feared the Viet Cong might cut the country in half.
  • —They no longer feared that regionalism backed by the Buddhists might tear the country apart.
  • —They no longer feared a Communist coup from within.
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The Presidentʼs commitment announced July 28, 1965, to put major U.S. forces in South Viet Nam had made this progress possible and also denied the “great edge of Asia” to the Communists—from Korea to Malaysia. This region was moving forward with confidence based on our commitment in Viet Nam.

On the other hand, we havenʼt won. The military war against the main force units had gone well. The Ambassador “expects brilliant results in 1967.” The constitutional process is evolving. The writ of the Saigon government runs throughout all the regions, except those directly controlled by the VC. They are moving well towards the making of a constitution and he expects it to be promulgated by February 9. Like everything in South Viet Nam, the political process is precarious; but there is progress.

Inflation has been contained in the economy, although it is an endless struggle. On the other hand, no one in South Viet Nam is starving.

The weakest point is failure to deal with terrorism, and this problem touches others. To get at terrorism, the retraining of the ARVN is critical. They must become a constabulary. The job will best be done by the soldiers if they operate where they live. They would then be more inclined to leave the chickens and the girls alone.

General Westmoreland understands this but all the officers in MACV do not. He cited a U.S. general in II Corps who didnʼt appear to realize that 39 village chiefs had been assassinated in II Corps in the past year. The military do not think in terms of the police measures now required to achieve security in the countryside. He believes they need direct word from the President that this is their job. At present Amb. Lodgeʼs view is that a basic reorganization of the ARVN is required. Gen. Westmoreland is not sure. It is the kind of issue where judgment from outside might be helpful.

With respect to third country participation, we have made progress and should make more. We have about reached the limit of generating such assistance by exhortation. For example, we need the kind of British policemen who have worked in Kenya. We ought to pressure the British to get some—perhaps by holding up shipments of scotch whisky to the U.S.

U.S. AID does not have enough people. It could use some good foreigners.

Latin Americans who trained with our Navy could help with Operation Market Time.3

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He cited an old friend of his, Tom Pappas, who helped in the rehabilitation of Greece. He believes Greece ought to send some troops to South Viet Nam. Mr. Pappas says he will pay for this as well as organize it.

Mr. Rostow asked if it would not be wise for Thieu to get into the field and lead the ARVN in the process of pacification, stressing the dignity of the job and its importance to the future of the country.

Amb. Lodge said this was something he might do. He is conscious of the problem and he may do it if he decides he cannot run for the presidency.

With respect to corruption, he said, we are still dealing with a country where relatives are important. For example, Chin cannot be removed because he is Thieuʼs brother-in-law. In that culture if one lets down a member of the family, one loses face.

The generals around Saigon are weak, partly because the government does not want strong leaders controlling troops too near Saigon for fear of a coup. Those are things one must take into account in Asia. But with Americans beginning to engage in pacification in the Saigon area, things may improve.

The President then turned to Gov. Harriman who described his probing of peace feelers in Algeria4 and Paris. The Algerians are prepared to follow up in Hanoi. He talked with Sainteny5 and recommended Sainteny be given permission to probe in Hanoi. He feels either the Algerians or Sainteny would do better job than East Europeans. The people in Hanoi are suspicious. They feel they have been twice fooled in negotiations.

In Paris he found Manaʼch constructive this time and also had a good talk with the Director of North African Affairs who said he thinks the U.S. should play an active part in Africa.

Gov. Harriman found Franco full of plans for the future of his country and also for settling problems in the disputed areas of Africa. He was contemptuous of De Gaulle. He believes we have been too friendly with the French. When Gov. Harriman cited our ties to Lafayette, he replied that we “have milked that cow dry.”

In general, he found Spain moving ahead very fast and recalled his opposition to Jimmy Byrnesʼ negative attitude towards Spain when Byrnes followed Molotovʼs line. President Truman followed Byrnes on this matter because he hadnʼt liked the way Spain treated the Baptists. They are now treating them better.

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He underlined the urgency and importance of South Vietnamese moving in the campaign for national reconciliation.

Under Secretary Katzenbach then commented the most difficult thing is to get a handle on the ARVN in the pacification problem. How to convert the ARVN was the problem. In terms of organization, the division commanders and corps commanders controlled the military now when what was needed was unambiguous control by the province chiefs and the political system. Amb. Lodge said we need senior Vietnamese leadership for pacification. We need the argument about ARVN reorganization settled: Westy saying it was unnecessary but Thieu feeling the ARVN has to be rebuilt from the bottom up; and we need a talented man from the U.S. military to lead our side of pacification—a three-star general. Gen. Wyant6 is the best man in Lodgeʼs view.

We shall learn something out of the Long An experiment, with Sam Wilson in effect leading both the military and civilian teams.

Amb. Goldberg asked Amb. Lodge what is the view ahead: Can the North Vietnamese maintain their ability to infiltrate; can the VC maintain their ability to conduct terrorist operations? Amb. Lodge replied that he expected brilliant results in 1967 in conventional military operations; we would move ahead politically; we would hold inflation although it would be a great struggle; we would make limited progress in pacification. Ho would not decide to end the war until, in his own phrase, the “guerrilla infrastructure” was destroyed. This embraces about 150,000 people. It might take 5 years to complete the job. But it ought to be clear during 1967 that we were on a winning track. He expected U.S. casualties to be way down by the middle of 1967.

He returned again to the ARVN and said they were disliked by the people. The proper pattern was the kind of combined force he had seen when outside Danang, with 25 U.S. Marines and 50 local Vietnamese working together in local security operations. The regional forces and the popular forces killed more VC than the ARVN. We should be moving to convert the ARVN to RF and PF. That was only way to disengage them from bad habits derived from their training under French colonial rule.

As for the national reconciliation program, this had taken hold at the top of South Vietnamese government. Zorthian was doing a good job and there should be an important announcement at the time of Tet concerning the national reconciliation program.

The President then asked Secretary McNamara to report on the bombing situation in North Viet Nam and the NATO meeting. Secretary McNamara said that two targets outside Hanoi had been attacked on December 2d, 3d, 13th and 14th: a railroad yard and a vehicle depot. Some photos were available on 14th which showed the railroad yard had been [Page 952] hit, with some but not extensive damage. Some civilian buildings near the railroad yard were hit. There were no photos of the area within the city limits.

There was some possibility that a SAM had fallen in the city limits. On the evidence, McNamara doubts that U.S. bombs fell within the city limits; but there were probably some civilian casualties near the targets.

As for the Peking Embassy, we have no evidence that we hit it. Nor the Rumanian Embassy. It is exceedingly difficult, however, to prove a negative. A great deal of antiaircraft debris falls on the city during our attacks nearby.

[Here follows discussion of NATO and United Nations issues.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files. Top Secret. Prepared by Rostow on December 19. Rostow states incorrectly that the meeting was held on Friday, December 17, in Austin, Texas. The Presidentʼs Daily Diary indicates that the meeting was held on Friday, December 16, at the White House, prior to the Presidentʼs departure for Texas that evening. (Ibid.)
  2. Telegram 7472 from Bangkok, December 11, contained a memorandum, prepared by Lodge for Rusk, which also provided Lodgeʼs views on the overall situation in Vietnam. (Ibid., Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 16)
  3. Operation Market Time referred to U.S. Navy counter-sea-infiltration operations along the coast of South Vietnam.
  4. Harriman reported on his 3-hour talk on December 9 with Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika in telegram 1863 from Algiers, December 10. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. A memorandum of Harrimanʼs conversation with Sainteny on December 2 is ibid. Bohlen reported on the conversation in telegram 8474 from Paris, December 3. (Ibid.)
  6. Apparently a reference to Major General Frederick C. Weyand.