1. Paper Prepared by the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor)1

COMMENTS ON VIET-NAM

As we enter the New Year, there are many aspects of the situation in Viet-Nam which deserve review but I have singled out only two for comment in this paper because of their prime importance.

a. Role of United States Ground Forces

There is a clear trend toward an expanded role for United States Ground Forces during the coming year, a trend which results from the success of our offensive search-and-destroy operations and the sluggishness of the pacification program. (For convenience, I continue to use that inadequate word “pacification” to refer to all those military and civil activities involved in clearing, holding, securing and rebuilding rural South Viet-Nam.) It will be further accentuated if the Viet Cong adopt or attempt to adopt a policy of reversion to small guerrilla-type operations and of avoidance of large unit clashes with our forces. If this kind is not checked, it can result in the deep involvement of our forces in clear-and-hold operations, static security missions, and local civil administration.

It is impossible to argue against the importance, indeed the indispensability of these activities but I have real concern over assuming them as primary tasks for United States ground forces. In the first place, they are inconsistent with the distinguishing attributes of our troops—mobility, fire-power and aptitude for the offensive. By their nature, they would impose relatively static, defensive dispositions on our units with responsibilities for terrain, population and local administration [Page 2]which raise a host of questions. How well would our troops deal with the problems arising from a close intermingling with the civilian population? If successful in their community relations, will it be at the expense of the relationship of the GVN with their own citizens? What about the growing “colonialist” image of the white man? Where do we get the non-military skills to deal with the local, civil problems?

I suspect that our troops would perform quite well in this new environment and that we would thus resolve a lot of the short-term problems which are delaying progress in pacification. I am not at all sure, however, that we would not thereby create long-term problems resulting from substituting American initiative and leadership in areas where the Vietnamese must eventually assume responsibility. Most of all, I am concerned by the implications of added troop requirements if this trend to expanded missions goes unchecked.

At the time of the submission of General Westmoreland’s “Concept of Military Operations in South Viet-Nam” last August,2 I suggested that a searching analysis of the implicit troop requirements be made at that time. Now I again suggest the need for looking this issue clearly in the eye and deciding what roles our ground forces should undertake in the pacification field. If no limit is set in principle, Washington will continue to receive from Westmoreland repeated requests for troops which it may be hard to decline. If he is not given policy guidance, Westmoreland will be justified in assuming that his concepts for the employment of our troops are consistent with Washington policy. But is it? We need to be sure of the answer.

I would think that, before accepting the inevitability of this expanded role for United States troops, we would leave no stone unturned to assure the Armed Forces of Viet-Nam have made a maximum contribution to pacification under the terms of their new assignment.

b. Preparations for a Viet-Nam Settlement

Although I am not privy to current actions in the government to prepare for a settlement of the Viet-Nam situation, I am struck by the lack of public discussion of the very real problems involved in a settlement and hence the lack of preparation of public opinion for their appearance and for the conduct of our government in coping with them.

The problems I have in mind are those related to such things as getting talks started under conditions favorable to a definitive settlement, keeping discussions going without bogging down in a Panmunjom kind of stalemate and, throughout, playing our “blue chips” [Page 3]wisely and effectively so that we come away from the conference table with our basic objective of an independent South Viet-Nam, free from the danger of external aggression.

Such problems relate to a formal negotiation; a tacit settlement in which violence merely subsides and eventually goes away would avoid many of these but would have others of its own. How to verify and measure subsidence? How to determine when our objective has been attained and when it is safe to go home? While fewer in number than for the negotiated settlement, these questions might prove more time-consuming than the requirements of a full-dress conference.

In either case, if we are not to sacrifice our basic objective, our government is going to have to take and maintain some very tough and unpopular positions before domestic and international opinion. We will have to justify the rejection of peace feelers which clearly have no motivation beyond a desire for propaganda advantage. We must avoid the pitfalls of accepting a cease-fire, almost certain to work to our disadvantage, and seek instead to negotiate a complete package which will include a cessation of both military and terrorist actions. To avoid foot-dragging at a conference, we will be obliged to continue to keep military pressure on the enemy—on this point, we need to reread Admiral Joy’s record of the stalemate at Panmunjom.3

In justification of the play of our “blue chips”, we need to identify them openly and give some indication of our estimate of their worth—particularly of the chip representing our bombing of the North. It is perfectly apparent that the Communist World has mounted a world-wide campaign (assisted by certain of our fellow citizens on the home front) to force us to play this chip in advance for the privilege of negotiating. But I do not believe that the significance of this campaign is generally clear to the public nor is the reason why it would be fatal to the attainment of our basic objective to surrender this chip to the Communist-inspired clamor.

In a settlement based on the subsidence of violence, we will have the task of insisting on a graduated de-escalation in phase with verified performance by the other side—a verification difficult and slow to obtain. We will need patience and determination to see this process through, resisting throughout any emotional impulse to “bring the boys home” as occurred at the end of World War II.

My conclusion is that we need to be sure of our own government position on these and similar points and prepare our people in advance for the courses of action which we are likely to take—courses which [Page 4]many of our people will find unreasonably harsh. To get their support, we need to restate over and over the importance of our basic objective and the need to clinch it at the conference table. Otherwise we will lose the sacrifices which we and our allies have made and the gains achieved in other fields in over a decade of conflict.

MDT4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Taylor Report on Overseas Operations and Misc. Memos. Secret. A marginal note indicates that Taylor sent this paper to President Johnson. In a January 3 memorandum to the President, Taylor requested that his role as special consultant be terminated. (Ibid., Gen. Taylor (2 of 2)) Rostow forwarded both memoranda to the President on January 4. The next day, Rostow called Taylor and told him that the President wished him to “stay on.” (Rostow note on memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 4; ibid.) At the direction of the President, Rostow sent copies of Taylor’s memoranda to Secretaries McNamara and Rusk. (Memorandum from Rostow to Rusk and McNamara, January 5; ibid.)
  2. Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 220.
  3. Reference is to Admiral C. Turner Joy, How the Communists Negotiate (New York: Macmillan, 1955).
  4. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.