158. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

24624. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my first weekly telegram.

I have spent the major part of my first week here in on the job training trying to familiarize myself with organization and the activities of the Mission, getting briefed by members of the Council on the status of our major programs, and trying to get a feel for the situation here. In this connection, I have found that Ambassador Porter’s willingness to continue on here until May 5 is of inestimable value. His vast store of knowledge about the situation here which includes the work of the Mission both here and in the field, personnel, and his personal relationships with members of the Vietnamese Government have been of inestimable value. Ambassador Locke, who arrived May 1, will be working closely with Ambassador Porter also until the latter’s departure May 5.
General Westmoreland arrived yesterday and reported to me today on his talks in Washington, and we had a preliminary talk about organization of the pacification program, about which I shall report separately after Bob Komer’s arrival and I have had an opportunity to talk further with him and General Westmoreland. In this connection, I [Page 378] have reported separately (Saigon’s 242652 and 24286)3 statements made by both Thieu and Ky relative to their views on pacification. Both have said the right words, and it remains to be seen whether deeds will match the words. I have no doubt of their intentions but I am sure that they and others engaged in the program which has to be primarily a Vietnamese effort will need the most effective and efficient support we can render.
The political scene is mixed. To summarize: elections for village councils have now been successfully completed, with an over-all turnout of 2,511,455 or 77 percent. Although the Viet Cong killed 12 candidates and kidnapped 31, they were not able to disrupt or discredit the elections. At the national level, the critical question of the military candidacy remains unresolved, with some signs of tension increasing among certain of the military. The electoral law is nearing completion as the Assembly discusses the draft law in plenary session. While in general the draft appears to be a satisfactory document from our point of view, provisions to ensure that the winner has a respectable mandate and provisions to ensure equal means for all candidates are weaker than we had hoped. Moreover, relations between the government and the Assembly are uncertain, with resentments and suspicions continuing on both sides. In I Corps, morale has improved since the additional American forces arrived, but there is still much anxiety there over the possibility of a major enemy thrust. The militant Buddhists so far have proved unable to find either the issue or the allies to make trouble. May Day was marked by orderly meetings, and the effort to turn the meetings into anti-government and anti-American demonstrations failed completely. The rebel Montagnard leader, Y Bham, finally came to Banmethuot to meet with GVN representatives, and a preliminary agreement was reached.

[Here follows detailed discussion of the Thieu-Ky rivalry, local elections, the electoral law, the situation in I Corps, the GVN’s talks with Y Bham, Chieu Hoi, casualties, the South Vietnamese economy, the port problem, and the matter of wives of American personnel.]

H. Conclusion.

35. During all of the talks which I have had over this past week, in my briefings, and in the many contacts I have had with both our civilian and military personnel, some things have impressed me deeply. [Page 379] I have found on the part of everyone with whom I have come in contact a universal spirit of cooperation, of dedication to the great effort in which we are engaged here, an awareness of its vital importance and a determination that we shall succeed. This is a heartening thing to experience and I wish that all our people at home could see and feel it. We have ability and talent here, we have conviction, and I have faith that we shall come through.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Passed to the White House. In a covering memorandum transmitting the telegram to the President, May 3, Rostow wrote: “Herewith Ambassador Bunker’s first report. His orderly, judicious mind, plus the spirit in the last paragraph will, I believe, hearten you.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Nodis Vol. VI) This telegram is printed in full in Douglas Pike, The Bunker Papers: Reports to the President From Vietnam, 1967–1973, pp. 1–7.
  2. Dated April 28. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. In telegram 24286 from Saigon, April 28, Bunker described his first meeting with Ky, whom the Ambassador described as being “keenly aware of our desire to see the ARVN properly motivated” on pacification. (Ibid.)