161. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1


  • My Comments on the 5 May “First Rough Draft”2

These comments are for your eyes only:

I am afraid there is the fatal flaw in the strategy in the draft. It is that the strategy falls into the trap that has ensnared us for the past [Page 382]three years. It actually gives the troops while only praying for their proper use and for constructive diplomatic action. Limiting the present decision to an 80,000 add-on does the very important business of postponing the issue of a Reserve call-up (and all of its horrible baggage), but postpone it is all that it does—probably to a worse time, 1968. Providing the 80,000 troops is tantamount to acceding to the whole Westmoreland-Sharp request. This being the case, they will “accept” the 80,000. But six months from now, in will come messages like the “470,000–570,000” messages, saying that the requirement remains at 201,000 (or more). Since no pressure will have been put on anyone, the military war will have gone on as before and no diplomatic progress will have been made. It follows that the “philosophy” of the war should be fought out now so everyone will not be proceeding on their own major premises, and getting us in deeper and deeper; at the very least, the President should give General Westmoreland his limit (as President Truman did to General MacArthur). That is, if General Westmoreland is to get 550,000 men, he should be told “that will be all, and we mean it.”
I think the paper underplays a little bit the unpopularity of the war in the US, especially with the young people, the underprivileged, the intelligentsia and (I suspect) the women. A feeling is widely and strongly held that “the Establishment” is out of its mind. The feeling is that we are trying to impose some US image on distant peoples we cannot understand (anymore than we can the younger generation here at home), and that we are carrying the thing to absurd lengths. Related to this feeling is the increased polarization that is taking place in the United States with seeds of the worst split in our people in more than a century. The King, Galbraith, etc., positions illustrate one near-pole; the Hebert and Rivers statements on May 5 about the need to disregard the First Amendment illustrate the other. In this connection, I fear that “natural selection” in this environment will lead the Administration itself to become more and more homogenized—Mac Bundy, George Ball, Bill Moyers are gone. Who next?
We should, as part of biting the bullet, decide that the US does not insist that the Congos, Bolivias, Greeces, and South Vietnams of the world must select their governments by elections. (Is it historically correct that only the highly industrialized nations have succeeded in using that process?) Specifically, I think we should recognize that civil wars are among the several ways that nations of cultures foreign to us employ to arrive at a government. We should obviously push for elections in Vietnam, but we should make clear that we do not rule out the bare-knuckle method if all else fails. This point is very pertinent in Vietnam because a fair election is totally unlikely and both sides know it. If we wait for an election to settle the issue there, we may never get out. And there is some merit to the position that the [Page 383]prize should go to the fellow who can come out on top in the rough-and-tumble.
The paper still lacks a good, full scenario. It needs more work. Two examples of points not covered are (a) whether we want to see that the September Vietnamese presidential elections go one way or another, in furtherance of the strategy, and (b) how we generate and sustain domestic support in the US for the strategy.
A smaller point: The paper pussy-foots a little with respect to the “redefinition of ’success’.” That is exactly what the strategy tries to do. Perhaps, as a matter of tactics, the President should figure it out for himself. This point ties in closely with the one made in paragraph 1 above regarding getting the “philosophy” of the war decided (to avoid another diplomatic default and military misuse of the forces).
John T. McNaughton3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Papers of Paul C. Warnke, McNaughton Files, McNTN III Drafts, 1967 (1). Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Reference is to an early draft of the Draft Presidential Memorandum by the ISA staff, not found. The May 19 draft memorandum to the President is Document 177.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.