236. Memorandum for Record1

At 1105 hours on 11 July 1967, Secretary McNamara, Secretary Katzenbach, Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams and I met with Chief of State Thieu, Premier Ky, General Vien, Ambassador Bui Diem and Foreign Minister Do in the Presidential Palace. Secretary McNamara led off by expressing greetings from President Johnson and his pleasure at the actions taken to maintain unity among Vietnamese military leaders at this time of upcoming elections. He went on to say that we must create and maintain an environment for free and honest elections. President Johnson wished him to express his strong support for the GVN and the war effort; however, there must be unity of effort and it must be made clear to the world that the elections are free and honest.2 General Thieu responded that they on their side appreciated the opportunity for frank discussions. The GVN seeks better ways to work together. He added that they would like to know what subjects our party wished to discuss.
Secretary McNamara stated that the upcoming elections were really the most important subject before us. He called on Secretary Katzenbach to comment and the latter stated that US attitudes and support will be influenced by news media reports concerning the elections. If the reports are favorable, the burden on President Johnson will be lightened. Therefore, it is most important that the elections be honest. Thieu answered that they could assure us as to the unity of the Vietnamese forces. He and Ky are now joined together on one ticket as a symbol of the unity of the VNAF, even though two military men on the same ticket is not politically the wisest course of action. Indeed, the fact that they are on the same slate makes them (Thieu and Ky) even more anxious than before to have free and honest elections.
Secretary McNamara expressed his satisfaction with Thieu’s response and stated that he would so report to the President. He then referred to recent statements by Thieu and Ky relative to negotiations with Hanoi and/or the NLF. He posed the following question: Are you receptive to peace talks after the elections? Thieu replied that the GVN has good will. After the elections they will be in a stronger position to talk; however, much will depend on the attitudes of Hanoi.
Mr. McNamara then raised the requirement to make more effective use of Vietnamese forces. On the GVN side, they must improve the Regional Forces and the Popular Forces and leadership over-all. He understood that the GVN is considering expanding their forces. This would be done, he had been told, by expanding the draft and lowering the draft age. They should understand that President Johnson has difficult problems arising from increasing US forces in Vietnam unless and until full use is made of the VNAF and its effectiveness is maximized. General Vien referred Mr. McNamara to the COMUSMACV briefings on programs to improve leadership. He stated that he had asked General Westmoreland for more advisors for Regional and Popular Forces. He believes that in some cases Province Chiefs have misused Regional and Popular Forces. In any event, he thought that with more US advisors and with implementation of current programs, the situation would be improved.
At Mr. McNamara’s request to Ambassador Bunker concerning any other problems being raised, the Ambassador suggested discussing the exchange rates. Mr. McNamara then stated that he had great difficulty justifying to the US Congress the official exchange rate of 80 piasters to the dollar when individuals can obtain 118 piasters for a dollar. This problem is, of course, complex and he did not suggest that they discuss it at this time. However, he requested that the GVN study the problem of equalizing exchange rates in the near future.3
A part of the discussion having been about increasing the effectiveness of the VNAF, when I was asked for my comments, I stated that VNAF troop units generally are under strength. I suggested that the quickest and most effective way of increasing the combat capability of the VNAF would be to keep troop units up to strength. General Vien replied that he is trying to do this, but was having problems related to the output of training camps and the casualty rate. General Vien then raised as a problem the adverse effect of the use of Cambodian territory as a sanctuary by the NVA and the Viet Cong forces. He stated that it is well known that the North Vietnamese Army units in II Corps are being supplied with food and ammunition from Cambodia. [Page 592] In his judgment, we must take action against these enemy forces. (There was no comment from the American side.)
Thieu asked if there are any signs that Hanoi wants to negotiate after the elections. Secretary McNamara responded that he really didn’t know. He pointed out, however, that a number of North Vietnamese Ambassadors have been recently recalled to Hanoi. He conjectured that they would discuss with Hanoi leaders military and political futures. He asked Thieu if the Vietnamese had any information on this subject. Thieu responded simply “no.”
Thieu then asked if it were true that the main military targets in North Vietnam had been destroyed.4 Secretary McNamara stated that the war effort is supported from out of country; therefore, our bombing campaign has not been able to do other than reduce and obstruct the movement of war supporting matériel in North Vietnam. Nevertheless, this was not to say that the destruction of targets in North Vietnam has not hurt the North Vietnamese. About 80% of air effort has been directed at lines of communication. We estimate that some 500,000 men have been diverted to the maintenance of LOC’s, air defense, etc. This is a very heavy price for a country such as North Vietnam to pay. Secretary Katzenbach intervened to say that North Vietnam is, in his judgment, making more mistakes recently than before. He considers that this is an encouraging factor.
Thieu then asked if there had been indications at Glassboro that Kosygin would be helpful in seeking an end to the war. Mr. McNamara responded that Kosygin had come to the US to salvage Soviet face as a result of the debacle in the Middle East; he was in no mood to agree to put pressure on Hanoi leaders; however, President Johnson had been able to put across to Kosygin that the US is committed to the freedom of South Vietnam. Of course, US objectives are, in fact, limited, but we intend to reach those objectives; namely, a situation such that the South Vietnamese can choose their own way of life.
The conference adjourned at 1200 hours for lunch.
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Kissinger—1967. Secret. Prepared by General Wheeler on July 13 in Washington on letterhead of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In Wheeler’s covering memorandum to Bundy, July 14, he wrote in part: “The interesting thing, in my judgment, was that neither Thieu nor Ky appeared to be particularly interested in the out of country bombing campaign.”
  2. In telegram CAP 67727 to McNamara, the President wrote: “If you and Nick concur, I would like you to see Ky and Thieu, either separately or together—as you and Ambassador Bunker may judge wise—and tell them in my name: (1) I am glad that they have honored their commitment volunteered to me at Guam for the military to stay together in the election process and I count on them continuing; and (2) It is absolutely essential to my ability to continue to back the struggle for South Vietnamese independence and self determination that the election be conducted with complete honesty and fairness, and that this honesty and fairness be apparent to all. Since I have always dealt with them together, I think it would be good if this message were delivered to them together. But I leave that decision in your hands.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Vietnam Files: FRC 77–0075, Vietnam—(July and August 1967))
  3. See Document 114.
  4. This was really a double-barreled question, the other part being whether or not we would undertake a bombing pause (main targets having been destroyed) to induce negotiations. McN responded to this in low key, saying that we would not want to stop the air campaign in such a way as to get ourselves into a Korean-type [following words illegible]. [Handwritten footnote in the source text by Wheeler.]