256. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

1954. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my thirteenth weekly telegram:

Two developments of importance relating to the elections took place during the past week as the result at least in part of persistent persuasion and patient prodding on our part. The first was the lifting of press censorship which has encountered a very favorable reaction here. The second was the invitation sent by the Foreign Minister to U Thant urging that he send United Nations observers to Viet-Nam during the elections. In his letter the Foreign Minister expressed the view that the presence of such observers would clearly testify to the determination of the GVN to hold free and honest elections and that their presence would afford the United Nations organization an excellent opportunity to obtain a first-hand picture of what the situation in Viet-Nam really is. He has informed me that invitations are being sent to local diplomatic missions and to all countries in which the GVN has representation. These are both measures which I have been urging Thieu and Ky to take for some time and I think the fact that they have done so has given a feeling of considerable confidence to the civilian candidates and to the public generally.
Other actions which have contributed to the feeling of confidence are the promise of equal access for all candidates to communications media and transportation and the calling off of General Loan in his over-zealous activities on behalf of Ky’s candidacy before the Thieu-Ky ticket was put together. Moreover within the past week both Thieu and Ky have said to me that they are fully conscious of the fact that with a combined military ticket they must take added precautions to see that the elections are clean.
At the meeting which Clark Clifford and Max Taylor had yesterday with Thieu, Ky and their colleagues,2 Clark stressed the fact that [Page 640] nothing could be more damaging to our common cause abroad than the impression that the elections were not honest. Thieu for his part said that they must be entirely honest and fair in order to show the Vietnamese people that the GVN really wants a democratically elected government which can defeat the enemy and promote a better life for its citizens. These are all constructive developments. But obviously the process will need watching and no doubt guidance as we get into the active campaign. I will of course continue to keep a sharp eye on this question and we will maintain the necessary pressure on the government.
The press of course will be watching the whole electoral process with a critical eye as they do almost everything here. It is a strange thing that in a country which is engaging in its first real experiment in democracy and under wartime conditions they seem to be expecting standards which have not yet been achieved in countries far more mature politically, even in the United States. Nevertheless it is typical of the cynical and skeptical attitude of a large part of the press here. This is a situation similar to that we faced in dealing with the Dominican problem where many of the press came with preconceived ideas and were not to be persuaded by the facts of life. The difference is that here it is on a bigger scale.

This came out at the brief press conference which Clark Clifford and General Taylor held on their arrival.3 A reporter for NBC here made the statement that pacification is not going well, that there had been no spectacular military victories, that ARVN does not show any signs of becoming an effective fighting force and later on in the course of the conference made even more damaging statements about ARVN, intimating that our field commanders do not trust the courage and loyalty of ARVN soldiers. Since I and my colleagues here are convinced that we have been and are making steady progress, I had assembled some factual data for Clark and Max Taylor detailing developments which have taken place in the military, political, economic and manpower areas, and the current status of the Viet-Cong. They felt that this information would be useful to them in their visits to the remaining six countries. Although I have covered some of these matters in my reports of recent weeks, it might not be amiss to summarize our views on the situation here as we see it.

Military Progress and Strategy in General

Our war against the main forces and guerrilla forces of the enemy has been going well. As evidence of this we have, during the past year: [Page 641]
Defeated enemy forces in battle wherever found and disrupted his plans for major offensive across the DMZ and in the highlands, denying him the psychological victory he seeks.
Contained the enemy along the Cambodia-Pleiku-Kontum border.
Reduced significantly enemy infiltration by sea, so as to force his reliance on infiltration through Laos and across the DMZ.
Increased security in the coastal areas of I and II Corps, dealing a major blow to guerrilla forces. This has disrupted the enemy’s source of manpower and supplies in the area, forcing him increasingly to rely on Cambodia for supplies and North Viet-Nam for men.
Destroyed Viet Cong base areas north, west and east of Saigon, thereby pushing the enemy deeper into the jungles.
Significantly increased percentage of “secure” and “open” roads and waterways, including the opening of all major roads and waterways to daylight traffic in the vicinity of Saigon, the opening of Highway 1 along the central coast from Phan Rang to the DMZ except for a short stretch along the I Corps-II Corps boundary, and the keeping open of Highway 19 from the coast to the Highlands and Highways 21 and 14 in the Highlands, as required to support operations.

Improved the ratio of enemy killed to friendly killed and enemy weapons captured to friendly weapons captured.

In addition:

We have improved our intelligence and have developed a flexible logistical base. Port facilities are greatly improved.
New highly sophisticated weapons (bombs, mines, detection devices) have been developed, and some used with great success.
ARVN units dedicated to the main force war, while not consistent in their performance, have vastly improved as indicated by many battle victories, which were scarce a year and a half ago. Particularly have ARVN units fought well in joint operations with U.S. units, aided by U.S. artillery and air support.

However, the enemy still has capability of replacing troops and supplies, is giving troops better and more sophisticated weapons, has been able to mount destructive mortar and rocket attacks on our air fields and bases, and is determined to continue war, gambling on a changed political situation in the U.S. or South Viet-Nam.
We believe our future strategy should be
To continue, improve, and intensify our present tactics of (1) containing enemy main unit forces in the South Viet-Nam border area, (2) searching and destroying enemy forces within South Viet-Nam, (3) guarding our bases and devising better methods of combatting rocket and mortar attacks against them, (4) destroying enemy base [Page 642] areas, (5) interdicting infiltration of men and supplies into South Viet-Nam by the present kind of operations on land and sea and in North Viet-Nam, and (6) improving security in the countryside which is partly a function of all our other military activities.

To adopt whatever new tactics are necessary to stop or slow to a trickle infiltration by the enemy of men and material through Laos into South Viet-Nam.

Progress in the Political Field

Since early April of this year, most of the people in Viet-Nam in areas secure enough to hold elections have gone to the polls twice, once to elect village councilmen and the second time to elect hamlet chiefs. Local elections of this kind are important to the Vietnamese people because they restore to them the autonomy they once had, and provide an important base for the future involvement of the people in local government. They represent one of the present government’s most significant reforms.
Eleven Presidential tickets and 48 10-man senatorial lists will be voted on in the September 3 elections. There are three major Presidential slates: (1) Chief of State Thieu and Prime Minister Ky; (2) former Prime Minister Tran Van Huong and respected southern Buddhist leader, Mai Tho Truyen; and (3) National Assembly Chairman Phan Khac Suu and Dr Phan Quang Dan. Senatorial contenders represent a broad cross section of Vietnamese non-Communist society and include many of Viet-Nam’s most prominent political figures. This is a healthy sign of interest in the constitutional process and the importance attached to the forthcoming elections. As noted above the prospects for fair and honest elections have been much improved as have the prospects for post election cooperation between military and civilian elements. If, as we hope and believe probable, a broadly based military-civilian government can emerge from the elections, it will be a long step forward in creating public confidence in and support for the government. This in turn should provide increased stability and a broader base for carrying forward the activities of government in all areas. Progress toward the development of a democratic constitutional process has been a major achievement and one which will have great psychological impact both in Viet-Nam and abroad.

[Here follows discussion of the favorable economic outlook; problems in the countryside; manpower issues; pacification; the July 25 conversation among Bunker, Clifford, Taylor, Ky, and Thieu; the upcoming Vietnamese political campaign; and figures for Chieu Hoi and killed-in-action.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received at 11 a.m. and passed to the White House at 7:30 p.m. In a covering note transmitting a retyped version of the telegram to the President, July 27, Rostow wrote: “This is the most solid piece of analysis in a single place of progress in Viet Nam. I believe it should be: —edited and repeated to our diplomatic posts; —used with the Congressional leadership.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 B (1)[A] Bunker’s Weekly Report to the President) The notation “L” on the covering memorandum indicates that the President saw the telegram. This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 92–101.
  2. For a summary, see Document 255.
  3. See The New York Times, July 26, 1967.