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

3243. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my sixteenth weekly telegram:

A. General

While the tempo of the war abated somewhat during the last week the political campaign heated up largely due to the continuation of the controversy over the Dong Ha incident2 and to charges by certain of the candidates of harassment and of pressure on the part of some GVN provincial and district officials.
As a result however of Thieu’s conciliatory attitude in the Dong Ha case and of two letters from the Commissioner of Special Administration Tuong to the special election committee, the second one couched in moderate terms and outlining what the GVN was prepared to do in assisting the candidates, the campaign, temporarily derailed, has gotten back on the track. Further investigation confirms the fact, I believe, that the Dong Ha incident arose chiefly from a series of unfortunate occurrences which led to misunderstandings between the candidates and the GVN. Despite many contradictory statements and charges I do not believe that the mixup was a premeditated action by the GVN to humiliate the candidates as the latter alleged but was rather a combination of bad weather and poor planning, execution, and judgment by some GVN officials, combined with impatience and suspicion on the part of candidates who subsequently decided to exploit the issue for political purposes. Both sides acted with a certain degree of childishness, “face” became involved, and therefore neither side acted in a way designed to settle the issue easily. Although delayed longer than seemed reasonably necessary the issue has been resolved and all of the candidates have resumed campaigning. In fact representatives of most of them continued campaigning in the provinces while the controversy was going on in Saigon.
All the candidates held press conferences on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Charges of harassment have been made by some of them, Huong making the most specific allegations in his conference yesterday (Saigon 3150).3 Certainly these charges should be investigated by the GVN and if substantiated, action should be taken to eliminate such practices to the extent possible. In the absence of intimidation some involvement on the side of the “ins” would generally be considered one of the accepted advantages of incumbency. We have evidence also that some officials will at least quietly support opposition candidates. We have been unremitting throughout the Mission in our contacts with the GVN, both civilian and military, to emphasize the prime importance of keeping the elections free and honest. I have continually kept this in the forefront of my talks with Thieu and Ky and have pointed out to them the adverse reactions which have appeared in the US press and in Congressional statements. I believe most of these criticisms stem from the acceptance of rumors as facts and a tendency to gauge the fairness of elections here against standards of perfection which do not prevail in the most advanced democracies.
Both Thieu and Ky have been greatly concerned by US press and Congressional reactions. Ky told me yesterday that he and Thieu had decided to send communications to all of the allied governments on what had been done and is being done by the GVN to insure that the elections would be free, fair, and honest. What they have in mind I think is outlining substantially what was reported in our 28694 and 29725 including such things as lifting of press censorship; instructions issued by the Minister of Defense to the armed forces to stay out of the elections and the written directive to armed forces commanders clearly stating rules governing participation of military personnel in election activity; General Thang’s prohibition of political activity on the part of RD workers; instructions from Generals Thieu and Ky to province and district chiefs not to engage in politics; that pursuant to the election law all candidates are being provided certain funds for their campaign; that candidates are being furnished transportation although [Page 693] this is not required by law; that all candidates are being given free time on government radio and television; that invitations have been extended by the GVN for observers to come for the elections to various organizations, friendly governments, parliamentary groups, and the international press.
I shall report in more detail in the political section on the aftermath of the Dong Ha affair, on the charges of harassment, and on other developments in the campaign.6
General Westmoreland, Ambassador Komer and I met yesterday with Prime Minister Ky, the Minister of Defense General Vien and General Thang, as the result of a request I had made to discuss our proposals on pacification, particularly Project Takeoff.7 General Ky had informed me that the GVN was also contemplating some reorganization of its pacification program as well as of the Vietnamese armed forces. At the meeting yesterday he outlined to us what they had in mind. We will report these proposals in detail separately but I might summarize them briefly:
Making the province chief the key individual in the pacification program at the provincial level; giving him adequate authority to manage all civilian and military activities in his province; upgrading the quality of province chiefs.
Reorganization and improvement of the Regional and Popular Forces.
Improvement of leadership. Ky stated that “we must purify the army by asking poor officers to leave” and mentioned that General Vien had prepared a list of forty senior officers who would be asked to leave the army.
General Thang would return to the army as deputy to General Vien and would control the political department, the RF/PF, and the security forces. General Thang will also control the training of the RD teams, and will improve the coordination between RD teams and the military at local levels.
Appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister with overall control of the pacification activities of the Ministries involved. Ky remarked that if elected as Vice President he would have little to do so he would deal personally with pacification.
A more direct attack on the VC infrastructure along the lines outlined by Ambassador Komer.
Ky mentioned specifically that General Thieu was sorry that he could not attend meeting8 but he had specifically endorsed these GVN proposals which General Ky had outlined. General Westmoreland, Ambassador Komer and I felt that these plans for reorganization of the armed forces and the pacification program were constructive and along the lines we have been advocating.

[Here follows discussion of political, economic, and military issues.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received at 12:42 p.m. In the covering note transmitting a copy of the telegram to the President, Smith wrote: “Ambassador Bunker’s weekly cable emphasizes election developments but contains a hopeful report on how the South Vietnamese plan to reorganize their pacification program.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8B(1) [A] Bunker’s Weekly Report to the President) The notation “L” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram. The telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 118–127.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 274.
  3. In telegram 3150 from Saigon, August 15, Bunker reported on Huong’s press conference of that day in which he accused the GVN of “using threats and pressures to ensure the victory of the Thieu-Ky slate.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S) In his weekly report to the President contained in telegram 3824 from Saigon, August 23, Bunker stated: “I have the feeling that this issue is less appealing than it first appeared. The public has noted the charges and in many cases is no doubt prone to believe them. Still, I think the public is also taking note of the fact that despite such allegations the campaign machines of the major candidates are very active in the provinces, that the press is obviously quite unafraid to attack and criticize both the government and the military, and that the government has in fact done a good job of providing campaign facilities for the civilian candidates ever since the Dong Ha furor.” (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
  4. Dated August 12. (Ibid., POL 14 VIET S)
  5. See footnote 2, Document 274.
  6. This section is not printed.
  7. A report on this August 15 meeting is in telegram 3223 from Saigon, August 16. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S) In a meeting with Ky on August 16, Komer expanded on his briefing of the previous day, emphasizing the need for land reform and internal security. (Memorandum for the Record, August 16; Center for Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, Chron File: Komer (Aug-Dec ’67)) Project Takeoff was authored by Komer to overhaul completely the pacification effort and make it a priority of the GVN. In a memorandum to Bunker and Westmoreland, July 30, Komer listed the following eight action programs: improvement in future planning, acceleration of Chieu Hoi, attacking the VC infrastructure, greater RVNAF support to pacification, expansion of the mission of the RD teams, increased capability to deal with refugees, renovation of the NP and NPFF, and land reform. (Ibid., Komer-Westmoreland File, 1967)
  8. Thieu was on a tour of II Corps.