309. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to the Chiefs of Staff of the Army (Johnson) and Air Force (McConnell), the Chief of Naval Operations (Moorer), and the Commandant of the Marine Corps (Greene)1



  • Attached Memorandum
I have read with great interest and very substantial agreement the attached memorandum written by General DePuy regarding the aftermath of the war in Vietnam. Just the other day I related to you an anecdote concerning General Jacquot, a distinguished and very senior French general who at one time was CINCENT, as to the effects of the French Wars in Indochina and Algeria upon the morale and stability of the French Armed Forces. At that time, I expressed the apprehension that the American Armed Forces could lose the support of the American people in pursuing the war in Vietnam.
General DePuy’s memorandum carries my thought a bit further, because I was thinking in terms of the present while he is thinking in terms of the aftermath of the Vietnamese war. Nevertheless, I [Page 762] think his points are well taken and should be earnestly considered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Earle G. Wheeler


Memorandum From the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (DePuy) to the Director, Joint Staff (Goodpaster)


  • The End of the War in Vietnam and Its Aftermath
Without debating the desirability of the matter I am convinced that the war in Vietnam will be brought to a close at US initiative sometime within the next 18 months. I am further convinced that a major effort in this direction will be mounted no later than the traditional Christmas cease-fire in December of this year.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military services, and the country as a whole, should be greatly concerned about the after-taste. If US disengagement has the flavor of a military defeat, or even military frustration, it will take years to repair the damage to morale, the traditions, and even the concept for employment of military forces in the national defense.
We have lived through one such experience in the case of Korea. Without reopening the details of the debate which took place at the end of the Korean war, it can be said that public attention was not focused on the successful defense of South Korea but instead was focused on the restrictions and inhibitions on the use of military force. The after-taste which persists to this day was that the military operations had been frustrated and were therefore not successful. However, for reasons political and psychological, the war was terminated by the highest authorities in the land.
It is not difficult to visualize a similar denouement in Vietnam. The fact is, that the North Vietnamese have been clearly and unmistakably prevented from taking over South Vietnam by military force. We now are faced with the choice of describing this as a military success or a military failure. This is not an easy choice to make and it may even be impossible to make such a choice, but there are some powerful reasons why the matter should be addressed and carefully thought [Page 763] out by the Joint Chiefs of Staff themselves and by the services individually and collectively:
Many brave lives have been spent and the families of those soldiers, sailors, air men and marines deserve to be told that these lives were not spent in vain—that they were spent in the process of achieving a very important national military objective—the very objective we set out to attain in the first place.
If the after-taste is not one of success from a military standpoint, one can foresee enormous problems in the post-war period in connection with the rationale for military forces. In short, there will be many who say that military forces are not able to cope with wars of national liberation and that therefore, such forces need not be maintained.
The organization, tactics and techniques of the military forces will be thrown open to question and doubt as a part of the same reaction which pertains to paragraph 4b above.
American military forces have a tradition of success on the battlefield from which stems much of their strength, discipline, and effectiveness. It would be tragic if this tradition were to be sacrificed through a misinterpretation of the military outcome of the war in Vietnam.
It is already clear that the pressures of an election year will cause partisans of various kinds to accentuate any differences, real or imagined, between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Administration on the conduct of the war. However well-meaning these attempts may be, and disregarding the substance of the issues, there is a very real danger that the net effect will suggest a military failure where in fact there has been none.
What I am suggesting is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff might find it highly desirable in the long range interests of the United States and the armed forces to accentuate the positive in their discussions and testimony, not so much in terms of future prospects but in terms of concrete accomplishments already evident from both a strategic and tactical standpoint in Vietnam. In short, and given the limited nature of the war, the main military objective has already been accomplished.
I recommend that you discuss this with the Chairman so that he may, if he sees any merit in the proposal, in turn discuss it with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
W. E. DePuy
Major General, USA
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Col. R.N. Ginsburgh’s Reports. Secret; Eyes Only. In a September 23 covering note to the President, Rostow wrote: “Bob Ginsburgh made this sensitive in-house document available to me on a personal basis. It reflects a real anxiety among our best military; although they may be over-impressed with the Fulbrights and Galbraiths of this world.” The notation “L” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the memorandum. The memorandum can also be found at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Harold K. Johnson Papers, Close-hold #3, 372–391.