430. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

CAP 671027. You should know we had a most engaging day here with David Lilienthal. He saw the President, met the press, and told the Cabinet about the 135-page program put in by the Vietnamese.2

In addition he happened to put his head in when I was having lunch in my office with Jean Monnet. You would have been charmed to see Jean’s eyes come alive at this kind of practical planning, engaging the members of the Senate as well as young graduate students, etc. It clearly brought back his immediate post-war days in setting up the French modernization plan.

I cannot assess the quality of the program, of course, from this distance. But as a father of the idea of starting this kind of planning while the war was on—and from my experience in developing nations3—I should think it would be wise for the Vietnamese Government to consider the following:

  • —Thieu should try to make the program a living part of the government. You know very well how a plan can die if the responsible Ministers treat it as some intrusive piece of paper.
  • —The government should try to engage the Senate and lower house in studying the plan and making recommendations. It is one way of getting them all to focus on their future and to give the plan political life.
  • —The government should consider publishing the program and then generating discussions in the cities and towns of the country as well as in trade unions, universities, etc.

This assumes, of course, that there is enough meat and potatoes in it to stir people’s imaginations.

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You will be clear that this is a personal view which you will feel wholly free to ignore if it doesn’t make sense.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1B(1), Economic Activity & Planning. Confidential; Via CAS Channels.
  2. Lilienthal met with the President twice on December 6: alone from 11:41 a.m. through 12:12 p.m., and then with the full Cabinet from 12:12 p.m. through 1:22 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) Lilienthal headed the American side of a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese non-governmental team planning for postwar development in Vietnam; see footnote 1, Document 91. The report, prepared by Vietnamese professors and graduate students, included an analysis of a variety of technical projects and economic measures to assure sustainable and long-term growth in Vietnam. Lilienthal described the specifics of the report in a December 6 press conference that followed the Cabinet meeting. See Department of State Bulletin, December 25, 1967, pp. 864–867.
  3. Rostow’s academic expertise was in development policy; in 1960, then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he published The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, a book that became the basis for the nation-building programs adopted during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.