11. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
Saigon, January 13, 1968, 1055Z.
15899. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my thirty-fourth weekly message.
- In the present message, I am attempting to give an objective evaluation of the efforts and achievements which, in common with our Vietnamese and other Free World allies, we have recorded during 1967. This represents not only my own views but also those of the major elements of the Mission so that in effect it represents a Mission consensus. In the next message, I hope to outline the major problem areas we foresee and to summarize the actions we plan to take to deal with them in the year ahead.
- The past year has been one of sustained and unremitting effort and I believe has seen enough achievements to give us every encouragement to continue along the present lines. We can have confidence that the successful defense of the Republic of Viet-Nam against Communist aggression and subversion is assured. Our efforts have been magnificently supported by you and by the American people, who have contributed in men and money to a degree unparalleled in our own history, to the defense of a people far from our shores. But as you have often said, the cost in men and money, heavy as it has been, cannot be compared to what the cost would ultimately be if we allowed Communist aggression and subversion to succeed in Viet-Nam. All of us working in the Mission here are convinced that what we do will affect not only the future of Viet-Nam but all of the countries in this part of the world who wish to be free and so has a direct bearing on our own vital national interests.
- The achievements of the past year, I believe, fall into three main categories. In the field of military operations the bringing into proper balance of the ratio of combat to support troops in the U.S. forces and the steady improvement of the Vietnamese armed forces, together with the contributions of our Free World allies, resulted in increasingly effective actions against the enemy. He has been thwarted in his attempts at penetration south of the DMZ, his bases increasingly neutralized, and he has been steadily pushed back toward the Laotian and Cambodian borders. Viet Cong recruitment and morale have declined. Lines of communication have been steadily opened up, commerce and trade thus permitted to develop.
- Slow but steady progress in pacification combined with military successes have brought a steadily increasing proportion of the population under government control, now about 67 percent, with a corresponding decrease under Viet Cong control, approximately 17 percent, the balance being in contested areas.
- Progress in these two categories were essential elements in the progress achieved in the third, that of constitutional development. Perhaps the major achievement of the year has been stabilization of the government and the opening and democratization of the political system. People have been able to vote for local, village, and hamlet officials thus marking the beginning of the reinstitution of local self-government. The promulgation of the Constitution opened the way for the election of a President, Vice President, and a National Assembly. The inauguration of the new government marked a beginning of fully constitutional processes and the change-over to civilian rule. The immediate problem now facing us is to encourage, prod, persuade, and draw our Vietnamese allies to use their new political and governmental structure [Page 29]to face up to and resolve more effectively the problems of defense and growth that have beset them for many years.
- I think these achievements reflect favorably on the Vietnamese people. For them the struggle against the Communists has been going on for more than twenty years, and their losses have been heavy. But we can now see growth of a conviction among them that they can and will see the struggle through to a successful conclusion. Their concerns now turn more directly on the nature and form of a final settlement and the position it would leave them in, located immediately next to an unremittingly hostile neighbor. Their concern is with the consequences of success rather than with the results of failure.
- Our defects in the field of public affairs, both here as well as in Washington, have required imagination and energy. We have sought to present the true dimensions of the conflict in Viet-Nam to American and world public opinion as objectively and fairly as we can, but we have had to do this through a press which, it seems to me, has been unusually skeptical and cynical. One experienced journalist gave an explanation for this which may have validity, i.e., that there is a generation gap here in that many of the young reporters have never seen nor experienced war before and consequently suffer from an emotional trauma which results in subjective reporting. However that may be, the result of all this is that there tend to be two separate and only partially connected realities: the view of Viet-Nam as we see it here in Viet-Nam and the view that is being presented to American and world public opinion. This problem has engaged major attention during the past year and will continue to have our attention in the future. I think we have made some, though limited, progress in dealing with it.
[Omitted here is discussion of progress during 1967 on political, military, pacification, and economic matters.]
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. This telegram is printed in full in Douglas Pike, ed., The Bunker Papers: Reports to the President from Vietnam, 1967–1973, Vol. 1 (Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies), pp. 284–294.↩