16. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Conversations with Ambassador Komer and Major General Forsythe—COORDS, MACV
Both Ambassador Komer and General Forsythe are extremely disquieted by the situation in the GVN at this time. The basis for their unhappiness and concern goes something like this:
The GVN is simply not functioning at this time. The various ministries have not organized themselves nor have they launched into the new programs mentioned by Thieu in his inaugural statement.
The reorganization of the RVNAF which was worked out on a combined basis with MACV and which would reduce the power of the Corp Commanders and the Division Commanders in respect to their [Page 38] relationship with the provinces as well as the regional and popular forces has been frustrated by a series of crippling stipulations. For example, it is not to go into effect until:
The military situation is propitious.
The provincial staffs are beefed up.
The provincial staffs have reached an unstated higher level of training and quality.
Corrupt Province Chiefs have not been removed.
Province Chief designees have not been sent to the Vung Tau School and now will receive a watered down course in Saigon instead, but this has not yet started.
The Vice Chief of the JGS (until recently General Thang) has not been given authority for Provincial affairs. This simply means that the Corps Commanders continue to exercise their “war lord” authorities without regard to Saigon and the particularly unresponsive Corps Commanders in the 2nd and 4th Corps have not been removed.2
At the moment the Thang case is center of stage. Thang demanded increased authority along the lines of the reorganization plan and demanded the relief of Vinh Loc and Manh in 2nd and 4th Corps respectively. He stated that there was no point in going through the pacification planning cycle while these two Corps Commanders continued to ignore Saigon authority. Thieu refused to let Thang resign but said he could not move that rapidly. Thang is cooling his heels at home.3 Thieu continues to refer to the post Tet period when he claims all these problems will be solved. There is only a little confidence in Saigon that this will be the case. What worries Bunker, Westmoreland and Komer and Company at the moment is that the press which had called a moratorium of four months on criticism of the Government is now on to the fact that Thang has been sidetracked. General Sidle is of the opinion that this will blow the thing wide open and the press will take off after the inactivity—in fact the back sliding—of the Government. The Thang [Page 39] case, of course, is only symptomatic and the last thing he wants is a lot of American help at this time. He believes that if he is reinstated under American pressure that Thieu will only go through the motions and give him no real authority.4
Thieu thinks he is faced with conflicts between three major constituencies:
The electorate and the new lower and upper houses.
The senior generals who placed him at the head of the ticket in lieu of Ky.
The Americans.
Thieu, in long conversations with General Forsythe, who has a special relationship with him, seems to understand the problem only too well—in fact exaggerates the danger of a coup. His approach apparently is to move toward reorganization very slowly and thus gradually to diminish the powers of his military constituency. Whether he will do this is by no means certain. That he will proceed with great caution and slow speed is highly likely. In the meantime, the RD Cadre and the Province RD Chiefs are having a morale crisis. The Junior Officers of the Army are increasingly restive in that nothing has been done about corruption in the Armed Forces. The Government ministers and ministries feel that they have no authority to move out on new programs nor are they getting any support from Thieu. The Prime Minister, Loc, is involved in some kind of a balancing act between Thieu and Ky.
This all adds up to an absence of forward motion and an apparent inability to make the basic organizational and personality decisions which would put the Government on the road. Komer considers this to be intolerable, given the weight of U.S. investment in blood, dollars and effort. He feels the crunch is coming and that we are very close to the time when the U.S. must somehow force the GVN to make decisions and move out. All this of course, is a perfect example of the so-called theory of leverage. There is simply no possibility of applying effective leverage anywhere below the top level in Saigon with any success unless and until the Bunker/Westmoreland/Komer level has applied adequate leverage at their level. This view, by the way, is very wide-spread amongst the successively lower echelons in the American military and civil structure.
Given the GVN sensitivity to U.S. activities related to possible negotiations, this may well be as difficult a time as any to put the heat on the GVN. This does not change the fact that we are close to a time when this nettle must be grasped. It would be far better to do it now before the press mounts an attack against the GVN for inactivity. There is a current preoccupation with the likelihood of a major NVA effort in the Northern provinces (probably Khe Sanh) which can probably be handled from a military standpoint after a number of bloody fights. But in the long run, the immobility of the GVN is the more serious and most difficult problem. It may be necessary for the U.S. high command in Saigon, not only to make certain demands to the GVN for specific actions, such as reorganization, but also to involve itself in whatever scenarios may be necessary to remove the power of the Corps Commanders. Of all the things regarding SVN that should be worrying Washington now, it is my opinion that this subject should be number one.5
W.E. DePuy

Major General, USA
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1304, VIET 092. Top Secret; Sensitive. An attached note from Wheeler to Nitze, January 18, reads: “Paul—Herewith a copy of a Memo for Record by Bill DePuy concerning situation in SVN. I propose to give a copy to each member of the No-Name Committee at our meeting this afternoon. You will note he reports Komer et al. at some variance with the CIA report on the same subject & Amb. Bunker’s 35th Weekly Report. Bus.”
  2. According to a January 20 discussion with Forsythe reported in telegram 16712 from Saigon, January 23, Thieu noted that the reorganization of the RVNAF that began on January 2 ultimately would result in the termination of all but a supporting role in pacification by the division and corps commanders, thereby removing them from the “political arena” in order to concentrate on the “military arena.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–VIET S)
  3. In a January 17 memorandum to Rusk, McNamara, Wheeler, and Rostow, Helms noted the Saigon CIA Station’s opinion that Thang’s resignation was “a serious threat to the GVN pacification effort” because he had “provided a quality of leadership and courage in his relationships with other senior military leaders that, one can safely predict, will not be replaced.” The Station suggested that the situation be kept “in a state of suspense” so that Thang’s role in pacification might somehow be saved. (Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 970/305 (29 Sep 67), IR 2554, Sea Cabin)
  4. Forsythe and Komer met with Thang and his designated replacement, General Nguyen Van La, on January 24. Thang listed the most important objectives of the GVN pacification effort, especially focusing on means to improve the RF/PF in terms of morale, manpower, and its contribution to RD. In addition, means for more effectively training province and district level officials had to be ensured. (Memorandum for the Record, January 24; U.S. Army Center of Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Papers, 103. RD Liaison: 1968)
  5. In a memorandum to the Senior Advisers for each CTZ, January 18, Komer outlined final COMUSMACV-approved guidelines for the 1968 pacification effort. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 472, MACV Headquarters, CORDS Office Files, 1966–1969, 1601–04—CORDS Correspondence and Unidentified Files (Folder 2 of 2))