184. Letter From General Franco to President Johnson 1

My dear President Johnson:

I am most grateful to you for making available to me such a sincere report on the South Vietnam situation and of the efforts, both in the political field and through diplomatic channels, which the United States is coupling with its military action in an attempt to open the way for a peaceful settlement. I am well aware of your responsibilities as the leading nation of the world at this time, and I share your interest and preoccupation, in which we Spaniards join with you at all times. I am well aware also of the fact that a military abandonment of Vietnam by the United States would affect the whole security system of the free world.

Because of my military and political experience, I am in a position to appreciate the great difficulties which the task you have undertaken [Page 377] involves: the guerrilla warfare in the jungle is decidedly favorable to subversive native elements and allows them to contain superior forces with only a small number of troops; the most powerful weapons would lose their effectiveness against small scattered objectives; there are no vital objectives to destroy to put an end to the struggle; established communications are held on to precariously and only through the deployment of great number of troops. It would be very difficult to defeat subversion with conventional weapons. War in the jungle is an unlimited adventure.

On the other hand, although acknowledging the unavoidable consideration of your country’s prestige which might be involved, it would not be possible to disregard the conflict’s possible immediate consequences. Lengthening the war, would serve to impel the Vietnamese into becoming an easy prey for Chinese imperialism, and even assuming that the strength of the Vietcong could be broken, the sporadic attack of the guerrillas would continue for a long time and would therefore demand a prolonged military occupation of a country where you would always be regarded as foreigners. The results evidently would not seem to compensate the sacrifices entailed.

Although subversion in Vietnam may at first glance seem to be a military problem, it really is, in my opinion, a profound political problem; one included in the destiny of new nations. It is not very easy for the West to understand their innermost and deeply rooted problems. Their struggle for independence has stimulated nationalist sentiments; their lack of interests to protect and their state of poverty impel them toward social-communism, which offers greater possibilities and hopes than the liberal system sponsored by the West, that reminds them of the great humiliation of colonialism. Nations generally tend to favor communism because, apart from its power of seduction, it is the only effective avenue left open to them. The play of Russian and Chinese Communist aid appears to them to be a matter for opportunity and profit.

We should not lose sight of these facts. Things are as they really are and not the way we would like them to be. We must work with the realities of the new world and not with chimera. Is not Russia a reality with which we have had to cope? May we not be sacrificing now the future to apparent demands of the present? In my opinion, we have to help these nations to find their political way just as we have found our own.

In the face of new events, it is not possible to maintain the rigidity of old attitudes. What the big nations in Geneva agree upon2—and whether such decisions will please the people and secure their conformance— [Page 378] are two different matters. It is difficult to defend in the future and in the eyes of the world, this artificial separation of the nations, which even if it was expedient at a given moment, will always leave a longing for unity open.

I realize that the problem is very complex and that it is determined by an American interest to defend the nations of Southeast Asia from the threat of Communism; but since this problem is eminently political in character, it is not solely possible to dispel this threat by the force of arms.

In observing these events from the European area, as we do, we may be mistaken. Let us continue, however, to hope that everything can be solved, since fundamentally the principal parties involved hope for the same thing; the United States, that Chinese Communism will not invade the territory of Southeast Asia; the nations of Southeast Asia, to keep China as far as possible from their borders; Russia, that her future rival, China, will not expand and grow; and Ho Chi Minh himself wishes to unite Vietnam into a strong nation which China will not absorb.

I do not know Ho Chi Minh, but in view of his record and his efforts to expel the Japanese, first, the Chinese next, and the French later, we must give him credit for being a patriot who cannot be indifferent to the annihilation of his country. And apart from his well-known reputation as being a tough adversary, he could, without doubt, be the man of the hour needed by Vietnam.

In the higher interest of saving the people of Vietnam and of Southeast Asia, I think it is worthwhile for all concerned to make some sacrifices.

I have wished, my dear President, to make known to you these confidential observations in terms of honest and sincere friendship. Although I know that many of these considerations are constantly in your mind, I have wanted to give you my loyal appraisal of the situation in the service of peace and of the future of the Asiatic countries.


Francisco Franco 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Spain. Secret. The letter, which is typed on stationery of the Spanish Embassy in Washington, was delivered by Ambassador Merry Del Val to Secretary Rusk for transmission to the President on August 20. A memorandum of their conversation is ibid., Country File, Spain, Vol. 1.
  2. Reference is to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.