84. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford, Washington, January 19, 1976.1 2
THE WHITE HOUSE
January 19, 1976
MEMORANDUM FOR: THE PRESIDENT
FROM: BRENT SCOWCROFT [BS initialed]
SUBJECT: State Department Report on Life in South Vietnam
Our Embassy in Bangkok has prepared an airgram on “Life in South Vietnam” (Tab A) which reports the observations of three non-Vietnamese who recently left Saigon — a Korean, a Cambodian, and a New Zealander. They all speak Vietnamese fluently, had lived in Vietnam a long time, and had numerous contacts there. They departed between November 19 and December 5.
The key points which these three observers made to our Embassy officers in Bangkok are as follows:
- — The mood in Saigon is one of despair, suspicion, and hardship. Many people have fallen into bitter self-recrimination for not having done something in time to prevent the Communist victory.
- — The NVA are living interspersed among the civilian population. There are frequent nighttime block or precinct meetings that often turn into denunciation sessions, making each person suspicious of his neighbor. These meetings also have a people’s court aspect in which a show of hands of those attending determines the punishment for a person accused of past or present misdeeds. The offender is then led away to an unknown destination.
- — Unemployment remains high, with no prospects for change in sight.
- — Prices are rising daily in Saigon, despite official, fixed prices that even the state stores do not respect. Cigarettes are ten times more expensive than on April 30. A person is limited to fifteen kilos of rice per month and to beef twice a month.
- — There continues to be a migration into the countryside. People who have gone to farm in the new economic areas are discouraged by the government requirement that they turn over 50 percent of their rice production to the authorities.
- — The NVA in Saigon always seem to have money; they buy Seiko watches, radios, cameras, U.S. Army shoes, bicycles and Samsonite luggage.
- — Corruption is as bad now as under the GVN. One of the most popular forms is black marketeering. NVA soldiers purchase large quantities of items such a soap, sugar, and cigarettes and resell them on the black market. Another popular form of corruption is under-the-table transactions to facilitate bureaucratic processing or a favorable decision. Finally, there are the shake-downs to avoid arrest or re-education.
- — Resistance continues in several areas. In the central highlands resistance forces recently cut Highway 20 to Dalat, the principal source of vegetables for the Saigon area. Closer to Saigon, many people say the Communists have only daytime control of certain areas north of the city, and there are reports of elements who make forays along the coast. In the Mekong Delta, the Hoa Hao Buddhists continue to resist in provinces near the Cambodian border.
- — Travel within South Vietnam remains difficult, Saigonese are free to leave the city only to travel to a new economic area or their home villages.
- — All schools are now in the hands of the government. The new authorities use class time at some high schools to form the students into self-defense units. Some especially “revolutionary” students carry AK–47’s and pistols with them at all times in school.
- — A high-ranking NVA official is inhabiting the Ambassador’s residence.
- Source: Ford Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Box 59, CO 165–2, Vietnam (South). Confidential. Sent for information. Ford initialed the first page of the memorandum; a notation at the top of the document reads: “The President has seen.” Airgram 313 from Bangkok, December 16, 1975, is attached but not published.↩
- Scowcroft summarized for President Ford a Department of State report on conditions in South Vietnam.↩