6. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2399. For the President from Lodge. Herewith my weekly telegram:
The following are straws in the wind as regards Viet Cong and Vietnamese reaction to the bombing pause:
- On Christmas day, about 1,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were reliably observed entering South Viet Nam.
- Incidents during the period December 26 through January 1 total 1,133. This is the highest total of incidents ever recorded in one week since the Communist aggression began. This includes the bombing of an American enlisted menʼs billet at Dalat.
- Prime Minister Ky told me Monday that one result of the bombing pause was sharply to reduce the number of returnees coming into the Chieu Hoi camps. He said that when bombing resumed, more people would come into the camps. As you know, we are planning a big Chieu Hoi effort at Tet time for which we have great expectations. I am glad to say that for the week just ended the number of returnees has shown a modest increase in line with the general trend.
- Vietnamese newspaper Tien Vang saw the bombing pause as an invitation for Hanoi to appraise the United States as weakening in its determination to carry on the war.
- The Vietnamese newspaper Saigon Daily News carried four column cartoon showing masses of B–52ʼs flying over the Vietnamese countryside with two Vietnamese men standing looking up at them. One of the men says to the other: “Are they going north”? The other says: “No.” And the first man says: “Let us move to the north then.”
- The Vietnamese newspaper Tu Do, referring to VC peace gestures, warns: “You can make any concessions you want on your part, but you cannot depart from what has been held dear to us: South Viet Nam must be the place for Vietnamese nationalists only. Under no circumstances can any Communist be allowed to set foot here.”
- Col. Pham Van Lieu, Director of National Police, seemed unhappy with the pause saying that the United States should not try to talk with Hanoi. “You Americans should talk to the Russians and the Chinese, and if there is any talking to be done with Hanoi, we should do it.”
- If resumption of bombing is delayed much longer, you may find that, when you decide to resume the strikes, it will be near the beginning of Tet—a celebration full of meaning for all Vietnamese. Resumption near Tet—say within the week or so immediately preceding it—might subject us to the criticism that while the United States observed the Christian spirit of Christmas, we violated the spirit of Tet. Such criticism could well force you to postpone resumption of the bombing until the very end of January or early February.
Letter to Menzies
In telegram transmitting text of your letter to Menzies2 you ask for my comments, which are as follows:
Seen from Saigon, the bombing pause is not only not evoking any reciprocal cessation of Communist military activity, it is marked by a definite increase. It is also interpreted as a sign of weakness, although Vietnamese in the government familiar with American ways understand the motivation behind it.
The presence of North Vietnamese troops in South Viet Nam added to the increase in VC incidents seems to me to make the bombing indispensable. It creates the need to hit this NVN army wherever we can hit it: in the sources of its power in the north, along its line of communication through Laos, in the high plateau of SVN and, if need be, on the SVN coastal plane. The resumption of bombing is, therefore, necessary from the standpoint of the purely military action against the army of North Viet Nam. It is also highly desirable as regards the psychological war [Page 17] against the Viet Cong, which, until the bombing pause, was definitely going in our favor.
My last talk with General Ky on this subject, other than his casual comment on January 3 repeated above, was on December 29. At that time, I told him, based on Deptel 1805,3 that the bombing would probably resume by the middle of this week.
Of course, I have no first hand contact with whatever results the bombing pause may be achieving outside of this area and do not know how widespread the appeal of the pause is as regards American public opinion and Congress. I realize that you must measure results here against results achieved elsewhere. But in this area, the pause has not only done us no good; it has definitely caused losses, as the “straws in the wind” mentioned under paragraph 1 clearly shows. From this vantage point, therefore, it would be well if you followed intentions set forth in Deptel 1805 and resumed bombing now.
- U.S. opinion re Viet Nam
- I try to share your worries in the hope that I can produce some helpful advice. In this spirit I cogitate about American public opinion and the attitudes in Congress. I recognize that I am far away from home and yet I see a great many Congressmen and I have quite a lengthy experience in back of me, notably as a U.S. Senator during the Korean war when I was closely in touch with public sentiment in the face of mounting casualties.
- I will of course, always exert maximum pressure for the speediest possible results. I believe that as prudent men we must also make plans on the basis that the Vietnamese struggle will not be quickly ended. I notice that even Senator Morse admits that we cannot withdraw from Viet Nam. Also, I believe the Communists are determined to drag this thing out until the ʼ68 elections.
- This raises the question of whether an effort should not be made to get the American people to understand that this Chinese Communist imperialism, which manifests itself in so many subtle and disguised forms, is something with which we are going to have to live year in and year out.4 I remember in the late 40ʼs and early 50ʼs we thought in terms of “cleaning up” the situation in Europe. I can remember that dates were discussed by which time the situation in Europe should be cleaned up. We were impatient and somewhat petulant. Then we learned how to live with the cold war. I think one of General Eisenhowerʼs contributions as President was educating people to the idea that we had to live with the cold war, year in and year out. In those days when we said cold war, we meant the Soviet Union.
- I realize that public opinion will support greater or lesser casualty figures depending on the degree of feeling and conviction which it holds about the war. Also, for some reason, it accepts casualties on the highways for no particular cause more easily than it does casualties on the battlefield for causes that are noble and deserving of sacrifice. Psychologically, the thing is complicated because, concurrently with all these feelings is the view that we must “fish or cut bait or row ashore” and this argues for more drastic measures. And more drastic measures in turn can sometimes mean fewer casualties.
- I believe it simplifies thinking to have a clear idea in oneʼs own mind of what constitutes a satisfactory outcome. I do not say a “perfect” outcome. I notice one administration spokesman described a satisfactory outcome recently as one in “which the people of South Viet Nam can determine freely their own government in the future.” Does this mean elections which are free from intimidation all over the country? If so, I do not think we need to go that far in order to feel that we have achieved a satisfactory result. Neither do I think that we should insist on such goals as utterly destroying the North Vietnamese military potential or seizing the valley of the Mekong in the Laos panhandle. “Satisfactory outcome,” as the U.S. Mission tried to define it in Saigon 1377,5 still seems one reasonable definition, although undoubtedly not the only one. But even this implies heavier punishment of North Viet Nam.
- One conclusion from all this is that if public opinion is accustomed to the idea that we have to live with this dangerous and complicated Chinese Communist aggression year in and year out, it will stand casualties better and will not be as impatient because quick results have not been achieved. Also casualties will probably be fewer. And if we should get a few breaks and things started to go our way rather quickly, success would be especially sweet if it came at a time when no one really expected it.
I am most grateful to you for sending David Bell. His visit has been a great success because he brought with him from Washington carefully thought out, constructive and concrete measures for the problems which are bothering the GVN most. His recommendations concerning the port of Saigon and the threat of inflation are sure to make a tremendous difference. We can always use visitors like him.
Retail prices in the Saigon area rose slightly in the week ending December [garble], but these increases represented more or less normal market fluctuations. USOMʼs index of both food and non-food prices [Page 19] remains virtually the same as it was one month ago. Gold and dollar prices receded from last weekʼs high level.
Saigonʼs power situation was much improved on December 27 when a new plant producing 20 megavolts eliminated almost 50 percent of the power shortage which has prevailed for the last 7–1/2 months. Another big American contribution!
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Pinta. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 8:20 a.m. and passed to the White House at 9:40. McGeorge Bundy forwarded it to President Johnson at 2:30 p.m. under a covering memorandum that stated: “Here is an important dispatch from Lodge. As you can see, he is still pulling hard for a quick end to the pause.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—McGeorge Bundy, vol. 18)↩
- Telegram 1882 to Saigon, January 4. President Johnsonʼs letter to Prime Minister Menzies summarized the progress of the peace offensive and discussed the possibility of continuing the bombing pause “at least into next week.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)↩
- For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. III, pp. 717–719.↩
- Lodge qualified this comment in telegram 2514, January 13, Document 20.↩
- For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. III, pp. 470–473.↩