Yes, those are the principal points which appeared in my report which again is a public document. The first was, at least to me the most startling revelation was one which I knew existed but had never estimated the magnitude. The lack of quality, you might say the complete absence of reliable information on Vietnam.
That over the years we'd been receiving volumes of reports out of Saigon
. We'd been keeping charts and maps and graphs very wisely and solemnly in the offices of the various departments, yet the data upon which they were based were non-existent or thoroughly unreliable.
So the very first thing was to let's get some system set up that winnows out the facts from the fiction and improves the quality. What had been happening of course was the government was very primitive. They didn't keep any records that a modern government would. When an economist here would want the estimate on the rice crop in the Mekong
Valley next month, they hadn't the foggiest idea what it was.
So...yet nonetheless our rather limited representation in Saigon
, all they could do was to go to the government, pose the question, take the answer and put it on the cable. I always felt they had not done their complete duty in not warning Washington
. Here's your answer but don't take it too seriously. No one was underlining the things that I was seeing for the first time.
Hence I go back to your original question. The first thing that struck me was let's get going on improving the intelligence organization, getting our own people out here that know how to organize intelligence. They had at least seven intelligence agencies reporting seven different stories to that government that was then asked to give us one back to Washington
So that was number one. Number two was related to that too. We could see also the ineffectiveness of all the departments of government. Especially the administration, the housekeeping kind of thing. If they would take and use one or two good Americans who are really good administrators and just let the Americans sit in there and help them get themselves straightened out, that could help. I would break in and say in the intelligence field we accomplished this pretty well. We had lots of intelligence people to go out and Diem welcomed it. He knew he was very weak in intelligence.
He didn't like this business of having an assistant say in the treasury, or in the foreign...foreign affairs. Things of that sort. So that aspect never really developed but in intelligence, yes. So it was improved administration, especially intelligence, that was number one. Number two was the fact that the army was following the French practices of static posts. They were going out and sitting in various villages all over the country and almost letting the Viet Cong run...move about almost at will except at the hours of daylight on the main road.
Well, the answer there was first let's get our own mission geared up and make this a major drive in their training in their advice and stop that. And get mobile...get a mobile type of force capable of moving about and stirring things up. And then let us help by providing helicopters and light aircraft. So that was another thing.
The same was true of a border...some sort of a border patrol. The Montagnards had a capability that had never been used. Let's see if we can't get some kind of a border guard that...it cannot plug up the infiltration but at least report infiltration. These are just obvious things that you could decide almost back at Washington
without being there.
The most...the most difficult one was the shall we recommend any military...any military...any American units as apart from American military individuals who would by our recommendations increase considerably in their advisory role. As I told you, I knew very well that President Kennedy didn't want a recommendation on troops and I had no predilection that way in the slightest.
But starting in...at CINCPAC in Honolulu
in my talks with every American official and every Vietnamese official, they all said we'll never get off the ground here unless we have some American military presence.
To cut the story short, the final recommendation made and I didn't mention the fact that when I got there the Mekong
was in full flood, the greatest flood in the century. You get in an airplane and start heading south from Saigon
and all you see was just muddy water all the way out, only houses here and there.
So in itself it was a national disaster of major importance. So my...my final recommendation was a straddle, deliberately a straddle. I labeled it a straddle. That they need very badly engineer troops and bulldozers and the kind of equipment we have once the waters subside to help dig...help them dig out. We have the chance to put in a logistic task force of engineer communications men...medi—medicos...that can do an excellent public works kind of job and at the same time fly the flag and have only the combat infantry just to protect them if they need any protection going about.
And thereby kill three or four birds with one stone. We can try out a reaction to foreign troops, we can see does our presence have any obvious effect, is the information that that group will get from their working, is that helpful in the intelligence section. And that was the, that was my recommendation, a logistic force for those purposes. I never...I never...the number 8000 is always attached to it. Actually I never put any number on it. I went back and gave it to the Pentagon and said if indeed the president approves of force for this purpose, what will it amount to and and their estimate was about 8000.
That was the only recommendation that was not approved at once by the president and his advisors. It was polemical, controversial...I shared in the controversy. The pros and cons I can make a list pretty well balanced, but I said this recommends the best judgment of people out in Viet—in Saigon
. It was never really disapproved but was just put on the table and never...and deferred until later when it was overcome by...or overtaken by events.