THE NEW U.S. COMMITMENT: "LIMITED PARTNERS"
General Taylor and his party left for Vietnam on October 17, 1961, stopping at Honolulu to confer with Adm. Harry D. Felt, the U.S. Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC). Felt recommended against deploying U.S. forces in Vietnam "until we have exhausted other means for helping Diem." He was concerned that the use of U.S. forces would raise the colonialist issue, spur the Communists into greater action, and eventually involve U.S. troops in extended combat. He agreed, however, that the U.S. had to play a stronger role in Vietnam, and thought that SEATO forces might eventually be required in Laos to prevent infiltration of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.1
After arriving in Vietnam on October 18, the group spent about 10 days reviewing the situation and conferring with Diem and his associates, and then stopped briefly in Thailand before returning to Washington on November 2. 2
Taylor said later that he and his party were in Vietnam, ". . . at a time when the situation was the darkest since the early days of 1954."3 He added:
Vietcong strength had increased from an estimated 10,000 in January 1961 to 17,000 in October; they were clearly on the move in the delta, in the highlands, and along the plain on the north central coast. The South Vietnamese were watching with dismay the situation in Laos and the negotiations in Geneva, which convinced them that there would soon be a Communist-dominated government in Vientiane. The worst flood in decades was ravaging the Mekong delta, destroying crops and livestock and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless. . . . In the wake of this series of profoundly depressing events, it was no exaggeration to say that the entire country was suffering from a collapse of national morale-an obvious fact which made a strong impression on the members of our mission. In subsequent weeks as we meditated on what the United States could or should do in South Vietnam, the thought was always with us that we needed something visible which could be done quickly to offset the oppressive feeling of hopelessness which seemed to permeate all ranks of Vietnamese society.
Whether or not this assessment of the state of affairs was accurate-and one might wonder how well-equipped Taylor and his associates were to make such sweeping psychological and social judgments about a culture with which (with the possible exception of Lansdale) they were almost totally unfamiliar-they apparently believed that it was accurate, and acted accordingly. They proposed in their report to President Kennedy that the U.S. take "vigorous action" to assist South Vietnam: 4
From all quarters in Southeast Asia the message on Vietnam is the same; vigorous American action is needed to buy time for Vietnam to mobilize and organize its real assets; but the time for such a turn around has nearly run out. And if Vietnam goes, it will be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to hold Southeast Asia. What will be lost is not merely a crucial piece of real estate, but the faith that the U.S. has the will and the capacity to deal with the Communist offensive in that area.
Two things were needed, the report said: first, a military commitment to demonstrate U.S. resolve, and, second, an "insertion" of Americans into military and government operations in Vietnam in order to "show them how the job might be done. . . ." By this "shift in the American relation to the Vietnamese effort from advice to limited partnership," the report stated, ". . . Vietnamese performance in every domain can be substantially improved if Americans are prepared to work side by side with the Vietnamese on the key problems."
The proposal for "inserting" Americans as governmental advisers came from Lansdale, who called it "U.S. political-psychological-military-economic encadrement in Vietnam. . . ," in which highly selected Americans, acting as "collaborators," would provide "operational guidance" at key decision points in the top of the Vietnam-
1Kennedy Library, NSF Country File, Vietnam, CINCPAC to Washington, Oct. 20, 1961. Subsequently, however, Admiral Felt agreed with the proposal made by Taylor to send U.S. military units to Vietnam under the guise of helping with flood relief. CINCPAC to Washington, Oct. 24, 1961, same location.
2la connection with the Taylor group's visit to Thailand, the U.S. Ambassador,
Kenneth T. Young, a respected Foreign Service officer who had worked on Southeast
Asia for many years both in Defense and in State, gave Taylor a memorandum outlining
his views on the situation. Kennedy Library, NSF Regional Security File, Southeast
Asia General, 1961. "Defensibility of Southeast Asia and United States
Commitments," Oct. 27, 1961, "I believe denial of Southeast Asia to
Viet Cong, Chinese or Russian control," he said, "is indispensible
for United States interests and purposes in the whole world. . . . Southeast
Asia is the critical bottleneck stopping Sino-Soviet territorial and ideological
expansion-territorial in Asia, ideological in the whole world. Southeast Asia
is something like the hub of a wheel; lose the hub and the wheel collapses.
And Laos, plus South Vietnam, is the cotter-pin holding the hub. If we let Laos-South
Vietnam go, the Viet Cong and Chinese Communists will soon dominate all of Southeast
Asia, including Indonesia. The United States will be forced off the mainland
of Asia, Australia will be surrounded and actually flanked, while India and
Japan will be permanently separated. All of this is what the Communists are
trying to do in Asia. Their success there will intensify their impact in Africa
and South America."
Young outlined a strategy to defend Southeast Asia against "Communist small-scale, rural aggression," which he said was the heart of the problem. A central feature of this proposal was establishment of an "American Southeast Asian Unified Command" (under CINCPAC) in Thailand, with small U.S. combat teams in southeast Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to "reverse the trend of doubt, discouragement and despair in Southeast Asia."
'Maxwell Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 228.
4The Taylor report (including its tabular material), often referred to as the Taylor-Rostow report, has been largely declassified and is in the Kennedy Library, NSF Country File, Vietnam. The report itself is 25 pages long. Attached are eight appendices of reports from each of the functional areas to which Taylor made assignments. These were as follows:
1. Political-Social, Sterling Cottrell and William Jorden
2. Military, General William H. Craig
3. Political Warfare, W. W. Rostow
4. Unconventional Warfare, General Edward Lansdale
5. Covert Activities, Joseph Smith of the CIA;
6. MAAG and Military Aid, Rear Adm. Luther C. Heinz
7. Economic Aid, James W. Howe
8. Research and Development, Dr. George W. Rathjens and Mr. William H. Godel
For ease of reference, the Pentagon Papers, which contains excerpts from the report, is cited herein as the source for most of the quoted material.