The War in Vietnam: Escalation Phase   

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54 - Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
February 1st, 1965

Saigon, February 1, 1965, 6 p.m.

1Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; LOR. Received in the Department of State at 7:36 a.m.

2369. For McGeorge Bundy. The following document on dependent evacuation was approved this date as representing the latest views of the US Mission Council on the subject. It is proposed to use this paper as a basis for discussion during McGeorge Bundy's visit to Saigon.

Procedure for Announcing Decision To Evacuate Dependents

1. The decision has been taken to evacuate all US dependents from SVN as expeditiously as possible without giving the impression of a US retreat or creating uneasiness among the Vietnamese officials and public. This decision results from a consideration of the following factors:

A. A sense of growing potential danger to our dependents from VC terrorism and mob violence.

B. Need to clear the deck as a preliminary to any extension of military actions in DRV.

C. The political and psychological effect here and in US of an atrocity committed against dependents which might result in a stampede evacuation.

D. Desirability of freeing family heads of any concern for their dependents and of all domestic distractions.

E. Desirability of avoiding an increase in the US presence in SVN while meeting the continuing need for military reinforcements.

2. The foregoing are the honest reasons for reaching the conclusion that the dependents should return home. The problem is how to state our reasons publicly in such a way as to convince GVN and our own people of the reasonableness of our action. We must take into account that the explanation to these audiences requires differing shades of emphasis.

3. In discussions with GVN officials, our explanations could cover all the points of paragraph 1 except for any mention of fear of mob violence. It will be most important to be able to emphasize 1B and 1E, stating that there can be no extension of military action until the dependents are gone and that their removal will be more than compensated for by the additional military units and individuals in the approved pipeline. We should ask the GVN officials for advice and cooperation in presenting the case for evacuation to the VN public.

4. In consideration of what kind of public statement to make, the following would appear to be the bare bones of the best explanation of our action: "The GVN and the USG announced today extensive plans and action for 1965 to raise the level of effectiveness of the struggle against the VC and to clear the boards for possible future contingencies. By agreement between the two governments, the armed forces of SVN will be increased as rapidly as possible from about 450,000 to around 600,000 and the National Police from 20,000 to over 50,000. The USG is increasing its military personnel in SVN from 23,000 to (this figure may be as high as 32,000, the strength recommended by MACV and at a minimum for the requirement of this announcement should exceed somewhat 25,300 to compensate for the departure of approximately 2,300 dependents), in order to support the proposed increase in GVN forces and to strengthen the air defense of SVN. For the latter purpose, the USG will introduce a battalion of Hawk surface-to-air missiles, the first appearance of this highly effective weapon in SEA. To offset this increase in the US military population and to assume an increased posture of readiness on the part of the US community, it has been decided progressively to remove all US dependents. Some have already departed and the others will depart as personal plans can be made for their relocation. In combination, the foregoing actions and others in preparation should permit major progress in 1965."

5. The effectiveness of such a statement is weakened by the public knowledge of the recent anti-American demonstrations and our known concern over the safety of our dependents in Hue. The American press, in particular, will probably bear down on this point and try to make it appear the real reason for our action. We can try to temper this reaction by background briefings but they are not likely to be effective unless we can be fairly explicit about the meaning of "clearing the boards."

6. The foregoing procedure is the best treatment of a highly sensitive problem which the US mission can suggest. It is predicated on Washington agreement to the following points:

A. The military reinforcements mentioned are definitely approved and will be carried out.

B. There is a firm intention to carry the war to the DRV following the evacuation of dependents.

C. As agreed in Deptel 1509,2 the evacuation may be spread over a month or more.

2Document 31.