John Kenneth Galbraith was a widely recognized economist. He was an advisor to President Kennedy who named him US Ambassador to India. In 1961 Kennedy dispatched Galbraith to meet Diem, study his political and military environment in South Vietnam and seek confirmation from Diem regarding Kennedy’s recent recommendations to reshape his government and military.
Galbraith issued a long, private cable to President Kennedy on November 21, 1961 upon his return from Vietnam.
This cable is part of The Pentagon-Papers, Volume V, B4, Book-I. Galbraith provided a foretelling warning for America. Galbraith’s advice to Kennedy: Drop Diem.
The South Vietnamese desperately needed radical changes to their government, military & economy in order to turn their overall war effort against the North and Viet Cong.
But it did not make the type of impact with JFK and his administration as maybe he had hoped. Kennedy followed Eisenhower and Truman in not heeding the advice from their military, policy advisors and diplomatic corps.
Date: 21 NOV 61
From: New Delhi
FOR THE PRESIDENT
POLICY IN VIETNAM
FROM JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
5. A MAXIMUM OF 18,000 LIGHTLY ARMED MEN ARE INVOLVED IN THE INSURRECTION. THESE ARE GVN ESTIMATES AND THE FACTOR OF EXAGGERATION IS UNQUESTIONABLY CONSIDERABLE. TEN THOUSAND IS MORE PROBABLY. WHAT WE HAVE IN OPPOSITION INVOLVES A HEAVY THEOLOGICAL DISPUTE. DIEM IT IS SAID IS A GREAT BUT DEFAMED LEADER. IT IS ALSO SAID HE HAS LOST TOUCH WITH THE MASSES, IS IN POLITICAL DISREPUTE AND OTHERWISE NO GOOD. THIS DEBATE CAN BE BYPASSED BY AGREED POINTS. IT IS AGREED THAT ADMINISTRATIVELY DIEM IS EXCEEDINGLY BAD. HE HOLDS FAR TOO MUCH POWER IN HIS OWN HANDS, EMPLOYES HIS ARMY BADLY, HAS NO INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATION WORTHY OF THE NAME, HAS ARBITRARILY OR INCOMPETENT SUBORDINATES IN THE PROVINCES AND SOME ACHIEVEMENTS NOTWITHSTANDING, HAS A POOR ECONOMIC POLICY. HE HAS ALSO EFFECTIVELY RESISTED IMPROVEMENT FOR A LONG WHILE IN FACE OF HEAVY DETERIORATION. THIS IS ENOUGH. WHETHER HIS POLITICAL POSTURE IS NEPOTIC, DESPOTIC OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE VILLAGERS AND HENCE DAMAGING OR WHETHER THIS DAMAGE IS THE FIGMENT OF SIAGON INTELLECTUALS DOES NOT BEAR ON OUR IMMEDIATE POLICY AND MAY BE PASSED AT LEAST IN PART.
7. THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFICULTIES IN COUNTERING THE INSURGENCY, APART FROM ABSENCE OF INTELLIGENCE, ARE TWO-FOLD. FIRST IS THE POOR COMMAND, DEPLOYMENT, TRAINING, MORAL AND OTHER WEAKNESSES OF THE ARMY AND PARAMILITARY FORCES. AND SECOND WHILE THEY CAN OPERATE —- SWEEP —- THOUGHT ANY PART OF THE COUNTRY AND CLEAR OUT ANY VISIBLE INSURGENTS, THEY CANNOT GUARANTEE SECURITY AFTERWARDS. THE VIET CONG COMES BACK AND PUTS THE ARM ON ALL WHO HAVE COLLABORATED. THIS FACT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN RELATION TO REQUESTS FROM AMERICAN MANPOWER. OUR FORCES WOULD CONDUCT THE ROUND-UP OPERATIONS WHICH THE RVN ARMY CAN ALREADY DO. WE CAN’T CONCEIVABLY SEND ENOUGH MEN TO PROVIDE SAFETY FOR THE VILLAGES AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR AN EFFECTIVELY TRAINED CIVIL GUARD AND HOME DEFENSE FORCE AND, PERHAPS, A POLITICALLY COOPERATIVE COMMUNITY.
8. THE KEY AND INESCAPABLE POINT, THEN, IS THE INEFFECTUALITY (ABETTED DEBATABLY BY THE UNPOPULARITY) OF THE DIEM GOVERNMENT. THIS IS THE STRATEGIC FACTOR. NOR CAN ANYONE ACCEPT THE STATEMENT OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN EITHER TOO LONG OR TOO LITTLE IN ASIA THAT HIS IS THE INEVITABLE POSTURE OF THE ASIAN MANDARIN. FOR ONE THING ISN’T TRUE, BUT WERE IT SO THE ONLY POSSIBLE CONCLUSION WOULD BE THAT THERE IS NO FUTURE FOR MANDARINS. THE COMMUNISTS DON’T FAVOR THEM.
10. I COME NOW TO POLICY, THE FIRST IN BOX WE ARE IN PARTLY AS THE RESULT OF RECENT MOVES AND SECOND HOW WE GET OUT WITHOUT A TAKEOVER. WE HAVE JUST PROPOSED TO HELP DIEM IN VARIOUS WAYS IN TERURN FO RA PROMISE OF ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL REFORMS. SINCE THE ADMINISTRATIVE (AND POSSIBLY) POLITICAL INEFFECTUALITY ARE THE STRATEGIC FACTORS FOR SUCCESS THE ABILITY TO GET REFORM IS DECISIVE. WITH THEM THE NEW AID AND GADGETRY WILL BE USEFUL WITHOUT THEM THE HELICOPTERS, PLANES AND ADVISER’S WON’T MAKE APPRECIABLE DIFFERENCE.