The First Reorganization

"I wasn't at all reassured about what I heard yesterday. I have been concerned every time I have been here in the past two years. I don't think we have done a thing we can point to that has been effective in five years. I ask you to show me one area in this country ... that we have pacified."1

Those harsh words by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara exemplified the frustration that by late 1965 gripped American officials, particularly in Washington, in regard to the pacification program. Following a brief period during which attention focused on aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and the first commitment of American combat troops, officials of the Johnson administration began to turn again, slowly at first, to the subject of pacification. Within constraints imposed in large measure by concern over possible intervention by the People's Republic of China, they came to realize that the war was not to be won by military measures alone. There was also a widespread perception among senior U.S. government officials that the commitment of American troops had reversed the downward spiral of South Vietnamese military fortunes, thereby providing an opportunity for pacification to move forward.

Thus there began a renewed emphasis on pacification. There was neither a precise time when it began nor a single official or agency separately responsible. Yet the pressure for it clearly came from officials in Washington, especially from a president who, conscious of congressional and presidential elections, wanted to divert attention from the American role in the fighting to the more positive program of improving the lot of the South Vietnamese people through pacification.2

Contributing to the new emphasis was the beginning of a division of effort, with American troops doing much of the fighting against enemy main-force units while nearly half the South Vietnamese Army assumed responsibility for local security. Although such a policy was not formally


adopted until October 1966, it actually came into being as American units arrived. Despite the largely separate US military effort, the presence of American military advisers with South Vietnamese units meant that more American military became involved in pacification, their numbers soon far exceeding the number of American civilian advisers. That increased the justification for a continuing and substantial role in pacification support by the US military command.

The result of that renewed interest in pacification, along with such pessimistic assessments as that of Secretary McNamara, was to reopen the question of management of American support of the program. For the next year and a half a search for improved management was destined to be a key aspect of the drive to spur pacification.

Late in 1965 the Vietnam Coordinating Committee within the Department of State began discussions on a general concept of pacification and methods and machinery for improving the American support effort. Contributing to the work of the committee was a sharply pessimistic appraisal of the existing effort by a professor of government at Harvard University, Henry Kissinger, upon his return from a trip to Saigon. Kissinger reported that there was little integration of the various American programs, that AID management lines in the field were hopelessly tangled, and that the entire management structure needed to be overhauled.3

In late November the chairman of the Vietnam Coordinating Committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Leonard Unger, proposed to Ambassador Lodge a conference of representatives of Washington agencies concerned with conduct of the war and representatives of the US mission. When Lodge responded enthusiastically, Unger forwarded a detailed conceptual paper in applying American and South Vietnamese resources to the overall war effort and soon thereafter cabled a proposed conference agenda dealing almost exclusively with organizational concepts and priorities and how to implement them.4


Photo: Ambassador Porter


The conference took place from 8 through 11 January 1966 in Warrenton, Virginia, with supplemental meetings in Washington.5 With Unger and Lodge's deputy, Ambassador William Porter, as co-chairmen, the participants included the members of the Vietnam Coordinating Committee, representatives of the mission in Saigon, and representatives of other Washington agencies. The talks touched on such subjects as allocation of resources, specific pacification programs and priorities, and concepts of pacification and overall strategy, but the focus was on how to organize the US mission for support of pacification.
Reflecting the views of Ambassador Lodge, Ambassador Porter maintained that the existing system of coordination within the mission was adequate, while field coordination was a question of "personality relationship" that seldom failed. Ambassador Lodge, he asserted, had "complete control and no disagreements have arisen concerning policy and priorities." The principal officer of each agency, he maintained,


fully understood US policy. "The Mission," he concluded, "should be given a chance to operate."6

With the exception of the representative from NIACV, Brig. Gen. James L. Collins, Jr., the other spokesmen from Saigon echoed Porter's views, all wanting to keep their separate field programs, their channels of communications to their Washington organizations, and their direct links with the ambassador. General Westmoreland, on the other hand, as reported by General Collins, was thinking in terms of an interagency co­ordinating committee chaired by the deputy ambassador and operating below the level of the Mission Council. Although the committee would direct and execute pacification programs, unresolved disagreements would be settled by the Mission Council. He also wanted each agency to retain separate access to the South Vietnamese agency for pacification, the Ministry of Rural Construction.7

Two proposals for genuinely tight management came from Washington-based representatives. A White House assistant, Chester Cooper, called for a second deputy ambassador for pacification. The Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. William Peers, proposed giving overall responsibility for pacification, including those components of the civilian agencies supporting pacification, to MACV, which would have a deputy for pacification responsible to the ambassador. That second proposal, as it turned out, was an omen of the future.

Although the conferees at Warrenton reached no decision, the CO­chairmen noted in their final report "widespread recognition" of a need within the US mission for a single focus for pacification. The general consensus was that control and management should rest just below the ambassador, but there was no agreement on whether the manager should be the current deputy ambassador or another official or on how much of the various agencies' resources and operations should be subject to the manager. The latter was, in fact, the basic issue involved.

Viewing pacification at a lower level, the conferees recornmended that the Mission Council consider designating team chiefs to head all advisory efforts in those provinces designated as priority pacification areas. That was a return to similar attempts to impose coordination, such as the province team chief experiment, that had been tried in 1964 and 1965.


Largely through the proddings of Chester Cooper, the officials looked at how the government in Washington was organized to oversee pacification and concluded that the machinery was inadequate to handle problems quickly and decisively. They advanced as a possible solution a single official located in a senior position, possibly in some way related to the National Security Council, to serve as a "high-level point of liaison" for whoever came to be responsible for pacification in Saigon.

The Warrenton Conference was less noteworthy for what it accomplished in terms of specific actions and programs than for the ideas it raised and the positions various participants, reflecting the views of their parent agencies, took on those ideas. At the very least it enabled officials from opposite poles to converse unhampered by the restrictions of formal cables and telephones and let everybody look at his work in a broader context. This interchange of ideas, General Collins reported to General Westmoreland, was perhaps the most important benefit of the conference.8

The conference nevertheless demonstrated that disunity still prevailed among the agencies involved, and that in Saigon the civilian agencies, at least, including the embassy, were content to leave the organizational structure the way it was. That foreordained that the initiative for change would come from Washington, where President Johnson would soon indicate a determination to see tangible action and progress in pacification.

On 13 January Porter and Unger met with Secretary McNamara, Undersecretary of State George Ball, and White House National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and reached tentative agreement that the US mission's pacification official should be a second deputy ambassador and should supervise the work of the subordinate agencies.9 They also pondered Washington organization for coordinating pacification. They envisaged upgrading the chairman of the Vietnam Coordinating Committee, making him not only a coordinator but a director with an inter­agency staff and access to the top officials of each agency. Like the members of the mission in Saigon, Washington officials displayed a conspicuous lack of desire to upset their own bureaucratic relationships.

A few days later officials in the State Department developed a closely held plan to create within the State Department a Director of Vietnam


Photo: President Johnson at Honolulu Conference, February 1966


Operations.10 The concept saw the director as manager of all US noncombat operations. He would draw on other agencies as well as the State Department for his staff and would have a presidential mandate for authority subject only to secretarial or presidential reference.

Although not entirely laid to rest until March, that proposal never came to fruition. It was remarkable, nevertheless, in that it looked to a stronger and more centralized management than any prior or later plan proposed in the State Department. Whether it ever had a chance of adoption or of working is open to question. The State Department was hardly in a position to direct or supervise an action-oriented field program to which its contribution of resources and personnel was far out­stripped by three other competing bureaucracies.

Yet the idea of centralized Washington control refused to die. Although President Johnson and his advisers were unwilling to endorse the idea of one dominant bureaucracy or to bring themselves to shake up the government's structure radically, the president himself was already inclined toward some form of centralized direction, and over the next two months McNamara and McGeorge Bundy continued to advocate it.

Meanwhile, indications of a need for change developed from another source. Returning from a trip to South Vietnam, the Administrator of the Agency for International Development, David Bell, submitted to the president a candid report which incorporated some of the ideas raised


at Warrenton.11 Pacification, not merely aid programs, he indicated, was the main concern. "It is a striking and melancholy fact that no significant progress has been made in pacification for the past several years despite a great deal of effort . . . There is as yet . . . no basis for optimism. The pacification task is inherently very complex and difficult and will require years to complete under the best conditions. The new effort is still almost entirely on paper."

Bell went on to state that the problem of highest priority was to create a "tested and reliable system for `pacifying' the countryside." In his words, neither the South Vietnamese nor the US approach to pacification "is yet strong enough or well organized enough to get the job done." There were no strategy directives, he said, and no integrated plans or schedules to indicate how American agencies would actually assist pacification.

Although Bell recommended a single manager for US pacification support, his solution was weaker than his plea and bore a close resemblance to what actually happened a month later: Deputy Ambassador Porter, supported by a small staff, should prepare integrated plans and schedules and supervise their execution. General Westmoreland and the Director of the US Operations Mission, he said, agreed with that recommendation and Ambassador Lodge seemed "to receive it favorably."

In Saigon, meanwhile, the idea of any change still met resistance, particularly at the embassy. On returning to Saigon, Ambassador Porter downplayed any move to reorganize, and the Mission Council rejected-with one exception-the idea advanced at Warrenton of team chiefs in priority pacification areas. The exception, adopted at General Westmoreland's suggestion, was to designate the AID representative in the An Giang Priority Area of the IV Corps not as "team chief" but "team coordinator." That was a particularly small concession in that An Giang Province was probably the most secure province in the country, and thorny civil-military coordination problems seldom arose there.12

In early February 1966 President Johnson arranged a conference in Honolulu with the heads of the South Vietnamese government, Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky. Although not dealing with organization for pacification, the conference had a marked


effect on that organization. Conscious of the importance of political, social, and economic matters to successful prosecution of the war, the president wanted to stress those factors, as indicated by the fact that he brought with him Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner. The conference put a spotlight on pacification as a means of carrying out political, social, and economic improvements; and the glare of the spotlight would inevitably lead to an effort to improve the structure for pacification, particularly in view of the chorus of complaints about it from visitors to South Vietnam and from Washington. officials.13

The stress throughout the conference was on pacification and the civilian aspects of the war. As Ambassador Lodge put it in his opening remarks : "We can beat up North Vietnamese regiments in the high plateau for the next twenty years and it will not end the war-unless we and the Vietnamese are able to build simple but solid political institutions under which proper police can function and a climate be created in which economic and social revolution, in freedom, are possible."

Secretary of State Rusk and President Johnson tied the emphasis on civilian matters into a three-faceted strategy of military pressure, nation­building or pacification, and negotiations. In Rusk's view pacification was a means to bring pressure on the North Vietnamese to negotiate, for "anything that can cause them to realize that an epidemic of confidence is building could hasten the time when Hanoi will decide to stop this aggression." In calling for tangible results, the president reiterated the
three points: "Now, I want to have my little briefcase filled with these three targets-a better military program, a better pacification program that includes everything, and a better peace program." In an unusually blunt statement, in view of the fact that he was addressing not only his own officials but the South Vietnamese leaders as well, he said:14

. . . Preserve this communique, because it is one we don't want: to forget. It will be a kind of bible that we are going to follow. When we come back here 90 days from now, or six months from now, we are going to start out and make reference to the announcements that the President, the Chief of State and the Prime Minister made in paragraph 1, and what the leaders and advisors reviewed in paragraph 2 . . . You men who are responsible for these departments, you ministers, and the staffs associated with them in both governments, bear in mind we are going to give you an examination


and the finals will be on just what you have done . . . how have you built democracy in the rural areas? How much of it have you built when and where? Give us dates, times, numbers . . . larger outputs, more efficient production to improve credit, handicraft, light industry, rural electrification-are those just phrases, high-sounding words, or have you coonskins on the wall . . . ? Next is health and education, Mr. Gardner. We don't want to talk about it; we want to do something about it. "The President pledges he will dispatch a team of experts." Well we'd better do something besides dispatching. They should get out there. We are going to train health personnel. How many? You don't want to be like the fellow who was playing poker and when he made a big bet they called him and said "What have you got?" He said, "aces" and they asked "how many" and he said, "one aces" . . . Next is refugees. That is just hot as a pistol in my country. You don't want me to raise a white flag and surrender so we have to do something about that.

Almost none of Johnson's specific wishes were carried out within his deadlines. Some of his goals were unrealistic; and the problems, difficult in any circumstances, had to be solved through an imperfect South Vietnamese instrument, one that might outwardly indicate agreement but might not willingly carry out the president's wishes. In addition, the South Vietnamese government soon faced a major political crisis, a near open revolt in the I Corps zone. That overshadowed any sense of urgency that President Johnson may have been able to generate by his exhortations.

The setting of targets at Honolulu nevertheless emphasized the president's impatience with the status of pacification. The nearest target for that impatience, given the inherent difficulty of pacification itself, would be the American organization for pacification support. Only visible and swift success could have stilled the pressure for reorganization.

Close on the Honolulu conference, President Johnson made two important decisions: He ordered Deputy Ambassador Porter assigned to the task of pulling together the US mission's pacification effort, and he designated a deputy special assistant to the president for national security affairs, Robert W. Komer, as a special assistant and gave him a strong mandate to supervise from the White House Washington support for pacification.

Upon conclusion of the conference at Honolulu, McGeorge Bundy headed a group of Washington officials travelling to Saigon. Bundy had permission to give Ambassador Porter wide authority over all parts of the pacification program. The president meanwhile cabled Ambassador Lodge : "I intend to see that our organization back here for supporting


Photo: Special Assistant Komer


this [pacification] is promptly tightened and strengthened and I know that you will want to do the salve at your end . . . I suggest that your designation of [Porter] as being in total charge, under your supervision, of all aspects of the rural construction. program would constitute a clear and visible sign to the Vietnamese and to our own people that the Honolulu Conference really marks a new departure in this vital field of our effort there."15

Porter's assignment to pacification was forced on a reluctant Henry Cabot Lodge, and Lodge in his response to the president said he had considered that the embassy's direction of pacification had been working "pretty well" and that he saw no need for a public announcement of Porter's assignment. "I assume," Lodge said, "that if Porter's new allocation means that I am so taken up with US visitors [a chore from which his deputy often relieved him] that I am in effect separate from rural construction, then we would take a new look at the whole thing."16 Although Lodge directed that Porter have full charge under his direction of all aspects of US support for pacification, he nevertheless excluded the military aspects from the charge.


Porter soon found himself in a difficult position. On the one hand, officials in Washington were pressuring him for results, while on the other Lodge failed to see Porter as a czar charged with obtaining the results Washington expected. Lodge's handling of the pacification committee chaired by David Nes in 1964 indicated that Lodge had no intention of relinquishing any appreciable degree of his personal responsibility for pacification. Even Porter himself apparently viewed his new role as
considerably less authoritative than Washington saw it. Although "the basic idea is to place total responsibility on one senior individual to pull together all of the civil aspects of revolutionary development," he noted, he saw that "primarily as a coordination effort" and did not intend "to get into the middle of individual agency activities and responsibilities." Whenever he perceived something that required attention and action by an agency, he would call the agency's attention to it in order to emphasize it. He intended, he said, "to suggest rather than criticize."17

If Porter's handling of pacification was less successful than official in Washington had hoped, neither was it a complete failure forts were at least a first step in a long process of getting the civilian agencies working together. In addition, although Porter had no authority over MAC V's participation in pacification, General Westmoreland designated his chief pacification planner, Col. Joel Hollis, to serve as an adviser to Porter with an office in the embassy. Cooperation was such that Hollis' office often produced staff work that bore Porter's signature,18 and Hollis served as MACV's single point of contact with the embassy on pacification, which represented an additional improvement in coordination.

But Porter's small staff, however able, was insufficient to handle the task at hand. Ambassador William Leonhart, who was serving in the White House as Robert Komer's deputy, returned from a visit to Saigon in May "full of admiration for Porter" but noted that Porter was stretched too thin with duties, including virtually all the usual deputy chief of mission functions, most of which Lodge had promised the president to relieve him of. Furthermore, although spokesmen for the civilian agencies would express "enthusiastic, but generalized, words of agreement" for Porter's proposals, they were unwilling, in practice, to change their programs or divert resources in the directions Porter wanted.19


Nevertheless some officials who visited Saigon saw the situation differently. Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs William Bundy said in March, for example, that the embassy was in the best shape that he had ever seen it and that Lodge was delegating major responsibility to Porter for pacification. After an informal visit as a consultant in August, Henry Kissinger observed marked improvement in the organization of the embassy. "The plethora of competing agencies," he noted, each operating "on the basis of partly conflicting and largely uncoordinated criteria has been replaced by an increasingly effective structure under the extremely able leadership of Bill Porter."20

In view of what the situation really was, such observations constituted a telling comment on how bad organization must have been earlier. Yet those views were not the ones then carrying weight in Washington. The real force behind pacification in Washington was Robert Komer. He was dissatisfied and impatient, not with Porter personally but with the continuing paucity of accomplishments in pacification.

Komer's appointment as special assistant to the president for "the other war," the substance of which had been foreshadowed at Warrenton and hinted at by the president in February, was directly attributable to the urgings of Secretary McNamara and McGeorge Bundy.21 Having authority by National Security Action Memorandum to direct, coordinate, and supervise all US nonmilitary programs for peaceful construction relating to South Vietnam, his purview was wider than pacification. He was to run "the other war," and that might also involve dealing with such matters as port congestion and economic stabilization. As Komer later remarked : "By God, we had a mandate to run the other war. We didn't know what the other war was; nobody else did either."22

Although management of military pacification programs was not under Komer's jurisdiction, the president still gave Komer considerable say in military business insofar as it affected "the other war." As noted in the National Security Action Memorandum setting up Komer's position, the President charged Komer with assuring "that adequate plans are prepared and coordinated covering all aspects" of pacification programs. "This responsibility will include the mobilization of US military resources in support of such [pacification] programs. He will also assure


that the Rural Construction/Pacification Program is properly coordinated with the programs for combat force employment and military operations."23
President Johnson made it plain in the memorandum that Komer's authority had substance in that "he will have direct access to me at all times." To Komer, that was vital. As he recalled later: "The influence we had was ... largely a function of our direct relationship to the President, and my position on the President's personal household. Washington does move when the President, the White House, speaks." If he had been in the State Department, he said, he would have gotten nowhere, for "one bureaucracy cannot manage several others."24

Operating under the White House umbrella, Komer became a powerful force on nonmilitary matters connected with South Vietnam. With a small but talented and unconventional staff, the "Blowtorch" as Ambassador Lodge nicknamed him-began to prod, often abrasively and with unusual pressure, officials and agencies in both Washington and Saigon. In the thirteen months Komer held his position, he would make seven trips to South Vietnam. There was no question but that he used his charter to the hilt, challenging even the military and urging priority for key pacification programs at the expense of the military effort. Noting that US civil-military coordination was still inadequate, he told the president in April 1966: "Somehow the civil side appears reluctant to call on military resources, which are frequently the best and most readily available. I put everyone politely on notice that I would have no such hesitations-provided that the case was demonstrable-and that this was the express request of the Secretary of Defense."25

The significance of some of Komer's contributions were not at first apparent but would be with the passage of time, such as laying the organizational groundwork for centralized US advice on pacification and developing the concept and basis for a program that he himself was later to implement in South Vietnam. He also kept pacification squarely on the minds of senior officials, including the president, and when decisions on the war were being made, provided a voice for pacification in the highest circles.

During the months when Porter and Komer were settling into their new assignments, three major government studies dealing with pacification were published, each explicitly or implicitly acknowledging defects


in US organization for pacification. The fate of those studies---none was adopted by more than one agency and no follow-up machinery was created-was one indication why a second reorganization for pacification would soon be under way.

The first study, "Program for the Pacification and Long-Term Development of Vietnam," more generally known as PROVN, was developed by a group of officers on the US Army staff under the aegis of the chief of staff, General Harold K. Johnson. A product of research done in 1965, it appeared in March 1966, an exhaustive, phased analysis of the entire problem of South Vietnam and the American response to it. No two US government agencies viewed the nation's objectives in South Vietnam in the same manner, the study noted, and it stressed that pacification should be designated as the major American-South Vietnamese effort.26

On US organization, PROVN made a series of detailed and explicit recommendations: (1) that a Washington executive agent coordinate Vietnam support activities in the United States; (2) that the US ambassador be the single manager in South Vietnam with two coequal deputies, one for US military forces and one for pacification; and (3) that below the deputies there be a single American representative or chief at each level in the field.

Originally closely held within the Army, PROVN never received Secretary McNamara's support,27 and MACV, which raised numerous objections, recommended that the study be reduced to a concept rather than an action document.28 The Army's chief of staff, General Johnson, nevertheless continued to stress the importance of the study's recommendations to those who would listen, especially Komer. Although PROVN itself was never implemented, many of its recommendations were destined to be adopted separately.

The two other studies were produced at the behest of Ambassador Porter. The first, called the "Mission Priorities Study," developed in response to urging from Komer in April 1966 that the mission attempt to establish a set of interagency priorities, was prepared by an inter­agency staff headed by an official of the Agency for International De­


velopment. With a list of priorities that was often vague and confusing and included almost every US program then in existence in South Vietnam, the study was subsequently used by the Agency for International Development but had little impact elsewhere.29

The other study, known as "Roles and Missions," begun in July 1966 under mission coordinator Col. George Jacobson, who was working for Porter, attempted to set out the roles and missions of each US military and civilian agency. When the study was completed, each agency tended to object to those parts impinging on its own institutional interests. MACV, for example, disagreed with giving South Vietnamese pacification forces priority in manpower over regular South Vietnamese Army units, and the Agency for International Development opposed the idea of a national constabulary as endangering its own police programs. Both CIA and MACV objected to a single, director of intelligence within the mission. Yet of eighty-one recommendations sixty-six were acceptable to all agencies. Ambassador Porter chose not to concentrate on those and try to resolve the others but instead allowed the study to wither, each agency merely adopting and pursuing those parts that it agreed with.30


Previous Chapter        Next Chapter


Return to Table of Contents

Search CMH Online
Last updated 3 January 2006