The Third Reorganization

The Office of Civil Operations, representing the second attempt within a year to improve U.S. organization for pacification, was at least a partial success. Although during a short lifetime it had no discernible influence on the war against the Viet Cong, it achieved organizational improvements that represented an important half-way step in the formation of CORDS.

Washington officials had intended that Deputy Ambassador Porter run the new organization directly, but Ambassador Lodge made the Office of Civil Operations similar to a subsidiary corporation, with a director reporting to Porter.1 This development and Lodge's refusal to accept a second deputy ambassador meant that Porter was still running the mission, particularly when Lodge, soon after establishing the Office of Civil Operations, left for a month's home leave. Porter was seldom at his desk in the new office and remained busy with activities unrelated to pacification.

The choice of a director for the new office was Porter's, a choice narrowed considerably by the need to find a senior civilian already serving in South Vietnam so that the transition could be made swiftly. Porter chose the deputy director of the Saigon office of the Agency for International Development, L. Wade Lathram. Yet hardly had Lathram taken over the position when, like Lodge, he left on a month's home leave.

The absence of both Lodge and Lathram reinforced the belief of Washington officials that a second deputy ambassador to devote full time to pacification was needed. Stressing that need to President Johnson in February 1967, Special Assistant Komer noted that although Porter had originally opposed a second deputy, he had come around to the view that one was needed.2 Yet by that time, in view of the pending creation of


CORDS, the matter had become largely academic; but as the president was pondering the precise form that CORDS was to take, the need for three strong senior civilians was no doubt a consideration.

The new director, Lathram, had authority for directing all American civilian staffs in Saigon concerned with pacification support and all American civilian programs outside Saigon except clandestine operations of the CIA. In addition, he was to coordinate among the various agencies other civilian programs not dealing with pacification. Despite his inter­agency responsibilities, he was made only an ex-officio member of the Mission Council.3

The structure and detailed concepts of operation of the Office of Civil Operations were developed largely by members of Komer's White House staff on temporary duty in Saigon, Richard Holbrooke and Colonel Robert M. Montague, Jr. Six divisions were responsible for refugees, psychological operations, new life development (improvement of economic conditions in the villages), revolutionary development cadre, CHIEU Hoi (a program to encourage Viet Cong to rally to the government), and public safety. Those were moved en bloc from their parent civilian agencies. Above those divisions were an Executive Secretariat, a Management Division (internal administration), and a Plans and Evaluation Division, the last having primary responsibility for policy, concepts, strategy, plans, and programs and for reporting on and evaluating all pacification activities.

At subordinate levels-corps, provinces, and eventually some districts civilian operations fell under one man who was responsible up the chain of command to Lathram. Except for the addition of a Military Program and Liaison Division, the staffs in each of the four corps were similar to those in Saigon; and at province level, where the senior civilian was called the province representative, there were, as a rule, at least six subordinates whose duties paralleled those of the higher staffs. Because divisions of the South Vietnamese Army were in the South Vietnamese pacification chain of command, the Office of Civil Operations assigned to each an American division tactical area coordinator.

The Office of Civil Operations was far larger than any of its civilian antecedents in South Vietnam. The office contained nearly a thousand American civilians and directed programs costing $128 million and four billion South Vietnamese piastres.4


Moving offices to one location and choosing and acquiring people occupied much of the time of senior officials of the new office, time­consuming tasks that would help smooth the later formation of CORDS but whose complexity was not fully recognized by those in Washington who were impatient for results. By early December Porter and Lathram had decided on three of the four regional directors: Ambassador Koren (State Department) for the I Corps; John Vann (Agency for International Development, a former officer in the US Army who had resigned his commission over disagreements on policy in South Vietnam) for the III Corps; and Vince Heymann (CIA) for the IV Corps. The position in the II Corps, declined by General Lansdale, was filled in February 1967, near the end of the projected ninety-day lifespan for the Office of Civil Operations, by Robert Matteson (AID). Selection of province representatives was completed only in mid-January 1967, also rear the end of the contemplated lifespan.5

Like many other American agencies in South Vietnam, the Office of Civil Operations never had its full complement of people. By late February 1967, 485 vacancies remained out of 1,468 positions, many, of them important managerial posts.6 Difficulty in recruiting civilians was neither new to the Office of Civil Operations nor did it end with the establishment of CORDS.

In terms of personnel and funding, the Office of Civil Operations was essentially an offspring of the Agency for International Development, which in fiscal year 1967 provided 54 percent of the financing and 78 percent of the people. In addition, the parent office in Washington provided and financed administrative support. The second largest contributor, the CIA, provided 44 percent of the financing but a far smaller percentage of personnel.7

Although better than its predecessors', relationships of the new office with the other US civilian agencies were often strained. Richard Holbrooke, for example, noted that the office was "sniped and attacked almost from the outset by the bureaucracies." The directors of the Joint US Public Affairs Office and the CIA, Holbrooke remarked, were particularly possessive of their people and programs. Just how jealously the CIA guarded its prerogatives was apparent from a memorandum of un­


derstanding which gave the CIA station chief and the chief of the Revolutionary Development Cadre Division, a CIA official, wide authority and veto power over planning, programming, funding, and operating the Revolutionary Development Cadre program.8

Although the Office of Civil Operations wrote the performance reports of its people (but with comments by the parent agencies), the employees were supported, paid, and housed by their parent agencies. Even though the Office of Civil Operations directed a program, the agency to which that program had previously belonged remained responsible for funding. This separate funding made the subsequent transition to CORDS simpler, but it hampered reprogramming of money and resources to deal with unexpected problems. The director had no authority, for example, to transfer funds from the Revolutionary Development Cadre program to psychological warfare.9

There were clear benefits nevertheless. Senior officials working on pacification were at least located together and saw each other daily. In relations with MACV, the civilians spoke with one voice at all administrative levels, which made their case stronger; and coordination with the military, especially in planning for pacification, was facilitated. The South Vietnamese in turn benefitted by receiving advice from two voices rather than from several directions.

The office was unquestionably a useful step toward a workable organization for single management of US advice and support for pacification. The experience gained would considerably ease the transition from civil to military responsibility. Yet in its short lifetime the Office of Civil Operations had no visible effect on the war in the countryside, where the situation was ill-disposed to quick improvements. In measuring the successes even senior officials of the office saw them in terms of American accomplishments, such as improved reporting and evaluating systems, not in what those systems were reporting and evaluating.10 If the move
in the direction of military responsibility was to be halted, the Office of Civil Operations would have had to produce results little short of miraculous.

Although the trend toward military responsibility was always there, General Westmoreland continued to be discreet about it. Talking with Ambassador Leonhart in mid-December 1966, soon after the Office of


Civil Operations was established, Westmoreland denied that he was seeking such responsibility but indicated that he had no intention of being unprepared should it come his way. Neither fragmented nor dual responsibility was the answer; leaders in Washington, he observed, might be ill-judged by history if they failed to devise more clear-cut organizational authority and responsibility.11

Returning to Washington, Leonhart voiced much the same opinion to President Johnson. After noting that the civilians and the military still had problems agreeing on operational priorities, he added: "I remain doubtful that we can get pacification moving quickly or effectively enough with the present organization or that we will have the requisite planning, retraining, and leverage applied to [the South Vietnamese] until MACV is tasked with a single responsibility for the pacification program." Copies of Leonhart's report went to the Defense and State Departments, the CIA, and the Agency for International Development, where the views apparently raised little protest except from one member of the Vietnam Coordinating Committee who was "deeply troubled by the continuing and apparently growing pressure" for military control.12

Visiting Saigon for ten days starting 13 February, Special Assistant Komer praised the Office of Civil Operations as "a major step forward" that deserved "full Washington backing by all agencies involved." Yet he also made a strong plea for better management and cited the pre­requisites of "a vigorous top US team in Saigon," improved civil-military coordination, and a more effective and coordinated effort by the South Vietnamese government.13

In the meantime President Johnson had begun to consider a radical reorganization of the American command structure in South Vietnam, snore than simply giving responsibility for pacification to the military. The president had begun to think in terms of a sweeping reorganization of the US mission based on a suggestion by Secretary McNamara, which General Wheeler endorsed, that Westmoreland be afforded powers similar to those exercised by General Douglas Mac Arthur during the occupation of Japan. Under that concept, Westmoreland would control all American civil and military efforts but apparently would exercise no proconsulship over the South Vietnamese. Wheeler's relay of this plan


to Westmoreland did not note whether there would even be an ambassador.14

In response to specific queries from General Wheeler, Westmoreland proposed that if the arrangement were adopted, he should have the title of Commander in Chief, US Forces, Vietnam. He also proposed three deputies, one each for political affairs, economics and national planning, and military operations, the latter to assume his title as commander of MACV.15

When in mid-February Ambassador Lodge informed President Johnson that he wanted to end his assignment as ambassador, General Westmoreland came under consideration for that post. Secretary McNamara saw him either as a civilian ambassador or in the dual role of ambassador and military commander. In the belief that a man in uniform could better coordinate the US mission and with concern for Westmoreland's continuing military career, General Wheeler recommended the dual position, to which McNamara eventually subscribed.16

In late February and early March, President Johnson discussed the possibilities with McNamara and Secretary of State Rusk. Although Rusk stressed that he had no personal objection to Westmoreland as ambassador, he was concerned about American operations becoming completely militarized because the projected South Vietnamese elections would almost certainly result in a military president. That objection, combined with McNamara's recommendation that Westmoreland remain in uniform, whatever his position, killed the proposal.17

The roles of McNamara and Wheeler in those deliberations underscored the strong desire of both men to see a consolidated American effort in South Vietnam, particularly in pacification. The president's interest also appeared to reflect continued determination to achieve a united effort, but the proposal for Westmoreland's appointment may have been only one of several choices that the president considered. Even as Secretary McNamara was recommending Westmoreland, he also suggested to the president that Special Assistant Komer might be named to head


the pacification program in South Vietnam, a possibility that the president mentioned to Komer.18

Having decided against a change in Westmoreland's status, President Johnson remained determined to put pacification under the military and, apparently for the first time, decided to give Westmoreland a civilian deputy for pacification. That possibility had gone largely unremarked since Komer had recommended it in his paper on pacification prepared in August 1966. Knowledge of the president's decision, however, was limited to a handful of senior officials-including almost certainly none who might have opposed it until 15 March when, as a prelude to another high-level conference on Guam, the president publicly announced that Ambassador-at-Large Ellsworth Bunker, would replace Lodge; the current ambassador to Pakistan, Eugene M. Locke, would be the new deputy ambassador; and Komer would head the pacification advisory program.

On vacation at the time, Komer was somewhat chagrined at Locke's appointment, for that made Komer the third-ranking civilian rather than the second. Komer had expected to be both the deputy ambassador and General Westmoreland's deputy for pacification.19 Yet having only one deputy in the mission might have perpetuated the problems of Ambassador Porter. In any event, with pacification placed under MACV, ambassador Locke was moving into a job that would be downgraded to its original focus on merely administering the US mission.

The conference in March at Guam was outwardly another in a series of joint conferences among American and South Vietnamese leaders on the war's progress. Yet it also had importance as a forum for introducing the new American team for Saigon and for starting work on the details of reorganizing the US mission. The principal proposal was that eventually adopted: creation of CORDS. At Guam, however, General Westmoreland felt a trace of presidential hesitation. Details of the CORDS idea, he noted were "put to the President, who seemed to accept them in principle but stated he would refrain from making a decision" until later in the conference.20

Westmoreland went to Guam expecting that the chief of his Revolutionary Development Support Directorate, General Knowlton, would head, under Komer, a new MACV staff section combining the direc­


Photo: Ambassador Bunker


torate with the Office of Civil Operations; but by the end of the conference he agreed instead on the director of the Office of Civil Operations, Lathram, with Knowlton as his deputy. Having already established a good working relationship with Lathram, Knowlton readily agreed.21

Komer and his military assistant, Colonel Montague, accompanied General Westmoreland back to Saigon, there to spend several days working out details of the reorganization and to consult with Westmoreland. Westmoreland recalled that they came to "a meeting of minds." There were actually some stormy scenes, for Knowlton and the MACV chief of staff, Maj. Gen. William B. Rosson, deduced from Komer's proposed organization charts that he sought to command American units assigned to support pacification. Their concern may have arisen from a notation on a draft chart that American corps and provincial pacification advisory chiefs should control US units if the units were "attached for pacification missions." Or they may have been concerned over a key paragraph in the draft National Security Action Memorandum directing the reorganization, which stated that "the Deputy will supervise the employment of all US resources-civil and military, and the conduct of all US programs directly contributing to pacification (Revolutionary Development)." Komer, the author of the draft memorandum, had meant US


advisers rather than units. The paragraph was nevertheless removed from the draft memorandum following the sessions at MACV; the US military was clearly sensitive to any indication of civilian involvement in military command and tactical operations.22

More significant in the long run was what General Westmoreland and his future deputy for pacification did agree on: a series of guidelines that set the pattern for subsequent American organization. Pacification was still to be essentially a South Vietnamese program with the American role limited to advice and support. The American advisory program would have a single manager at each level with a single chain of command from Saigon down to district, a single official voice when dealing with the South Vietnamese, and integrated civil and military planning, programming, operations, evaluations, logistics, and communications. Every effort would be made to achieve a smooth transition by melding existing civil and military organizations, the entire Office of Civil Operations being transferred to the new organization. In managing pacification support, Korner was to maintain close contact with applicable ministries of the South Vietnamese government. Komer was not to be a political adviser or mere coordinator; he was instead to operate as a component commander. Positions in the new organization were to be filled by the best men available, whether military or civilian. In addition, the reorganization was to proceed by careful and cautious steps; civilian agency staffs and budgets, for example, were to be retained until at least; fiscal year 1969.23

Although at first Komer planned eventually to integrate or merge the civil and military staff sections, the final structure as developed in June 1967 kept the two sections relatively intact in the sense, for example, that staff sections from the Office of Civil Operations retained their original names and nearly all their former personnel. That would make a smooth transition back to civilian control possible should negotiations with the enemy prompt a reduction in or withdrawal of US military forces.


Photo:  President Johnson at Guam Conference, March 20, 1967


Komer saw for himself a major role in allocation of resources, training, and other activities of those South Vietnamese military forces involved in pacification; but possibly in deference to a new deputy military commander, General Creighton W. Abrams, whose primary responsibility was to be upgrading the South Vietnamese Army, Westmoreland did not sanction it. In addition, Westmoreland directed that Komer's command line run through the US field force (corps) commanders; yet he did give Komer permission to maintain a direct channel of technical supervision to the corps pacification advisers and their subordinates at province level.

In working on the draft National Security Action Memorandum, as originally prepared by Komer, General Westmoreland made only a few changes, primarily wording to assure his own primacy and responsibility for pacification support over that of Komer and removal of the ambiguous paragraph on supervision of all US resources. Returning to Washington, Komer on 27 March forwarded the memorandum to President Johnson with the notation that Secretaries McNamara and Rusk, Deputy


Secretary of Defense Vance, General Wheeler, and Ambassador Bunker endorsed it.24

Komer and Secretary Rusk insisted that Ambassador Leonhart, who was to take over Komer's responsibilities in the White House, should receive the same full mandate previously held by Komer. The president only grudgingly approved. At the same time Komer made clear to the president that he expected to be equal in status to General Abrams except when General Westmoreland was absent, in which case Abrams as the military deputy would be filling Westmoreland's position. He also wanted "free access to Bunker (who insists on it)." At McNamara's urging Komer refused any role in such additional civilian functions as reducing inflation and port congestion lest they take time from the primary task.25

Because the press was speculating on the new direction of pacification, Komer urged the president to make a public announcement of the new organization soon, but for a variety of reasons the president delayed until May. For personal reasons, Ambassador Bunker was unable to proceed immediately to Saigon, and President Johnson wanted him to make the announcement when he had assumed his new assignment. In addition, official Washington was at the time involved in a new decision on force levels for South Vietnam. Besides, the president himself apparently was still uncertain as to Komer's and Leonhart's roles and for a while leaned toward Korner dividing his time between Saigon and Washington.26

On 20 April Komer again urged a presidential decision in order that he could be in Saigon by 1 May. Yet President Johnson continued to delay. He was still considering three organizational schemes: the CORDS solution as recommended at Guam and worked out with Westmoreland, Komer as director of an enlarged Office of Civil Operations, and Komer handling pacification in both Saigon and Washington. Although keeping the Office of Civil Operations would have been the most acceptable solution to the civilian agencies, President Johnson ap­


parently gave it little consideration. Komer later recalled that he recommended strongly against his operating in both Saigon and Washington and made clear he preferred the CORDS solution.27

When Komer arrived in Saigon on 1 May along with General Abrams, President Johnson still had not signed the National Security Action Memorandum creating CORDS and did so only nine days later. By that memorandum, the president charged General Westmoreland with American civil and military support of pacification and named Komer as his deputy for pacification with the personal rank of ambassador. On any interagency disputes arising from the change, Ambassador Bunker was to have full jurisdiction. In Washington, Ambassador Leonhart was to take over Komer's former position as Special Assistant to the President. "I count on all concerned-in Washington and in Vietnam," the president admonished, "to pull together in the national interest to make this arrangement work."28

The signing of the National Security Action Memorandum marked a distinct turning point in the US pacification advisory effort. The force behind the new organization had come from Washington, particularly from Komer's office in the White House, but the focus after the signing of the memorandum was in Saigon. As Komer later put it: "The problem was one of field execution, not Washington organization . . . the real problems were not in Washington any longer but in Vietnam . . . we could not manage the "other `war' from 11,000 miles away."29 Washington agencies and offices were from that point onlookers, monitoring but not initiating programs in pacification.

Few organizational changes during the war in Vietnam had such impact as placing pacification under the military and creating CORDS. There were three compelling reasons behind the president's decision to make the change.30 First, so intimately involved in pacification was every US agency in Saigon, and so interwoven were civil and military tasks, that normal governmental coordination was inadequate. Second, the problem was simply too large and complex for the civilian agencies to handle alone. Third, pacification was failing for lack of adequate military security, and the military would take security more seriously if directly responsible for pacification. Aside from additional military


resources, Komer hoped that military operations might eventually be given a political bent. That could hardly happen overnight, but in time the military did begin to integrate its military operations with the political struggle. In the end, no other American organization in South Vietnam would be as altered by the new organization as was the military.


Chart 1: U.S. Mission Civilian Organization: Feb-Nov 66


Chart 2: Structure of the Office of Civil Operations (OCO) within the U.S. Mission: Dec 66-Apr 67


Chart 3: Structure of U.S. Mission, Showing Position of CORDS-May  67


Chart 4: Organiation of Assistant Chief of Staff for Cords


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