Setting Up CORDS

Having made the decision to create CORDS, President Johnson, in contrast to his follow-up participation in other decisions connected with the war in Vietnam, rarely reappeared as an actor in the pacification drama. He had no need to back up Komer continually, no requirement to switch officials, no necessity to remind members of his administration of his interest. That is not to say that the transition to CORDS was totally smooth. In some cases both civilians and military resisted; vet there was compromise also, and problems that did develop were all handled below the presidential level. So successful was the change that President Johnson soon deemphasized Komer's old White House position.

Success in setting up CORDS was attributable as much to a fortuitous combination of personalities as to any other factor. Ambassador Bunker set the tone when in his first Mission Council meeting he said : "I dislike the term 'The Other War.' To me this is all one war. Everything we do is an aspect of the total effort to achieve our objectives here."1 Even though American operations never did become one war and even though the architects of the new organization had deliberately left out activities not directly related to pacification, Ambassador Bunker brought more unity to American activities in South Vietnam than had any of his predecessors. Pacification advice and support was by far the most apparent manifestation of that unity.

The new head of pacification, Komer, took a wider and more dynamic view of his prerogatives than his title would indicate, and from the start he wanted to make sure that all concerned recognized that over­all authority in South Vietnam rested with the ambassador, including authority for pacification support even though the pacification programs had been centralized under the military. He urged Bunker to put his imprint on the emission swiftly by demanding "action programs" for three critical matters: transition to an elected South Vietnamese government, revamping the South Vietnamese armed forces, and improving pacifica­


tion. After consulting with Westmoreland, he also recommended that the ambassador create from the large and relatively unwieldly Mission Council a smaller Executive Committee designed to handle the most sensitive issues. As worked out by Bunker, the committee included the ambassador, Deputy Ambassador Locke, General Westmoreland, and Komer, and usually conducted business over lunch following meetings of the Mission Council.2

Both Komer and his staff, particularly John Vann and Colonel Montague, were concerned lest the civilians in pacification be submerged by the military command and lose their power to press America 1 support of pacification against competing priorities and interests. Vannn and Montague, for example, urged Komer to strengthen his position at the start by concentrating and insisting on such key issues as actual command of the U.S. advisers engaged in pacification, authority to organize US pacification staffs from Saigon to the provinces, and a channel of direct communication to Ambassador Bunker. As Montague put the case for consolidating Komer's authority: "Your leverage goes down day by day after you are no longer Special Assistant to the President."3

Thus it was that Komer landed in Saigon on the run. He set out immediately to bring additional programs under his control, such as support for the South Vietnamese militia and the drive against the Viet Long infrastructure or shadow government. He himself wrote the pacification section in 'ambassador Bunker's weekly message to President Johnson; he participated in the MACV commanders' conferences; he commented to Bunker and Westmoreland on any number of issues that were hardly within his bureaucratic purview, such as proposed military operations and South Vietnamese political developments; he made private suggestions to Bunker for programs he wanted MACV and other agencies to adopt. Above all, he was determined not to he lost in a big military machine; he would act like a four-star general and insist on being treated like one, even to the extent of demanding a special license plate for his official car. As his hand-picked military deputy, Maj. Gen. George I. Forsythe, later put it: "The whole arrangement was like a grain of sand in an oyster. Like the oyster, the bureaucracy set out to encase the irritant ; but Komer was not about to become a pearl."4

Komer was also concerned lest the shift to the military jolt civilian morale and result in widespread resignations. Yet as one of his assistants


noted, only if the civilians refused to exercise the authority they were being given or to accept the control that would be necessary would the military dominate them. Bunker and Westmoreland were also sensitive on that issue and anxious to avoid criticism of the reorganization as a militarization of the American effort. They publicly stressed Komer's role as a manager and the fact that the new staff section would have a civilian head, Lathram, with the title, Assistant Chief of Staff for CORDS, and that the Office of Civil Operations was absorbing MACV's Revolutionary Development Support Directorate, not vice versa. Westmoreland had personally proposed the acronym CORDS in order to give the greatest prominence to the word civil.5

Soon after arriving in Saigon, Komer gave Ambassador Bunker draft cables that he wanted Bunker to send to Washington explaining the concept of the reorganization, providing a schedule of steps for carrying it out, and suggesting a method of publicly announcing it. Making only minor changes, Bunker forwarded them to Washington, where the State Department quickly approved them.6

Komer also proposed forming a Steering Committee to take a close look at duplication and overlap among MAC' and civilian agencies. Although Bunker and Westmoreland responded enthusiastically, Komer soon lost interest when it became clear that savings were going to be small and not worth the effort to dig them out. He let the idea drop but again pressed the ambassador to ask for an action program on pacification. Komer said he intended working one out anyway but suggested the ambassador show personal interest by formally asking for it.7

On 11 May Ambassador Bunker formally announced to the press the creation of CORDS, in the process stressing the advantages of single management of American support for pacification and his own interest in the program. He intended, he said, "to keep fully informed personally about all developments in this field" and to hold frequent meetings with Westmoreland and Komer to formulate pacification policy.8

Two days later at a MACV commanders' conference at Cam Ranh Bay, Bunker and Westmoreland dwelt extensively on the new organization, each stressing that pacification was a single program constituting


Photo: General Forsythe


part of a larger combined civil-military effort with one manager: the ambassador. Highlighting the importance of civilians in the new structure, Westmoreland stated that "a major goal will be to avoid personal conflicts or friction." Komer in turn talked of the use of mass and of no single solution but many programs unified in a "comprehensive package." For the first time a commanders' conference was devoted almost entirely to pacification.9

To work out the mechanics of reorganizing pacification support activities, Komer formed a Steering Group on Organization for Revolutionary Development Support, which he chaired. Other members were General Paul Smith, who had been Lathram's military deputy in the Office of Civil Operations; Frank van Damm, an AID official; and Brig. Gen. Daniel Raymond, the latter named by Westmoreland to represent the MACV Staff.10

Against the recommendation of a previous MACV planning study, Komer insisted that the steering group approach the integration as a three-step process, going slow in areas that would raise more complicated


interagency problems, such as psychological warfare and intelligence, or those where absorption into MACV might be expected to lower civilian morale or be inconsistent with points in the ambassadors public announcement of the formation of CORDS. The first step, to be accomplished in thirty days, was to create a unified organization that consolidated civilian and military pacification activities under a single chain of command down to the district level. The second and third steps involved the functional integration of such civil and military activities as transportation, communications, logistics, intelligence, medical support, public safety, and psychological operations. No completion dates for those two steps were set, and, as it turned out, integration of many of the functions was never achieved.11

Against the advice of the military members of the steering group, Komer insisted that the CORDS staff be an operating agency with command authority.12 He also insisted that, as Westmoreland's deputy for pacification, he be allowed to by-pass the MACV chief of staff and deal directly with the CORDS staff on any pacification matter not involving the interests of other MACV staff sections. Although that authority was never specifically spelled out, Komer's final directive afforded him such wide authority that he could interpret his command authority in pacification matters as he saw fit. In practice, he dealt directly with all subordinate echelons involved in pacification, maintaining a formal facade of working through the chief of staff but in effect working directly with the assistant chief of staff for CORDS, Lathram. He and his assistants often dealt directly with individuals and staff sections serving Lathram.

How to reorganize pacification at corps level raised several questions Should the CORDS corps staff be an operating agency? Should the corps deputy for CORDS directly control the province pacification advisory teams? Would the American advisory teams with divisions of the South Vietnamese Army be in the pacification chain of command? What would he the role of the corps deputy senior adviser (military)? Who would control the advisers to units of the South Vietnamese Army assigned to pacification support mission? The last question was of particular importance in that nearly half the battalions of the South Vietnamese Army were to operate in support of pacification.


Photo: General Abrams


In resolving those issues and others, Komer usually imposed h:.s views on the steering group. Yet he failed to get everything he wanted. At General Westmoreland's insistence, for example, he was made Deputy for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (or DEP­CORDS) and thus a deputy for one function only. Unlike Westmoreland's military deputy, General Abrams, he could operate across the broad range of MACV staff sections only for pacification. By that arrangement Westmoreland made certain that should both he and General Abrams he absent, US forces would not be commanded by a civilian.13

On 23 May Komer forwarded to General Westmoreland his proposed organizational arrangements. The plan, he noted, "is by no means perfect, but represents an optimum balancing of pros and cons" and was "the best interim scheme." To deal with some problems of regional and corps organization not fully settled, Komer recommended that his proposed directive be issued subject to objections by the corps senior advisers and MACV staff sections, thus throwing onto the potential opposition the burden of changing an established directive. Determined to give CORDS every chance to succeed, Westmoreland called Komer three days later, made only minor changes in the implementing directive that Komer proposed,


subsequently discussed it with Ambassador Bunker, and approved publication, which was accomplished on 28 May.14

Under the directive, Ambassador Komer was charged "with supervising the formulation and execution of all plans, policies and programs military and civilian, which support the [South Vietnamese government's] Revolutionary Development program and related programs."Because the directive lacked limitations and specifics, Komer's role would depend in large measure on personalities. It did provide CORDS with responsibilities greater than merely the sum of those tasks previously handled by the Office of Civil Operations and MACV's Revolutionary Development Support Directorate. Komer, for example, obtained responsibility for advising the South Vietnamese government on two key aspects of pacification: improving security for the population and destroying the enemy's infrastructure.

To have civilians fully operating in a military chain of command was extremely rare in the history of the United States; it had certainly never before occurred on such a scale. Komer was the first ambassador in the country's history to serve directly under a military command and also have command responsibility for military personnel and resources. Since military and civilians were intermixed in the organization, a military man might write the performance report of a civilian or vice versa.
Komer maintained a small personal staff that served as an informal brain trust and source of information for him. The staff also served as a short-cut channel of communication for more junior members of the main CORDS staff serving under the assistant chief of staff for CORDS; and Komer's military deputy, General Forsythe, was useful in mollifying military officers ruffled by the unconventional actions of Komer and his assistants.

The main staff, called MACCORDS, operated under the MACV chief of staff as a regular MACV staff section alongside J-2 (intelligence), J-3 (operations), and others. Under Lathram as the assistant chief of staff for CORDS, the staff had responsibility for all aspects of pacification planning, support, and advice to American and South Vietnamese officials, plus MACV staff responsibility for economic warfare


and civic action programs of American forces. Of even greater importance, Lathram supervised "the execution of plans and programs for U.S. civil/military support" of pacification.15 MACCORDS thus was not just another staff section but an operating agency.

The staff was at first markedly similar to that in the Office of Civil Operations; indeed, the new organization was designed specifically to make the transition as effortless as possible with most of the people doing the same jobs they had done before but under a different supervisory structure. The six field program divisions, such as CHIEU Hor and refugees, were transferred intact from the Office of Civil Operations (and thus from the CIA and the Agency for International Development) with some military officers added. Management support remained largely civilian, while the most extensive intermingling of military and civilians occurred in the command sections and in one division handling research and analysis and another developing plans, programs, and policy.

The breadth of CORDS programs was apparent from a listing of the programs and the agencies formerly charged with them: New Life Development (AID), CHIEU Hot (AID), Revolutionary Development Cadre (CIA), Montagnard Cadre (CIA), Census Grievance (CIA), Regional and Popular Forces (MACV), Refugees (AID), Field Psychological Operations (Joint US Public Affairs Office), Public Safety (AID), US Forces Civic Action and Civil Affairs (MACV) , Revolutionary Development Reports and Evaluations (all agencies), and Revolutionary Development Field Inspection (all agencies).16 CORDS also assumed coordination responsibility for pacification-related programs of the Agency for International Development, such as rural electrification, hamlet. schools, rural health, village-hamlet administrative training, agricultural affairs, and public works. With few exceptions, all American programs outside of Saigon, excluding American and South Vietnamese regular military forces and clandestine CIA operations, came under the operational. control of CORDS.

An important exception was land reform, which the Agency for International Development insisted on retaining. Although originally one of Komer's high-priority action programs, the Agency for International Development was so adamant about keeping it that Komer gave up trying to bring it under CORDS.17
For the most part the CORDS organization in each corps mirrored


that at MACV headquarters. The corps deputy for CORDS was a full­fledged deputy to the American corps senior adviser, a lieutenant general who in the I, II, and III Corps was also the American field force or III Marine Amphibious Force commander. The directive describing the deputy's responsibilities used the same words as it did for Komer's role in Saigon : "supervising the formulation and execution of all military and civilian plans, policies and programs."18 Despite misgivings by General Westmoreland, Komer felt strongly that the corps deputy for CORDS should be in an operational as opposed to a staff position and should definitely not be subordinate to the American corps commander's chief of staff.

Largely on the advice of John Vann, the deputy for CORDS in the III Corps, Komer modeled the position of the corps deputy for CORDS on that of the corps deputy senior adviser, who was in charge of the entire advisory program to the South Vietnamese armed forces in the corps area and who functioned as a "component commander" reporting directly to the American corps commander. That autonomy was a key to the ability of CORDS to function and to the ability of the civilians to preserve their power and exploit their access to military resources and personnel.

The American war effort at the corps level and below thus was divided into three distinct components: the American military forces, the advisory effort to the South Vietnamese military forces under the deputy senior adviser, and the pacification support program under the deputy for CORDS. The deputy for CORDS was served by an assistant deputy for CORDS, except in the III Corps where an assistant chief of staff for CORDS headed a civil-military staff much like the CORDS staff under Lathram in Saigon.

Since the South Vietnamese Army was so heavily involved in pacification support, the corps deputy for CORDS supervised the corps deputy senior adviser in regard to all aspects of South Vietnamese military support of pacification. At a lower level the American province senior adviser had operational control of all American advisers with South Vietnamese units subordinate to the South Vietnamese province chief.

Province advisory teams, unified under the province senior adviser, were responsible directly to the corps deputy for CORDS. Thus Westmoreland and Komer settled a point that had long been in contention:
Should the province advisory teams he in the chain of command of


American military advisers with the South Vietnamese Army? Removing the province advisory teams from the chain of command ran counter to a steadily growing trend, which MACV supported, to have South Vietnamese division commanders control all province-level activities.19 If the South Vietnamese division commander controlled all province-level activities, American advisers to the divisions would then control advisers to South Vietnamese provinces; with that procedure eliminated, Komer hoped the South Vietnamese would follow the American lead and end division control over the provinces.

Since a division headquarters could hardly give either pacification or provincial affairs the attention they deserved, both the PROVN study and the "Roles and Missions" study of 1966 (see Chapter 2) had recommended removing South Vietnamese divisions and their American advisers from the pacification chain of command. The division was in many aspects a superfluous link; few South Vietnamese civilian ministries, including the Ministry of Revolutionary Development, or American civilian agencies had representatives at that level. Proponents of a stronger South Vietnamese provincial government also supported freeing the province chief from the division commander; and as a matter of organizational principle, Komer did not want his key province advisers under the control of American military superiors whose advisory role was oriented toward large-unit combat.

In discussions on the point in May, General Abrams, the NIACV staff, all American field force (corps) commanders, and Lathram's deputy, General Knowlton, recommended against removing vision advisers from the pacification advisory structure. Knowlton, for example, felt that with assignment of battalions of the South Vietnamese Army to pacification, the division commanders would take a more active interest in pacification and that the American example of removing division advisers from the pacification chain of command would not necessarily: prompt the South Vietnamese to do the same with division commanders.20

To the surprise of a number of skeptical civilians, General Westmoreland decided the issue in favor of Komer. From that time division advisory teams had no authority over the province teams and were involved only in routine administrative and logistical support for military members of the province teams. Despite personal doubts, Westmoreland sup­


ported an attempt by Komer later in 1967 to persuade the South Vietnamese to make the same charge and end the division commander's control over the province chief, which the South Vietnamese the following year finally agreed to do.

The pacification support structures at province and district levels were more readily determined. Both had a single team chief. The corps deputy for CORDS, with the concurrence in each case of Komer and Westmoreland, chose the province senior advisers, roughly half of whom were civilian and half military. A civilian chief always had a military deputy and vice versa. With the approval of the corps deputy for CORDS, the province senior adviser chose the district senior advisers, most of whom were drawn at first from the ranks of the MACV subsector advisers. Since security in the districts was often precarious, Westmoreland and Komer considered it better to have a military officer rather than a civilian at the district level. But in some more secure districts civilians headed the advisory teams.

Because of special conditions in the IV Corps zone, Westmoreland and Komer put off any change in the advisory organization there. Although that region had few American military forces and only a corps senior adviser with no major command functions, it had the largest civilian advisory structure to he found anywhere. They also decided for the moment to make no change in administrative and logistic support for CORDS, each agency simply making the same contributions in funds and people as under the existing support arrangements.

In early June, Ambassador Komer traveled to each of the four corps headquarters to explain the new organization to American commanders and their staffs. Although he found little resistance to the provisions of the new CORDS directive, he considered it necessary to stress heavily that the corps deputy for CORDS supervised all American support for pacification, including activities affecting pacification run by the deputy senior adviser. At each corps Komer left a list of recommended province senior advisers.21

In mid-June the two American field force commanders and the commander of the III Marine Amphibious Force submitted detailed plans for pacification organization in their respective areas. Except for two modifications made by the I Field Force commander. Lt. Gen. Stanley R. Larsen, the plans for pacification at corps levels adhered remarkably to the spirit, and in the case of the III Marine Amphibious Commander


for the I Corps zone, the letter of the CORDS directive. General Larsen wanted a dual chain of command for the province senior adviser, running for military matters through the division advisory teams and the corps deputy senior adviser, and a rating system for province advisers that would directly involve the corps deputy senior adviser.22

In late June, Komer asked Westmoreland to approve four changes in the directive: (1) allow the chief of staff at corps level to coordinate the efforts of the military and pacification staffs; (2) set up the basic organization for all the corps zones; (3) replace a staff section that had handled civil affairs and civic action in the headquarters of the US Army's component command, the United States Army, Vietnam, with an assistant chief of staff for CORDS; and (4) designate the former deputy regional director of the Office of Civil Operations as assistant deputy for CORDS at corps level rather than as assistant chief of staff for CORDS, in that. way to emphasize the operational as well as -the staff responsibilities of the position. Komer also asked permission to disapprove some of the proposals of the corps senior advisers, including the two from General Larsen, as "inconsistent" with the CORDS directive. General Westmoreland approved all of Komer's requests.23

Thus was the corps organization for pacification standardized. It was another case of General Westmoreland backing his new deputy for pacification and establishing the principle that the CORDS directive was not to be diluted. He thus sent a signal, albeit one that would have to be reinforced later, to all subordinate echelons.
While supporting Komer, General Westmoreland made clear from time to time that full command authority remained his. After visiting the corps commands in early June, for example, Komer told Westmoreland


that "my next major step will be to review and approve the organization in each of the corps," to which Westmoreland replied: "I will approve [corps] organizational arrangements."24

Time would be required for Komer and Westmoreland to develop close working relationships, particularly in view of the firm hand that Komer wanted to wield in connection with pacification. He wanted to refer only the most important matters to Westmoreland, meanwhile accustoming the corps senior advisers to deal directly with him on pacification rather than with Westmoreland.25

As of mid-August 1967 there were still problems. As Komer wrote to General Westmoreland : "My ability to contribute ... is as yet hampered by the fact that my role and relationship vis-a-vis subordinate and coordinate echelons is not adequately defined. Nor am I sure as yet that I have your own full trust and confidence, which I have had from all my previous superiors but which I recognize takes time." The point at issue was that at times General Westmoreland, the MACV staff, or the corps senior advisers were by passing Komer. He wanted Westmoreland to tell the senior advisers, the MACV staff, the staff of the United States Army, Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff to come to him first on "all pacification business" and rely on him to refer major issues to Westmoreland. In retrospect Komer was to take a mellowed view of the issue: "Westmoreland was not used to having an active deputy. The corps commander or staff would come to him and discuss several issues, one of which would be pacification-oriented. Then Westmoreland would give guidance and I would not hear it until later."26

Through a combination of Komer's assertiveness and Westmoreland's growing trust, the difficulty in time disappeared. As the trust increased, Komer began to exercise responsibilities that actually belonged to the corps senior advisers and developed a semi-independent chain of command. Occupied with the large-unit war, senior advisers delegated most pacification business to their own deputies for CORDS; and most operational affairs dealing with pacification went through the informal channel of Komer (or Lathram) to corps deputy for CORDS to province team. Yet there were certain matters, such as money and manpower (particularly if they concerned personnel or materials not already under control of CORDS), that had to be treated through the corps senior


advisers; but, in general, as Komer recalled it: "Basically the corps commanders left us alone. In practice the pacification business was run autonomously."27

Meanwwlhile, the organization for pacification in the IV Corps zone, with its special conditions involving a large civilian advisory force and no major American force, was treated separately. It was, for example, the only corps zone where Westmoreland and Komer gave serious consideration to naming a civilian as the corps senior adviser. Korner suggested the head of the Joint United States Public Affairs office, Barry Zorthian, which Westmoreland heartily endorsed; but to their surprise, Zorthian declined. Since it was difficult to find another civilian with the requisite experience and rank who was acceptable to the military, the idea was dropped.28

The organization for pacification in the IV Corps differed from that in the other corps in that corps command channels devolved in only two broad lines: the South Vietnamese Army and the pacification advisory structure. Given an extra month to revise the pacification organization, the senior adviser produced principles and structure that adhered to the general guidance provided by the CORDS directive.29


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