America's Lost War: Vietnam, 1945-1975

By Charles E. Neu | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Transformation of the
War, 1963–1965

On December 19, 1963, Secretary of Defense McNamara arrived at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport to assess the situation in South Vietnam. On his previous journey in late September he had been optimistic; now he confirmed the bad news reaching Washington. The statistics on which he had based his earlier recommendation to withdraw military advisers were, he concluded, “grossly in error.” The strategic hamlet program was in disarray, and the NLF's hold on the rural population was growing stronger. The new military junta that had replaced Diem, headed by General Duong Van Minh, was “indecisive and drifting.” “Current trends,” McNamara warned President Lyndon B. Johnson, “unless reversed in the next 2–3 months, will lead to neutralization at best and more likely to a Communist-controlled state.”1 His final recommendation was sobering: “We should watch the situation very carefully, running scared, hoping for the best, but preparing for more forceful moves if the situation does not show early signs of improvement.”2

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