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Retired U.S. Army Officer Doubts South Vietnamese Want to Defeat Communists

Aug. 30, 1963 - A U.S. Army officer who retired recently after more than a year’s service in South Vietnam said today he doubted whether the South Vietnamese Government was really interested in defeating the Communist Viet Cong. Lieut. Col. John Paul Vann (left with Gen. Huynh Van Cao, commander of ARVN’s Seventh Division), the senior American officer in the Communist-infested Mekong Delta region before he returned to the U.S. in April, said he and other American officers thought the Government might be interested in “containing” the Communists rather than defeating them. He said many American officers believed the Viet Cong could be crushed within a year if there were a proper effort by the South Vietnamese Army. He gave two reasons why he believed the Government might be reluctant to crush the Communists. The first was that President Ngo Dinh Diem “or whoever is running the country” feared the people would revolt against the Government after the defeat of the Communists. The second was that the Government believed there would be a substantial reduction in U.S. aid when the danger from the Communists ended. The 39-year-old Col. Vann was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart and was recommended for the Legion of Merit while in South Vietnam. He praised Gen. Paul D. Harkins, commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, and said all those “on the American side” were “breaking their backs to win the war.” But he added that officers in the field felt those in the top echelon were sending back to Washington reports that were far too optimistic about the course of the war. “Unfortunately, America is a success-oriented country,” Col. Vann said. “If a general there gave pessimistic reports, he might be replaced.” Col. Vann spent 2½ months at the Pentagon upon his return in April. He said he had briefed everyone he could reach, “a considerable number,” about what was really happening in South Vietnam and had been told by a high-ranking general that he had performed a real service.


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