1961-1963, Volume III, Vietnam, January-August 1963|
Released by the Office of the Historian
IV. The Deepening Crisis, June 17-August 20:
IV. The Deepening Crisis, June 17-August 20:
180. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 19, 1963, noon.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
1209. CINCPAC for POLAD. I called on Vice President Tho June 18 to congratulate him on success his mission in reaching agreement with Buddhists. He seemed genuinely to appreciate the gesture.
In course of conversation, Tho acknowledged that negotiations had been quite difficult. He denied, however, that Buddhist demands had gone so far as in effect to amount to demand that Buddhism become "established" church Vietnam. (British Ambassador had gotten this impression from his separate talk with Tho.) Vice President said that he thought Buddhists were satisfied with results and that if there were no misunderstandings (malentendus) in implementing agreement, there should be no further trouble. However, he made it clear that he thought there was considerable possibility of misunderstandings. For example, when I said I had been pleased to see that the communique/2/ provided for continuation of his commission to supervise implementation and asked how this would be accomplished, he said that complaints would be referred to commission and that Minister of Interior (member of commission) had all the means necessary to deal with them, provided he had the necessary support from above. Tho was obviously not sure that he would.
/2/See Document 178.
Vice President asked me whether I thought agreements were fair, and I said I thought they were. However, it seemed to me that they should be regarded by government as point of departure, rather than conclusion of a difficult episode. I thought that events since May 8 had left deep and widespread scars and that government had suffered severe loss of support in all important segments of population. Question now was whether government would conclude danger had passed and draw back and tighten up or whether it would move forward with actions to restore lost confidence. This I thought would require not only faithful carrying out of agreement but concessions to other grievances. Unfortunately, I said, such indications as had yet appeared suggested tightening up. Vice President nodded throughout this but limited himself to saying that I "understood the problem well".
Earlier in the day, I talked to Thuan along much the same lines, only more bluntly. I told him that, in my opinion, President had not only suffered severe loss confidence in Vietnam but also in Washington. I also spelled out for him, as I had not done for Vice President, indications which led me to believe that there was at least strong pressure on the President to tighten up. I mentioned the anomalous meeting at headquarters of Women's Solidarity Movement on the morning of announcement of agreement at which tape recordings of June 7 resolution/3/ had been read. I cited news reports in Times of Vietnam June 17 which sought to place "responsibility for hysteria which has been created in past week squarely on shoulders of those who for undisclosed reasons delayed final signing," and another statement that, although communique states that those supporting Buddhists' 5 demands will benefit from Presidential clemency, "there is no clear agreement to absolve completely those who provoked the affairs of the last two weeks." I pointed out also that we had solid evidence that certain elements of security forces were devoting their major attention to activities and movements of Americans rather than VC or Buddhists. Finally I cited specific incident of apparent harassment of American (see separate CAS telegram)./4/ Thuan asked me what sort of further GVN concessions I had in mind. I replied that it would not be difficult to produce specific suggestions but I thought it would be better if GVN came up with ideas of its own. Specific suggestions from US would, I feared, be tainted in GVN mind. One area which immediately suggested itself, however, was that of justice, viz., bringing long-detained prisoners to trial, etc.
/3/See footnote 2, Document 157.
Thuan indicated agreement with my analysis of problem but did not otherwise react.
Unless Department has objection, I shall push along on these lines as I am able to find opportunities to do so.
181. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, June 19, 1963, 8:28 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIEI Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wood and cleared by Rice and, in draft by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
1247. For Trueheart from Hilsman. Embtels 1209,/2/ 1211./3/ Entirely concur with line you have been taking as reported reftels. Believe this line must now be followed by very hard-hitting approach to Diem.which you may put on paper as gist of an instruction from Department.
/3/In telegram 1211 from Saigon, June 19, 5 p.m., Trueheart reported that Thuan had assured him that no additional bonzes had been jailed beyond those already known to the Embassy. Trueheart noted that he reiterated to Thuan the advice outlined in telegram 1209 from Saigon, and expressed his concern over the possibility of a further damaging statement from Madame Nhu. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)
Unless you have most serious reservations you are instructed convey to Diem following as coming from Washington.
Until May 8 incident U.S. public and official opinion increasingly impressed by GVN success against Viet Cong. This favorable trend has now been dangerously reversed. Hilsman and other U.S. officials who must defend in current Congressional hearings U.S. aid and assistance programs for Viet-Nam are finding their position increasingly difficult in the face of grave political pressures and serious questions about the Buddhist problem.
There is room to be generous in dealing with the Buddhists and such dealing is necessary to rebuild the prestige of the Vietnamese Government in America.
While agreement on five points has been reached, suspicions and tensions are still most serious and a reasonable and friendly attitude is absolutely necessary if the GVN is to regain its prestige in Viet-Nam and its reputation in Washington. Also the GVN should not be equated with one individual. For example statement (Embtel 1156)/4/ "Buddhism can count on the Constitution, in other words, on me" made bad impression here. (FYI Preceding two sentences may be used at your discretion. End FYI)
/4/See footnote 3, Document 165.
There should be no separation between the Government and people of Viet-Nam the great majority of whom consider themselves to be Buddhists. The barricades in Saigon emphasize this serious separation and should be taken down. The highest leaders of the Government should meet Buddhist leaders regularly and treat them as respected equals.
The Government should consider other gestures of good faith which recognize that the Buddhists are sincere and that they are entitled to an honored place in the Vietnamese nation.
The joint communique of June 16 in which agreement was reached on the five demands should be scrupulously respected and promptly carried out so as to reduce the suspicions of the Buddhists who are watching the Government's actions closely. The Buddhist leaders are well organized and have not permitted the Communists or political opposition elements to take control. They are a disciplined and peaceful people who must be treated without suspicion.
News of these events reaches Washington promptly and any evidence that elements within the GVN were seeking to hold back on the agreements or to criticize the Buddhists publicly or privately would have grave effects. Madame Nhu's statements have caused such serious questions in Washington (and evidently in Saigon) as to the sincerity of the GVN's intentions that a profound sense of irritation is already damaging the close U.S.-GVN sense of cooperation which must endure for a long time if Viet-Nam is to succeed against the Communists. (FYI Dept has just received [document number not declassified]. End FYI.
Other steps to win back the Buddhists should be considered and preparations should be started now to carry out free parliamentary elections in August. The GVN must seriously consider such steps as permitting opposition candidates to run without harassment, at least some trials of prisoners, and broadening the Cabinet.
In general the GVN should seek to convince its citizens that it is a reasonable Government dedicated to assisting, not harassing them and to preserving law and order without employing means so strong or so irritating as to cause divisions and dissensions.
Well realize difficulty of conveying these thoughts, but unless they are clearly understood the entire U.S. effort of supplying necessary support to Viet-Nam is in jeopardy. Enemies of foreign aid are making maximum use of all derogatory news from Viet-Nam.
As a specific example it will now be more difficult to approve recently requested crop destruction program (Deptel 1208)/5/ since any leak (and there are many) connecting U.S. with such activity now would be particularly difficult to handle here in U.S. and internationally.
/5/The reference should be to telegram 1208 from Saigon, June 19, 11 a.m., in which the Embassy reported on a South Vietnamese military operation and noted that the Diem government had made an urgent request to the Embassy for supporting crop destruction with herbicides in the area of the military operation. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-S VIET)
FYI You may wish say you have received above as official assessment of situation as seen from Washington and that you have decided, despite its bluntness, that it in joint U.S.-GVN interest that President see it on confidential basis.
You may wish ask your British, Australian, or other colleagues follow up on at least some of these points. We could support such requests with Embassies here. End FYI.
182. Message From President Kennedy to Prince Sihanouk/1/
Washington, June 20, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Confidential. Transmitted to Phnom Penh in telegram 763, June 20, which is the source text. Telegram 763 was drafted by Daniel N. Arzac, Officer in Charge of Cambodian Affairs and cleared by Koren, Wood, Hilsman, and, in draft, by President Kennedy.
I thank Your Royal Highness for the message sent to me on June 14./2/ I have followed with concern the events within the Republic of Viet-Nam. The right of every individual freely to practice his faith is basic to my own philosophy and that of the United States. While recognizing that external interference from any source would be inappropriate, I share with Your Royal Highness the hope for a settlement of the recent misunderstandings. I was therefore relieved at the news of the agreement reached.
John F. Kennedy/3/
/3/Telegram 763 bears this typed signature.
183. Research Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to the Secretary of State/1/
Washington, June 21, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Vietnam 1963. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Limit Distribution. A note on another copy of this memorandum indicates that it was placed in the President's weekend reading file. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 6/63)
The Diem government's manner of implementing its agreement with South Vietnam's Buddhist leaders could give rise to renewed difficulties. This memorandum examines the implications of such difficulties for the stability of the regime.
What appeared to be an isolated Buddhist incident in the city of Hue quickly became a national crisis that crystallized long-standing resentment of what Buddhist leaders regard as the privileged position occupied by the minority Roman Catholic church of which President Diem, his family, and a disproportionate number of civil and military officials are members.
The speed with which the Buddhist issue reached critical proportions was largely the result of the position adopted by President Diem and his family who misread the seriousness of the Buddhist movement and attributed it to political and even Communist inspiration. Until June 16 such concessions as were made to the Buddhists were clearly piecemeal and grudging. On June 16, however, against a background of sharply-increased Buddhist tensions and United States pressure, the Diem government signed an agreement with Buddhist leaders that, for the first time, accommodated all their demands.
A degree of calm having been resolved [reached?] by the June 16 agreement, much will now obviously depend on the sincerity and speed with which it is implemented. If the regime is conspicuously dilatory, inept, and insincere in handling Buddhist matters, renewed tension would probably again reach crisis proportions. Disaffection within the bureaucracy and the army, coupled with popular discontent and disorders, would almost certainly give rise to coup efforts. Such an effort if led, as it probably would be, by top and middle-echelon military and civil officials, would probably have good prospects of success. A successful coup, while posing real dangers of major internal upheaval and a serious slackening of the military effort against the Viet Cong, could draw upon a reservoir of trained and experienced personnel for reasonably effective leadership of the government and the war effort.
[Here follow sections entitled "Buddhist Incident Builds into National Crisis", "The Diem Position", Prospects for Long-Range Settlement", and "Implications for the Stability of the Diem Regime".]
A new Buddhist crisis, in the wake of any failure on the part of the regime to fulfill its commitments, would almost certainly give rise to coup efforts. A resurgence of open Buddhist hostility would again be reflected in demonstrations and, almost inevitably, bloodshed. Most Buddhist leaders, although not themselves likely to assume command of a movement to overthrow the government, would probably be inclined to favor a drastic political change as the only means by which their grievances could [be] remedied. Even before Buddhist-led disturbances reached serious or widespread proportions, however, the Diem leadership would probably be faced with an open revolt within the bureaucracy and the military establishment.
Some of Diem's principal supporters might seek to counsel compromise and reform, but the futility of such counsel in the past, knowledge that officials have been removed or isolated for urging compromise, and the substantially-increased influence of the Nhus would tend to deter this effort. In any event, Diem probably would not listen to such advice, particularly to any recommendations that suggest removing the Nhus or even restricting their authority.
A revolt against Diem's leadership could occur in several ways. For example, an army unit commander in the field, reacting rather spontaneously and without prior planning, might refuse orders from Saigon to use force to suppress a demonstration and might even openly indicate his support of the Buddhist cause. Apart from his personal sympathies, he might be motivated by fear of mutiny by his troops or armed action by the local populace aided by the Viet Cong. In any event, this open defiance of the government could quickly spread to other units, gain support within the top military leadership and the civil bureaucracy, and reach a climax in a major coordinated coup effort against the Diem family in Saigon. Counteractions by Diem, which he would have time to prepare in a revolt of this kind, could lead to armed conflict within military ranks and a protracted struggle between pro and anti-Diem forces.
Alternatively a revolt could be precipitated in Saigon, aimed at resolving the situation quickly without excessive armed conflict and bloodshed and without weakening the military front against the Viet Cong. The initial action in Saigon would not preclude coordinated supporting actions elsewhere. A revolt staged in this fashion would almost certainly require considerable prior planning and probably the participation of middle and top military and civil officials. The abortive 1960 coup, however, may well have impressed potential coup leaders with the necessity of better planning and broader participation by army and government elements and with the potential dangers posed by succumbing to protracted negotiations with Diem.
The Viet Cong would probably not be able to initiate or gain control of a successful and ostensibly non-Communist revolt. More likely, they would make every effort to provoke militant action by the Buddhists and to encourage disaffection among local government officials and army field units. Once a revolt had been launched, they would attempt to strengthen their military and political positions locally. In the main, they would be looking for a general breakdown of government authority in the countryside.
Nor do we believe that the diversified array of non-Communist oppositionists outside the government could initiate or lead a successful coup. These oppositionists have consistently demonstrated their inability to unite under a common cause or leader. Many of them are opportunists whose political views range from neutralism to possible pro-Communist sympathies and who have little support outside their immediate personal following. However, some appear more responsible, have contacts within the government, and might be acceptable as participants although not necessarily as leaders in a revolt, particularly if they had gained support within Buddhist circles.
We believe that the most likely revolt, however staged, would be non-Communist and fully committed to the counterinsurgency effort, have appreciable support within the government, and include middle and top echelon military and civil officials. Nevertheless, we do not feel that a major polarization of the South Vietnamese military and civilian leadership into active coup and anti-coup groups will necessarily occur. While most of them would probably favor the coup, if it is clearly anti-Communist, many might still hesitate to commit themselves actively at the outset and would give their tacit or active support to whatever side appeared to have the best chance of winning. However, we believe that this would tend to work to the advantage of the coup leaders. Under these circumstances, the revolt would have a fair-to-good chance of succeeding.
We do not believe that Diem and his family are prepared to capitulate without a fight, but we see it as equally unlikely that they would be permitted any alternative other than to resign or face death. The removal of the Diem family would probably precipitate a power struggle within the government, but ultimately would tend to strengthen the role of the military. It is not impossible that Diem's successor could come from outside the ranks of the present government. A government led by a military junta or by Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho is more likely, however, with the army, in the latter case, playing a major if not predominant role behind the scenes. On the one hand, the military might conclude that a military-led government would be better able to maintain national unity and internal political cohesion and, more importantly, to conduct a determined and effective campaign against the Viet Cong. On the other hand, they might conclude that Tho would share their views on the manner of conducting the fight against the Viet Cong and that his constitutional succession would legitimize the change in government and possibly avert a serious power struggle. The possibility for successful cooperation between Tho and military leaders is good; he is apparently on cordial terms with a number of them, and is also competent and widely respected in and outside the government.
The sudden removal of South Vietnam's authoritarian and long-established regime, whatever the character of the successor government, would pose real dangers of major internal upheaval and a serious slackening of the military effort against the Viet Cong. Certainly it is open to question whether any successor to Diem could, on the one hand, provide the same firm anti-Communist leadership, or on the, other, assure a more efficient and less authoritarian administration. Nevertheless, there is a reasonably large pool of untapped or ineffectively used but experienced and trained manpower not only within the military and civilian sectors of the present government but also, to some extent outside, that, given the opportunity and continued support from the United States, could provide reasonably effective leadership for the government and the war effort and make possible broader participation in the administration.
Implications for the United States
The public reaction of the United States might well determine the failure or success of any armed revolt against Diem. Diem will almost certainly expect quick, publicly expressed, and strong support and would feel that he no longer had United States confidence if such support were not forthcoming. Indeed, he might immediately leap to the conclusion that the United States had inspired the action or was actively assisting the rebels. Under these circumstances, if Diem were able to defeat the rebels, the United States would meet with increased difficulty in efforts to guide and influence Diem's policies. Even should the United States publicly come to Diem's support in return for commitments on his part with respect to his future activities, these commitments might not be fulfilled were Diem to succeed in putting down the revolt. A victory in these circumstances would greatly reinforce Diem's view that he is indispensable, that he knows best what the situation requires, and that he cannot trust anyone outside his immediate family.
The rebels and the fence sitters too would be looking for some indication of the United States position. Our silence over any period or indications that we regarded the revolt as an internal problem which we hoped to see quickly resolved would probably be taken as support for the rebels. This, or any other evidence that the United States was not supporting Diem, would probably inspire broader participation in the rebel effort, and if it were successful, enable the United States to influence the formation and policies of the successor government. On the other hand, obvious United States support for the Diem government would tend to deter participation in the rebel effort. If nevertheless the rebel effort were successful we could anticipate considerable hostility toward the United States in the new administration.
184. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 22, 1963, 11 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Limit Distri" button. Repeated to CINCPAC.
1224. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 1247./2/ I have requested appointment with Diem today.
As preliminary, I saw Thuan at 9 AM. I did not go over my instructions with him; I told him only that I had instructions to see President and would be speaking to him along same lines as I had taken on personal basis in recent talks with Thuan.
Main purpose of call on Thuan, I said, was to tell him that I was now convinced that--far from taking June 16 agreement as starting point and moving forward--a deliberate campaign was already being mounted, specifically by the Nhus, to sabotage the agreement. I cited following:
1. Nhu had ordered that signatures be obtained from Republican Youth to a petition protesting against June 16 agreement and asking that it be revoked, at least in part [document number not declassified].
2. Article in Times of Vietnam yesterday reporting "National Convention" in Saigon June 20 of Go Son Mon sect,/3/ at which sect pledged its allegiance to GVN and disassociated itself from "recent politico-religious controversy". I said this sect was well known to us to be subsidized by GVN. I was also certain that this patently trumped-up convention would be deeply resented by Buddhists.
/3/A marginal note on the source text at this point, in an unknown hand, reads: "Probably a small Buddhist sect. We have no info. yet." The Co Son Mon sect was identified in a Special Report on "The Buddhists of South Vietnam," prepared on June 28 in the Office of Current Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency, as one of the smaller Buddhist organizations, which claimed a following in the Mekong Delta provinces. "It is reported to be government-subsidized and government-manipulated." (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14 -US VIET)
3. White paper prepared by Gregory/4/ for Madame Nhu [document number not declassified]. I repeated what I had previously told him about further statements by Madame Nhu, and said that I now had specific instructions on this matter (Deptel 1255)/5/ Of which I gave him substance. He said he had informed Diem in terms of what I had previously said (Embtel 1211)./6/
/4/Gene and Ann Gregory published the Times of Viet-Nam. They were the two Americans closest, both personally and through business connections, to Madame Nhu.
/5/In telegram 1255 to Saigon, June 21, the Department of State indicated that the publication of a "white paper" on the Buddhist crisis, "whether as official GVN document in Times Viet-Nam or as statement Women's Solidarity Movement, would have serious repercussions here." Publication of such a document "might well cause such ground swell American opinion as to render continued U.S. support GVN much more difficult." Trueheart was instructed to leave President Diem with no doubt as to the "importance killing this white paper." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US)
/6/See footnote 3, Document 181.
4. Deletion from latest GVN newsreel by Nhu of coverage of GVN Buddhist negotiations and settlement (Tousi 336, last para)./7/
5. Reported plans for three-day jubilee in Hue, and possibly elsewhere, June 25-27 celebrating 25th anniversary of elevation to Bishopric of Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc.
I also reminded Thuan that Buddhist leaders were still in Saigon and had let it be known publicly that they were giving GVN two weeks to show good faith, specifically by releasing persons arrested in connection with demonstrations.
Thuan did not dispute any of these charges. On contrary, he confirmed them indirectly by saying that he had been doing everything he could to persuade Diem not to accept advice being given him by his family (protect source).
I asked Thuan to try to bring each of above items to attention of Diem before I saw him. At that time I intended myself to repeat them all, plus any others that become available in meantime.
185. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 22, 1963, 8 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limited Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
1231. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 1247./2/ I saw Diem at 5 PM for about an hour. Conversation was businesslike and Diem let me do most of talking. If he was irritated at my bluntness, he did not show it, and his manner at end of talk was if anything rather warmer than at beginning.
I first gave Diem paper based on reftel/3/ describing it, as suggested, as official Washington assessment which I thought he should see. He read it rather rapidly but made no comment.
/3/In telegram 1225 from Saigon, June 22, Trueheart reported that the paper which he prepared for Diem conformed to the instructions received in telegram 1247 to Saigon, with two omissions. Trueheart did not include a reference to Diem's statement in his June 11 speech that "Buddhism can count on the Constitution, in other words, on me", and he omitted the reference to the barricades in Saigon because they had been removed. Trueheart noted that the official English translation of Diem's statement read: "Buddhism in Vietnam finds its fundamental safeguard in the Constitution, of which I personally am the guardian." (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 15-1 S VIET)
I then turned to my belief that deliberate effort was being made by Nhus to sabotage agreement of June 16 and reasons therefor. I cited each of numbered points in Embtel 1224/4/ except one relating to jubilee for Archbisop Thuc. Discussion had become slightly heated by time I reached this item, and I judged it would be more offensive than productive to raise it. Whether Thuan had already gone over these points I do not know; Diem dodged my question on this.
Diem stated flatly that GVN intended to honor agreement--and this was only immediate, positive outcome of discussion. He denied that Nhu was organizing Republican Youth protest against agreement. (On this, as on other points which he disputed, I urged him to make inquiries.)
On Gregory-Madame Nhu paper I gave him full story as we have it; I repeated what I had said to Thuan about it; and I read him Deptel 1255./5/ He listened attentively but neither confirmed nor denied charge, nor did he say whether he proposed to do anything.
/5/See footnote 5, Document 184.
On Co Son Mon/6/ "Convention" he defended right of this sect to have such a meeting and state its views. I said point was whether meeting was subsidized by GVN, whether it was spontaneous, and what would be its effect on Buddhists. There was also question of tendentious reporting of meeting in Times of Vietnam. Diem tended to brush this off. He said GVN and local authorities regularly gave financial and other support to all factors of Buddhist movement. He did not reply on question of censoring newsreel.
/6/A marginal notation on the source text at this point reads: "GVN subsidized sect, presumably Buddhist".
I wound up this part of discussion by saying that available information had convinced me and my colleagues that a deliberate effort was afoot to destroy the agreement. I felt obliged to tell him that, if agreement did break down and demonstrations resumed, I thought my government would as matters stood put the blame on GVN. I reminded him that Buddhist leaders were still in Saigon waiting, as they said, for evidence of GVN good faith and specifically for release of persons arrested. Diem said they were being released as fast as they could be processed. However, if processing turned up dossier showing that individual was Communist, Diem indicated he would not be released. (He said that some youths had been found to be members of Communist youth organization.) He also implied that he had at least serious doubts about releasing people who had thrown rocks at police during riot last Sunday./7/ (Buddhists are demanding that everyone picked up in this affair be freed.)
I concluded talk by going over very frankly my assessment of situation and what needed to be done (Embtel 1209)/8/ repeating points in paper I had given him, stressing serious loss of support for GVN at home and abroad. I said I hoped he would believe I was speaking as a friend but in any event I had to tell him that he was in a very grave position, in my opinion, and had to take drastic measures, going beyond religious questions, if confidence in his government was to be restored.
I ended by saying that situation seemed to me to be especially tragic because there had been undeniable progress on the military side and in the Strategic Hamlet Program and this progress had continued all during Buddhist affair. It nevertheless had to be recognized that latter could overturn everything that had been accomplished. Whatever he might think about situation, he must accept that he was under most virulent editorial attack in US and that political pressure on US Government was intense.
Diem did not dispute any of this. He simply said sadly that Buddhist affair had been blown up out of all proportion. What people should be worried about was situation in Laos./9/ I said this might be the right judgment strategically but, as he knew, politics did not always follow strategy.
/9/A marginal note on the source text at this point, in an unknown hand, reads: "True enough."
186. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 25, 1963, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Priority; Eyes Only.
1236. Embtel 1231./2/ Thuan called me in this morning for what turned out to be longish post-mortem on my meeting with Diem June 22. He said Diem had since discussed meeting with him twice and had shown him paper I had left. Diem was disturbed (I gathered he meant angry) over what he had been told and suspicious that we were trying to undermine him.
I recounted conversation for Thuan and again went over with him our thinking regarding gravity of situation arising from Buddhist affair. I said we had been supporting Diem and GVN for a long time and that what I had done my best to get over to President was that our pressure resulted from our real and serious concern that he must take steps to restore loss of support in this country. We were also trying to bring home effects of Buddhist affair in U.S. We were, in short, trying to help him rather than undermine him.
Thuan again said he agreed with our analysis of Buddhist problem, and he was doing and would do everything he could to see that June 16 agreement was faithfully carried out. He added, with great seriousness, that he was doing so because (a) he thought "the fate of the nation" depended on it, and (b) his personal good faith was engaged as one of the signers. I said I had never doubted his own role in this affair.
I hoped he would succeed (he had not predicted that he would), but Diem should bear in mind that immediate problem was not simply one of carrying out agreement to the letter but of genuinely convincing Buddhists of GVN good faith. This might well require, in spirit at least, something more than literal compliance. Burden of proof was rigidly and wrongly on the government, and Diem simply could not afford to have a revival of demonstrations or bonzes burning in the street.
I told him that, in my judgment, Buddhist leaders were not only suspicious re implementation of agreement but also very afraid that once public interest has abated, GVN will move in quietly to arrest principal leaders and take other repressive measures. This very natural feeling would probably cause Buddhists to hold out for maximum public action by GVN which would tend to get government openly committed on details and hence give Buddhists some measure of protection against reprisals. (Thuan agreed this was an important element in Buddhist thinking.) I urged him in this connection to have published immediately the detailed orders he said had been sent to provincial officials re implementation of agreement. Thuan thought he could arrange this.
Turning back to President--and I think this was main point he wanted to convey--Thuan said he was very concerned over attitude of Diem in face of pressures being exerted on him and of appointment of new Ambassador./3/ Diem thought a new American policy was involved and an effort to force him to do our bidding or to unseat him. His reaction to this prospect, Thuan said, was one of extreme stubbornness. He had said, and Thuan said he was trying to quote him exactly, "they can send ten Lodges, but I will not permit myself or my country to be humiliated, not if they train their artillery on this Palace." Thuan added that he knew, as I did, how stubborn Diem was, and he was most concerned over prospect of series of head-to-head confrontations.
/3/On June 20, the Department instructed Trueheart to approach the Diem government to request agrement to the appointment of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., to replace Frederick Nolting as Ambassador to Vietnam. (Telegram 1250 to Saigon; Department of State, Central Files, PER-Lodge, Henry Cabot) Trueheart replied on June 22 that President Diem had agreed that afternoon to the appointment. (Telegram 1230 from Saigon; ibid.)
I replied that I did not know what Ambassador Lodge's instructions would be, but it seemed to me that the way to avoid confrontations was for GVN to begin to move now. They had to move immediately anyway, in their own interests, not only to overcome effects of Buddhist affair but also to prepare for August elections. Regarding latter they had only three choices: (a) to cancel them, (b) to rig them, or (c) to take actions designed to ensure heavy popular support (and vote) for the government. First two alternatives would amount to admission GVN did not have popular support and were therefore unacceptable. Hence, GVN really had no choice but to get busy on the third. I thought GVN would know better than we the sort of things it should do. Thuan said he agreed and he was sure elections would be held.
187. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, June 26, 1963, 12:51 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Eyes Only; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wood and cleared by Rice and Hilsman.
1271. Embtel 1236./2/ Request you see Diem promptly and inform him orally or in writing that you have been instructed inform him officially there is no change in consistent U.S. policy supporting Vietnamese Government and people against Communist attack.
Change of Ambassadors was foreshadowed when Ambassador Nolting came to Viet-Nam for two year tour. Appointment of Lodge as Ambassador has been under consideration since late April. (FYI, prior May 8. End FYI.)
In designating a distinguished Republican who has a sympathetic interest in Viet-Nam (FYI, for example, he spent his active duty tour as Major General last year on Viet-Nam problems. You may use this orally. End FYI.), it is our purpose to demonstrate to President Diem, to the Vietnamese people, and to the world the importance which U.S. attaches to its support of Viet-Nam and to demonstrate that this policy has support of both political parties. As U.S. Ambassador, Lodge will continue carry out U.S. policy of supporting Viet-Nam and of perfecting effective cooperation with Government of Viet-Nam
Peril of the present situation has dictated that, as partners in Viet-Nam's struggle, we present our views with utmost frankness.
Our belief that Viet-Nam's continued success against Communist attack now requires the GVN to give continuing and unmistakeable proofs of good will to all its citizens and to the world remains unchanged.
Our clear intention is to warn a long time ally of a disaster which may yet be avoided; not to weaken him.
The decisions and actions are his sole responsibility.
FYI. Seems from here your demarches have helped Diem face facts, but that you must see him frequently to counteract suspicions which Nhu sows between your visits. When you have presented above you may wish ask Diem present his views with equal frankness and seek draw him out on reasons for his doubts of U.S. intentions.
While ensuing monologue may be painful; it may also help unburden Diem and regain his confidence. Leave completely to your discretion.
In dealing with press queries re Lodge appointment, you may use on background basis points in first three paras. Dept will do same.
188. Special National Intelligence Estimate/1/
Washington, June 26, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, INR-NIE Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs) were high-level interdepartmental reports presenting authoritative appraisals of vital foreign policy problems on an immediate or crisis basis. According to a note on the cover sheet, "The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff." All members of the United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on June 26, except the Atomic Energy Commission Representative and the Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction.
THE IMPACT OF THE SINO-SOVIET DISPUTE ON NORTH
To analyze the position of North Vietnam in the Sino-Soviet dispute and the effect this has upon Communist policies and actions in Laos and South Vietnam
A. North Vietnam has a large measure of independence within the Communist Bloc, and it has avoided committing itself to either side in the Sino-Soviet dispute. We believe that it will strive to continue avoiding such a commitment. (Paras. 4, 8)
B. In spite of its independent position, Hanoi has apparent sympathy toward certain of Peiping's positions in the dispute, and its neutrality has recently shifted somewhat toward the Chinese. Hence, if Hanoi is moved to commit itself further, it will probably be in the direction of fuller support to Peiping. The development of an open, formal break between Moscow and Peiping or the death of the influential Ho Chi Minh would increase the pressures for a North Vietnamese commitment. Even so, Hanoi will almost certainly attempt to keep as great a measure of independence as possible, and to maintain ties with Moscow. (Paras. 9-10, 12)
C. Moscow almost certainly takes a more sober view than do Peiping and Hanoi of the risk of a US intervention, and probably lays more stress on political means for a Communist takeover in Laos. For their part, the Chinese and North Vietnamese seek a quicker victory through the application of military as well as political pressure. Nevertheless, at the present level of activity, Soviet and Chinese policies are in no essential conflict, and Hanoi has considerable initiative and freedom of action. A drastic change of the situation in Laos (e.g., the threat of large-scale US intervention) might exacerbate Soviet-Chinese differences over policies to be pursued in southeast Asia. However, in a crisis showdown with the US, we cannot assume that Moscow would fail to support Peiping and Hanoi. (Paras. 14-18)
I. Sources of North Vietnamese Conduct
1. The announced objectives of the Government of North Vietnam (DRV) are: (a) "socialist construction"--i.e., economic and political consolidation of the territory controlled by the DRV; and (b) "peaceful unification" of all Vietnam--i.e., victory in the Hanoi-directed insurgency in the south. Hanoi wants the support of both Communist China and the USSR in the pursuit of these objectives.
2. North Vietnam's internal problems are many and serious, reflecting the pressures of rapid population growth against limited agricultural resources and of an ambitious development program undertaken with an extreme shortage of skilled and trained personnel. Agricultural production is not fully adequate to meet the domestic needs of an expanding population, let alone yield an exportable surplus. Although North Vietnam appears to be reasonably well endowed with mineral resources, it lacks the technological competence to exploit them efficiently. Industry is rudimentary and inadequate to meet many consumer needs. As a result, North Vietnam is dependent on its Communist Bloc partners, principally Moscow and Peiping, for support in virtually every sector of the economy. This dependency limits to a considerable extent Hanoi's power of decision over the pace and nature of its own economic development.
3. Hanoi's leaders would like to see Vietnamese hegemony extended over all the states of former French Indochina. For the moment, their ambition appears to be focused primarily on taking over South Vietnam. Hanoi must move with circumspection in this effort, exercising care to consider the views of its senior Communist allies, Moscow and Peiping, and remaining alert to the danger of situations which might lead to drastic US action. This fear of a major military confrontation with the US places an upper limit on the scale and tempo of Hanoi's militancy in South Vietnam and Laos.
4. Another basic factor shaping North Vietnamese conduct is the desire to retain a maximum amount of independence within the general framework of the Communist movement. Like Yugoslavia and Communist China, the North Vietnamese Communists came to power through a hard-won victory by their own forces, and in Ho Chi Minh they have a respected revolutionary leader and national founder in the mold of Tito and Mao. Hanoi has the self-confidence which comes with this heritage. Long oppressed by imperial China, the Vietnamese remain fearful of and resistant to renewed domination by the Chinese, or, for that matter, domination by any other alien power. So far Hanoi has maintained a degree of autonomy that is uncommon in the Communist Bloc. It has accepted aid from both Moscow and Peiping, and it has prevented either from assuming a preponderant influence in its affairs.
II. North Vietnam's Position in the Sino-Soviet Dispute
5. North Vietnam's jealousy of its independence and its desire for support from both Moscow and Peiping have been the primary determinants of Hanoi's position in the Sino-Soviet dispute. Hanoi desires the military and political backing of as powerful a coalition as possible and is shaken by the prospect of a split or disintegration of the Communist Bloc. The DRV feels that the political support and military backing of both Communist China and the Soviet Union are essential to the maintenance of its integrity and as strategic supports for its foreign policy.
6. Accordingly, the North Vietnamese have avoided taking a clear-cut stand in favor of either party and have continually worked to bring the two together. Ho Chi Minh pursued the role of mediator, with at least superficial success, at the 1960 all-party conclave in Moscow, and has persisted in his efforts to heal the breach. Ho's skill and his prestige as a senior Communist statesman, an associate of both Lenin and Stalin, has contributed to North Vietnam's ability to avoid committing itself when all other Bloc parties have done so.
7. There are longstanding rivalries and jealousies within the North Vietnamese leadership, and factions have formed around various key personages. However, the association of a leader or a faction with a "pro-Moscow" or a "pro-Peiping" line is more likely to be based on considerations of Vietnamese national interests than on a desire to associate Hanoi with one side or the other in the Sino-Soviet dispute.
8. We believe that Hanoi's self-interest will dictate a continuation of this attitude for as long as possible. We must keep in mind, however, that ardent Communist sectarians do not always follow the course which seems to us clearly in their best interest. Peiping's costly challenge to Moscow in 1960 is a case in point. Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility that Hanoi may decide or be forced to come down off the fence.
9. Two contingencies would make such a development more likely. The death of Ho would inaugurate a period of jockeying for power within the DRV leadership and the impulses toward Bloc unity and toward remaining aloof from the Sino-Soviet dispute would be weakened. During this period also, DRV actions toward Laos and South Vietnam might be less confident. A definite break between Moscow and Peiping would lead both parties to be more forthright and aggressive in seeking allies, and each would bring increased pressure upon Hanoi to commit itself.
10. Although Hanoi deplores the Sino-Soviet polemic and seeks to mitigate its bitterness, the DRV line on particular substantive issues more frequently corresponds to the Chinese than to the Soviet position. In general, Hanoi shares Peiping's views on how the world Communist movement should be run. Hanoi's desire to preserve its freedom of action leads it, like Peiping, to oppose Moscow's demand that the movement observe the principle of "democratic centralism" (i.e., complete submission to the decisions of the majority, which is controlled by Moscow). Hanoi's irredentism toward South Vietnam, like Peiping's toward Taiwan, leads it to oppose devotion to "peaceful coexistence" and to object to disarmament efforts except as a device to "expose the insincerity of the imperialists." Hanoi also joins Peiping in supporting maximum "struggle" and support of "liberation" movements. Cultural and racial affinities also incline the North Vietnamese toward the Chinese rather than the Russians and the overwhelming power of China is closer at hand. Hence, we believe that Hanoi, if moved to take sides, would throw its support to the Chinese.
11. If this came to pass, Hanoi would have to face the possibility of a curtailment or termination of Soviet economic and military support. But unless the scope of DRV military moves is considerably increased, Soviet military assistance is not vital. Moreover, it seems likely that Hanoi, in conducting its operations at current levels in Laos and South Vietnam, does not rely very heavily on the Soviet deterrent. In the economic field, both Chinese and Soviet aid programs are longterm,/2/ and though a withdrawal of Soviet assistance would cause inconvenience and some damage to DRV development schemes, it would not be critical; much of the slack would probably be taken up by expanded Chinese assistance and by purchases in the Free World.
/2/A brief description of the Soviet and Chinese economic aid programs is given in the Annex. [Footnote in the source text. The annex to the estimate is not printed.]
12. It should be emphasized, however, that support of Peiping on the issues of the intra-Communist dispute does not automatically entail either Hanoi's subservience to Peiping or a definitive severing of Hanoi's ties to Moscow. There are a great variety of intermediate stages, and the DRV would strive, probably with considerable success, to retain a large measure of independence and an effective connection with Moscow as well as with Peiping.
III. Interaction of the Sino-Soviet Dispute and Communist Policies and Action in Laos and South Vietnam
The Situation in Laos
13. The primacy of Hanoi's interest in Laos is almost certainly recognized by Moscow and Peiping. However, both of them would exert considerable pressure to prevent North Vietnamese actions which appeared to imperil broader Chinese or Soviet interests. At present levels of commitment and activity, Hanoi appears to have a relatively free hand within Laos, where it exercises a high degree of control over the Pathet Lao (PL)--the Communist military force in Laos--and its political counterpart, the Neo Lao Hak Xat (NLHX). Within the framework of political and military objectives laid down by North Vietnam, the PL/NLHX appears to exercise some degree of independent activity. Peiping appears to have some direct contact with the PL/NLHX, though Moscow does not.
14. In considering overall strategy in Laos, the Soviets almost certainly see their interests as best served by a continuation of the political "solution" achieved in the 1962 Geneva Conference on Laos; they probably still expect that Communist objectives would be eventually achieved almost wholly without risk, through penetration and subversion of Premier Souvanna Phouma's coalition government. The Soviets feel that military pressures should be controlled so as to promote this aim.
15. For their part, Hanoi and Peiping almost certainly believe that a Communist takeover can be accomplished more quickly and more directly. Moreover, they may fear that the Soviet-preferred method would significantly delay, and perhaps prevent, this achievement by allowing the Souvanna regime to become stabilized and, given US assistance, strengthened. In their view, the way to win is through constant application of military and political pressure, capitalizing on quick, limited military victories and eroding the enemy's determination to fight. Thus, the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese have acted to debilitate the neutralists by all available means, but particularly by limited military action to exploit Souvanna's weakness and indecisiveness.
16. In any event, Moscow, Peiping, and Hanoi almost certainly agree on the classic principle of combining military and political action, with the differences being a matter of degree and emphasis. Bloc policy in Laos will almost certainly continue to reflect this overall Communist strategy, with Hanoi's choice of tactics dictated primarily by its assessment of local developments rather than by considerations of the Sino-Soviet dispute.
17. The Soviets will probably continue to compete with Peiping for the allegiance of North Vietnam, and they almost certainly would prefer not to give Hanoi and Peiping a free hand to decide Communist policy in Laos. However, the Soviet Union's interest in the Laos situation is peripheral in contrast to its deep involvement in Cuba, Berlin, the dispute with Peiping, and several other immediate issues. The Soviets almost certainly prefer not to make much out of the Laos crisis and are unlikely to do so unless the situation threatens to flare up and bring the risk of an East-West confrontation there. On the other hand, Communist China, bordering on Laos and loudly promoting the cause of national liberation wars, is more directly involved. In the coming months, as Moscow and Peiping approach another crisis in their relations, the Chinese may try to make Laos an issue in the Sino-Soviet dispute claiming that the Soviets are demonstrating an unwillingness to support wars of national liberation in underdeveloped areas. But it seems unlikely that Peiping would risk significantly escalating the conflict in order to put the Soviets on the spot.
18. In any case, so long as Moscow and Peiping continue to compete for the allegiance of Communists everywhere, we believe that Moscow will be inhibited in opposing Hanoi's and Peiping's desires in Laos and South Vietnam, unless these seem to be endangering Moscow's own national interests. A drastic change of the situation in Laos (e.g., the threat of large-scale US intervention) might exacerbate Soviet-Chinese differences over policies to be pursued in southeast Asia. However, in a crisis showdown with the US, we cannot assume that Moscow would fail to support Peiping and Hanoi.
The Situation in South Vietnam
19. Communist policy and action in South Vietnam appears to be almost wholly dictated by Hanoi. As in Laos, Moscow and Peiping almost certainly have a voice in policy decisions involving their support or national interests, but, in general, both appear content to view the "struggle" in the south as an irredentist issue and to permit the North Vietnamese to pursue their subversive activity at a pace and in a manner which Hanoi deems appropriate. Neither Moscow nor Peiping is known to have any direct contact with either the Viet Cong or its political mechanism, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NFLSV), although both, particularly Peiping, have made much of visiting NFLSV delegations.
[Here follow a two-page annex assessing "Sing-Soviet Bloc Aid to North Vietnam" and a table listing "Credits and Grants From the USSR, the European Satellites, and Communist China".]
189. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 27,1963, 1 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.
1243. Deptel 1271./2/ I expect to see Diem this afternoon.
In brief talk with Thuan this morning, he informed me that he had followed up on my suggestion and that GVN orders to provincial officials re implementation June 16 agreement would be published immediately. He also informed me in great confidence that President would shortly make visit to Hue with object of talking directly to people there.
In addition Thuan said President was contemplating a major address (whether in connection with Hue trip was not clear). Thuan said he was fairly well satisfied with draft of this speech but was still working to improve it. Present draft reaffirms each of five points and concludes with what Thuan described as ringing personal promise of President to see that agreement is carried out. I said I hoped Diem would not find it necessary to say again that he has "always" accepted five points in principle. Thuan indicated that elimination of this from draft was one of points he was still working on.
Finally, two Hue student leaders (one of whom previously alleged to have been tortured to death) have been released. According to Thuan, Diem had intervened personally to effect release.
Thuan said that he had reported to Diem my statements to him on June 25 (Embtel 1236),/3/ including remark I had made that President ought to "start acting like an American politician". He said that he had endorsed this recommendation to Diem, and he implied latter had not rejected it out of hand. We shall see./4/
/4/In telegram 1283 to Saigon, June 27, the Department endorsed Trueheart's "firm persistent efforts to encourage GVN to live up to its side of the bargain." The Department noted, however, that "intelligence reports still indicate GVN not living up to spirit of agreement." Trueheart was instructed to "discourage GVN from organizing phoney Buddhist demonstrations and seeking obtain signatures under pressure to documents critical of Buddhists." Trueheart was also asked to assess reports that Buddhists in South Vietnam were divided between an older, moderate element and younger activists, and to weigh the implications of such a split. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)
190. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report/1/
TDCS DB-3/655, 301
Washington, June 28. 1963.
/1/Source: U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Background Use Only. TDCS information reports contained telegraphically-dispatched, unevaluated intelligence information which was distributed by the CIA to other appropriate government agencies.
1. This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this agency or any component. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at the time of its preparation. Prepared for internal use as a guide to the operational environment, this commentary is disseminated in the belief that it may be useful to other agencies in assessing the situation for their own purposes.
2. The Government of Vietnam (GVN) is now waging what it considers to be a war for survival with its difficulties expanded by the deteriorating military situation in Laos. In the GVN's view, the Laos problem increasingly deprives them of an important buffer against Communist insurgency and opens the GVN frontier to direct Communist aggression. It is therefore most unlikely that the GVN will accept any advice which, in the opinion of its top officials, might undermine its control of the internal political situation. By this reasoning, it can be anticipated that recommendations looking toward broad political and social reforms will be strongly resisted, both by President Ngo Dinh Diem and his family, and by certain military and civilian officials.
3. Efforts to effect any changes, such as broadening the government to include selected oppositionists, relegating the President's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, and his wife to less prominent roles, and permitting opposition delegates in the National Assembly, are not believed feasible at this time for the following reasons:
a. President Diem will not discard any family member under pressure. He has a strong traditional sense of family loyalty and is convinced that he is the only person of sufficient stature to lead his country in the battle for survival. Any American demarche envisioning the dismissal of Nhu, Madame Nhu, or of his brother Ngo Dinh Can, political leader of Central Vietnam, would probably be adjudged by Diem as personally insulting and as a gross infringement of his sovereignty and would meet with his flat refusal. Requests or demands that his family members be relegated to positions of apparent honor but without real power would also draw a negative response, with the chances of success being hardly better than those for a demarche for their dismissal. In Diem's view, either would be demanding not only that he fight on without the services of his most trustworthy advisers, but also that he forfeit the power factors which they represent, i.e. Ngo Dinh Can's Movement of National Revolution, Ngo Dinh Nhu's Republican Youth Organization, Strategic Hamlet Program and Can Lao Party, and Madame Nhu's Women's Solidarity Movement.
b. Proposals to permit opposition participation in the GVN and to institute political liberalization and reform would undoubtedly place Diem on the horns of an extremely painful dilemma. Diem may realize that he can no longer deal with the opposition in this customary stern fashion, but he almost surely reasons that reforms and other changes would probably give oppositionists the opportunity they need to effect his downfall. Oppositionists themselves have given every indication that they consider the overthrow of the present regime of paramount importance, even over the prosecution of the war against the Viet Cong. Furthermore, a review of various old opposition leaders and groups shows little to indicate that they would work in good faith, either with a reshaped GVN under Diem, or even among themselves.
4. The most noteworthy feature of the Buddhist crisis has been the shift of certain population segments from apparent apathy to active opposition. The students, for example, have identified themselves emotionally with the Buddhist cause, and on 16 June a pastoral letter was read in all Roman Catholic churches of the Saigon Archdiocese which tended to lend support to Buddhist demands for freedom of religion within all of South Vietnam.
5. The immediate test for the GVN in the eyes of the Buddhists, of politically motivated elements waiting on the sidelines, and of the general public is the prompt and full implementation of the 16 June GVN agreement to Buddhist demands. If the GVN fails to prove its sincerity to Buddhists within the near future, it will almost certainly be in for increased difficulties. Evolution in this direction has already started. On paper, the GVN went about as far in meeting Buddhist demands as could be expected, and both sides cooperated closely in achieving the agreements and in carrying off without incident the funeral of Thich Quan Duc, the self-immolated Buddhist priest. There are, however, concrete indications that certain elements of the GVN have no intention of accepting the agreements as a permanently valid solution. Newspapers, especially the English-language Times of Vietnam, have hinted strongly at the existence of Viet Cong and foreign intrigues and machinations behind the Buddhist protests. There are disturbing reports of efforts to start agitation to revise the agreement "by popular acclaim." The Republican Youth Organization has been reported as directed to make personal contacts calling for such a revision, and Diem himself has been stated to be backing this effort. Against this must be set Diem's statement to United States Charge d'Affaires Trueheart that he intends to abide fully by the 16 June agreement./2/ The agreement, however, is not precise or detailed, and the execution of some points therein is a continuing matter with the possibility of real or manufactured misunderstanding great on both sides. Buddhist leaders who are watching the situation very closely for indications that the GVN is reluctant to implement various terms of the agreement have stated that they are especially attentive to the problems of the students who are still in jail as a result of participation in demonstrations. Leading monks have stated that GVN failure to fulfill the agreements in any way will result in further Buddhist action.
/2/See Document 185.
6. A GVN attempt to subdue the Buddhists by force is likely to fail in the long run because of broad popular discontent over the problem and support for the Buddhists. The use of force would also possibly start a chain of events relegating religious aspects of the Buddhist crisis to the background and supplanting them with cumulative political developments directed at toppling the regime. If the GVN makes an effective and early effort to handle this matter sincerely, the chances are good that Diem will ride out this storm as he has done others before. However, he is potentially in more serious danger now than at any time since the war with the religious sects in 1955.
7. Field Dissem. State CINCPAC PACFLT PACAF ARPAC.
191. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, June 28, 1963, 5:48 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate. Drafted by Heavner and cleared by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
1286. Embtel 1243./2/ In light Khiet letter to Diem, [2 document numbers not declassified], we fear renewal demonstrations, possible bloodshed, and serious deterioration whole situation as grace period "given" GVN by Buddhists ends this weekend. Therefore believe you should urge GVN haste in implementing measures indicated reftel.
In particular, immediate publication orders to provincial officials should be helpful. If in fact GVN has arrested and prosecuted GVN officials responsible for Hue May 8 affair as indicated [less than 1 line not declassified] (urtel 1249),/3/ this should also be publicized. On balance think it would also be well urge immediate action on proposed communique giving number of persons arrested and number still held, with reasons, as per your 1249.
/3/In telegram 1249 from Saigon, June 28, the Embassy reported on a conversation on June 27 between Minister of the Interior Luong and a CIA officer. Luong discussed the evolution of the Buddhist crisis, which he felt was inspired by the Viet Cong. Luong indicated that the Diem government intended to defuse the crisis by releasing a communique within a day or two, which would set the record straight on the question of arrests made by the government during the crisis. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)
You might consider letting Thuan know we have good information that indicates at least some elements Buddhist hierarchy may be moving rapidly toward more demonstrations and essentially political actions. We think it most important keep moderate elements in control of Buddhist movement by means concrete GVN action in consonance with June 16 agreement.
192. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 28, 1963, 3 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 7:39 p.m.
1246. Deptel 1271./2/ Session with President Diem yesterday evening lasted over two and one-half hours. I believe that he was reassured by reftel, of which I gave him text appropriate paragraphs, and by my statement that we would be using first three paragraphs as background for press. However, Diem made no direct comment on demarche and he parried all efforts to get him to speak frankly and directly about his reactions to recent pressures or, indeed, to talk about Buddhist problem at all, except in very superficial way. He did not touch on any of actions and plans mentioned by Thuan (Embtel 1243)./3/ I concluded that he did not want to allow me to link these actions with U.S. pressures.
Meeting was thus largely a monologue in which Diem covered the waterfront: Laos, military operations, the Chieu Hoi program, Strategic Hamlets, the Republican Youth, and the Women's Solidarity Movement. Except on Laos (see separate telegram),/4/ there was nothing essentially new in any of this in terms of information. What was remarkable was the stress he laid on his plans to democratize the country from the bottom up and his very evident intent to impress on me his solidarity with the Nhus (I have never heard him refer to them so frequently).
/4/Trueheart reported on Diem's concern over developments in Laos in telegram 1245 from Saigon, June 28. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS)
Diem spoke at length and with passion and considerable eloquence about the fundamental social and political revolution being carried out in Viet-Nam through the Strategic Hamlet Program. The theme was essentially that of Nhu, and Diem in fact specifically acknowledged this. Apart from Strategic Hamlet Program itself, revolution depended upon two things. First, development and instruction of youth, who must be infused with an ideal and with ideas which would enable them to carry on meaningful democratic process. For this, the instrument was Republican Youth led by his brother. He spoke with emotion of courage and devotion these "unpaid" youth had already shown in defending their hamlets, in aiding fire victims, etc. Second essential was to carry out much the same instruction and indoctrination of women "who make up more than half the population". Instrument here is Women's Solidarity Movement led by Madame Nhu. He acknowledged that this organization had not made as much headway in provinces as Republican Youth and attributed this in part to fact that Madame Nhu has not been able to travel widely.
Diem said that process he described was moving very rapidly, that one could look forward to full democracy and liberty in two or three years. At that point government sponsored Republican Youth would give way to a mass political and social organization entirely independent of government.
Meanwhile, Diem said government was doing everything possible to stimulate democratic processes and personal liberty. Hamlet elections had been successful and elections would be extended rapidly upwards to province level. In Strategic Hamlet and Republican Youth courses major effort was being made to encourage free and critical discussion and airing of new ideas. On justice, provinces had already been directed to institute as rapidly as possible, and where security conditions permitted, a system of habeas corpus under which no person could be held for longer than 24 hours without a court order., (With only one judge for every three provinces, he said, this was difficult to manage.) Diem again gave Nhu much of credit for this directive.
Diem spoke with great enthusiasm about all this, remarking that Viet-Nam would soon be a model of democracy for all of Southeast Asia. He also dropped a broad hint that he and his Ministers could get job done faster if they could be protected from outside pressures which took up so much of their time--a clear reference to recent events.
Comment: This is plainly some sort of response to our pressures for action to restore public support for government. However, apart from absolutely clear declaration of solidarity with Nhus. I am not sure what to make of it. Specifically, I am not sure whether it is merely a defense of what Diem has been doing all along (it is that all right), or whether it is a forecast of some new and perhaps fairly spectacular steps along same lines./5/ For example, public announcement of habeas corpus directive would fit latter category.
/5/A marginal notation on the source text at this point, in Wood's hand, reads: "Doubtful."
I suppose in this case as in others we shall have to find answer to our demarches in actions rather than direct replies. In this connection, I have just received indirect confirmation that Diem leaves for Hue tomorrow.
193. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 29, 1963, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
1261. Deptel 1286./2/ I am quite as concerned as Department over possibility renewal demonstrations, etc. and need for GVN haste. Thuan, whom I saw few hours ago, is equally concerned.
Situation at moment (1530) is that Vice President has sent and published letter to Buddhists (Embtel 1256)/3/ which is helpful but does not go far enough. Series of following specific further actions are still in abeyance pending return of President Diem from Hue this afternoon:
/3/In telegram 1256 from Saigon, June 29, the Embassy transmitted to the Department of State the text of a letter sent on June 28 by Vice President Tho to the leader of the Buddhist delegation, Thien Minh, in which he outlined government efforts to carry out the terms of the joint communique of June 16. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)
1. Publication of actual text of orders to provincial officials.
2. Publication of Ministry of Interior balance sheet on persons arrested and released.
3. Publication of names of GVN officials found culpable of May 8 incident. (Thuan winced when I put this one to him but agreed it was desirable.)
4. Diem's speech reaffirming five points, etc.
So far as I have been able to ascertain, and contrary to advance billing by Thuan, Diem did not make any public appearances at Hue except possibly to attend Te Deum service which was part of jubilee program for Archbishop Thuc./4/ More significant, both Nhus also went to Hue, so that I have no doubt that there has been a major session of the family council. There may well be new decisions as result of this meeting, and I am not optimistic about them.
/4/A marginal notation on the source text at this point, in Wood's hand, reads: "Oh Gawd."
Meanwhile latest reports from Buddhist contacts are ominous [3 document numbers not declassified]. There are also reports on plans for a Tuyen-organized coup [1 document number not declassified] which I believe can not be dismissed.
Thuan said this morning that he was personally convinced that VC and oppositionists were now behind Buddhists. I said I had seen no evidence of VC involvement but was satisfied that oppositionists were seeking to exploit situation. However, this seemed to me not to affect action required from GVN; it was all the more urgent that GVN make public moves such as those enumerated above with view to satisfying moderate elements and isolating the rest. He agreed but was plainly [not] in position to do anything until Diem returns.
I also repeated to Thuan that Diem must accept that he can not afford to have more demonstrations and bonze burnings, virtually no matter what concessions he has to make. I cited in this connection full-page advertisment in N.Y: Times signed by prominent US clergymen,/5/ text of which I had sent to his house last night.
/5/The full-page advertisement ran in the June 27 edition of The New York Times under a copy of Malcolm Browne's photograph of the self-immolation of Quang Duc. The text of the advertisement was signed by 12 prominent clergymen, including Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr and Bishop lames A. Pike.
Will continue to keep after GVN and to keep Department informed as currently as possible. As of now, Buddhist "deadline" is rather vague. They want convincing proof of GVN sincerity by July 1 but, according to Duc Ngiep, plan no action before July 3. I am not, however, counting on this time table.
194. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, June 29, 1963, 7 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.
1259. Deptel 1283./2/ Following is our assessment two points reftel:
/2/See footnote 4, Document 189.
1. We do not believe Buddhists "clearly divided" between older, moderate element and younger activists, as stated reftel. Nevertheless, available evidence suggests that there is group of Buddhist activists who are dissatisfied with agreement Buddhist leaders reached with GVN. Members this group probably not wholly agreed on their demands. Some apparently not so opposed to terms of agreement with GVN as they are suspicious of GVN's intentions; therefore, they seek get GVN so publicly committed in detail on implementation of agreement that it would be very difficult for GVN to renege in future or to take retaliatory action against them. Until GVN so committed, this group likely agitate for continued public Buddhist expressions of dissatisfaction. This group's ends do not seem to exceed legitimacy but its suspicions of GVN's intentions could be difficult for GVN to allay.
Others in activist group without doubt have "tasted blood" of. politics and either see religious issue as way for political changes or have discarded religious issue for outright political objective--change in regime. This latter group appears seek to discredit GVN to extent possible and is willing to receive overtures from political opposition groups. Thus, this group (which may include bonze Tri Quang) has aims going beyond legitimate ends originally sought by Buddhists.
2. As Deptel indicates, we have received reports that GVN not intending to live up to its end of bargain. Many of these reports, [document number not declassified], come from Buddhists, often Tri Quang, but there is very solid evidence, as Department aware, that Nhus were bitterly opposed to agreement. I have on several occasions since GVN-Buddhist agreement signed June 16 made points contained paragraph 2 reftel and others (e.g. Embtels 1224 and 1231)/3/ and since then we have had no further evidence that Nhus actively seeking upset agreement. Much, we believe, now depends on outcome of Ngo family conference which almost certainly took place in Hue yesterday and today. If various steps previously envisaged are in fact carried out, there will be chance of isolating extremists from moderate Buddhist leadership. Even if all these steps are accomplished in timely fashion, however, suspicion of GVN in minds some Buddhists, particularly young activists of both types, very likely will remain. We will nevertheless continue pressure on GVN for constructive steps as tactical situation demands./4/
/3/Documents 184 and 185.
/4/On June 29, Trueheart received a telegram sent personally from Forrestal in the White House which reads: "Everyone here thinks you are doing a grand job. Keep up the good work." (Telegram CAP 63357 to Saigon, June 29; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 6/63)
3. Thoroughly agree with last sentence reftel./5/
/5/The last sentence of telegram 1283 to Saigon reads: "General thought here with which we are sure you will agree is that U.S. must at all costs not be put in position of assuming the responsibility for this internal religious matter."
195. Telegram From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy), at Rome/1/
Washington, July 1, 1963, 1:34 p.m./2/
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 7/1/ 63-7/20/63. Secret. Bundy was in Italy with President Kennedy and Secretary Rusk on the last leg of a four-nation visit to Europe which concluded on July 3.
/2/The source text provides this date/time group and an indication that the message was sent on July 2. Internal evidence establishes the July 1 date as accurate.
CAP 63365. Sitto Nr 39./3/ At meeting this morning Ball, Harriman, Hilsman and myself reviewed situation in SVN and following courses of action were discussed./4/
/3/The situation report cited here has not been found.
/4/The minutes of the Secretary's Staff Meeting, chaired by Acting Secretary Ball at 9:15 a.m., are in Department of State, Secretary's Staff Meetings: Lot 66 D 147, Large Staff Mtgs, 1963.
1. In last 48 hours as two week truce between Buddhist and GVN draws to end, we have been receiving indications that Buddhists planning further anti-government demonstrations. This occurs against backdrop other reports that brother Nhu attempting sabotage agreements.
2. In light of this situation we believe Nolting must return Saigon by end of week at latest. Although Trueheart has done excellent job we feel U.S. must have Ambassador present during this dangerous period. We also hope to get Lodge move up his arrival Saigon from September to early August.
3. Among reports referred in para 1 is indication that Buddhists planning another self-immolation of bonze soon. We all believe one more burning bonze will cause domestic U.S. reaction which will require strong public statement despite danger that this might precipitate coup in Saigon. Demarche to Diem insisting on removal of Nhu and wife to post outside SVN before such statement becomes necessary under consideration. Trueheart and Nolting being consulted.
Believe you may wish bring President up to date this situation.
196. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, July 1, 1963, 8:52 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET-US. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wood and cleared by Hilsman and Nolting. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
4. From Hilsman and Nolting to Trueheart. Thinking here is that unless GVN has in the meantime made further forthright efforts to meet tensions, domestic and international reactions to another Buddhist protest suicide or further bloodshed in connection with Buddhist demonstrations would compel us to make public statement disassociating ourselves from GVN policy vis-à-vis Buddhists. We fully aware likely impact such statement on GVN internal stability and strength, but see no alternative. US cannot take responsibility in any way for GVN religious discrimination, real or alleged.
You should seek appointment with Diem (or alternatively work through Thuan) for following purpose:
For you to decide whether to tell Diem that we may have to make public statement unless GVN makes forthright effort. You should however impress on him that it may be too late to forestall demonstrations and that you instructed suggest urgently that he should make speech which will, if possible, have dramatic impact to succeed in bridging gap of misunderstanding and of improving mutual good faith between GVN and Buddhists.
You should make clear that while you understand importance he attaches to working closely with members his own family and essential contribution which Nhu has made to Strategic Hamlet program, it is U.S. view that certain public statements from sources close to GVN (e.g. Times Viet-Nam story Embtel 6)/2/ or such other incidents as you may wish to mention have convinced U.S. press and Congress that persons close to President are seeking undermine June 16 agreement.
/2/According to telegram 6 from Saigon, July 1, the Times of Viet-Nam on July 1 carried a front-page article entitled "Mysterious Scotch Tape and End to Schizophrenia In Sight," which noted that the 2-week deadline established by the Buddhist delegation for government compliance with the June 16 agreement had passed. The article stated that Saigon was calm, and unless there was some dramatic evidence of Buddhist dissatisfaction, such as another suicide, it was reasonable to assume that Buddhist claims had been satisfied. (Ibid., SOC 14-1 S VIET)
You should make clear to Diem that rightly or wrongly there is widespread belief in U.S. and in other countries that religious persecution does now exist in Viet-Nam and that both U.S. and GVN need dramatic and sincere public move by Diem to counteract this widely held opinion.
We suggest you quietly provide Diem (perhaps through Thuan) a piece of paper containing statement or thoughts which Diem might wish consider incorporating in speech. We leave drafting this paper to you but it might contain:
1. some or all points your 1261;/3/
You should point out to Diem that, in giving this warning, we are acting to help him preserve his government. We do not believe GVN can survive prolongation of Buddhist crisis at same time it is engaged in life and death struggle with Viet Cong.
197. Research Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to the Acting Secretary of State/1/
Washington, July 1, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199. Vietnam 1963. Unclassified.
Public misconceptions concerning the strategic hamlet program in the Republic of Vietnam have prompted us to review its aims and development as well as assess its implications for future developments.
The basic purpose of the strategic hamlets is to achieve the widest possible popular response to the government's counterinsurgency effort by (1) providing the peasant with an increasing degree of physical security from Communist intimidation and (2) enacting social, economic and political reforms meaningful to the peasants. In addition to arming volunteer peasant groups, elections, medical facilities, education, and social services provide a community development program within the strategic hamlets that may have favorable long-range social and political effects. Arising out of local initiatives in 1961, the program received full central government support in 1962 and has already proved effective in stemming Communist successes, as evidenced by military actions on the ground as well as Communist propaganda attacks, in Vietnam and abroad, against the strategic hamlets. While the program has moved too rapidly for adequate implementation in some areas, its general accomplishment to date has been highly promising.
Aims and Objectives
The basic purpose of the strategic hamlet program is to achieve the widest possible popular response to the government's counterinsurgency effort by providing the peasants with an increasing degree of physical security from Communist intimidation and by enacting social, economic, and political reforms meaningful to the peasants in the context of their own traditions and expectations. It should be noted that in a country such as Vietnam, which has emerged only recently from almost a hundred years of colonial rule and where popular concepts of government have long been locally rather than nationally oriented, the very fact that a national government would seek to serve and protect the citizenry might itself be considered revolutionary.
The immediate security objectives of the program are two-fold--first, to sever Communist communication and control lines to the rural populace and thus deny the Communists the local resources (manpower, food, intelligence, and weapons) necessary to their operations; and second, to promote a nationwide self-defense effort at the rice-roots level by providing the peasant with weapons and other defense facilities. The immediate political objectives are to create the desire and will to resist Communist blandishments and, at the same time, strengthen the popular image of the government by providing the peasant with increased social and economic benefits and by improving political and administrative services in the hamlets.
In addition to these immediate objectives, the strategic hamlet program may well have important implications for long-range social and political development in Vietnam. President Diem and other high government officials have repeatedly stated that the strategic hamlet program will create a social, economic, and political revolution in the countryside which will uproot vested economic interests, implant lasting political democracy and efficient and benevolent administration at the local level, and raise the peasant to a new social status.
What is the Strategic Hamlet?
Although the village formally constitutes the lowest local administrative unit in Vietnam, each village actually consists of several almost self-sustaining settlements or hamlets of varying size, frequently scattered over an appreciable distance. (There are some 2,500 villages in Vietnam, while hamlets number about 14,000.) In an insurgency situation, this distribution pattern very obviously poses major problems for maintaining security and defense and would normally require an extraordinarily large police, security, and military force merely to maintain a presence, much less engage in effective operations. The strategic hamlet approach, therefore, replaces the soldier or policeman with the part-time "civilian volunteer," or in the American tradition, the "minuteman."
The strategic hamlet is essentially a fortified hamlet, as shown in Attachment A, a sketch./2/ Generally, only hamlets in relatively insecure areas or fairly close to Communist strongholds are selected for fortification. Peasant huts removed from the hamlet concentration pattern are brought closer to the center of the pattern, thus limiting the, distance involved in the regroupment. A fence of bamboo and barbed wire is built around the entire hamlet, and a ditch or moat is dug around the fence; the ditch or moat, in turn, is encircled by an earthen mound. The area immediately around the village is cleared to permit fields of fire and to avoid giving guerrillas and terrorists hiding places close to the hamlet.
Inside the strategic hamlet, there are one or more observation towers, guardposts, and a defense post for storage of arms. An alarm system, either of the most rudimentary type (a bell, gong, or bamboo drum) or of field telephones, alerts the community to Communist attack. An increasing number of strategic hamlets have also received small radio sets which enable them to maintain direct communication with the government administrative and military-security structure at the district level, and ultimately with the central government complex m Saigon.
Defense is maintained largely by volunteers or recruits from the hamlet population and frequently from among the youth. They are given arms and trained in their use. The hamlet militia can also count on nearby units of the regular security services, the Self Defense Corps and the Civil Guard, and on the army for assistance in case of a major Communist attack. Some of the strategic hamlets, because of their proximity to Communist strongholds, are better fortified and frequently are referred to as "defended" hamlets.
Inside the hamlets, the government has taken increasing measures to improve the general lot of the peasant. It has established permanent dispensaries or sent in medical teams, where once modern medical attention was unknown; it has established or rebuilt schools, formerly non-existent or destroyed by the Communists; it has built market places where farmers can bring their produce in order to encourage business; and new roads, wells, and a number of community development projects have been started. Agricultural credit and fertilizer have been provided to the farmer, and agricultural technicians have come to help the farmer improve production. For example, loans by the National Agricultural Credit Office to peasant farmers and repayments of these loans have risen sharply since the beginning of 1963; farmers in strategic hamlets have received more that 50% by value of these loans. In 10 central provinces alone, the government is distributing more than 19,000 tons of fertilizer which will be in time for this season's planting.
On the political side, the government has drawn up "communal charters" for the hamlets, legalized and developed a formal administrative structure heretofore lacking or very rudimentary, and has accelerated a training program for hamlet officials. Election of these officials by secret ballot, provided by law, has actually begun in many provinces and will be extended to all hamlets. These officials in turn vote for village officials; village elections have also started and are expected to take place in more than half of the 2,500 villages within the next few months.
Origins and Development
The strategic hamlet program in the Republic of Vietnam began during the latter part of 1961. It grew out of a variety of security and political measures adopted by local officials, acting to a considerable extent on their own initiative to defend their areas from the growing Communist campaign of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and intimidation. The government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, recognizing the effectiveness of these scattered efforts, responded quickly and threw its entire resources behind the development of a national strategic hamlet program, drawing on its knowledge of the Communist insurgencies in Malaya and Indochina and even the Kibbutz program in Israel. In February 1962, a high level government inter-agency committee was established to coordinate, direct, and support the program on a national scale, and the following April, the National Assembly passed a resolution declaring the strategic hamlet program a national policy.
Before the end of 1962, the central government was providing funds, administrative and technical skills, and material through the United States assistance program for the construction of strategic hamlets. Training programs were instituted for hamlet administrative and self-defense personnel. Considerable progress was made in regularizing the procedures for implementing the hamlet program and in informing the public of its objectives. The government promulgated a body of laws and regulations which provide a legal basis for the administrative and governmental organization and internal security of strategic hamlets. As the construction of these hamlets progressed, the government proceeded to implement a variety of economic, social, and political measures within the hamlets, coordinating them with actual military operations against the insurgents. What has since emerged is a nationally directed and supported program, embodying a variety of military and non-military concepts designed to meet the Communist threat at the rice-roots level. Indeed, the strategic hamlet program is now the focal point of the Vietnam Government's comprehensive counterinsurgency effort.
Despite the national character of the strategic hamlet program, the government continues to recognize that the effectiveness of the program depends largely on local initiative and response. Since July 1962, therefore, direct responsibility for planning and implementing the strategic hamlet program has been placed officially in the hands of local committees composed of civil and military officials and operating within each of Vietnam's 41 provinces. These committees draw up detailed plans for strategic hamlets, and then submit them for approval by the central government. Since the program is largely locally initiated and directed, it does require local support contributions above those made by the central government. The importance of the strategic hamlet program is reflected in President Diem's reference to the program in his state-of-the-union message to the National Assembly on October 1. 1962, as shown below:
This vast movement, born in the heat of war, is our preemptory reply to the Communist challenge. It brings us, along with the certainty of victory, the pride to live as free men today and tomorrow . . . ./3/ The strategic hamlet is also and primarily the point of impact of a political and social revolution which will serve as a foundation for our economic revolution. On the political level, as security is restored by the defense system of the strategic hamlet and the careful screening of the local enemy elements, democracy and the guarantee of the law
can be implemented.
/3/Ellipsis in the source text.
Communist reaction to the strategic hamlet program has been intense. North Vietnam and its "National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam," as well as Moscow and Peiping, have called strategic hamlets "concentration camps" into which "people are forcibly herded." North Vietnamese propaganda has charged that the Vietnam Government will "herd 14 million rural, urban, and mountain people" into strategic hamlets which will be used "to trample upon the life, customs, habits, democratic freedom, and the most common sentiments and interest of human beings"--ultimately to "annihilate" the Vietnamese people. Communist propaganda has blatantly called upon the Vietnamese people not only to resist the program but also to destroy hamlets wherever they exist.
On the ground, Communist guerrillas, terrorists, and agents are making a major armed and subversive effort against strategic hamlets. Armed attacks have risen sharply, but the percentage of their success has been very small. Attempts to destroy or burn fences are frequent. Communist agents use bribery, threats, and intimidation to gain entrance into the hamlets and to keep peasants from participating or to entice them to leave. Many local officials who refused to heed Communist threats have been assassinated or kidnapped.
It is still early to make definitive and detailed evaluations of the strategic hamlet program. It must be remembered that it has been in existence as a national program for just over one year. However impressive the claim by the Vietnam Government that more than 5,000 strategic hamlets have been constructed, many problems have arisen during this period requiring modification and readjustment in procedures. The Vietnam Government has recognized that this is a bold new effort and that mistakes will be made and has reacted quickly to remedy and improve the situation. For example, the physical defenses of strategic hamlets admittedly vary in quality and, in some cases, leave much to be desired. Since many hamlets are still in the early stage of development, defense and security measures as well as various political, social, and economic projects are still somewhat deficient. Finally, a program of this magnitude requires a large pool of administrative and technical personnel and a considerable effort by the government to educate and train such personnel in both the conceptual and practical requirements of a revolutionary program.
On balance, however, the strategic hamlet has been a success. Much of the concern and hesitation originally shown by the peasants has disappeared, partly because of the Vietnam Government's improved public information program but also because of the security and other benefits the peasants have received once they moved into the hamlets. The hamlet militia is exhibiting both the desire and capability to fight, and there are increasing reports of peasants volunteering intelligence on the Communists and of welcoming the strategic hamlet program because it has freed them from Communist intimidation and "taxation." Commerce has been considerably revived in the countryside, and there has even been a spurt in the construction and reconstruction of dwellings. More than one hundred thousand Montagnards or tribesmen have voluntarily left the Communist-controlled mountain areas in large groups and have asked for asylum in strategic hamlets. Finally, the strategic hamlet program has already reduced the total area and population under Communist control or influence and has weakened Communist strength and logistics capabilities. Communist guerrillas are reportedly experiencing morale problems and shortages of food and supplies in many areas, and have resorted increasingly to outright theft and harassment of the peasant in order to gain supplies and recruits. These tactics will only serve to decrease still further the Communist base of operations.
The conclusion that the strategic hamlet program has been successful is further supported by the very efforts the Communists are making to subvert it. Intelligence reports clearly indicate that the Communist insurgents regard the program as constituting one of the most serious threats to their continued operations and are now attempting to develop a strategy of their own to counter the strategic hamlet. The Communist propaganda line that the hamlets are "concentration camps" is obviously part of this strategy. Of course, the Communists fail to note that the "internees" are provided weapons. Admittedly, bamboo and barbed wire fences exist, but these are to keep Communist guerrillas and terrorists out rather than the villagers in. Identity cards have been issued to hamlet inhabitants, but these are to identify Communist agents rather than to control the peasants. There is thus a degree of regimentation, but the Vietnam Government is faced with a grim, prolonged war. Thus some form of regimentation is unavoidable and indeed desirable.
Strategic Hamlet: Citadel or Concentration Camp?
Communist charges from Moscow, Peiping, and Hanoi to the effect that strategic hamlets are "concentration camps" ignore one basic fact: the residents are armed. The barbed wire, bamboo spike barricades, and watch towers protect the hamlet and are manned by peasants. The immediate purpose of the strategic hamlet is to permit the peasant to protect himself. This purpose is already achieved throughout much of the countryside. Communist intimidation and recruitment of guerrillas through terrorization cannot succeed where effective strategic hamlets exist. Communist attempts to seize local food supplies fail when volunteer militia can provide a prompt and organized response.
Beyond this minimum purpose of security, however, the strategic hamlets have a much more fundamental and important purpose. They represent an experiment in community self-development on a nationwide basis, unprecedented in Vietnamese rural life. Local initiative and local choice prevails but with provincial and central government support. Medical and educational services advance under the direction of locally elected officials, with funds and teams provided by higher levels of government. Agricultural credits and technical services, particularly in fertilizer distribution, give outside assistance to the isolated and scattered hamlets. Over time, these measures should provide a greater sense of loyalty and positive identification between countryside and capital, as well as substantive improvements in local well-being.
Open to any visitor from any country at any time, and under constant review, the strategic hamlet program in Vietnam is moving from infancy to solid growth in a relatively short time and against determined Communist opposition. As the opposition is defeated, the negative aspects, manifested in regimentation and military defenses, should give way to increasing freedom and self-rule. This can lay the foundation for new political relationships in Vietnam extending from peasant to presidency. Whether, indeed, this will happen depends largely upon the environment within which the strategic hamlet program develops, not only in Vietnam but throughout the entire Indochina peninsula.
198. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, July 2, 1963, 3 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET-US. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD. Received at 5:36 a.m.
10. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 4./2/ Saw Thuan this morning before receipt reftel. I opened by asking him if he could report any progress on actions we had discussed (Embtels 1243 and 1261)./3/ He said he could not. He had seen Diem once since his return from Hue but said he did not know what decisions might have been taken.
/3/Documents 189 and 193.
I then had Thuan read Times of Vietnam article (Embtel 6)/4/ which he said he had not seen. I told him that following were significant points in my reading of article (text of which I am now cabling in full):
/4/See footnote 2, Document 196.
1. It was clear challenge (defi) to US, in particular our efforts to keep Madame Nhu quiet.
2. It contained veiled criticism of Vice President and his efforts in Buddhist affair and "end of schizophrenia" in headline could well refer to split views in GVN (Tho-Thuan vs Nhus).
3. There was obvious intent to denigrate Buddhists, especially in charges that Quang Duc drugged.
4. Article openly dared Buddhists to carry out further burnings immediately or by inaction admit that their claims have been satisfied.
Thuan accepted this interpretation of article. I then asked him if article reflected decisions taken at Hue. He said he did not know, but in response to further question said he was not in position to deny that article reflected government policy.
I told Thuan at end of conversation that I was beginning to feel helpless in this affair./5/ Did the President not realize that another bonze burning would virtually force US Government to dissociate itself from GVN handling of Buddhist problem. He said Diem did not unless "you told him so yourself". I asked for his suggestions as to what to do now, but he had none. I left with distinct impression that Thuan has again been cut out of the play, as he was prior to bonze burning incident.
/5/A marginal notation on the source text at this point, in Wood's hand, reads: "From Bill, this is serious."
This means that demarche prescribed reftel not likely be effective if made through Thuan. I frankly do not believe that it will have any positive effect on Diem either. I have already spoken in stronger terms to him (see particularly Embtel 1231)./6/ If I go in now and speak on instructions along lines Deptel 4, I believe there is very real risk that he will conclude that we are backing down. Note also that he was given, pursuant Deptel 1207,/7/ flat threat of dissociation if he did not promptly settle with Buddhists on five demands. Now he would be told that we may have to make public statement if in effect GVN does not make forthright effort to satisfy Buddhists that agreement will be carried out in good faith.
I am confident that Diem has already calculated that we may make public statement, and on basis present evidence he may well have discounted possibility.
I realize this is optional part of demarche but, without this threat, rest of demarche would, I believe, be sterile; it would irritate him to no purpose.
I appreciate fully problems involved in making definite threat to dissociate ourselves if there is further bloodshed or suicides-particularly when these may occur no matter what Diem does. I would in fact not recommend such a threat unless it has been definitely decided that we will be forced by domestic and international opinion to carry it out in any case. However, I repeat that, without such a threat, demarche to Diem along lines reftel and in context past approaches is much more likely to make him relax than to move. I would therefore appreciate reconsideration of instructions.
199. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, July 2, 1963, 2:33 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET-US. Secret; Operational Immediate. Drafted by Wood and cleared by Hilsman, Harriman, Ball, and Forrestal. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
10. Embtel 10./2/ Purpose Deptel 4,/3/ which was not brought out sufficiently clearly, was not simply to threaten Diem with old threats but to say, in effect: "If you (Diem) will make statement designed to bridge gap of understanding and if there is then a Buddhist incident, GVN and US will be in position to point to your statement as evidence GVN good faith in trying convince Buddhists of genuine desire reach understanding. We believe present state of mistrust in Viet-Nam requires such statement from you very soon before there is another Buddhist incident and in view two week period now over. If there is another incident and you have not made a conciliatory statement, however, we believe the situation in Viet-Nam will soon get out of control. U.S. situation which must be clearly understood, will be as follows:
1. U.S. liberal and press opinion increasingly and now almost unanimously critical of religious situation in Viet-Nam.
2. There are now indications that matter may be brought up in United Nations where US, as chief supporter of Viet-Nam, would face difficult situation.
3. Justly or unjustly this is situation U.S. Government is facing vis-à-vis domestic and international opinion.
4. Most importantly religious toleration is one of the most basic tenets of American civilization. The U.S. Government does not believe that GVN has gone far enough to convince and explain to its people the basic importance it attaches to religious tolerance and national unity.
Therefore unless the GVN acts quickly, the U.S. will have to make its own position perfectly clear."
You should convey these views officially and under instruction to Diem personally in writing or orally in whatever manner you think best.
You may wait not longer than twenty-four hours if you think a further period for Diem to reflect on situation would help your difficult task.
You are requested to give Diem a piece of paper containing thoughts he might express in such an address as suggested Deptel 4. Believe invitation to Buddhist leaders to confer with him should be given top billing.
Also, you should request separate interview with Nhu and convey to him that in U.S. view Times Viet-Nam article was clear challenge to U.S. and to Buddhists as well as being a denigration of Buddhists (points 1, 3 and 4 Embtel 10). You should tell Diem of what you will say to Nhu and make clear to Diem we believe no settlement possible until such statements are stopped. Assume you will wish see Diem first, but leave to you.
Realize these demarches may seriously impair your further ability to influence Diem, but believe strong medicine needed to clear his vision, especially in view of what is at stake.
FYI. We are fully conscious of the possibility that a stern warning to Diem will only make him more stubborn and the he might perform somewhat better if we made no warning but only gentle suggestions for positive steps. The fact is, however, that, if he is so incapable of rational consideration of what we believe are the extreme dangers of the Buddhist crisis, and can only behave emotionally, then we have no confidence in his ability to lead an effective fight against the Viet Cong.
Top level here admires courage and skill which you have displayed and fully supports you.
200. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, July 3, 1963, 8 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
24. CINCPAC for POLAD. I saw President Diem at 5:45 PM. I thanked him for receiving me promptly, and said that I was sorry to interrupt his busy schedule but the matter was important and, in our view, urgent.
I then gave him my letter (Embtel 18)./2/ After he had read it, I said that if he were disposed to make an address, we were prepared to offer some suggestions as to its content. He replied with marked politeness that he would be glad to consider any ideas we might have. I then outlined for him the main points in a paper/3/ which I subsequently left with him, emphasizing that we attach particular importance to his inviting Buddhist leaders to meet with him personally as a matter of urgency. He read over the list, put it to one side, and said that he would consider it, along with the letter, and his "collaborators".
/3/No copy of this paper has been found.
Diem then talked briefly and in general terms about difficulties of Buddhist problem, giving no hint of what if any action he has in mind. He spoke of difficulties of meeting demands which might in themselves be reasonable but would encourage further demands which government could not meet. He referred to inherent complexity of some of the problems, notably questions relating to ownership of property. He mentioned also, in surprisingly good natured way, that some of Buddhist leaders had political motives and used unfair tactics.
I said I thought we could grant all these things and that we understood very well that there were real risks in whatever course he took. Had not the time arrived, however, for him to take matters into his own hands? I was afraid that the letters being exchanged between Vice President and Buddhists were simply piling up charges and counter-charges and, if anything, making a solution more difficult. What was needed was for President personally to take actions which would firmly establish good faith of government and leave isolated those who still cavilled. Diem did not react.
I then said that I hoped in any case he understood gravity of situation from standpoint of U.S. He replied to effect that he understood we had a problem with public opinion. This arose, he felt, largely from news and information which was not strictly accurate and often exaggerated. U.S. Government should set record straight. I said that before we could set record straight we had to have further action by GVN on which to base ourselves. In this connection, I said, I could bring up, as I had been instructed to do, Times of Vietnam article./4/ I told him I had been instructed to talk to Nhu also about this article and, as he said he had not seen it, I described main offensive features and gave him a copy of the newspaper. I told him with some (very genuine) feeling that unless such statements stopped no settlement was possible, in view of my government. Diem limited himself to saying that he would study the article. He then brought interview to a close ushering me out with great, but perhaps forced, politeness.
/4/See footnote 2, Document 196.
Whole meeting lasted less than half an hour, which may be a new record.
201. Letter From the Charge in Vietnam (Trueheart) to President Diem/1/
Saigon, July 3, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 12 S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 18 from Saigon, July 3, which is the source text.
I have been instructed to see Your Excellency once again on the Buddhist problem, primarily to make certain that you understand clearly the position in which the United States Government finds itself.
Liberal and press opinion in the United States is increasingly, and now almost unanimously, critical of the religious situation in Viet-Nam.
There are now indications also that the matter may be brought up in the United Nations. In that forum the United States, as the chief supporter of Viet-Nam, would face a difficult situation.
Justly or unjustly, this is the situation which the United States Government is facing vis-à-vis domestic and international opinion.
Most importantly, religious toleration is one of the most basic tenets of American civilization. The United States Government does not believe that the Government of Viet-Nam has gone far enough to convince and explain to its people the basic importance which it attaches to religious tolerance and national unity. It considers that the present state of mistrust in Viet-Nam requires a public statement from Your Excellency designed to bridge the gap of understanding.
Such a statement should, in our view, be made very soon, before there is another Buddhist incident. If an incident should nevertheless occur, the Government of Viet-Nam and the United States would be in a position to point to your statement as evidence of the good faith of the Government of Viet-Nam in trying to convince the Buddhists of a genuine desire to reach an understanding.
If, on the other hand, another incident occurs and Your Excellency has not made a conciliatory statement, then my government believes that the situation in Viet-Nam would soon get out of control. The United States Government would also have to make its own position perfectly clear.
Please accept, Mr. President, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
202. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President/1/
Washington, July 3, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office File, Staff Memoranda, Forrestal. Secret. Also sent to McGeorge Bundy, under cover of a note from Forrestal which reads: "For your and the President's week end reading." (Ibid., National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Staff Memoranda: Michael Forrestal 11/62-11/63)
FAR EAST ROUND UP
There follows a summary of the principal problems which currently face us in the Far East.
The two-week truce between the GVN and the Buddhists signed on June 16th ended yesterday. We have received various reports from Buddhist circles that they are not satisfied with the manner in which the Government is implementing the agreement, particularly with respect to the release of prisoners, instructions to the province chiefs and rumors which have reached Buddhist ears that the Government does not intend to carry out the agreement in good faith. We have also received reports of coup plotting among the Buddhists and threats to resume demonstrations and incidents of self-destruction.
On the GVN side, we have fairly reliable information that Brother Nhu has been actively working to stir up phony popular demand that the truce agreement be disavowed by the Government, using his Republican Youth organization for this purpose. After a meeting of Diem's family in Hue, the Times of Vietnam, a government-sponsored newspaper, came out on July 1 with a provocative article daring the Buddhist to resume demonstrations./2/
/2/See footnote 2, Document 196.
These events, plus increasing recalcitrance on Diem's part which has almost reached the point where communication with him has become difficult, has led us to believe that the situation is now more serious than ever. It is entirely possible that there will be a resumption of demonstrations, including self-immolations; and the incentive for organized plots against the regime is getting very high.
We have given Bill Trueheart, our Charge in Saigon, instructions to go to Diem and tell him that unless he makes a dramatic political gesture to the Buddhists reaffirming the July 16th agreement, we would expect further demonstrations in Saigon and would then be forced to make a strong statement disassociating the United States from the GVN's policies towards the Buddhists./3/ Ambassador Nolting does not agree with this approach and argues that it will succeed only in destroying the last vestiges of Diem's confidence in us. Secretary Ball, Governor Harriman, Roger Hilsman and I feel that the political problem has come to such a point in the United States that we could not avoid public comment in the face of another bonze suicide, and that therefore we should leave no stone unturned to persuade Diem to change his attitude. Everyone recognizes that Diem's position in South Vietnam has now become as critical as it has ever been, and that the United States may have to grope its way through governmental upheaval in Saigon.
Ambassador Nolting is being asked to return to Saigon on Monday./4/ He has severe family problems which make it almost inhuman to require that he leave earlier. We are considering asking Secretary Rusk to persuade Ambassador Lodge to move up his scheduled departure for Saigon from September to August. We may need your help in this respect. In the meantime, Bill Trueheart has been doing an outstanding job. The main reason for asking Fritz Nolting to go back early is the inappropriateness of having our Ambassador away from his post during a crisis period.
State, the Agency and Defense are reviewing contingency plans in the event of a coup. At present our best hope in the event of an accident is to have the Vice President succeed Diem with the support of the principal army senior officers. Our policy is still to discourage a coup.
Despite the political turmoil in South Vietnam, the war against the Viet Cong seems to be progressing surprisingly well. Indeed the activity of the Vietnamese Army against the guerrillas has increased in the last two weeks.
[Here follows a summary of developments in Laos, Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand.]
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