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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume III
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume III, Vietnam, January-August 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian

203. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 4, 1963, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 12-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Eyes Only.

26. Embtel 24./2/ Thuan called me in this morning for specific purpose of asking me to transmit his personal recommendation that Ambassador Nolting return to Saigon as soon as possible.

/2/Document 200.

He said that Diem had shown him letter/3/ and list of speech suggestions I had left with him yesterday, but had given him absolutely no idea of what action he proposed to take. Thuan had nevertheless concluded that he was probably going to do nothing. This view was reinforced when I told him something of yesterday's conversation, particularly Diem's rather excessive politeness. Thuan said "I would rather have him get red in the face and pound the table; after he cools down he may accept. The least encouraging posture is polite immovability."

/3/Document 201.

Thuan continued that both he and I had used all our ammunition. He still agreed on our assessment of situation and that we were "running a race with the bonzes". He would continue to try to bring home to Diem the need to act, but he was plainly not hopeful.

Only thing he saw to do was to have Ambassador Nolting return. Diem attached great importance to personal friendship and was "sentimental." Nolting might be able to move him, not only because of personal relationship, but also owing to fact that his position would be "detached" as result early departure from Vietnam. I pointed out latter would normally be considered disadvantage, but Thuan insisted it would be asset.

I asked whether Thuan had any views as to what Ambassador should do when he got here, pointing out he was likely to have same instructions as I had, if not stronger. Thuan said he had no suggestions; he was relying wholly on personal relationship and Nolting's "detachment" to get Diem to move.

I questioned Thuan very closely as to whether this was his idea or Diem's. He insisted it was his own and asked that I protect him as originator.

Trueheart

 

204. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 4, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limited Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

28. CINCPAC for POLAD. Embtel 25./2/ In statement Times of Vietnam today, Mme. Nhu appears to be denying that this paper is her spokesman and, further, to be saying that, even if statements therein should conform with her own, they would still not represent GVN positions since she does not agree with GVN.

/2/In telegram 25 from Saigon, July 4, the Embassy transmitted the text of a front-page article in the July 4 edition of the Times of Viet-Nam, entitled "Who is Spokesman of Whom" and signed by Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. The article reprinted the text of a declaration released on July 3 by Madame Nhu in which she declared that, contrary to reports published by foreign correspondents, "I have no spokesman, for the well-known reason that I can speak for myself, even when my opinion is the least orthodox." She denied that her opinions reflected those of the South Vietnamese Government, and suggested that the correspondents who accused her of manipulating the government and the press in South Vietnam were echoing "perfidiously and repeatedly all the enemies of Vietnam, among whom the most virulent are the Communists and their lackeys." (Ibid.)

On reading statement this morning, I put off request for appointment with Nhu, feeling that it was predictable that if I raised Times article of July 1 with him, he would simply confront me with Mme. Nhu's formal statement. I can think of no response to latter except to say that Mme. Nhu is not speaking the truth or to propose that GVN close down Times of Vietnam. Neither response would be in our interest, in my opinion.

I can of course see Nhu, talk to him about a variety of things and find a way to bring up Times of Vietnam problem in less pointed way than suggested Deptel 10./3/ In all the circumstances, however, I think it is preferable not to upgrade our very satisfactory contact with Nhu at this time. It could result in blurring of what we are trying to tell GVN and it could give Nhu some wrong idea./4/

/3/Document 199.

/4/On July 5, the Department of State responded, in telegram 27 to Saigon, drafted by Wood: "To Nhu or not to Nhu is up to you." (Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET-US)

So far as concerns specific Times of Vietnam article of July 1, Thuan informed me the President had instructed him to translate article for Nhu, using copy of newspaper I had left with Diem yesterday. Thuan said he had done so, that Nhu understood what we found offensive in article but had not reacted in any way.

Trueheart

 

205. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, July 4, 1963, 11-11:50 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memoranda of Conversation: 7/63. Top Secret. Drafted by Hilsman. The source text indicates that the meeting took place at the Department of State, but the President's Appointment Book confirms that the meeting took place at the White House, as indicated on the copy printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 526-528.

SUBJECT
Situation in South Viet-Nam

PARTICIPANTS
The President
Mr. Ball
Mr. Harriman
Mr. McGeorge Bundy
Mr. Hilsman
Mr. Forrestal

The President was briefed on developments in Indonesia, Laos and Viet-Nam. The portion on Viet-Nam follows:

A joint agreement was signed on June 16 in which the Government met the Buddhists' five demands. The Buddhists and the Government then worked together on the funeral arrangements for the bonze who burned himself to death so that incidents could be avoided. The funeral came off without trouble.

Since then there have been rumors circulating in Saigon that the Government does not intend to live up to the agreement. These rumors were given credence by an article appearing in the English language "Times" of Viet-Nam,/2/ which is dominated by the Nhus. The article contained a veiled attack on the US and on the Buddhists. There was a suggestion that the Monk who burned himself to death was drugged and a provocative challenge to the Buddhists that, if no further demonstrations occurred on July 2, this would amount to an admission by the Buddhists that they were satisfied with the Government's action. (The President injected questions on the possibility of drugging, to which Mr. Hilsman replied that religious fervor was an adequate explanation.)

/2/See footnote 2, Document 196.

At this point there was a discussion of the possibility of getting rid of the Nhus in which the combined judgment was that it would not be possible.

Continuing the briefing, Mr. Hilsman said that the Buddhists contained an activist element which undoubtedly favored increasing demands as well as charging the Government with dragging its feet. There was thus an element of truth in Diem's view that the Buddhists might push their demands so far as to make his fall inevitable.

During these events the US had put extremely heavy pressure on Diem to take political actions. Most recently we had urged Diem to make a speech which would include announcements that he intended to meet with Buddhist leaders, permit Buddhist chaplains in the army and so on. If Diem did not make such a speech and there were further demonstrations, the US would be compelled publicly to disassociate itself from the GVN's Buddhist policy. Mr. Hilsman reported that Diem had received this approach with what seemed to be excessive politeness but had said he would consider making such a speech.

Our estimate was that no matter what Diem did there will be coup attempts over the next four months. Whether or not any of these attempts will be successful is impossible to say.

Mr. Hilsman said that everyone agreed that the chances of chaos in the wake of a coup are considerably less than they were a year ago. An encouraging sign relative to this point is that the war between the Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong has been pursued throughout the Buddhist crisis without noticeable let-up.

At this point Mr. Forrestal reported on General Krulak's views that, even if there were chaos in Saigon, the military units in the field would continue to confront the Communists.

Mr. Hilsman went on to say that Ambassador Nolting believes that the most likely result of a coup attempt that succeeded in killing Diem was civil war. Mr. Hilsman disagreed with this view slightly in that he thought civil war was not the most likely result but that it was certainly a possible result.

The timing of Ambassador Nolting's return and Ambassador Lodge's assumption of duty was then discussed. The President's initial view was that Ambassador Nolting should return immediately and that Ambassador Lodge should assume his duties as soon thereafter as possible. The President volunteered that Ambassador Nolting had done an outstanding job, that it was almost miraculous the way he had succeeded in turning the war around from the disastrously low point in relations between Diem and ourselves that existed when Ambassador Nolting took over. Mr. Hilsman pointed out the personal sacrifices that Ambassador Nolting had been forced to make during this period, and the President said that he hoped a way could be found to commend Ambassador Nolting publicly so as to make clear the fine job he had done and that he hoped an appropriate position could be found for him in Washington so that he could give his children a suitable home in the years immediately ahead.

The President's decision was to delegate the authority to decide on the timing of Ambassador Nolting's return to the Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs; that Ambassador Lodge should report to Washington no later than July 15 so that he could take the Counterinsurgency Course simultaneously with the normal briefings for an ambassador, and that Ambassador Lodge should arrive in Saigon as soon as possible following completion of the CI Course on August 14. Arrangements were made for Ambassador Nolting to see the President at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, July 8./3/

/3/No record of this meeting has been found.

 

206. Memorandum From the Counselor and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow) to the Secretary of State/1/

Washington, July 4, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, Laos. Secret. Also sent to Harriman, Johnson, and Hilsman. A note on the source text indicates that Secretary Rusk saw the memorandum.

SUBJECT
The Viet Minh in Laos and the Harriman Mission/2/

/2/The Harriman mission involved joint U.S.-U.K. negotiations with the Soviet Union on a nuclear test ban treaty. The negotiations began in Moscow on July 15 and culminated in agreement on the text of a treaty on July 25. In his discussions with Soviet leaders during the course of these negotiations, Harriman, who led the U.S. delegation, touched on U.S. concern over developments in Laos and asked Premier Khrushchev to attempt to restrain North Vietnamese activity in Laos. Harriman did not, however, address the issue of Laos as an infiltration corridor into South Vietnam. Documentation on Harriman's negotiations in Moscow is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2284-2286.

I wish to call your attention to the situation in Laos and its relation to Governor Harriman's mission.

Very substantial Viet Minh units are now in Laos, positioned to protect the infiltration corridor to South Vietnam. We now also have, for the first time, firm evidence, capable of diplomatic and public presentation, that the Viet Minh have violated the Geneva Accord of 1962 by introducing men (trained political agents) through Laos into South Vietnam after the October deadline.

Although equivalent, firm surfaceable evidence does not yet exist on military units, no one believes that such infiltration has been reduced since October 1962. It may run at a rate of 4-500 per month. To judge the burden imposed on the war effort in South Vietnam one must multiply this figure by about 15. It is evidently Ho's policy to sop up the improved performance in South Vietnam by this cheap device awaiting either a break on the political situation in Saigon or US discouragement with our effort there. South Vietnam has always been Ho's primary immediate objective in Laos rather than the control of the Mekong Valley.

It is evidently bad practice to connive at the violation of a solemn agreement by the Communists. I believe the time has come to call them on this; and the appropriate occasion is the Harriman mission, since he negotiated for us at Geneva and personally received the Pushkin assurances that Moscow would assume responsibility for stopping the use of Laos as an infiltration route into South Vietnam.

Both on principle and in terms of American politics I believe it would be unwise for us to permit a mood of detente to develop with Moscow until this matter is settled. American soldiers are committed in substantial numbers in South Vietnam and we are taking casualties.

(Incidentally, I would say the same about the continued presence of Soviet forces in Cuba. A detente will haunt us until the Soviet forces are substantially removed from Cuba.)

I propose, therefore, that Governor Harriman inform Moscow:

1. We. have firm evidence that the Viet Minh are violating the Geneva Accords by their continued presence in Laos and infiltration of South Vietnam.

2. Vital interests of the United States, symbolized by the presence of our forces in South Vietnam and our commitment to Thailand, are endangered by this fact.

3. Unless Viet Minh troops are withdrawn and infiltration ceases we shall shortly have to take compensatory action against North Vietnam.

4. In view of responsibilities formally assumed by Moscow at Geneva we request them promptly to bring about Viet Minh compliance with the Accord of 1962.

I would only add this: if we are to have a showdown with Ho (and, implicitly, Mao) on this matter, we should bring it about before the Chinese Communists blow a nuclear device. Such a symbolic capability would not alter the basic military equation in the Far East, but it could complicate the task of holding our alliances firm in the face of US action, introducing elements of a nuclear confrontation not now present.

 

207. Report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak)/1/

Washington, undated.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 67 A 4564, Vietnam 1963. Secret. Attached to a brief transmittal memorandum sent on July 5 by General Taylor to Secretary of Defense McNamara. A handwritten note on the covering memorandum indicates that Secretary McNamara saw the report. On July 9, Michael Forrestal sent a copy of the report to McGeorge Bundy for the President. Forrestal indicated, in his covering memorandum, that he felt the report gave "a fair and soundly optimistic picture of the part of the iceberg which is under water, i.e. the war against the Viet Cong." A note on the covering memorandum indicates that the report was placed in the President's weekend reading file. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 7/1/63-7/20/63)

VISIT TO VIETNAM

This reports on a visit to Vietnam, made during the period 25 June to 1 July 1963, to review progress in the counterinsurgency campaign.

Time was spent mainly in the provinces, where affairs, within their purview, were discussed with United States and Vietnamese military and civilian personnel, at the various levels of authority. Places visited are portrayed on the facing page./2/

/2/The attached map, which details the 15 places visited by Krulak in South Vietnam, is not printed.

As a supplement to the practical part of the visit, a series of specific questions were presented to the Military Assistance Command. The responses to those questions are appended./3/ They, coupled with the field visits and personal conversations, and reflected against the backdrop of two previous visits at five month intervals, formed the basis for these conclusions:

/3/Not found attached.

The counterinsurgency campaign is moving forward on the military and economic fronts. There is reason for optimism in both of these areas.

The strategic hamlet program, correctly characterized as the heart of the campaign, has acquired both momentum and balance. Its impact is most favorable.

Offensive operations against the Viet Cong are widespread and varied, and are growing steadily in intensity. While not always of high quality, their general effect has been to place the Viet Cong on the defensive.

The Buddhist issue is alive, serious and enmeshed with politics. It has not as yet affected adversely the essential operational programs.

The "Open Arms" amnesty program is effective, both as an index to progress achieved and as a weapon against the Viet Cong.

The operating relationship between US advisors and their counterparts is efficient and mutually respectful. It continues to be an essential to successful prosecution of the war.

Events in Laos are a source of growing concern to those charged directly with the conduct of the war in South Vietnam.

Field Visits

Field visits were conducted to: (a) Observe the evolution of the province rehabilitation program; (b) Note changes in the professional quality of the Vietnamese military, by observing units in actual operations; (c) Appraise the advisor/advisee relationship in action; and (d) Obtain low level views as to the progress of the war. The itinerary followed during the visit responded to these purposes.

The Province Rehabilitation Program

The constantly repeated assertion, heard over the past year and a half, that the strategic hamlet is the heart of the counterinsurgency strategy, is acquiring growing validation. Binh Duong Province-one in which province rehabilitation has lagged because of much hard core Viet Cong activity was first selected for a physical inspection. This is the province in which President Diem, against the counsel of others, launched the Sunrise strategic hamlet operation in 1962, at a time when the bulk of the population in the area was under Viet Cong control.

When the Secretary of Defense visited the Sunrise project in May of 1962, and despite the Vietnamese effort to conceal the fact, it was plainly far from a success. The only strategic hamlet in the province, its organization did not really extend far beyond a system of strong physical defenses. The inhabitants were there under duress. Combat capable men were conspicuous by their absence.

Fourteen months have seen a great change. There are now 92 strategic hamlets completed in the province, out of a programmed total of 302. Many have been carved out of areas wholly dominated by the Viet Cong for ten years or more. These, moreover, are now more than barbed wire enclosures into which women, children and aged men have been herded against their will, as was the case in Sunrise. The people have come willingly--in some cases having actually sent deputations to request the development of a hamlet. Economic and political developments have moved ahead in train with the defensive preparations. Two new hamlets visited--Bung Dia and Cau Dinh--had programs underway for pig raising, seed and fertilizer distribution, fruit tree planting, well digging and education. The people, unprepared for the visit, seemed enthusiastic. The hamlet chiefs had both been elected by the villagers. Neither had ever held any office before; both had just completed a province-run course in hamlet administration. These hamlets were impressive in every sense.

In Quang Ngai Province, also visited because of its long history of heavy Viet Cong infestation, progress was equally impressive. A year ago the province had no strategic hamlets deserving of the name. Today there are 273 completed and 125 more under construction, out of a total program of 419. Over two thirds of the people in the province are in hamlets, and the entire program is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. Here, as in Binh Duong Province, the people and the land have had to be wrested from the Viet Cong. The hamlet of Vinh Tuy, one of those visited in this province, rests on ground which only fell to Vietnamese forces after three attacks, in February of this year. It is still pretty crude, but the people in it, who were actually under Viet Cong control six months ago, seemed cheerful and busy. Most important, there was a reasonable percentage of young men of military age in evidence.

For contrast, a visit was also paid to Ninh Thuan Province, one of the two in which the strategic hamlet program is already fully completed. Here, 127 hamlets are in being, housing 97% of the people of the province. The hamlets differ greatly in quality and in physical character, being designed to suit the peculiarities of the varied population--which includes Vietnamese, Cham tribesmen and Montagnards. In several respects, however, they are similar. The all reflect a unified effort at training and equipping a hamlet militia contingent. They all are active in the radio warning system; and they all exhibit progress in the US/Vietnamese economic assistance program.

In fact, this province finds its problems now largely shifted from military matters to economic development. The area is tranquil-will probably soon be declared officially "white". There are no regular military forces remaining in the province and the peoples' concerns have now turned from the Viet Cong to an ambitious irrigation program and the development of rural power. The province, hopefully, is a foretaste of the future.

Throughout the visit to the central and northern parts of the country progress was noted in bringing together the US military and economic assistance programs. Every major military briefing attended in these regions included a presentation by a civilian member of the US Overseas Mission, and every discussion on strategic hamlets dwelt upon the indissoluble nature of our military/economic programs. This coordinated approach may have been in effect 15 months ago. If so, it was not nearly so obvious as today.

In the Delta, this degree of coordinated progress apparently has not yet been achieved. In Vinh Long Province, although the hamlet program is well along (206 out of 247) our economic participation is less in evidence. This may derive from the fact that there is not so much poverty in the Delta, or because the premium on security is still much greater than on economic improvement.

Military Operations

The Operational Phase of the National Campaign, directed to begin on 1 July, was actually in progress before that date. Over 1,000 assorted offensive operations are now conducted per month, over twice the level of a year ago. Not all are effectively executed, nor are all successful. In sum, however, they are putting great pressure on the Viet Cong, causing him casualties, degrading his resources and keeping him on the defensive.

In the forthcoming phase of the National Campaign, it is prescribed that every tactical unit-Regular, Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps--shall be offensively engaged in the field for twenty days per month. While somewhat unrealistic, the directive still promises even further intensification of operations and even greater stress on the Viet Cong.

Tactical operations of varying sizes were visited in the field. They varied in quality, from extremely impressive to just fair.

1. The 25th Division, in Quang Ngai has been in existence for exactly one year. During that period it has succeeded in driving the Viet Cong from the coastal plain into the mountains of the Annamite Chain, where they are now largely on the defensive. At the time of this visit all three regiments of the division were in the field, and some 50 small ambush type patrols were in progress. This effort has made the Viet Cong's food problem a grave one, has rendered the kidnapping of conscripts most difficult, is the cause of continued defections, and diminishes the enemy's capacity for coordinated offensive operations.

The division commander has the taste of blood and is convinced that he can destroy the Viet Cong forces in his province--or drive them elsewhere--by the end of the year.

2. The 23d Division, in Khanh Hoa Province is engaged in a similar campaign. At the time it was visited the division had two battalions, broken down into their small component units, patrolling in the mountainous area in the western part of the province. They had been continuously at this task for the preceding 26 days, concentrating on harrying the Viet Cong, making him move and destroying his resources. It is a well conceived and fruitfully executed effort. In the 26 day period they had seized sizeable grain stocks (120 tons), destroyed crops, bivouac areas and crude weapons shops. They had freed 293 persons from Viet Cong control-people who have hitherto been terrorized into tilling the Viet Cong fields and bearing their loads.

In all of this, only 26 Viet Cong had so far been killed and six captured, which seems somewhat disappointing until it is recalled that the total number of Viet Cong involved is probably small, and the task of bringing them to bay in the mountains very difficult. More important, by far, is that patrol and attack efforts of this type deprive the Viet Cong of his initiative. So long as he is on the defensive, it is plain that he cannot attack anyone.

3. A similar conclusion was reached concerning an operation in the Delta, where elements of five battalions combed an area where about 200 Viet Cong were supposed to be bivouacked. Some 60 were killed, and the disruption created by the operation certainly diminished greatly the capability of those who escaped to do anything offensive for some time to come.

4. A patrol type operation by an M-113 detachment into hard core Viet Cong territory adjacent to Zone D was a disappointment. By moving into the Viet Cong enclave, the unit struck a raw nerve. It was taking casualties from both mines and snipers, yet little was being done to develop the situation aggressively. At three o'clock on a bright afternoon the troops were already beginning to settle down for the evening, with the soldiers keeping very near to their vehicles-which they clearly regarded more as mobile redoubts than offensive conveyances Despite the demonstrated proximity of the enemy, there were no patrols; no aggressive activity. It will be remarkable if much comes of the operation, other than casualties. The unit commander (a captain) and his US advisor (a captain) had little to say, when questioned, beyond frustrated observations on the elusiveness of the Viet Cong.

The Buddhist Problem

The Buddhist matter seems to break cleanly into two separate problems--the question of the metropolitan political maneuverings in Saigon, Hue, etc. and the influence of the Buddhist issue on the actual counterinsurgency campaign.

This being essentially a military report, it will be pertinent, in connection with the first element, to state only that the issue is serving as nourishment for all varieties of dissidents, malcontents, king makers and coup plotters, and that some of the most articulate Buddhist Bonzes are probably motivated more by politics than by religious conviction. On this basis it is not likely that the problem will be allowed to reach an early or an agreeable end. The anti-Diemists will not relinquish lightly this Buddha-sent opportunity to attack Diem's position.

As to whether the affair has affected the war itself, Americans and Vietnamese of all stations were queried, and the nearer to the battle, the less gravely the problem was regarded. There appeared no evidence that the front line counterinsurgency effort has yet been impeded or decelerated at all by the crisis.

In Quang Ngai, for instance, the Province Chief-himself a Catholic-handled a group of demonstrators in the capital by inviting them to a free meal. The demonstration collapsed. In Binh Dinh, the commander of the 9th Division (a Buddhist) characterized the problem as regrettable, but one which time would solve.

At the same time, several Americans stated that this attitude of detachment in the field could not persist indefinitely; that sooner or later, if the matter is not resolved, the mid-rank military of Buddhist persuasion will begin to worry as to just what they would do if their unit were told to take military action against Buddhist demonstrators.

A significant point in this unfortunate matter is that the religious aspect of the issue has a narrower base than public reports might suggest, since the true percentage of practicing Buddhists is smaller than generally represented. These is a tendency to classify all non-Christians as Buddhists. IN fact, many are simple ancestor worshippers in the Chinese tradition, while other major religions are also represented in the country--including Confucianists, Taoists and Moslems. Finally, there 7,000,000 Montagnards, of whom many are animists.

"Open Arms"--The Amnesty Program/4/

/4/See Document 92.

First thoughts on the amnesty program are usually, "Can the Vietnamese really distinguish between simple refugees and genuine returning Viet Cong Sympathizers?" and "What assurance is there that the returnees will not re-defect to the Communists?"

A hint of an answer was found at the Chieu Hoi reindoctrination camp at Than Xa, Quang Ngai Province, where 115 returnees were observed undergoing reindoctrination.

The group was mostly men. They had come in voluntarily; some bringing weapons; all bringing intelligence which ultimately they transmitted to our side.

About a quarter were hard core Viet Cong. Another quarter were political cadre. The remainder were people who willingly followed the Viet Cong when the hamlet program and widespread military attacks caused the Viet Cong to retire westward from the plains to the mountains.

Most of this group were described by the US Sector Advisor as politically astute. They show evidence of having had careful Communist indoctrination. Some are sufficiently articulate to confirm that they were political instructors themselves. There seemed little reason to doubt the word of the Province Chief when he said that these were truly Viet Cong sympathizers and not refugees.

There are many reasons given for accepting the amnesty offer (usually received through leaflets), but they are generally polarized around one abstract attitude--disillusionment, and one concrete reality--hunger. In the north, hunger probably leads all the rest, although this is not true in the more fruitful south. Every one of the returnees queried during the visit to the Quang Ngai center got around to talking about food very quickly. They looked hungry, and are in poor physical shape.

It is too early to address the second question--whether the returnees will redefect. When asked this question, the tactical zone commander responded in this fashion. The program in Quang Ngai was begun on 17 December 1962. Since that time 823 people have passed through the rehabilitation center and thence returned to their own villages. A check is kept on all of them; none have yet gone back to the Communists.

The total number of "Open Arms" returnees--country wide, stands at 11,700. While more surrendered in June than in the preceding two months put together, it is not likely that there will be any vast domino effect. The base is too small. Over 60% of the population are already in strategic hamlets. In a few months the figure will be much higher. So there will actually not be a very great number of people available for the amnesty program to attract.

Nevertheless, those who have rallied to the government have already cut in to the Viet Cong logistic support structure, in areas where it badly hurts--food production, porterage and probably most important, native intelligence.

The US Advisory Presence

Forty-eight US advisors, from the Saigon level to enlisted men with tactical units, were asked to comment on the US/Vietnamese relationship. Their answers were singularly similar:

"There may be troubles, in this regard, elsewhere; but I have never had any difficulty at all."

"My counterpart wants me here, and says so often. He takes my advice."

"We have had our disagreements as to ways and means. Sometimes it takes a week for my advice to sink in; but we have come to understand one another."

Of the forty-eight, none could recall any change in attitude since the subject was raised by Counsellor Nhu two months ago. Several have discussed it candidly with their Vietnamese counterparts. Among these, the general reaction obtained seems to be that the attitude of Mr. Nhu is remote from the realities of the war. Apart from this, the warm and respectful advisor/advisee relationship is quite evident. General Harkins, in this regard, lays the bulk of the trouble-making proclivity at Nhu's door; considers Diem not to be an active participant.

One point noted frequently by the US advisors relates to language. The more senior Vietnamese commanders speak French, and some have fair English. The junior ones speak only Vietnamese, and struggle with English. Thus, ideally, they point out that we should send senior advisors with skill in French, while the lower ranking advisory personnel should have a basic grounding in Vietnamese before they come.

Laos

It is not difficult to synthesize the views of US/Vietnamese officialdom in Vietnam on the matter of Laos. They are all agreed on one point' there is a direct and pressing relationship between affairs in the two countries and the worse things go in Laos, the more difficult matters will be in Vietnam.

Their viewpoints differ only as to degree. The Saigon CIA representative is unequivocal in his conviction that if Laos falls to the Communists the loss of Vietnam must inevitably follow. General Harkins believes that the loss of Laos would render our problem in Vietnam more difficult, but that it would not make a favorable conclusion impossible.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese commanders at all levels speak with feeling of the flow of warlike essentials and key personnel into their country via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While generally unable to produce abundant hard evidence of the fact, they still, in recounting their day to day combat experiences, underscore that external influence on the battle--actual and potential--must form a part of every calculation. Certainly, the material flow could be greatly increased, should the Communists choose to do so, particularly were Tchepone, Attopeu and Saravane to come wholly under their control. It is for this reason that there is strong sentiment, on both the US and Vietnamese sides for more covert pressure on the Laos corridor and on North Vietnam.

Miscellaneous Observations

Visit with the Minister of Defense

Mr. Thuan expressed satisfaction with the growth of offensive military activity, and enthusiasm with President Diem's formal approval of 1 July as the beginning of Phase II of the National Campaign.

In response to a question as to how the Viet Cong would react to this intensified effort, he responded that, in his judgment, they are already reacting—steadily acquiring forces and material in southern Laos. These, he says, will be used in a powerful attack in the highlands or Quang Ngai, to deal the Vietnamese military a hard blow, which can then be publicized as a basis for seeking a negotiated peace.

In this regard, Mr. Thuan is quite as alert as any interested American regarding the unfavorable image of the Vietnam war in the US press, and the necessity for getting what he called "the correct story" before the US Congress. Also, like the interested Americans, he was not prepared to offer any dramatic suggestions as to just how to achieve this purpose.

When asked what, in his view, most needed doing to get the National Campaign forward effectively, he responded with three specifics:

a. Settle the Buddhist problem quickly and completely. (On this he expressed great determination and at best, restrained optimism.)

b. Undertake numerous small scale incursions into Southern Laos, for intelligence purposes and to disrupt development of the Viet Cong logistic mechanism.

c. Increase greatly our sabotage, harassment, intelligence and subversive activities in North Vietnam.

The Vietnamese Organization for Counterinsurgency

The Vietnamese have a Special Group (Counterinsurgency) too. They call it the "Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets". It is chaired by Counsellor Nhu, and includes the heads of all the civil ministries, the Chief of the Joint General Staff and the four Corps Tactical Zone commanders. It has much authority, in both the approval of plans for clear and hold operations and for hamlet development. It supervises execution closely through on-site observation and periodic progress reports.

The Continuity of Viet Cong Strength

The intensity of offensive operations is growing steadily, at a cost to the Viet Cong of over 2,000 battle casualties per month. Defections are increasing rapidly--from 200 per month in January to 450 in June. Over 60% of the Vietnamese rural population is in strategic hamlets, with a consequent narrowing of the Viet Cong recruitment base. Finally, the "Open Arms" amnesty program is beginning to diminish the number of active Viet Cong sympathizers and supporters.

Against this background, it is not surprising to find the Advisory Command's best estimate of Viet Cong irregular strength to have dropped--from a high of 100,000 to 80,000. The Viet Cong now have less to offer the Vietnamese youth and, to the extent that they must rely on kidnapping to procure replacements, their problem is greatly complicated by the personal security afforded by the strategic hamlet.

Regular Viet Cong strength, on the other hand, remains about constant at 22,000-25,000. Both the Vietnamese and US authorities questioned were convinced that this strength is maintained largely by infiltration, supplemented by intensive training of selected local cadres.

Reduction in US Forces

It was not possible, in this brief visit, to do more than observe and to sample opinion on the subject, at various levels of authority.

Observation underscored these realities:

a. The shooting part of the war is moving to a climax. Our help for the Vietnamese in logistic and tactical support is thus probably not susceptible of much reduction in the immediate future.

b. On the other hand, the training effort has passed its climax. All divisions are organized and re rapidly being trained. The Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps training programs are also well advanced; and training of strike forces and similar paramilitary elements is maturing rapidly. A reduction in the advisory area is thus a logical prospect.

Discussion of the problem with responsible officers elicited the general reaction that reduction is feasible in both advisory personnel and in the various US staff and administrative support forces. General Harkins considers that a reduction of 1,000 men could be accomplished now, without affecting adversely the conduct of the war. About half of the positions vacated, as he sees it, would come as a result of the Vietnamese achieving greater self-sufficiency in training and command matters, with the other half coming from a withdrawal or replacement of US units.

The Press

Very little observed during this visit had any real sensitivity or secrecy. Almost anyone could see it without violating security.

This gave rise to the thought that what is needed is a few venturesome newsmen who are willing to forego the comforts of the city, and endure a little mud and discomfort. Those so inclined would be rewarded with a picture of resolution and progress which they would not quickly forget.

Conclusion

Almost the whole of this visit was concentrated in the field, observing the people--military and civilian, US and Vietnamese--who are carrying the front line burden. From them the sounds of confidence, achievement and cautious optimism can be plainly heard, and with growing resonance.

Military operations are more effective; rural economic progress is manifest; US/Vietnamese coordination is heartening; and the morale of US military forces is classic.

Acknowledging that this trip dwelt mainly upon the rural sector; acknowledging further the potential gravity of the political vibrations in Saigon; and recognizing the rapidity with which the situation could be worsened by adverse developments in Laos, the visit still added substance to the view that we are indeed winning the war, that our present course is sound and that, resolutely pursued, it will see the job done.

 

208. Memorandum of a Conversation/1/

Washington, July 5, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Secretary's Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330, July 1963. Secret. Drafted by Wood and approved in U on July 18. The meeting was held in the Department of State. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. II, pp. 728-729.

SUBJECT
Current Situation in Viet-Nam

PARTICIPANTS
George W. Ball, Under Secretary
Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., American Ambassador to Viet-Nam
Chalmers B. Wood, Director, WG/VN
George S. Springsteen (U)

Ambassador Nolting opened with a review of the Buddhist situation which he characterized as serious. He regretted that Diem had not taken it in hand earlier, but emphasized that Diem had given his word that the agreement would be carried out. It was Nolting's experience that when Diem gave his word, he followed through although sometimes it was handled in his own way.

In reply to a question from the Under Secretary as to the future course of events, the Ambassador replied that although interference by the Nhus was serious, he believed that the GVN would be able to come through this one slowly. As to tactics, the more Diem was prodded the slower he went. While Nhu was troublesome he was chiefly responsible for gains which had been made in the provincial pacification program.

Giving a characterization of Mme. Nhu, Ambassador Nolting said that she was authoritarian to her finger tips, violently nationalistic and an attractive woman who was both glib and intolerant. She considered herself a most important person in her own right since she was head of the Women's Solidarity Movement. Her manner was her worst drawback.

The Under Secretary asked what would happen if there were a change in government. The Ambassador replied that he would give his view which was not completely shared by Mr. Wood. In his view if a revolution occurred in Viet-Nam which grew out of the Buddhist situation, the country would be split between feuding factions and the Americans would have to withdraw and the country might be lost to the Communists. This led to the question of how much pressure we could exert on Diem. Mr. Nolting replied that if we repudiated him on this issue his government would fall. The Ambassador believed that Diem would live up to the agreement unless he believed that he was dealing with a political attempt to cause his overthrow.

As to the role of the Catholics in the Government, Ambassador Nolting did not believe that Diem gave them preference. Unfortunately, many persons in the government felt that it would help their careers if they became Catholic. It was true that the Government had been unwise in the ostentatious manner in which it supported and encouraged the publicizing of Catholic ceremonies, however. In general, Viet-Nam had been a country in which there was a great degree of religious tolerance. Now the situation seemed out of hand. It was deplorable because we had been winning.

Speaking of relations between the USSR and Communist China, the Ambassador added that if there were a political collapse in Viet-Nam and the U.S. had to withdraw, the Chinese would say that this proved that the right way to expand Communism was to use force.

The Under Secretary inquired whether there was any one person around whom conflicting groups in Viet-Nam might coalesce in the event of Diem's disappearance from the scene. Ambassador Nolting replied that Vice President Tho, a Buddhist, would be the best person, but would be opposed by Nhu. The Under Secretary said that everyone agreed that the Ambassador had done a "swell job" in Viet-Nam. The Ambassador thanked the Under Secretary and said he had been pleased to have been able to speak to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The discussion seemed to have gone well and the questions had been friendly.

Turning to the appointment of Ambassador Lodge, Mr. Nolting commented that the more Lodge was built up as a strong man who was going to tell Diem where to get off, the harder it would be for Lodge to do his job in Viet-Nam.

The Under Secretary suggested that Ambassador Nolting could reassure President Diem on this point.

 

209. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 6, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hue, Kuala Lumpur, Rangoon, Vientiane, Manila, Paris, London, New Delhi, and Djakarta.

39. Dept pass DOD, MilRep to President, JCS/ISA, ACSI, CNO, CIA, HQUSAF (AFCIN & AFCIN-EI-A) AID, OIA, and USIA. CINCPAC also pass CINCPAC PO LAD, CINCPACFLT, CINCUSARPAC, CINPACAF, DOD/PRO. Bangkok also pass JUSMAAG and JUSMAAG, Deputy Chief. Phnom Penh also pass MAAG. Taipei also for Taiwan Defense Command. Ref: Embtel 1257./2/ General Harkins has requested that following amplification of section B (1) of TF Saigon monthly report of June 29 be circulated to all addressees:

/2/Telegram 1257 from Saigon, June 29, was the monthly report by the Saigon Task Force, containing an overall assessment of the success of the initial phase of the South Vietnamese Government's National Campaign, which reads as follows:

"Although directive states that Phase II of National Campaign Plan to be initiated on 1 July, specific tasks outlined are more in consonance with those prescribed for Phase I of Plan. Ngo Dinh Nhu had established 30 June as date Phase I of Plan would be completed. This based on projected completion of two-thirds of strategic hamlets then planned. This target has not been reached, and indications are that 31 December 1963 is more realistic target date for most provinces. Current analyses by MACV indicate that populace and land area base required to provide posture necessary for sustained operations against VC main forces has not, as yet, been obtained.

"It is apparent that reason for directing implementation of Phase II of National Campaign Plan is psychological and it cannot, in fact, be implemented at this time. Specific actions prescribed suggest that this is realized at least by military." (Ibid.)

At repeated urging of General Harkins to President Diem, Secretary Thuan and General Ty, JGS, RVNAF, issued instructions to corps commanders as noted in monthly report of June 29. Principal political criterion for successful conclusion of Phase I of National Campaign Plan (NCP) was completion of 2/3 of Strategic Hamlet Program. This criterion had been met nationwide, except for Delta in IV Corps tactical zone, well before target completion date of 1 July 1963. It could have been serious set-back had RVNAF taken this opportunity to rest on their oars throughout rest of country while IV Corps, which has by far most difficult task politically and militarily, caught up. To lose or level out momentum built up by RVNAF at this stage would be unthinkable in terms of achieving quickest practicable victory over insurgency.

June 29th wrap-up report treatment is technically correct in terms of original NCP. JGS instructions of June 18 adjusts military tasks and concepts in manner acceptable to US. It accommodates situation and capabilities of both GVN and VC after four months of concerted and aggressive action in all arenas and with all instruments of conflict. Terms Phase I, II and III used in NCP have now lost all real validity in context evaluating over-all national progress. Tasks and objectives outlined in three nominal phases, however, remain essentially valid and provide solid guidelines for control, direction and evaluation of counter-insurgency military effort by GVN authorities and their US advisors. Depending on local RVN conditions, personalities and capabilities and VC counterparts which face them, there is every reason believe that, in many military and political subdivisions of country, pacification will shortly be so far along, if current rates are maintained, that major elements of regular RVNAF forces can be redeployed to more active areas where progress is not as fast and VC problem is tougher.

General Ty's order might be narrowly construed as limited to psychological impact on recipients in some areas of RVN, principally in Delta. Even here, however, instructions clarify and re-emphasize uncompleted tasks and objectives of so-called Phase I of NCP. As a practical matter, NCP objectives of establishing GVN infrastructure of a broad population and land area base while destroying VC popular base, and destruction of main force VC installations and forces, are mutually supporting, though to different degrees in different areas of RVN. Current and continuing problem facing US military advisors in their military planning role is to determine logical balance of effort in each of several areas of RVN while local balances of VC versus GVN strength vary substantially. Persuading GVN and RVNAF authorities to accept these solutions or to devise and implement equally effective solutions of their own as aggressively and professionally as they possibly can, will determine rate of success in counter-insurgency. Progress here is afoot. There remains no doubts that military defeat of VC is attainable, barring catastrophic political or social development in RVN.

In summary, MACV notes that as of 1 July, over 2/3 of strategic hamlets planned have been completed, nationwide. Over eight million people are now living in these hamlets, who together with those living in secure metropolitan areas, comprise well over 2/a of population. RVNAF forces overall have attained required posture vis-à-vis VC forces to launch accelerated operations to destroy them. Conditions for launching Phase II as defined in original NCP have been met. Phase II has in fact been launched, while some tasks originally described for Phase I are being cleaned up concurrently.

It is requested that all holders of 29 June monthly report apply these contents to report and annotate section B, 1, of report to refer to them.

Trueheart

 

210. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 7, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, PPV 7 S VIET-US. Limited Official Use; Operational Immediate.

46. Dept pass USIA. Altercation took place this morning between Vietnamese plainclothes police and American correspondents, following Buddhist ceremony at Saigon Chantareansey Pagoda. One AP reporter (Arnett)/2/ roughed up; cameras at least two other reporters damaged by police.

/2/Peter Arnett, a New Zealand national.

I have talked to several of correspondents involved (Browne, Sheehan, Halberstam) as well as several Mission personnel present on scene. Appears that press had been informed by Buddhists in advance of ceremony (as had our people). They showed up at 0800 and were allowed to observe and photograph ceremony without hindrance. (I understand CBS had camera and lights actually mounted in window of pagoda.)

At about 0900 bonzes and bonzesses left pagoda and moved in procession up very narrow alley towards main street. Police stopped them at exit of alley with object of preventing their carrying procession further. This was eventually accomplished without apparently any serious protest from bonzes.

At point procession stopped American reporters moved into alley to take pictures. It seems clear that plain-clothes police sought to interfere with picture taking and that in process Arnett's camera was snatched away from him and he was thrown to ground. Picture thereafter is far from clear but there seems no doubt that plainclothesmen sought to prevent picture taking and damaged cameras. Also clear that uniformed police made no effort to prevent damage to cameras and in fact tacitly abetted plainclothesmen. There is also no doubt that reporters, at least once fracas had started, acted in belligerent manner towards police.

Correspondents charge that above was deliberate GVN effort to provoke incident and indicative of tougher GVN line on foreign press and Buddhists. They demand formal Embassy protest to GVN/3/ and Embassy facilities to file their copy--which they claim to have information GVN will hold up.

/3/According to Mecklin, who was present, the correspondents had a "stormy session" with Trueheart in his office and demanded that a formal diplomatic protest of the incident be made to President Diem. Trueheart refused, on the grounds of inadequate information. (Mecklin, Mission in Torment, p. 173)

On basis all available information, I am far from satisfied there was planned harassment of press in this instance, particularly considering fact that reporters had been operating freely for at least an hour before incident. Much more likely, in my view, that this was relatively commonplace contretemps in crowded place between reporters and police. Police officials on scene informed Embassy security officer that they so regard it and that incident, in their view, is closed.

Although I do not think there is basis for formal protest, we have nevertheless already expressed our concern to GVN and Mecklin is seeing DGI Tao at 4 PM for further discussion of matter, including making sure if possible that reporters' cables are not held up.

I also do not believe that case of this kind justifies filing of copy by government channels but would welcome guidance on this point.

Since above written, Mecklin reports Tao and Khoi have told him that there no change in GVN policy towards press and that there will be no delay in transmission of press cables. According to Tao, police claim that correspondents provoked them by protesting police hold-up of procession and that one correspondent struck police first. Tao says he does not wish to pursue this, not feeling sure of police story. Given extreme emotional involvement of correspondents these days--amounting regrettably to intense hatred of all things GVN, in certain cases--I would not feel sure about refuting police.

Browne has just called to say he and Arnett have been ordered to report to police station 0730 tomorrow. At Browne's request, I am assigning consular officer to go with them. We are also seeking explanation from DGI./4/

/4/The Embassy reported on July 8 that assault charges were filed against Arnett and Browne. (Telegram 52 from Saigon, July 8; Department of State, Central Files, PPV 7 S VIET-US) The Department instructed the Embassy to request officially that the charges be dropped, taking the matter to President Diem if necessary to underline the importance of the request. (Telegram 38 to Saigon, July 8; ibid.) Trueheart took up the pending charges with Thuan on July 8 and July 10, but President Diem did not agree to drop the charges until July 17, after the South Vietnamese Directorate General of Information issued a communiqué supporting the police account of the incident. (Telegrams 58, July 9; 67, July 10; 81, July 12; and 97, July 17, all from Saigon; telegrams 58, 67, and 97 are ibid., PPV 7 S VIET-US; telegram 81 is ibid., SOC 14-1 S VIET)

In reporting on the incident, in telegram 65 from Saigon, July 10, Trueheart observed:

"Department should also be aware that in recent weeks resident correspondents have become so embittered towards GVN that they are saying quite openly to anyone who will listen that they would like to see regime overthrown. GVN no doubt has this well-documented. GVN also unquestionably considers that correspondents have been actively encouraging Buddhists. Diem is therefore most unlikely to accept view that correspondents merely carrying on normal functions of keeping US public informed." (Ibid., PPV 7 S VIET-US)

Trueheart

 

211. Telegram From Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press, David Halberstam of The New York Times, Peter Kalischer of CBS News, and Neil Sheehan of United Press International to the President/1/

Saigon, July 7, 1963, 10:20 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 7/1/ 63-7/20/63. The telegram was sent via commercial channels to the White House which repeated it as telegram HYWH 4-63 at 6:32 p.m. to the President at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where he was spending the weekend. A note on the source text indicates that a copy was sent to the Department of State for Wood.

Mister President, this Sunday morning at the entrance to Chantareansay Pagoda in Saigon nine representatives of American news organizations were subjected to a swift unprovoked and violent attack by government plain clothes police while covering an otherwise peaceful Buddhist religious ceremony. One correspondent was knocked down and kicked. Other newsmen were shoved, jostled and struck by rocks thrown by the plainclothesmen-all in full sight of forty to sixty uniformed metropolitan policemen and a squad of riot police. In the course of the attack one camera was smashed and several damaged.

The uniformed police did not offer any protection to the newsmen and in fact did everything to prevent the correspondents from apprehending the men who were attacking them.

The inescapable conclusion is that the Government of South Vietnam, a country to which the United States is heavily committed, has begun a campaign of open physical intimidation to prevent the covering of news which we feel Americans have a right to know.

Previously foreign correspondents have been expelled from South Vietnam. This is the first time they have been assaulted by representatives of the government. We believe a precedent has been set for increasing obstruction and violence. Since the United States Embassy here does not deem this incident serious enough to make a formal protest, we respectfully request that you, Mister President, protest against this attack and obtain assurances that will not be repeated./2/

/2/The Department responded to this telegram on the same day by calling the Washington offices of AP, UPI, and The New York Times and reading them on background a paraphrase of telegram 46 (supra) except for the last two sentences of paragraph 6, the first clause of paragraph 7, paragraph 8, and the last sentence of paragraph 9. (Telegram 37 to Saigon. July 7; Department of State, Central Files, PPV 7 S VIET-US)

Sincerely yours--

Malcolm Browne
Associated Press

David Halberstam
New York Times

Peter Kalischer
CBS News

Neil Sheehan
United Press International

 

212. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report/1/

TDCS-3/552,770

Washington, July 8,1963.

/1/Source: U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63. Confidential; No Foreign Dissem. Regarding these CIA reports, see footnote 1, Document 190.

SUBJECT
Situation Appraisal of the Political Situation as of 1200 hours on 6 July

1. This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this organization or any component thereof. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at 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. In Saigon the political situation remains unsettled with both the government and the Buddhists continuing to exchange charges of bad faith. Elements on each side appear intent upon the submission of the other. Against this background, the coup atmosphere has become perceptibly heavier. During the past few days, coup groups have formed to take advantage of the instability attending the Buddhist crisis. It is not clear at this time whether these groups intend to await further emotional outbursts, which would occur if there are additional Buddhist self-immolations, or whether they are now prepared to move ahead at a time of their choosing, regardless of what the Buddhists do. Buddhist strategy is polarizing around the views of Thich Tri Quang, head of the General Association of Vietnamese Buddhists for Central Vietnam, who has openly stated his intention not to cease agitation until the Diem government falls. Thich Tri Quang also has indicated his intention, if necessary, to call for suicide volunteers. Among thpse allegedly ready to volunteer are Dieu Hue, the mother of Vietnam's leading scientist and Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Niger and Senegal, and her sister, Tu Dieu, the aunt of the Government of Vietnam (GVN) Director of Youth, Cao Xuan Vy.

3. Three coup groups have been reported to be now cooperating, one headed by Lieutenant Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, former Chief of Kien Hoa Province, and then Ngo Dinh Nhu's special investigator for strategic hamlets, another characterized as the Tran Kim Tuyen group, and a third, primarily military in composition. Little is known about the Thao and the military groups; somewhat more about the Tuyen group.

4. Tran Kim Tuyen has been identified as an organizer, but not the leader, of a coup group which is said to include the Catholic Archbishop of Saigon, Pham Van Binh; some Buddhists and some military supporters, including Major General Duong Van Minh, military advisor to the President, and Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, Commander of the III Corps area, which borders on the Saigon metropolitan area. Tuyen has had recent contact and a long time friendship with two of the Buddhist activists, Thich Tam Chau, Vice President of the General Association of Vietnamese Buddhists, and Thich Thien Minh, Chairman of the Buddhist Intersect Committee dealing with the GVN and head of the Buddhist Students of Central Vietnam. Major General Tran Van Don, Commander of the Army of Vietnam, has also admitted that he too is also involved in coup plotting./2/ Don has no direct command of troops, but could lend important support to military moves on the part of General Dinh from his General Staff position. Tuyen has requested the preparation of a manifesto for "a new government." Plans also have allegedly been made by Tuyen to take over the Ministry of Civic Action and all public media at the first moment of a coup, which will not be a military putsch, but a Palace revolution involving the assassination of Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife and the "elimination" of President by less forceable means if possible, but by assassination if necessary.

/2/According to CIA Information Report TDCS-3/552,822, July 8, General Don said on July 8 that there was a military plan for the overthrow of the Diem government, and that, except for one or two general officers all were in agreement. Don did not specify the timing of the planned coup, but said that he did not plan to leave the Saigon area for the next 10 days. (Ibid.)

5. There is no direct evidence, but the inference can be drawn from available reports, that the chosen political leader of the Tuyen group would be Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho, who would represent legal succession in the event of the demise or resignation of President Diem. There is no intimation that Tho has participated in coup planning. There have been numerous rumors that Tho has resigned, and an individual who is in a position to have such access has confirmed Tho's submission of his resignation. However, Secretary of State at the Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan on 4 July 1963 categorically denied that Tho had resigned. On the morning of 5 July Tho claimed that he had not resigned, although Tho, at the time, indicated his dislike for political problems and his personal upset in being involved in the present Buddhist controversy. Tho is the chief of the Interministerial Council which negotiated with the General Association of Buddhists. He was the only Buddhist member of that council and has been the object of some criticism for his alleged concessions to the Buddhists from Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu.

6. If, as is suspected, the military group, the Tuyen group, and the Thao group have indeed combined in a marriage of convenience, their chances of maintaining unity after a successful coup would probably be poor because of the many personal animosities that would probably exist in such a group. Although Tuyen has strong support in the Civil Service, through persons he has carefully seeded in the bureaucracy over a period of years, he is generally openly and ardently despised by the military who would hold the predominance of power in a post-coup situation. Unless the military leaders opt for the legalities of Vice President Tho's assumption of the Presidency, a military leader might arise to seize the office of Chief Executive. Such a seizure probably also would be accompanied by considerable instability as one of the Generals attempted to assert supremacy.

7. The timing of possible coup events is not yet clear. Allegedly, the military committee of the Tuyen group has recommended that the coup take place any time up until 10 July; however, the group's central committee has not yet given its consent. Others have leaned toward the 7th of July, the traditional date for the celebration of Double 7 which commemorates President Diem's accession to power in 1954. One individual indicated the timing to be prior to the end of August. We believe that any serious coup group may try to act before the 31 August elections.

8. Where the loyalties of the rank and file of the military would lie in a coup situation are hard to predict. Some of the Air Force personnel report considerable disaffection at high and medium levels. The paratroop brigade is also said to be disaffected and the loyalties of the Navy are uncertain, although in the past two coupe, the Navy commander, Captain Ho Tan Quyen, has proved to be a staunch supporter of Diem. The armored brigade is reported to be so split in opinion, because of the Buddhist situation, as to make its loyalties questionable. Recently, Major General Duong Van Minh, military advisor to the President, stated his fear that the Buddhist issue was definitely dividing the loyalties of the Vietnamese Army.

9. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Buddhist leadership, now ensconced at Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon and eager to present its case to anyone who happens to come along, either is unable to believe, or prefers not to believe, that the GVN, as it is presently constituted, has any intention over the long run of living up to the letter or the spirit of the 16 June agreement. For the moment, the Buddhist complaints center on alleged chicanery concerning the number of arrested participants in the 16th June riot who have been released; alleged GVN support and encouragement of the discredited Co Son Mon sect; and charges, for which the Buddhists claim documentary proof, that the government, or elements thereof, have backhandedly encouraged the Republican Youth to question whether the government may not have been too generous in its concessions to the Buddhists. The Buddhists also claim that the GVN has quietly sent instructions to its provincial representatives to give pro forma lip service to the agreement with the Buddhists for the time being, but to ready themselves for future repressive measures. The Buddhist hierarchy alleges that even now Buddhist monks and nuns in the provinces are being subjected to various restraints.

10. It is difficult to pin down these charges. Judged by the regime's past performance in dealing with political opponents, which is generally the way it views the Buddhist leadership, and by reports from others, there is probably considerable truth to these Buddhist assertions. However, the relative merit or truth of the Buddhist charges is not as important in the present context as the fact that the Buddhists are sticking to them, reflecting a profound chasm between them and the GVN. Buddhist spokesmen at Xa Loi convey the unmistakable impression that even if the government can satisfactorily refute these charges, the Buddhists will raise new charges and the militant wing indicate they intend to keep up the pressure until the Diem regime is overthrown. Thus, the Buddhists, at least those under the influence of Thich Tri Quang, appear to be consciously transferring their struggle to the political realm. Whether they are using political means to overthrow Diem out of honest conviction that only in this way can greater religious equality be assured in Vietnam, or whether more secular motives are also involved, can at this time only be a matter of surmise. The Buddhist leaders vigorously deny accepting the help of, or being influenced by, outside opposition political elements, and to date there is little evidence with which to challenge that claim. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the line here between formal participation in religious affairs as a Buddhist monk and secular life is extremely fluid. The Buddhist struggle, adopted initially essentially to redress real and imagined religious grievances, may well have transformed itself into an entirely new political force whose aims transcend the basically religious purposes for which it was originally set in motion.

11. The two weeks deadline set by the Buddhists for GVN compliance with the 16 June accord passed without the previously threatened further Buddhist manifestations. Since then, while promising further suicides, the Buddhists have progressively pushed back the timetable for their threatened acts. Their hesitation may have been caused by a variety of reasons, perhaps including a desire to see the effect of international pressures on Diem; a suspicion or even knowledge that a coup would be shortly attempted; and/or, a determination to wait and see how the rumored struggle within the GVN itself over the Buddhist question played itself out. In any event, it would be a mistake to exclude the possibility of additional self-immolations or other equally upsetting methods of sacrificial self-destruction. Some of the Buddhist leaders appear completely set on the elimination of the Diem regime by one means or another.

12. There are indications that the Diem regime is aware of the peril which it is now in, but there are equally voluminous signs of divided counsel on how to cope with the problem. A Ngo family conference was held in Hue on 29 and 30 June, but unfortunately its results are still unknown. From the Times of Vietnam articles, which periodically refan the flames of controversy, from Ngo Dinh Nhu's statements and from other bits of information, it appears clear that the Nhus were opposed to going as far as the government did in the 16 June agreement. It seems equally clear that Secretary of State at the Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan and Vice President Tho, with Minister of Interior Bui Van Luong included, but perhaps reluctantly, are in favor of the agreement they hammered out with the Buddhists and would like to see it honorably carried out. Ngo Dinh Can's position on the Buddhist issue is the subject of conflicting reports, and the President's mood is even more difficult to fathom. The best guess is that at the moment he is being buffeted by conflicting advice within his immediate entourage and by various domestic and international pressures, and that he has not yet made up his mind. Almost certainly, the Diem regime is currently undergoing a crisis of decision as to whether to adopt repressive tactics against the Buddhists or to make further conciliatory gestures toward them.

13. In making that decision, Diem faces a difficult dilemma. Repressive measures, such as the arrest of his leading Buddhist antagonists, might play into his enemies' hands by creating just the pretext they have been looking for to move decisively against him. If he does nothing, he will invite international condemnation by elements ready to accept the Buddhists' case against him lock, stock and barrel, as well as to permit the internal situation to drift even more dangerously close to disaster for his regime. However, if he makes the gestures of further conciliation toward the Buddhists currently being pressed upon him, he has no assurance that these will satisfy them and no guarantee that such gestures, which could be interpreted as additional signs of weakness, would not merely whet the appetite of his antagonists for further unsustainable concessions. Although the latter course would appear to be the least of several evils from Diem's point of view, it is feared that it is the one least congenial to the President's temperament, and it is not probable that he will adopt it, regardless of the pressures imposed upon him.

14. Field Dissem. State USMACV CINCPAC ARPAC PACAF PACFLT

 

213. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 9, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.

57. Following letter dated July 7, addressed to Ambassador and signed by Reverend Thich Tam Chau as Chairman of Inter-Sect Committee for Defense of Buddhism, received yesterday. Letter is typed on official stationery of above committee.

Begin verbatim text:

The series of misfortunes that have been occurring to Vietnam Buddhism since May 8, 1963, must not be unknown to Your Excellency. It is also believed that Your Excellency has been fully informed of the development of the situation since the signing of the joint communiqué between the Government of Vietnam and our Association.

The whole affair now seems to be moving to a new stage, since police have not hesitated to bully international reporters this morning, and we have every reason to expect the worst in the days to come.

We then have the honor to appeal to your assistance and that of the U.S. forces now living on the fend of Vietnam who represent, to our eyes, the noblest humanitarian traditions and the love for justice and freedom. We do not want to ask you and the citizens of the United States who have been giving considerable help to this country, even their own lives, to support us in order to overthrow the Ngo Dinh Diem government. We Just ask you-in the name of justice and humanity-to protect our Xa Loi Pagoda and the lives of Buddhist leaders from destruction and assassination. It could not be unknown to you that nothing will withhold our government when it wants to achieve its aim, and a St. Barthelemy Night/2/ is not to be excluded from our assumption.

/2/Reference is apparently to the "St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre" of Protestants in France, August 23-August 24, 1572.

Would you please then consider the possibility of placing the Xa Loi Pagoda under a discreet protection of the U.S. forces now available. in Saigon. Our promiscuity (sic)/3/ with U.S.O.M. headquarters seems to be a favorable factor for such an emergency.

/3/As on the source text. Presumably the word should be "proximity."

Please accept, Excellency, our deepest gratitude for whatever you will be doing for Buddhism in Vietnam.

End verbatim text.

Comment: I plan to get word discreetly to Chau that letter received and that U.S. cannot meet his request. Given fact that GVN would probably consider letter sufficient basis to try Chau for treason-not to mention propaganda use that could be made of it in raising question about Buddhists' real objective-it is difficult to believe Buddhists will publish it. However, I do not count on rational action these days, and it is possible that Buddhists might consider that by publicizing letter they would forestall GVN repressive action. If letter is published, believe we will have to send written reply stating U.S. does not intervene in internal Vietnamese affairs and has no authority to provide security protection for Vietnamese citizens or facilities./4/

/4/In telegram 62 from Saigon, July 9, the Embassy reported that word had been passed to Chau that the United States could not accede to the request outlined in his letter. Chau responded that he understood the U.S. position and did not intend to publish his letter. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

Trueheart

 

214. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 9, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

59. CINCPAC for POLAD. Embtel 44./2/ Thuan informed me today that following conversation reported reftel he had asked Diem directly whether he planned speech on Buddhist problem. Diem said he did not. Thuan said he concluded that Luong in talking to CAS officer (Embtel 41)/3/ must have been referring to passage on problem contained Double Seven speech (Embtel 49)./4/ Thuan agreed with me that latter not helpful.

/2/In telegram 44 from Saigon, July 6, Trueheart reported that he told Thuan that morning that he found the situation in Saigon increasingly puzzling. On the one hand, Vice President Tho was sending conciliatory messages to the Buddhists and Counselor Nhu had publicly called on the Republican Youth to support the June 16 agreement. On the other hand, the Times of Vietnam had published an attack on the Buddhists and had charged the United States with involvement in the 1960 coup attempt against the Diem government. At the same time, Trueheart had learned through other sources that President Diem was about to make a long-anticipated conciliatory speech on the Buddhist question. Thuan could not explain the conflicting signals issued by his government, and described the situation as "un pander de crabes." He added that Diem's speech was still being cleared within the government. (Ibid., POL 15 S VIET)

/3/Telegram 41 from Saigon, July 6, reported on a conversation on July 5 between Minister of the Interior Luong and an American official. In the course of the conversation, Luong said that Diem would make a major speech on the Buddhist situation in the near future. (Ibid., POL S VIET)

/4/ Telegram 49 from Saigon, July 8, reported on a "Double Seven" statement made by President Diem on July 7. The statement contained a brief paragraph on the Buddhist problem, using it as an example of a problem "settled in spirit of community responsibility." (Ibid., POL 26 S VIET)

Thuan also indicated that he had had no success in getting GVN orders to provinces published and gave every evidence of having run out of steam on Buddhist problem.

I told Thuan I was most discouraged over situation and particularly lack of GVN actions. I also found offensive continuing articles in Times of Vietnam seeking link US with 1960 coup/5/ and taunt Buddhists.

/5/The Department of State reacted sharply to the allegation of U.S. involvement in the 1960 attempt to overthrow the Diem government. Telegram 31 to Saigon, July 5, instructed Trueheart to deny any U.S. involvement, and noted, for Trueheart's information, that on November 11, 1960, when Diem's palace was surrounded by artillery, Ambassador Durbrow had used every means at his disposal to urge both sides to avoid a bloodbath. (Ibid., POL S VIET-US) See Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. I, pp. 631 ff.

I spent all day yesterday accompanying Ambassador Bowles on visits to Diem, Tho, Thuan and Mau./6/ Buddhist problem not mentioned directly by Diem in session which lasted nearly four hours nor was it referred to in other talks except when Bowles complimented Tho on June 16 agreement. Tho did not follow up.

/6/Ambassador Chester Bowles visited Saigon on July 7 and July 8 on his way to take up his new post as Ambassador to India. See Documents 216 and 231.

Trueheart

 

215. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, July 9, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Schlesinger Papers, South Vietnam. Secret.

SUBJECT
Vietnam

I attach an analysis of the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam/2/ by [less than 1 line not declassified]. While I don't believe it warrants being passed on to President, I think it does present a point of view which is shared by Ambassador Nolting.

/2/Document 212.

The main points are:

(a) The Buddhist crisis is more political than religious.

(b) Diem cannot be persuaded to dispense with the services of his family and will probably adopt more rigorous and oppressive policies toward the activist Buddhist leadership.

(c) While there has been a potentially dangerous increase in coup plotting, it is too early to predict an overthrow of the Government within the next few months.

Harriman and Hilsman would agree with (a) but would tend to disagree with (b) and (c). Their main point is that the United States must avoid allowing its own interests to be confused with those of the regime in Saigon. If our estimate is that Diem will take appropriate measures to pacify the situation and will thus survive, then in our own best interests we could be active in our support of him personally. If, on the other hand, our estimate is that his political ineptitude in recent weeks has so weakened his support within Vietnam that he cannot be expected to hold out much longer, then we should be careful to maintain a reasonably friendly touch with potential leaders of non-Communist coup attempts. Our dilemma at the moment is that we cannot yet agree on the estimate. In general, people in Washington are somewhat more pessimistic about Diem's chances of riding this one out than people in the field. You can argue both ways on whose judgment is better at this particular moment. In light of this, my own judgment is that we are entering a period in which our policy must be one of fence sitting, realizing of course that such a policy constitutes something less than full identification between our own interests and those of President Diem.

As a practical matter, Ambassador Nolting's return to Saigon will tend to encourage Diem to feel that he continues to enjoy our support. On balance I think that this is probably the right course to take, provided the Department is vigorous in needling Nolting to attempt to guide Diem into more political measures to stabilize the situation. It is, perhaps, the last effort we can make in this direction and should be taken if only for that reason.

It may not work, however; and we should be prepared to recall Nolting before Lodge's arrival if our estimate of Diem's surviveability turns markedly adverse. At such a time it would be better, in my opinion, to leave Trueheart (the DCM) in charge pending Lodge's arrival. Trueheart has handled the situation with great skill and with somewhat less personal involvement than Nolting and could, I think, be useful in maintaining a degree of flexibility in the U.S. position which would give Lodge a reasonably clean slate to start with.

Michael V. Forrestal/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

216. Telegram From the Embassy in the Philippines to the Department of State/1/

Manila, July 10, 1963-5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Priority; Limited Distribution. A note on the source text indicates that a copy of this telegram was passed to the White House on July 10.

46. Eyes only Rusk, Ball, Bundy, Hilsman from Bowles./2/ Two days in South Vietnam, during which I talked at length with Diem, his top colleagues, US Embassy and military officials, press representatives, Indian head of ICC and other informed individuals, left me with profound feeling of concern.

/2/Regarding Bowles' visit to Vietnam, July 7 and 8, see footnote 6, Document 214.

Situation appears paradoxical in that military measures against Viet Cong are making substantial progress while political outlook sharply deteriorates.

Many qualified observers, in and out of government, privately assert that Diem regime is probably doomed and that while political and military risks involved in a switchover are substantial they may now be less dangerous than continuation of Ngo family in present role.

My personal views are necessarily tentative due to shortness of stay and difficulty of forming objective judgments because of deep commitment of almost all American observers to positions which they have held over a period of time and bitter impasse between US officialdom and US press.

However, I left Saigon with feeling that a political explosion is likely in foreseeable future and that a fresh US government evaluation of political situation is urgently needed by someone who is not emotionally involved.

Embassy instructions for various overturn contingencies also needed.

Do not believe that re-evaluation should wait until new Ambassador arrives in September nor, with due respect to present incumbent, can we expect a fully balanced evaluation from those who have been directly concerned.

Therefore strongly suggest some informed US official who has full confidence of President and Secretary visit Saigon on a most urgent basis. Roger Hilsman would seem to be obvious choice. However Tom Hughes or Mike Forrestal would be less conspicuous.

Stevenson

 

217. Special National Intelligence Estimate/1/

SNIE 53-2-63

Washington, July 10, 1963.

/1/ Source: Department of State, INR-NIE Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. 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 Department of State, Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and NSA." All members of the U.S. Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on July 10, 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 full text is printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 529-535.

THE SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM

Scope Note

NIE 53-63, "Prospects in South Vietnam," dated 17 April 1963/2/ was particularly concerned with the progress of the counterinsurgency effort, and with the military and political factors most likely to affect that effort. The primary purpose of the present SNIE is to examine the implications of recent developments in South Vietnam for the stability of the country, the viability of the Diem regime, and its relationship with the US.

/2/Document 94.

Conclusions

A. The Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam has highlighted and intensified a widespread and longstanding dissatisfaction with the Diem regime and its style of government. If-as is likely-Diem fails to carry out truly and promptly the commitments he has made to the Buddhists, disorders will probably flare again and the chances of a coup or assassination attempts against him will become better than even. (Paras. 4,14)

B. The Diem regime's underlying uneasiness about the extent of the US involvement in South Vietnam has been sharpened by the Buddhist affair and the firm line taken by the US. This attitude will almost certainly persist and further pressure to reduce the US presence in the country is likely. (Paras. 10-12).

C. Thus far, the Buddhist issue has not been effectively exploited by the Communists, nor does it appear to have had any appreciable effect on the counterinsurgency effort. We do not think Diem is likely to be overthrown by a Communist coup. Nor do we think the Communists would necessarily profit if he were overthrown by some combination of his non-Communist opponents. A non-Communist successor regime might be initially less effective against the Viet Cong, but, given continued support from the US, could provide reasonably effective leadership for the government and the war effort. (Pares. 7, 15-17)

[Here follow Part I, "Introduction"; Part II, "The Buddhist Affair"; and Part III, "The Effect of Recent Developments on US-GVN Relations".]

IV. The Outlook

14. If the Diem government moves effectively to fulfill its 16 June commitments, much of the resentment aroused by the Buddhist controversy could be allayed. However, even if relations between the GVN and the Buddhists are smoothed over, the general discontent with the Diem regime which the crisis has exacerbated and brought to the fore is likely to persist. Further, if--as is probable--the regime is dilatory, inept, and insincere in handling Buddhist matters, there will probably be renewed demonstrations, and South Vietnam will probably remain in a state of domestic political tension. Under these circumstances, the chances of a non-Communist assassination or coup attempt against Diem will be better than even. We cannot exclude the possibility of an attempted Communist coup, but a Communist attempt will have appreciably less likelihood of success so long as the majority of the government's opponents and critics remain-as they are now-alert to the Communist peril.

15. The chances of a non-Communist coup--and of its success--would become greater in the event renewed GVN/Buddhist confrontation should lead to large-scale demonstrations in Saigon. More or less prolonged riot and general disorder would probably result-with the security forces confused over which side to support. Under such circumstances, a small group, particularly one with prior contingency plans for such an eventuality, might prove able to topple the government. Conversely, a continued or resumed truce between the GVN and the Buddhists would serve to reduce the likelihood of such an overthrow.

16. Any attempt to remove Diem will almost certainly be directed against Nhu as well, but should Nhu survive Diem, we are virtually certain that he would attempt to gain power--in the first instance probably by manipulating the constitutional machinery. We do not believe that Nhu's bid would succeed, despite the personal political base he has sought to build through the Republican Youth (of which he is the overt, uniformed head), the strategic hamlet program (whose directing Interministerial Committee he chairs), and in the army. He and his wife have become too much the living symbols of all that is disliked in the present regime for Nhu's personal political power to long outlive his brother. There might be a struggle with no little violence, but enough of the army would almost certainly move to take charge of the situation, either rallying behind the constitutional successor to install Vice President Tho or backing another non-Communist civil leader or a military junta.

17. A non-Communist successor regime might prove no more effective than Diem in fighting the Viet Cong; indeed at least initially it might well prove considerably less effective, and the counterinsurgency effort would probably be temporarily disrupted. However, there is a reasonably large pool of under-utilized but experienced and trained manpower not only within the military and civilian sectors of the present government but also, to some extent, outside. These elements, given continued support from the US, could provide reasonably effective leadership for the government and the war effort.

 

218. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 11, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. Nolting returned to his post on July 11. An article in The New York Times on July 9, p. 6, stated that Nolting was returning to Vietnam with a personal message for President Diem from President Kennedy. Nolting did meet with President Kennedy on July 8 before he left Washington, but he was not given any message to convey. (Ibid., Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, Nolting, June 1, 1984) On July 10, the Department of State informed the Embassy in Saigon that the Spokesman of the Department had denied the report and had stated: "There has been no change in our policy toward Viet-Nam, or our support for the program against the Communist Viet Cong in that country." (Telegram 49 to Saigon, July 10; ibid., Central Files, POL S VIET-US)

73. Hilsman from Nolting. CINCPAC for POLAD. Had long, private and very frank talk with Thuan this afternoon after briefings here. We discussed strategy for my talk with Diem tomorrow morning./2/ Thuan feels dangers of Buddhist tensions somewhat reduced, but he still worried. I have conviction that he is honestly working for government and not infected by coup plotting.

/2/Nolting did not cable a separate report of this conversation to Washington. For a combined assessment of his initial conversations with Diem. see telegram 85, Document 219.

One encouraging development is appointment this morning of government commission, headed by Inspector General of Administration, a Buddhist, to receive and investigate complaints from Buddhist association regarding implementation June 16 agreements. Offsetting this, Thuan told me of request to Vice President from Buddhist leaders to come to see them in Xa Loi Pagoda. Declining this invitation, Tho countered by inviting Buddhist leaders to meet with him, Thuan and Minister of Interior Luong, or with him alone either at office or homer Buddhists declined.

Further reports and assessment this situation will follow.

Trust statement made at airport upon arrival/3/ was acceptable. Tried to play it down the middle by statement prepared on airplane, rather than trying to field a raft of questions dealing with extremely sensitive points in this situation.

/3/No report of this statement has been found.

Nolting

 

219. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 15, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London, Paris, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Bangkok, and CINCPAC.

85. CINCPAC for POLAD. Herewith is interim report of situation here as I see it, after two days of intensive briefings, discussions with American, Vietnamese, and foreign officials and private citizens, including American newsmen, and some sampling of Saigon opinion.

Our patient, I think, is still on critical list, but improving. Difficulties seem to be confined mainly to larger cities, affecting only slightly peasant population in central coastal areas and not at all in Delta. Saigon and Hue are still very volatile and people are scared. Buddhist Association leaders, unfortunately, can still take initiative to bring down government, but seem to be hesitant to do so. Each day that passes slightly increases chances of surmounting this crisis. Coup rumors are rife and evidence of plotting exists, but it is my present judgment that no direct intervention in this matter on our part would be helpful or wise. (Have passed the word on position to be taken if approached, as per instruction.)/2/

/2/No such instruction has been found. Wood underscored the reference to an instruction in the source text, and put a question mark in the margin.

Restoration of Diem's confidence in US intentions, badly shaken by several happenings in past weeks, and subsequent leading of him to take more positive and sensible political actions, will take some time. I have spent seven hours with him since my return and have, Thuan reports, made some headway, but I have nothing of significance to report in terms of concrete actions or decisions. He is hurt by what he considers misrepresentations and calumnies (both in Viet-Nam and outside), torn by conflicting advice, resentful of US pressure, and not completely in control of his government's actions (Nhus). He is, in brief, in a martyr's mood himself. We have not yet been able to persuade him to snap out of it, make a virtue of necessity, and take his case fully and candidly directly to the people. We are still working on this. In my judgment, his motives and intentions are still good; some of his resentments and suspicions concerning the Buddhist agitation are well-founded. He is visibly tired. Our main problem at moment is to get him relaxed enough to take the helm and steer the ship on a true and sensible course.

[During] this difficult period, I think our best bet is to work quietly along existing guidelines. While making our views and especially US domestic considerations amply clear, we should not try to blueprint his course for him. Specifically, we should not reiterate our threat of disassociation, nor feel stuck with it if other means of easing the situation (even the passage of time) work in favor of a political modus vivendi here. Rather, I think, we should continue, as has been done, to tell him the facts of life about public opinion at home and let him work out his own accommodation. We will continue to defend the legitimate rights of US newsmen here (I have again made very firm representations to Diem on the Browne-Arnett case),/3/ but I think we must accept the fact that we will probably continue to have a generally bad press for some time, until political calm returns and we can demonstrate the success- of the overall strategy and plan. With luck--I emphasize this--[and?] an appearance of calm determination/4/ on the part of Americans to see this crisis surmounted, I believe there is a reasonably good chance of reestablishing the basis for continued progress here.

/3/See Documents 210 and 211.

/4/Wood underscored the reference to "an appearance of calm determination" in the source text, and added the marginal notation "N.B."

Nolting

 

220. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rice) to the Secretary of State/1/

Washington, July 15, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26 Coup Rumors. Secret. Drafted by Heavner and initialed by Rice. A note on the source text reads: "Secretary Saw". Also sent to Ball, Harriman, and Johnson.

SUBJECT
Reports that Brother Nhu is Planning a Coup

We have four reports/2/ from Vietnamese Generals of a July 11 meeting of Nhu with officers of that rank. Two (or possibly three) of these reports indicate that Nhu may be planning a coup. We think it not unlikely, however, that Nhu is responding to reports of coup plotting among the Generals themselves, seeking to confuse and divide them, smoke out their intentions, and rally those which he can reach by such blandishments as "active" assignments. He may have had the additional intention of improving his personal position with the Generals against the possibility that they will successfully mount a coup.

/2/These reports are identified and analyzed in Tab A below. The four reports were also attached to the source text, but not printed.

The four reports are not wholly consistent with one another, but the following emerges from all four: (1) Nhu asked the Generals for their support; (2) Nhu criticized the government and/or his brothers during the meeting; (3) Nhu extended an olive branch to the Generals by being very cordial and by promising "active" assignments to all.

General Khanh reported Nhu asked for "personal support"; General Kim stated Nhu said he would not blame the Generals if they were thinking of a coup and that he would be with them; General Cao merely said that Nhu had asked for their cooperation in meeting the present crisis. One unnamed "general officer" who may or may not have attended the meeting reported that Nhu had spoken of a "lightning" coup with himself leading it. But a large meeting of this sort would not provide a suitably secure forum in which to make a serious proposal of this sort, and Nhu's position on the Buddhist crisis is not one which would be most likely to appeal to dissatisfied officers.

Unless the Buddhist crisis deepens, the longer the various coup plots incubate, the less likelihood of anything hatching. We have not yet heard that any coup group has developed a well articulated plan with much chance of success, nor do the Generals appear to be united-and Nhu's move is probably shrewdly intended, among other things, to prevent their uniting. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of a plan being suddenly attempted. We have heard of several, but the better a plan was the less likely we would be to learn of it in advance.

The joint Embassy/CAS evaluation of the four reports (Tab A), together with the reports themselves (Tabs B to E) are attached.

 

[Tab A]

Central Intelligence Agency Information Report/3/

TDCSDB-3/655,524

Washington, July 13,1963.

/3/Secret; No Foreign Dissem; No Dissem Abroad; Background Use Only.

SUBJECT
Comments on reports of Ngo Dinh Nhu's coup plotting

Following are the joint Embassy/CAS comments on the four reports concerning the 11 July 1963 meeting at Joint General Staff Headquarters. The first of these came from Brigadier General Van Thanh Cao, delegate to the eastern provinces, Saigon AmEmbtel 80,/4/ two other reports on 12 July, one from Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh Commanding General II Corps, TDCSDB-3/655,512 [document number not declassified], and the other from a general officer, TDCSDB-3/655,512 [document number not declassified]. The fourth report is from Brigadier General Le Van Kim, Ministry of National Defense, TDCSDB-3/655,523 [document number not declassified]./5/

/4/Dated July 12, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET)

/5/Dated July 12, not printed.

1. All of these reports have some elements in common. They differ widely in detail and emphasis. Common elements are:

a. The meeting was called by Nhu;

b. Nhu criticized the Government of Vietnam (GVN) handling of the Buddhist crisis;

c. Nhu promised the Generals a more active role in the war and promised to give those Generals whose positions are sinecures legitimate responsibilities; and,

d. Nhu made an appeal for the loyalty of the Generals (to whom is the question).

2. Actually there may have been two meetings between Nhu and the Generals on 11 July. The first was a formal meeting at Joint General Staff offices. The second followed immediately after the first at the Officers Club at the Joint General Staff. The general officer states clearly that his report derives from the Officers Club talk, although he attended both meetings. We are not clear as to those present at either meeting. General Khanh states that there were "about fourteen" Generals in attendance when Nhu made the remarks he reported. Including newly appointed Brigadier General Do Cao Tri, there are now nineteen generals in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

3. The general officer's report is the only one of the three which is explicit with regard to a coup led by Nhu. With respect to specificity, it is worth noting that Khanh, Cao, and Kim have had long time relationships with the individuals to whom they spoke.

4. It is worthwhile to compare the remarks attributed to Nhu by the general officer with the report of the conversation between Nhu and an American observer on 25 June, CSDB-3/655,373./6/ At that time Nhu indicated, as he had previously, that if he believed the government, meaning Diem, was becoming servile to the United States, he himself would lead a coup d'etat.

/6/Not found.

5. Both Cao's report and Khanh's reports indicate that Nhu's remarks had some considerable impact upon the Generals. Cao believed that Nhu's statements had relieved the critical situation, at least temporarily. Khanh stated that Nhu had been convincing in his request for loyalty and support, and that he believed that the majority of the general officers would support Nhu. It was not clear from Khanh's remarks that this support would be provided within the context of a coup d'etat. On the other hand, Kim thought that the majority of the. Generals reacted negatively. According to the general officer, Major General Nguyen Ngoc Le, Chief of Veterans Affairs, commented on 12 July that he believed that the Generals should proceed without Nhu since Nhu only sought to save himself. We are inclined to believe that if the Generals should consent to support Nhu, it would be from their point of view a temporary marriage of convenience.

6. It is still too early to evaluate exactly what Nhu may have in mind. It is possible that the general officer has misread Nhu's remarks which were possibly made in the same vein as Nhu". comments to an American observer on 25 June. This interpretation, however, must take into consideration Nhu's statement that the coup must be staged overnight and must be lightning fast followed by a turnover of power from the general officers to civilian control. It is difficult to believe that this construction could be based on the sometimes vague and theoretical utterances of Nhu.

7. We believe that some Generals are planning, or at the very least, far more intensively thinking about, coup action. How the Generals plans or intentions may be advanced or retarded by Nhu's remarks is too early to tell.

8. Even if one accepts the general officer's account, it does not necessarily follow that Nhu is in fact contemplating a coup. It is possible that Nhu is seeking to entrap the Generals in some fashion and might even be doing so with the knowledge of Diem.

9. As a subsidiary comment, we conclude from these four reports that Major General Tran Van Don, Commander of the ARVN, claim to be a member of a coup group, TDCS-3/552,822/7/ [document number not declassified] comprising most of the general officers is exaggerated. From these reports, it does not emerge that the Generals have reached a consensus or are plotting as a single group, rather that there may be two or more groups among them./8/

/7/See footnote 2, Document 212.

/8/On July 15, an individual associated with the Tuyen group reportedly said that their coup would occur "soon", but not before July 20. (CIA Information Report, TDCSDB-3/655,588, July 16; U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63) According to another report, on July 16, General Duong Van Minh, Military Adviser to President Diem, lent weight to reports of the general military desire to remove President Diem and "advocated" a change of government in South Vietnam. (CIA Information Report TDCS DB-3/655,605, July 18; ibid.)

10. Field Dissem. None.

 

221. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 16, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Confidential; Operational Immediate. Repeated to CINCPAC.

91. CINCPAC for POLAD. At 0900 group estimated at over 100 bonzes gathered before Ambassador's residence (Amb was at office). Bonze Nghiep who has covered public relations for Buddhists made address in English over portable loud speaker. Nghiep requested US Government pursue any possible means solve Buddhist problem in Vietnam as soon as possible. Stated Buddhists are not VC and have never made use of anyone including VC nor are Buddhists exploited by VC. Buddhists are anti-Communist but want cessation of GVN terrorizing, kidnapping and arresting Buddhist monks and nuns. Buddhists completely disagree with GVN communiqué on flying of flag; believe flag symbol of all Buddhist aspirations not of only one Buddhist association. Buddhists favor US aid, US weapons, etc. but disagree with use of aid and weapons to suppress Buddhism in South Vietnam.

Following Nghiep address bonzes commenced chanting. Reporters for international and local press were present (reportedly were advised that some event was forthcoming). Buddhist signs displayed following slogans: "Buddhist flag must be for all Buddhists"; "request government keep its promises faithfully"; "free world and USA are expected to do anything possible for Buddhist problem". Police cordoned off residence from block away. Small crowds gathered on fringe cordoned area.

At 10:30 approximately 140 bonzes and nuns formed square in front of residence. Bonze speaking in Vietnamese and English repeated appeal to US and free world nations to intercede with GVN to force GVN implement joint communiqué. Bonze also stated demonstration was sample of what would continue take place and someone will be sacrificed if Buddhist demands not met. Initial reports indicated Buddhists might be planning carry out burning on spot. Spectators, uniformed police and plainclothesmen estimated at 500 people. At 10:55 group dispersed with bonzes and nuns proceeding to Xa Loi Pagoda, where they state they will commence two-day fast.

As of 11:20 area quiet.

Foreign press operated freely throughout demonstration and were in no way interfered with by police.

Nolting

 

222. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 16, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source; Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

92. CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Embassy's telegram 91./2/ When it appeared at about 10:30 that another self-immolation might be imminent, I telephoned Thuan and asked him to see Diem urgently. I proposed that President get word to demonstrators immediately by loudspeaker truck that he would be addressing people personally at a stated hour, preferably noon. Told Thuan I judged we're at eleventh hour and personal action by Diem required. Thuan said he agreed and would go immediately to Diem. I asked to see Diem myself if Thuan thought it would be helpful.

/2/Document 221.

About 15 minutes after above call, word received that demonstration at residence appeared be breaking up and Bonzes planning return to Xa Loi to commence fast. I relayed this to Thuan (who had not yet been able to see Diem), but told him in my judgment personal address by President still urgently required. I offered provide some suggestions on content and am doing so.

Nolting

 

223. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 17, 1963, 11 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

95. CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Department's telegram 81./2/ In confused situation here, believe I should state my present views on basic issue involved before possible decisions taken Washington regarding "disassociation" or other public statement changing US official position. My view is that Buddhist agitation is now predominantly controlled by activists and radical elements aimed at the overthrow of GVN. It may or may not be deliberately connected with coup plots by military officers, but Buddhists almost certainly aware of these.

/2/In telegram 81 to Saigon, July 16, the Department asked, inter alia, for the Embassy's assessment of whether, in light of the demonstration before the Ambassador's residence and other Buddhist gestures looking for U.S. support, radical and activist elements might be assuming control of the Buddhist leadership. (Ibid.)

This is said without condoning Diem's failure to meet the problem in a timely and politically realistic way. (Report just received on what may be some forward movement by him will follow soonest.)/3/ In present circumstances, believe US Government should take no immediate action to change balance of its position, even though I realize press reports of what appear to be repressive police actions today will generate a good deal of heat./4/

/3/Document 224.

/4/The Embassy reported, in telegram 96 from Saigon, July 17, that a series of Buddhist demonstrations in and around Saigon that morning had twice led the police to take demonstrators away in trucks to the outskirts of the city. At Giac Minh Pagoda in Cholon, the police action involved violence: "US eyewitnesses report that without any apparent provocation from crowd, police kicked, slugged and clubbed bonzes and la)r people and loaded them forcibly in trucks. Beatings continued while people on floors of trucks. Police then proceeded strip loud speaker and banners from pagoda and sealed off pagoda with barbed wire." (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

Nolting

 

224. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, July 17, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

98. CINCPAC for POLAD. Almost continuous discussions, probings and negotiations with Diem, Nhu and Thuan have been aimed at averting political upheaval here. Some results beginning to show. Question of course, is whether Diem will take action and demonstrate his sincerity to his people (and to the world) in time and in manner to save himself and his government. I hence bore down increasingly hard on requirements from our side-in terms of U.S. public and Congressional opinion. In very frank discussion with Nhu yesterday (during which there was no sign whatsoever of any designs on his part to overthrow Diem), I was able to get his promise to support a move by

Diem to take GVN's case to the people in a broad and magnanimous way aimed at calming the situation. This promise extracted despite Nhu's conviction that Buddhist agitation represents no real threat.

Thuan reports this morning that Diem talked with Nhu last night following our conversation, agreed in principle that he would make such a move, and directed that speech be written by Tho committee. Speech, according to Thuan, was to contain not only a general appeal but further specifics for guaranteeing full religious liberties and implementation June 16 agreements.

Upon hearing of further demonstrations in Saigon this morning (septel),/2/ I called Thuan stressing necessity to act quickly. I urged that Diem not wait until committee had completed draft speech, but that he should immediately make a general appeal for calm and order and engage his own prestige re fulfillment June 16 agreements; this to be followed as soon as possible by fuller and more specific delineation of measures to be taken. Thuan is now trying to sell this. I have given draft speech/3/ to Thuan for possible use in this connection.

/2/See footnote 4, Document 223.

/3/Not found.

Incidentally, Thuan reported that Diem agreed last night not to rely exclusively on Province Chiefs' reports re religious grievances, but to make special investigations from Saigon of all Buddhist complaints. This may be belated reaction to our continued questioning of information on which some of his decisions and non-actions have been based.

As to prospects here, experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is enormous potential for stretch in Vietnamese body politic. Events which normally would indicate imminent downfall of a government would not necessarily do so here. I continue to feel there is reasonably good prospect of GVN's surmounting the present two-headed crisis (Buddhist agitation and coup plotting). It is, of course, imperative that Diem come forward with positive appeal and measures, and this has been made amply clear to him. We have the promise of Nhu's support to this end. We may therefore have sufficient influence working in same direction to get Diem to move, although no one can guarantee what the baby will look like if and when it is born.

Thuan has just informed us that he expects President will deliver speech today. If it is sufficiently forthcoming and conciliatory (will cable opinion this point when text available), I believe it is important that US promptly make supporting statement,/4/ expressing confidence in GVN intent to carry through on June 16 agreement and to pursue anti-Communist struggle with support of all patriotic Vietnamese.

/4/See Documents 228 and 229.

Prompt action of this sort by USG will, I believe, have important effect in getting Buddhists to limit themselves to religious objectives and in discouraging coup plotters.

Nolting

 

225. Editorial Note

On July 17, 1963, at 4 p.m., President Kennedy held a press conference at the Department of State. A correspondent asked if the difficulties between the Buddhists and the South Vietnamese Government were impeding the effectiveness of U.S. aid in the war against the Viet Cong. The President answered:

"Yes, I think it has. I think it is unfortunate that this dispute has arisen at the very time when the military struggle has been going better than it has been going in many months. I would hope that some solution could be reached for this dispute, which certainly began as a religious dispute, and because we have invested a tremendous amount of effort and it is going quite well."

He next expressed his hope that the dispute would be settled to allow a stable government in South Vietnam, able to maintain national independence, and that "behind this military shield put up by the Vietnamese people they can reach an agreement on the civil disturbances and also in respect for the rights of others. That's our hope. That's our effort." (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, page 569)

 

 


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