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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

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

Saigon, July 30, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-10 S VIET Secret. Repeated to CINCPAC.

151. CINCPAC for POLAD. Dept pass DOD, JCS for action. Task Force/Saigon Message. Deptel 1055/2/ requested by first week July full report and evaluation all herbicide operations to serve as basis decision whether to continue defoliation and crop destruction.

/2/Document 110.

During period 1 Jan-30 June 63, only two herbicide operations conducted, first consisting of crop destruction in western Thua Thien Province and second of defoliation of segments of Cua Lon-Bo De Rivers in An Xuyen.

Crop Destruction

Crop destruction operation by hand spray was initiated 6 Feb but discontinued after destruction approximately 12 hectares as result change in military plans and logistical difficulties. Operation which resumed 13 May 1963 has resulted in destruction of approximately 75 percent of approved 140 hectares. Crops include rice, corn and manioc; susceptibility to agent demonstrated by fact marked changes visible 30 minutes to one hour after treatment. In 24 to 48 hours crops lose all color and signs of life.

It is considered too early to evaluate effects on VC of destruction these crops. Moreover, it will be difficult differentiate between food denied VC as result use herbicides and that resulting from crop destruction by other means. Nevertheless, there numerous indications VC food shortage Thua Thien Province, and it is estimated that destruction capability of unit using herbicides as much as four times that of hand destruction. As part of 1st ARVN Division food denial program, it is estimated that a total of 69.8 tons of food will be denied to VC as result current Thua Thien food destruction operations (this is in addition to 140 tons of VC stored food destroyed).

No Montagnards have been relocated as result this operation. Active psywar program using leaflets carried on.

Defoliation

An Xuyen defoliation operation carried out June 6-9, 1963. Complete evaluation of the results of this operation are premature since reaction time of different species involved varies from 15-60 days. In those target areas where growth consisted of mangrove, complete defoliation occurred within two weeks after treatment. Approximately one to five percent of leaves on hardwood trees appear to have turned yellow and fallen off to date. Continuing evaluation in process.

Although in mangrove areas visibility has increased 60-70 percent, no change in VC tactics as yet reported. Intelligence indicates few people in the target area at time of spraying aware mission had been executed. Psywar efforts were directed to leaflet distribution immediately after spraying.

There has been no apparent damage to crops in sprayed area. In view of limited extent and recent execution of these operations, they are not considered to provide sufficient information on which to base decision on future use of herbicides. TF/Saigon is hopeful operations scheduled for near future will provide additional information on which base such decision. One additional defoliation operation, Danhim powerline, was completed on July 27. Approval for three additional defoliation (including defoliation of road and road right of way Zone D) and two crop destruction operations has been requested by RVNAF.

There have been a total of 10 defoliation projects to date in addition to a number of defoliation research trials. Of these, 8 were essentially concerned with proof test of the system in the environment of which 6 designed to function. As such tact wage [tactical?] considerations were not in all cases paramount. The remaining two projects, i.e. Vau Lon-Be De rivers and Danhim powerline, have been based, in toto, on tactical needs and considerations.

TF/Saigon recommends Washington decision on future use herbicides be deferred until results further evaluation report, which we propose send prior October 1, are received.

Nolting

 

243. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, August 1, 1963, 9:55 a.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Eleanor G. McGann of Harriman's staff..

WAH told RH that he was disturbed about the reports of Nolting's statement on the Buddhists/2/--WAH said he ought to be recalled at once. RH said he couldn't agree more but in his defense he ought to say that it was distorted and taken out of context. WAH said why should he make public statements and RH replied he shouldn't. WAH said he thought when he leaves he ought to be instructed not to make any public statement--or on second thought WAH said that might be awkward but should clear his statement first in the Dept. WAH also said since he was due to come home about the 13th it was probably not necessary to recall him. RH said he would draft a cable./3/

/2/In an interview with UPI on July 28, Nolting replied to a question about religious persecution and the Buddhist crisis as follows: "I myself, I say this very frankly, after almost two and one half years here, have never seen any evidence of religious persecution, in fact I have the feeling that there is a great deal of religious toleration among Vietnamese people at all levels." (Telegram 161 from Saigon, August 1; Department of State, Central Files, SOC-1 S VIET)

On July 31, the Inter-Sect Committee for the Defense of Buddhism released a statement taking issue with Nolting's statement. An open letter to Nolting, August 1, signed by "a group of Vietnamese patriots" and distributed to the news media at Xa Loi Pagoda on August 1, attacked Nolting's integrity and understanding of the Buddhist situation. Superior Bonze Tien Khiet on behalf of the Inter-Sect Committee sent President Kennedy a telegram protesting Nolting's statement. Nolting also received a letter from bonze Tam Chau deploring his statement to the UPI correspondent. (Telegrams 156, 159, and 160 from Saigon, July 31, August 1, and August 1, respectively; all ibid.)

/3/The cable, telegram 144 to Saigon, August 1, 7:25 p.m., reads as follows:

"Press play here of Buddhist communiqué (Embtel 156) commenting on your statement is, as you can imagine, unfortunate, preserving distortion your actual statement. This raises question of how to handle your farewell remarks, which I presume you could not avoid. What ideas do you have about this? Would appreciate opportunity to comment on planned remarks from Washington vantage point." (Ibid., POL S VIET-US)

 

244. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report/1/

TDCS-3/655,859

Washington, August 2, 1963.

/1/Source: U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, Vietnam. Secret; Routine; No Dissem Abroad; Background Use Only.

SUBJECT
Assessment of the Progress of the War Against the Viet Cong in South Vietnam During the First Half of 1963

The following assessment was prepared by the source in response to a request and also reflects the opinions of Ambassador Frederick E. Nolting, Jr. and other Embassy officers.

1. Summary. Although the progress made in the complex counterinsurgency program in the last six months failed to produce a turning point in the war against the Viet Cong (VC), nothing occurred to change our basic belief that the VC will eventually be defeated, provided that the Buddhist crisis is resolved satisfactorily and the security of South Vietnam is not endangered by the deterioration of the situation in Laos. The war with the VC is being brought under control through the successful implementation of:

a. The isolation of the VC from the people by means of the Province Rehabilitation Program and the Strategic Hamlet Program, which have as yet not completed the task, but which have made solid progress as evidenced by the increasing VC harassment and attacks on strategic hamlets and the initially encouraging results of the Chieu Hoi (Surrender) program.

b. Military operations designed to keep the VC off balance, harass their base areas, and ultimately to destroy the regular VC formations are difficult to assess. However, the VC have been hurt in I and II Corps areas, to a lesser extent in III Corps area, but, whether they have been significantly hurt in IV Corps area is problematical.

c. Interdiction of reinforcements from North Vietnam through an effective border program is most difficult to implement, but the training and emplacement of border control teams have accelerated during the period. The problem of patrolling the long borders between South Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia is a staggering one and perhaps the ultimate answer to the problem of infiltration is to deny the infiltrators, along with the VC already in South Vietnam, any theater of operations within the country.

2. The Buddhist crisis has placed an increased strain on the Diem regime and raises the possibility of jeopardy to future progress in counterinsurgency operations. Much will depend on the manner in which the crisis is resolved, most particularly with respect to the degree to which the Diem regime has been weakened or to the viability of any successor regime should Diem fall. At the moment, Diem seems to have an at least temporary advantage over his Buddhist antagonists.

For the first six months of 1963, there is little evidence that the counterinsurgency campaign is materially affected by the Government of Vietnam (GVN) difficulties with the Buddhists. In any event, a recapitulation of the developments over the past six months is valid at this time if only to show how much we have to lose in terms of momentum in the anti-VC operations if the current crisis persists and becomes more serious.

3. Although the past six months failed to produce a turning point in the war against the VC, a slow but steady progress was recorded in the many facets of the complex counterinsurgency program. The period under review saw the essential completion of the joint GVN/US buildup of the necessary manpower and resources to do the job; the refinement of the National Campaign Plan guiding the war against the VC was worked out jointly by the USMACV and the GVN Joint General Staff; and, in an accelerated implementation of these programs in the field, marked especially by the stepped-up infusion of American fiscal and material aid into the Province Rehabilitation/ Strategic Hamlet Programs. The progress made perhaps failed to live up to the expectations held at the beginning of the year and was of course more discernible in some areas than in others, but nothing occurred to change our basic belief that the GVN/US partnership is on the right track and that the VC will eventually be defeated, provided that the Buddhist crisis is resolved shortly in a reasonably satisfactory manner, and provided that the deterioration in Laos does not further endanger the security of South Vietnam.

4. In order to provide a more detailed analysis of the counterinsurgency effort during the past six months, the balance of this report is divided into three parts according to what we consider the broad areas of endeavor which must be successfully carried out if the war is to be brought under control.

A. The isolation of the VC from the people with the progressive constriction of the enemy into mountain, piedmont and delta wastelands, and the channelling of the peoples' energies into political, economic and social development of their hamlets;

B. The military operations designed to keep the VC off balance, harass their base areas and ultimately to destroy the regular VC formations; and,

C. The interdiction of reinforcements from North Vietnam through an effective border program.

[Here follows a 16-page detailed analysis of parts A, B, and C.]

 

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

Washington, August 5, 1963, 3:03 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Heavner and Kattenburg and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

160. Embtel 173./2/ Madame Nhu's attack on Buddhists plus reported threat by Nhu (Reuters despatch of August 3)/3/ to crush Xa Loi as part of "coup" attempt appears here to indicate GVN may well be preparing move from conciliatory to strong repressive policy. Burning of second monk/4/ and "fortification" Xa Loi suggests Buddhists will not be easily put down.

/2/Telegram 173, August 3, reported on Madame Nhu's August 3 speech before a Women's Paramilitary Youth training class. She "denounced the Buddhists as seditious elements who use the most odious Communist tactics to subvert the country." (Daily Summary; ibid., Daily Summaries: Lot 65 D 142. Telegram 173 is ibid., Central Files, POL 6 S VIET)

/3/The Reuters despatch was printed in The New York Times, August 5.

/4/At noon, August 4, novice bonze Huyhn Van Le burned himself to death in front of the Monument aux Morts, Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province. This self-immolation was not part of a larger demonstration nor procession, and it was not witnessed by news reporters or photographers. Telegrams 178 and 183 from Saigon, August 5 and 6, contain reports of U.S. officials who later investigated the suicide. (Ibid., SOC 14-S VIET) Both telegrams are published in Declassified Documents 1975, 319B and 319C, respectively.

If you have not already done so, you are to make it clear to Diem and Nhu that we regard both Nhu's statements as inflammatory and most unwise. These statements give us as well as Buddhists little ground to hope GVN is actually interested in carrying out conciliatory policy promised by Diem on several occasions. You may say further that public opinion in US is such that if Xa Loi is "crushed", they must expect that USG would promptly and publicly denounce the action.

Ball

 

246. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Acting Secretary of State/1/

Washington, August 6, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Vietnam. Secret. Drafted by Kattenburg.

SUBJECT
Buddhist Problem in Viet-Nam

The following is a status report on the Buddhist situation in South Viet-Nam.

1. Situation Summary

Certain events in the last two weeks have pointed to an amelioration of the situation:

a. Diem's radio broadcast of July 18/2/ expressing the Government's "utmost spirit of conciliation;"

/2/See Document 228.

b. Removal of the barricades around the pagodas in Saigon

c. Release by the Government of most, if not all, those arrested in the Buddhist demonstrations;

d. The July 30 Buddhist manifestations were orderly and peaceful and the Government police were at pains to avoid incidents.

On the other hand, the following events of the last two weeks point to continued trouble and unrest:

a. The Buddhists continue to refuse to meet with Vice President Tho's committee to investigate complaints.

b. The Government continues to refuse to identify and punish the officials responsible for the May 8 deaths, which it considers an impossible Buddhist demand.

c. Ngo Dinh Nhu, in an August 3 interview,/3/ virtually threatened to crush the Buddhist headquarters at Xa Loi Pagoda. On the same day, Madame Nhu made a speech violently attacking the Buddhist leadership./4/

/3/Nhu also warned that if the Buddhist crisis was not resolved, it would lead to an anti-American and anti-Buddhist coup. See footnote 3, Document 245.

/4/See footnote 2, Document 245.

2. Analysis

We conclude that the situation remains tense, volatile and potentially explosive. We anticipate further Buddhist demonstrations quite possibly resulting in violence and additional incidents.

a. There are increasing signs that the Buddhist leadership will attempt to prolong the dispute until the Government is overthrown.

b. It is increasingly likely that the Buddhist leaders now feel that they have gone too far to stop and revert to patience and conciliation. They may well fear later retaliation by Ngo Dinh Nhu if the dispute is resolved and Diem remains in power.

Continued unrest will, of course, play into the hands of the various coup groups which we know to be plotting Diem's overthrow.

a. We estimate the chances of an attempted coup in the next few months at 50-50.

b. The odds of success of a coup are much more difficult to estimate but may also be about 50-50.

If Diem is overthrown, the risks of the interregnum period are great but they are probably less great than they were a year ago.

a. The insurgency situation is under considerably better control.

b. There still has not emerged a clear alternative leadership to Diem, but a military junta--with or without Tho as figurehead--is the most likely. Yet, neither the rise of Ngo Dinh Nhu to power, at least for a period, nor civil war between several non-Communist factions can be ruled out of the equation.

c. We have an approved contingency plan,/5/ which [we?] are continuously reviewing and attempting to perfect, to throw all our influence behind Tho and the military if a serious, and likely successful, attempt were made against Diem.

/5/Enclosure to Document 133.

d. In addition, we are urgently seeking further but discreet contact with oppositionist elements, military and civilian, in order to give us a better chance to manipulate the outcome of a coup attempt.

If Diem is not overthrown, it is becoming increasingly likely that he will ultimately try to resolve the Buddhist problem by means of repression.

If so, it is quite possible that his popular support will be so reduced that he could no longer hope to defeat the Viet Cong.

3. Policy Guidelines

On the Buddhist issue, we should continue privately to press Diem and the GVN to take all measures required to conciliate the dispute. Our public praise of the GVN should continue to be reserved for specific acts, and we should avoid praise of the regime in general.

On the more general question of Diem and his regime, our policy should continue to be neither to encourage nor to discourage coup attempts. We do not know whether or not Diem can survive. With all that is at stake in Viet-Nam, we obviously cannot afford to back a loser but we are not yet in a position to pick a winner with any confidence.

This should remain our posture until the trend of events has further crystallized and Ambassador Lodge has had a chance to establish himself.

 

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

Saigon, August 7, 1963, 9 p.m.

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

189. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 160./2/ I have received today categoric assurances from Ngo Dinh Nhu that he is supporting fully and with both hands Diem's announced policy of conciliation vis-a-vis the Buddhists. In answer to direct question of whether he favors "crushing" Xa Loi Pagoda or its inmates through any means (i.e. directly, or by means of a coup d'etat or by a false coup d'etat), he said that he did not favor any such move. On contrary, he is convinced, he said, that government must continue to try to conciliate Buddhists, to make further concessions, and to demonstrate to Vietnamese people and to world absolute sincerity of President Diem's July 18 declaration./3/ He claimed that he had been urging this course upon the Tho commission as well as upon Diem, specifically that Tho commission should commence investigations of all complaints immediately, unilaterally if necessary, keeping door always open for Buddhist participation. (I understand from other sources that this is going to be done next week.) Nhu stated that any other interpretation of Reuters dispatch was erroneous. I summarized long discussion this point in approximately above language and told him I was going to so report to my government. He said that this would be an accurate report and a truthful statement of his position. He added that this position represented a politically risky course in Viet-Nam, since many people, including large segment of the Army, felt that it represented weakness on the part of the government towards a movement which was standing in the way of, if not actually subverting, the war effort and victory over the Viet Cong. He nevertheless reiterated that he would stand behind this policy, since he was convinced it offers the best way out. I told him, as I have once before, that if he was telling me the truth, he is a most misunderstood man. He replied that he knew he was misunderstood, but I could rely on his word. The conversation was direct but friendly.

/2/Document 245.

/3/See Document 228.

Regarding Madame Nhu's speech to the Women's Solidarity Movement, I told him that it was considered by my government and myself, as well as by a number of Vietnamese with whom I had spoken, as inflammatory and directly contrary to the President's policy of conciliation. I said that our own governmental, Congressional and public opinion could not understand or accept the contradictions between the government policy and her speech. I was sorry to say this but it was necessary if we were to retain our present relationships. Nhu did not defend the content of his wife's speech, but defended at great length her right to make it as a private citizen who "does not speak for the government". I told him in all frankness that he and the President could not expect this explanation to be accepted in my country, and I thought not in Viet-Nam. He said nobody realized, for example, that Madame Nhu had not seen President Diem for two months, that he and his family do not have meals with the President except on special occasions (under a mutually satisfactory arrangement), that she is in fact a private citizen who, he insisted, has the right to express her own views.

I am seeing President Diem on this matter and on others early tomorrow morning.

Nolting

 

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

Washington, August 8, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET Secret. Drafted by Heavner and Kattenburg, cleared in substance by Harriman and in draft by Forrestal, and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

178. Just as report your interview with Ngo Dinh Nhu (Embtel 189)/2/ reassured us somewhat, Halberstam story carrying Mme Nhu's latest outburst appeared this morning NY Times (see septel)./3/

/2/Document 247.

/3/Reference is to telegram 175 to Saigon, August 8, in which the Department sent the Embassy summaries of two related front-page stories on Vietnam in The New York Times, August 8. The first was by David Halberstam in Saigon, entitled "Mrs. Nhu Denounces U.S. for 'Blackmail' in Vietnam"; the second was by Tad Szulc in Washington and reported on growing concern in the Kennedy administration that the Diem government would not survive unless it became more willing to compromise on Buddhist demands. (Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET-US)

You are accordingly to seek new interview with Diem and tell him again that while we recognize Mme Nhu is private citizen rather than GVN official it clear we cannot ignore such destructive and insulting statements by person so clearly identified with him. Diem cannot overlook effect this has of undercutting his authority and creating image abroad that he being led around by apron strings.

Contradictory statements on Buddhist policy by President and Mme Nhu leave us, and Vietnamese people as well, in dark as to actual policy GVN pursuing. Seems essential to us that GVN at this time and without any equivocation publicly reaffirm conciliatory posture on Buddhist issue. This will require at lease implied repudiation Mme Nhu's remarks.

Tell Diem that since he has assured us he following policy of conciliation and since Nhu has reiterated his support this policy to you as late as August 7, USG now regards it as absolutely required that Nhu make public statement confirming he in fact supports this policy.

Public statement Nhu and further conciliatory statements by Diem would go some ways toward assuaging doubts in USG. Tell Diem frankly, however, that at this crucial juncture most convincing action vis-a-vis both Vietnamese and US opinion would be to remove Mme Nhu from scene. We have in mind action similar to that taken in early years Diem regime when she sent to Hong Kong convent.

You could note that in Halberstam's story Mme Nhu claims Diem has no following his own right, and that he must depend on her and his brothers for popular support./4/ In Time magazine cover story,/5/ Mme quoted as stating "scornfully," connection Diem's policy of conciliation: "President too often wants what French call 'a circle with corners'. He would like to conciliate as the Americans desire, smooth, no bloodshed, everyone shaking hands."

/4/In telegram 180 to Saigon, August 9, the Department of State informed the Embassy that The New York Times and The Washington Post of August 9 both contained editorials critical of Madame Nhu. The Department provided extracts and noted that they might also be useful to Nolting in his upcoming discussion with Diem. (Ibid.)

/5/Time, August 9, 1963, pp. 21-25.

Ball

 

249. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President/1/

Washington, August 9, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/1/ 63-8/20/63. Secret. A note on the source text reads: "Taken from Pres. week-end reading dtd 8/9/63."

SOUTH VIETNAM

The principal recent development in the situation in South Vietnam has been the growing number of contradictory statements made by official and semi-official Vietnamese on the Buddhist question.

Brother Nhu was reported late last week to have told a Reuters correspondent that he favored the forceful crushing of Buddhist political activity./2/ Two days later, when queried by Ambassador Nolting, he denied having made such a statement and insisted that he was "2-fistedly behind the Government's policy of conciliation."/3/

/2/See footnote 3, Document 245.

/3/ See Document 247.

Three days ago Madame Nhu, in a speech to a graduating class of the Women's Solidarity League, attacked the Buddhists violently and followed this up in an interview with a New York Times correspondent (Halberstam) which I am sure you have seen./4/

/4/See footnote 3, Document 248.

The Department has instructed Nolting to go back to Diem and suggest to him that Madame Nhu is undermining his position as President and should be sent out of the country. Nolting has also been instructed to ask Diem publicly to reaffirm the Government's policy of conciliation (Saigon 178 attached)./5/

/5/Document 248. Telegram 178 to Saigon was not attached to the source text, but a copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series.

In the meantime Madame Nhu has issued another blast, which is carried on the front page of the government newspaper "Times of Vietnam". (Saigon 190 attached)/6/

/6/According to telegram 190 from Saigon, not attached, the Times of Viet-Nam on August 8 carried a declaration by Madame Nhu reiterating her contention made in a CBS News interview of August 1 that the Buddhist leaders were trying to topple the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. She defended her statement made on the news broadcast that all the Buddhists had done was to "barbecue a bonze" with "imported gasoline." Madame Nhu claimed the Buddhist leaders were neither true religious leaders nor representative of the Vietnamese people. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET) A copy of telegram 190 is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/1/63-8/20/63.

Hilsman is opposed to going any further at the moment and specifically does not think that the time has come for the United States publicly and officially to indicate disapproval of the GVN's actions and policies. My own feeling is that we must take into consideration a growing domestic and international body of opinion which is becoming more and more critical of our intimate association with Diem.

Cambodia, Ceylon and Nepal have raised the Buddhist issue with the Secretary General of the UN and it is our best judgment that it is likely that the matter will come up in the General Assembly.

I am suggesting to Roger and Averell that we consider the kind of U.S. statement which will tread the difficult line between accidentally precipitating an upheaval in Saigon and affirming publicly the U.S. position on questions of religious tolerance, specifically in Vietnam.

Military and economic activities against the VC in the provinces still show no signs of having been adversely affected by the Buddhist controversy; but it is now the estimate of the intelligence community that the possibilities of a successful coup in the next 3 months are about even. In this connection, I have asked on your behalf that the Defense Department review their contingency planning for the protection and evacuation of Americans who are in Saigon; and the CIA to work with State in producing a re-evaluation of all information we have on coup plotting, so as to give the Department and the field a basis for decision in the event an accident occurs.

No decisions are required from you at this time, but you may wish to give some guidance during the next week when it becomes more clear what the real intentions of the GVN or the Buddhists are.

 

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

Saigon, August 10, 1963, 7 p.m.

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

204. This report dictated before receipt Deptel 178./2/

/2/Document 248.

Regret my delay reporting series talks with Diem, Nhu and others in effort curb Madame Nhu and make clear GVN policy conciliation on Buddhist issue. This business has been fast-moving, and Dept will appreciate difficulties keeping reporting up to date.

Fact is Madame Nhu is out of control of everybody--her father, mother. husband and brother-in-law.

President Diem promised me, after talks in which I pulled no punches (Deptel 178), to "consider" what he could do about her; said he's been thinking she ought to take a rest. That is as far as he would go. Results to date have been worse than negative. At same time, there have been positive developments on side of GVN: reaffirmations by Diem, as well as Nhu, that GVN through Tho committee intends faithfully to pursue policy of conciliation. Tho committee's announcement of investigation of all complaints and request for details,/3/ keeping door open for joint investigations--measures which are having, I think, noticeable effect on Vietnamese public opinion, despite Madame Nhu.

/3/In telegram 191 from Saigon, August 8, the Embassy reported that on August 7 the Interministerial Committee on the Buddhist problem, headed by Vice President Tho, issued a communique inviting relatives of any person detained as a result of the events of July 16-17 in Saigon to write or telephone the Committee and provide details so that the Committee could begin any necessary investigation. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

I told President Diem very frankly, when he said that she spoke only as a private citizen, that this would not wash in the outside world and I did not think it would wash in Viet-Nam. I told him he could not expect to maintain present relationship with US Government if he would not take this matter into his own hands, back-up his Ambassador in Washington,/4/ and remove the appearance of schizophrenia from his government. He took this seriously and promised to consider what he could do. I also bore down heavily on the UN aspect.

/4/Apparent reference to the statement by the Vietnamese Ambassador in Washington, Tran Van Chuong (Madame Nhu's father), that Madame Nhu's remarks that all the Buddhists had done was "barbeque a bonze" with "imported gasoline" were impertinent and disrespectful. Ambassador Choung's remarks were broadcast by the Voice of America in Vietnam, August 6. (Telegram 190 from Saigon, August 8; ibid.)

In talks with Vice President, Thuan, Nhu, Mau, [less than 1 line not declassified], Buu Hoi, and others, have been trying to line up ideas and solid front on next moves.

Following are possibilities:

(a) "Leave of absence" for Madame Nhu, perhaps in Rome;
(b) Further church admonition to Archbishop Thuc;
(c) Direct approach to Madame Nhu by me, after telling Diem that I intend doing so.

Re Deptel 178, action proposed para 2, 3 and in part 5 already taken and being pressed. I do not think it is a good idea to urge Diem to have Nhu make public statement of support for Diem's policy, as this brings into question who is running the GVN and related problems. Please reconsider./5/ Meanwhile I am seeking another appointment with President Diem.

/5/According to telegram 185 to Saigon, August 12, the Department of State, including Ambassador-designate Henry Cabot Lodge, reconsidered and agreed with the Embassy that Diem himself should make a gesture in support of the policy of conciliation with the Buddhists. (Ibid., POL 15-1 S VIET)

Nolting

 

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

Saigon, August 12, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S Viet. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. According to a note on another copy, this telegram was part of the President's weekend reading file of August 13. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/1/63-8/20/63)

208. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 178./2/ Had very serious talk with President Diem this morning. I feel he is impressed by gravity of situation confronting him, both internal and external. When he told me that he would take seriously what I had said and would consider what he could do to meet our demands, I told him this was not enough--that time was running out and that he had promised me the same last week. Since then the situation had been made much worse by Madame Nhu's intemperate utterances. He then promised to let me know this afternoon what he would do.

/2/Document 248.

During course of lengthy conversation (in which I did most of talking), read him reftel word for word, explained points and pointed out inter alia that we were now talking about doubts and misgivings in US Government itself, not in US public opinion. I drew heavily, perhaps exhaustively, on store of goodwill and confidence, spoke absolutely frankly from point of view of partner in joint enterprise, could detect no resentment but rather a great sense of struggle between family loyalties and public duty. In this connection I stressed to him that as President his family is entire Vietnamese people and it must be their welfare which must prevail.

My talk with Diem was preceded by a visit at my home last night by Thuan (please protect source). Thuan summed up the feelings of most Cabinet members and his own by saying that it was the 11th hour for Diem to take charge of the government and to act as President. I have reason to believe that this is an accurate summary of most Cabinet opinion from conversations I have had separately with nearly all of them. I gave President Diem my own observations and convictions regarding the attitude, not only of high officials of his own government, but of many lower Vietnamese; stressed absolute necessity for him to take account personally of the crisis resulting from Buddhist problem. I told him that not only abroad, but here in Viet-Nam, it seemed clear that Madame Nhu, with the support of his brother, was usurping his prerogatives and control in this matter (he vehemently denied this) and that in my opinion and in that of my government nothing would now eradicate that impression except vigorous and positive public action by him, demonstrating his control over his own government and repudiating Madame Nhu.

I will report further after hearing from him.

Another point should be added: Thuan (protect source) told me last evening that he was convinced Madame Nhu had organized a secret police squad of her own, headed by her brother, Tran Van Khiem, and that already "illegal arrests" have been made by this group. I asked him whether Nhu was in on this and he said he found it impossible to believe that he was not. I told Diem that I had received certain unverified information to this effect. He flatly denied that there was any substance to it, saying among other things that he disliked and distrusted Khiem and that his family would never do such a thing. I told him I thought he had better look into it.

Throughout discussion, there was evident on Diem's part a feeling that it was not so much what Madame Nhu said but how she said it that gave him trouble. He reverted again and again to the bad faith of the bonzes, to their sabotage of the war effort, etc. He also mentioned the pressure he was under from "good people" in the provinces and elsewhere not to knuckle under to the false monks. He complained that nobody in the outside world recognized the falsity of the religious issue or the fact that it was being used for subversive action. I told him that what he had just said confirmed my suspicion that his policy was in fact schizophrenic, that he had entrusted a policy of conciliation to the Vice President to implement and was himself condoning public attacks upon the Buddhists which made that policy impossible to implement; that he had to choose and do so decisively; that so far as the US was concerned he had to stick to and implement fully the policy of conciliation, and had to make certain public demonstrations that he was doing so. Otherwise, we could not support him.

He said that Vice President Tho was scheduled to make a restatement of government policy tomorrow, and that he expected, after talks with certain bonzes, that they would agree to joint investigations of the events in Phan Thiet. I seized upon this to press him most strongly to make that public declaration himself, in his own name and to take advantage of this opportunity to subdue the rising tide of public feeling, at home and abroad, that he is not master of his own government. If he responds at all positively to our demarche, I think it will be to make this declaration himself, as a first step.

Nolting

 

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

Washington, August 13, 1963, 7:20 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Heavner, cleared by Kattenburg, and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

193. Embtels 219 and 220./2/ Appears here that Tho press conference projects essentially unbending and non-conciliatory policy which is in flat contradiction to Diem promise to take our advice and make an announcement of GVN determination to follow policy of conciliation. We note that Tho appears indicate GVN intends prosecute Buddhists for May 8 affair, which is in direct conflict with Buddhist insistence GVN officials responsible for May 8 deaths. Such action is not only refusal of Buddhist request that these officials be identified and punished but is sure to provide further and legitimate grounds for Buddhist charges of persecution. Tho statement to effect that Buddhists arrested after June 16 may not enjoy clemency also sure to stimulate further Buddhist protest. Comparison of Madame Nhu and Senator Mansfield will not be well accepted here, and his remarks on Mme Nhu will not suffice as GVN repudiation of her intemperate attacks on Buddhists./3/

/2/In telegram 219 from Saigon, August 13, the Embassy sent highlights of Tho's press conference of August 13 based on the notes of a USIA employee who attended it. (Ibid.) In telegram 220 from Saigon, also August 13, Nolting reported that at a farewell dinner in his honor on the evening of August 12, Diem promised to take U.S. advice and issue a declaration conciliatory to the Buddhists. According to Nolting, Diem also implied, without actually saying it, that his declaration would repudiate Madame Nhu. (Ibid., POL 15-1 S VIET)

/3/According to the account contained in telegram 219 from Saigon, Tho, in the question-and-answer part of his press conference, described Madame Nhu's recent public statements as the "personal opinions" of a prominent member of the Vietnamese National Assembly and compared them to Senator Mansfield's earlier reports which were critical of South Vietnam. Tho noted that Mansfield was a prominent member of the U.S. Congress and his criticism did not result in a change in the Kennedy administration's support of South Vietnam. Tho suggested that Madame Nhu and Senator Mansfield's situations were comparable.

Request your comments on above/4/ and estimate Diem intentions at this time. FYI: Unless he takes appropriate actions soon we will be compelled make public statement strongly critical of GVN handling religious issue. End FYI.

/4/In telegram 222 from Saigon, August 14, the Embassy replied that it believed the Department of State had interpreted the Tho press conference too negatively. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

Do you believe there is any chance that Diem would be willing to take a "vacation" together with Nhus at this time?/5/ It is conceivable that Buddhist issue could be resolved in his absence, by Tho as Acting President and brother Luyen filling Nhu's role (or new job as caretaker "Premier") and defending Ngo family interests. We suspect Diem was fishing when he mentioned vacation, seeking to discover US desire to get him off scene in order promote coup, but if there is possibility he was in earnest, believe he should be taken up promptly on it. Would be absolutely essential of course that both Nhus accompany him. Worst sort of situation would be Diem on vacation and Nhus in full charge.

/5/In telegram 222 from Saigon, the Embassy stated that it believed there was no chance that Diem would take a vacation in company with the Nhus.

Rusk

 

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

Saigon, August 14, 1963-8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

226. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptels 178, 185, 193, Embtels 208, 220./2/ Delay and much hard negotiation on issuance of statement by Diem. I saw him early this morning and he had slipped back into postponement and vacillation, which he attributed to Buddhist attacks (banners, etc. in Saigon) against him and government and to attacks in US press, especially New York Times story by Szulc from Washington sources that Buddhist affair was affecting, or about to affect, war effort.

/2/Telegrams 178 and 193 to Saigon and telegram 208 from Saigon are Documents 248, 252, and 251, respectively. Regarding telegrams 185 to Saigon and 220 from Saigon, see footnote 5, Document 250, and footnote 2, Document 252.

In face these factors, he said that Ministerial Council had advised him not to issue another conciliatory statement. I told him bluntly that for our part we could not accept this; I had given him before our reasons and he had promised to take positive action explaining clearly government's position and, at least by implication, repudiating position set out so intemperately by Madame Nhu. This exchange occurred following ceremony this morning. I was supported by Chinese Ambassador Yuen and Australian Ambassador Hill.

At eleven o'clock appointment to say goodbye to President Diem, the exchange continued. We were absolutely frank with one another. I drew heavily on reftels (minus last para Deptel 193 re vacation). He maintained stoutly that neither the American press nor apparently the American government understood the real dimensions or all complexities of Buddhist problem, nor did we understand the true situation concerning the Ngo family and their individual contributions to the independence of Viet-Nam. He went into great detail on this, stressing particularly the absolute selflessness of Ngo Dinh Nhu's contribution to the cause. I stuck to the position it would be impossible for the US Government to continue our present relationship to him and to his government if he did not promptly make a declaration which would show clearly who was running the country, would undo some of the damage done by Madame Nhu's statements and would restore faith in GVN's intention to carry out its announced policy of conciliation. Upshot finally was that he promised to make such a statement, if possible before I leave tomorrow. We are working hard on the follow up./3/

/3/Diem's statement was made to newspaper correspondent Marguerite Higgins. As quoted in The Herald Tribune, August 15, Diem stated "the policy of utmost reconciliation is irreversible" and "that neither any individual nor the government could change it at all." In a veiled reference to Madame Nhu, Diem was quoted as saying, "It is only because some have contributed, either consciously or unconsciously, to raising doubts about this government policy that the solution of the Buddhist affair has been retarded."

At the close of this rather strenuous goodbye, President Diem was courteous enough to say that he considered my tenure here to have been one of the best souvenirs of his life, and that such frank exchanges as we had today would in no way mar our friendship. I said I heartily reciprocated his sentiments, and I felt that Ambassador Lodge would wish to deal with him on a similar basis of absolute frankness in the interests of our two countries. He asked me to thank President Kennedy for all he has done for Viet-Nam./4/

/4/On August 15, President Kennedy received and read the President's Intelligence Checklist, August 15, which contained an item entitled "South Vietnam":

"a. It took more pressure from Ambassador Nolting during their final meeting yesterday to get Diem to issue any statement at all reaffirming his government's policy towards the Buddhists.

"b. The statement seems to do this well enough and, implicitly at least, to rebuke Mme. Nhu, but it takes the form of an answer to a question from Marguerite Higgins for publication in today's Herald Tribune. Thus it could be disavowed if need be, and few Vietnamese are likely to be aware of it anyway."

It was also noted that tension in Hue was mounting and more Buddhist monks and nuns were volunteering to sacrifice themselves. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files. Chester V. Clifton Series)

Nolting

 

254. Editorial Note

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge met with President Kennedy on August 15, 1963, from 11 to 11:35 a.m. at the White House. (Kennedy Library, President's Log Book) No record of their discussion has been found. Lodge subsequently recalled that when he met with President Kennedy on this occasion, he found the President "very much concerned by what was going on in Vietnam. He referred particularly to the famous Associated Press picture of the Buddhist monk, Quang Duc, burning himself alive. I suppose that no news picture in recent history had generated as much emotion around the world as that one had. President Kennedy referred to that picture, to the overall importance of Vietnam, and to what was going on in Saigon--to the fact that apparently the Diem government was entering a terminal phase. He also mentioned the extremely bad relations that the Embassy had with the press. He said, 'I suppose that these are the worst press relations to be found in the world today, and I wish you, personally, would take charge of press relations."' (Oral history interview with Henry Cabot Lodge, August 4, 1965; Kennedy Library, Oral History Program)

William J. Miller's biography of Lodge, Henry Cabot Lodge, pages 337-338, also contains an account of this meeting based on Lodge's recollections

 

255. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, August 15, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL-1, General Political. Secret. Drafted by Conlon.

SUBJECT
GVN Progress in Struggle Against the Viet Cong During First Six Months 1963

REFERENCE
Saigon 203, August 10/2/

/2/Telegram 203 contained the summary highlights of the Embassy's Task Force Weekly Progress Report. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 2 S VIET)

Reftel provides an excellent, thorough, very detailed account of progress made by the GVN in the struggle against the Viet Cong during the first six months of 1963. The most important aspects of the progress made are as follows:

Population: MACV estimates GVN effectively controls 6,766,000 as of July 1, 1963, increase of 966,000 over July 1, 1962. (Total population SVN approximately 14.8 million.) GVN has predominant control of 3.5 million, decrease of about 100,000. Under neither GVN nor VC control, about 600,000, increase of 489,000. Viet Cong controls about 700,000, decrease of over 400,000. Viet Cong has predominant control over 1,000,000, decrease of almost 700,000. Overall, changes reflect shift of population into GVN effective control category at more rapid rate than a shift of territory into GVN effective control category.

Villages: GVN effectively controls 939 villages as of July 1, 1963, an increase of 80 over July 1, 1962. GVN has predominance in 741 villages, an increase of 41. Neither GVN nor VC control 148, an increase of 114. VC controls 341 villages, a decrease of 113. Viet Cong has predominance in 375 villages, a decrease of 47.

VC Attacks: The VC was responsible for 6929 incidents of all kinds during the first six months of 1963, compared to 10,270 during the first half of 1962. VC attacks dropped by 36% and the scale of attacks also declined. ARVN forces, during the first six months of 1963, inflicted casualties on the VC at a somewhat higher rate than during the first six months of 1962. Although weapons losses by GVN forces continue to be a problem, improvement has been noted on a statistical basis, and greater proportion of ARVN weapons losses occurred during a few well-conducted actions on the part of the VC. In contacts with VC forces the GVN forces continued to show improvement in offensive capability.

 

256. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Helms), to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, August 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26, Coup Rumors. Secret. Copies of the covering memorandum and the attachments were sent to Krulak and Forrestal.

SUBJECT
Transmittal of Estimates on Situation in South Vietnam

Attached hereto are estimates prepared by CIA in Saigon with regard to Government of Vietnam instability, and the likelihood of a coup d'etat, brought on by the continuing Buddhist crisis. Discussions held at our 14 August meeting/2/ were based upon these reports.

/2/No record of these discussions has been found.

For the Deputy Director (Plans):

W. E. Colby

 

Attachment 1/3/

/3/Secret.

SUBJECT
Provisions of the Constitution which Deal with the Succession to the Presidency

1. The President and the Vice President of South Vietnam are elected for five year terms. after initial election they are eligible for reelection for two more terms and can therefore serve a total of 15 years. Consequently, if Diem remains in office, he can run for re-election in 1966 for the third and final time, unless the Constitution is amended in the interim. See Article 32.

2. Article 33 notes that apart from death in office, the President may, after a medical examination, be declared incapacitated because of serious illness by a four-fifths majority of the total number of delegates in the National Assembly. Also, he may tender his resignation to the National Assembly, and Article 33 puts no limitations upon his reasons for resigning. Article 33 also provides for the President's deposition by the Special Court of Justice, which consists of the President of the High Court of Appeals and 15 deputies elected by each house of the National Assembly, or 30 in all.

3. The Constitution provides for the simultaneous election of the President and Vice President. In the event of departure of the former from office for any reason, it is further provided that the Vice President shall assume the title and office of President, with full rights and duties, for the balance of the five year term. If both the President and the Vice President fail to complete their term, however, an interim caretaker arrangement is prescribed as indicated below.

4. Article 34 provides that in a circumstance in which there is no President and no Vice President, the President of the National Assembly shall temporarily exercise the function of the President of the Republic in order to expedite current affairs and to organize the election of a new President and a new Vice President within a maximum period of two months.

5. Articles 41 and 42 conceivably could have some bearing on this subject. Article 41 provides that for reasons of emergency the President may, between two sessions of the National Assembly, sign orders in council (meaning, presumably, that he can govern by decree). Article 42 provides that in case of emergency, war, internal disturbances or financial or economic crisis, the National Assembly may vote a law conferring on the President the power to sign orders in council for a definite time and within definite limitations, with a view to enforcing the policy defined by the National Assembly in the law by which it delegates power to the President. Article 42 says nothing one way or the other about whether the National Assembly could pass such a law in favor of a former President of the National Assembly who might be temporarily exercising the function of President of the Republic as prescribed under Article 34. In other words, the Constitution does not provide a mechanism under which a caretaker head of state may govern by decree although neither is forbidden.

 

Attachment 2/4/

/4/Secret.

SUBJECT
The Possibility of Ngo Dinh Nhu Succeeding President Ngo Dinh Diem

1. The circumstances of President Ngo Dinh Diem's departure from the scene will be an extremely important predeterminant to Ngo Dinh Nhu's succession as President of South Vietnam. The possibilities include:

a. Resignation
b. Death by natural or accidental means
c. Death by assassination
d. Overthrow by coup d'etat, possibly, but not necessarily involving death.

2. Nhu is, of course, a member of the National Assembly, Khanh Hoa Province being his home constituency. Given the elimination of Diem, it therefore follows that Nhu could, without violating the constitution, aspire under Article 34 to exercise the powers of the President for a period not exceeding two months, if he could first persuade both Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho and Truong Vinh Le, President of the National Assembly, to resign their present offices, and then contrive his own election by the Assembly as successor to Le. Nhu would then have two further months during which to arrange and win a general election which would legally install him in the office of President. Vice President Tho, in this connection, represents an imponderable. Although he has never been considered a particularly strong man, he is probably not a cipher like Le and has never had an opportunity to show his mettle. It is possible that in a Government of Vietnam (GVN) crisis Tho might, on his own initiative, generate enough support to thwart Nhu's ambitions, even if he might not ultimately succeed in maintaining himself in the Presidency long enough to finish out the constitutional term. Although it is extremely difficult to assess the likelihood that Nhu could successfully carry off this gambit, it is technically possible and could be done within the letter of the law, if not its spirit, provided Diem had left office under circumstances not involving a coup d'etat as such. It is clear that Nhu, second only to Diem, is at this time the strongest political power in Vietnam.

3. In the aftermath of the fourth possibility, namely violent overthrow of Diem, Nhu's chances of succession would be poor, whether he tried to do so by either constitutional or unconstitutional means. While perhaps conceding Nhu's competence to hold high office, in terms of experience, organizational capability, and as the driving force behind the strategic hamlet program, etc., there exists considerable opposition to him among the educated and articulate elements of the population, including the military. Unquestionably, his greatest liability is Madame Nhu, towards whom these same elements express an intense and indeed very personal hostility on the ground that she is vicious, meddlesome, neurotic, or worse. Whether this opposition to Nhu and his wife is based on cold logic or on supercharged emotions is immaterial, it is important because it exists. It would be difficult, if not almost impossible, for Nhu to install himself in office, by any method whatever, after the removal of his brother by a coup d'etat. Nhu and his wife would be fortunate to escape with their lives, and in fact there have been reports of at least one plot in which the Nhus would be murdered, but Diem retained in power to preside over a reoriented GVN.

4. In a conversation with an American observer on 25 June (TDCSDB-3/655,297 and CSDB-3/655,373),/5/ Nhu gradually worked himself into a highly emotional state of mind. Among other things he expressed strong opposition to Diem and his government, to such an extent that it would be unwise to exclude totally the possibility that Nhu would be capable of attempting a coup d'etat against Diem. This is not the first time Nhu has expressed himself so violently. In a conversation about two months ago, in which Dang Duc Khoi interpreted for Nhu and two Time/Life staffers, Nhu flatly said that the present regime (though not necessarily Diem himself) must be destroyed. He repeated this statement several times and lent emphasis to it by resorting to the Latin "Carthago delenda est". On many occasions in the past he has then qualified such remarks by saying that he views the Diem regime as a transitional stage and the child of historical necessity, but neither to the Time/Lifers nor to the American observer on 25 June did he express such an intermediate point of view. In general, Nhu's chances for succession to the Presidency tend to diminish as the extent of violence attending Diem's removal increases, but there does remain a possibility that Nhu could attain the Presidency even in a violent situation, perhaps even including assassination of Diem, provided such situation had been organized by Nhu and was controlled by him.

/5/Neither found.

5. The key to any plan to prevent Nhu's accession to the Presidency will be Vice President Tho, and the best plan would be to form a nationally supported action committee, outside the present government, whose task would be, in the event of Diem's departure, to assist Tho to attain the Presidency and then to maintain himself in power as prescribed by the Constitution.

6. We are pessimistic about the possibility of improving Nhu's domestic or international image by any means which we can envision. He has been the subject of volumes of adverse comment both in Vietnam and abroad, and the importance of Madame Nhu as a liability has been mentioned above. So far as the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) is concemed, it can probably be said that Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, Commander, IV Corps, is the only general officer who has a reputation of having unequivocally supported Nhu thus far--even this statement must be qualified, however, by noting that it is a moot point whether the troops of the two divisions in Cao's command would remain loyal to him. It thus follows that it would be as difficult to raise Nhu's stature in the ARVN eyes as in the case of the Vietnamese and foreign public at large. As the ARVN commanders are certainly fully aware, Diem has always exercised close personal control over the assignment of his top military leaders, and the military leaders have no compelling reason for being deeply loyal to Nhu on this score.

7. The relationship between Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can involves a number of complexities. The two brothers have differed on many issues over the years and have constructed internal political organizations which frequently compete with one another on such matters as appointment to lower and medium level jobs and access to lucrative economic franchises. Madame Nhu is again a factor, in that she and Can detest each other. Additionally, Can has often expressed a low opinion of Nhu's judgment and practical ability as a leader. Nevertheless, in a crisis involving Nhu's efforts to attain the Presidency, after--and only after--Diem's disappearance from the scene, Nhu could probably count upon Can's assistance and would make strenuous efforts to obtain it. A large measure of Can's power in Central Vietnam is derived from support from Saigon, and to retain that power over a long period, he must have continued support. Can would reason that with Nhu in office in Saigon, he would stand a better chance of continued support than he would from any other leadership. Can's influence during a crisis period would be in a measure independent of Saigon, in that it is based upon a sense of identification with him on the part of provincial authorities, both civil and military, who obtained and hold their own positions with, at the very least, his concurrence. Can's hold over his subordinates is not so much a matter of their loyalty to him as a realization on their part that without him they could very likely lose their own positions. In speculating upon Can's relations with Nhu, and his likely course of action if the latter makes a bid for power, past experience suggests that Can, in a crisis, cannot always be counted upon to play a rational role, even in terms of his own best interests. Though a shrewd politician, he nevertheless has several times shown a tendency to panic in emergencies, or simply to withdraw in the face of situations which he regards as presenting difficult problems.

8. In conclusion, Nhu's chances of achieving the Presidency are assessed as follows:

a. In a situation other than a coup d'etat directed against Diem, Nhu's chances of initially taking over the Presidency are fair.

b. In a coup d'etat against Diem, it would be almost impossible for Nhu tQ become President. In fact, he and his wife could very well be victims of the coup.

c. If Nhu should initially take over the Presidency, his chances of solidifying his position and maintaining himself in power over an extended period are poor.

 

Attachment 3/6/

/6/Secret.

SUBJECT
Contingency Planning for Succession Crisis

Section I: The Stable Transfer of Power

1. Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho would, at least initially, succeed to the Presidency through the normal constitutional processes should anything happen to President Ngo Dinh Diem. Tho's possible succession immediately presents basic policy questions requiring a United States Government decision. If Diem should leave the Presidency under any circumstances whatever, constitutional succession of Tho would be the most desirable next step and the least dangerous in terms of both Vietnamese and U.S. Government self-interest. Implicit in this statement would be a decision (a) to strengthen Tho's position by all the means at our disposal, as soon as Diem was out of the way, and (b) to oppose a power grab by Nhu, either initially or at some later date. It is obvious that if Diem should be overturned in a chaotic and violent situation, it might be extremely difficult for the U.S. Government to contribute significantly to bringing the situation under control. In this eventuality the most readily presentable outcome would probably be some form of military junta or other "abnormal transfer of power".

2. A U.S. Government decision to back the constitutional succession of Tho would be thus based on a number of factors:

a. The conclusion that Nhu's chances of maintaining himself in power for an extended period are poor.

b. Acceptance of the opinion that, regardless of his chances of survival, Nhu's past behavior and that of his wife are such that we could not tolerate him as president, in terms of U.S. Government policy.

c. Agreement that Tho represents the only presently foreseeable alternative to Nhu who would have a fair chance of survival and whom we might be able to guide along lines acceptable to U.S. Government policy.

d. Acceptance of the view that strong and immediate expressions of U.S. Government support of Tho, following the departure of Diem, would make it more difficult for Nhu to attract and consolidate various Vietnamese power factors which he would need to install and maintain himself m power.

3. We should be under no illusions as to the sanctity of the Vietnamese constitution in the eyes of many Vietnamese. Some of its provisions are a legal fiction (e.g., prohibitions against illegal arrest, brutal treatment, etc.) and, in any case, the constitution has not existed long enough to develop deep-rooted prestige in terms of tested historical precedent. From the American point of view, however, the constitution probably does provide the best available tool with which to force a succession solution which we can accept, and thwart the ambitions of Nhu, whom we cannot accept, in such a way as to maintain a tenable U.S. Government policy stance in the eyes of American and world opinion.

Section II: Abnormal Transfer of Power

1. It is difficult to forecast with any degree of confidence how an abnormal transfer of power might come about, nor precisely who might be involved. General possibilities include the following, descending order of likelihood:

a. A non-communist coup d'etat by the army, perhaps drawing on civilian oppositionists, though not necessarily.

b. A palace" coup d'etat, perhaps engineered by Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen and his colleagues, directed against the entire Ngo family (probably with cooperation of the military).

c. A "palace" coup d'etat engineered by Nhu in an effort to unseat Diem and install himself in office.

d. A communist coup d'etat mounted by the Viet Cong.

2. Key power centers among the military and police services are as follows:

a. Presidential Guard. Strength 2,500. Heavily armed with ten M-24 tanks, six M-113 armored personnel carriers, six M-114 armored personnel carriers, vehicles with mounted quad 50's, recoilless rifles, bazookas. Some personnel billeted on palace grounds, but most are at other locations in Saigon. This unit will probably remain completely loyal to Diem. There is strong friction between the Presidential Guard and the Airborne Brigade.

b. Armor command, which is controlled by the Joint General Staff UGS) and has subordinate squadrons under operational control of corps commanders (except III Corps, where the JGS still exercises operational control). There are considerable armor units scattered at various points in and around Saigon. These units could, under their own power, be brought into play within various periods of time up to four hours, depending upon their distance from the center of the city. The different units of the 1st armor squadron are the most significant as they have many access routes to Saigon and cannot easily be blocked. Owing in considerable part to the divisive effect of the Buddhist question, the loyalty of the armor command to Diem may have been impaired.

c. Airborne Brigade. There are six battalions, all based in the vicinity of Saigon. Whenever trucks are made available to one of the battalions for an operation, an armor unit is placed on alert. Recently armor units have been attached to two airborne units in an operation near Saigon. Airborne Brigade has mounted one coup d'etat, and indications are that it might be willing to mount another. Many of the key officers participated in the first coup, and some have recently expressed regret that it did not succeed. The loyalty of the Airborne Brigade to Diem is very doubtful.

d. Marine Brigade. There are four marine battalions. The 3rd battalion is based near Saigon, and the 4th battalion is currently stationed in the city to help during the crisis situation. The loyalties of the Marine Brigade were split during the 1960 coup./7/ Diem has worked hard to gain the marines' loyalty, and he has probably succeeded. The Brigade Commander, however, has just rotated battalions on emergency duty in Saigon, thus removing from the city a strong Catholic battalion commander and replacing him with a Buddhist whose loyalties, while unknown, might be mixed.

/7/For documentation on the unsuccessful coup of November 1960, see Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. I, pp. 631 ff.

e. Ranger Companies. The loyalty of these companies, of which there are perhaps 200, is difficult to assess. Some companies reportedly were formed predominantly of Catholics. A number of the companies have been brought into Saigon during the Buddhist situation. In a crisis they will be led by picked Vietnamese Special Forces officers who are considered loyal to the Diem regime. The Ranger Commander, Colonel Ton That Xung, has no great loyalty to the regime.

f. ARVN Corps Units:

(1) III Corps. Troops from the III Corps would be the first to arrive in Saigon during a crisis, apart from special units, such as those mentioned above. Brigadier General Ton That Dinh is reportedly engaged in coup plotting, but the information is rather scanty on this point.

(2) IV Corps. The Corps Commander, Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, is considered to be the general most loyal to Diem. It is doubtful, however, that he could control the two divisions under his command unless there was an identity of interests between them and himself. The 7th Division Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bui Dinh Dam, is said to be loyal to Secretary of State Nguyen Dinh Thuan. The troops of the IV Corps could be blocked from entering Saigon by the destruction of several highway bridges or by the second armor squadron, which holds a potential locking position at My Tho.

(3) The I Corps and the II Corps are too far from Saigon to play an immediate role in a coup crisis.

g. Navy. Captain Ho Tan Quyen, Navy Commander, personally led two companies of marines to the defense of Diem in the 1960 coup, and is generally believed to be loyal. The Navy vigorously defended the palace against the air attack on 27 February 1962./8/

/8/For documentation on the air attack on the Presidential Palace in Saigon, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Documents 87 ff.

h. Air Force. It is at least doubtful that the air force would defend Diem. Several high level air force officers have advocated a coup d'etat.

i. Police and Security Services:

(1) The latest strength figures show 21,000 uniformed regular police, of which 5,900 are in Saigon, and 1,301 combat police, of which 534 are in Saigon. So far as is known, the combat police have no heavy weapons except a few old Malayan (British) armored cars and a very few 30 caliber machine guns. The uniformed police have nothing heavier than submachine guns.

(2) During the 1960 coup, large numbers of Saigon police, including several of their leaders, absented themselves from their duty posts and thus were not of help to the government. There is no reporting to suggest that leaders of the police could be counted among the oppositionists, but conversely there is little to suggest that the police would be any more effective in behalf of the regime than they were the last time, if another coup should be attempted. An important factor is that the police are well aware that they are unable to stand up against heavily armed regular military units.

3. Even if the foregoing assessment of the loyalties of the armed services and police is not certifiably accurate, it can be said, with some confidence, that the regime has sustained a significant loss of prestige and support in these services. The Buddhist unrest of the past two months has had a divisive effect, and in a new crisis the Diem government would be leading from a much weaker position than in November 1960.

4. Conclusions and recommendations: In the event of an attempted coup d'etat, there will be an initial period of confusion, perhaps characterized by fighting in the streets of Saigon and other disturbances. This phase may be a matter of hours, or it may extend over several days. After this period, it will be clear either that Diem has put down the coup and will remain in office, or that he has failed in this objective. The following actions will be called for from the U.S.:

a. Initial period of confusion. All assets will be utilized to obtain as much information as possible-identify coup leaders, their plans, the extent of their armed support, etc. During this period it seems doubtful that the U.S. Government could take any definitive position. If Diem should succeed in putting down the coup, he will later resent the U.S. Government inaction, but this cannot be helped.

b. Diem victory. If Diem wins, or if the indications that he is going to do so are sufficiently convincing, the U.S. Government will have no alternative but to issue a statement reaffirming support.

c. Successful coup d'etat. The U.S. Government position should be to intercede with the coup leaders to the extent that this may be feasible to urge that they set up a stable, broadly based, anti-communist and anti-neutralist regime. They should be urged to put as good a face as possible on the new government, in terms of its legality and constitutionality, putting Tho in office as Diem's successor as provided under the constitution. If the coup leaders are a form of military junta we should still urge them to utilize Tho, even if only as a front man. It should be pointed out that in attempting to influence American and world opinion in favor of the new regime, the task will be more easily done if the new regime installs itself in an orderly way.

d. Unavailability of Tho. The remaining contingency is that the coup will succeed, but that Tho either is swept away in the course of it or is unacceptable to the ruling group, even as a front man. In this situation, and bearing in mind the need to put a facade of respectability on the new government, the best, if not the only U.S. Government course, would be to recognize the status quo and take all possible steps to influence the junta to install a broadly based government which would also utilize competent civilians.

5. A change of government in Vietnam could occur at any time, with little or no warning and in an orderly or disorderly fashion. It is recommended that the policy questions herein presented be resolved as quickly as possible, in order that we can move quickly in Saigon if the need arises.

 

Attachment 4/9/

/9/Secret.

SUBJECT
Vietnamese Personalities Who Might Play a Dominant Role in a Succession Crisis

1. The type of succession crisis is the determining factor in judging which personalities will play important roles. Those persons involved in a stable transfer of power are likely to be different from those figuring prominently in an abnormal situation, e.g., an assassination or an attempted coup d'etat. However, there will be some overlap in the personalities listed due to the fact that certain key military units provide a common denominator in the analysis of any succession crisis. The degree of loyalty toward the regime and the probable actions of the commanding officers, the dominant officers and the men in these key units must be considered by participants in any succession crisis, since they are the final arbiters re success or failure in establishing a successor government.

2. The dominant personalities of the key units:

a. Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Khoi, CO Presidential Guard. All reports indicate that Khoi is strongly loyal to President Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can. Following the 11 November 1960 coup attempt, Khoi assumed command of the demoralized guard, and proved highly capable in the improvement of the morale and the efficiency of the unit by intensive training, including patrol action against the Viet Cong near Saigon. High morale combined with heavy armament make the guard an important power center.

b. Col. Nguyen Van Thien, CO, Armor Branch. A devout Buddhist from Central Vietnam, Thien has expressed dissatisfaction with the regime apparently because of current Buddhist crisis. The Armor Branch has no operational control over armor units and is the repository for officers not trusted by the regime. Chief of Staff Major Nguyen Dinh Bang, Chief of Operations Captain Nguyen Quang Nguyen, and Major Duong Hieu Nghia, a Dai Viet, are among this group. They are listed here because they have influence among the officers and men of the armor squadrons. This is especially true of Thien.

c. Major Huynh Ngoc Diep, CO, First Armor Squadron, outskirts Saigon. A passionate defender of the regime in the Buddhist crisis, Diep is undoubtedly loyal. Strongly pro-regime company commanders Captain Bui Nguon Ngai and Captain Tran Van Thoan assist Diep to maintain the loyalty of the squadron to the Government of Vietnam (GVN).

d. Major Nguyen Van Ba, CO, Second Armor Squadron, two hours from Saigon. His loyalty to the regime is unknown. He is highly regarded by Col. Thien and commands a unit whose composition is mostly Buddhist. Probably Ba would respond to Thien's orders in a crisis.

e. Col. Cao Van Vien, CO, Airborne Brigade. Vien describes himself as the only loyal officer to the GVN in the Airborne. He is not popular with the men, but is respected because of his leadership ability. In a crisis, he would probably not be able to rally the Airborne behind him against a coup with good potential success.

f. Major Ho Tieu, Second Task Force Commander, Airborne. Tieu participated in the aborted 11 November 1960 coup and frequently expresses regrets that it failed. He is considered, like most Airborne officers, as highly likely to join coup forces, and may be able control the Airborne as a unit.

g. Lt. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, CO, Marine Brigade, Saigon, is a nominal Buddhist from North Vietnam. Privately, he has expressed some dissatisfaction with the regime, but is believed to be strongly loyal to the GVN. He is an exceptional officer as commander, trainer, and in staff work. He has won the loyal support of almost all his subordinates because of his interest in their welfare. He could probably swing the Brigade as a unit behind the regime in a crisis.

h. Captain Nguyen Van Tinh, CO, Fourth Battalion, Marine Brigade. Located in Saigon. Tinh is regarded by advisors as an exceptional officer. He is very close to Khang, but nothing is known of his loyalty to the regime.

i. Captain Ma Viet Bang, CO, Third Battalion, Marine Brigade, Saigon. Bang is a maverick in the Brigade and is considered the least likely Battalion CO to remain loyal to Khang and the regime.

j. Col. Le Quang Tung, Commander, Special Forces, Saigon. Tung is a key officer in the Can Lao party from Central Vietnam. Both Tung and his outfit are considered to have unquestioned loyalty to the regime, and reports concerning various coup plots refer to the necessity of eliminating Tung.

k. Col. Huynh Huu Hien, CO, Air Force, Saigon. A nominal Buddhist, Hien supports the regime but not strongly. He is commander of an Air Force whose senior officers have expressed extreme criticism of the regime. Hien is close to Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh, CO, II Corps, and would probably support Khanh if the latter organized a coup.

1. Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky, CO, First Transport Group, Air Force, is a swashbuckler type and idolized by pilots. He has many adherents among Air Force officers and is known to be close to Tran Kim Tuyen.

m. Captain Ho Tan Quyen, CO, Navy, led two companies of Marines to aid President Diem during the 11 November 1960 abortive coup. He is considered loyal to the regime and is a capable administrator but has had little background experience for his present position.

n. Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, CG, III Corps, bordering Saigon on the North. If any unit could be considered as the key unit, this is it. Dinh is a member of the Can Lao and nominally a Catholic. He has been reported as plotting a coup, but nothing is definitive. Dinh is an opportunist who would probably choose the winning side in a crisis.

o. Col. Nguyen Van Thien, CO, Fifth Division, III Corps, is a Catholic from Central Vietnam. A supporter of Ngo Dinh Nhu, he is probably loyal to the regime. There is no information on Thien's ability to command the loyalty of his division, which has a high percentage of Nungs.

p. Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, CG, IV Corps, bordering Saigon on the South, is probably loyal to the regime. He is a Catholic and a member of the Can Lao. Highly intelligent with an excellent record as a division CO, there is some doubt if he could swing the Corps as a unit to support the regime in a crisis.

q. Lt. Col. Bui Dinh Dam, CO, Seventh Division, immediately South of Saigon, is a Catholic from North Vietnam. Dam is close to Major General Tran Van Minh, Permanent Secretary General, Ministry of National Defense, and Inspector General, ARVN, and Secretary of State at Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan. He would be likely to support the latter in a crisis. According to Gen. Minh, Dam would support a nationalist, anti-communist movement aiming at overthrow of the regime.

r. Brig. Gen. Mai Huu Xuan, CO, Quang Trung Training Center, is a key figure because Quang Trung has a large quantity of weapons and is close to Saigon. Xuan is a Buddhist from South Vietnam, and is believed to be a dissident, but to an unknown degree. He is friendly with Brigadier General Pham Xuan Chieu and Major General Tran Van Don. He is an excellent administrator and an experienced security officer.

s. Col. Phan Dinh Thu (nickname, Lam Son), CO, Thu Duc Reserve Officers School, is a Buddhist from Central Vietnam and close to Ngo Dinh Can. The regime has made efforts to insure Thu's loyalty He was promoted to a full colonel and his promotion was made permanent; he was awarded the National Order Third Class, which previously was given to only three other officers. Thu's loyalty is difficult to assess, but he certainly has the courage to mount a coup if he is so inclined. Thu Duc, which is near Saigon, has many students who are discontented because they were drafted and for various other reasons.

3. The personalities who would be involved in a stable transfer of power and who might be recommended to Vice President Tho for appointment to the key positions cited are:

a. Major General Duong Van Minh as Chief, Joint General Staff. "Big Minh" is close to Tho and is a Southerner. He probably has more prestige with other Army officers than any other single officer, and could swing the Army behind Tho.

b. Brigadier General Le Van Kim as Chief of Staff, JGS. He is probably the best staff man in the Army and its most fully qualified officer. He is close to General Duong Van Minh.

c. Maj. Gen. Tran Van Minh, as alternate to General Kim as COS, JGS. He is a capable staff man but not as good as Kim. He is a Southerner and close to Duong Van Minh.

d. Nguyen Dinh Thuan as Secretary of State at Presidency. Tho may not approve of this appointment as Thuan is publicly associated with the present regime. However, Thuan is by far the most capable civil servant extant and works well with the U.S. mission.

e. Dr. Pham Huv Quat, former Dai Viet leader and founder of The Front for National Unity, as an alternate to Thuan. He is a former Minister of Defense and Minister of Education, and helped draft the code of military justice and the curriculum now used m the public schools. He is a moderate oppositionist.

f. Tran Trung Dung as Secretary of State/Assistant Minister of National Defense. Formerly held this position, as well as other public posts and is a good administrator. He has impressed American officials m the past with his ability.

g. The Ministries of Interior, Civic Action, and Information are key ministries. (Directorate General of Information should be elevated in status.) The following list of qualified men should be presented to Tho for serious consideration for appointment to these or other Cabinet positions:

(1) Tran Van Lam, Ambassador to New Zealand and Australia. A Southerner, former National Assembly President, and a delegate for the southern provinces.

(2) Tran Quoc Buu, President of the General Confederation of Vietnamese Labor. He turned down the Vice Presidency at one time, is dedicated to the cause of labor, and is honest and intelligent.

(3) Tran Kim Phuong, Charge d'Affaires in Malaya and Consul General in Singapore. One of the younger men who is qualified for a high rank. He has impressed American officials with a mature outlook and grasp of problems, particularly those connected with foreign affairs and economics.

(4) Tran Le Quang, Secretary of State for Rural Affairs: He has handled a difficult job well because he is a generally good administrator and understands peasant problems.

(5) Pham Khac Suu, an oppositionist now under sentence for participation in 11 November 1960 abortive coup d'etat. He is included here because he is held in high Dublic regard, and is renowned for personal and moral courage. He could be the means of selling the public on the sincerity of Tho's government.

(6) Dinh Trinh Chinh, Counselor at Law, is highly regarded by many oppositionists. He has a brilliant mind, particularly in the political field. He is regarded by some Vietnamese as a Tuyen man, but this is not true. Politically ambitious, he would work well with Americans, whose viewpoint on anti-communist war he largely shares.

(7) Luu Van Tinh, Director General of Budget and Foreign Aid and also acting chief of the Foreign Exchange Office. He is generally accorded recognition by U.S. mission economists as quite knowledgeable in his field. Probably he should be only appointed as an economist or to a position with similar functions to those which he now holds.

(8) Brigadier General Le Van Kim, has been proposed as COS, JGS, but he could also fill position as Minister of Interior or of National Defense.

4. Power grab by Ngo Dinh Nhu. It is almost impossible to categorize those who would support Nhu in this venture, and who would turn on him. His assets include the ability to divide his opposition, considerable political acumen, support of his brother Ngo Dinh Can (a case of preserving Can's own position) and a few persons who depend upon Nhu for their own positions or who genuinely feel Nhu is necessary for the stability of the country. CIA feels that he could reasonably expect support from: Ngo Dinh Can, Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Khoi, Lt. Col. Le Quang Tung, General Huynh Van Cao, Lt. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, Col. Nguyen Van Thieu, Major Huynh Ngoc Diep, and Madame Nhu. Gen. Dinh could be expected to give support to Nhu if he thought that the latter had a good chance of success.

5. Personalities involved in coups d'etat. All officers listed in paragraph 2 will figure in varying degrees of importance in any coup. Their reaction will depend upon who the coup leaders are, and their chances of success. Some, like Nguyen Ngoc Khoi will fight for the regime, others, e.g., Major Ho Tieu will probably be against it; most, if not actually part of the coup, will wait and see how the coup is going before commitment. CIA does not assess many high ranking officers as having the necessary courage to initiate genuine coup. Brig. Gen. Do Cao Tri, CO, First Division, I Corps, and dominant officer in that Corps, Col. Lam Son, Brig. Gen. Nguyen Khanh, CG, II Corps, possess this moral courage. Other possibilities are, in lesser degree, Duong Van Minh and Maj. Gen. Tran Van Don, Commander, Land Forces. CIA still does not have sufficient information accurately to assess possibilities of a revolt by a group composed solely of captains, majors, or lieutenant colonels.

6. CIA is well aware most civilian old line oppositionists want the regime deposed. Many engaged in coup plotting to some extent, but so far this amounts only to talk without adequate military backing. Good examples of this type oppositionist are the "caravellistes". An exception may be Tran Kim Tuyen who reportedly is engaged in serious coup plotting, as has been reported.

7. In the event of a successful coup, CIA believes a great effort should be made to convince the leaders (who would probably be some form of military junta) to honor constitutional procedure as far as possible. The United States may well be confronted with a fait accompli in which civilian leaders have been appointed, but the recommendations contained in paragraph 3 provide a good basis for negotiations. CIA has yet to discover an outstanding civilian personality acceptable to all factions.

8. Assassination may be an integral part of projected coups or may be done in hope that something better will somehow emerge from the resulting chaotic situation. This was apparently the plan of the instigators of the palace bombing in February 1962. Tran Kim Tuyen is allegedly plotting a palace coup with assassination of the Ngo family planned. Paragraph 3 still appears valid in such a case but with this difference, the U.S. should notify appropriate military leaders that the Tuyen group is not acceptable and ask them to install Nguyen Ngoc Tho as President. If this is not done, it is likely that coup will follow coup in an increasingly anarchic situation.

 

257. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

SACSA 468-963

Washington, August 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam 331. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that McNamara saw this memorandum.

SUBJECT
Vietnam

1. I know you are aware of and concerned with yesterday's Halberstam article in the Times./2/ We, as well as others, are dissecting it, exposing its factual and statistical weaknesses.

/2/In a New York Times article of August 15, entitled "Vietnamese Reds Gain in Key Area," Halberstam concluded that the military situation in the Delta had seriously deteriorated over the past year. This decline, Halberstam reported, occurred notwithstanding the previous 20 months of a U.S. build-up of South Vietnamese forces there. Halberstam noted that while the Delta comprised less than a quarter of South Vietnam's land mass, it contained a majority of its population and resources. According to the Halberstam article, U.S. military sources stated that the Viet Cong moved large units of 600 to 1,000 men into the Delta and were well armed with captured American weapons. Instead of attacking the paramilitary Self-Defense Corps or the Civil Guard, the Viet Cong now took on the regular Armed Forces of South Vietnam.

2. This is easy, but misses a key point, which I feel may be of use to you apart from our point-by-point analysis, which is coming. It is this--Halberstam, in his comments on the temperature of the battle in the Delta, exhibits a lack of understanding of our entire Vietnam strategy. From the start, that strategy involved a purification process, north to south; driving the Viet Cong southward--away from their sources of strength and compressing them in the southernmost area of the peninsula. This has proceeded. I Corps is fairly clean; II Corps, not much less so; III Corps, warmer; and IV Corps, still tough.

3. This was expected. The gradual redisposition of Vietnamese power, from the less to the more critical areas, portrays this. As General Cao, CG, IV Corps, said in June, "We want to see all the Viet Cong squeezed into the Ca Mau Peninsula, and then rot there."

4. If Halberstam understood clearly this strategy, he might not have undertaken to write his disingenuous article. Perhaps this strategy should be more fully explained to the press.

Respectfully,

V. H. Krulak
Major General, USMC

 

258. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to the President/1/

Washington, August 19, 1963.

/1/Source: University of Montana, Mansfield Papers, Series XXII, Box 103, Folder 14. A note attached to the source text reads: "Believe Senator took this and gave original to the President."

SUBJECT
Observations on Viet Nam

If the conflict in Viet Nam is at least as important to us as it is to the Vietnamese, then there is little room for manoeuvre in the present situation. We are stuck with it and must stay with it whatever it may take in the end in the way of American lives and money and time to hold South Viet Nam.

In such circumstances whether to support the present government or not is the secondary or tactical question. It is the question, to state it simply and frankly, of which way is likely to be least costly in American lives and money. Indeed, the reports in the press suggest that this is now the subject of intense discussion among the agency-technicians. In any event, those in day-to-day command of policies should be best qualified to advise on this question since they will have to make the day-to-day decisions on operations which, in effect, act either to bolster the present government's position or to encourage a replacement.

Certainly, the selection of Mr. Lodge for a principal role in these decisions is an excellent one. The framework in which he is to make them ought to be clear in his instructions. It ought to be made equally clear to all concerned--Americans and Vietnamese alike--in Viet Nam and in Washington that on behalf of the President, Mr. Lodge is the man who will make the decisions and, insofar as official Americans are concerned, their obligation is to support his decisions fully and actively. If it is necessary to remove personnel to make the point emphatic that should be done promptly.

However, it is necessary to face the fact that either way--with the present government or with a replacement--we are in for a very long haul to develop even a modicum of stability in Viet Nam. And, in the end, the costs in men and money could go at least as high as those in Korea. This is the reality of our situation, if we remain wedded to the premise that South Viet Nam is at least as important to us as it is to the Vietnamese. At this point, with the changing of Ambassadors, therefore, it is pertinent to examine this present premise of policy. The die is not yet finally cast but we are very close to the point when it will have to be. Therefore, we may well ask ourselves, once more, not the tactical question, but the fundamental question: Is South Viet Nam as important to us as the premise on which we are now apparently operating indicates? Is it really as important to us as it is to the Vietnamese themselves? Or have we, by our own repeated rhetorical flourishes on "corks in bottles" and "stopping Communism everywhere" and loose use of the phrase "vital interests of the nation" over the past few years given this situation a highly inflated importance and, hence, talked ourselves into the present bind? In short, have we, as in Laos, first over-extended ourselves in words and in agency programs and, then, in search of a rationalization for the erroneous initial over-extension, moved what may be essentially a peripheral situation to the core of our policy-considerations?

It would appear that there is, at least a presumption that such is the case in Viet Nam and for the following reasons:

1. Even the most sanguine view of defense needs in the Western Pacific, such as the so-called MacArthur Line of a decade or so ago, never envisioned the inclusion of a direct U.S. defensive bastion in Viet Nam.

2. It is almost inconceivable that any policy for the defense of the United States in the Western Pacific would be based upon the commitment of hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans on the Asian mainland, where our naval and air power would be least effective; (Recall Eisenhower's dictum: "Let Asians fight Asians"). Note, too, the decision not to pursue the conflict in Korea into Manchuria and beyond which was made as much by President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles in negotiating the truce, as it was by President Truman and Mr. Acheson in initiating those negotiations. Are we now to find, at an enormous potential cost, "vital U.S. interests" in South Viet Nam when we did not find them in Korea?

3. The most compelling argument for a vast commitment in South Viet Nam and Southeast Asia in terms of U.S. interests is the negative one of denying the resources of the region to Chinese domination and, thereby preventing China from solving its food and other resource-problems. This is an understandable argument but it presupposes a genuine common international interest in this objective. If such cooperation is not forthcoming, a real question arises as to the point at which the cost in men and money to the United States of essentially unilateral action to achieve the objective outweighs any possible advantage which it might provide to the security and welfare of this nation.

4. Certainly, there is no case for holding South Viet Nam on the positive grounds of commercial or other economic interests to this nation. We will be decades, at least, in recouping from all of Southeast Asia, in a commercial sense, what the attempt to hold Viet Nam alone has already cost the people of the United States, let alone what it promises yet to cost.

What the above suggests is that the situation in Viet Nam is not "at least of as much importance to us as it is to the Vietnamese" (the present premise under which we are apparently operating) but that we have talked ourselves and "agencied" ourselves into this premise. It suggests that Viet Nam is not central to our defense interest or any other American interest but is, rather, peripheral to these interests. It suggests, further, that the way out of the bind is certainly not by the route of ever-deeper involvement. To be sure it is desirable that South Viet Nam remain free of Communism but it is also desirable that we do not spend countless American lives and billions of dollars to maintain an illusion of freedom in a devastated South Viet Nam. And it is also desirable that we do not find ourselves, militarily, so bogged down in South Viet Nam or throughout Southeast Asia that we have few resources, short of nuclear, for deployment elsewhere in other critical peripheral situations.

If we go back to the period prior to the first Geneva conference we may find the clue to a valid premise of United States policy in South Viet Nam which can be supported at a cost somewhat commensurate with our peripheral national interests in the situation. We did not, at that time, have even the remotest idea of becoming involved, as the French were, with armies on the mainland of Southeast Asia. The most sanguine proposal, as I recall, was for a one-strike aerial attack to relieve the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu and, in the end, even that was rejected by Mr. Eisenhower.

And when the civil war against the French finally came to an end, the extent of our commitment was, at most, for financial and economic aid to the successor non-Communist government in Saigon and, militarily if at all, through S.E.A.T.O. which was thoroughly international in original concept, if not in its subsequent evolution. It is this limited commitment which has been agencied, through the years, to what is now close to irrevocable total commitment.

In terms of specific U.S. interests, however, it would seem that any premise for Vietnamese and Southeast Asian policy should bind us less not more tightly now than it did at the outset of our involvement. A reasonable premise for present U.S. policy might follow these lines:

We are concerned with the freedom of Viet Nam and the other nations of Southeast Asia, as we are with freedom throughout the world. We join with other nations, within and without the region, via the United Nations or other international combinations in support of such social evolution as these nations seek. But we do not propose to attempt, unilaterally, on behalf of any government what it can only do for itself; that is, to so conduct itself as to marshal its own peoples in support of free political evolution. We reserve to ourselves the right to determine when such circumstances exist and, hence, when to assist, when not to assist, and when, if necessary, to withdraw assistance. In the absence of responsible and responsive indigenous leadership or adequate international cooperation in supporting social evolution in freedom, the essential interests of the United States do not compel this nation to become unilaterally engaged in any nation in Southeast Asia. Indeed, it is doubtful that it is in the interests of the peoples of those nations themselves, for the United States to become so engaged.

If this is the more valid premise for United States policy than the present premise, then certain courses of action stem from it:

1. Agency spokesmen should cease to indulge in rhetorical flourishes about what we are going to do in Viet Nam and stress, if we must have rhetorical flourishes, what we are not going to do.

2. We should stress not the vague "vital importance" of the area to the U.S., but in cold logic, the relatively limited importance of the area in terms of specific U.S. interests as compared, for example, with Latin America.

3. We should stress publicly the international aspects of the problem of preserving freedom in Viet Nam and minimize our unilateral responsibility, while at the same time we make it clear to other non-Asian nations-notably France and Britain-that in the absence of increased international participation we may be compelled to reconsider our own commitment in Viet Nam.

4. We should keep in the background, the possibility of referral of the matter at some point to the Geneva Conferees or to the United Nations if the pressure grows for increasing our involvement.

5. Specifically, in terms of the internal situation in South Viet Nam, we might withdraw abruptly and in a matter-of-fact fashion a percentage--say, 10 per cent--of the military advisors which we have m Viet Nam, as a symbolic gesture, to make clear that we mean business when we say that there are some circumstances in which this commitment will be discontinued and, in justification, point to the comment of Ngo Dinh Nhu on too many Americans in South Viet Nam.

6. We should accent not so much our contribution of genius and men and money to the strategic hamlet program or the operations of the special forces, but our concern with the welfare of the Vietnamese people in the cities and villages.

7. We should stress our desire for peaceful solutions not only of inner South Vietnamese political difficulties but of all-Vietnamese problems and of all Asian problems.

In these and in other ways, in short, we should cease to speak and act on a premise which commits this nation increasingly to solutions, preponderantly by force, not only in South Viet Nam but, possibly throughout Asia, unless we recognize fully that we will pay the great preponderance of the costs of pursuing that premise and unless we are prepared to pay these cost in lives and money, whether the premise involves just South Viet Nam or, in the end, all of Viet Nam and Southeast Asia, if not the Chinese mainland itself.

 

259. Memorandum From Thomas F. Conlon of the Vietnam Working Group to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, August 20, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Press Relations. According to a memorandum for the record, August 15, President Kennedy requested from Secretaries McNamara and Rusk information on "military operations in South Vietnam." He did so, according to the memorandum, "after the President had read an article in today's New York Times by David Halberstam which indicated that things are going badly in Vietnam." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)

SUBJECT
Article by David Halberstam in New York Times of August 15 Alleging Viet Cong Gains in Mekonz Delta Area/2/

/2/See footnote 2, Document 257.

Detailed comments have been received from Task Force Saigon and separately through military channels on the subject article. These comments are unanimous in contradicting the essential thesis developed in the article. Contrary to the assertions by Mr. Halberstam, attributed for the most part to unidentified American military sources, the conclusion of Task Force Saigon is that the overall military situation in the Mekong Delta area has improved steadily during the past year, although at a slower rate than in the High Plateau area of Central Viet-Nam, for example.

Attached as Tab A is Saigon's 261 of August 19,/3/ which contains the detailed comments of Task Force Saigon on the Halberstam article and on the numerous errors and inaccuracies contained therein. Attached as Tab B is a detailed analysis of the article prepared by General Krulak's office for the Joint Chiefs, containing the text of the Halberstam article, as well as statistical and other comments thereon./4/ Tab C is a report on the same subject from the Naval Attache in Saigon./5/ The study prepared for the Joint Chiefs (Tab B) is the most complete of the three attachments.

/3/Not attached and not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-S VIET)

/4/A copy of this detailed analysis, entitled "A Critical Analysis of the Article: Vietnamese Reds Gain Key Area," August 19, is ibid., Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, PR-11, Press Relations. President Kennedy was given a copy of the analysis by Forrestal. Krulak gave a copy to McNamara, who read it on August 28. Krulak informed McNamara: "It was easy to discredit the article, but it has not silenced--or influenced--Halberstam." (Undated covering memorandum from Krulak to McNamara, attached to the analysis)

/5/Message from CINCPAC to the JCS and DIA, DTG 172325Z August 1963, not printed here. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series) It is published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 267B.

In view of the well-organized and systematic presentation of the attachments, there is little purpose to be served in going into the details of the rebuttals to the Halberstam article. Perhaps it will suffice for your purposes to note Task Force Saigon's overall comment. that the IV Corps Area, which is that covered by the Halberstam article, is a well-established Viet Cong base area, long neglected by the GVN, and therefore the most difficult for the Government to operate in. As the Naval Attache notes, the National Military Campaign plan was developed on the premise that the Mekong Delta area would be the most difficult in which to defeat the VC and reestablish GVN control. Techniques which have worked well elsewhere, such as the food control program on the High Plateau, have been impossible to execute in the Mekong Delta. With its abundant supplies of food, the Mekong Delta has not been a suitable area for application of food control programs. The low-lying, swampy nature of the terrain has seriously hampered military operations. Accordingly, there has been a lag in the progress of the military and strategic hamlet programs in the Delta, as compared to other Corps areas.

However, Task Force Saigon concludes that the situation in the Delta as a whole has not only not deteriorated in the past year but that continual progress has been made in isolating the Viet Cong from the population. There is no doubt that continuing intensified effort, tailored to its special problems will be required for the Delta area in the future.

 

260. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

JCSM-629-963

Washington, August 20, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam 321 thru 370. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric saw this memorandum.

SUBJECT
Summary Report on Eighth Secretary of Defense Conference, Honolulu, 7 May 1963/2/ (Withdrawal of 1,000 US Military From Vietnam)

/2/Regarding this conference, see Document 107. The summary report is not printed. (Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 68 A 5159, Eight Sec Def Conf., May 6, 1963)

1. During the Honolulu Conference on 6 May 1963, you directed that a plan be prepared for the withdrawal of 1,000 US military personnel from the Republic of Vietnam by the end of CY63.

2. A proposed plan for conducting the withdrawal, prepared by the Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) and concurred in by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is attached hereto.

3. In reviewing the CINCPAC plan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that no US units should be withdrawn from the Republic of Vietnam for purely psychological purposes until the political and religious tensions now confronting the Government of Vietnam have eased. For that reason, the final decision to implement the withdrawal plan should be withheld until late October. This will allow ample time for all US personnel to arrive home by Christmas.

4. The CINCPAC plan to withdraw US personnel in three or four increments is favored over a one-time withdrawal of 1,000 personnel for the following reasons:

a. Minimum impact on US/GVN military activities.

b. Opportunity for news prominence and coverage over an extended period of time.

c. Creation of fewer personnel, administrative, and transportation problems, i.e., holding over personnel in order for them to depart with their unit, diverting transport aircraft for return to the United States, and overcrowding facilities in Saigon for staging and departure.

5. If you approve the proposed plan, a public affairs annex designed to produce the desired psychological impact, both domestic and foreign, will be prepared and forwarded for your approval.

6. It is recommended that you approve the withdrawal plan for planning purposes, and withhold final decision pending a reevaluation of the situation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that will be forwarded to you by 20 October 1963.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Maxwell D. Taylor
Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

Appendix

Plan Submitted by the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)/3/

Honolulu, undated.

/3/Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text, but for a narrative summary of the preparation of this plan, see United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 3, pp. 12-16.

CINCPAC'S WITHDRAWAL PLAN

1. The main emphasis would be on withdrawal of units rather than individuals.

2. Training RVNAF units to replace US elements to be withdrawn has been in effect since the Comprehensive Plan for the Republic of Vietnam was first developed.

3. In order to achieve maximum press coverage, and at the same time cause the least impact on US/RVN military operations, the withdrawal should be programmed over approximately two months. For compassionate and psychological reasons, the last increment of personnel should be withdrawn in time to arrive home by Christmas.

4. Recommended list of units to be withdrawn:

Unit

Strength

Destination

Army:

   

One Platoon 560 Military Police Co.

33

CONUS

CV-92B (Caribou) Test Unit

3

CONUS

Engineer Construction/Advisory Teams

36

CONUS

Six Medical Civic Action Teams

57

CONUS

UTT Helicopter Co (Minus 1 platoon)

117

Okinawa

Army Support Unit

155

CONUS

Three Machine Gun Platoons

63

25th Division

     

Air Force:

   

Detachment 1964 Communications Group

56

CONUS

Detachment 5th Tactical Control Group

25

CONUS/Clark AFB

Air Force Support Unit

105

CONUS

C-123 Detachment Spray (Ranch Hand)

16

Clark AFB

F-102 Detachment (Water Glass)

48

Clark AFB

Precision Measuring Equipment Lab

15

Clark AFB

Detachment 6091st Recce Squadron

13

CONUS

     

Navy:

   

Headquarters Support (HSAS) Element

21

CONUS

     

Marine Corps:

   

Security Platoon

47

CONUS or Okinawa

     

Joint:

   

MAAG Element

167

CONUS

MACV Element

26

CONUS

     

Total Strength:

1,003

 

5. The withdrawal should be accomplished in three or four increments, each large enough and sufficiently spaced to obtain news prominence and coverage. The first increment, clearly the most important from a publicity viewpoint, should therefore contain more colorful units, a wide spectrum of skills, and representatives from all Services. The first increment is composed tentatively of the following units:

Unit

Strength

Army:

 

Medical Civic Action Teams

30

Engineer Construction/Advisory Teams

36

One Platoon UTT Helicopter Co.

66

MAAG Advisors

25

Air Force:

 

Detachment 1964 Communications Group

56

MAAG Advisors

12

Marine Corps:

 

Security Platoon

47

Navy:

 

MAAG Advisors

4

   

Total Strength:

276

 


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