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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

V. Raids on the Pagodas and a Possible Coup, August 21-28, 1963:
Martial Law, Lodge's Arrival, Responsibility for the Crackdown on the Buddhists, the Cable of August 24, NSC Subcommittee Meetings on Vietnam, New Assessments From the Field, U.S. Support of the Coup

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

Saigon, August 21, 1963, 10 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIEI Secret; Operational Immediate. Repeated Operational Immediate to CINCPAC and Tokyo. Received at 1:28 p.m. Relayed to the White House, CIA, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Ambassador Nolting left Saigon on August 15; Ambassador Lodge was in Tokyo en route to Vietnam.

299. Department pass CAS HQ. CINCPAC for POLAD. Tokyo for Lodge. Following is preliminary CAS/Embassy analysis situation:

1. Indications have accumulated over day suggesting that impetus for crackdown on Buddhists and imposition of state of siege/2/ came from senior military leadership and that decision to embark on this course taken by President with very little reference to his Cabinet or other civilian advisors with exception Ngo Dinh Nhu. Such high civil functionaries as Secretary of State at the Presidency Thuan, Interior Minister Luong and Police/CIO Chief appear confused, concerned and out of picture both in terms of planning which led to this morning's events and of their present roles. Military now have a dominant role and although for time being they profess loyalty to President, latter's position would seem currently or potentially precarious with generals appearing have option of deposing him now or much more likely at a later stage in developments. His main hope for escaping figurehead role would be rapid restoration civil governmental control through ending state of martial law or divisions in ranks of military which he could exploit to maintain some kind of intra-military power equilibrium.

/2/According to CINCPAC telegram 210030Z, August 20, received in Washington at 10:34 p.m., Secretary Thuan informed U.S. officials that President Diem in Executive Council on August 20 decided to proclaim martial law via radio to begin at 6 a.m., August 21, local Saigon time. As a practical matter, Thuan stated, martial law was in effect from midnight of August 20. (Ibid., POL 23 S VIET) For text of Diem's proclamation, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, p. 862.

2. Although in initial phases Buddhist affair the military tended sympathize with Buddhists and to be resentful of GVN's inept handling, in recent weeks there have been indications that military beginning to tire of issue, becoming concerned over impact of prolonged impasse on morale of troops, and beginning to fear that Buddhists had escalated dispute to point where it posed possibly grave threat to security of country and struggle against VC. We have several reports of dissatisfaction on part of military leadership with indecisiveness of GVN's handling of Buddhist question and ineffectuality of senior civilian officials. Events of Sunday,/3/ including large and responsive crowd at Xa Loi, student unrest in Hue, and attack by Buddhist supporters on ARVN Captain in Da Nang may finally have impelled military into action. Expertness, speed, and coordination with which operations carried out against Buddhists in widely separated cities indicate that careful and detailed prior planning must have been carried out on contingency basis before final decision to move taken. This also suggested by dispatch with which banners appeared in city this morning proclaiming Army's determination to defeat Communists and by remarkably expeditious appearance of ARVN psywar pictures purporting to show evidence of VC penetration of Buddhist movement.

/3/August 17.

3. Luong's claim (see Embtel 293)/4/ that generals confronted Diem in all day session 20 August with urgent request that he give them power to deal with situation, while possibly self-seeking attempt dissociate himself with [from] Buddhist repression, has ring of truth to us. Also see FVS 9481/5/ for Diem's part, aside from question as whether he had much choice, generals' proposals may have had certain attractions for him. Rightly or wrongly President appears to have believed that his government had genuinely attempted path of conciliation with Buddhists. He could claim that this policy had been unsuccessful in placating Buddhists and had in fact merely led to expanded Buddhist activity. In short, Diem probably concluded that this policy had become one-way street to catastrophe for him, his family and his government. Early action against Buddhists would also have advantage of presenting Ambassador Lodge with fait accompli before latter's arrival. Also by involving military in repressive actions against Buddhists, he may have thought that he could taint with same brush as his regime only real alternative which US would have accepted should public opinion over Buddhist issue force change in American policy of support for his regime.

/4/In telegram 293, August 21, 9 p.m., the Embassy transmitted the salient points of that afternoon's discussion between a U.S. official and Vietnamese Interior Minister Luong concerning the declaration of martial law and the action against the Buddhists. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

/5/Not found.

4. Joining military in crackdown on Buddhists might also have appealed to Ngo Dinh Nhu, only other non-military participant in Monday meeting according to Luong, as being in accord with his long-standing prescription for solution to problem. Would also tie in with his previously reported blandishments toward generals; Nhu may have encouraged his brother to go along with generals confident in his ability to manipulate them and to make them bear equal onus for strong measures against Buddhists.

5. Two most immediate sources of danger are possibilities of mass agitation in protest against Buddhist repression and break out of fighting between various military elements now in control of country. Re first, generals moved so swiftly and effectively in establishing martial law that, with exception Hue, people seem too stunned to react. As result stringent security controls now in force will be difficult for agitators to organize demonstrations. However, judging by sentiment in their favor generated by Buddhist leadership in recent weeks, particularly among students, possibility of unrest in main cities cannot be excluded.

6. Probably more serious is threat that various elements of military, even though now ostensibly united, may begin maneuver for power in very amorphous and anomalous situation. General Dinh, who is Military Governor of Saigon, is an emotional and somewhat extremist officer who might break facade of army unity in present situation. Also uncertain is present locus of loyalties of Colonel Le Quang Tung, Vietnamese Special Forces Commander who has long served as Ngo family's watchdog among military. Tung has an estimated 1,000 highly trained troops in and around Saigon. Although he appears to be going along with General Don for moment, he is much hated and distrusted by other senior officers, especially Dinh and Khanh. Trouble could well break out between various factions.

Trueheart

 

262. Editorial Note

The President's Intelligence Checklist, August 21, 1963, which was read by the President, contains the following summary of events in Vietnam under an item entitled "South Vietnam":

"a. Diem's regime seems determined to repress forcefully the rising Buddhist agitation, despite strong advice from US representatives and an urgent plea from Saigon’s ambassador to Washington.

"b. Police and army personnel raided Buddhist pagodas in Saigon and Hue yesterday using arms, grenades and tear gas.

"c. A number of Buddhists were reported killed or wounded, and many others were arrested. The fate of key Buddhist leaders is not yet known.

"d. Martial law has been declared throughout the country, and all communications are in military hands.

"e. These harsh measures may only serve to further alienate the Vietnamese public and will further damage Diem's image throughout the world.

"f. Some senior Vietnamese officers may have agreed with this action as necessary to prevent the spread of unrest. However, we know little of the attitude of junior officers and enlisted men, most of whom are Buddhists, or how they would react if ordered to quell popular disturbances." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files Chester V. Clifton Series)

 

263. Department of State Daily Staff Summary/1/

Washington, August 21, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Top Secret and Secret Summaries: Lot 65 D 142. Top Secret; Eyes Only for Designated Recipient. This summary was part of a daily series prepared in the Operations Center of the Department of State and made available to the Secretary of State and other principal officers in the Department.

Far East:

GVN Military Moves to Crush Buddhists/2/--Although the forcing of Saigon's Xa Loi Pagoda was apparently not the basis for GVN declaration of martial law, the Pagoda was the scene of the first known action under the proclamation. Xa Loi has been cleared and it like other Saigon pagodas has been cordoned off by police and ARVN troops. Communications facilities are under heavy guard, military censorship on press cables has been imposed and the Saigon airport has been closed. Security forces are in the streets in number and are guarding the roads into Saigon.

/2/See Document 262.

The situation in Hue is reported to be very tense, but reasonably quiet. Hue's main pagodas are reported to have been largely destroyed inside earlier in the day by Saigon combat police and there were ugly incidents between highly excited crowds and security forces. Our Consul in Hue reports that anti-US feeling there is at an all-time high in his experience.

A problem in US-Vietnamese relations has been created by the escape of two Buddhist priests from Xa Loi into the adjacent USOM building where they sought and obtained refuge. After the police were refused permission by US officials to enter the building, a cordon was thrown around the building and the police denied Americans permission to enter or leave it and demanded that all Vietnamese nationals leave the premises.

In the wake of police threats to enter the USOM building, our Chargé was called in by Foreign Minister Mau who demanded the priests be handed over. The Chargé demurred stating he would have to seek instructions first, meanwhile he noted his concern over possible violations of the diplomatic immunity of the USOM building. He reports the Foreign Minister implied the effort to enter the building would be dropped.

We have urgently responded to Trueheart's request for guidance on the problem of the priests by saying that they should not, for the time being, be turned over to GVN authorities.

We expect to issue a statement on August 21/3/ stating that the repressive measures against the Buddhists undertaken by the GVN represent a direct violation of its assurances that it was pursuing a policy of reconciliation with the Buddhists and consequently the actions of the GVN cannot be condoned by the United States. (Secret) CINCPAC 210030Z, August (S);/4/ Saigon 271, 8/20 (U); Saigon 274, 275 and 277, 8/20 (C); Saigon 276, 8/20 (LOU); to Saigon 224 and 225, 8/21 (C)./5/

/3/Text in American Foreign Policy: Current Document, 1963, p. 864.

/4/See footnote 2, Document 261.

/5/Telegram 271 is not found; telegrams 274 and 275 are in Department of State, Central Files, POL 25 S VIET; telegram 224 to Saigon is ibid., DEF 6 S VIET; and 225 is ibid., SOC 14-91 S VIET. None is printed.

[Here follow a section on the Near East, an Addendum on the Far East dealing with Malaysia, and Notes.]

 

264. Memorandum From the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Carroll) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

S-18,548/P-3

Washington, August 21, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131 Vietnam 381. Secret. A note on the source text indicates McNamara saw this memorandum.

SUBJECT
(S) Martial Law in South Viet-Nam/2/

/2/See footnote 2, Document 261.

1. The declaration of martial law and repression of Buddhist agitation in Viet-Nam are likely to further alienate the public from the Diem Government and will have serious repercussions throughout the country. Although the military moves are based on an alleged presidential proclamation, the military leaders have, in effect, assumed full control.

2. Shortly after the declaration of martial law at midnight last night, Army and combat police elements assaulted Buddhist pagodas in Saigon and other principal cities. A number of Buddhist priests were r reportedly killed or injured, and many others were arrested. The purpose apparently was to seize Buddhist leaders capable of organizing and sustaining continued Buddhist agitation. A senior Vietnamese military officer claimed on 19 August that top-ranking officers felt that some action was required to prevent the spread of popular unrest.

3. Government troops, including a marine battalion, two special forces groups, military police and combat police moved quickly during the night to secure all key installations in Saigon and the approaches to the city; the Saigon District has been placed under the command of the III Corps Commander. Stringent security measures have been imposed in other cities also. Some disturbances were reported in Hue, where Buddhist pagodas were damaged. CINCPAC says the situation appears to be under control and that comparatively few troops have been withdrawn from normal missions.

4. Commercial flights to Saigon were canceled today, and full press censorship has been instituted.

5. Although senior military commanders are apparently enforcing the presidential martial law decree, further coup or countercoup activity may be in the making. The Armed Forces Chief of Staff implied that martial law may be only temporary. The Army has announced the appointment of general officers to positions of civil, military, and economic responsibilities. The Army-controlled radio has also appealed to the populace to back the Army, without referring to the government. A major uncertainty in the situation continues to be the attitude of junior officers and enlisted personnel, most of whom are Buddhists.

6. A copy of this correspondence [to?] Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director, Joint Staff, J-3 and J-5.

Joseph F. Carroll
Lieutenant General. USAF

 

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

Washington, August 21, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69. Secret.

SUBJECT
Vietnam

1. At 1900, Mr. Hilsman, having just returned from Honolulu, assembled Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Colby and me to discuss the Vietnam problem.

2. He reported that Ambassadors Lodge and Nolting and Admiral Felt were unanimous in the conviction that precipitate action should be avoided. He then stated that, in his view, the content of Saigon message 299 (attached)/2/ is a logical appraisal of the matter-that the military were a dominant factor in bringing the current martial law arrangement into being.

/2/Document 261.

3. He then asked how we might exploit the situation, which generated the following comments:

From Colby:--endeavor to induce the GVN quickly to take a series of favorable actions respecting the Buddhists to exhibit that the repressive measures were necessary to establish the tranquillity in which the religious problem could be solved; generate some favorable public reaction from the Buddhist leadership.

From Forrestal:--the same; specifically do not press the Government either to abolish martial law quickly nor to return to the status quo ante, but to use the military regime to achieve some of the reforms which we have been advocating, not just in connection with the Buddhists, but in other areas of weakness; get press censorship withdrawn quickly and get the best possible picture before the world.

From me:--as a matter of first importance, find out who is in charge-whether the military are taking orders from Nhu or whether Diem is taking orders from the military; then put our influence on whomever is actually in authority to show, by concrete action, their determination to end the religious crisis; press the military to intensify their operations against the VC; get Madame Nhu out of the country.

4. Hilsman agreed with the above; asked Colby to bend every effort to learn the status of Nhu and the relationship between Diem and the military. He asked his State subordinates to work on a message to Ambassador Lodge/3/ conveying the initial Washington reaction to the situation, and asked all present to think of specific actions which we should, at the proper time, press the GVN to take.

/3/Document 268.

V. H. Krulak/4/
Major General, USMC

/4/Printed from copy that bears this typed signature.

 

266. Memorandum Prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency/1/

OCI No. 2341/63

Washington, August 21, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26 Coup Rumors. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.

SUBJECT
Rumors in South Vietnam

Summary

Additional reports of plotting against the Diem government have been received. While there is no hard evidence of imminent action, the Buddhist issue continues to make the situation dangerous.

1. Buddhist agitation seems to be turning farther away from strictly religious issues and toward political questions. At least some Buddhist leaders appear convinced that Diem's overthrow will be only a matter of time if pressure can be maintained in the form of further suicides and public demonstrations. Buddhist demonstrations against the government are, in fact, drawing larger crowds in the principal cities. Student participation in these demonstrations is also increasing, particularly in Hue, where the firing this week of the university rector, who is known to be sympathetic to the Buddhists, has led to the resignation of many faculty members.

2. A group of alleged coup plotters headed by former presidential security service director Tran Kim Tuyen is reported to be ready for an early move against the government. Two sources in contact with members of the Tuyen group maintain that previously reported coup deadlines were practice runs for various units headed by junior officers. The plan is for these units to seize vital installations in Saigon while a small group armed with automatic weapons executes a palace revolt against the Ngo family. Available information points to the existence of serious plotting by Tuyen, but the firmness of the group's resolve and the extent of its capabilities are uncertain.

3. There have been no recent reports of plotting among top-ranking military officers. Contrary to his earlier statements, the commander of the II Corps area in central South Vietnam, Brigadier General Khanh, told a US observer on 17 August that general officers did not intend to carry out a coup d'etat. Khanh claimed that the military leaders would act only if the country were on the verge of chaos. He claimed that the generals were in control of their subordinates down to the battalion level and would act to prevent a take over by any civilian plotters. The III Corps commander, General Dinh, states that he has six battalions on alert around Saigon for the purpose of supporting Diem in case of trouble from the Buddhists or in the event of a coup attempt.

4. Generals Khanh and Dinh probably are considered opportunists by their peers and not fully trusted within the military establishment. Khanh, in particular, may have tailored his comments for US consumption. His statement that the generals would not support a government headed by Vice President Tho contradicts the expressed views of other key officers.

5. It is difficult to assess recent statements attributed by the press to Ngo Dinh Nhu to the effect that a coup is inevitable if the present trend continues. It may be that Nhu expects a coup attempt and that his remarks were designed to throw plotters off stride. In a report of 13 August, the US air attaché in Saigon reported that Madame Nhu had told an Australian correspondent that she expected a military coup within a few days. At the same time, the possibility of a take over by Nhu cannot be discounted.

 

267. Memorandum From the Acting Secretary of State to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman)/1/

Washington, August 22, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret. Drafted by Ball. An attached note from Ball to Harriman reads as follows: "Averell: I am really worried about how we will establish an effective relationship between Washington and Saigon, now that Cabot is on the spot. I would like very much to talk with you about this and would appreciate it if you would call me when you have read the attached. George" No record of a Ball-Harriman conversation on this matter has been found.

I think that the first telegram which our new Ambassador to Saigon receives should not display the pomposity and verbosity of the Department of State at its worst.

Moreover, I think we ought to go slow on advising Cabot to "eliminate the Nhus" as one of his first acts. After all, we ought to offer him a chance to look the situation over and give us a fresh reading.

I think that Cabot will resent being told the obvious and that we will get off on a very bad foot in creating effective working relations between Washington and Saigon. I feel that everything useful contained in the long draft telegram/2/ can be said in a relatively few words, as per the attached./3/

/2/Not found.

/3/Apparent reference to a draft of telegram 235, Document 268.

 

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

Washington, August 22, 1963, 7:56 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIEI Secret; Operational Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and Ball and cleared in substance with Ball and Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC.

235. Saigon's 299./2/ To Lodge from Hilsman. As situation develops, we await further clarification of what has happened and what the present distribution of power may be. As we are sure you will agree, three possibilities appear still open: (a) that military are in fact in control and that Diem continues as President by sufferance; (b) that Diem with military cooperation has strengthened his own position; and (c) that Nhu is actually calling the shots. Possibility also exists that even though military not in saddle now, they may use martial law period to their advantage. If so, might be wise not to press to have martial law removed too quickly.

/2/Document 261.

As the facts emerge, we would appreciate your appraisal of the relative power situation of specific groups and individuals, both military and civilian.

Regardless of who is running the show, we should continue to seek the same objectives. These are acceptable solution to the Buddhist problem and a more responsive and representative government capable of carrying on the war effectively. GVN must show own population and world that improvement in Buddhist position will be eventual outcome of evolving situation. If we impress this need on both civilians and military at all levels GVN, we may be able to achieve some progress not only on immediate Buddhist problem (with all implications this has for U.S. and world opinion) but also on longer range objective of broadening regime and limiting Diem's exercise of arbitrary power. As situation develops, we may deem it useful to throw our influence toward reducing or eliminating the power of the Nhus. However, we will welcome your fresh reading of this and other aspects of the situation.

Ball

 

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

Saigon, August 23, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.

314. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman. This is preliminary reply your 235./2/

/2/Document 268.

As of now, we feel reasonably sure that no military coup has taken place and that Palace is in control. Exact roles of Diem, Nhu and Madame Nhu are not clear but weight of evidence is that influence of Nhus has not diminished. Tone of Army radio broadcasts has a strong Nhu flavor; it is also to be noted that within 24 hours of coup, radio broadcast lengthy Nhu directive calling on Republican Youth to support government action.

Military are ostensibly working together and we know of no disagreements among them. However, we do not believe that military should be regarded as monolithic structure at this point. Specifically, we believe that there are at least three power elements in Army, represented by General Don, General Dinh and Colonel Tung. We are reasonably sure that Dinh and Tung are not taking orders from Don and we believe that each of three is getting direction from Palace. Further, both Dinh and Tung (who are known to detest each other) have military forces in Saigon. Should regular Army decide to take over in earnest, i.e., depose Diem, possibility of serious fighting in Saigon would be considerable, as Tung could be expected to defend Diem. He is thoroughly disliked and distrusted by Army and has always derived all his authority from Palace.

Lodge/3/

/3/On August 21, Ambassador Lodge was in Tokyo en route to Vietnam. He planned to stop off in Hong Kong before proceeding to Saigon. In the middle of the night he received a telephone call from the White House briefing him on the Diem government's declaration of martial law and its attacks on the pagodas. Lodge was instructed to go to r Saigon as soon as possible, and the President authorized that a U.S. military airplane be made available to him. On the morning of August 22, Lodge took off for Saigon, an 11hour, non-stop flight from Tokyo. He arrived at Tan Son Nhut airport at 9:30 p.m., August 22. (Interview with Henry Cabot Lodge, August 4, 1965; Kennedy Library, Oral History Program) Mecklin in Mission in Torment, pp. 189-190, provides a dramatic account of Lodge's arrival. Lodge did not present his credentials until August 26 and technically he was not U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam until then.

 

270. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Secretary of State/1/

Washington, August 23, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET Secret; Sensitive. A note on another copy of this memorandum by Chester V. Clifton, Military Aide to the President, indicates that the President saw it. Clifton also wrote the following comments: "Don/anti-Nhu; respected by the Army. Ty in Walter Reed (cancer)." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/21/63-8/23/63)

SUBJECT
Attached Cable from General Harkins

At the direction of the President, I have queried General Harkins as to his evaluation of the present relationship between the Diem government and the Armed Forces of South Vietnam. Specifically, I inquired whether the declaration of martial law indicated that Diem had confidence in his armed forces or that he had become a hostage to them. Also what was General Harkins' estimate of the effect of recent events on our common programs in Vietnam?

Attached herewith is his reply. The informal tone results from the fact that this is a private exchange between two old friends.

Maxwell D. Taylor

 

[Attachment]

Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/2/

Saigon, August 22, 1963, 8:33 a.m.

/2/Secret; Noforn; Eyes Only.

MAC 1495. Eyes Only for Gen. Taylor and exclusive for Adm. Felt. Reference your JCS 3284./3/

/3/A summary is in the covering memorandum. A copy of the telegram is in National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam Chap. XXIII.

1. It's a bit premature to crystal ball the hidden machanisms [mechinisms?] and internal machinations of this mixed-up country. However, my first thought is that Diem still has confidence in the armed forces otherwise he would not have put them in charge at such a critical time, the Buddhist situation such as it was and he, himself, rapidly losing station in the eyes of the world, as indicated by press reports. As you know, Gen Don, now acting chief of the JGS in the absence of Ty, has been one of the most vociferous in saying Diem and the Nhus must go before this country can make any headway. He has made these remarks so outward I feel certain the President is cognizant of how Don feels.

2. Last week I told Diem someone must be appointed in Ty's place so that we can get on with the war. Don was appointed Tuesday and at midnight martial law was declared. My first thought was that he really was a fast worker. However, when he called me early Tuesday morning,/4/ he told me the President wanted me to know that he, the President, has declared martial law in order to secure the rear areas.

/4/Harkins reported to CINCPAC the gist of his August 20, 6 a.m. telephone conversation with Don as well as a briefing he received later in the morning on the situation from a Don aide. Felt transmitted the information to JCS and DIA as CINCPAC telegram 210535Z, August 20, 7:35 p.m. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/21/63-8/23/63)

3. Gen Dinh (III Corps) another coup slinger, has been named Commander of the Saigon-Cholon area during the emergency. Big Minh, advisor to the President, remains in place.

4. So you see the stage is set for an easy military take-over.

5. However, in the midst of everything yesterday, Gen Don had the courtesy to come over and explain the reasons for the "State of Siege."/5/

/5/Harkins sent a report of this conversation with Don in MAC J00 6835, to CINCPAC, August 21, repeated to Washington. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 23 S VIET) A note on a copy of MAC J00 6835 in the Kennedy Library indicates that the President saw a wire (advance) copy of the message. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/21/63-8/23/63)

6. He again assured me the President himself had made the declaration. He did this because the Buddhist situation was getting out of hand. It had gone from religious controversy to political incitation of rebellion.

7. I asked Don how long he thought martial law would stay in effect and he replied if things remained quiet maybe only a short time because he remarked, "you know how the President does not want the military to be in control." I asked if it would remain in effect until after the elections on the 31st. He assured me it would not. Otherwise the elections could not be considered free elections (as if they ever were).

8. Don said he wanted my assistance in carrying the war against the VC to a successful conclusion. I said I was at his beck and call. He stated the war would continue, the state of martial law should not affect operations as he was only using the reserve forces to make a show of military force in the cities. We'll have to wait and see on this--so far only one paratroop and one marine battalion, plus some MP's have been used in Saigon. In Hue, they moved two tens from the training center to keep order in the city. However, other battalions in the vicinity are on the alert. Armored vehicles have been seen in both cities.

9. All corps senior advisors have reported that the operations against the VC were continuing apace in their areas. Again, it's a bit early to say they'll continue in such magnitude as the VC were not prepared and have not yet reacted to the military take-over. As to the effect of the new relationship to our common programs--I hope there will be no change if I can believe Don in saying the war will continue against the VC.

10. As you know, our programs are completed. We have accomplished our part of everything we set out to do after your visit in the fall of '61--all except ending the war, and that is not far off if things continue at present pace.

11. The I Corps is quiescent. In the II Corps, Gen Khanh said yesterday things were going so well he was looking for a place of more action. Well, I agree it's the best corps of all, but there is a bit left to be done--not much, however.

12. The III Corps has its biggest headaches in the provinces around Saigon, and in the past two weeks I have succeeded in moving two additional regiments into the area from the I and II Corps.

13. The IV Corps is where the war is being fought. 70 per cent of the weekly incidents are there. Today I'm asking Thuan to move the 9th Div intact from II Corps to the Delta area to clean up Long An, Dinh Thuong, Kien Hoa and Vinh Binh provinces. The rest of the Delta will be slow but easy if we can get these provinces settled. They're coming along--but it's difficult terrain, particularly in the rainy season. They have more VC than most of the provinces, and the people are harder to convince. They just don't like the government--just want to be left alone with their rice and fish.

14. So as far as our programs are concerned, at least the military, they are paying off, and all that is needed to end the conflict is the will and determination of the Vietnamese to win. This I believe is evidenced by the fact that they have averaged about two or three thousand operations a week since July, and last week they had over 4,000. This counts everything from patrols and ambushes to the larger type. However, in my opinion, I think we will see a drop in the number of operations against the VC until things settle down a bit.

15. I'm afraid I have rambled in answering your questions; however, as it looks from here at this time the fact that Diem placed the military in command indicates he still has confidence in them. Though Don is nominally in command, it appears that the usual multiple channels still exist and run to the Palace. I'm not able to answer what's going on between them. I'll keep my ear to the ground and try to determine. It could be they (the military) through threats or persuasion told him he'd better do something or else. I can not prove this with what information I have at this time, nor can I state flatly he's not a hostage of the military as I have not seen him since the announcement of martial law.

16. The effect on the programs should be nil if they continue carrying the war to the enemy.

17. In closing, the present situation might be a blessing in disguise. There exists for all practical purposes a military take-over with minimum violence. A few bones were bruised as the police and military took over the main Pagodas yesterday. Not that I'm for the military taking over--no indeed--but the state of affairs as they were, it was becoming evident things were getting out of control, and some measure of authority had to be established. That it was done without firing a shot and thru the nominal chain of command precluded a lot of bloodshed which would have spilled if the rival factions tried to take over.

 

271. Editorial Note

The President's Intelligence Checklist, August 23, seen by the President, contains the following item entitled "South Vietnam":

"a. Tight security precautions are still being enforced in Saigon and Hue, but troop presence is less obtrusive.

"b. Nhu told a US source yesterday that the generals recommended the imposition of martial law. He denied this amounted to a coup, but warned it could become one if Diem vacillated or compromised on the Buddhist issue.

"c. Ambassador Lodge notes that the resignation of Foreign Minister Mau 'obviously caught the government flatfooted'." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)

 

272. Department of State Daily Staff Summary/1/

Washington, August 23, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Top Secret and Secret Daily Summaries: Lot 65 D 142. Top Secret; Eyes Only for Designated Recipient.

Far East:

Tension in Vietnam Continues--Ambassador Lodge has not yet been able to present his credentials owing to the unexpected resignation of Foreign Minister Maul According to CAS, Vice President Tho's assistant also indicated that Tho may decide to resign "at the right moment."

Meanwhile, Vietnamese harassment continues. USOM vehicles leaving the compound are still being searched on orders from "higher authority." Some press despatches have gone out, but censorship is apparently very heavy-handed.

The two bonzes in the USOM building are being cared for satisfactorily and can be held there for some time if necessary, Lodge believes. If adequate formal assurances on their treatment subsequent to release are not forthcoming from the Vietnamese Government, Lodge thinks that we should hold them at least until martial law has been lifted, since martial law by definition means suspension of due process. (Secret) Saigon 302, 8/22 (C); Saigon 306, 8/23 (C); Saigon 307, 8/23 (S) (LD)./2/

/2/None printed. (Ibid., Central Files, PVV 1-2 S VIET; POL 17-2 US-S VIET; and POL 15-1 S VIET, respectively)

[Here follow the remaining sections of the summary.]

 

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

Saigon, August 24, 1963, 11 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIEI Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC and relayed upon receipt at the Department of State to the White House. Roger Hilsman, in To Move a Nation, p. 485, describes this cable as "perhaps the most convincing judgment of all" of the reports from Saigon on Vietnamese dissatisfaction with the campaign of Nhu against the Buddhists.

324. Following is memorandum of conversation between Rufus Phillips, Director of USOM Rural Affairs, and Nguyen Dinh Thuan held on August 24.

Begin Text:

1. I received a call from Secretary Thuan on the evening of 23 August. He said he had been trying to reach me for two days, that he wanted to see me as soon as possible and wanted me to come for breakfast on the morning of 24th. Thuan is a personal friend whom I first got to know in 1955 and with whom I have maintained a relatively close relationship since. I do not entirely trust his personal motives at present because his honesty has been too thoroughly compromised (in contrast to Vo Van Hai, the President's secretary) by his past association and cooperation with Counselor Nhu and Nhu's protégés, especially Dr. Tuyen. (Thuan once confided to me that he had been obliged to cooperate "in everything" with Tuyen in order to remain in the Palace.) However, much of what he had to say this morning had the ring of truth about it.

2. Thuan said that he had decided not to resign but to stick with the President a while yet for three reasons: his personal feelings of loyalty to Diem and the Nhus and for the safety of his family (his family is now all in Saigon). Thuan said that the President had sent Madame Nhu, on 23 August, on his own volition (Thuan took no direct credit for it) a letter in which he ordered her to make no public statements and give no press conferences. The President also instructed General Oai and the Director General of Information not to print any statement she might make. Both Counselor and Madame Nhu were "furious," according to Thuan.

3. Thuan conceded that it would be difficult to split the Nhus off from the President but he felt strongly that the U.S. should attempt this. He said he could see no alternative to the President as a leader for Viet-Nam, no one else was as widely respected, or would be generally acceptable within Viet-Nam. Thuan felt that the U.S. had to exercise leadership and must be very firm, otherwise chaos was likely to result. Under no circumstances, he said, should the U.S. acquiesce in what the Nhus had done. This would be disastrous.

4. Thuan went on to say that Nhu was in a dangerously triumphant mood. Nhu believed himself in full control of the situation and was contemptuous of the Americans. Thuan said that Nhu had been very successful in tricking the Army (in answer to a direct question he said the Generals did not know beforehand of the planned raid on Xa Loi, nor did he), and in dividing it into three commands. However, he felt that Nhu had very little real support in the Army and that the Army would turn firmly against Nhu if it knew that the U.S. would under no circumstances support a government with the Nhus in control.

5. Thuan also said that the U.S. must not be afraid of leaving the door open to the Communists by withdrawing support from the government as long as it contained the Nhus. He reiterated that the U.S. had to be firm. If it was, the Army would respond. End Text.

Lodge

 

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

Saigon, August 24, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. Hilsman cites this telegram in To Move a Nation, pp. 484-485, as part of an approach by Vietnamese Generals to American officials.

320. CINCPAC for POLAD. Following is memorandum of conversation between Rufus Phillips, Director of USOM Rural Affairs, and General Le Van Kim held on August 23:

Begin Text: Following are statements made to me by General Le Van Kim, currently acting as Deputy for Public Relations to General Don, during course of a conversation with him on 23 August 1963. General Kim is an old personal friend and asked that this conversation be kept in closest personal confidence.

General Kim opened conversation by saying, bitterly, that Army is now acting as puppet of Counselor Nhu, who tricked it into establishing martial law. The Army, including Generals Dinh and Don knew nothing of plans to raid Xa Loi and other pagodas. This was carried out by Colonel Tung's Special Forces and combat police on Nhu's secret orders. Nhu is now in control and General Don is taking orders directly from him.

According to Kim, 1426 people (Buddhist monks and laymen) have been arrested. All of explosives and arms found in pagodas were planted. Now the population believes the Army was responsible for repression of Buddhists and is turning against Army. Unless this situation is corrected and people are told truth, Army will be seriously handicapped in its fight against Communists.

General Kim said students from Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy had held demonstrations on morning of 23rd. Kim felt these demonstrations were bound to spread, that students were on verge of violence. Riot control briefings had just been given to ARVN unit leaders on morning of 23rd and he hoped violence between Army and students could be avoided. However, Nhu had ordered Cao Xuan Vy (Director General of Youth) to organize a massive demonstration of Republican Youth involving over 500,000 people for 25th of August. Kim believes that such a demonstration, if it could be organized, would produce a riot of unimaginable proportions and, therefore, must be avoided. He said he doubted that Nhu would listen to any contrary advice about demonstrations.

I asked Kim if the Army was united. He said that Nhu had deliberately split the command between Colonel Tung, General Dinh and General Don and was dealing with each separately. Don (who is his brother-in-law) does not command much natural support among officer corps but most of other Generals and senior officers, he felt, could be rallied around him (Don). Key question was where did US stand. If US took clear stand against Nhus and in support of Army action to remove them from government, the Army (with exception of Colonel Tung) would unite in support of such an action and would be able to carry it out. He felt that retaining President, even though he personally did not like him, would be preferable providing all Ngo family influence could be permanently and effectively eradicated. It was not just a question of getting rid of Nhus, he said, but of also removing their followers from scene.

Finally, Kim said that he and seven other general officers had been obliged on 22 August to sign an oath of loyalty to President Diem which fully supported actions taken by government against Buddhists. He said US must not be fooled by this document, that vast majority of Army and most of Generals who signed document, did not approve of repression of Buddhists but had to sign at this time or expose themselves to individual elimination by Counselor Nhu.

Lodge

 

275. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/

Saigon, August 24, 1963, 6:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Vietnam Policy. Secret. Also sent to Honolulu. The source text is a copy sent by the CIA to the Department of State for Hilsman and Hughes; also sent to the White House for Bundy and to JCS for Krulak. According to a note on the source text, TDCS dissemination of this cable would follow. That report, TDCS DB-3/656,252, August 24, is published in Declassified Documents, 1977, 93C.

0265. 1. [less than 1 line not declassified] had almost three hour meeting with General Tran Van Don/2/ evening 23 August in Don's office at General Staff. Following summarizes discussion.

/2/For Don's recollections of the discussion, see Tran Van Don, Our Endless War, pp. 90-91.

2. Don was asked who was in control and replied President Diem is in control through Counselor Ngo Dinh Nhu. All the Generals check with Nhu prior to seeing Diem. Explained this by saying Diem uses Nhu as his "thinker" and advisor but does not at all times follow Nhu's advice. President is jealous of his authority and prerogatives. Don gave an example. At midnight on 22 Aug, Generals Don, Ton That Dinh and Tran Thien Khiem went to see Nhu about the students, recommending that schools all be closed in Saigon by the martial law, because they had information that on 23, 24, and 25 Aug there would be student demonstrations in Saigon. Nhu concurred with Generals' recommendation, told them he had to check with the President. Nhu and Generals went to see Diem recommending closing of schools. Diem said "no. The young people must have means of expressing themselves." Don repeated that Diem is the man who makes final decisions.

3. Don went on to explain relationships in the Palace. Said it must be remembered that for years President has been agitator against colonialist regimes. During this time Diem did a lot of thinking himself. When he took over govt in 1954 he found it was different and he would have to have people around him who think. He turned to his brother Nhu who is a thinker, an individual who has theories, a philosophy. As time went on, Diem has allowed Nhu to do most of the thinking. This does not mean President will take all of Nhu's advice. Diem likes Nhu to write presidential proclamations, speeches. Diem prefers himself to meet the people and talk to people. In this way Nhu has special power as a thinker for the President.

4. In describing relationship of Madame Nhu in the Palace, Don said that in Diem's mind Madame Nhu has status of being Diem's "wife". President has never married and not used to having women around him. For past nine years Diem has Madame Nhu to comfort him after day's work is done. She is charming, talks to him, relieves his tension, argues with him, needles him and, like a Vietnamese wife, she is dominant in the household. President and Madame Nhu live two apartments apart. There are no sexual relations between Diem and Madame Nhu. In Don's opinion, President has never had sexual relations.

He likened the situation to that of Hitler and Eva Braun. Don also said, the President likes good looking men around him. Don cited the case of handsome young sergeant who planted a public garden in Dalat. President asked who had planted the garden and when informed, called the sergeant to the Palace and immediately promoted him to Lt. Colonel and put him in charge of military agriculture. Diem has intense passions. When he likes somebody, he likes them all the way; when he hates someone, he hates completely. There is no in-between. Madame Nhu uses her privileged position with President to make him say yes when he wants to say no, but he is won by her charm. Don said, "as I know, Madame Nhu can be extremely charming." Don said it would be practically impossible to get rid of the Nhus because of special positions they hold; Ngo Dinh Nhu being President's thinker and Madame Nhu his platonic wife.

5. The decision for the action of 20-21 August was reached by ten Generals during the evening of 18 Aug: Tran Van Don, Ton That Dinh, Do Cao Tri, Tran Thien Khiem, Nguyen Khanh, [less than 1 1ine not declassified], Mai Huu Xuan, Nguyen Ngoc Le, Le Van Kim, and Duong Van Minh. According to Don, they had not been encouraged to reach this decision by Nhu. Only time Nhu had talked about any planning was at meeting 11 July with all Generals present. Don did not say who brought Generals together 18 Aug.

This planning included martial law and eventual taking of bonzes who came from outside Saigon and returning them to their own provinces and pagodas. Plan was presented by Generals to Nhu on 20 Aug. Nhu told them to discuss plans with President. Nhu was not present when Generals presented their plan to Diem. Generals present were: Khiem, Tri, Khanh, Dinh, [less than 1 1ine not declassified], Kim and Don. Don headed the group that presented the plan to the President.

6. Generals told President that morale of troops was deteriorating, and in fact they feared that one military post was near state of desertion. Generals said that wives of soldiers and junior officers were getting upset. They explained to President the situation as the military saw it vis-a-vis the Buddhists. Don claims he told Diem that 8 May affair in Hue could have been settled but that the VC had penetrated Buddhists in Xa Loi Pagoda. Don described tactics used in demonstrations on 11 Aug when bonze Thich Tam Chau was haranguing the crowd at Xa Loi. Chau held crowd spellbound with questions like "are we going to march in streets"? Crowd would call back "yes". Suddenly Chau would say "no, we will not march in the streets. The fact that you have said we are going to march in streets is same as marching in the streets." Don felt that the bonze who spoke English, Thich Duc Nghiep, was very dangerous and the Generals feared that if the Buddhist leaders assembled a large enough crowd they could order a march toward Gia Long Palace and the army would not stop them.

7. Don said the President made decision to establish martial law after the Generals had recommended it. Diem made the decision to bring in troops to occupy strategic points of Saigon/Cholon and approved the recommendation to move bonzes visiting Saigon back to their provinces and their pagodas. President insisted however that none of the bonzes be hurt. Don said this touched him very much that the President should insist on their not harming the Buddhists. Diem appointed General Don as temporary successor to General Le Van Ty. Diem made Don responsible for all troops in SVN, the conduct of martial law, and implementation of necessary measures. General Ton That Dinh was appointed Military Governor of Saigon/Cholon. Colonel Le Quang Tung's troops of Special Forces High Command remain under the control of the Presidency. Don pointed out that Dinh did not command Tung's troops even though he is Military Governor of Sai gon/Cholon. Dinh as Military Governor coordinates with Don but Don does not command Dinh. Dinh does ask General Staff for guidance but he does not execute all General Staff orders. He receives his orders as Military Governor from the Presidency just as Colonel Tung does. Don said Col. Tung is dangerous because he is not subject to military control and executes orders only from Presidency. Don also said that the Generals hate Tung's guts. Tung is responsive to both Diem and Nhu. Tung coordinates with Nhu, but when decision is made, it comes from the President. General Don said that the other Generals support him (Don) except some of the younger Generals. These younger Generals are jealous of Don's having assumed General Ty's command. Don did not name any of these younger Generals. Don was criticized by these younger Generals for the action that was taken against the Buddhists. Majority of Vietnamese Generals are Buddhist. For example, Don said, "when I want to tell General Tran Tu Oai something, Oai tells me he is a civilian; he has civilian responsibility". When asked specifically if General Nguyen Khanh supported Don, Don replied that Khanh was 100 percent with him. Don said also that Duong Van Minh, Tran Van Minh, Generals Tri, Khiem, Kim and "even Xuan" were with him. When asked if General Van Thanh Cao, the delegate, was in on any of the planning, Don said Cao was left completely out. He is considered by the other Generals to be a civilian.

8. General Don said he was not aware that the Buddhists were going to be attacked by the Police and Vietnamese Special Forces. Dinh, as Military Governor, received his orders from the Presidency and was told Colonel Tung's troops would be used to reinforce Police because VNSF had "special means". Don intimated but did not state that the orders came from Nhu. First indication General Don had that pagodas were attacked was when he received call on his command radio. Generals Khiem and Don were at JGS when they heard that pagodas had been attacked. Don went immediately from his command post to Xa Loi. Police commissioner Tran Van Tu was in command at Xa Loi Pagoda backed up by Colonel Tung's Special Forces in the periphery of the area. The Police were the first to enter the pagoda. When Don arrived at Xa Loi, a police lieutenant was already in charge of a detail inside Xa Loi. The Xa Loi bonzes had already been taken away when Don arrived. In the whole operation a total of thirty people were wounded, five seriously, This figure includes GVN and Buddhist casualties. No bonzes were killed at Xa Loi. At 0430 hours on morning of 21 Aug the military operation had been completed as far as the occupation of the strategic points by the military were concerned. Don said that 1420 bonzes were under detention throughout SVN.

9. General Don was very proud of the fact that the Generals had been able to maintain secrecy prior to initiation of this operation. He was also proud of the technique employed by the troops and he said "everybody always talks of colonels who will pull coups d'etat. They are incapable. We have proven this by our planning and our technique". He cited as an example the 11 November 1960 coup d'etat which was planned by colonels and failed. Don did not express his personal reaction to the attack on the pagodas. Don did say that he wants to carry out his original plan to screen all the bonzes and return them to their provinces and to their pagodas. Don also said that the US is holding Thich Tri Quang in USOM. Don added that Tri Quang was one of the the main agitators and the GVN wants to take him in custody. (Field comment: Don apparently believes Tri Quang is one of the two bonzes taking refuge in USOM. A CAS officer who knows Tri Quang well saw both of the bonzes in USOM on 24 August and confirmed that neither is Tri Quang.)

10. General Don has heard personally that the military is being blamed by Vietnamese public for the attack on the pagodas. He said that the US Govt is at fault for this misconception because VOA announced that the military took action against the pagodas. Don queried why VOA did not admit that Colonel Tung's Special Forces and the Police carried out the action. Don believes this would help the military at this point. Don stated that the USA should now make its position known. Don does not want Diem replaced, for example, by an exile like Hoan (possibly Nguyen Ton Hoan) who is presently in the US. He admitted that within the military there is no one who could replace Diem. He cited, as an example, himself, saying, "I'm not smart nor am I ambitious. I only took the job to keep the Generals together".

11. Don implied he is aware of planned future developments. He said "This is the first step, and the secret of what is going to happen is not mine to give". When asked how long he thought martial law would last, Don said it depended on what is going to happen. When asked if the National Assembly elections on 31 Aug would be held he said the elections will probably be delayed, but there will be a relaxation of martial law on 24 Aug as far as curfew is concerned.

12. Don did not say anything about keeping Diem in power or replacing him with someone inside SVN beyond his statement that he did not want one of the Vietnamese exile politicians to achieve power and that no military figure could do the job. CAS officer received the impression, and it was an impression only, that Don and his group wished to retain Diem in power for the present phase of their plan.

13. Don also said that he realizes he will probably be "sacrificed" as a result of the martial law action but this is not too important because there are other military leaders who will take his place. He did not name them. Don gave the impression that he is not the man behind the whole thing. He is the figurehead. He is responsible for the first phase. There are others in the group who will take over other phases. Nothing Don said implied who the man or men might be who would take over other phases. Don mentioned the fact that VOA is playing up the resignation of Ambassador Chuong. He repeated that VOA broadcasts are hurting the military. He said it does no good to say that military action has been taken against the Buddhists and that the U.S. Govt deplores this action and at the same time say that the USA continues aid. He did not expand on this to indicate what action the USA should take.

14. Don made no mention of Vice President Tho or of any other Cabinet members.

15. Don said that after this first phase, things cannot revert back to what was before. When asked if he referred to the government, Don said, "yes, I'm talking about the government. The President has got to change some of his Ministers. " Don did not name any specific ministers. He said events are controlling the situation. Don said if he had to choose between President Diem and Nhu, he would choose the President. He gave no indication of what other officers might be thinking about Nhu. When asked if something happens, and the President is no longer in power, would Don go with Nhu, Don said "if I have the choice between the President and Nhu, Nhu is going." He doesn't want Nhu.

16. Reporting officer received the impression from Don that although the President is still in the saddle what is going on now is being controlled by Nhu. The impression is strong that General Don is not completely aware of everything that is going on around him. From Don's statements it appears that there is a junior element among the Generals causing him trouble. Don indicated that he wants assurances one way or the other from the U.S. Govt. He appears not to know what to do next. He is completely controlled by events and reacts rather than plans next moves. It seems Don himself feels he does not have the power of [or?] enough influence over the Generals to overthrow the President. However Don did not give the impression that he wants by choice to overthrow the President. Don evidently wants to conciliate the Buddhists and said that the military should restore the pagodas and the holy statues that were destroyed in some of the pagodas. Don made no statements on the second phase of the plan. Don did not indicate how long the first phase would last but did indicate it would last beyond the scheduled National Assembly elections.

17. Our impression is that there is considerable significance in Don's statement that this is only the first phase and the secret of future phases is not his to tell. We cannot determine whether Don means that future phases containing the "secret" will be controlled from within the military or, for example, by Nhu, or by other civilian figures. Don made no comment on any civilians by name. He said the Army's primary aim is to fight the Viet Cong. Don also said that there was no 10 August Generals' meeting with Ngo Dinh Nhu.

18. Have disseminated to Lodge and Harkins.

 

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

Saigon, August 24, 1963, 11 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:05 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC.

329. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman. Embtel 314/2/ We are reporting separately conversations with Vo Van Hai (Embtel 316),/3/ General Kim (Embtel 320),/4/ Thuan (Embtel 324)/5/ and General Don (C-AS Saigon 0265)./6/

/2/Document 269.

/3/Paul Kattenburg was in Saigon, August 22-30. He reported to Hilsman in telegram 316, August 24, on a conversation he had with Vo Van Hai, Chief of Diem's private staff. Although a long-time Diem loyalist, Hai confided that he feared for his life and thought he was under surveillance by Nhu's agents. Hai told Kattenburg that Nhu had "carefully stage-managed" the crackdown on the Buddhists, had used Madame Nhu to further his own campaign against the bonzes, and had arranged for the Generals to meet with Diem just hours before the raids on the pagodas. Hai said that Nhu decided to act before Lodge's arrival so as to confront the new Ambassador with a fait accompli. He complained about the Nhu system of favoritism and privilege and pointedly told Kattenburg that the Generals would move against Nhu if only they were given the word. "It would not be difficult," Hai reportedly said. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 25 S VIET)

/4/Document 274.

/5/Document 273.

/6/Document 275.

These conversations confirm fully conclusions contained reftel. In addition, they indicate that:

a) Nhu, probably with full support of Diem, had large hand in planning of action against Buddhists, if he did not fully master-mind it. His influence has also been significantly increased.

b) He probably found relatively fertile soil in which to work, i.e. certain of Generals were genuinely worried about GVN handling of Buddhist situation and ready for decisive military action, such as martial law.

c) It is nevertheless also possible that Regular Army was not cut in fully on planned action against pagodas, which was carried out by Police and Colonel Tung's Special Forces. (On other hand, Don's statement that Army planned simply to return bonzes to their own pagodas is disingenuous, if he meant to do this could be done peacefully.)

d) Finally, and most important, we do not conclude that any of officers with actual military strength in Saigon (Don, Dinh, Tung) is at this point disaffected with President or with Nhu. We must assume that latter have, or may well have, strings of power still in their hands.

Suggestion has been made that U.S. has only to indicate to "Generals" that it would be happy to see Diem and/or Nhus go, and deed would be done. Situation is not so simple, in our view. Specifically, as indicated (d) above, we have no information that officers with troops in Saigon are disposed to act in this way. Moreover, there is no showing that military have agreed among themselves on a leadership.

Action on our part in these circumstances would seem to be a shot in the dark. Situation at this time does not call for that, in my judgment, and I believe we should bide our time, continuing to watch situation closely.

Lodge

 

277. Memorandum From the Counselor for Public Affairs of the Embassy in Vietnam (Mecklin) to the Ambassador (Lodge)/1/

Saigon, August 24, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA Files: FRC 68 A 5160, Vietnam Working Group. Secret; Eyes Only.

SUBJECT
Press Relations

It is, of course, notably presumptuous for me to attempt to discuss press relations with a man of your experience in this field. I am nevertheless attempting to do so because the problem here is not only extraordinarily difficult but also unique. It is one of the toughest problems you must face, as I'm sure you have been advised by Ambassador Nolting.

Attached is a copy of the memo I wrote for Robert Manning, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, on the occasion of his visit here just over a month ago to investigate the question of GVN and US relations with the foreign press./2/ What follows is an updating, plus some after-thoughts. Also attached is some comment on the press situation by Colonel Lee Baker, the MACV Public Information Officer./3/

/2/Not found. Manning's report is Document 239.

/3/Not found.

We are faced with a crisis of credibility such as seldom has happened before in a situation as critical as this. You will hear indignant contrary views, but my observation is that not only the newsmen here but also a good many Americans in relatively senior official positions believe very nearly nothing that any official U.S. Agency says about the situation in Vietnam.

Just a week ago, for example, I visited a MAAG outpost in the Delta. The senior officer told me that things were going exceptionally well. After he left, his deputy told me that the situation was rapidly deteriorating. The deputy, frankly, was more persuasive. This is typical. You are confronted here with a community of some 18,000 or 19,000 Americans who are torn by doubt, distrust of their own leadership, deep frustration in the face of personal danger, contempt for the GVN yet often a real affection for the low-level Vietnamese with whom they work, disgust mixed with a wonderful determination to win, and equally wonderful morale in spite of everything.

Which suggests an example: I said 18,000 to 19,000 Americans. There are just over 16,000 military personnel in Vietnam, plus 2,000 to 3,000 civilians. The military figure is scheduled to peak at 16,700 this fall. It is official policy (supporting documents on request) that there are "about" 14,000 military personnel here. Colonel Baker and I have been trying for more than a month to persuade the authorities to allow us to leak the true figure to the press-along with pleas not to make a story of it-but in vain. We are invited, in effect, to lie to the American people on this question. It is very nearly a certainty that the correct figure will be found out, resulting in another body blow to the credibility of the U.S. Mission here.

MACV says the war is developing favorably. David Halberstam of the New York Times recently wrote to the contrary./4/ President Kennedy cabled MACV for an explanation./5/ Very few objective Americans here-like Mr. Kennedy?-believe either Halberstam or MACV. This is symptomatic. MACV's daily OPSUM does not regularly indicate facts and statistics that have been confirmed by American advisors, which of course means that one must assume everything in the OPSUM comes from Vietnamese sources. Result: the OPSUM has lost credibility, not only here but among a good many people in Washington. (I was present at a meeting of the Vietnam Working Group in May when this was said in so many words. Nobody objected.)

/4/See footnote 2, Document 257.

/5/See footnote 1, Document 259.

Recently an old-hand correspondent in Southeast Asia was here for a visit. After a fortnight, he told me he thought the war was going badly. I said: "If this is true, then the leadership of the American mission here is committing an astonishing mistake in judgment." He said: "The French thought they were going to win, too." This, of course, is glib. Drawing a parallel with the French is notably unjustified. But I was here, too, during the period of Dienbienphu, and I think it is true that the psychological atmosphere has a similar flavor. This seems to be characteristic of a Western nation engaged against guerrillas . . ./6/ to subsist on statistics of casualty ratios and weapons-lost ratios, reluctant to face up to the profound, unmeasurable unknowns of a quicksilver war.

/6/Ellipsis in the source text.

These are intangible questions. The issue is not who is right. Nobody can prove an argument on any subject in Vietnam. The issue is the extraordinarily urgent need for the U.S. Government to recognize the reality that Vietnam remains in doubt, and to stop pontificating. In my opinion, the American people don't duck a struggle, nor setbacks, much less a candid admission of setbacks. But they do react to false optimism. One of the reasons for the present explosive reaction of the American press to the GVN, and to U.S. policy, is the fact that most American newsmen feel they have been misled. To put it bluntly, if it had been freely conceded that this is something less than the best regime ever, there would be a lot less bitterness now that the fact has been conclusively established.

On the question of your own posture vis-à-vis the press, my most urgent recommendation is that you attempt from the outset to engage the newsmen in your own problems. You face the immediate, indigestible possibility, for example, that thoughtful analysis of the political situation may lead to the conclusion that the U.S. must still support the Diem regime. If you will invite the newsmen, in effect, to share in the agonizing, and level with them on details of the problem (most of which they will find out anyway), there is at least a chance that you can carry some of them along in your eventual decision, as well as the subsequent pulling and hauling to make it work. My candid belief is that a decision reached in lonely, highly-classified isolation from the press is unlikely to be supported, however sensible.

Ambassador Nolting was an open-season target on the grounds that he was too "soft" with Diem. I was here as a correspondent in 1955 when Ambassador Collins was attacked by the press (including me) with equal ferocity because he was too "tough" with Diem. In both cases, the prosecuting correspondents argued that the Ambassador did not understand Asians. In both cases, the Ambassador was also reluctant to share his problems with the press. And in both cases, it worked out that the Ambassador's problems were shared anyway with the press, via leaks in Washington on anything he did of much significance. As noted in my memo to Manning, experience has proved that secrets simply don't keep in a situation as explosive and vital as this.

Some specific suggestions:

Limit your public comment to an absolute minimum, and always avoid any kind of public judgment on how things are going. Most of all, don't be optimistic in public; American officials who talk about optimism in Vietnam remind most newsmen of Chinese Communists talking about "peace". Don't be too easily accessible to correspondents, but when you do see one, give him a lot of time and level to the most intimate degree possible. Never be defensive about U.S. policy here and emphatically not about the GVN; try to maintain a detached, gee-what-should-we-do atmosphere. Try to include a responsible correspondent in as many social functions as possible, including high-level dinners (you will do your business anyway in a talk in a corner after dinner when none of the guests can eavesdrop), but never invite all the press as a group, which makes it look like charity.

Most importantly, treat the newsman as an ally, never as an antagonist. Assuming the present line-up stays in office, you will find that you can negotiate, albeit with notable difficulty, on material issues, e.g. military strategy and economic planning, but that efforts to persuade the GVN to change its ways on domestic political questions almost always come a cropper. If nothing else, this is surely the lesson of the regime's solemn commitment to Mr. Nolting to pursue a policy of conciliation with the Buddhists. Generally speaking, negotiations with hope of success should not be made public, but negotiations with no hope of success should be pursued, in part, through the pressures of stateside publicity.

Specifically, the latter means mainly the social and political reforms that are so badly needed here. If you level, I think most newsmen will go along with you in both cases. If you don't level, you not only fail to achieve the reforms, but it also looks as though you're not trying.

Finally, a word on the mood of the moment among the 30 or 40 foreign newsmen in Saigon. Many of the visitors are here for the first time, or anyway for the first time in months or years, insensitive to the maddening complexities of the story, and determined to report whether Lodge looks good or bad. I think you can duck trouble with them simply by begging time to sort things out. Among the regulars, however, there is a mood that verges on hysteria. They are exhausted after three months of an extraordinarily difficult story, emotionally engaged in the most violent four-letter terms, full of extravagant hopes that Lodge can square things away, and scared. Three of them have been sleeping at my house for the past three nights for fear of raids on their homes.

This is a time to be cautious, to avoid any kind of opinion on controversial issues, e.g. who's winning the war, but also a time to invite and share confidences and hopefully establish a new base of understanding between the newsmen and the official American community that is urgently needed.

 

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

Washington, August 24, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/ 63-8/31/63, Memos and Miscellaneous. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates that this document was taken from the President's weekend reading, dated August 24.

I attach the latest cables/2/ on the situation in Saigon. It is now quite certain that Brother Nhu is the mastermind behind the whole operation against the Buddhists and is calling the shots. This is now agreed by virtually everyone here./3/

/2/No cables were attached to the source text, but apparently the reference is to Documents 273-276.

/3/See Document 279.

Agreement is also developing that the United States cannot tolerate a result to the present difficulties in Saigon which leaves Brother Nhu in a dominating position. There is disagreement on whether Diem has any political viability left, and on whether he could ever be brought to acquiesce in the removal of his brother.

Averell and Roger now agree that we must move before the situation in Saigon freezes. I am pressing them to get John McCone's endorsement of one of several courses of action which can be presented to you at the earliest opportunity. We are still trying to keep all of this as closely held as possible.

Mike

 

279. Editorial Note

The President's Intelligence Checklist of August 24, sent to the President at Hyannisport, Massachusetts, assesses Nhu's role and responsibility for the situation in Saigon. The checklist on South Vietnam reads as follows:

"A. We cannot determine as yet who is calling the shots in Saigon-Diem or the Nhus.

"B. General Don told a US observer that Diem is making the decisions, but that he is acting through Nhu.

"C. Nhu has been given credit by a usually reliable source as the prime mover in the crackdown on the Buddhists and the imposition of martial law.

"D. General Don also stated that the Palace is issuing orders directly to the Saigon Commander General Dinh and to the Special Forces Commander Colonel Tung rather than through himself as top commander.

"E. Ambassador Lodge thinks--and General Don tends to confirm this--the military is not at present a monolithic structure and warns of serious fighting between competing military elements if the military should decide on a coup.

"F. Our CIA people received the impression from General Don's statements that the current unstable situation may be the first of several as yet unrevealed phases." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)

In its Current Intelligence Memorandum, OCI No. 2343, August 26, the CIA concluded: "Ngo Dinh Nhu is the key to the situation in Saigon and appears to be the controlling figure, possibly without President Diem's assent." (Ibid., Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/ 63, Memos and Miscellaneous)

 

280. Telegram From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts/1/

Washington, August 24, 1963, 4:50 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series 8/24/63-8/31/63, State Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. A note on the source text in Clifton's hand reads: P[resident]--as discussed with Secretary Ball."

CAP 63460. Please pass following to President "eyes only". Harriman, Hilsman and Forrestal have drafted following telegram to Saigon and CINCPAC. Substance generally agreed to by Admiral Felt and clearances being obtained, from Ball and Defense. Since situation in Saigon may not remain fluid for long, Department believes desirable transmit this message tonight. Ambassador Lodge agrees with assessment that Nhu in control but does not know whether military would act against him. Lodge recommends wait and see. Harriman, Hilsman and I favor taking this action now. Will advise you reactions Ball and Defense, but suggest you let me know if you wish comment or holdup action. Begin text draft cable:/2/

/2/No draft telegram was attached, but the reference is to a draft of telegram 243, Document 281. That draft is filed immediately after this telegram in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, State Cables. See footnote 8, Document 281, for the difference between the draft and the final version.

 

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

Washington, August 24, 1963, 9:36 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, Overthrow of the Diem Government in South Vietnam, 1963. Top Secret; Operational Immediate. Printed also in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 536-537 and Declassified Documents, 1975, 321B. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared by Hilsman, Forrestal, and Ball. Approved by Harriman for transmission and classification. The drafting and clearance of this message has occasioned subsequent controversy which is reflected in the memoirs and recollections of some of the principal personalities involved at the time. General Maxwell Taylor stated in Swords and Plowshares, pp. 292-294, that the cable was an "end run" by an anti-Diem faction in Washington including Hilsman, Harriman, and Forrestal. Taylor believed the cable was ill-conceived, confusing, and would never had been approved had Hilsman and his colleagues not taken advantage of the absence from Washington of most of the high-level officials of the administration. Hilsman, in To Move a Nation, pp. 487-488, and in a later oral history interview (Kennedy Library, Oral History Program) maintained that the cable was cleared by the President and all representatives of the relevant agencies.

243. Eyes only Ambassador Lodge. For CINCPAC/POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. No further distribution. Re CAS Saigon 0265/2/ reporting General Don's views; Saigon 320/3/ Saigon 316,/4/ and Saigon 329./5/ It is now clear that whether military proposed martial law or whether Nhu tricked them into it, Nhu took advantage of its imposition to smash pagodas with police and Tung's Special Forces loyal to him, thus placing onus on military in eyes of world and Vietnamese people. Also clear that Nhu has maneuvered himself into commanding position.

/2/Document 275.

/3/Document 274.

/4/See footnote 3, Document 276.

/5/Document 276.

US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in Nhu's hands. Diem must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie and replace them with best military and political personalities available.

If, in spite of all of your efforts, Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.

We now believe immediate action must be taken to prevent Nhu from consolidating his position further. Therefore, unless you in consultation with Harkins perceive overriding objections you are authorized to proceed along following lines:

(1) First, we must press on appropriate levels of GVN following line:

(a) USG cannot accept actions against Buddhists taken by Nhu and his collaborators under cover martial law.

(b) Prompt dramatic actions redress situation must be taken, including repeal of decree 10,/6/ release of arrested monks, nuns, etc.

/6/Regarding Decree No. 10 of August 6, 1950, see footnote 2, Document 116.

(2) We must at same time also tell key military leaders that US would find it impossible to continue support GVN militarily and economically unless above steps are taken immediately which we recognize requires removal of the Nhus from the scene. We wish give Diem reasonable opportunity to remove Nhus, but if he remains obdurate, then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer support Diem. You may also tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown central government mechanism.

(3) We recognize the necessity of removing taint on military for pagoda raids and placing blame squarely on Nhu. You are authorized to have such statements made in Saigon as you consider desirable to achieve this objective. We are prepared to take same line here and to have Voice of America make statement along lines contained in next numbered telegram whenever you give the word, preferably as soon as possible./7/

/7/Reference is to telegram 244 to Saigon, August 24, 9:37 p.m., in which Hilsman provided the Embassy with a guidance for simultaneous play in Washington and Saigon. This guidance and the proposed VOA broadcast were supposed to separate in the public's mind the South Vietnamese Army's press imposition of martial law and the attacks by Tung's Special Forces and the secret police on the pagodas and the large-scale arrests of Buddhist leaders and demonstrators. The guidance pointed out that the secret police and the Special Forces were not under the command of the Armed Forces. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET) For text of the VOA guidance as actually broadcast, see Document 287.

Concurrently with above, Ambassador and country team should urgently examine all possible alternative leadership and make detailed plans as to how we might bring about Diem's replacement if this should become necessary.

Assume you will consult with General Harkins re any precautions necessary protect American personnel during crisis period.

You will understand that we cannot from Washington give you detailed instructions as to how this operation should proceed, but you will also know we will back you to the hilt on actions you take to achieve our objectives.

Needless to say we have held knowledge of this telegram to minimum essential people and assume you will take similar precautions to prevent premature leaks./8/

/8/The last three paragraphs of this telegram were not in the draft copy cited in footnote 2, Document 280.

Ball

 

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

Washington, August 24, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69. Top Secret.

SUBJECT
Vietnam

1. At about 1800 I received a telephone call on the Command Center System from Admiral Riley, who recounted conversations with Mr. Hilsman and Admiral Felt concerning messages which had come in on the situation in Saigon. He referred to a proposed course of action deriving from recommendations made by Thuan, said that the course of action was viewed favorably by Hilsman, Felt and himself.

2. I told Admiral Riley that I had been called by Forrestal, doubtless on the same subject. With Admiral Riley also on the phone, a call was put through to Forrestal. He asked if I had seen the messages, to which Admiral Riley had earlier alluded. I replied that I had not. He then said that they made clear a course of action, which he, Hilsman and Governor Harriman had converted into an instruction to Ambassador Lodge./2/ He said that it had been sent to the President for approval; that it was not something on which Defense clearance was desired, but that he was seeking to advise Mr. Gilpatric of the message. He asked if I could show it to General Taylor, to which I assented. He asked me to come to the White House situation room and get the message.

/2/See Document 281.

3. Admiral Riley interjected the information that he had been in communication with Hilsman and Felt, and agreed that the general course of action appeared sound, although he had not seen the draft message referred to.

4. I went to the White House situation room at about 1900 and read all the related incoming messages. Forrestal then showed me the enclosure,/3/ saying that it had been sent to the President for approval. He stated that he had just finished discussing it with Mr. Gilpatric by telephone, and that Mr. Gilpatric was in accord with its content.

/3/Telegram 243, Document 281.

5. Forrestal did not solicit my views on the content of the enclosure; however, I made two observations. First, where the words "press on all levels of the GVN" appear, that my interpretation is that it means we must start with Diem himself, and not foreclose him. Second, where it speaks of "key military leaders" that it is delusive to think of the Vietnamese military as united and homogeneous. It is, in fact and by design, fragmented. Forrestal concurred with these comments, without elaboration.

6. I asked to have a copy of the draft made, which I could take to General Taylor; called his quarters and requested that I be notified when he returned. I then went to my quarters and, at about 1930, notified Admiral Riley of above. He said he intended to call Admiral Felt and bring him up to date.

7. Immediately after finishing the call to Riley, I was called by Forrestal, who wanted me to report that the President had in fact approved the message, with only the addition that the means of its implementation would be in the discretion of Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins. I reported this to Admiral Riley, who stated that he had already called Admiral Felt, and would not give him the additional information since he would probably get it in an information copy of the message. I told him that Felt did not show up as an addressee on the draft that I had.

8. I called General Taylor's quarters and made specific arrangements for him to call me at the command center, on his return. At about 2145, not having been called, I called General Taylor's quarters, found him there and took the enclosure to him.

9. General Taylor read the message, questioned me on the nature of the incoming messages which gave rise to it, and upon the earlier events of the day, of which I had knowledge. He then observed that he would not wish to be on the receiving end of the message, that it is not sufficiently explicit, that it does not give Diem adequate chance to do what we want. He stated that it reflects the well-known compulsion of Hilsman and Forrestal to depose Diem and, had McGeorge Bundy been present, he would not have approved the message. Finally, he stated that the message had not been given the quality of interdepartmental staffing it deserved, and that he would be prepared to say so at a proper time.

V. H. Krulak
Major General, USMC

 

283. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff/1/

Honolulu, August 25, 1963, 10:58 a.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Tÿ09172-69. Secret; Priority. Repeated to the Commanders of the U.S. Army, Pacific; U.S. Fleet, Pacific; and Pacific Air Force.

251958Z. Situation in RVN.

1. Following are highlights of conversation Gen Harkins had with Gen Don on Saturday:/2/

/2/August 24.

A. Don's aim is to keep buffer between populace and troops, utilizing police to maintain order and employing Army only if police unable cope with situation.

B. Don reiterated he takes his orders from Diem not Nhu. Said I should bring to him any matters heretofore handled by Thuan.

C. Power alignment such that difficult for army to call the shots. Solidarity does not exist. Appears Dinh and his forces receiving instructions direct rather than thru Don. Obvious Special Forces and police also receiving orders direct and not thru Don and/or Dinh. A~ neatly engineered stalemate.

D. Don indicated stalemate could be broken by U.S. and that we must continue support Diem, forcing him to clean house. His suggestion, and definitely not to be attributed to him, was for the duration of the crisis to have an interim mixed Cabinet, military and civilian. Military should have three Cabinet posts. Interior--most important to preserve law and order. He suggested B/G Minh for this. Minister of Information-incumbent General Oai is OK. Minister of Defense-not too important in his mind but should be military. Thuan should remain as Secy of State to Presidency. He feels President should do this to show he's really trying to clean house. He wants martial law to end soonest. Don't blame him as he's really in a quandary with so many cooks stirring the Nuoc Mam. Also he hopes U.S. will truly try bear down on Diem--and try to show him how to run government--by delegating authority of [to?] Ministers and broadening his narrow outlook. This we have tried to do without much success--but we should keep trying if we're going to stick with Diem.

E. He reaffirmed that war against VC would go on. It does, but at somewhat reduced tempo. 300 to 400 opns a day vs 700 to 800.

 

284. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/

Saigon, August 25, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/ 63-8/31/63, CIA Cables. Secret. The CIA sent copies to the White House for Forrestal, to the Department of State for Hughes and Hilsman, and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Krulak. The telegram was received at the White House at 10:41 a.m.

0291. 1. Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh requested immediate meeting with CAS officer at 1330 local 25 August and in half hour conversation preceded by frank plea that regardless of our ultimate decision we not declare his stand to Counsellor Nhu, he proceeded along following lines.

2. The Generals still taking orders within the legal framework of the Constitution, even though some of them have a heartache over some of the actions taken by the government in the process of restoring order.

3. Some of the Generals (he refused to identify further, stating it was not necessary to put any other head on the block at this point beside his own) are however determined to stop taking orders from the politicians (queried for definition he flatly stated the Ngo family) the very minute South Vietnam's anticommunist stand comes in question. These Generals now fear that the politicians are now thinking in the direction of an arrangement with the DRV.

4. Khanh remarked that the United States has not taken any stand over recent events beside bland statements of disapproval of some of the incidents. Khanh now wants to know (and soon, he asked for a reply by 1530 this afternoon when he would return to Pleiku and was told a reply by that time would be impossible) whether the United States would support "the Army" should it move to take over the country. Regardless of our decision, he reiterated, the Army would go it alone should it become clear that the politicians were heading for any softening on anticommunism.

5. Asked to amplify he declined, but offered "as an example" the following hypothesis: let's assume that United States decides to curtail or cut aid to Viet Nam in order to force the Ngo family to toe the line, and the politicians decide to seek an agreement with the DRV or even with Communist China for a neutralization of Viet Nam. If this were to happen he, Khanh, and his General friends would definitely revolt. What would the American military, who have fought side by side with the Vietnamese soldiers so far, do?

6. Khanh stated he has four divisions under his command and he can do "pas mal des choses", quite a few things. Declining once again to name Generals allied with him, he acceded only to replying that while General Tran Van Don is a good and respected friend, he, Khanh cannot afford to trust him at this moment and that General Tran Thien Khiem is completely on Khanh side.

7. Throughout the conversation there was a strong plea for a very rapid assessment of the situation by the United States, to determine if any errors had been committed in the past and should this be established to be the case, prompt, immediate, intelligent and strong remedial action. Asked if he and his Generals have any plan for follow through on political plane, Khanh said they were only military trying to keep the country from being turned over to communism: it was up to the United States to take care of the political part. At any rate, he reiterated at the end, the Generals would go down fighting if the politicians now in power moved in the wrong direction, which the Generals now fear is the case.

8. Khanh has not visited the Palace since 20 Aug. Was asked (did not say by whom) to remain in Saigon tonight but chooses to return to Pleiku instead. Hopes we will contact him there soonest

 

285. Telegram From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President, at Hyannis Port, Massachussets/1/

Washington, August 25, 1963-5:34 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, State Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Operational Immediate. The substantive portion of this telegram is printed in the Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 11, p. 735.

CAP 63461. For President's information following cable received from Lodge/2/ in answer message of last night./3/ Begin text: Believe that chances of Diem's meeting our demands are virtually nil. At same time, by making them we give Nhu chance to forestall or block action by military. Risk, we believe, is not worth taking, with Nhu in control combat forces Saigon. Therefore, propose we go straight to Generals with our demands, without informing Diem. Would tell them we prepared have Diem without Nhus but it is in effect up to them whether to keep him. Would also insist Generals take steps to release

/2/This cable, August 25, was received via CIA channels as CAS 0292 from Saigon. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, State Cables)

/3/Document 281.

Buddhist leaders and carry out June 16 agreement./4/ Request immediate modification instructions. However, do not propose move until we are satisfied with E and E plans. Harkins concurs. I present credentials President Diem tomorrow 11 a.m. Lodge. End text. Ball, Harriman and. Hilsman have answered Department approves modification.

/4/See Document 178.

 

 


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