1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963|
Released by the Office of the Historian
26. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
26. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Washington, August 30, 1963, 2:30 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State memcons. Top Secret; Eyes Only; No Distribution. Drafted by Hilsman. The meeting was held at the Department of State. There are two other records of this meeting: a memorandum of discussion by Bromley Smith, August 29 (ibid., National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam) and a memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 30 (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69).
Secretary of Treasury Dillon
The discussion began by focussing on the apparent "inertia" on the part of the Generals as mentioned in paragraph 5 of Lodge's cable./2/
/2/Reference is to Document 20. In Smith's record of the meeting, the deliberations began as follows:
The Secretary of Defense called attention to the cable reporting on the meeting with Lt. Col. Thao and expressed his feeling that the Thao plan was not worthy of serious consideration./3/
/3/Reference is to Document 22. In both Smith's and Krulak's records of the meeting, McNamara specifically states that General Harkins must get in touch with the Vietnamese generals to learn more. Smith also recounts McNamara stating that the United States should not give the generals support until Harkins makes contact with them.
Mr. Hilsman pointed out that the Generals had asked our opinion of Thao, expressing their distrust of him and that we had advised against their taking him into their confidence. This meeting might, therefore, have been their merely listening to him or an attempt by Thao to smoke out the opposition on behalf of Diem-Nhu.
Mr. Helms described what seemed to him to be Nhu's plan, as described in a recent TDCS/4/--that is, to hold pro-government rallies, set up pro-government Buddhist groups and, at a certain stage, pick off the opposition leaders; in general easing tensions and returning rapidly to the general posture of the GVN as of, say, August 20./5/
/4/Not further identified.
/5/Both Smith and Krulak stated that Helms believed that the CIA had no evidence that would suggest that the generals had a plan. According to Smith, Helms also stated that "it appears that Colonel Tho [Thao] is being looked to to do the coup planning." Krulak recounts that Helms found "the Thao report most disquieting to him."
The Secretary of State asked the question: "If the Generals do not intend to move and Diem-Nhu return to the August 20 posture, can we live with it?" Mr. Helms said that he did not know. It depended upon whether Mr. Nhu would reverse his course. Mr. Helms said that Mr. Colby probably knew Nhu better than anyone else and asked his opinion.
Mr. Colby said that Nhu would not "reverse" his course; that he might well ease tensions and produce the facade of August 20, but he would most certainly proceed with his "personalist revolution" and his "strategic hamlet society."
Ambassador Nolting said that Nhu was undoubtedly a shifty character but that he could assure everyone that Nhu would not really negotiate with Ho Chi Minh and would not move to a unification with North Vietnam; that he was committed to an anti-Communist course. He said that Nhu would undoubtedly pull shenanigans that would be difficult for the US, with Laos and with Cambodia and shenanigans that would, if anything, put the US into a harder confrontation with North Vietnam and with Communist China.
Mr. Hilsman said that the answer to the Secretary of State's question, in his opinion, depended on the attitude of the Vietnamese people and the prominence of Nhu in the weeks and months ahead. He felt that, if Nhu assumed a prominent role, say, by occupying the new office of Prime Minister, and the action against the pagodas went without retribution, the graph of the future would be a slow but steady deterioration downwards in which apathy in the army, a drifting off of junior officers and noncommissioned officers, possibly student and labor strikes would slowly but surely degrade the war effort. If, on the other hand, Madame Nhu went on a long vacation and brother Nhu faded into the background, it was possible that the graph would be slightly upwards from level--i.e., that progress might be made in the war against the Viet Cong but it would be much slower and less certain and take several years longer than the Secretary of Defense and he had contemplated at, say, the last Honolulu meeting./6/
/6/Regarding the Secretary of Defense's conference in Honolulu, May 6, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 107.
The Secretary of State then turned to the question of the de Gaulle statement /7/ and French activity.
/7/On August 29, French President Charles De Gaulle made a statement on Vietnam at a meeting of the French Council of Ministers. At the close of the Council meeting, the French Minister of Information, Alain Peyrefitte, read the statement to news correspondents. The statement reads in part as follows: "France's knowledge of the merits of this people makes her appreciate the role they would be capable of playing in the current situation in Asia for their own progress and to further international understanding, once they could go ahead with their activities independently of the outside, in internal peace and unity and in harmony with their neighbors. Today more than ever, this is what France wishes for Vietnam as a whole. Naturally it is up to this people, and to them alone, to choose the means of achieving it, but any national effort that would be carried out in Vietnam would find France ready, to the extent of her own possibilities, to establish cordial cooperation with this country." The full text is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, p. 869.
Mr. Colby said that it was possible that Nhu had been working through the French talking to the DRV. General Carter said that the Secretary had asked for any hunches on the situation there, and although we lacked information because Harkins had as yet been unable to make his contacts with the Generals, he was prepared to offer the following hunch: that is, that Nhu has known of our machinations for the last two or three days; that the Generals are backing off; that Nhu also is backing off in the sense that he is trying to do what the US wants and to put the GVN in as favorable a posture as possible. General Carter's hunch was that the possibility of a Generals' coup is out; that in one week's time the GVN will look the same as it did as of the 20th of August; i.e. that Nhu will back off from repressive action in an attempt to give at least the appearance of a rapprochement with the US. General Carter said that there were several indications of this--the appointment of a new Ambassador;/8/ Madame Nhu's silence; the pro-government rallies; the surfacing of pro-government Buddhists; the creation of a new inter-sect committee; allowing Mau to go on leave; the release of the students; the reopening of the schools; the easing of the curfew; the return of Radio Saigon back to civilian control.
/8/The new Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States, Do Vang Ly.
The Secretary of Defense said that in his opinion the Generals didn't have a plan and never did, contrary to their assurances.
After discussion it was made clear that the Generals did not say that they had a plan, but in their initial approach had said that they would develop one if they got US assurances. All agreed that from the evidence now available it looked as if the Generals were either backing off or were wallowing but that we could not know until after their meeting with Harkins. The Secretary of State said that the situation on Saturday/9/appeared to be that the Vietnamese military wanted to mount a coup; that they wanted US assurances of support even though it would be a Vietnamese affair; that our response was that we would support them in an effort that was truly Vietnamese; that the main target was Nhu; and that the Generals could keep Diem if they desired. By this Saturday/10/ there does not appear to be much in it. The Secretary felt that we should send a cable to Lodge expressing these concerns, picking up the reference in Lodge's remark that nothing seemed to be happening.
The Secretary of State said that one contingency we should look at urgently, since it seemed to be the most likely one, was what we would do if the Generals' approach was only an exercise in frustration and gossip. Maybe the thing to do was to get the Generals back to fighting the war.
There was some discussion of counter-indicators, e.g., the possibility of riots, the reports of planned arrests of Generals and so on.
Mr. Nolting asked if the cable to Lodge ought not to withdraw some of the authority already delegated. He was especially thinking of the instruction that permitted Harkins to talk with the Generals.
Mr. Hilsman pointed out that Harkins was authorized to give assurances to the Generals and to review their planning but not to engage in planning with them.
The Secretary of Defense read the instructions to Harkins and all agreed that they were appropriate and should not be altered./11/
Mr. Hilsman pointed out that at some stage, but certainly not until we had the results of Harkins' meeting with the Generals, we would have to look at the question of whether we should cross over from assuring the Generals to a policy of forcing them into a position in which they had to take action, i.e., whether we could precipitate action by the Generals. The question here was whether the Generals had enough will and determination even to be forced. We could, however, know this only if we had more information.
The Secretary said we needed papers on a much wider range of contingencies. As he had said before, we needed a paper on the contingency if there is no coup attempt. What we needed is one list of the whole range of contingencies. One would be the frittering away of the interest of the Generals in a coup attempt. Another would be if their plan is inadequate in the US view for a successful coup.
The contingency paper dated August 30/12/ was distributed, and the Secretary of Defense said he thought the consolidated list of contingencies and US responses ought to eliminate any assumptions. In addition to those in the paper, which were based on the assumption that a coup would in fact be mounted, we ought to examine several more. One was that Diem and Nhu eased pressures either in arresting Generals or arresting a few key ones. Another was that Diem-Nhu eased pressures and Nhu takes power with the title of Prime Minister. Another was that Diem-Nhu eased pressures and Nhu becomes less prominent.
The Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gilpatric and others also suggested adding the following contingencies:
1. Political intervention by a third party, e.g., bringing the matter before the UN.
2. Pressure in the US to reduce aid unless Diem does things he is not now doing.
3. In the event of a successful coup--the slate of possible Ministers and the various forms that a government might take.
4. Request for a variety of US military help--from the use of helicopters ranging up to US troops.
5. Large scale civil disorders--from riots through civil war and including the sudden seizure of US communications centers and installations, including a set of these cables.
6. Increased Viet Cong activity in a variety of circumstances, including when the ARVN was split and possibly fighting among themselves.
7. DRV intervention into a chaotic situation-on its own initiative or by invitation.
8. Political activity outside Viet-Nam--e.g. Thailand, Ceylon and others having a regional meeting of Buddhist countries.
9. Difficulties between SVN and its neighbors--e.g. cutting off Mekong traffic to Cambodia as a result of withdrawal of recognition.
The papers requested above will be prepared as soon as possible and distributed piecemeal.
A meeting will be held at 11:00 tomorrow morning.
27. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, August 30, 1963, 7 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret; Eyes Only; Limit Distribution. Received at 3:16 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC and passed by the Department of State to the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the CIA.
304. CINCPAC for POLAD. Called on Lalouette, the French Ambassador. He has been here five years; is intelligent; and has the reputation of sincerely favoring U.S. program here. He expressed himself as follows:
Diem has a steadfastness and determination which is rare in Asia and is valuable. In many ways he is the best Chief of State in Southeast Asia. His weakness is that he is not a political leader, cannot make speeches, cultivate the press, etc.
He is much better off with Nhu than without him. Nhu is efficient and intelligent. The war against the Viet Cong can be won with Diem administration in office.
The present situation is largely the work of the press, helped greatly by Vietnamese ineptness. In the days of French administration, suicides of Buddhists were very common and had no effect whatever on the population. They create much more excitement abroad than they do in Vietnam.
Things are now quieting down; Buddhists are being released. Decree Law No. 10 will be repealed. The pagodas will be repaired at government expense; a ceremony is planned to be held at the Xa Loi Pagoda.
Madame Nhu will soon go away for several months on a trip to India and the United States.
The Vietnamese officials have been waiting for a dialogue to begin with me which has not taken place. They are, therefore, fuming in on themselves, which is bad. My comment: This is not strictly true. In my conversations with both Diem and Nhu, I suggested a number of things which should be done.
There is still some danger of a violent uprising, but it is getting less.
He asked: What could be done to please U.S. I said: Get rid of the Nhus. He said: This is impossible, but it might be possible to bring in someone with titles of Prime Minister and reduce Nhu's role.
In a year or two the guerrilla danger might be ended. The Viet Cong are very discouraged and morale is very low in North Vietnam, concerning which he said he was well informed inasmuch as the French have a mission there. When the guerrilla war is ended, it might be possible for the South Vietnamese, who would then be much stronger than the North Vietnamese, to propose trading some of their rice for North Vietnamese coal. This might lead towards a unified Vietnam with South Vietnam the dominant element. But all of this was remote.
When I left, he said: Let me say two things--first, try to calm American opinion and, second, no coupe.
28. Memorandum of a Conversation/1/
Washington, August 30, 1963, 5 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret. Drafted by Imhof. The meeting was held at the Department of State.
Ambassador Alphand called on the Secretary at 5:00 p.m. on August 30. One of the subjects discussed was:
The Secretary said that the press both here and in France was giving the impression that Ambassador Alphand had been summoned to this meeting because of General de Gaulle's statement on Vietnam./2/ The Secretary said that this was obviously not true and that it was desirable to correct this impression. Ambassador Alphand agreed. He said that while he had not seen the final version of the French statement on Vietnam right after it had been made, he had seen initial drafts two weeks ago while he was still in Paris. He said that in essence the statement reiterated the points which General de Gaulle had made in his meeting with the President in the spring of 1961./3/ The French did not feel that a military solution could work.
/2/See footnote 7, Document 26.
/3/President Kennedy visited France May 31-June 2, 1961. Records of his conversations with President Charles De Gaulle are in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1891.
The Secretary said that it was the other side which is seeking to impose a military solution. We did not seek South Vietnam as an ally and we would be perfectly happy if it were truly nonaligned as many other countries are. However, the facts of the situation were that Communist guerrillas supported from the North were seeking to subjugate the country. This we had to resist. Ambassador Alphand said that he appreciated this position. Certainly the French had no immediate solution to the problem. General de Gaulle's statement was intended merely as a long term proposition, not as something that could be put into effect in the near future.
The Secretary noted that France had a delegation in Hanoi. He said he hoped the French would let us have some of the information which the French delegation developed there. Ambassador Alphand promised to look into this. He said that he had read an article in a recent USIA publication comparing the positions of Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Minh on the situation in Vietnam. Mao, according to this publication, was for the continuation and intensification of the war, while Ho was for peace. Ambassador Alphand said that the French agreed with this analysis and he suggested that it would be useful to compare notes on the respective positions of Mao and Ho.
The Secretary said the Soviets had recently created the impression in connection with Laos that they had not much influence in Southeast Asia. This might be true; on the other hand, it was also possible that the Soviets wanted us to believe that this was so. Ambassador Alphand was inclined to believe that the Soviets had in fact little influence in the area. On the other hand, Ho Chi Minh was basically anti-Chinese. A neutral solution for Vietnam was therefore possible and might be the best solution. The Secretary repeated that we had been drawn into the conflict because of Viet [Cong?] activity. There was as yet no indication that a truly neutral Vietnam was possible. A false neutrality would be most dangerous as it would have repercussions on Vietnam's neighbors, especially on Indonesia.
Ambassador Alphand said the present situation was most difficult. He felt Diem was undesirable; however, there was nobody in sight to replace him. The Secretary said the main problem seemed to be Diem's brother Nhu and he wondered whether the enticements of Paris could not be offered to him. Ambassador Alphand said that Nhu's father was going to Paris, but there were no indications that Nhu himself planned to retire.
Ambassador Alphand, while admitting that the neutral solution was not as yet effective in Laos, said that at least it has stopped the war there. The Secretary said the situation in Laos was different. If every foreigner really left Laos it was quite possible that there could be no internal security problem and that the country would not create problems for any of its neighbors. The same was not necessarily true of a unified Vietnam. The Vietnamese are more active and ambitious and might create problems.
Ambassador Alphand said he planned to emphasize to the press that it was absurd to think that France was looking for an arrangement with Diem or was trying to extend her influence at the expense of the U.S. The Secretary suggested that the Ambassador might point out that de Gaulle's declaration represented long-term views. Ambassador Alphand agreed.
29. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/
Washington, August 30, 1963, 6:08 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Phyllis D. Bernau.
TELEPHONE CALL FROM MR. BUNDY
Sec returned the call and B asked if Sec had fun with Alphand./2/ Sec said he claims and he will say to the press this was a long-term view and it is almost what our Pres said in 1961 re Viet-Nam./3/ B asked if Sec has seen Lodge's report on his call on French Ambassador Lalouette./4/ Sec said yes. B thinks it is interesting and raised the question of whether Cabot should talk to these people more concretely than he has especially if the other plan is a fallen balloon. B said we can't settle it tonight but thought he would mention it. We may need this channel. B does not think he has told them very much except we are disturbed. We will reread them. This is one subject that was not discussed this p.m. Sec mentioned Madame Nhu's coming here. Agreed this is ominous. B said if Cabot told the French Amb they should go that went to the Nhus. Sec will study it this evening and B will too. Meeting tomorrow at 11.
/2/See Document 28.
/3/Apparent reference to Kennedy's letter to Diem, December 14, 1961; see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 322.
/4/See Document 27.
30. Memorandum From the Director of the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff (Riley) to the President/1/
Washington, August 30, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Files, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that this memorandum was taken from the President's Reading File, dated August 31.
Availability of Forces for Deployment to Saigon
Three Marine BLT's, totaling 4,500 men, have been positioned with necessary sea and airlift so that the three reinforced battalions and command elements can close Saigon in 24 hours. Initial heliborne elements from TF 76.5 would close Saigon in two hours.
a. One BLT, at sea, can close Saigon in eight hours, with initial elements arriving in two hours. This BLT is now located 50 miles East of Cap St Jacques (70 miles from Saigon). With advance warning, as tensions increase, this force can be moved closer to shore and reaction times reduced accordingly.
b. Two BLT's are on a four hour alert with associated airlift at Okinawa, 6:40 flying hours from Saigon.
One additional Marine BLT afloat has been directed to a position off Vietnam and will be on station in approximately six days.
For backup, there are two additional battalions on Okinawa: one Marine BLT and one battalion of the 173d Airborne Brigade. This backup force totals 2,700 men.
Herbert D. Riley
31. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, August 30, 1963, 8:30 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency. Drafted by Rusk and cleared with Hilsman, Krulak, and Forrestal. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt.
284. Eyes only for Ambassador. Following is report to you on today's meeting which reviewed your 383/2/ and other messages.
Discussion focused on "inertia" mentioned your para 5. Generals so far appear have no plan and little momentum. Further, bits and pieces of information here suggest that Diem and Nhu are moving to normalize situation and head off possibilities of being upset. Prospect of changing government by strong and concerted Vietnamese elements seem very thin on basis of any hard information we have. This raises possibility that Nhu will try to ease internal and international pressures and perhaps bring about quiet liquidation of potential opposition. Possibility therefore increasingly is that if there is to be a change, it can only be brought about by American rather than Vietnamese effort. Obviously, an abortive effort inspired by or attributed to the United States will be disastrous. Central question therefore comes to be how much reality there is in attitude expressed by generals with whom contacts have been made and their capabilities and determination with respect to what has been said thus far. The distinction between what is desirable and what is possible is one which we may have to face in the next few days. This telegram changes none of your instructions but expresses our uneasiness at the absence of bone and muscle as seen from here. Can assure you that highest levels in Washington are s2ivina this problem almost full-time attention.
32. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, August 31, 1963, 2:39 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Eyes Only; Operational Immediate. The source text is a copy the CIA sent to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 4:47 a.m.
0499. This particular coup is finished. General Harkins cabling General Taylor results this morning's conversation with General Khiem./2/ Summary of Khiem's statements is to effect that Generals did not feel ready and did not have sufficient balance of forces. They had talked with Nhu yesterday and he has assured them that SVN would be able continue the war, finding means to do so where it could. Generals thinking of proposing to Diem that he bring senior officers into certain Cabinet positions with Nhu in charge of Cabinet, i.e., a kind of prime ministerial role. Harkins' judgment is that Generals were not ready and could not achieve balance of forces favorable to them.
33. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/
Saigon, August 31, 1963, 1:45 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC exclusive for Felt. A note on the source text indicates the President read this telegram. The source text is a copy Krulak sent to the White House for Bundy; Krulak also sent copies to the Department of State for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman; to CIA for Helms; to the Army for General Wheeler; to the Navy for Admiral MacDonald; and to the Marine Corps for General Shoup. A summary version of this cable is printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 11, pp. 740-741.
MAC 1583. Request that a copy be passed to State, CIA, and other interested agencies.
On instructions from Ambassador had a talk with Brig Gen Khiem, Chief JGS, this morning. Purpose was to give assurance of U.S. backing as per State 272./2/
Khiem was at first reluctant to say anything, indicating he was just a junior officer and that I should talk to Big Minh who was really the head guy.
I said I would be delighted to talk to Big Minh, but he had put the word that no Americans were to contact him.
He stated Big Minh had stopped planning at this time, and was working on other methods--these he did not elaborate on.
He said because Big Minh had called off the planning so had others mentioning only himself and Gen Khanh.
He said all concerned had such a respect for Big Minh they followed his direction.
Asked where Col Thao, CAS 0483,/3/ stood in the picture. Khiem replied he knew Thao was making plans-but that few of military trusted him because of his V.C. background--and that he might still be working for the V.C. Comment: This might be an indicator of the other method, but this just conjecture.
Then he went on to say the Generals were not ready as they did not have enough forces under their control compared to those under President and now in Saigon.
He indicated they, the Generals, did not want to start anything they could not successfully finish.
Khiem then said Gen Don was not in Big Minh's confidence. Comment: Probably because of Don's present position because they are not personal friends.
At a meeting yesterday, Mr. Nhu said he now went along with everything the U.S. wants to do, and even had the backing of President Kennedy. I said this was news to me. Khiem said he wondered if Nhu is again trying to flush out the Generals. He intimated the Generals do not have too much trust in Nhu and that he's such a friend of Mr. Richardson (CAS), the Generals wonder if Mr Nhu and Madame Nhu were on the CIA payroll. Comment: (A new angle indeed).
He also stated Big Minh and others could not put too much backing on Mr Connie's/4/ word as representing U.S. because he was low in position in CAS. It would take someone like myself or Ambassador Lodge to give them complete confidence. Though it was my purpose to do just that--in view of what Khiem had already admitted I decided not to--and told Khiem that I would be glad to talk to Big Minh. But we would have to arrange the meeting. He said he would. No date set.
/4/Reference is to Conein.
I asked if someone couldn't confront the Nhus with the fact that their absence from the scene was the key to the overall solution. He replied that for anyone to do that would be self immolation--he also went on to say he doubted if the Nhus and Diem could be split.
He did say that Gen Don was going to present a plan to the President next week with the backing of the Generals. This was similar to one I had heard mentioned before; that of placing three Generals in key Cabinet positions, Interior, Defense, and DGI. Nhu would get some job such as Chief of Cabinet or a government coordinator.
So we see we have an "organization de confusion" with everyone suspicious of everyone else and none desiring to take any positive action as of right now. You can't hurry the east.
Maybe my meeting with Big Minh, if it occurs, will smoke out other ghosts.
Regards. Ambassador Lodge has seen.
34. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, August 31, 1963, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Operational Immediate. Received at 7:16 a.m. Repeated Operational Immediate to CINCPAC. Relayed by the Department of State to the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the CIA. Another copy of this telegram has a marginal note indicating that the President saw it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables)
391. Eyes only for Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Deptel 284./2/
1. You will have seen Harkins' report/2/ which makes it clear that there is neither the will nor the organization among the Generals to accomplish anything. (It is conceivable but only conceivable that further talk between Big Minh and Harkins will alter this estimate.)
This marks the end of one week which began with your instructions of last Sunday. We used every asset that we had including General Harkins. Our record has been thoroughly respectable throughout and we have shown our willingness to put ourselves on the line.
2. At some indeterminate date in the future [if?] some other group with the necessary strength and lust for office comes forward, we can contemplate another effort.
3. I believe the government suspects us of trying to engineer a coup. This belief plus the fact that I have been strictly correct and have not in any way sought to flatter or cajole them have put them in an apprehensive state of mind. They also believe I could say something which would help them with U.S. public opinion if they did something to justify it. Finally they expect me to make a report to Washington.
4. Perhaps an arrangement could be worked out whereby the following could be made to happen: Madame Nhu to leave the country, Mr. Nhu's functions to be limited entirely to Strategic Hamlets, the office of Prime Minister to be created and Mr. Thuan to become Prime Minister; Archbishop Thuc to leave the country. In addition the students and Buddhists would be liberated; Decree Law 10 would be repealed; the pagodas would be repaired and conciliatory gestures would be made. All of this, if agreed to might be announced by President in Washington. I think there is a dependable person of highest quality and prestige who would be the go-between. I would not talk of this to Nhu or Diem without further clearance with you.
5. I think the U.S. Government was right to instruct me as it did last Sunday not only because of the state of opinion in America and Free World but because the Government of Viet-Nam has acted both as liars and criminals. But now the only attempt to change the government which would succeed would be one which the U.S. could mount itself and, of course, that is out of the question.
6. To take up a different but related matter, I am very reliably informed that French Ambassador Lalouette was with Nhu for four hours on August 20 when the attack on the pagodas took place. I am also advised by a dependable source that he wants the U.S. Government out of Viet-Nam so that the French can become the intermediary between South and North Viet-Nam. On Friday (the day on which I had my talk with Lalouette)/4/ he gave a lunch at which were present the Papal Delegate and the Italian and Australian Ambassadors. After the Australian had gone Lalouette said: "We must save the family", as though the family were the first consideration.
/4/See Document 27.
7. I have good reason to believe that the Holy See would be willing to intervene with General De Gaulle. I understand that the Papal Delegate told Diem that he had betrayed his church and his country. I am reliably advised that Nhu is in a highly volatile state of mind and that some sort of gesture through Nhu to North Viet-Nam is not impossible.
8. As one more persuasive factor in our dealings with GVN would it be possible for House or House Committee to cut our appropriation for foreign aid for Viet-Nam? Giving me chance to get GVN to agree to our points on the ground that this would facilitate restoration of the item. I am too far away to know whether or not this would be practical politics. But here it could have certain advantages.
35. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963, 9:55 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Mildred Asbjornson.
TELEPHONE CALL FROM MR. BUNDY (WH)
Mr. Bundy said it was very fortunate the Sec has rewritten the message to Saigon./2/ The Sec. said even our hunches were better than we had a right to expect. The Sec. said the mtg. here at eleven o'clock/3/ this morning would be largely a political one. Bundy said there was no reason for cutting back in numbers; we would have one more meeting and then have the military. The Sec. asked if he should call the Vice President. Bundy said to tell him it was no longer an emergency and it wasn't necessary that he come. Dillon had gone to the country.
/2/Apparent reference to Document 31.
/3/See Document 37.
Bundy said he had spoken briefly with the Pres and either the Pres would call here around 11:30 or vice versa. The Sec. said another hunch he had was the French involvement. The Sec. said he would call the Vice Pres.
(The Pres. called Mr. Bundy during the mtg c 11:30 and Mr. Bundy gave him a report on the mtg.)
36. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963, 10:15 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Mildred Asbjornson.
TELEPHONE CALL FROM AMB. HARRIMAN
Amb. Harriman said he would come back to Washington if need be. He did not think events entirely surprising (Vietnam). He thought we should go back to the program we recommended a week ago, /2/ and have it out. He thought we should tell Diem what we were going to do and stick to it. We had gone through the same thing with Phoumi./3/ Harriman asked if the Sec had seen Kattenburg. The Sec said he had but that Kattenburg's report/4/ was already out of date in some important respects.
/2/Apparent reference to telegram 243 to Saigon, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281.
/3/Reference is to Harriman's efforts to convince Phoumi Nosovan to cooperate with U.S. support of a neutralized Laos.
/4/Rusk apparently is referring to Kattenburg's point of view, set forth in the memorandum of conversation Document 37.
The Sec. said either he or Mr. Hilsman would be in touch with Amb. Harriman later in the day.
37. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963, 11 a.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, White House Meetings, State Memcons. Top Secret; Eyes Only; No Distribution. Drafted by Hilsman. The meeting was held at the Department of State. Krulak's memorandum of this meeting is printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 540-544. A brief memorandum of discussion of this meeting by Bromley Smith is in Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam.
Department of State
Department of Defense
The Vice President
USIA--Mr. Edward Murrow
The Secretary of State began the meeting by saying that we were back to Wednesday of last week./2/ He suggested that we go to the original problem: What factors made us think well of a coup? These factors were still relevant to our basic problem. He felt that we should not rule out our attitude towards Nhu as an individual. The problem is what Diem-Nhu did, the policies they followed that eroded solidarity in Viet-Nam for pursuing the war, international support, and US public opinion.
The Secretary of State said that we should consider a message to Lodge picking up his suggestion/3/ of telling Diem the problem in the US of continuing support and opening a discussion with Lodge as to what we should get [from?] the Government of South Viet-Nam with respect to the following: Buddhists, students, the military command, free scope for US advisers, and Madame Nhu out of the country on a visit. Additional measures might be a real effort to patch up relations with neighboring countries including Cambodia--in other words, a total program to achieve what the Nhus were undercutting. The Secretary was reluctant to start by saying that the number one problem was removing Nhu. He was also clear that engineering a coup ourselves was something we could not do.
/3/See Document 34.
The Secretary of Defense said that he strongly favored the Secretary of State's ideas. He felt that the initial step was to reestablish relations between US representatives and their opposite numbers in the GVN, and especially Lodge and Harkins with Diem.
The Secretary of State said that an extremely important item to tell Diem was that he must not decapitate the military command because of rumors of a coup attempt but get on with the war.
The Secretary asked if anyone had any doubts that the coup was off. Mr. Kattenburg said that he had some doubts. He said that the VOA broadcast of suspension of aid /4/ had had a most remarkable effect and that it was an enormous pity that this effect was counteracted by a too rapid pull-back from that broadcast the next day. Mr. Kattenburg said that the Generals were very, very suspicious of the US and needed the reassurances they had asked for but had never gotten. In this respect it was tragic/5/ that Harkins had not carried out his instructions, i.e., had not given Khiem the reassurances even though Khiem had said that the plotting had stopped. The Secretaries of State and Defense said that they thought that Harkins was absolutely right to stop before giving reassurances in the light of what Khiem had told him.
/4/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, p. Document 287.
/5/Hilsman added the following change in his own hand: "it should be noted," which was apparently intended to replace "it was tragic."
Mr. Hilsman said that he quite agreed that Harkins was right in not following through with reassurances. He thought that what Mr. Kattenburg meant by what he had said was that the Generals' need for reassurances that the US was really behind them was a crucial factor. Whether or not it was true, the Generals believed that the authors of the 1960 coup had been encouraged in their action by low level CAS people in violation of US Government policy. On this occasion the Generals had been contacted only by two low level CAS people and they feared a repetition of 1960. Their suspiciousness was enhanced by the close relationship Richardson, the CAS Station Chief, has had with brother Nhu. Against this background, they tended to believe what Nhu had told them--that he was in communication with the US, that he was doing what the US wanted him to do and that he had had the approval of President Kennedy.
Mr. Hilsman asked the Secretary of State if he could pick up the Secretary's suggestion of getting back to the basic factors in the situation and give his analysis of them. Mr. Hilsman said that there were four factors in the basic problem. The first factor was the attitude of the people and especially of the middle level officers and bureaucrats who would have to carry on the war under any government.
Mr. McNamara asked why Mr. Hilsman thought this was key and what evidence he had that these people were in fact disaffected. Mr. Hilsman distinguished between what we knew of the attitude of these people and why they were key. He felt that they were key because they were the ones who had to carry on the activities of the government. (What Mr. Hilsman should have said explicitly but only implied was that of his four factors the reason he had put this one first was that pursuing the war to a successful conclusion was the most important of all and that doing this required the cooperation and support of the middle level officers and bureaucrats.)
On the question of evidence of the attitude of these people, we had relatively little information and certainly no statistics. However, we had some information from conversations between these people and Embassy officials.
Mr. Kattenburg said that he felt that they were disaffected, that he himself had talked to only three such people who were, but that other Embassy officers had talked to others who were. Also, Mr. Kattenburg said, we must consider as valid evidence the testimony of seasoned newspapermen such as Trumbull and Keyes Beech who talked to these people and who uniformly reported disaffection. The Secretary of Defense felt that this reflected that the disaffected people that we had talked to were only those in Saigon.
Mr. Hilsman said that his second factor was the effect of an American acquiescence in what had happened in Viet-Nam especially in Southeast Asia but also in Korea where they were watching us closely to see how much repression we would tolerate as a guide to the repression they contemplated during their upcoming election.
The third factor was Mr. Nhu. We had the experience of his attempting to throw out the key American advisers in the provinces and the strategic hamlet program. This would undoubtedly be revived. Also Ambassador Nolting had said Nhu would engage in shenanigans in Laos and Cambodia. Mr. Hilsman said he thought he would also do so with the North Vietnamese and we knew he had been in contact with them some months ago. Mr. Hilsman said that sensitive information showed that Nhu had been behind the de Gaulle statement, at least to the extent that what he had told the French Ambassador gave de Gaulle the notion.
The fourth factor was US domestic opinion and world opinion.
Mr. Hilsman said that his recommendation was we now move to the political and diplomatic arena; that we open tough negotiations with President Diem, maintaining with him and publicly our position of disapproval of recent actions; that we ought to consider telling Diem that we had temporarily suspended aid pending the outcome of these negotiations; that this was not an ultimatum but only a position for negotiations to bring about a GVN posture that would permit us to continue our support. This move had the advantage of giving Lodge some leverage, of signaling the rest of Asia that we were not condoning GVN actions and also help with domestic public opinion. Most importantly of all, however, it would signal to the rest of Viet-Nam that we were doing our utmost to change the nature of GVN policies. We would then negotiate with Diem for an acceptable arrangement. The disadvantage was that it would interrupt the momentum of the war effort, but this had perhaps already happened. The Secretary of State said he would not exaggerate what Nhu said to the French, that was not exactly treasonable and, if it was, we have been a little treasonable too.
The Secretary said that we should look at the things that we wanted to extract from these negotiations. It might well be that the effect of the transaction would be wholesome in getting more cooperation from South Viet-Nam. They might have had a scare during these recent days too.
The Secretary was not inclined to start with an actual suspension of aid but a statement that without GVN changes it might not be possible to continue aid. On the question of international opinion as a result of the repression of the last few weeks, this might be turned around if there was in fact a turn-around by the GVN. On Vietnamese opinion, his feeling was that the disaffection had not yet spilt outside Saigon but, if the policies of repression continued, then the disaffection would seep out.
Mr. Nolting said that this was not a problem of religious persecution, that the Buddhists had never been persecuted, that the line should be that the action against the Buddhists was not religious persecution but to remove political efforts under the cloak of Buddhism. The Secretary said that this was impossible for us to maintain and he was not at all sure it was true, but that if there was anything to what Mr. Nolting said it would have to come out of the actions of conciliation the GVN now took.
Mr. Murrow said that there had been world-wide condemnation of GVN actions; that if US policy implied that we continued to support such a government without complaint the world would blame us for supporting both the GVN and its action if its actions continued bad, as, for example, the censorship remained in force. Mr. Murrow's point was that it would be no easy task to turn around world opinion.
The Secretary of Defense said that we must work out a way of continuing to help the GVN against the Viet Cong. He agreed that it should not start with a suspension of aid. We need to reopen communications with Diem to get his ideas about what comes next. He said that part of the problem was the press-an assumption that the US was willing to change the situation when in fact it may not be able to change the situation.
Mr. Kattenburg said that his feeling, and he felt Lodge's and Trueheart's was that if we acquiesce in what has happened or even if we acquiesce with halfway measures--i.e., GVN negotiations with puppet bonzes--we will be butted out of the country within six months to a year/6/ and he felt that it would be better to withdraw in a dignified way.
/6/Kattenburg later stated that Lodge specifically asked him, if he got the chance, to make this point. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, Paul M. Kattenburg, March 14,1984)
Mr. Bundy asked what was behind this conclusion. Mr. Kattenburg said that the recent actions of the GVN have made the people the unwilling allies of the Viet Cong; that he had known Diem for 10 years and admired him, but that he had fumed into a petty dictator inseparable from Nhu and that the general expectation in South Viet-Nam would be that the Viet Cong would win.
Ambassador Nolting said that the discontent was confined to the cities which was only 15 percent of the population; the villagers were not affected. The feeling in the cities is worse now than ever before but not that much worse. The government had actually done well with US help that had begun in 1961 and though this was a bad period he felt the government could succeed. Mr. Kattenburg said that there was one new factor. The population was in high hopes following the VOA broadcast but could do nothing because of the many guns in the street. If we patch up with Diem and Nhu, we may survive for a few months but popular discontent will crescendo. The Secretary of State said that this was speculation. We must start with the situation we are now facing. He felt that we, first, should decide that we will not pull out of Viet-Nam and, second, that the US is not going to operate a coup d'etat itself. We were making steady progress during the first six months of this year and what we should do is go down the middle of the track and hope to recover that.
The Vice President said that he agreed. He recognized the evils of Diem but has seen no alternative to him. Certainly we can't pull out. We must reestablish ourselves and stop playing cops and robbers. We might cut down on aid and tell Diem that he had created a situation which we cannot handle politically and he must do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Certainly the US itself could not pull a coup and certainly there were bad situations in South Viet-Nam. However, there were bad situations in the US. It was difficult to live with Otto Passman but we couldn't pull a coup on him. /7/
/7/Regarding Vice President Johnson's remarks, Smith's memorandum of discussion reads as follows:
38. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963, noon.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Vietnam. Top Secret, Eyes Only; No Distribution. Hilsman wrote "post mortem" on the first page of the source text. He also attached two pages of fragmentary handwritten notes which are neither decipherable nor comprehensible. They are not printed.
/2/The reference is not clear, but may be to telegram 243, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281.
The important thing is to win the war. It is important to maintain the leverage of US discontent both in our public posture and in our private conversations with Diem. We want to go to Diem with a frank but tough line. We must insist he lay off the Generals and not arrest them and we must be blunt about this. We must return to the situation before the 24th of August. Diem ought to have a dialogue with the real Buddhists (Nolting suggested the venerable Khiet as a possibility). We ought to hit hard on press censorship. Lodge ought to open his conversations with Diem by saying that he has come to talk. The US is troubled and these are the reasons. The conversation ought to close with the problem of the Nhus. This could be settled in later discussions--leave them till last. Our sanction is that Congress may have to force us to suspend aid. The President at his next press conference would have to express his disapproval of what has happened in Viet-Nam. One reason for this is that the US continues to suffer casualties in Viet-Nam--e.g., The New York Times today juxtapositions the repression of the Buddhists and the US disapproval of GVN actions with a story of two more Americans killed. Diem must face these facts. Diem will say that public opinion and Congress don't understand the true situation because of erroneous press reports but our reply should be tant pis. The fact is thus what they believe, whether the information they base their conclusion on is right or wrong. Lodge should not say that aid has been suspended but that suspension is around the bend and will be forced upon us. We must establish a posture of candid and critical discussion privately and also this should be the general impression publicly both in Viet-Nam and abroad. If the people of South Viet-Nam decide to make a change of government they know where we are. Diem knows where we are too if he wants to change his policies. The impression should be left with the people of South Viet-Nam that we are there trying not to operate a coup d'etat on the government but to improve the government./4/
/4/Hilsman wrote the following note at the end of the source text: "1st para--require conciliatory actions which are attributed [?] to him personally, a system of his [?] efforts to improve his int'1 position, and a demonstrat. to Amer. people that we are not asking Americans to be killed to support [?] Mde Nhu's desire to barbecue bonzes."
39. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963, 10:48 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared with Forrestal and in draft with Rusk. Repeated to CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Felt.
294. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Re your 391,/2/ agree your conclusion favoring direct effort on GVN. US cannot abandon Viet-Nam and while it will support Vietnamese effort to change government that has good prospects success US should not and would not mount and operate one. To use your metaphor, when the spaghetti was pushed, it curled; now we must try pulling. In the meantime, our primary objective remains winning war and we concur your suggestion that we should now reopen communications with Diem. Decision on exact course awaits your recommendations and consideration by highest authority. What follows is thinking of interdepartmental meeting chaired by Secretary today.
As to general posture, it seems desirable to maintain both publicly and in our private talks with GVN the leverage of US discontent with repression which has eroded war effort within Viet-Nam as well as support of Congress, US public, and world. Impression should be, both privately and publicly, that US engaged in candid and critical discussion to improve government not overthrow it. Decision on changing government is Vietnamese affair.
In your talk with Diem, our thought is you should first stress common interest in defeating Viet Cong. Then in frank but tough line point out that daily juxtaposition of continuing American casualties and massive US aid with repressive measures contrary deepest American convictions will make it difficult for Executive and Congress to continue support. Common problem for US and GVN in general and you and Diem in particular is to work out set of GVN policies and actions that will make possible continued US support. But time is rather short. President Kennedy may well be obliged at next press conference to express US disapproval of repressive measures. Should we find it impossible to reach an agreement with GVN on a program to undo the damage caused by recent GVN actions, then suspension of aid might soon be forced upon us.
Specific policies and actions should be designed to develop political support within Viet-Nam necessary to win the war and also to restore damaged image abroad. Our feeling is that your list of specifics should begin with blunt warning, if required, not to arrest Generals who are so badly needed in war effort, and with strong demand Madame Nhu leave country on extended holiday. (Question of future role of Nhu could be left to later discussions.)
In the intermediate discussion the most important is relations with the Buddhists. Our feeling is that you should frankly say that negotiations with puppet bonzes will not accomplish purpose. We recognize that the other side of this coin is that we must assure Diem that we will make every effort to persuade the Buddhist leaders to throw themselves fully into the common effort for the independence and security of South Viet-Nam.
Other points might be:
1. Repeal of Decree 10 by immediate executive action or by special session of the National Assembly.
2. Restoration of damaged pagodas.
3. Release of students and reopening of closed universities.
4. Removal of press censorship.
At some stage, you will wish to talk about future relationships between American advisers et al and free scope to them in helping to carry on the war effort at all appropriate governmental levels. (In this respect we fully agree with Harkins' decision to refrain from giving assurances in light of statements made to him. He and all military advisers should now concentrate on reestablishing normal relationships at all levels GVN to get on with the war.)
Also would you think it useful if we tried to get Vatican to summon Archbishop Thuc to Rome for lengthy consultations?
If initial discussions go well, at some stage you may want to urge some form of reorganization of government introducing Generals and perhaps other civilian leaders into ministerial posts.
It may be important at a fairly early stage to raise the subject of the GVN improving its relations with its neighbors and especially to avoid interfering with Cambodian traffic on the Mekong.
The above is not an instruction but intended only for your comments.
We will appreciate your views on it and on any additional actions we should require of the GVN in order to get on with the task.
President has reviewed this message and approves it in general. He suggests you should also plan your response to probable Diem claim that all this trouble comes from irresponsible press. He thinks you should say we hold no brief for press but Diem had been playing into their hands. Fact is that actions of GVN have now created a situation which is very difficult indeed for USG. For example, large cut in aid program in House largely due to sense of disillusionment in whole effort in Viet-Nam. There are reports that still further cuts may be pressed on same ground, and in such a case USG simply would not have resources to sustain massive present level of support. So we need very quick and substantial response to your demarche. You should add that President will be commenting on situation in SVN in TV interview to be taped Monday a.m. at Hyannis and broadcast Monday evening. While in this interview he will be as restrained as possible, if asked it will be impossible to avoid some expression of concern. This expression, however, will be mild in comparison to what may have to be said soon unless there is major improvement.
40. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Saigon, August 31, 1963, 10:49 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency; Eyes Only. Drafted by Rusk and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Felt.
295. For Ambassador Lodge from the Secretary. Re Deptel 294./2/ It seems to me that we must keep our eye fixed on the main purpose of our presence in South Viet-Nam and everyone on the US side needs to review the bidding on this elementary purpose: why we are there, why are we asking our fellows to be killed and what is getting in the way of accomplishing our purpose. The actions of the GVN and the Nhus have eroded this purpose-inside Viet-Nam and internationally and they have also eroded our capacity to provide political leadership in the US necessary to support the effort in Viet-Nam. To raise these questions is not merely an emotional reaction to two individuals. They involve the fundamental requirement of political leadership in Viet-Nam which is necessary to coalesce the Vietnamese people in a war effort which we can support. Diem must realize that his obligation of political leadership runs to the solidarity of his people which may require conciliatory actions which are distasteful to him personally. He must make a systematic effort to improve his international position, and a demonstration to the American people that we are not asking Americans to be killed to support Madame Nhu's desire to barbecue bonzes
41. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/
Washington, August 31, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam. Top Secret.
During the period August 22-30 inclusive, the Generals were given the following assurances:
1. On August 26 Generals Khiem and Khanh were assured by Conein and [less than 1 1ine not declassified] respectively that the US would provide direct support during the interim period of breakdown of the central government mechanism. ([document number not declassified])/2/
/2/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 290.
2. On August 27 Conein assured General Khiem that the US would do all in its power to assist the families of the generals engaged in the coup plot in the event of its failure. At the same meeting Khiem was promised a complete inventory of ordnance in stock at Long Thanh training camp. ([document number not declassified])/3/
/3/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 299.
3. On August 28, CAS gave General Khiem the complete ordnance list and sketch of Long Thanh showing weapons emplacements, as assurance of US intentions, since the plan was provided for the purpose of attack on Colonel Tung's camp. ([document number not declassified]) /4/
4. On August 29 Rufus Phillips assured General Kim, on authority of the Ambassador, that the CAS approach in a meeting earlier that morning with Generals Minh and Khiem was bona fide and had the Ambassador's complete blessing. General Kim noted this was all the generals needed (in the way of assurances) but that General Minh needed US help in planning and that CAS should contact General Khiem on the morning of August 30. Phillips got the impression that Kim wanted not only help in planning but something further on what support the US would give. The Ambassador authorized the contact and the offer of help in planning.
42. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, September 1, 1963, 7 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 8:37 a.m. and passed to the White House, CIA, and Department of Defense at 9:01 a.m. On another copy of this telegram there is an indication that the President read it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables, Part I)
393. Eyes only for Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. ReDeptel 294 and 295./2/
/2/Documents 39 and 40.
1. Your 295 states the issue admirably.
2. I agree that we must keep our eyes fixed on main purpose of our presence in South Vietnam which at the very least is to deny this area to the Communists and, hopefully, also to transform South Vietnam into a country strong enough to stand by itself. It is for these enormously important reasons that we are asking our fellow citizens to risk their lives.
3. I also agree that GVN and Nhus have made it much harder to achieve this purpose and that a continuation of the status quo may make it impossible to achieve.
4. I do not, however, exclude the possibility that an improved situation can be created if Madame Nhu and Archbishop Thuc could leave the country; if Nhu is restricted to work on Strategic Hamlet Program, if the post of Prime Minister is created with Thuan as Prime Minister, and if I get on a footing with the GVN in which I try to influence them to act like responsible political leaders in the best sense of the word. In addition I should get assurance of repeal of Decree Law Number Ten, restoration of damaged pagodas, release of students, and Buddhist prisoners, reopening of closed universities, removal of press censorship, and negotiation with true Buddhist leaders on implementation of June 16 agreement./3/
/3/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 178.
[Numbered paragraph 5 (3-1/2 lines) not declassified]
43. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts/1/
Washington, September 1, 1963, 2:05 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent to Clifton and Salinger for the President. A note on the source text indicates that Salinger delivered it to the President.
CAP 63475. There follows a draft statement on South Vietnam for use in Cronkite interview./2/ This draft has been discussed with Hilsman and Forrestal who concur in general. It is being circulated to Rusk, McNamara and Lodge, and we will know their views early Monday morning./3/
/2/The President was scheduled to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite of CBS News on September 2; see Document 50.
Second following document is a set of possible comments on the French statement./4/ It has been a pleasure to draft them, but I continue to think they should not be used. In particular, the possibility of a reference to French position in Laos has been discussed with Harriman who strongly advises against it. Argument is that we really do not want larger French presence in Laos, where French military missions have been most unhelpful, and that any linkage of Laos with South Vietnam raises specter of neutralist solution. More generally, we find only our own personal irritation as an argument against well-established conclusion that we do best when we ignore Nosey Charlie.
/4/See footnote 7, Document 26.
A. Draft comment on South Vietnam for Cronkite interview
The difficulties in South Vietnam are serious, but it is important to keep the issues clear.
1. We agree with the Government of South Vietnam on many central issues. We both want to see South Vietnam strong and free. We both want to defeat the brutal and aggressive effort of the Communists to take the country over by force. So we both support the campaign against the Communists. We both support the Strategic Hamlet Program, which has the double purpose of assisting self-defense in the villages and promoting strong programs of economic and social development. It is important not to forget that President Diem has in the past given outstanding leadership to his people at a time when many of those in the West who had most experience in the country thought that everything was lost.
2. Yet now there are serious differences with the Government of South Vietnam over certain acts of arbitrary power, some of them strongly repressive, which that government has allowed. Our difficulty over such acts is double: First, as a democratic people, we cannot approve of this kind of repression in a situation in which we are closely engaged and where our resources provide much of the government's strength. Second, we believe that such acts undermine the unity of the people of the country, weaken confidence in the government, and so play into the hands of the Communists.
3. We have an obligation to make our position clear on this matter, and we certainly cannot approve such acts of repression. Our concern and our sense of the urgent need for improvement are being continuously communicated to the Vietnamese Government.
4. The larger question of the shape and structure of the Vietnamese Government is one for the Vietnamese people themselves. The interest of the United States here is that the Government of South Vietnam be able to secure the effective support of its people in defending the freedom of the country. We are making a large effort in South Vietnam, where approximately 35 thousand American troops have served since General Taylor's mission in 1961,/5/ and where 46 American lives have been lost by hostile action. It is hard to see how we could continue this effort if the essential conditions for success were no longer present.
/5/For documentation on the Taylor Mission to Vietnam, October 15-November 3, 1961, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Documents 169 ff.
5. But it is too soon to conclude that we cannot find a good way out of the present difficulties. Our support for the people of South Vietnam against the Communist aggressors will continue as long as it is wanted and can be effective.
B. Alternative comments on General De Gaulle's statement, for possible use on Monday TV interview
1. We have noted the French statement. General De Gaulle expressed similar views to the President in 1961 in Paris,/6/ but at that time it was his conviction that the West should give no military help to South Vietnam against the Communists. If that is still his view, it is hard to see how his expression of sympathy for the Vietnamese can much affect the present situation. The U.S. will always welcome additional French support for the independent non-Communist forces of Southeast Asia, and we have been hoping for stronger French participation in the support of the Government of Laos, where the current policy of our two countries is in agreement.
/6/See footnote 3, Document 29.
2. We have noted the French statement. As we understand the matter from Ambassador Alphand, this is merely a restatement of a view General De Gaulle has held for a long time. He apparently believes in neutralizing Vietnam, and not in giving help at present to those who would resist Communism there. We of course have a different view; we do not see how there can be independence and freedom for any part of Vietnam if those who are ready to resist the Communists are not supported.
So we have disagreed with the French over Vietnam. Fortunately in Laos we have an agreed policy; there is much room there for increased French activities and for increased French support of that hard-pressed government.
3. We have noted the French statement, but we do not know just what it means. If it means that France is now ready to share in the work of resisting Communist aggression in Vietnam, we can only applaud this change in French policy. Certainly, if the people of South Vietnam want such French help, it will be welcome to us too. But if the statement means that France does not believe in helping those who resist Communism, we can only say that we continue to disagree. And if the statement means that the Communist character of the regime in Hanoi and its aggressive support of subversion in South Vietnam are not matters of central importance, we simply do not understand it.
4. As we understand this statement, it is simply a general expression of good will from a country which has no present responsibility in the area and no intention of making any commitment of military or economic resources to the defense of South Vietnam against Communist subversion supported from the North. Expressions of good will are always welcome.
44. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, September 2, 1963, 10 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 10:59 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed by the Department of State to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA. On another copy of this telegram a note indicates that the President read it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables, Part I) According to an attached note by Mildred Asbjornson, September 2, General Carter of the CIA called the Secretary and "urged that no hasty action be taken on this message; that it be discussed in depth at least at the EXCOM level. He said that McCone would be back tonight."
403. Eyes only for the Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Adm Felt. Herewith report on meeting with Nhu from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday: also present: [1 line not declassified].
1. Nhu will resign, leave the government service for good and move to Dalat after he has lifted martial law, which he would prefer to do after certain U.S. agents who he says are still promoting a coup d'etat against family have left. "Everybody knows who they are", he said. He would also appreciate American radio in Vietnam stopping its attack on GVN and he suggested as a matter of national pride that Americans coming to Vietnam be required to have Vietnamese visas. His resignation would be announced as a sign of the success of the program against the Viet Cong and it would be put out that things were going so well that he no longer needed to stay in the government.
2. Madame Nhu to leave September 17 for the Interparliamentary Union meeting in Yugoslavia, for a trip in Italy and possibly a trip to the U.S. where she has been invited to come as a guest of what he called the "Overseas Club" which I suspect is the Overseas Press Club of New York.
[Numbered paragraph 3 (1 line) not declassified]
4. A number of measures involving Buddhist prisoners will be taken to ease these tensions.
5. Short of actual constitutional changes, Nhu is prepared, as an altogether new departure and as a public relations gesture, to consider broadening the membership of the Cabinet and to have a de facto Prime Minister. I pointed out to him that such a Prime Minister could absorb some of the criticism now going to the President and could easily be replaced.
6. In the context of this last approach, he suggested a change in the economic aid in terms of long range loans at low interest rates rather than grants. He thought this would make it easier both for Americans and Vietnamese because we would not have responsibility for all the things that were done here which we did not like. He seemed to like the idea of relenting on austerity measures, such as dance halls for soldiers.
7. He said he could not leave the country because of his contacts with the Viet Cong who, he said, were extremely discouraged and ready to give up. He said that six months ago a Viet Cong colonel had offered to desert with three battalions, but Nhu had told him not to desert but to stay at the Laos frontier so he could secede at the right moment. He reported this to Embassy at the time. There was a Viet Cong general in Cambodia who wanted to see him. He said that not only was the Viet Cong discouraged, it felt it had been used and let down by North Vietnam. He predicted that pretty soon the only way to supply the Viet Cong would be by air. Supply by sea was already prohibited, supply by land would soon be virtually impossible. When supply was by air the planes would be shot down.
8. He told of the ChiCom offer to sell two U-40 planes, which, I understand, was reported by Nolting 60 days ago.
9. Polish Ambassador called on Nhu today to direct his attention to the statements of De Gaulle/2/ and Ho Chi Minh/3/ and asked Nhu what the Polish Ambassador could report to Pham Van Dong, the North Vietnamese Prime Minister. Nhu said he replied: "Nothing. As regards De Gaulle, while he has a right to his opinion, those who do not take part in the fight have no right to interfere. Our loyalty to the Americans forbids us to consider either statement. The Americans are the only people on earth who dare to help South Vietnam. Therefore I have no comment."
/2/See footnote 7, Document 26.
/3/Apparent reference to an interview with Ho Chi Minh by Wilfred Burchett, published in the New Times of Moscow, May 29. When asked by Burchett to state what were the essential steps to ending the fighting in South Vietnam, Burchett quoted Ho Chi Minh as follows:
10. Please let me know if you want me to go ahead on paragraphs 1, 2, 4 and 5./4/
/4/Telegram 308 to Saigon, from Hilsman eyes only for Lodge, September 2, 11:53 p.m., noted that instructions were being developed. "Meanwhile, President's radio statement of today (Deptel 306) should amply fill need for continued momentum in development of situation." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)
45. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) and the Secretary of State/1/
Washington, September 2, 1963, 11:28 a.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, 8/29/63.
TELEPHONE CALL FROM SEC. McNAMARA TO SECRETARY RUSK
Sec. McNamara said he felt it very important that Gen. Harkins be put back in contact with Diem on military matters. McNamara said he had noticed in the messages a statement about dealing through intermediaries [less than 1 1ine not declassified]. The Sec said this was only for a day or so. McNamara said he thought we might wish to get Harkins back in contact with both Diem and Thuan. [1 sentence (2 lines) not declassified] McNamara said he would be inclined to favor dual channels. He said that Nolting's great contribution to establish this dialogue with Diem over a period of time had influenced and moved the latter as had Harkins with Thuan. The Sec thought that McNamara was basically right but suggested we wait for another 24 hours and see.
46. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, September 2, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. The source text is a copy sent by the CIA to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 1:01 p.m.
[document number not declassified] Subject: Rufus Phillips conversations with General Kim on 31 August 1963.
1. Met General Kim about 5:30 PM, rather later than anticipated, and asked him what the situation was. Kim said that Nhu clearly expected coup attempt, that Tung's special forces were on full alert, and that they were in a position to prevent any coup attempt from succeeding at this time. Planning would continue, he said, but on tightly compartmented basis for security reason.
2. I then asked Kim if he aware General Khiem had seen Harkins that morning and if he knew what had been discussed. Kim said he had not heard of meeting and was sure Big Minh had not been informed.
3. I then told Kim that General Khiem had told Harkins in effect that Generals could do nothing, all planning had ceased, and perhaps best solution would be for Nhu to become Prime Minister with support of the Generals in exchange for more authority for Army. /2/
/2/See Document 33.
4. Kim reacted strongly and, I believe, sincerely. Was vehement in saying that Khiem had not spoken for the rest of Generals, admitted that activity had been curtailed because of apparent security leaks, but insisted that under no circumstances would Nhu be acceptable to them. Further, he did not know why Khiem had made these statements, but believed it probable that they were deliberate effort to mislead Harkins. Admitted possibility also that Khiem had decided to turn against coup group, or might be attempting to play lone hand.
5. Kim then said that would check immediately with Big Minh, and that he would seek to bring Minh to meeting that evening with Col Conein (for whom he specifically asked) and myself. This he wanted to do if possible (although General Minh might object for security reasons) to confirm Khiem was not speaking for Minh.
6. I agreed to meeting, but pointed out that Americans now seemed convinced as result of Khiem's statements that Generals lacked will to effect coup, and that it might be necessary for the Americans to continue supporting administration as presently constituted. Best way of saving situation, I said seemed to be for Minh to speak frankly to Harkins. Kim replied he believed Minh would want to speak to Ambassador, if to anyone.
7. I told him I doubted if this possible but would investigate and, in any case, would meet him at 8 o'clock that evening. We broke up meeting after this discussion.
8. At Ambassador's residence I discussed situation briefly with Mr. Dunn, who advised me that proposed meeting with Ambassador was not desirable. After picking up Col Conein I returned to agreed meeting place. There I was again met by Kim, who asked that Col Conein stand guard while he talked to me.
9. Kim said that he had reported to Minh, who had said, in substance:
a. Khiem had not yet informed him of meeting with Harkins.
b. He had definite information that Nhu was aware Generals actively planning coup.
c. Had received information that Americans other than Conein and [less than 1 1ine not declassified] had contacted lower-ranking Vietnamese officers, urging them to effect coup. In this connection he mentioned that a Col Cuong (sic) had evidently been so contacted.
d. Vietnamese Special Forces had been placed on alert as result of Nhu's knowledge of Generals' intentions, and it was therefore impossible to do anything at this moment, without courting almost certain failure.
e. This did not mean planning was discontinued, or that he was not determined to go ahead and overthrow government. Under no circumstances would Nhu be acceptable.
f. He was sorry if Americans believed that Generals lacked the will. They did not, but at moment they lacked the means.
g. Americans should understand they had given so much to Nhu in the past that it was impossible to organize counter-action in few days. Further, so far as most Vietnamese officers were aware, US still supported present government. Words had been said against it, but there were no overt actions to back up the words. As result, whole operation against the government rested upon his word and that of a few others, which was not enough for immediate action by these officers.
h. Finally, he said, he understood why it was not feasible to talk to Ambassador, and that he did not wish to speak to General Harkins at this time.
10. After thus expressing Minh's views, Kim commented he agreed with Minh's assessment of situation and fully shared his views. Said that as friend he wanted me to know he was irrevocably committed against Nhus. Further, was confident that if US indicated firm disapproval of Nhus they would be overthrown, but that this would take time, given their present preponderance of power. Americans, like Vietnamese, must be patient and persevering, and most important things they could do at this time would be:
a. Clamp on tight security to protect Vietnamese who opposed Nhus, and;
b. Indicate by actions, as well as words, that they (Americans) do not support Nhus or their creatures.
11. Lastly, Kim said he and Minh intended to thoroughly investigate Khiem's reliability.
47. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, September 2, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy sent by the CIA to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were sent also to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 1:02 p.m.
[document number not declassified] Following summarizes 30 August evening conversation CAS officer with [1 line not declassified]. CAS officer purpose was elicit further on [less than 1 line not declassified] statement last week quoting Polish Commissioner Maneli that Ambassador Lalouette had been acting as channel between Ngo Dinh Nhu and Pham Van Dong.
1. [less than 1 line not declassified] surprised that this news to U.S. Govt. They had reported months ago [less than 1 line not declassified] that Nhu policy was one of ultimate neutralization and unification of Vietnam. It was "open secret" Saigon diplomatic circles Nhu in touch with North. French policy over past year or more obviously that of encouraging rapprochement between two halves of country and use of French channels (not Lalouette personally) was foregone conclusion.
2. [less than 1 line not declassified] had no hard inter to back this up but repeated earlier statement that Maneli several times in past few months has asked him tell Nhu that Polish Commissioner also available for messages to Dong. Maneli asked [less than 1 line not declassified] also convey this word to Nhu. Both [less than 1 line not declassified] declined serve as intermediary to Nhu.
3. [less than 1 line not declassified] spelled out at some length his irritation with Americans for relying on "two-bit agents" and ignoring seasoned observers such as self who in position learn great deal. He then cited Nhu press interview circa 8 May in which Nhu said he looking forward to reduction American aid/2/ as instance handwriting on wall which not appreciated by Americans. Reiterated earlier statements that Nhu basically anti-American.
/2/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 122, footnote 2.
4. Both [less than 1 line not declassified] said worst thing now would be for U.S. Govt to take precipitous action as was case in Laos with Phoumi. [less than 1 line not declassified] then offered their services to negotiate with Nhu. Both said Nhu wants negotiate. Both convinced Madame Nhu ready leave Vietnam as first step to save [garble] face. Apparently both recently in contact with Nhu and Nhu apparently volunteered that his wife would like take trip to CONUS right now. [less than 1 line not declassified] especially seemed anxious have DCM Trueheart contact him, perhaps with some specific message he wants convey, but neither [less than 1 line not declassified] willing take initiative for such meeting or volunteer views. They waiting be asked.
5. [less than 1 line not declassified] then said he reliably informed that Nhu in meeting with Generals "the other night" told them he aware some of them thinking of fast action because they fear country lost without American aid. Nhu then told them not worry, other resources would be available if aid cut, and if worse came to worse he, as Generals aware, had contacts with Northern brothers and could get breathing spell by having North direct Southern guerrillas ease off operations while negotiating more permanent settlement.
6. [less than 1 line not declassified] said he fears U.S. Govt may be thinking of having Vietnamese troops march into Saigon. This unthinkable as consequent slaughter would have worse repercussions than Bay of Pigs. Both [less than 1 line not declassified] said they cabling home their assessment along these lines and again asked Trueheart take initiative to go see [less than 1 line not declassified].
7. Above passed Embassy 31 August. Pouching full report./2/
48. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, September 2, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET. Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy sent by the CIA to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 1:02 p.m.
[document number not declassified] 1. Following info acquired 1 Sept from American observer from sensitive source who reports unilaterally (B) who attended meeting on informal meeting with general officers called by Counsellor Nhu at ARVN HQS, 30 August 1963, 1530 to 1730 hours. All available Generals asked attend. Fifteen attended as follows: Generals Don, Duong Van Minh, Tran Van Minh, Tran Thiem Khiem, Le Van Nghiem, Le Van Kim, Pham Xuan Chieu, Tran Tu Oai, Nguyen Khanh, Nguyen Khanh, Nguyen Van La, Tran Ngoc Tam, Nguyen Giac Ngo, Van Thanh Cao, Mai Huu Xuan, Huyn Van Cao.
2. Replying to General Don question what ARVN position to be henceforth, Nhu said general situation will be more difficult. Buddhist and student trouble over, but those behind these groups do not think issues settled and will continue working together to overthrow government by any available means. ARVN role always is to support government.
3. General Duong Van Minh asked how to answer Americans who ask what we think of present situation. Nhu replied either state no comment or say you do not have enough information to comment.
4. Nhu then dominated informal conversation making following points:
a. In discussion difficulties of working with U.S. Govt., cited CIA as group that would like to see him personally "out of way." Local CIA personnel do their utmost to alienate people from supporting government.
b. There has been mobilization of international press against GVN, caused primarily by American press. Many local American officials covertly encourage American newsmen to report contrary to best interests of GVN.
c. There now exists a mobilization aimed at overthrow of GVN supported by secret elements of U.S. Govt. This situation has intensified shortly after Test Ban Agreement with Russians./2/
/2/The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under the Water, signed at Moscow on August 5, 1963. (14 UST 1313)
d. Referring to Highlanders and people along Cambodian border, certain elements desire cause GVN more trouble and thus will intensify efforts involving these groups. Cambodia severed relations with GVN only because a foreign element insisted so that anti-GVN groups can exploit the people..
e. American Defense Department is for Strategic Hamlet Program even though certain American officials have spoken out against it.
f. Ambassador Lodge told me both Vietnam and U.S. Govt. are deeply committed to fighting Communism, and that therefore it is necessary that Vietnamese people be very friendly with U.S. Lodge could not understand why there is no close relationship between American and Vietnamese people.
g. I know without American aid we cannot exist. USG is only country willing support our country without any strings attached. There are U.S. Govt. personnel in Vietnam not working conscientiously for welfare of Vietnamese people. This caused by CIA personnel and certain so-called professional political affairs officers. Ambassador Lodge now getting better picture of situation; we can manage him-he will fully agree with our concepts and actions.
5. Source Comments: Everyone present listened carefully. A number of them seemed accept Nhu comments as when he said U.S. Govt. will shortly announce tacit agreement in connection with GVN policies and actions. Source says he himself fully supports GVN but noted battles can be won but war cannot be won without full support of people. Majority of Generals seem to feel U.S. Govt. must take strong stand with Diem to achieve reform measures which constantly though covertly discussed among people. That in turn will assure popular support GVN wants of people.
49. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, September 2, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET. Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy sent by the CIA to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 7:24 p.m.
[document number not declassified] Damage assessment report.
1. First, we would like to state our belief that events of last week and their denouement as of this time do not represent decisive victory for Nhu and GVN and that they are not as result of these events out of woods. So far we would call contest draw. Gen. Kim's contact with Rufus Phillips/2/ indicates operation has been contained not destroyed and that GVN still has good reason to fear and take into account activities on part of U.S. and of Generals.
/2/See Document 46.
2. We assume that Diem and Nhus are fully aware that USG encouraged Generals to attempt coup and that CAS was instrumentality of this encouragement. We estimate that they know good portion, possibly most of substantial details of our approaches. Our impression is that GVN realizes, however, that it is still in profound difficulty with military leaders, good portion of population, and with U.S. GVN must be assessing fact of U.S. willingness to back alternative leadership and to go to some lengths to encourage and support alternatives. Next moves on part of GVN and U.S. Govt will be to reach readjustment and re-accommodation and GVN must realize that it will have to give reasonable satisfaction to USG to continue major programs even if modified in form and practice.
3. There is even possibility that all major programs can go forward as in past although we expect some curtailment on those matters relating to political power centers.
50. Interview With the President/1/
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, September 2, 1963.
/1/Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John E Kennedy, 1963, pp. 650-653. This interview was videotaped at Hyannis Port on the morning of September 2 and broadcast that evening on the CBS television network.
[Here follows discussion of unrelated subjects.]
Mr. Cronkite: Mr. President, the only hot war we've got running at the moment is of course the one in Viet-Nam, and we have our difficulties there, quite obviously.
The President. I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Viet-Nam, against the Communists.
We are prepared to continue to assist them, but I don't think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort and, in my opinion, in the last 2 months, the government has gotten out of touch with the people.
The repressions against the Buddhists, we felt, were very unwise. Now all we can do is to make it very clear that we don't think this is the way to win. It is my hope that this will become increasingly obvious to the government, that they will take steps to try to bring back popular support for this very essential struggle.
Mr. Cronkite. Do you think this government still has time to regain the support of the people?
The President. I do. With changes in policy and perhaps with personnel I think it can. If it doesn't make those changes, I would think that the chances of winning it would not be very good.
Mr. Cronkite. Hasn't every indication from Saigon been that President Diem has no intention of changing his pattern?
The President. If he does not change it, of course, that is his decision. He has been there 10 years and, as I say, he has carried this burden when he has been counted out on a number of occasions.
Our best judgment is that he can't be successful on this basis. We hope that he comes to see that, but in the final analysis it is the people and the government itself who have to win or lose this struggle. All we can do is help, and we are making it very clear, but I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don't like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.
We took all this--made this effort to defend Europe. Now Europe is quite secure. We also have to participate--we may not like it--in the defense of Asia.
Mr. Cronkite. Mr. President, have you made an assessment as to what President de Gaulle was up to in his statement on Viet-Nam last week?/2/
/2/See footnote 7, Document 26.
The President. No. I guess it was an expression of his general view, but he doesn't have any forces there or any program of economic assistance, so that while these expressions are welcome, the burden is carried, as it usually is, by the United States and the people there. But I think anything General de Gaulle says should be listened to, and we listened.
What, of course, makes Americans somewhat impatient is that after carrying this load for 18 years, we are glad to get counsel, but we would like a little more assistance, real assistance. But we are going to meet our responsibility anyway.
It doesn't do us any good to say, "Well, why don't we all just go home and leave the world to those who are our enemies."
General de Gaulle is not our enemy. He is our friend and candid friend--and, there, sometimes difficulty--but he is not the object of our hostility.
Mr. Cronkite. Mr. President, the sending of Henry Cabot Lodge, who after all has been a political enemy of yours over the years at one point or another in your career, and his--sending him out to Saigon might raise some speculation that perhaps you are trying to keep this from being a political issue in 1964.
The President. No. Ambassador Lodge wanted to go out to Saigon. If he were as careful as some politicians are, of course, he would not have wanted to go there. He would have maybe liked to have some safe job. But he is energetic and he has strong feelings about the United States and, surprisingly as it seems, he put this ahead of his political career. Sometimes politicians do those things, Walter.
Mr. Cronkite. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
The President. And we are fortunate to have him.
Mr. Cronkite. Thank you, sir.
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