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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume IV
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 51-72

51. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President/1/

Washington, September 2, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that the President read this memorandum and another note in Clifton's hand states: "Bundy ready to talk on the phone." No record of the President's conversation with Bundy has been found.

Draft telegram to Lodge

1. The attached draft telegram to Lodge is a joint product of Hilsman, Forrestal, and myself. We have deliberately drafted it quite concretely and firmly in order to give a clear target for comment and suggestion by those to whom it is being circulated. By early evening I should have from Forrestal reactions of Harriman, McNamara, Rusk, and Taylor, and I will call you then.

2. The urgency of this message is only in the desire which McNamara and I feel particularly to get dialogue with Diem started. If you prefer to review this instruction in presence of your principal advisers, we only lose one day by waiting until tomorrow. Carter of CIA has strongly recommended this delay, and Dean Rusk inclines to agree./2/

/2/Rusk expressed his agreement with Carter in a telephone conversation with Hilsman, September 2,1:12 p.m., as follows:
"The Sec. said that Pat Carter had urged no hasty action on reply to 403 from Saigon. Hilsman said he had gotten the word also and had passed it along to Bundy. Bundy did not favor hasty action. They were in the process of working on a draft to pouch to the Pres. The idea was to get the draft to the Pres., the Sec, the other Principals and then see where we go from there. The Sec. said to remove some of our people would be very dangerous." (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations) Telegram 403 is Document 44.

3. You may also wish to know before meeting with the Vice President that he has been very skeptical of last week's line of action and would probably incline to a line substantially softer than this message.

4. Pierre's first report of your press conference comments/3/ sounds perfect to us, and we believe that a message much weaker than the attached draft would be quite inconsistent with what you have said.

/3/Not found.

McG. B.



Draft Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/4/

Washington, September 2, 1963.

/4/For text of this telegram as sent, see Document 56.

For Ambassador Lodge. Re your 403.

1. Results your talk with Nhu promising on surface but we fear stalling tactics especially in light of [document number not declassified]./5/ Thus Nhu [in?] Dalat could still be power behind throne; Mme. Nhu's tour could be plus for her local prestige unless she stays away a long time; dealings with Buddhists depend on concrete action not expression of intent; broadening of Cabinet may or may not be real. In short, everything depends on evident cut in personal authority of Nhus.

/5/Document 46.

2. In this situation feeling here is that it is essential that central negotiations should be conducted directly with Diem and that you should proceed to a first meeting as soon as possible. Bargain with Nhu would only confirm his ascendancy.

3. You should react strongly against any bargain on removal of U.S. agents or stopping of American radio attack on GVN. We are not offending party in this case and must not be put on defensive. This does not preclude later adjustments if we get a solid bargain.

4. You will have President's broadcast comment separately./6/ You should emphasize to Diem that President has carefully understated degree of his concern in order to make needed improvements easier.

/6/Reference is to telegram 319 to Saigon, in which the text of the President's interview of September 2 was transmitted with the instruction that it should not be released to the press there. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

5. Subject to these specific comments, the following is guidance for your first conversation with Diem.

(a) General Posture:

We will maintain publicly and privately tension of U.S. discontent with repression which has eroded effort toward common goal of winning war until there are concrete results in GVN policies and posture. U.S. not trying to overthrow government, but engaged in candid and critical talks to improve it. Purpose of general posture is to give you leverage with GVN; avoid false impression U.S. tried something and now backing off; and to avoid seeming to acquiesce in repression, which would put U.S. on wrong side fence with majority of people inside Vietnam and the world.

(b) First Meeting with Diem:

You should make points Deptel 294/7/ re common interests in defeating Viet Cong; difficulty in continuing support in face daily juxtaposition U.S. casualties in [and] aid with repressive measures; and common problem, under time urgency of working out set of GVN policies and actions that will make continued support possible.

/7/Document 39.

Specifics in addition to 1, 2, 4 and 5 of your 403; release of remaining students and bonzes including satisfactory guarantees safety of three bonzes now in U.S. embassy; removal of press censorship; restoration of damaged pagodas by the GVN; repeal of decree 10; and honest negotiation between GVN and through Buddhist leadership on outstanding issues.

6. If any progress made on foregoing your continuing dialogue with Diem should include pressing further measures to widen support at home and abroad such as

(a) revitalization of GVN, possible Thuan as PM, generals in posts of Defense and Interior.

(b) improvement of relations with Cambodia covering border incidents, Mekong rights.

(c) redefinition of role of U.S. advisers to give them broader scope.


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

Washington, September 3, 1963, 10:45 a.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Dolores R Perruso of Harriman's staff.

Harriman asked Hilsman if he wanted to see him.

Hilsman said yes. After a cable /2/ was developed and approved by the Secretary, the President decided to wait. His reason was to let them stew in Saigon.

/2/Attached to the memorandum, Document 51.

Harriman asked Hilsman what he thought of his statement./3/

Hilsman said "great."

Harriman said he thought the radio comment was rather bad because it said we promised aid to Ziem but he guessed that was all right. Harriman said: So they decided not to send it.

Hilsman said they decided to postpone sending it. Hilsman said he would send a copy to Harriman to look at and Harriman could decide whether he wanted to talk to him.

Harriman asked if Fritz went to the Pentagon.

Hilsman said he went last week to talk to McNamara with our approval. /4/

/4/No record of this discussion has been found.

Harriman said he hasn't been since?

Hilsman said he has been behaving well the last couple of days. He is beginning to disengage.

Harriman told Hilsman he made a mistake to refer to him at the White House.

Hilsman said he did this because he wanted to make sure he got his full voice.

Harriman said he didn't think it was Hilsman's job to call on him to speak. Harriman said Hilsman did this because he thought he was going to support him.


53. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the President/1/


Washington, undated.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII. Secret. The source text bears a notation that Taylor handcarried the memorandum to the President. Taylor among others saw the President on September 3 for the noon meeting on Vietnam; see Document 54. The signed original of this memorandum is in the Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, Vietnam, Security, 1963.

Summary of Military Operations in Vietnam

Final reports of military operations in Vietnam for the month of August indicate favorable trends in all military activities, despite Saigon's preoccupation with the unstable political situation. During the month of August, the Government forces conducted 166 large operations (battalion equivalents or more), a figure which compares most favorably with the 168 large operations conducted in July-the month which set new highs, as the execution phase of the National Military Campaign was begun. Although the number of regular combat battalions committed was somewhat reduced, ranger, civil guard, and self defense corps units were used extensively to maintain the operational tempo. Small unit actions show an increase from 10,240 in July to 15,480 in August. General Harkins attributes much of this apparent increase to better reporting procedures.

Of particular interest are increases in the last week (28 August-4 September). There were 56 large and 3211 small unit government operations in progress, as compared to 49 large and 3146 small unit operations for the previous week. This increase in tempo is somewhat offset by a reduction in friendly casualties to 308, which is the lowest figure for this category for July and August.

Viet Cong activity for the past week was at the highest level since July with a total of 391 incidents of all types. This increase in activity was not without cost, for Viet Cong casualties also rose to 567, continuing a three-week rising trend. The Viet Cong can be expected to continue a high level of activity in an attempt to create as much confusion and lack of faith in the government as possible.

Finally, as of 2 September, progress continues with the strategic hamlet program. The latest Government of Vietnam figures indicate that 8,227 of the 10,592 planned hamlets had been completed. 76 per cent, or 9,563,370 of the rural population, are now in these hamlets.

Maxwell D. Tavlor/2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


54. Memorandum of Conference With the President/1/

Washington, September 3, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Smith. The meeting was held at the White House. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 649A. A memorandum for the record of this meeting by Krulak is in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII.


Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Secretary Dillon, Attorney General, General Carter, Director McCone, General Taylor, General Krulak, Under Secretary Harriman, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, Ambassador Nolting, Mr. Hilsman, Mr. Colby, General Clifton, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith

The President asked what the French are doing toward assisting the Vietnamese. He was handed a paper on French economic and military programs in Vietnam./2/ He commented that the French were doing practically nothing and their program had been minimal in the last ten years.

Mr. Hilsman added that the French were doing very little in Laos. Mr. Forrestal said their program there involved approximately $9 million.

/2/Not found.

The President commented that the French were trying to get for Vietnam what had been done in Laos, i.e. neutralization. He pointed out that neutralization was not working in Laos and he wondered why Walter Lippmann had suggested that the Laotian case provided an illustration of what should be done in Vietnam. As to whether the French would protest the recent statement/3/ he had made about de Gaulle's comment/4/ on Vietnam, the President said he doubted Ambassador Alphand had the guts to protest.

/3/Document 50.

/4/See footnote 7, Document 26.

Secretary Rusk suggested that the President look at the draft instructions to Ambassador Lodge (copy attached)./5/

/5/Not attached to the source text. A draft telegram was attached to Krulak's memorandum for the record. With the exception of the last two paragraphs (see footnote 10 below) the draft cable attached to Document 51 was almost identical to the draft under discussion at this meeting. For the cable as sent, see Document 56.

The President requested any information on a report/6/ concerning the defection of three Viet Cong battalions. Ambassador Nolting said that this report involved units in Laos. not Vietnam. Mr. McCone cast doubt on the entire report which had been repeated by Nhu in his statement to our officials./7/

/6/Not found.

/7/See Document 44.

The President asked whether sending Nhu to Dalat would mean an improvement in the situation in Saigon. Several members agreed that it would be an improvement.

Secretary McNamara said that the resignation of Nhu would be helpful for U.S. public opinion and world opinion. If Nhu were physically absent from Saigon, this would also be an asset.

In the light of these comments, the President asked that the first paragraph of the Lodge instructions be rewritten. He did not think we should be so negative as the draft./8/ Mr. Hilsman responded that the instructions represented our opening bid to Diem. He expected that they would end up somewhere in the middle.

/8/In Krulak's record, the President's remarks are recorded in more detail. It reads as follows:
"The President stated, with respect to paragraph 1, that it is too negative; that it should be rewritten to exhibit that visible removal of the Nhus from the Saigon scene is some improvement, and to make sure that there is a requirement for some actual substance in the reduction of Nhu's power."

The President felt that there might be some substance to the proposals Nhu made to Ambassador Lodge. He did not think we ought to discourage the travel abroad of Madame Nhu, but he did not want her to come to the U.S., and above all, did not want her to make a speech in Washington. Mr. McCone added that he thought a trip by Madame Nhu was a good idea. He believed we could handle the press in such a way that the trip would not increase Madame Nhu's prestige.

The President asked whether we should negotiate with Nhu or Diem, but expressed his view that we should negotiate with Diem, as the instructions indicated. Mr. Harriman agreed that negotiations should be conducted directly with Diem.

The President suggested that paragraph 2 be revised to indicate that General Harkins should resume frequent meetings with Minister of Defense Thuan and Diem on military matters as soon as Ambassador Lodge had met with Diem.

Paragraph 3 dealing with how to react to any suggestions to remove individual Americans or to stop what are alleged to be American radio attacks on the Diem regime was deleted after Secretary McNamara and Director McCone expressed their doubt as to whether Ambassador Lodge should discuss these matters at all. It was decided that the paragraph was not necessary in the light of the President's public statement.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that Diem may insist that certain U.S. officials be removed from Vietnam. He said that if the Vietnamese know what we know they would undoubtedly want certain officials to leave. He suggested that we leave the personnel question open but keep in the question of U.S. radio attacks. Ambassador Nolting thought that Nhu's complaints about U.S. radio attacks referred not to the Voice of America but to certain armed forces radio programs heard in the area.

At the President's suggestion, paragraph 4 is to be rewritten to make clear that the President's broadcast was an effort to express his views on the situation in Vietnam and was not a personal attack on Diem. Ambassador Nolting commented that the President's words would not be provocative to Diem because he would understand why the President was required to comment on the Vietnamese situation. It was agreed that the entire CBS transcript, part of which was not broadcast, would be sent to Ambassador Lodge.

Paragraph 5 was revised in ways which are apparent in comparing the draft with the final text (attached)./9/

/9/In Krulak's record, he describes these revisions as follows:
"5. Respecting paragraph 5a of the attached draft, the President did not desire to use the expression 'keep up tension' end directed that it be replaced by the phrase 'we will continue to assert, publicly and privately, U.S. discontent'. In connection with paragraph 5b, the President was desirous of ensuring that the second phrase read 'difficulty in continuing support of American people'."
The President commented that Halberstam, the New York Times reporter in Saigon, was not an accurate reporter. He noted that the Bonzes went to our Ambassador in search of protection. Hence, the Buddhists were not anti-U.S./10/

/10/Krulak's record of the rest of the discussion at the meeting reads as follows:
"6. Following further discussion and minor editorial alteration of the draft, Mr. Hilsman proposed the addition of two paragraphs, shown on the attached as paragraphs 6 and 7. The President decided to omit paragraph 7 and have paragraph 6 sent as a separate message in light of its greater sensitivity. He stated that its thrust should be in terms of saying that the generals should be in contact with us, rather than we with them, in the event that they desire action; that, on the basis that the generals are not acting, we are now making a diplomatic effort. He was anxious to make it plain that it was the generals and not we who backed off."
Paragraphs 6 and 7 referred to by Krulak were not part of the draft attached to Document 51.
They read as follows:
"6. It is possible that Nhu's response to present confrontation between U.S. and GVN might be violent and it seems to us essential that we open other possibilities. In view of this and [document number not declassified--Document 46], you authorized to explain to 'Big' Minh either directly or via Kim that we are pressing Diem to change policies, but realize there is little real hope of achieving this.
"7. Your authority to suspend U.S. aid at any time remains in force." (Draft telegram attached to memorandum for the record by Krulak)

A draft of an additional paragraph was circulated. It involved military contacts with the Vietnamese generals. It provoked a prolonged discussion which resulted in its being deleted.

Mr. Hilsman pointed out that we had already had two contacts with Vietnamese generals. One would lead to a further discussion, and the other was a rejection, in effect, of further contact. Secretary Rusk said these contacts indicated there was less support than we had thought there would be.

Secretary McNamara asked why we should try to unscramble the confused situation among the generals in Vietnam. He thought we ought to keep Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins out of touch with the generals.

The President decided that we should wait for the generals to contact us. Meanwhile, we assume that they are not acting and that we are going down a diplomatic route. When they come to us we will talk to them. We should avoid letting the generals think that the U.S. had backed off.

As the meeting ended, Secretary McNamara and General Taylor agreed that no action need be taken in connection with current instructions to our military forces. Fleet movements would continue in view of the fact that such action created no problems for us. Ships on station would remain in place. Proposed redeployment of aircraft would be stood down, however.

Bromley Smith/11/

/11/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


55. Memorandum of Telephone Conversations Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Manning) and the President/1/

Washington, September 3,1963, 4:35 and 4:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Series--Vietnam. Confidential. Drafted by Manning.


The President asked who had done the AP story/2/ and who had talked with him. Mr. Manning said it was Hightower, and that he felt it was a case of pure and careful deduction. The President said he would not want VOA carrying the story. Mr M said he had spoken with Ed/3/yesterday and it had been agreed we would confine our selves strictly to the President's comments. Mr M said he did not think anyone had been talking out of turn; he himself had been the only one, he believed to talk with Hightower since the President's statement and he remembered what he had told him. Mr M said that we had made a strong statement last week and when we pointed the finger, any good correspondent would be bound to draw some conclusions and get the idea that Nhu is the one we do not like. The President said we do not think we can get him completely out of the picture. Mr M said there was a problem in saying that too. Mr. M said he had made clear to Hightower that we could not tell the Vietnamese Government what to do and who to choose. Mr M said he felt Hightower had a good grip on things.

/2/Not further identified.

/3/Edward R. Murrow.


The President called back re the mention in the above discussed article of cutting aid. Mr M said he had tried to make clear that we have not made any decisions of that sort and could not without making the decision to withdraw which had not been made. The President said he thought it would be good if we could turn these stories off for a few days, and not have people going on TV. Mr M mentioned that Mr Hilsman had been turning down press calls and TV requests. The President agreed that was wise.


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

Washington, September 3, 1963, 9:35 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft by Rusk, Forrestal, McNamara, and Taylor. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt. An earlier draft is attached to Document 51. Regarding the preparation of this cable, see Document 54.

317. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Re your 403./2/ Results your talk with Nhu promising on surface but we fear stalling tactics especially in light of [2 document numbers not declassified]./3/ Thus, Nhu in Dalat would be some improvement, but he could still be power behind throne; Madame Nhu's tour could be plus for her local prestige unless she stays away a long time and takes a vacation rather than a speech making world tour (we would emphatically oppose her speaking in the US); dealings with Buddhists depend on concrete action not expression of intent; broadening of cabinet may or may not be real. In short, everything depends on there being real substance to Nhu's various proposals and change in GVN policies and actions. If Nhu is sincere in his desire reach accommodation rather than merely stalling, his initial offer may be subject to negotiation upward if we maintain momentum. Accordingly, we should start negotiations with optimum position, expecting that GVN and we might meet somewhere in between.

/2/Document 44.

/3/Documents 46 and 48.

In this situation feeling here is that it is essential that central negotiations should be conducted directly with Diem and that you should proceed to a first meeting as soon as in your judgment you think it desirable. Bargain with Nhu would only confirm his ascendancy. We should be inclined to press for earliest such meeting. (Harkins should resume his routine military contacts, and, following your talk with Diem, should resume frequent contacts with Thuan and Diem on military matters to get on with war.)

You will have President's broadcast comments separately. You should emphasize to Diem that President has expressed his views because of his concern for the success of the war effort and his hope that the GVN will recognize the need for changes in their policy and improvements in their government.

Subject to these specific comments, the following is guidance for your first conversation with Diem.

(a) General Posture: We will continue to assert publicly and privately US discontent with repression which has eroded effort toward common goal of winning war until there are concrete results in GVN policies and posture. US not trying to overthrow government, but engaged in candid and critical talks to improve it. Purpose of general posture is to give you leverage with GVN; avoid false public impression US tried something and now backing off; and to avoid seeming to acquiesce in repression, which would put US on wrong side fence with majority of people inside Viet-Nam and the world.

(b) First Meeting with Diem: You should make points Deptel 294/4/ re common interests in defeating Viet Cong; difficulty for US Government in maintaining support of American people in face daily juxtaposition US casualties and aid with repressive measures; and common problem, under time urgency, of working out set of GVN policies and actions that will make continued support possible.

/4/Document 39.

Additional specifics are: release of remaining students and bonzes, including satisfactory guarantees safety of three bonzes now in US Embassy; removal of press censorship; restoration of damaged pagodas by the GVN; repeal of Decree 10; and honest negotiation between GVN and true Buddhist leadership on outstanding issues. You may assure Diem that if he takes appropriate action, USG will do all in its power to improve opinion of GVN in the US.



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

Washington, September 3, 1963, 9:36 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft by Rusk and Forrestal.

318. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Further to Deptel 317,/2/ if Generals indicate that they are concerned about your approach to Diem, you may explain to them present policy through channels you deem suitable along following lines:

/2/Document 56.

Original initiative lay with Generals and US responded to their approach. Since Generals have indicated they are unwilling or unable to act now, US trying to improve situation by diplomatic means. If the Generals desire reopen discussion of plans for action by them, US should reserve its position and you should report to Department./3/

/3/Lodge replied in telegram 413, September 4, eyes only for Rusk, as follows: "Would be surprised if generals indicated any concern, as they show very few signs of life, but your 318 most helpful in case we should hear from that [them?]." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)



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

Saigon, September 4, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 11:10 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House, CIA, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

412. CINCPAC for POLAD. Eyes only for Secretary. CINCPAC exclusive for Admiral Felt. Deptel 317./2/

/2/Document 56.

1. If I correctly understand instructions, they are based on a very different reading of the situation here and the possibilities than my own and my colleagues. Reftel states that "everything depends on there being real substance in Nhu's various proposals and change in GVN policies and actions." In fact, Nhu's proposals, insofar as they related to what he is offering us, have very little substance, and I did not mean to suggest in my 403/3/ that they did have, they are largely scenery. Nhu is certainly not contemplating a change in GVN policies and actions. On contrary, he feels in a stronger position than ever before domestically and he no doubt feels reassured from President's excellent TV conference that we are not planning to pull out, which has surely been his assumption right along.

/3/Document 44.

2. Our leverage is therefore very slight, and the question whether Washington would like to see an agreement between US and GVN along lines of my 403, in an effort to clear the air and then get on with the war (and wait for appearance of individual or group with iron and will to take over government). If answer is in the affirmative, then I would propose to proceed as follows:

a. Believe it would be unwise to talk to Diem until we have reacted to Nhu's offer. Do not think this would give Nhu any greater ascendancy than he has already. Nhu's so-called retirement and Madame Nhu's departure can only be worked out directly through Nhu.

b. Meeting to be held with Nhu [2 lines not declassified]. Aim at this meeting would be to spell out details of Nhu's change of status; length of time of Madame Nhu's absence. I assume three months would have value to us in broadening of Cabinet membership; release of students and bonzes still in prison; and repair of pagodas. Am advised [less than 1 1ine not declassified] that repeal of Decree Law No. 10 is no longer relevant. However, it would no doubt have value in UN and I would try for this too. Release of bonzes in Embassy not yet requested. When it is asked for, we can stipulate safety guarantee.

Possibly best solution would be for GVN to agree Quang can leave country. As for negotiating outstanding issues with "true Buddhist leadership," this is out of the question if we mean pre-May 21 leadership.

c. Once these matters are settled with Nhu, I would see Diem, as a gesture of ratification.

d. If I see Diem now with all of Nhu's proposals hanging fire, I will get nothing but a two-hour filibuster and a mouthful of generalities and run risk of losing whatever progress has been made.

e. President's broadcast is excellent in underscoring serious view we take of situation. I have already at great length dwelt on the importance of improving GVN posture and will do so again.

3. If something like this is not satisfactory and we must have a change in GVN policies and actions, then we must have leverage. Nothing better has occurred to me on this score than previous suggestion of arranging for House or House Committee to cut our aid for Vietnam. I could then demand concessions on ground they necessary to get Congressional action reversed.

4. Other devices may occur to Washington, but we must be clear as to our objectives. I regret that none of alternatives is inviting. Do not want to bother you with details, but the question of whether we will be satisfied with agreement on points in my 403 or whether we insist on far-reaching policy changes (which cannot be had with existing leverage) is so fundamental that I ask guidance.



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

Washington, September 4, 1963, 8:48 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIEI Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared by Rusk, Harriman, and Bundy. Repeated to CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Felt.

324. Eyes only Ambassador Lodge. Embtel 412./2/

/2/Document 58.

1. Re your paragraph 4, President's interview/3/ sets general objective of U.S. policy, i.e., to secure a victory in war against Viet Cong. It is in that context that he expressed our sense of need for change in GVN policies and perhaps in personnel so as to regain touch with people.

/3/Document 50.

2. Re your paragraph 3, we recognize that you are entering into difficult negotiations and must be the first judge of what you can or cannot achieve in the light of the leverage which you have. Believe you will have clearer picture of what is possible after your first talks with Diem or Nhu and we will then be in better position evaluate results and decide whether we can provide you with more powerful negotiating tools.

3. You are best judge of whether it is wiser to talk to Nhu or Diem first on question of Nhu's offer to resign and we accept your advice on this point. However suggest you save other policy issues for talks with Diem. Believe it important to get both talks started as soon as you can.

4. Do not really believe we have different readings of the situation. Our previous exchanges of telegrams should give you idea of what we believe would be optimum outcome of your talks. Goal is that GVN have political support at home and abroad indispensable to winning war. In opening negotiations you should press for maximum steps in this direction, along lines generally agreed in our preceding exchanges. We do not believe we should set minimum terms at this stage, but should await further report on your negotiations.



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

Saigon, September 5, 1963, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 5:05 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House, CIA, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

417. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Eyes only for the Secretary. Your 324./2/

/2/Document 59.

1. Agree your paragraph 1 on great desirability of "change in GVN policies." There may be an off-chance I might in time get in a position to give them advice, some of which they would take. But this is clearly impossible in the present atmosphere.

2. Re your paragraph 2 as to "what I can or cannot achieve", the main leverage I have is the build-up given me by the President's personal letter/3/ which has inspired some hope in GVN that I will some day speak well of them to U.S. public. They, therefore, may be willing to do something to impel me to do so. I am using this leverage to the utmost as well as President's expressions of disapproval.

/3/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, p. 644, footnote 2.

3. But I do not believe their word is good; Nhu's resignation surely would mean very little; Madame Nhu's departure is obviously intended to be a triumphant lecture tour; the broadening of the membership of the government will realistically change nothing; and the placating of the Buddhists, as far as GVN is concerned, is largely done. If these things have no usefulness in the U.S. as gestures, they are probably not worth doing. It would be better to keep them worried than to agree to some gestures which we regard as essentially meaningless but which would give them the feeling that they are forgiven.

4. Rather than go myself, I intend to get [less than 1 1ine not declassified] to tell Nhu that we are really not interested in his package; that is, his resignation, Madame Nhu's lecture tour, etc., and see if they can get something better. If they get something better, I can then go back.

5. If [less than 1 1ine not declassified] produce nothing substantial, I would then see Diem and request the departure of both Nhus, the broadening of the composition of the government, the placating of the Buddhists, etc. Believe this will be for the record only but, of course, will try.

6. As to "political support at home and abroad" in your paragraph 4, I do not believe the GVN really understands this at all. They are essentially a medieval, Oriental despotism of the classic family type, who understand few, if any, of the arts of popular government. They cannot talk to the people; they cannot cultivate the press; they cannot delegate authority or inspire trust; they cannot comprehend the idea of government as the servant of the people. They are interested in physical security and survival against any threat whatsoever--Communist or non-Communist.

7. Of course, I will always keep trying, hoping this estimate may be wrong and that there may be changes of one kind or another.

8. We are also studying possibilities of selective cutbacks or controls on aid components. Separate telegram will follow on this./4/

/4/Not found. In telegram 337 to Saigon, September 5, 9:10 p.m., addressed to Lodge, Hilsman with clearances in substance from Rusk and Bundy, replied as follows:
"Approve your tactics, but reiterate our feeling here of importance seeing Diem as soon as possible in order to try to assess real situation and what can now be best done." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET)



61. Draft Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and the President/1/

Washington, September 5, 1963, 8:55 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam. This memorandum apparently was transcribed by a staff member in Hilsman's office.

The President: Hello, Roger. Who puts this stuff out in Washington? There's an article in The New York Times by Tad Schultz [Szulc], page 5, in which he says that officials say that Nhu is trying to blackmail us./2/ It's a big story on page 5 and there's more on page 1.

/2/In this New York Times article entitled, "Washington Officials Accuse Nhu of Blackmail," September 5, Szulc stated that administration officials believed Nhu's attempts at political blackmail were bound to fail.

Mr. Hilsman: I've given strict orders to everyone in FE not to talk to the press. I don't know where he gets this stuff.

JFK: Call Manning and see if he might have said anything. If no one is telling Schulz this stuff then somebody ought to call the NY Times. If nobody there--you or Manning or Gov. Harriman--has said anything then no one with the authority could have said this.

Mr. Hilsman: I will look into it, sir.

JFK: We can't have people saying that US officials are saying these kinds of things. If somebody is, we've got to put a stop to it. If not, then nobody qualified to make such a statement could have given him this kind of information. Let's get Manning and Harriman and if not them, then call The New York Times. Has Gov. Harriman talked to anybody?

RH: Not to my knowledge, sir.

JFK: Well, check into it and call me back this morning.

RH: Well, sir, I have to testify before the Senate this morning.

JFK: On what? What will they be asking you about?

RH: About Laos and Viet-Nam and Korea.

JFK: Who specifically?

RH: Senator Lausche. Miraculously we're on very good terms and he has been most cooperative. I'll be testifying in executive session; nothing official and it will be just a background review of the situation.

JFK: What about Lodge talking to the French Ambassador?/3/

/3/Telegram 410 from Saigon, September 4, reported on Lodge's conversation with Lalouette. Lalouette "reiterated that Nhu believed he could work out an arrangement with the VC whereby the guerilla war would be ended. I asked what would be the quid pro quo, and he said: the withdrawal of some US troops."

Lodge reported that what Lalouette "particularly stressed was his belief there is no alternative to the Diem regime and that we must work with them as partners to win the war." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Country Series-Vietnam, State cables)

RH: Well I slapped his wrist in a cable about 4 days ago about the Halberstam article./4/ He ought to watch the paper more closely down there.

/4/In White House telegram CAP 63474 to Saigon, September 1, Hilsman told Lodge that it appeared Halberstam in his August 30 article entitled, "U.S. Policy Clash With Diem Hinted," printed in The New York Times of August 31, "may have picked up some points from US sources." Hilsman noted: "Possible that some US officials talking too much with press or other embassy staffs. Trust you are cautioning staff." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State cables)

JFK: Well, good. Now I want to have this NY Times article looked into this morning. I think it makes us look a little-

RH: If we find out that no one with authority in FE and no one-Manning nor Harriman spoke to the press, then we will put in a call to The New York Times and let them know that nobody with authority could possibly have made these statements.


62. Editorial Note

On September 5, 1963, President Diem sent United Nations Secretary-General U Thant a letter responding to an appeal by U Thant on August 31. On behalf of Asian and African member states, U Thant expressed grave concern over the situation in the Republic of Vietnam. The Secretary-General added his own "personal appeal" to Diem "to find a solution to the questions which are so deeply affecting the population of your country." Diem's response denied that there was suppression of Buddhism in the Republic of Vietnam, charged that such an allegation was "an imperialist invention," and stated that the African and Asian members of the United Nations were "allowing themselves to be poisoned by an international conspiracy of the East or West against the Republic of Viet-Nam." Diem stated that Vietnam was upholding public order, freeing the Buddhist hierarchy of outside influence, and had already found a solution to the Buddhist question. U Thant's letter of August 31 is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pages 869-870. Diem's letter of September 5 is ibid., pages 871-872.


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

Washington, September 5, 1963, 8:42 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Secret; Priority. Drafted by James C. Thomson, Special Assistant, Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs; cleared in draft with John R White, Legislative Officer, Bureau of Congressional Relations; and approved by Hilsman.

335. Ambassador from Hilsman. My two-hour executive session today with Far East Subcommittee of Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed far-reaching doubts regarding not only Diem-Nhu leadership but also advisability of continued US participation in Viet-Nam war. Subcommittee mood augurs heavy sledding in upcoming Senate aid debate as well as probable introduction of resolution condemning further US support for GVN; e.g. "It is the sense of the Senate that the American people are no longer willing to support a regime in South Viet-Nam that oppresses the people and religious sects. Continued support of such a regime is inconsistent with the basic precepts of American democracy."

Major themes of Senatorial concern today were: "disaster course" of Diem-Nhu leadership; dangers in Viet-Nam and elsewhere of US identification with repressive regime; press reports of Nhu contacts with Hanoi; failure of US to produce alternative to Diem-Nhu; absence of clear indications as to where we go from here.

Suggest that you make use, at your discretion, of this Congressional storm-warning in your approaches to GVN./2/

/2/In telegram 431 from Saigon, September 6, Lodge informed Hilsman of the use he made of telegram 335 to Saigon: "Your 335 came at the right moment and was most helpful. I read it to [less than 1 line not declassified] who were profoundly moved and are immediately seeking interview with Nhu and the Madame. They do not propose to bargain but simply to tell him that now he and his wife have no choice but to leave the country for six months. Will keep you posted. This will open the way for my showdown conference with Diem." (Ibid., POL 1 S VIET-US)



64. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 5, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Confidential. Harriman also sent a copy of the attached letter to McNamara under cover of a similar memorandum. Harriman suggested to McNamara that the opinions in the letter represent "judgments which cannot be ignored." (Washington National Records center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam 091)

I received this private letter from the former Director of the Vietnamese Bureau of the Budget, who was perhaps the closest friend of the United States until he resigned from the Vietnamese government a couple of years ago. It seems to me that the views which he expresses, and which closely parallel those stated by former Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau to Chester Bowles,/2/ are very sober judgments which are worth our close attention.

/2/As reported in telegram 91l from New Delhi, September 4. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET)

I am sending you two copies of the letter with the thought that you may wish to show one of them to the President.




Letter From Vu Van Thai to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman)/3/

Lome, Togo, August 24, 1963.

/3/Vu Van Thai was currently a representative of the United Nations stationed in Togo. The source text bears a marginal note indicating that this letter was taken from the President's weekend reading file of September 6.

Dear Mr. Undersecretary: When we met two years ago you suggested kindly that I may send you a private message whenever I have something to say about the situation in my country: Vietnam. I am now taking advantage of this permission because while I am now in Africa, deeply involved in the development problems of this part of the world, I cannot refrain from being anguished by the late events in my own country.

Two years ago I told you that any political improvement must come from the people and that political change must be the responsibility of the Vietnamese themselves. I did not agree with those who claimed to be Vietnamese political leaders and were only expecting changes worked out by foreign influence.

Now I am pleading that the US does its utmost to prevent the further crushing of the Buddhist movement and the subsequent political protest which has developed out of general discontentment and of M. Diem and family's handling of the religious crisis.

I am advocating a strong stand from the US not only for the sake of those directly threatened by Diem's repression, but also for the sake of preserving the Southern part of Vietnam as a place where one day a true regime of freedom of thought could seed and develop.

Without a US clear cut condemnation of M. Diem's recent sacking of temples, it will be impossible for any future Vietnamese Government to be able to gain popular support while siding with the West. Yet our chance of survival depends from the conciliation of these two conditions.

M. Diem and his family must go now, even if there is no ready made alternative, even if the change involves important risks; those risks must be taken for M. Diem has become the worst alternative, the only one leading to fatal communist takeover.

Even those most attached to freedom like myself cannot accept the idea of the continuation of M. Diem's rule for the sake of preserving our country from falling into communist hands.

It is time now for the US to side with the people of Vietnam in its struggle to free itself from dictatorship. Time is now working for the communists, action has to be taken quickly. I am convinced that the Vietnamese people is ready to fight for Independence and Freedom, it will never fight for anti-communism as such.

This letter is not inspired by any political ambition, it is not motivated by any partisan consideration. I am now in International Service and intend to remain so. If I raise my voice now it is because as a simple Vietnamese I feel compelled to do so; the recent events in Vietnam is [are] as shocking as the crushing of the Hungarian revolt.

Sincerely yours,
Vu Van Thai/4/

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


65. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and the President/1/

Washington, September 6, 1963, 9:15 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Vietnam, 8/29/63. Transcribed by Mabel Karydakis of Hilsman's office.


The President telephoned and asked what the news was.

Mr. Hilsman said we did not have a telegram in yet.

The President mentioned the newspaper stories attributed to one of our wonderful sources there. Mr. Hilsman said that we had gotten the ticker last night and had sent a blast to Saigon./2/ The President said this strips us kind of bare. Mr. Hilsman said this makes him so damned mad. He had warned them about talking. The President said you can't stop people from doing that. We have the same problem here.

/2/Not found.

The President said we now should have some sort of economic program-things we could do that would not have material effect immediately but which would give them the word. Mr. Hilsman said he had started looking into the various possibilities a week ago. In reply to the President's question, Mr. Hilsman said there was not too much. The President asked what about tying aid to U.S. purchases. Mr. Hilsman said this was an idea; that we tie some in anyway. The President asked what the dollar loss was to Viet-Nam. He said we ought to do that anyway.

The President asked if Mr. Hilsman had Janow or someone working on it. Mr. Hilsman said Janow and Bob Barnett and the economic people here were working on it already. The President said he would like to have some ideas this morning.


66. Memorandum of Conference With the President/1/

Washington, September 6, 1963, 10:30 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. The meeting was held in the White House. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 649B. A memorandum of discussion at the meeting by Hilsman is in the Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State Memcons.


Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Attorney General, Director Murrow, General Taylor, General Krulak, Deputy Secretary Gilpactric, Ambassador Nolting, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Mr. Helms, Mr. Colby, Mr. Bundy, Mr. Bromley Smith

The meeting began without the President.

Secretary Rusk said that if the situation continues to deteriorate in Vietnam, if our relations with Diem continue to deteriorate, and if U.S. domestic opinion becomes strongly anti-Diem, we will be faced with no alternative short of a massive U.S. military effort. We should direct Ambassador Lodge to tell Diem:

1. That we can foresee a condemnatory resolution in the UN within the next ten days. We will not be in the position to keep this anti-Diem resolution from being passed. Madame Nhu's appearance at the UN would be disastrous.

2. Unless Diem acts promptly, there will be a drastic effect in the U.S involving both reduction in economic and military assistance and strong pressure to withdraw U.S political support of Vietnam. He noted that we have not yet used the Lodge/Diem channel. Our urgent task is to gather all the evidence we can on the situation in Vietnam and the effect of recent events on the military effort against the Viet Cong.

Secretary McNamara suggested that we direct General Harkins to see Defense Minister Thuan and get his current views. He may no longer be saying, as he was last week, that Nhu has to go. We also need a military evaluation of what is happening in Vietnam.

Ambassador Nolting suggested that we ask Ambassador Lodge to see Vice President Tho who will have an excellent feel for what effect the recent events have had on the Vietnamese military effort.

There followed a discussion of a statement appearing in the press allegedly quoting General Harkins as saying that recent events had reduced by 50% the Vietnamese military effort./2/ General Krulak said General Harkins had consistently reported that the military effort had been affected but not seriously. An effort was being made to find out whether General Harkins had been misquoted. (It later developed that the reporter had misrepresented General Harkins' view which continued to be that the effect on the anti-Viet Cong operations had been limited.)

/2/A copy of the article by Ed Meagher of the Los Angeles Times, datelined Saigon, September 4, is ibid., National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous.

The Attorney General asked whether we could win the war with Nhu and Diem. Secretary Rusk replied that the answer was no, if the Nhus remained in power and continued along the same lines they have been following. However, the Nhus may change their line.

The Attorney General asked whether the Nhus would change now. He cited press stories saying that we can live with Diem and Nhu. Such stories are certainly read by Diem. The effect is to greatly reduce our bargaining power with Diem. We have to be tough. Ambassador Lodge has to do more than say our President is unhappy. We have to tell Diem that he must do the things we demand or we will have to cut down our effort as forced by the U.S. public.

Mr. Hilsman said he had already sent a cable asking Embassy Saigon how we could cut U.S. programs without hurting the war


/3/Telegram 313 to Saigon, September 3. (Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET)

The Attorney General asked if we have concluded that we are going to lose with Diem, why do we not grasp the nettle now.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that Diem would not be relying on press reports for information as to U.S. views. Our actions should be taken in two or three bites. It is very serious to threaten to pull out of Vietnam. If the Viet Cong takes over in Vietnam we are in real trouble. Ambassador Lodge could discount press stories by talking about what has to be done to meet our demands, including the exile of Madame Nhu. On the basis of Ambassador Lodge's talk with Diem, we could then decide on our next move. At that time we might decide to issue an ultimatum.

Mr. Bundy agreed that this was not the moment of decision. When we say we can't win with Diem we are talking of a longer time period. He personally doubted that General Harkins had said that the war effort had fallen off by 50%. He thought we should find out what was on Thuan's mind.

He recalled that Thuan's view that something must be done immediately if the war was to be won had triggered our action of last week end. He thought we should find out whether Thuan's view had changed during the past few days and in the light of the collapse of coup planning.

General Taylor recalled that three weeks ago we still believed that we could win the war with Diem. The Joint Chiefs of Staff shared that view. He asked whether recent events had changed our judgment.

The Attorney General again asked what we should do if we have concluded that we can't win with Diem. Secretary McNamara replied that we can't answer that question because we have insufficient information in Washington.

Secretary Rusk agreed that a reassessment was required. He then read a cable from Ambassador Lodge reporting most recent developments (attached)./4/

/4/No cable was attached, but this is an apparent reference to Document 60.

Secretary McNamara said we were not asking a showdown with Diem now but a discussion of the current situation.

The Attorney General asked whether we could get the views promptly of U.S. officers working with Vietnamese military units. Secretary McNamara said we could ask General Harkins to do this today. General Taylor said we could get the grass roots military view and suggested that General Krulak go to Vietnam, returning the first of the week, to report on the views of the Vietnamese officers.

Secretary Rusk commented on a report by Marguerite Higgins who had visited the Vietnamese countryside. He thought that Saigon may be such a snake pit that the views of those in Saigon may not be representative. He felt a strong need to try and find out the realities of the situation.

Mr. Murrow said he could ask his station chief to find out the views of the 23 Vietnamese on the USIA payroll.

Secretary Rusk said that his son had received a personal letter from a junior Foreign Service Officer friend now in Vietnam reporting real promise in the war against the Vietcong.

Secretary McNamara recommended that General Krulak go to Saigon and return Monday./5/ He asked that we get views from British Ambassador Thompson who is in Saigon.

/5/September 9.

Mr. Bundy said the crucial question is what are the components of a judgment as to whether we can win the war with Diem.

Secretary Rusk said we can live with the international aspects of the Diem government, but can we win in Vietnam? Can we contain criticism in the U.S.? Mr. Murrow asked that we do not underestimate the harm being done to us internationally by our continued support of Diem. Secretary Rusk replied that if we win in Vietnam, the international aspect will come into line.

Returning to the instructions to Ambassador Lodge, Secretary Rusk said we should make clear that Ambassador Lodge's first substantive meeting with Diem should not be considered a showdown.

Ambassador Nolting urged that we do not use pressure on Diem. To do so, in his opinion, would produce an unfortunate reaction. He asked that we do not talk to Diem about sanctions, but describe to him flatly the situation as we saw it.

Secretary Rusk described our present position as being stage one. There may be no stage two if we decide to pull out. If we pull out, we might tell Diem that we wish him well. Diem may be able to win the war without us, but this is unlikely. Prior to actually pulling out, we might want to consider promoting a coup.

The President entered the meeting at this point. Secretary Rusk summarized the earlier discussion and the draft instructions to Ambassador Lodge.

The President/6/ asked why our goal is to get Nhu out for six months. Is this realistic? Madame Nhu should go abroad but somehow she should be kept from making speeches.

/6/For additional remarks by the President, see Document 67.

Mr. Bundy asked what is the essential minimum of our demands. Secretary Rusk replied that if the Nhus stay on their present course we will continue to lose ground.

The President said we should ask Diem to prohibit Madame Nhu from talking. We had a public relations task in the U.S. and worldwide in dealing with Madame Nhu. He asked Ambassador Nolting whether our minimum requirement was the removal of Nhu.

Ambassador Nolting said that on balance he felt that Nhu would have to go. He believed that the departure of Nhu would mean a loss in Vietnam but a gain with U.S. public opinion. He acknowledged the choice was a very close one.

Mr. Bundy said that if Madame Nhu would leave we could live with Nhu remaining in Saigon. He asked again that we try to find out from Thuan whether he believes as he did two weeks ago that Nhu must go if the war is to be won.

Bromley Smith/7/

/7/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


67. Editorial Note

At the end of the 10:30 meeting on September 6, 1963 (see Document 66), the President made the following additional remarks (see footnote 6, Document 66):

"The discussion then turned to the instructions to Lodge.

"The President asked if it was realistic to demand that brother Nhu should go out. We certainly should insist on Madame Nhu shutting up, if only for the public relations problem here in this country.

"As to brother Nhu, the President asked Mr. Nolting if he would be for his going if we could get him to go. Ambassador Nolting said that as far as the problem here in the US is concerned he was sure that it would be better to have brother Nhu leave. Internally within Viet-Nam he was not at all sure that it would be good to have him go.

"The President said that this should be one of the major purposes of the reassessment that we are undertaking. The President asked what sanctions we should give Lodge in connection with aid. Mr. Hilsman resorted on his appearance before the Senate and the use that Lodge had made of this in Saigon (Deptel 335 and Saigon's 431).

"Ambassador Nolting said that if we want to come out with our marbles we must not present Diem an ultimatum. Even the strongest sanctions would not work. It was OK, however, to talk of American public opinion, Congress, etc.

"The Secretary of State said that Nolting's position was all right for the first stage but, if we do pull out, we must tell Diem in advance saying that we would still wish him well. The point was that a pull-off might well make a military coup probable." (Memorandum of discussion by Hilsman, September 6; Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State Memcons)


68. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to the Secretary of State/1/

Washington, September 6, 1963.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Vietnam-Policy. Secret; Limit Distribution; No Foreign Dissem/No Dissem Abroad/Background Use Only. Drafted by Allen S. Whiting, Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for the Far East, and Leo G. Sarris of that office.

State of Mind of the Nhus

Two intelligence reports received today/2/ reflect the heightened contempt which Ngo Dinh Nhu, his wife, and other close confidants of the Ngo family hold for the United States as a result of recent developments in South Vietnam.

/2/Both dated September 5, neither printed. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Cables)

1. The first report (TDCS DB-3/656,446) relates to an interview of Madame Nhu's brother, Tran Van Khiem, on August 31 by Denis Warner, a reliable Australian correspondent. Warner informed an American official that Khiem showed him a list of United States Embassy, USIS, USOM, and MACV personnel he was planning to assassinate. Warner indicated that the assassination of Americans would result in the landing of United States Marines within hours to which Khiem replied that there are 20,000 Vietnamese troops in Saigon to meet this eventuality. However, Khiem seemed impressed with Warner's counter that a division of Marines would quickly wipe out any opposing forces.

We do not think that the Vietnamese Government would at this time sanction such acts against American officials. However, we can expect that the current anti-American campaign as reflected in the government-controlled press and in official statements will continue; anti-American rallies or demonstrations are also possible. Khiem is the brother of Madame Nhu, and his own father, the former Vietnamese Ambassador to Washington, Tran Van Chuong, has denounced him as incompetent, corrupted, and cowardly. The last we have heard of Khiem was on August 11 when Secretary of State for the Presidency Thuan informed Ambassador Nolting that Madame Nhu had organized her own secret police squad headed by Khiem. Thuan stated that Nhu himself was possibly also involved. Nolting subsequently raised this point with Diem-the latter denied it flatly. The above report would indicate that Khiem may actually have some "special security" responsibilities and that Diem was either lying or had been kept ignorant of the development.

2. The second report (TDCS DB-3/656,445) relates to the September 2 article in Times of Vietnam/3/ which charged the United States, and specifically the Central Intelligence Agency, with an attempt to inspire a coup. On September 5, the First Secretary of the German Embassy, passing on information given to him by a Der Spiegel correspondent who had interviewed Madame Nhu, told an American official that Madame Nhu admitted she had written most, if not all, of the article. She is reported to have also stated that most of South Vietnam's troubles resulted from false reporting by the American press and from American interference. She even charged that Ambassador Lodge was planning to have her removed or murdered. She added that Diem was too weak and was dependent upon her for support and strength to carry out the struggle against the Viet Cong and other enemies.

/3/On September 2 the Times of Vietnam published a front-page story under a headline entitled "CIA Financing Planned Coup D'Etat," which had as its central premise that the CIA in conjunction with the Viet Cong spent millions of dollars to try to overthrow the Diem government on August 28. See Mecklin, Mission in Torment, pp. 201-203, regarding the role of the Times of Vietnam and its acting editor, Ann Gregory, in Vietnamese politics.

We have suspected that the Times of Vietnam article was written, or at least inspired, by the Nhus. Of course, Madame Nhu is aware that we want her to leave, and she probably feels she would be a main target in any coup attempt against the regime. Her statement on Diem recalls a similar public statement of hers about a month ago and one which touched Diem on a very sensitive point.


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

Saigon, September 6, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 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. 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. There is no time of transmission from Saigon on the source text, but it was received at the Department of State at 7:15 p.m.

0698. 1. With approval Ambassador Lodge, CAS applied during morning 6 Sept for interview with Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu set interview for afternoon same day and we had two-hour conversation.

2. Apparently Minister Luong had already talked with Nhu about Tran Van Khiem matter (CAS Saigon 0647)./2/ Nhu assured CAS there was nothing to this. Said either Khiem or SEPES/3/ personnel through Khiem were attempting restore SEPES. This would go nowhere as Diem had reached final decision not to reestablish SEPES. According to Nhu, Diem has "physical allergy" to Khiem and would not think of allowing him either role or office. Khiem has no agents or anything else. Nhu had not talked with Khiem as result these reports but Madame Nhu has done so. Khiem had said to Madame Nhu that if he was to have no role in Vietnamese life he would prefer to go abroad. In sum Nhu debunked report and gave assurances about Khiem.

/2/Not found.

/3/SEPES, Service des Etudes Politiques et Sociales (Political and Social Studies Service), was the name of Ngo Dinh Nhu's secret police.

3. We then discussed 2 Sept Times of Vietnam article./4/ Nhu alleged he had nothing whatever to do with article and claims he had not even read it. Stated that he did not hide himself behind backsides of a woman, in this instance referring specifically to Mrs. Gregory. He surmised in passing that Gregorys may have obtained some of their information from American sources but did not emphasize this line. CAS did not raise question of Madame Nhu's role nor did he.

/4/See footnote 3, Document 68.

4. Nhu stated he wished explicitly authorize CAS and station to proceed with all station programs of joint nature. Volunteered that Diem, he, Thuan and Luong and others had approved these programs. Nhu considers the programs invaluable in support of counterinsurgency which, he continues to claim, is his primary interest. Stating he had previously said he had no political or power ambition he modified this to say he has primary ambition after all, which he describes as winning counter-subversive war because of its importance not only to South Vietnam but also because of bearing counter-subversive war has on Cambodia, Laos, and other countries of SEA and on struggle of free world. At conclusion our conversation, he again stressed his desire we continue joint programs. Without CAS putting question to him, Nhu disclaimed any role in attack on Agency.

5. Nhu seems convinced some Americans (unidentified) arranged sanctuary of three bonzes in American Embassy. When CAS expressed complete disbelief, Nhu admitted arrival of three bonzes probably came as surprise to Embassy officials but continued to claim GVN in possession telephone tap indicating that (unidentified) American had been behind this episode. He did not elaborate on problem constituted by bonzes in Embassy nor did CAS press him on this matter.

6. Nhu feels there are too many American civilians in Saigon and that some of these personnel are maintaining continual campaign of anti-GVN criticism. Did not name them but expressed view that this was matter for internal discipline of U.S. Mission, not for GVN action. Nhu seems to think number of American civilians in Saigon should be reduced and states he was asked at Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets meeting morning 6 Sept about presence U.S. military advisors. Had answered question to effect that military advisors should be increased where they were needed and effective and decreased where contrary situation prevailed. Said nothing about any reduction in military establishment.

7. With respect to negotiations with Hanoi, Nhu said Italian Ambassador D'Orlandi and Indian High Commissioner Goburdhun had asked him to see Polish ICC Commissioner Maneli to find out "what was in his stomach". Maneli had made several previous efforts to talk with Nhu but had not been received. As result of D'Orlandi and Goburdhun's persuasion, Nhu received Maneli about three days ago. Maneli expressed view that Nhu should take advantage of de Gaulle and Ho Chi Minh declarations/4/ and to enter into negotiations with Hanoi. Maneli said he had been authorized by Pham Van Dong to act as intermediary. He suggested to Nhu that SVN could sell rice and beer to North Vietnam in return for coal. Volunteered to be at Nhu's services any hour of day or night. Maneli told Nhu he was only man in SVN who could dare to undertake such negotiations.

/4/See footnote 7, Document 26, and footnote 3, Document 44.

8. Nhu claims he answered Maneli to effect that, while de Gaulle's statement was interesting, only combatants in this war had right to speak and act. SVN is allied with U.S. and it would be "immoral act" to explore such a problem unilaterally behind backs of Americans. Commercial relations with North Vietnam would have inevitable political repercussions on fighting morale and political clarity of SVN population. Maneli asked what was next step and Nhu said he replied "continue building strategic hamlets". To CAS Nhu said he has no secret channel to Hanoi but could communicate through Goburdhun or Maneli if he wished. His contacts are with Viet Cong in SVN and his objective with them is to win them over against North Vietnam. Nhu stated he believes the guerrilla war would be greatly advanced in SVN favor by end of 1963 and that at some future time SVN and U.S. might be able negotiate with North Vietnam from position of strength. He states he is adamantly opposed to neutralism, although CAS had not brought up this subject. Neutralism, according to Nhu, is completely contrary to GVN's outlook and policy.

9. Without specifying, Maneli [told Nhu?] Saigon GVN would soon have four enemies against it, presumably including U.S. Nhu says he answered Maneli with comment that GVN accustomed to being attacked from many sides and would prefer go down with dignity than to live on knees. Nhu told CAS that neither GVN nor any other government could possibly negotiate with Hanoi either openly or secretly, except after having won guerrilla war and not in terms of neutralization but rather within framework of strong SVN seeking to incorporate North Vietnam within free world order.

10. On Buddhist question, Nhu said he had been off on vacation with family, 8 May and had not participated immediately in crisis which exploded that date. Buddhist problem advanced too far and too fast, reaching final point where surgery was necessary to survival of government and conduct of war. Still claims he had nothing to do with declaration of martial law or with attacks on pagodas. Denies he manipulated Secret Police or Colonel Tung's forces. When general officers saw Diem evening 18 August to propose martial law, claims Diem asked Nhu what Generals wanted see him about at that hour and Nhu surmised to Diem that probably they wanted take up question of new Chief of Staff. Nhu claims general officers informed him on 19 August of their discussion with Diem. During general officers/Diem meeting on 18 Aug, Diem approved martial law in principle, asked that bonzes not be harmed, and recommended that military legal officer be present at pagodas to see that military forces acted in accordance with law. Nhu claims military found this last stipulation unrealistic and impractical. Nhu said General Do Cao Tri had visited him about 19 or 20 August and initiated discussion on what General Tri intended to do during martial law. Tri brought out notebook indicating precise steps he intended take and persons he would arrest. Nhu commented that Tri said he had been planning for the action over the past preceding month. Nhu stated to CAS that he is "scapegoat" of entire affair, although said at same time that situation had reached point where surgical action necessary. The [He?1 says there was no meeting of civilian leaders after Diem/general officers session of 18 Aug (contrary to Minister Hieu's report (FVS 9513))./5/

/5/Not found.

Nhu said that, apart from surgical operation of 21 August, he has been for policy of conciliation and continues to be now. He said this was another part of Diem's stipulations during his session with Generals on 18 August, i.e., that martial law and removal of Buddhists to home pagodas would not constitute breach of his policy of conciliation.

11. CAS asked Nhu how long he thought martial law would last. Nhu answered that he had no idea. He felt persistence of martial law was dangerous to government and commented that martial law was having psychological effect on general officers which he thought could become a serious problem. During today's meeting of Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets, general officers had raised question of their participating in Cabinet positions within government and problems relating to general style structure. Nhu had answered them to effect that Interministerial Committee was not proper forum nor did this lie within his responsibility. CAS impression is that Nhu is in fact worried about changes in general officers' outlook and increasing demands from their side for participation in government.

12. Nhu gave some time to discussing how his children found life at Gia Long unpleasant and unlike normal lives led by other children. They felt they did not have playmates like other young people, could not walk down the street normally, were surrounded by too many servants, and would much rather live in villa somewhere in other part of SVN, like their villa at Dalat. Nhu said that he had to take this family problem seriously because psychological wounds of this kind in childhood could have lasting effects into adult life. (CAS had impression, as result Nhu's emphasis on this subject, that Nhu might be laying ground work for his temporary withdrawal.)

13. Nhu's comments are contrary to information we have received from other sources. See no point in trying to elaborate on his sincerity or insincerity but do not exclude that there are various substantial elements of deception involved in his statements. This would not be unnatural in power and politics. He claims to want to go forward with [as] U.S. ally and that he recognized fully American contribution to winning guerrilla war. I had no impression from this meeting that Nhu was inclined toward significant cutback in American presence of programs. He again claimed he is not anti-American. Discussion was conducted on both sides in friendly, dispassionate manner. Nhu was looking well.


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

Washington, September 6, 1963, 7:42 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft with Bundy, Rusk, and Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt. A copy was also sent to the President at Hyannis Port. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cable 11) Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 592 B.

348. Eyes only Ambassador Lodge.

1. Following is result of highest level meeting today./2/

/2/See Document 66.

2. It is clear that as a minimum we face a major problem with world, with US Congress and with American public which will require GVN to take actions to restore its image so that we may continue to support it. These actions include effective silencing and probably removal from country of Madame Nhu, releasing of bonzes, students, etc., along lines we have discussed.

3. What is not clear is whether these measures will suffice to restore sufficient confidence in the Diem Government within Viet-Nam to permit them to win the war.

4. Sense of meeting was that if the answer to this second question is that additional measures, such as departure of Nhu, are essential, and if we cannot obtain these additional measures after negotiating with Diem, then US faced with question whether to apply sanctions with all their risks rather than let situation get steadily worse.

5. At present there are two missing ingredients necessary to make a judgment. First is information on Vietnamese attitudes, and septel/3/ describes actions we are taking this regard in addition to those you already have underway.

/3/Document 71.

6. The second missing ingredient is Diem's attitude. You should initiate dialogue with Diem soonest. Purpose of this is not for showdown negotiations or ultimatum (since we not yet decided on ultimate sanctions to be used) but rather to afford you and us an opportunity to clarify present situation and assess future moves--e.g., to express clearly and authoritatively considerations US side and to ascertain Diem's future plans and policies in the light these considerations. You must dispel any idea Diem may have gotten from recent press reports that everything is okay in US-GVN relations and make him understand that we are coming to a point where our sensitivity is as important as his, stressing that we have a common problem to work out to permit us to proceed together towards our joint objective of winning the war against the Viet Cong.

7. You should hit hard on consequences of now inevitable UN debate and difficulty US would have in supporting GVN there in present circumstances (you should, incidentally, make it absolutely clear that Madame Nhu's presence at UN would be disaster.) Second, you should elaborate difficulties with US public opinion and Congress using Hilsman meeting with Far East Subcommittee/4/ and statements of Lausche and Church reported septels./5/

/4/See Document 63.

/5/In telegram 341 to Saigon, September 6, the Department of State informed the Embassy that Senator Frank Lausche, Chairman of the Far Eastern Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, publicly supported and concurred with the sentiments expressed in the President's interview of September 2 that oppression of the Buddhists in Vietnam was not an answer to that country's critical situation and grave problems. In telegram 356 to Saigon, September 7, the Department reported that Senator Frank Church had introduced a nonbinding sense of the Senate resolution calling for a cut-off of U.S. aid to South Vietnam unless the Diem government introduced drastic reforms. (Both in Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET) The text of the proposed Church resolution is in telegram 392 to Saigon, September 12. (Ibid., AID (US) S VIET)

8. You should also emphasize to Diem extreme time urgency--we have only ten days before UN debate for GVN to restore its image.

9. You should also emphasize that while the problem here and in UN created by GVN acts may or may not be aggravated by press distortions problem is big and real and only GVN acts can solve it.

10. At the outset you should stress the points that relate to the public opinion problem (para 2 above)--e.g., release of remaining students and bonzes, removal press censorship, restoration of pagodas, etc., as developed along lines generally agreed in our preceding exchanges, leaving to later discussions additional measures we may think necessary in light of results of assessment described para. 5 above and septel.

11. We have some doubts here about reliance upon [less than 1 line not declassified] to explain US position to Nhu and/or Diem. They can obviously be useful allies, but your own authoritative discussion of these issues seems to us indispensable.



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

Washington, September 6, 1963, 7:43 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET-US. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Koren and Hilsman.

349. Eyes only. Re para.5 Deptel 348./2/

/2/Document 70.

1. It has been decided to make an intensive effort to obtain at first hand information on attitudes toward GVN held by wide spectrum of populace. It is desired to determine trends in opinion since May 8 and what feelings are now. Maj. Gen. Krulak, USMC, and FSO-2 Joseph A. Mendenhall departing today, Sept. 6, to participate in this effort to poll opinion in as short a time as possible. Proposed questions to elicit information required septel./3/ Krulak will coordinate his efforts with MACV and Mendenhall will with Embassy. It is not intended that Mendenhall's effort impinge or supplant Embassy's efforts in this field, particularly provincial reporting section.

/3/Document 73.

2. Mendenhall plans spend one day Saigon and one day Hue and provinces. Please arrange transportation and notify Helble, including purpose of trip. Mendenhall also should talk with provincial reporters. (Mendenhall holds Diplomatic Passport 18608, issued June 4, 1959 and valid for travel Viet-Nam, but no entry visa. Request Embassy obtain entry visa Saigon and provide Mendenhall travel advance and any other assistance needed.)

3. To supplement these efforts and cover as wide range of opinion as possible it is desired that Mecklin and Phillips USOM utilize USIS and USOM field facilities and personnel respectively to parallel effort of Krulak and Mendenhall. It is possible that Mecklin and perhaps Phillips will be asked to return with Krulak and Mendenhall for a personal report.

4. In addition to above, Harkins should see Thuan to determine if his views have changed since last conversation, and Lodge may desire see Vice President Tho.



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

Saigon, September 7, 1963, 2 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 3:02 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House and CIA.

434. CINCPAC for POLAD--exclusive for Admiral Felt. Eyes only for Secretary. Herewith report of meeting from 6 to 8:15 p.m. Friday/2/ between [less than 1 line not declassified] and Nhu.

/2/September 6.

1. [less than 1 line not declassified] stressed the urgent crisis created by the situation in US Senate described in Hilsman's no. 335/3/ to me. They explained that passage of a resolution described in the telegram would be an irreversible action and would commit every Senator voting for it to vote against further appropriations.

/3/Document 63.

2. They think Nhu was shaken by this news which evidently he had not expected. Nhu said he had expected me to come back, apparently, "to negotiate" with him about his resignation. [less than 1 line not declassified] said that there was nothing for me to negotiate; that I, from a background of 25 years in US public life, had given my very best advice, which was for him to leave the country immediately for six months. It was up to him to take the advice or to reject it. There was nothing to haggle over.

3. Then came a long tirade by Nhu who lost his usual impassive composure and walked up and down. Some of his statements were:

a. "I'm the winning horse--they should bet on me. Why do they want to finish me? I want to be--not the adviser to Pres. Diem--but the adviser to Henry Cabot Lodge.

b. "I may leave the country after a month and what if 100 Strategic Hamlets go over to the Communists while I am away?

c. "I am alarmed by what's going on in the Armed Forces. If I leave, the Armed Forces will take over the government. 'Ces grenouillards' (which I translate as "these schemers" or 'these contrivers') of the CIA and USIS will sabotage the war effort."

FYI: This is first admission I have seen that Army was worrying him. Nhu also said he was burning his papers.

4. Madame Nhu is to leave on Monday/4/--for a two or three months "rest" in Europe.

/4/September 9.

5. Nhu stressed he would not consider leaving country, but would formally resign without retaining any connection with Strategic Hamlets. After a "number of months" had gone by he might consider leaving for a period of 3 or 4 months. When he did resign he would not deny that he had been kicked out. He would also consider any piece of legislation which would help to appease Buddhists, deal with Decree Law 10 and rebuild pagodas.

Comment: Believe it was good tactics for [less than 1 line not declassified] to see Nhu without me, as they obviously have no axe to grind. Am sure Nhu will not leave, but am also sure that news in Hilsman's telegram has shaken him. Planning Monday meeting with Diem, using Hilsman telegram, Deptel no. 331/5/ on situation in UN and anything else you may send me on Vietnamese interest in Congress.

/5/In telegram 331, September 5, the Department of State informed the Embassy in Saigon that the Afro-Asian bloc in the United Nations had requested inscription of the Buddhist issue in South Vietnam as an "urgent and important" item on the upcoming General Assembly agenda. The Department instructed the Embassy to inform the Diem government that unless "far-reaching and well publicized steps towards settlement of the outstanding issues with the Buddhists" were taken, South Vietnam could expect substantive debate on the issue and a condemnatory resolution. If the South Vietnamese did not implement reforms, the United States would not oppose a resolution calling on the Republic of Vietnam to respect the principles of religious freedom and human rights. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-15 VIET)




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