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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 73-91

II. Period of Interlude, September 7-October 22, 1963:
Assessment of the Progress of the War, U.S. Efforts To Reform the Diem Government, The McNamara-Taylor Mission to Vietnam and Report, U.S. Policy on Coup Plotting in Vietnam


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

Washington, September 7, 1963, 12:43 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Kattenburg, cleared with Sarris in draft, and approved by Hilsman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

353. For Lodge and Country Team. Deptel 349./2/ Herewith set of questions to which answers desired here soonest. Request all assets mission participate as required with Krulak and Mendenhall in providing coordinated answers, reflecting your concerted judgment.

/2/Document 71.

General Krulak is carrying list of questions prepared by Defense, bearing generally on attitudes in Viet-Nam armed forces toward regime and progress of war as result present crisis. In providing answers to questions below you should be guided by fact our main concern here is determine extent to which current political crisis has already eroded, or is likely erode, will and determination of upper, middle and lower echelon Vietnamese bureaucracy and military to wage successful fight against Viet Cong.

A. Following is list of groups whose attitudes we seek determine. Endeavor so far as possible distinguish target groups and give relevant answers for each:

1. Top Echelons GVN Govt.
2. Civilian Bureaucracy Saigon.
3. Province and District Bureaucracy.
4. Top level GVN military.
5. Division commanders; officers and noncoms in troop and combat units.
6. Police and Security officials.
7. Urban professionals, intellectuals, students.
8. Labor.
9. Organized religious groups including Buddhists.

B. Following are broad categories of questions which represent optimum. Realize however that in time available impossible cover all questions for each target group. These should therefore be considered guidelines.

1. Attitudes toward top GVN leadership:

a) To what extent has confidence in Diem and Nhu been impaired by recent events?

b) How is Diem regarded? Has he escaped most of opprobrium for recent actions? How is Nhu regarded? Is he acceptable as dominant force? Are Diem and Nhu regarded predominantly as separate or as Siamese twins?

c) What are attitudes toward Vice President? Key cabinet ministers? Other top leaders?

d) To what extent are GVN handling of Buddhist crisis and present policies martial law and suppression regarded as excessively oppressive?

e) Has discontent crystallized into disaffection? If so, how determined and militant is disaffection? At what levels in bureaucracy and military is disaffection most serious and explosive? How serious is impact on efficiency and morale?

f) Does each target group have feeling of stake and participation in govt policies and programs?

g) Do target groups believe situation will now stabilize under Diem-Nhu leadership or that significant political challenge by opposition to regime will occur?

h) What if any alternative political leadership is mentioned by groups?

2. Attitudes toward top military leadership.

How are generals regarded now? Are their actions viewed as having supported regime, and how is their failure move against regime appraised? Are generals viewed as strong, weak, or irrelevant factor in political situation?

3. Attitudes toward VC and war:

a) To what extent have developments last few weeks significantly affected war effort against VC? b) Is feeling now that war can be continued with reasonable prospect of success? Will Diem and Nhu be able to regain momentum and progress in the war? c) How has govt handling of Buddhist crisis affected attitudes toward VC? Is VC now increasingly regarded as only opposition to regime which has chance of success? d) Is there more thinking now than before about rapprochement with Hanoi?

4. Attitudes toward external forces:

a) What are current attitudes in target groups toward US, US policies and US advisors? b) Toward France and General de Gaulle's viewpoint?

Rusk

 

74. Telegram From the White House to the President, at Squaw Island, Massachussets/1/

Washington, September 7, 1963, 10:43 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret; Priority; Eyes Only. Sent from the White House Situation Room to the President for delivery on the morning of September 8. The President did not clear the cable to Lodge; a note on the source text reads, "not sent to Saigon."

CAP 63496. Cable to Lodge follows; per Hilsman, Rusk requests you clear this with the President for release.

To Saigon, eyes only for Lodge:

Review of Deptels raises possibility we have not been sufficiently precise in telling you our thoughts about the possible removal of brother Nhu.

From the viewpoint of Vietnamese solidarity and world and domestic US opinion, it is important that Nhu not have a key role.

What we are not yet clear about is whether the step of insisting that he depart the country for an extended period would be necessary to restore the Vietnamese peoples' confidence in their government so as to permit a victory in the war. It is on this point that we hope the reassessment you are now engaged in will shed some light. End of message.

 

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

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

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 5:54 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House.

450. CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Deptel 354./2/ Embassy believes would be preferable omit Tri Quang from discussion on release of bonzes. His strong belief in importance of removing Ngo family (with possible exception Diem) from power render him enemy of regime, which will most probably feel action against him (at least long term detention) necessary for own security. Up to present GVN has not released other top level Buddhist leaders, and Quang may well be regarded by Ngo family as most dangerous of all. As reftel suggests, believe best course under current conditions would be for Quang to leave country. He himself has requested this (Embtel 399)./3/ As to feasibility, GVN may well believe that oppositionists out of country do not pose significant threat, although in case of Quang, his probable ability to aid in mobilization of international Buddhist opinion against GVN would be factor working against their willingness see him leave.

/2/In telegram 354 to Saigon, September 5, the Department of State informed the Embassy that it should not respond in writing to the Government of Vietnam's request for release of the three Buddhist monks who had received sanctuary in the Embassy. If asked by Diem about release, Lodge should respond that before the United States would consider releasing them it had to be satisfied that South Vietnam was taking positive steps to assure religious tolerance and redress specific Buddhist grievances. The Department also asked if it would not be preferable in the Embassy's view to exclude Tri Quang from the discussions and to arrange for him to leave South Vietnam. (Ibid.)

/3/Telegram 399, September 2, contained the text of a letter from Tri Quang to Lodge, dated September 1. (Ibid.)

As to Quang's leadership potential, Embassy believes this to be considerable. At time of May 8 incident in Hue, Quang demonstrated his complete mastery of crowds on several occasions. In addition to this ability to speak effectively to the public he has impressed Embassy officers by the acuteness of his intelligence and his political awareness. He is in addition self-assured to point of conceit. While in Embassy he has made systematic effort to build himself in our eyes as well as to attempt persuade us to pursue policy conducive to his ends. While his goal has been replacement of key members of Ngo family he has maintained to date that he had not considered in detail how Buddhist tactics (popular agitation) would lead to result desired or whether forces Buddhists setting in motion might not result in overall change for worse. In response to questioning he has limited himself to general statement that in his view VC could not gain control of situation in event of a change and that removal members Ngo family could only be considered change for better. (We are continuing to probe further on this subject.)

Although he has disclaimed idea of himself assuming political leadership, believe it be quite possible that he has in fact entertained idea, but that he has given little or no systematic thought to problems which would be entailed. In short, as oppositionist, Quang possesses very considerable leadership powers; as potential member of government, he has given no basis for an evaluation of his ability, although his basic intelligence, courage, force of personality and political awareness would argue that his leadership potential could be utilized in fields other than religion.

Should of course be borne in mind that both Quang's physical presence in Embassy and his awareness of US importance as factor in situation lead him to concentrate his efforts on attempt to influence our policy. Therefore possible that many of his statements to us (e.g., anti-Communism, anti-neutralism) may reflect his tactical judgments rather than deeply held convictions./4/

/4/The Department agreed that Tri Quang should be left out of discussions with the Government of Vietnam and conceded that getting him out of the country would be best. The problem was how to do it and where to send him. (Telegram 365 to Saigon, September 9; ibid.)
On September 17 the Embassy reported it had a number of plans for removing Tri Quang, none of which were worth risking at that time. The better course, in the Embassy's view, was to continue to hold Tri Quang. If a new Vietnamese Government emerged he might play a role in it; if the Diem government continued, then the United States would have to evacuate him without fanfare. (Telegram 531 from Saigon, September 17; ibid.)

Lodge

 

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

Saigon, September 9, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 6:41 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House at 7:15 a.m.

447. CINCPAC/POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Eyes only for Secretary. Following is substance conversation between Rufus Phillips and Thuan late evening September 7:

1. Thuan opened the conversation by saying that he felt completely useless now. Nhu says that he has been bought by the Americans, and would certainly kill him if he tried to resign. Nevertheless, he said, he would like to resign, and would like to know if the Americans could arrange to get him out of the country if he decided to quit. He was told that the matter would be looked into.

2. According to Thuan, Nhu is now in effective control of the country. He is the only one whom the President trusts, and, in effect, the President has mentally abdicated in his favor. Ordinarily at meetings, Nhu speaks for the President, and the President gives assent; on other occasions the President simply repeats what Nhu has told him to say.

3. Both Nhu and the President are completely unrealistic about the progress of the war, in Thuan's opinion. Each has asked Thuan how long the country could last without US assistance. His reply, [he] said, was that it might last for six months without other than military aid; but that a cut-off in military aid would precipitate an almost immediate collapse.

4. In this connection, Thuan recalled that in a recent conversation with Colonel Lac (Permanent Commissioner, Interministerial Committee for Strategic Hamlets), the latter, in response to a question, said that in his opinion the present administration, if it continued in office, would lose the war in 1965. Lac went on to say that in his opinion, the GVN is losing the war in the Delta now. Thuan added that he was in full accord with Lac on the latter point.

5. Thuan said that several Generals had been in contact with him, seeking his views on a coup d'etat. (He would not identify the Generals.) He had refused to be drawn, not feeling sure that they were not acting as agents provocateurs. Thuan went on to say that in his opinion, General Dinh could definitely be "had", for an appropriate price in liquor, women, and cash.

6. Asked for his opinion about what the Americans should do, Thuan said he believed that they should cut off aid, as that would undoubtedly cause everyone to realize that they meant business. He stressed that personal loyalty to the President on the part of many of the officers was one of the major inhibiting factors-but that all were looking to the Americans for leadership--and that most could be expected to follow the Americans' lead.

7. Thuan also discussed the last meeting of the Interministerial Committee at which General Cao of IV Corps presented a briefing. Cao, he said, stressed that operations in the Delta area are improving, and that the troops are becoming more mobile there. He made three interesting points:

a. The Civil Guard and SDC should not be given modern weapons. such as carbines.

b. Factories for making "home-made" weapons should be established to arm the CG and SDC, so that the VC could not arm themselves from them; and

c. The only thing that he needs to win in the Delta is more troops.

8. According to Thuan, Nhu proceeded to interpellate Cao, starting by asking how many static defense posts there now are in the Delta. "2301, sir," said Cao. "Isn't that more than there were six months ago?" "Yes, sir," said Cao. "How can you then say that the troops are more mobile now?" said Nhu. There was no answer. Nhu went on to ask how the CG and SDC could be expected to be effective with "home-made" weapons, if they were unable to defend themselves with modern weapons? Receiving no answer, he then asked if more and better Strategic Hamlets were being built, as Cao said, and therefore presumably releasing more troops from static defense duties, why force levels were steadily rising, and even more troops being sought by Cao. Again, there was no answer.

9. Asked directly if he believed Nhu was on the verge of taking overt action to eliminate Ministers or Americans, or to establish a rapprochement with the DRV, Thuan said that he did not think there was any serious danger at this time, since Nhu is so well satisfied with the way things are going. He added, however, that Nhu was perfectly capable of any or all of these measures, and might well resort to them if he felt pressed. In his view, the Americans would do well to prepare for these contingencies.

10. As a closing comment, Thuan said that virtually all work has stopped in the Ministries in Saigon. He cited as an example, a recent visit by the Minister of National Economy, carrying a detective novel. Queried by Thuan, the Minister said, in substance: "all we, or anybody else, do in the office is to read these. We are waiting."

Phillips' comment: Thuan was very obviously deeply disturbed by the present situation, convinced that it can only be resolved by American leadership, and equally convinced that he is helpless to do anything. This last is almost certainly correct.

Embassy comment: Thuan went over much same ground in conversation with Trueheart Sept. 8. Following are additional points from that conversation:

Re para 6, Thuan said he had little confidence in the Generals, i.e. in their will and ability to take action. Only General mentioned by name was Khiem, Chief of Staff. Thuan thought that Khiem was loyal to President but, on other hand, he might be working with Colonel Thao (see CAS 0483)./2/

/2/Document 22.

Thuan indicated to Trueheart considerable concern for his personal safety, saying that he took seriously being on Tran Van Khiem's assassination list. He plainly believes that Khiem has a real organization and mentioned that Colonel Phuoc, Chief of Vinh Long Province, is a part of it. Thuan is especially concerned that Italian Ambassador D'Orlandi has been touting him for PriMinister. "Does he want to get me assassinated?"

Thuan said that Nhu is definitely trying to destroy him. He is telling Diem that Thuan is American agent, and Thuan senses that Diem's attitude toward him has changed. Nhu is also having Special Forces pass out leaflets claiming that Thuan and Minister of Justice Luong have received US payments of several hundred thousand dollars. Thuan said he had confronted Diem with one of these leaflets.

Thuan said that Nhu was systematically passing out word that he, Nhu, has full backing of Ambassador Lodge. Thuan himself appeared to believe this and said that Nhu had told him personally that Lodge wanted him to be his political advisor. (See Embtel 434.)/3/ Trueheart disabused him.

/3/Document 72.

Overall, Trueheart received clear impression that Thuan has given up hope and is thinking only of his personal safety and that of his family.

Lodge

 

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

Saigon, September 9, 1963, 11 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 2:38 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House and CIA at 4:30 p.m.

455. Eyes only for Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Here is a report of an hour and fifty minute conference with Diem.

1. I read him paraphrase of Deptel 331/2/ describing the situation in the United Nations, saying that I was glad to hear that Madame Nhu was not going to present the Vietnamese case. He said he could not understand where this report had originated. She was not going to present the Vietnamese case, but she did reserve the right to conduct press conference in New York to defend herself against all the outrageous things which had been said against her.

/2/See footnote 5, Document 72.

2. I then read paraphrase Deptel 335/3/ on the situation in the Senate and gave him copy of the unclassified telegram describing the views of Senators Church and Lausche./4/

/3/Document 63.

/4/In telegram 341 to Saigon, September 6, 1:54 p.m., the Department informed the Embassy that Senator Lausche stated on the Senate floor that he agreed with President Kennedy's view "that there must be a change of policy by the South Vietnamese Government and possibly a change in personnel." Senator Church's remarks from the CBS News report of September 8 to the effect that "he may move to cut off all foreign aid to South Vietnam unless the Diem government begins drastic reform," were also quoted in the telegram. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US)

3. After finishing this description of conditions in the UN and in Congress, I said it was obvious that public opinion could not condone the idea that American loss of lives and American aid were being expended for the repression of human rights. The President had expressed doubts that victory was possible without a change of policies and it was my personal view that without some change of policy the suspension of aid would become a very real possibility.

4. I said I had noted that Mr. Nhu desired a Congressional investigation. It was my observation that whenever a foreigner tried to put himself between the President and Congress he risked to lose a great deal. In fact I had never seen a case in which this procedure had done other than injure the foreigner. He denied that Mr. Nhu was asking for a Congressional investigation. Mr. Nhu had merely said that it was up to Congress to decide whether to have one or not.

5. I then said that it was vital to get a change of personnel and a change of policies. My first advice to him was that Mr. Nhu should go away, not returning at least until end of December--after the appropriations had been voted. He looked at me aghast and said "why it would be out of the question for him to go away when he could do so much for the Strategic Hamlets." When I said many regarded him as the head of the Secret Police and the director of the Aug 20 raids, Diem said: "He has been very unjustly accused. He was not the one who organized the raid of Aug 20. He was always the influence in favor of a flexible solution of the problem. He is the only man in the Cabinet who is neither a technician nor a lawyer nor a bureaucrat. If American opinion is in the state that you describe then it is up to you, Ambassador Lodge, to disintoxicate American opinion;" the French word he used is: "desintoxiquer".

6. I said I recognized that it was part of my job to try to straighten American opinion and that I would be only too glad to do so if he would give me something with which to work.

7. I then brought up the matter of eliminating censorship of the press. This started him off on a long harangue about the Buddhist problem, about how they were in a state of evolution with the young men in their late thirties and early forties of which he mentioned particularly Tri Quang and the other fellow Tran Van Nhan. They could write and speak very well, but now the whole thing had been settled by the understanding which he had reached with the regular leaders of the Buddhist movement. When I said that these were considered to be puppets he said how could anybody say that, they were the people who were in the job and were not put there by me.

8. Finally I got him back to the question of censorship. He said as far as the Vietnamese press was concerned the journalists did their own censorship and there was no censorship in advance, that whenever the government saw something that was bad for the morale of the Army or totally untrue then they would take it out. As far as the foreign press was concerned there was practically no censorship at all, the foreigners were using planes and using mail and that it was actually impossible to control.

9. Whenever I tried to get back either to the departure of Nhu or the lifting of the censorship of the press he would start off on something else. One of his topics was the fact that he had asked the US Govt for its agreement on their new Amb a week ago and got no answer. It was obviously extremely annoying to him that Tran Van Chnong and Mrs. Chnong were still in the Vietnamese Emb in Wash. FYI: Can the Dept tell me something about this?

10. He said that his representative proposed to show in New York that the pagodas had been turned into bordellos, that they had found a great deal of female underwear, love letters and obscene photographs. That the virgins were being despoiled there. They knew of one priest who had despoiled 13 virgins. This apparently was part of the "crisis of growth" of the Buddhist movement.

11. He said that out of 4700 pagodas in the country only between 20 and 30 had been searched and the only one that had been damaged was the Xa Loi Pagoda which had to be touched because "they were using the tower in order to drop things on peoples heads." Only 70 prisoners remained.

12. I then once again got back to the need for new policies and new people in the GVN in order to change the thinking in the Western world, notably in Wash. Whereupon he started off on the situation in Hue. He said that in particular the USIS was extremely offensive, that they were printing and distributing tracts to students telling the students to demonstrate on behalf of the Buddhists and to conduct strikes; that they were abusing diplomatic immunity in that they were using houses which possessed diplomatic immunity to print and distribute these tracts. That Asher, Chief of the USIS at Hue, had incited two professors to tell the most barefaced lies. He hoped something could be done about the USIS.

13. Speaking of the recent student strikes he said that this was a Communist plot, that the Communists had abandoned the idea of taking over the countryside and then leaving the cities for dessert. Because of the success of the Strategic Hamlet Program they were going after the cities first.

14. I then read from the Dept's 355/4/ which said that the Associated Press quoted Bishop Thuc as saying that the US has spent $20 million trying to replace Diem. Diem said Thuc shouldn't have said this but he wondered whether it was true. "I will speak to him about it."

/4/Dated September 7, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

15. I then read him the passage from the Dept's 355 in which Reuters quotes Bishop Thuc as saying the Buddhist monks were not suicides but murder cases and were killed with a hammer. He had no comment at all.

16. When I got up to go he said he had had a meeting of Generals recently who told him the war was going very well in spite of all the trouble they had had. As I parted he said he thanked me for coming in and said he would carefully consider all the things that I had said. I reiterated that I hoped very much that there would be changes in personnel and in policy in order to make continued support of the war possible.

17. Although I stated what I intended to state many times, I did not feel he was really deeply interested. He seemed totally absorbed with his own problems here and was justifying himself and attacking his enemies. Perhaps this is all part of his medieval view of life. He is constantly preoccupied with fighting back, which is a commendable trait in many ways but makes it hard to get a new idea across to him.

Lodge

 

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

Saigon, September 9, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:49 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC.

453. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman from Mendenhall. This is interim report based on observations and discussions both in Saigon and provinces. Have spent bulk of time in central coastal provinces where Buddhist problem is most acute.

1. I have been struck by fear which pervades Saigon, Hue, and Da Nang. These cities have been living under reign of terror which continues. I have just been told by Dean of Law School Vu Quoc Thuc that again today hundreds of students were arrested.

These are also cities of hate directed mainly at Nhus but President Diem himself is increasingly identified with Nhus as sharing responsibility. Most families of government officials (civilian and military) in cities have felt government's oppressive hands on their children, with results in attitude that can be expected. Growing number of students themselves are talking of Viet Cong being preferred alternative to existing government (I have been told this in both Saigon and Hue).

American contacts, both official and social, with Vietnamese have been severely curtailed in cities since August 20 because of Vietnamese fear to be seen with Americans. I have personally experienced furtiveness which appears necessary to talk with Vietnamese in current police state atmosphere.

2. In visits to Hue and Da Nang I found following re four northern provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam and Quang Tin based on conversations with Consul, MAAG, USOM, USIS, [less than 1 1ine not declassified] officials:

Army presents mixed picture. Top commanders are loyal-not too surprisingly since dissidents tend promptly be replaced (like General Nghiem who disapproved GVN Buddhist policy by General Tri who supports it).

Considerable disgruntlement exists below top level, but extent is not clear perhaps partly because of limitations under which MAAG officers operate with respect to political field. Seems clear, however, that discipline continues prevail under present circumstances.

In civilian bureaucracy province chiefs remain loyal--again not unexpectedly since they are shifted if any doubt arises (as in Thua Thien recently) or continue despite incompetence if loyal (as in Quang Tin). District chiefs to extent known by persons I contacted probably are loyal with one exception. Civil bureaucracies in Hue [and?] Da Nang riddled with dissatisfaction (as in Saigon).

Course of war appears be taking downturn in certain of these provinces. Quang Tin had worst month in August since last November. In Quang Nam several recent incidents seen [seem?] indicate that VC who were being pushed away from coastal areas now beginning push back in that direction. Not known whether popular dissatisfaction has been factor in these developments, but may be pertinent that in both Quang Nam and Thua Thien discontent over Buddhist issue extends to villages and in Hue it is now being reported that villagers say they may as well submit to VC as to GVN.

GVN "conciliatory" measures have no effect in changing attitudes. I am told that, despite release of some arrested, second rounds of arrests have occurred and some of those released are re-arrested by a second security service. Pagodas and schools are claimed officially to be open but in many cases are not. Perhaps noteworthy that Consul in Hue and [less than 1 line not declassified] Da Nang have seen only three bonzes in streets since August 20.

3. I also stopped in Nha Trang and talked with American military officers who indicated from their limited vantage point of staying out of civilian affairs that there appeared be no further Buddhist problem. I missed [less than 1 line not declassified] but have been informed in Saigon that he has reported people in that area very upset and held down only by fear of retaliation and atmosphere of terror.

Shall report more fully on return to Washington early morning September 10.

Lodge

 

79. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 9, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret.

MAC-

Hilsman says he and Harriman are sore as hell over "dirty pool" in Pentagon. Harriman says someone pulled out a cable from Harkins/2/ in test ban session this morning and showed it to JFK; it says Harkins and Krulak think everything's wonderful in Vietnam. State never got this cable, and wants us to spring it.

/2/Apparent reference to either MAC 1646 or MAC 1651, both September 9. These telegrams were preliminary reports by Krulak of his interviews with U.S. advisers on the state of the morale of the Vietnamese Army. Krulak's summary report on the Delta and IV Corps in MAC 1646 is representative of his preliminary conclusions in general:
"Visited Delta and Fourth Corps units. Talked to 31 officers, 4 enlisted U.S. advisors. Their general attitudes were uniform in the following areas: they are attentive to fighting the war, certain that steady progress is being made, convinced that present thrust will ultimately bring victory, assured that their units are worrying about the Viet Cong and not about politics or religion, generally unwilling to say categorically that war effort has slowed, but anxious to illustrate that the change has been small." (MAC 1646 from Krulak to Taylor, September 9; ibid., Defense Cables) MAC 1651, which reported on Krulak's visit to I, II, and III Corps, is also ibid. Krulak's report on his visit to Vietnam is Document 82.

Roger is much more taken with Saigon 447/3/ on Thuan's views, which State suggests makes it more urgent than ever that we put additional pressure on Viets. Roger urges JFK see this cable.

/3/Document 76.

RWK

 

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

Saigon, September 10, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, South Vietnam Policy File, August 31 through September 15, 1963. Secret. There is no time of transmission on the source text.

IN 16397. 1. Herewith brief personal comments on recent developments [2 lines not declassified].

[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

2. Buddhist crisis. Believe GVN obviously had no conception of results which would flow from GVN restrictions prior 8 May. After 8 May, GVN underestimated seriousness of situation and moved grudgingly and too slowly. It now seems clear that Thich Tri Quang and a few leaders around him had far-reaching political objectives from outset, probably preceding 8 May. [1 sentence (2 lines) not declassified] At some intermediate period developments since 8 May, Tri Quang's domination of Intersect Committee in support of governmental overthrow became clear to GVN and foreign observers. GVN concluded that its policy of conciliation was failing and was being taken advantage of by Buddhist leadership to stimulate disorder, organize greater anti-GVN effort, and to arouse hostile domestic and international opinion, especially American public opinion. We must assume that GVN concluded its own survival was coming into serious question. It would almost necessarily identify GVN survival with victory in war against VC and with survival of nation. Against this background, violation of GVN assurances to U.S. representatives with respect to its conciliation policy toward Buddhists was probably almost predictable. Diem, of course, [garble] GVN engaged in necessary "surgical operation" which, in his view, did not equate with longer range departure from conciliation policy. Assume he will make effort to restore GVN international and domestic image with respect to Buddhists.

3. [less than 1 line not declassified] senior Vietnamese military leadership had in fact become seriously disturbed and had taken initiative of urging martial law on Diem to include removing bonzes from Xa Loi and other central pagodas back to home pagodas. From General Don's own comment that Diem asked this be done without hurting bonzes, we can assume that most parties to this affair, including military, realized that certain GVN effectives would have to enter pagodas to accomplish action of removing bonzes. Major Tran Cuu Thien, Chief of Staff, SFHCVN, informed Colonel Morton on 9 Sept that SFHCVN briefed General Don on Vietnamese Special Forces planning for operation against pagodas prior to operation (our estimate Tran Thien is anti-Tung). General Do Cao Tr,i had been pursuing hard line course in I Corps area well prior to 21 August. General Nguyen Khanh and other officers had expressed disturbance at potential effect of Buddhist affair on military morale. We have little hard data on direct interaction between Nhu and general officers on specifics of action taken against pagodas. Conclusion is that general officers were themselves also involved in responsibility for 21 August.

4. Developments resulting from Mission effort to implement Deptel received here 25 Aug/2/ exploded often-held assumption that certain general officers and other dissidents would move quickly if given green light and adequate assurances by appropriate U.S. officials. Looking back, [less than 1 line not declassified] general officers had done some thinking about assuming governmental power but were not unified, determined, or emotionally geared up to coup d'etat action. Do not believe general officers felt that strongly against Diem or that enough of them had deeply rooted animus against Nhu. They were simply not ready for action and would not embark on operation of this kind without major prospects of success. Assume also that they did not want to engage in all out fight in streets of capital city. At no time did they seem able to shift balance of forces sufficiently in their favor, even if one were to assume that they, in fact, made determined effort to do so. Yesterday, or day before, General Dinh is reported to have left for Dalat on short several-day vacation leaving his command with Chief of Staff Colonel Co who is responsive to General Khiem and Presidency. Despite absence of Dinh, general officers' most formidable antagonist in terms of forces he commands and his loyalty to Diem and Nhu, we would not expect general officers to act on this apparently favorable opportunity. Am inclined to feel general officers will seek evolutionary accommodation with Diem (if he permits them to do so) unless overall situation clearly deteriorates, there is breakdown of civil order or governmental machinery, or unless war effort begins to go backward seriously. This is not to say that other elements in military establishment might not attempt coup at some time in future.

/2/Telegram 243 to Saigon, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281.

5. Events since 21 Aug have caused concern and dissatisfaction within government and urban classes, and has increased dissidence among elements of military establishment. These effects may prove lasting among certain classes of population but it is extremely difficult to gauge intensity or pervasiveness of such effects. [1 sentence (2 lines) not declassified] Our impression is that there are few points of no return in Asia and that there seems be large amount of stretch in Asian societies. Despite damages suffered since 8 May and 21 Aug, and despite difficulties and handicaps under which USG and GVN operating here, am inclined to believe we should be able resume successful prosecution of law [war?] in military and civil sectors. Although these liabilities and handicaps have probably increased and may increase further, these factors need not necessarily cancel out tentative conclusion suggested.

6. Aside from speculating on future, we should find next four to six months, perhaps even earlier, pointing way in practice as to what the prospects are. If situation goes forward reasonably well, so much the better. If it clearly deteriorate to [sic] both Vietnamese and we may find ourselves in better position to take corrective action.

[Numbered paragraph 7 (10-1/2 lines) not declassified]

 

81. Memorandum From the Counselor for Public Affairs of the Embassy in Vietnam (Mecklin) to the Director of the United States Information Agency (Murrow)/1/

En Route to Washington, September 10, 1963.

/1/Source. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Secret. Murrow sent this memorandum to McGeorge Bundy under a cover.: g memorandum, September 10. According to his account in Mission in Torment, pp. 206-207, Mecklin received instructions on September 7 to return to Washington with Mendenhall and Krulak with no real idea of what was expected of him. He wrote this memorandum on the plane. In Usito 66 to Saigon for Mecklin only, September 6, Murrow gave Mecklin the following guidelines:
"We particularly interested in changes if any in attitudes toward Diem Govt, Nhu and wife, and will to push war against Viet Cong to successful conclusion. In addition other contacts, you may wish draw on knowledgeable USIS local employees, particularly those attached to VN Information Service, in preparing assessment." (Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA/TOP Files: FRC 67 A 222, IAF-1963)

SUBJECT
A Policy for Viet-Nam

What follows is based on six assumptions, all of them controversial which will be discussed at length separately if desired. They are:

1. A new Vietnamese government is essential.

There is mounting evidence that the war cannot be won with the present regime, especially in view of the damage done to popular support during the Buddhist crisis. Even if the present regime can win, with continued U.S. aid, the point has become irrelevant. International and U.S. domestic public opinion probably would deny the U.S. the option of trying again. Such a try would also be an unacceptable humiliation of U.S. prestige after our present open effort to remove the Nhus from Viet-Nam.

2. Real power must go to a new man.

The focus of present indignation has been the Nhus. In fact, Nhu and his wife are as much symptoms of the GVN's shortcomings as they have been a cause. The true failure over the years to rally the Vietnamese people must be blamed on Diem himself. He has always controlled the power base, perhaps even now. Because of Diem's peculiar, rather neurotic relationship with Nhu, it is to be expected furthermore that Nhu's removal would simply force Diem deeper into suspicious isolation, making him more ineffective than ever. He should be retained only as a figurehead in the interest of stability.

3. The odds are heavily against ousting the Ngo Dinhs without considerable bloodshed.

The regime over the years has built up powerful loyal forces which are now concentrated around Saigon. To prevent a prolonged deadlock, and thus an opportunity for the VC to make unacceptable gains, there is only one sure recourse: an advance decision to introduce U.S. combat forces if necessary.

4. An unlimited U.S. commitment in Viet-Nam is justified.

This specifically means the use of U.S. combat forces if necessary, both to promote unseating of the regime and against the VC, as well as a willingness to accept an engagement comparable with Korea if the Communists choose to escalate. Shock waves from loss of Viet-Nam to communism would be disastrous throughout Southeast Asia, which is strategically vital to U.S. security. Conversely, this kind of strong and successful U.S. resort to force would strengthen resistance to communism throughout Asia and other underdeveloped areas. It would also be a significant defeat of the critical Chinese test in Viet-Nam of their ideology on war.

5. U.S. forces could be used against Asian Communist guerrillas and win. (And the stakes are so high that if unavoidable we must take the risk anyway.)

What might be called the French syndrome is wholly fallacious. The French lost in Indo-China because they behaved like colonialists, failed even to try to engage the people and never made an adequate military effort in any case. U.S. forces in Viet-Nam would be used contrarily to help the people, i.e. to carry out policies now in effect but often botched. Their presence and example would quickly inspire better leadership and initiative among the Vietnamese forces, as indeed was the experience in Korea.

6. The U.S. must accept the risks of covertly organizing a coup if necessary.

The available evidence indicates that there is a deep reluctance in the Vietnamese officer corps to accept the hazards of promoting a coup d'etat. It is therefore possible that action to topple the Ngo Dinh regime would not automatically follow even the most severe U.S. measures, e.g. suspension of aid, with resulting near chaos. It is also essential that the eventual successor regime be willing to cooperate with the U.S. including commitment of U.S. combat forces if the war can be won no other way.

In the writer's judgment, conditions in Viet-Nam have deteriorated so badly that the U.S. would be drawing to a three-card straight to gamble its interest there on anything short of an ultimate willingness to use combat troops. Even if all-out pressures succeeded in unseating the Ngo Dinhs, which is not an automatic certainty, at least not immediately, there is real danger that the successor regime would be equally or even more ineffective against the VC. There is also the danger that the Vietnamese military forces would fragment, dividing the country into rival camps, with disastrous consequences.

If we are not willing to resort to U.S. forces, it is wholly possible that efforts to unseat the Ngo Dinhs would produce results that would be worse, from the U.S. viewpoint, than a negotiated "neutral" settlement. It is also possible that a prolonged deadlock would stimulate an irresistible shift in international and American public opinion in favor of such a settlement.

On the other hand, a decision now to use U.S. forces if necessary would give the whole U.S. effort psychological lift, producing confidence that we need not be frustrated indefinitely, giving us a sure hand that has been lacking in the past. When and if it became desirable to make this intention public, we would have a lever of immense value vis-a-vis the Vietnamese. Such a new sureness in our actions, with the clear implication that the U.S. "means business," would quickly get through to the Vietnamese and to third countries and thus conceivably itself remove the need to resort to force.

Perhaps it should also be noted that the present situation in Viet-Nam is confronting the U.S. with what was certainly an inevitable showdown on the thesis that Western industrial power somehow must always be frustrated by Communist guerrilla tactics applied against a weak, underdeveloped government that refused foreign advice and reforms of the very ills that the Communists live on. There are incipient insurrections of this sort all over the underdeveloped world and the outcome in Viet-Nam will have critical bearing on U.S. capability to prevent and/or suppress them.

In the writer's opinion, furthermore, there is a very real possibility that if and as Viet-Nam is conclusively being lost to the Communists, the U.S. will be forced to use force in any case as a last resort . . . /2/ just as we did so unexpectedly in Korea. It would be vastly wiser-and more effective-to make this unpalatable decision now.

/2/Ellipsis in the source text.

From this basis of strength, U.S. policy should seek establishment of a new government that would be as strong as possible but in any case would accept introduction of U.S. forces if necessary to defeat the VC. Ideally the whole Ngo Dinh family should be removed, but the U.S. would accept retention of Diem in a figurehead role. It is essential that the Nhus leave the country permanently. (A specific time period, say six months, would not be sufficient since their influence and political apparatus would survive.)

Application of this policy should be on a step-by-step basis, thus hopefully achieving U.S. ends with minimum damage to the war effort against the VC. Recommended procedure:

1. For the short term, continuation of the present heavy diplomatic pressure on the GVN. This would be designed to combine with outside events-congressional threats to cut aid, increased third country pressures in Saigon, UN censure, and perhaps even a world-wide trend toward consideration of DeGaulle's proposals-to force Diem and the Nhus to capitulate voluntarily and/or precipitate a spontaneous military coup.

It is suggested that such pressure be developed with an eye to giving Diem some kind of face-saving escape. Perhaps, for example, the U.S. should begin talking publicly about ousting the whole family, so that it eventually could compromise on departure of only the Nhus with the explanation that Diem had been "misled" or some such. With Orientals in general and notably with the Ngo Dinhs, capitulation is virtually impossible if they are painted into a comer.

2. When this fails, as is probable, application of selected cuts in U.S. assistance, preferably through imposition of conditions on its use rather than outright surgery . . . /3/which would have the same effect. The cuts should be applied to items of minimum importance to the war effort against the VC and maximum importance to the Nhus' political maneuvering, e.g. the Special Forces. The cuts should be widely publicized and in fact be chosen more for their psychological impact than expectation of serious damage to GVN operations.

/3/Ellipsis in the source text.

If this did not quickly produce a spontaneous coup, the U.S. should begin covertly planning one. At this point dramatic deterioration of U.S.-GVN relations must be expected, with distinct physical danger to U.S. nationals and a virtual standstill in the advisory effort.

3. Suspension of all aid to the GVN and if this also failed to unseat the regime, implementation as quickly as possible of the planned coup. If this also failed, or only partly succeeded, there should be plentiful excuses to bring in U.S. forces, e.g. to restore order, protect American citizens, etc. Such forces should be prepared for attack by loyal GVN troops, but it is more likely that they would simply act as power in being, making it possible now for the U.S. to have its way by simply presenting the Ngo Dinhs with an ultimatum. Something similar to this happened when U.S. forces were introduced into Lebanon in 1958-with notably little resulting damage to the U.S. political position in the Middle East.

It is suggested that third country hostility toward the Ngo Dinhs is already so considerable that this kind of reluctant, gradual but persistently determined application of U.S. power would similarly be accepted in Asia. And once U.S. forces had been introduced into Viet-Nam, it would be relatively simple-on the invitation of the new regime-to keep them on hand to help, if needed, in final destruction of the Viet Cong.

 

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

En route to Washington, September 10, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret.

VISIT TO VIETNAM
6-10 September 1963

The trip developed from a White House meeting on 6 September,/2/ when it was concluded that among the factors required to support basic policy decisions is a knowledge of the effect of recent events upon the attitudes of the Vietnamese in general, and upon the war effort against the Viet Cong.

/2/See Document 66.

One means of acquiring this knowledge is through the day-to-day observations of U.S. military advisors. It was the purpose of the trip to obtain a first-hand sampling of the observations of U.S. military personnel who are in contact with the working Vietnamese military.

The horizons of the average U.S. advisor, except for those very near the top, are limited. Their attention, and thus their direct knowledge, are confined largely to the Vietnamese unit with whose fortunes they are identified. In terms of what they actually see, hear and interpret daily in this environment, their views have strong credibility. To the extent possible, this report derives from discussion oriented upon such matters of fact or of direct observation.

All Corps were visited. Substantive conversations were held with 87 members of the advisory system, from enlisted men of relatively low rank to senior officers. They included advisors to commanders and staff officers at levels from corps to company, and advisors to province chiefs. Most conversations were held in the individual's daily surroundings, either in the headquarters or in the field during operations.

Occasionally, in the interest of saving time, several advisors were assembled in a single place. The map/3/ facing page 1 shows the place visited.

/3/Not printed.

There is no way of knowing how many Vietnamese officer views are reflected in these 87 interviews. Certainly, the number is great, and the sampling thus has a reasonably broad base.

The principal effort was addressed to procuring views of the advisors on:

The progress of the war; changes in the past few weeks; prospects for the future.

Relations with their Vietnamese counterparts; changes since the emergence of the crisis.

Attitudes of counterparts regarding the political problem, the Buddhist issue, the national leadership and pursuit of the war.

Attitudes of the Vietnamese people--observed or reported by counterparts--regarding the critical points mentioned above.

Complementary to the above, discussions were held with the Ambassador, General Harkins and his staff, as well as with 22 Vietnamese officers, whose views were sought on the critical issues wherever it was practicable to do so.

As a supplement to all the foregoing, key advisors were asked, through General Harkins, to put their views in writing. They will be found at Tab A./4/

/4/Tab A was not attached to the source text. It is attached to a copy of the report in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Visit to Vietnam, September 7-10.

General conclusions reached were these

The shooting war is still going ahead at an impressive pace. It has been affected adversely by the political crisis, but the impact is not great.

There is a lot of war left to fight, particularly in the Delta, where the Viet Cong remain strong.

Vietnamese officers of all ranks are well aware of the Buddhist issue. Most have viewed it in detachment and have not permitted religious differences significantly to affect their internal military relationship.

Vietnamese military commanders, at the various echelons, are obedient and could be expected to execute any order they view as lawful.

The U.S./Vietnamese military relationship has not been damaged by the political crisis, in any significant degree.

There is some dissatisfaction, among Vietnamese officers, with the national administration. It is focused far more on Ngo Dinh Nhu than on President Diem. Nhu's departure would be hailed, but few officers would extend their necks to bring it about.

Excluding the very serious political and military factors external to Vietnam, the Viet Cong war will be won if the current U.S. military and sociological programs are pursued, irrespective of the grave defects in the ruling regime.

Improvements in the quality of the Vietnamese Government are not going to be brought about by leverage applied through the military. They do not have much, and will probably not use what they have.

Field Visits

1. IV Corps.

Thirty-five U.S. military persons were interviewed, varying in rank from colonel to sergeant. They were cheerful, enthusiastic and readily prepared to discuss the key subjects. Obviously, they had been thinking about them.

a. Specifics:

(1) 33 of the 35 asserted that their advisory relationships had not been changed in any way by the political crisis.

(2) All 35 were enthusiastic about the progress of the war and were emphatic that their counterparts were laboring at the war and not at politics.

(3) The Corps Advisor asserted that he was certain the Corps Commander had been ordered to intensify operations against the Viet Cong

(4) 10 of the 35 had had limited discussion of political subjects with their counterpart; 3 had gone into the matter deeply.

(5) 2 stated that their advisory relationship had degraded; one whose counterpart asserted that there are too many Americans in Vietnam, and another who detected an unwillingness to pass on combat intelligence.

(6) One of the 35 reported hearing unfavorable comments regarding the Saigon Government--addressed to Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife.

(7) None had discussed coup rumors with their counterparts.

(8) 4 of the 35 reported hearing apprehensive comments regarding possible suspension of U.S. aid.

b. In addition to the discussions with advisors, conversations were held with 9 Vietnamese officers, from major general to captain. It was not easy to break the ice with them on the sensitive issues. It was evident, however, that they were genuinely intent on their combatant activities, so much so as to give the impression that they could have little time left for plotting and politicking.

c. Specifics:

(1) General Cao, the IV Corps Commander, was willing to talk about martial law or Buddhists, but not politics. He stated that there was no martial law in his Corps area (this was confirmed separately by both divisions); that there had never been any curfew restrictions (likewise confirmed); that imposition of curfew would halt Saigon's fish supply.

(2) General Nhon, CG of the 21st Division, stated that his troops had no concern over the Buddhist question; that they were too busy fighting; Christians and Buddhists, side by side.

(3) The Corps G-3 (a major) stated that he is a Buddhist, and that his wife, a Catholic, complains that Madame Nhu talks too much.

(4) A major, Province Chief, stated that he (a Catholic) and his deputy (a Buddhist) took early steps to ensure tranquillity by conferring with bonzes and assuring< them of support for free religious practice. He said that the big Buddhist issue is for President Diem and President Kennedy to solve.

d. Combat Effort

Incident to the visit, a helicopter-borne attack against a suspected Viet Cong concentration was observed. It involved two Vietnamese battalions, a Civil Guard Company, a River Force section, and 29 helicopters and supporting tactical aircraft. It was professionally planned, well coordinated and efficiently executed.

Contact was actually made with the Viet Cong. In the face of it, troops were aggressive and well-led. When time limitations required that I leave the scene of action, I took away two strong impressions; we could not have executed the complex operation any better, and any combat force that fights with the skill and energy which had been demonstrated is not spending much time in intrigue.

2. III Corps.

a. The Corps Commander, General Dinh, is the martial law commander, and his Corps--officially or not--is the martial law corps. It is still fighting against the Viet Cong, but activity is less than it was a month ago. Much of its attention is aimed at security of the Capital. Operations are now beginning to increase in intensity, and there is indication that the unfavorable preoccupation is diminishing. As would be expected, attention to Saigon diminishes rapidly as the distance from the Capital increases.

b. Advisor/counterpart relations have not degraded. There is a general reluctance to discuss politics--apparently deriving from an official Corps order. Such discussions as have been possible between advisors and their counterparts have suggested loyalty--or obedience--to the Government, concern over the need quickly to settle the Buddhist crisis and to defeat the Viet Cong. There is an undercurrent of antipathy for Mr. Nhu.

c. Specifics

Fourteen officers and one enlisted advisor were interviewed. Reactions were as follows:

(1) The Corps advisor, a two-year Vietnam veteran and a confidant of General Dinh, states that Dinh is firmly locked to the Palace, and has Diem's confidence; is surfeited with power and will keep his Corps--and Corps area--oriented toward the Government. He is generally respected by his officers. He stated that, of 10 Vietnamese officers who were willing to discuss politics with him, only one was deeply worried about the Buddhist problem, three were vocally anti-Nhu, expressing hope that the U.S. will exert pressure to diminish Nhu's power with Diem, whom they respect.

He stated that neither martial law nor curfew has had any significant impact on the civilians and military in the provinces, that civilians in the provinces are largely apathetic to the problem, and expressed confidence that offensive operations--impeded initially in the area near Saigon--would begin to accelerate.

(2) Of the 13 other personnel interviewed, all agreed that the attention of the 5th Division (only 20 miles from Saigon) is directed mainly at the security of the city. Only three battalions of the division are now fighting the Viet Cong, although it is planned that the number will increase to six next week.

(3) Ten of the 13 volunteered that operations elsewhere had not been impeded.

(4) All but one were firm that their counterpart relations had not changed; that one asserted that he had detected a cooling attitude.

(5) Two stated that their counterparts had advised them that political discussions with Americans were forbidden.

(6) Four of the 13 stated that their counterparts had privately expressed favorable sentiments regarding Diem, unfavorable sentiments regarding Nhu and an intense desire to get forward with the war.

3. II Corps.

a. This area exhibits its geographic remoteness from Saigon in terms of continued prosecution of the war, minimal impact of curfew (0100 to 0400 in Pleiku) and continued effective relationships between the Vietnamese military and their U.S. counterparts. Nineteen advisors were consulted. It was difficult to get them to talk about anything but the war, and the progress the Vietnamese are making.

b. Specifics:

(1) The Corps Advisor reported that General Khanh, the Corps Commander, has spent much time ensuring that his military forces and his provincial authorities are fully apprised of the facts in the situation (the party line). He states that Khanh has issued orders for an intensification of all operations against the Viet Cong, aimed at driving them into the mountains, destroying their food and harrying their movements. The advisor reports that Khanh now spends more time in Saigon, is vocal in his praise of Diem; does not mention Nhu.

(2) All nineteen officers interrogated averred that their relations with their counterparts were excellent; two stated that they were closer than before the crisis.

(3) Two reported Vietnamese inquiries, following reading Newsweek, of the possibility of losing U.S. aid. One is quoted as saying, "You are our only true friends. We cannot win without you."

(4) Four advisors reported hearing younger officers speak adversely of Nhu; two were anxious, at the same time, to evince respect for Diem, one, in criticizing Nhu, stated that nothing could be done. "This is our country. We have nowhere else to go and no money to go

with."

(5) One advisor had been lectured by his counterpart on the heavy-handed conduct of the Government in connection with the Buddhists--with whom he had no sympathy.

(6) One advisor to a province chief stated that his counterpart was derisive of press claims of religious intolerance. The counterpart is a Montagnard (highlander) major, originally a Buddhist, converted Catholic, now a practicing Episcopalian who is actually building an Episcopal mission in Pleiku with Vietnamese engineers.

(7) Seven advisors quoted their counterparts as stating that the Corps policy was to focus on fighting the Viet Cong, to get into the field more and to stay there longer.

4. I Corps.

a. The general reaction derived from the military in this area is that, except for the fury generated in Hue by the original Buddhist troubles, it is business as usual, with the Viet Cong getting the business. The war, undeniably, is going well, and 92% of the rural population is now in strategic hamlets. Both officers and enlisted men have expressed discontent with the Buddhist problem, but their rancor seems more oriented upon Nhu and Madame Nhu than upon Diem or the Government. Twenty advisors were consulted. They represented a full cross section of the Corps area advisory contingent.

b. Specifics:

(1) All twenty told the usual story of no change in their advisory relationships. Two stated that their counterparts were even closer to them because of their intense interest in reaming the significance of the world situation.

(2) The 1st Division advisor (Hue) stated that his counterpart (General Tri) had made a definite effort to accelerate operations in the past two weeks, and that this was being felt throughout the unit. He quoted his counterpart as saying that the local area could be expected to support the Diem Government, but that "nobody loves Nhu".

(3) The advisor to the 3d Regiment (Hue) quoted his counterpart as saying that the current crisis has meant little to the enlisted men or to the common people, that only the cities have been concerned, and that in those areas it is "more noise than anything else".

(4) One advisor reported a conversation with a Vietnamese officer (Buddhist) who was severely critical of the handling of the Buddhist matter in Hue.

(5) Three of the 20 interrogated were highly critical either of Nhu, or of Nhu and his wife. One said they should be chased from the country. One said that Madame Nhu at the U.N. would be a tragedy for Vietnam.

(6) None of the 20 had heard any comments regarding the question of withdrawing U.S. aid.

5. The Navy.

In a discussion with the senior advisor to the Vietnamese Navy, he disclosed the following as the expressed attitudes of Navy personnel:

a. The commander of the Navy is loyal to Diem, as a person and as the head of the Government. He states that he is a military man and will support any government that is constitutionally established.

b. Four key officers in the Navy are agreed that the imposition of martial law was necessary, but that the abrasive aspects which have accompanied it are the responsibility of Nhu, who ought to leave the country.

b. Junior and mid-grade officers have made no significant statements on the subject. They, in fact, have been extremely busy with their Saigon security tasks and their routine sea and river activities.

6. The Air Force.

Conference with the senior advisor to the Air Force elicited the following:

a. There are many Air Force officers who are overly attentive to politics, including the commander.

b. On balance, their comments exhibit a loyalty to the Diem Government either out of patriotism (on the part of many, sincere younger officers who are U.S. trained), or of opportunism (on the part of the more senior officers who are French trained and who enjoy their position due to the current regime).

c. The Air Force war effort has not degraded significantly since the crisis.

d. Officers have expressed the view to the senior advisor that the Viet Cong war will be won--political vibrations notwithstanding--if the U.S. continues its aid.

7. The Marines.

The senior advisor to the Marine Brigade contributed the following:

a. The entire brigade must be accounted wholly loyal to Diem. Colonel Khang, the commander, is intensely devoted to Diem and his officers will follow him without question.

b. On the night of 30 August Khang, who is on intimate terms with his advisor, confided to him that there was probably going to be a coup that night, that he would lead the counter-coup and asked the advisor to care for his family affairs (8 children) in case he did not survive.

c. The units of the brigade are either busy fighting or anxious to do so. Their attention is on the war.

8. The Senior Advisor.

The final interview was with General Harkins. He assessed the temper of the military forces in detail, and in much the same terms as were derived from the visits described in the preceding paragraphs.

He is convinced that the programs we have under way are sufficiently matured that it would be extremely difficult to put them in serious disarray.

He believes that Diem is seeking now to get the country back to what passes for normal, and is emphatic about the relatively minor effect the Buddhist repressions and the many ineptitudes of martial law have had on the country at large.

He believes that both sentiment and reality polarize strongly and properly against the Nhus; that the country could survive--and flourish--with them gone and Diem still there.

He is pursuing the military advisory role exactly as before, and is in frequent contact with the Ambassador, who obviously seeks and respects his counsel.

9. The Ambassador.

A final interview was held with the Ambassador just before departure, and following his long meeting of 9 September with President Diem. Since it has been reported separately,/5/ his debrief will not be repeated here, beyond recounting these peripheral comments:

/5/Apparent reference to Document 77.

a. The Ambassador was impressed with the difficulty of getting Diem to contemplate the points he sought to make.

b. He felt that the greatest impact was probably made by the discussion of the grave reaction which Diem is courting in the U.S. Congress.

c. He was not sanguine concerning the success of his appeal that Nhu should depart, in the nation's interest, but is not prepared to acknowledge this is impossible to achieve.

d. Just prior to the close of the discussion he observed that the Vietnam war is, in his view, the key to our Asian position and the controlling factor in the future of SEATO and our forward posture in the Pacific. He said that we cannot afford to lose, and that he is both resolute and confident that an effective formula can be found.

 

83. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

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

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State Memcons. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the White House. Drafted by Hilsman. Bromley Smith's record of this meeting, published in part in Declassified Documents, 1982, 650A, is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam. Krulak's record of this meeting is in National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Trip to Vietnam, September 7-10.

SUBJECT
Viet-Nam

PARTICIPANTS

The White House
The President
Mr. Bundy
Mr. Forrestal
Mr. Bromley Smith
Gen. Clifton

State Department
Secretary of State
Gov. Harriman
Mr. Hilsman
Amb. Nolting
Mr. Mendenhall

The Attorney General

Defense Department
Secretary McNamara
Mr. Gilpatric
Gen. Maxwell Taylor
Maj. Gen. Krulak

CIA
Mr. McCone

AID
Mr. Bell
Mr. Rufus Phillips

USIA: Mr. Murrow; Mr. John Mecklin

General Krulak briefed his written report, "Visit to Vietnam, 7-10 September 1963"./2/ His general conclusions were as follows:

/2/Document 82.

The shooting war is still going ahead at an impressive pace. It has been affected adversely by the political crisis, but the impact is not great.

There is a lot of war left to fight, particularly in the Delta, where the Viet Cong remain strong.

Vietnamese officers of all ranks are well aware of the Buddhist issue. Most have viewed it in detachment and have not permitted religious differences significantly to affect their internal military relationship.

Vietnamese military commanders, at the various echelons, are obedient and could be expected to execute any order they view as lawful.

The U.S./Vietnamese military relationship has not been damaged by the political crisis, in any significant degree.

There is some dissatisfaction, among Vietnamese officers, with the national administration. It is focused far more on Ngo Dinh Nhu than on President Diem. Nhu's departure would be hailed, but few officers would extend their necks to bring it about.

Excluding the very serious political and military factors external to Vietnam, the Viet Cong war will be won if the current U.S. military and sociological programs are pursued, irrespective of the grave defects in the ruling regime.

Improvements in the quality of the Vietnamese Government are not going to brought about by leverage applied through the military. They do not have much, and will probably not use what they have.

Mr. Mendenhall gave his report:/3/

/3/Based on Document 78.

Mr. Mendenhall stated he had found a virtual breakdown of the civil government in Saigon as well as a pervasive atmosphere of fear and hate arising from the police reign of terror and the arrests of students. The war against the Viet Cong has become secondary to the "war" against the regime. There is also the danger of the outbreak of a religious war between Buddhists and Communists [Catholics] unless the GVN ceases oppression of the Buddhists. Nhu is held responsible for all the repressive measures, but Diem is increasingly identified as sharing responsibility.

Mr. Mendenhall said he also found a similar atmosphere of fear and hate in Hue and Da Nang. In the northern coastal area the Viet Cong have made recent advances in Quang Tin and Quang Nam. It is not clear whether this is attributable to the Buddhists, but it is clear Buddhist agitation extended to the rural areas of Quang Nam and Thua Thien and that reports have come from Hue of villagers in Thua Thien opting for the VC. Students in Hue and Saigon are also talking of the VC as a preferred alternative to the GVN.

Mr. Mendenhall concluded that he was convinced by his visit that the war against the Viet Cong could not be won if Nhu remains in Vietnam./4/

/4/Krulak's record of this meeting cites Mendenhall as saying "that it was his [Mendenhall's] view, supported by Mr. Trueheart, the Deputy Chief of Mission in Saigon, that we will lose the war with the Diem Government."

The President said, "The two of you did visit the same country, didn't you?"

General Krulak said that he thought the difference was that Mr. Mendenhall was reporting on the metropolitan and urban attitudes, while he, Krulak, was reporting on "national" attitudes.

Ambassador Nolting said that it might be true that there was paralysis in the civilian government as Mr. Mendenhall had reported, but there was also paralysis in 1961 and we came through at that time. Further, Mr. Mendenhall has held the opinion that we could not win the war with Diem for some time./5/

/5/Krulak's record of this meeting presents the following account of this portion of the discussion:
"Ambassador Nolting reminded Mr. Mendenhall that in 1961 he had made the same statement, forecasting that the VC would soon defeat the GVN. He asked Mendenhall to rationalize how, in the ensuing years, so much progress had been made by a government which he forecast could not survive. Mendenhall did not respond, because he was interrupted by the President, who asked how it could be that two people who had observed the same area could have such divergent reactions. After a period of silence, when it became evident that no one else was going to respond, I suggested to the President that the answer was plain--that Mr. Mendenhall had given him a metropolitan viewpoint on Vietnam; that I had given him a national viewpoint."

Mac Bundy said that in 1961 we overcame the paralysis by strengthening the effort against the Viet Cong; now it was the government that was causing the fear and paralysis and it was a little difficult to strengthen a war against the government.

Rufus Phillips reported as follows:

He had many friends in Viet-Nam as a result of long years of working there. He knew Diem well, Nhu well and many of the officers and Generals well. He had an opportunity to know the mood of the rural areas since he was in charge of the strategic hamlet program. He said that Nhu has lost the confidence and respect of both the officers and the civil servants. They do not support the government with Nhu in it and would not support the government if they had an alternative. He said there was now a crisis of confidence in Viet-Nam not only between the Vietnamese people and their government but between the Vietnamese people and the Americans. As far-as the Vietnamese are concerned, we have supported Diem and they have no evidence that we have changed our views. Therefore, people are reluctant to stick their necks out since Nhu would move against any individual who did. Everyone is looking to the US and here we stand. The Vietnamese do not lack the guts to move against the government once they are sure of the US position.

The President recalled that we had made a number of public statements condemning the Vietnamese Government's actions but this has ignited nothing.

Mr. Phillips said that we have criticized the government before. What the Vietnamese people are looking for is a concrete action illustrating the US position. He said that he would recommend a middle course of action--a series of moves in a psychological and political warfare campaign to isolate the Nhus and destroy the current impression that they were all-powerful. Most Vietnamese would like to see President Diem remain but they are unalterably opposed to the Nhus. In Phillips' judgment, we cannot win the war if the Nhus remain. He has this from Thuan, from Lac, the Vietnamese head of the strategic hamlet program, and from many military officers whom he has known over the years. All of them have come reluctantly to this conclusion.

Mr. Phillips said that we need a man to guide and operate a campaign to isolate the Nhus and to convince the government and people that the US will not support a government with Nhu in it, thus encouraging the military to do the job if Diem won't come around. He thinks there is one man who could guide and operate this campaign as a special assistant to the Ambassador and it was Ed Lansdale.

Mr. Phillips said that with all due respect to General Krulak's report, the US military advisers were not able to give credible evidence on political attitudes. They were under a direction not to talk politics with their Vietnamese counterparts and their Vietnamese counterparts knew of this and were reluctant to talk over politics with the American military. It was only with old American friends that they would discuss such matters.

The President asked what specific steps Mr. Phillips would recommend. Mr. Phillips said first he would cut aid to Colonel Tung.

The President asked whether Tung could not redirect other aid into his special units. Phillips said that we could go direct to the field, that Tung could get some help from the President but our cutting aid to Tung would have important political and psychological effects throughout Viet-Nam illustrating that we disapproved of Tung and Nhu and what they stood for.

Mr. Phillips suggested another specific step would be to cut aid to the Motion Picture Center which is now processing films laudatory of the Nhus. Another step was that in the approving of any new request for aid we should require a signed statement that it was not to be used for repression and to build up the Nhus.

The President commented that it would be hard to get a signed statement with the latter phrase.

Mr. Phillips also suggested covert action to split Dinh and Col. Tung and to discredit them.

Ambassador Nolting asked what the result of all this would be. Would it be military action against the Nhus? Military action against the Government? Or decision by the Nhus that they have had it? What would be the result? Civil war or a quiet palace revolution? Mr. Phillips replied that he thought there was a good possibility of splitting Nhu from the President. He would expect some retaliation from Nhu, perhaps cutting aid programs that the US likes, but the result should be that Nhu would lose the support of officers and civil service people who now go along with him.

The President asked, "What about the possibility that Nhu's response would be to withdraw funds from the war and field to Saigon--retreating to Saigon and charging publicly that the US was causing them to lose the war?" Mr. Phillips said that the Army would not stand still for this--too many of the Army were on the Viet Cong assassination list. Furthermore, it was our money in the provinces. We controlled it and the Central Government could not in fact withdraw it. If worse came to worst we could take our plasters out to the provinces in suitcases. We started the strategic hamlet program this way and we could finish it this way.

General Krulak said that the advisers were not good on politics or palace intrigue but they were good on saying whether or not the war was being won and they do say that the war is going well.

The President asked how these differences could be explained. Mr. Phillips said that the war was going well in the first, second and third corps but it was emphatically not going well in the fourth corps, the Delta region. The strategic hamlets are being chewed to pieces by the Viet Cong. Fifty hamlets have been over-run recently. This deterioration of the war effort in the Delta, however, was not connected with political developments and repression of the Buddhists.

General Krulak said that Mr. Phillips was putting his judgment against General Harkins' judgment and that he, Krulak, would take Harkins'-the battle was not being lost in a purely military sense./6/

/6/Krulak's record of his exchange with Phillips reads as follows:
"Mr. Bell then introduced Mr. Rufus Phillips, who gave a gloomy picture, stating that we were indeed losing the war, that in the Delta things were in a tragic state, that in Long An province, for example, 60% of the strategic hamlets had been overrun and that, contrary to what I had said, the military campaign was not going forward satisfactorily.
"The President asked if I cared to make a comment regarding Mr. Phillips' statement that we were losing the war militarily. I told him that my statement respecting military progress had its origin in a reservoir of many advisors who were doing nothing other than observe the prosecution of the war; that their view was shared and expressed officially by General Harkins and, as between General Harkins and Mr. Phillips, I would take General Harkins' assessment."

The Secretary of State asked what Phillips thought of R.K.G. Thompson's idea that the Viet Cong might be turning to the cities./7/

/7/Krulak's record has Rusk asking another question:
"The Secretary of State asked Mr. Phillips how he could explain the totally different story regarding Secretary Thuan as reported to have taken place between Phillips and Thuan on 7 September (Saigon to State 447) and Harkins and Thuan on 8 September (MACV 1649). Phillips replied that Thuan and he were very good friends; that Thuan was completely uninhibited in his conversation with him; that with someone whom he knew less intimately, such as General Harkins, he would not bare his inner soul, but would try and say what he thought his auditor wanted to hear."
Telegram 447 is Document 76. MACV 1649 has not been found.

Phillips said that he did not think so; there was too much activity in the Delta. The strategic hamlets are not being protected; they are being overrun wholesale. Furthermore, in response to General Krulak, Mr. Phillips said that this was not a military war but a political war. It was a war for men's minds more than battles against the Viet Cong.

Mr. Mecklin reported as follows:

He concurred with Phillips and he especially wanted to underline the point about the American image. We are in deep trouble with politically-conscious people in Viet-Nam. The VOA has unbelievable prestige. The rural hamlets are hanging on every word and living off the VOA. There is a widespread feeling of appeal to the US--that we should do something. This is an unreasonable attitude to look to us to solve their problems, but that's the way it is. The US prestige was at stake in Viet-Nam and also in third countries. He said it was an absolute certainty that the military effort will be affected in time. The war had to be fought and managed by the Saigon elite and the officers corps attitudes would follow the attitude of the elites.

Mr. Mecklin felt that Phillips' suggestions were inadequate. He also had known Viet-Nam and the family for a decade. He thought that even cutting of all aid would not do the job quickly. There would be months of chaos; the government would eventually fall; but we don't know what we would get in exchange. He felt that we must be ready to use US combat forces; that we should start off by trying to remove the whole government, including Diem, since the Nhus are a symptom, not a cause. Then we might compromise and let Diem stay. The President asked what he thought US troops would do. Mr. Mecklin said that if we cut aid there would be retaliation so we would have to go in as we did in Lebanon and we should go in since Southeast Asia was so important to us.

The Secretary of State said that we should digest these reports and we should especially consider what it is that has happened in July and August that has changed all our views that the war could be won with the Diem government.

Mr. McCone read from the June SNIE/8/ that indicated the intelligence community was even then not very hopeful.

/8/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 217.

The President expressed his gratitude to the four men who had so ably and succinctly reported. He said that there should be another meeting tomorrow.

For that meeting papers should be prepared describing the specific steps that we might take in a gradual and selective cut of aid, consulting the people who had returned from Viet-Nam and also the CIA in regard to its programs.

The President said that he was disturbed at the tendency both in Washington and Saigon to fight out our own battles via the newspapers. He quoted stories reflecting what seemed to be State Department views that Nhu must go and other stories (from the Journal American) saying that the Defense Department felt there had been inept diplomacy, etc. He said he wanted these different views fought out at this table and not indirectly through the newspapers.

The President wanted a cable to go to Saigon to the same effect, /9/ pointing out the story in this morning's Post of an American security officer telling a foreign newspaperman to take a picture so that it could be seen in Washington.

/9/The Department of State sent telegram 376 to Saigon, September 10, which reads in part as follows:
"It being emphasized here in all departments and desire you do likewise that any differences of points of view and on recommendations will be resolved entirely within official family and not debated in public press." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US)

The President asked for a report on Congressional attitudes.

Mr. Hilsman reported his conversation with Senator Church and the fact that Senator Church has sent a copy of his proposed resolution/10/ to all Members of the Senate, and that Senator Church will be cooperative about the wording and timing of the resolution but might need some pressure if the decision was not to have a resolution at all.

/10/See footnote 5, Document 70.

The President instructed Mr. Hilsman to obtain a copy of this resolution and to consult with Mr. Dutton and Mr. O'Brien. The President thought the resolution might be helpful, but what would really pull the rug out from under us in Viet-Nam was if it was offered and then beaten. Certainly some would attack it on the grounds that we must not question a government fighting successfully against the Communists. We would certainly need the support of Mansfield and Dirksen if our judgment was that such a resolution would be in our interest.

On the question of Madame Nhu, the President decided that we should not attempt to prevent her entry by means of denying or recalling her visa but should consider a letter to President Diem.

 

84. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and Senator Frank Church/1/

Washington, September 10, 1963, 11:55 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memoranda of Conversations. Drafted by Hilsman.

SUBJECT
Proposed Vietnam Aid Res.

After exchanging pleasantries, Senator Church asked Mr. Hilsman how soon he would be leaving on his trip. Mr. Hilsman replied that it would not be until Friday evening./2/ He also said that he had talked with the President and that it was his understanding that he (RH) was to work with him and he asked for a number of copies of the proposed bill [resolution] for distribution to the Secretary of State, etc. to be sent to him as soon as possible. Senator Church said that he would be happy to do this.

/2/September 13.

Mr. Hilsman stated that he had two thoughts in mind. One was that they had better have a pretty careful explanation of its effect in Vietnam. The second was that the President wanted O'Brien and Dutton to work on this, too. Mr. Hilsman mentioned the fact that the one thing that would really "do us in" would be if the bill were to be defeated. Have to be sure that it is near unanimous.

Senator Church felt that first of all it should be introduced and then go on from the kind of support which develops after they know what it is all about. It seemed to him that there was good prospect of getting real support. This would be especially true if there were a keen feeling that it would be helpful to the President and not a bill designed just to be obstructional to the President. Felt that the way it should be worded would be to say that the continuation of our government to support a government in South Vietnam which persists in religious persecution offends the United States and can not be continued.

Mr. Hilsman said that Nolting and Maggie Higgins have insisted that there is no religious persecution. But, however, he said that he could assist Senator Church with the language.

Senator Church felt that there was a definite feeling in the world and around the Congress that there definitely was religious persecution. Mr. Hilsman assured him that the statement could be modified, for instance, by use of the wording "repression of Buddhists."

Senator Church mentioned that he had sent a copy of the proposed resolution to the other senators and that an introductory statement was being prepared, a copy of which he would send to Mr. Hilsman./3/

/3/In telegram 392 to Saigon, September 12, the Department sent the Embassy a copy of the text of the proposed Church resolution, which had 22 cosponsors, but which was lying "at desk" one week to obtain additional sponsors. The text reads: "Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that unless the Government of South Viet Nam abandons policies of repression against its own people and makes a determined and effective effort to regain their support, military and economic assistance to that government should not be continued." (Department of State, Central Files, AID(US) S VIET)

Senator Church thought that the situation would come up in the President's press conference on Thursday./4/ He thought that he ought not to undercut his own bargaining position the way he did yesterday./5/ If he were to say that he understood this resolution relates to a continuation of religious repression, which if continued would make our position increasingly difficult, his bargaining lever would be kept available. It was Senator Church's thought that the President should be fully informed along these lines. Mr. Hilsman stated that he was sure the President would be thoroughly briefed, but one couldn't promise as to his actual words.

/4/The question did arise at the President's news conference of September 12. The President agreed with Senator Church's view that the United States should continue to assist South Vietnam. He also indicated "our feeling that the assistance we give should be used in the most effective way possible." (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 676)

/5/Apparent reference to the President's interview on the "Huntley-Brinkley Report," September 9; text of the interview is ibid., pp. 658-661. In it, the President indicated his belief that reduction in U.S. aid would not be helpful "at this time," since it might affect the government structure in Vietnam.

 

85. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 10, 1963, 5:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Smith. The meeting was held in the Department of State. Also published in part in Declassified Documents, 1982, 650B. A memorandum for the record of this meeting by Krulak is in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Trip to Vietnam, September 7-10.

SUBJECT
Vietnam

PRESENT
Secretary McNamara, Attorney General, Director McCone, Under Secretary Harriman, Director Bell, Director Murrow, General Taylor, General Krulak, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Mr. Colby, Mr. Phillips (AID), Mr. Janow (AID), Mr. Bundy, Mr. Sorensen, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith

Mr. Bundy opened the meeting by making the following points:

1. He requested that each agency list all current programs being carried out in Vietnam.

2. He suggested the drafting in Washington of a guidance document to be sent to all U.S. agency officials which would define the posture and attitude to be followed by all U.S. government officials in Vietnam.

3. He suggested that we need a document to provide press guidance for use in Washington and in Vietnam.

4. He recommended that we develop a way of controlling all U.S. messages going to Vietnam.

Mr. Bundy pointed out that U.S. policy is as the President has stated in his last two public statements, copies attached./2/

/2/See Document 50 and footnote 5, Document 85.

The Attorney General stated his view that we should now concentrate on specifics. All agreed that the war would go better without Nhu and Diem. How much do we pay for a change? He said he did not think we should discuss with the President generalities and differences of view. What we should now do is to concern ourselves with specific actions.

Secretary McNamara thought we ought to try to change Diem's policies. He believed our present policy was not viable. He thought that we had been trying to overthrow Diem, but we had no alternative to Diem that he knew about. Therefore, we were making it impossible to continue to work with Diem on the one hand and, on the other, not developing an alternative solution. He felt that we should go back to what we were doing three weeks ago.

Under Secretary Harriman stated his flat disagreement. He said Diem had created a situation where we cannot back him./3/

/3/Krulak's record reports the McNamara-Harriman exchange as follows:
"Mr. McNamara proposed that we start with a clean slate and review the problem in terms of our objectives. To this Governor Harriman said that to start with a clean slate was not permissible; that we have to operate within the public statements already made by the President; that we cannot begin afresh, overlooking the fact that Diem had gravely offended the world community."

Mr. Murrow said that the military views as represented by Secretary McNamara, General Taylor and General Krulak were saying that our sole objective was to win the war and that we could win with Diem. The civilian side believed that the political situation was deteriorating so rapidly in Vietnam that we must replace Diem before his eroding position led to a collapse of the fight against the Viet Cong.

During a discussion of how we should use Congressional criticism of Vietnam to advance our objectives, Mr. Hilsman said Senator Church would be fully responsive to suggestions as to the wording of the Senate resolution and to the timing of its introduction. Mr. Bell pointed out that we might well use Congressional criticism of Diem in an effort to persuade Diem to change his ways, but that such criticism would be reflected in the debate on the aid program, which would be hard to control.

Mr. McCone expressed his doubt that alternative leadership existed in Vietnam. He said he had heard various names but he knew of no paper which listed a group which could form a government strong enough to rule if Diem and Nhu were removed.

Mr. Hilsman described a two-prong pressure program on Diem with the aim of forcing him to change his present policies. He acknowledged that if we started down this path we would have to be prepared to contemplate the use of U.S. forces on the ground in Vietnam.

General Taylor indicated his support of the position that we should continue to work on Diem and revealed a reluctance to contemplate the use of U.S. troops in combat in Vietnam, either against the Diem government or against the Viet Cong.

Mr. Bundy asked that two papers be prepared by Mr. Hilsman, the first listing our objectives in Vietnam and the second a program of pressures against Diem with the aim of forcing him to meet our demands. Mr. McCone was asked to prepare a paper on alternative leadership. Mr. Forrestal was asked to develop a paper recommending a delay in any decision for a sufficient time for the situation to ripen.

Mr. Harriman reminded the group that the policy of the U.S. was as stated by the President and that he agreed with it fully. He did not believe we should discuss changing that policy.

Secretary McNamara and Mr. Bundy disagreed and felt that the group had an obligation to the President to review the policy in the light of the developing situation. Mr. Harriman and Secretary McNamara disagreed as to whether we could or could not achieve our objectives in Vietnam with Diem in control.

Mr. Murrow asked that he be relieved of writing press guidance until after tomorrow's meeting in view of the fact that the guidance could not be written until our policy was clear.

Bromley Smith/4/

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

 

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

Saigon, September 11, 1963, 2 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 3:16 a.m. and passed to the White House and CIA at 4:48 a.m.

478. Eyes only for the Secretary from Lodge. My best estimate of the current situation in Viet Nam is:

a. That it is worsening rapidly;

b. That the time has arrived for the US to use what effective sanctions it has to bring about the fall of the existing government and the installation of another; and

c. That intensive study should be given by the best brains in the government to all the details, procedures and variants in connection with the suspension of aid.

Herewith is the background for this proposal:

1. I do not doubt the military judgment that the war in the countryside is going well now. But, as one who has had long connection with the military, I do doubt the value of the answers which are given by young officers to direct questions by Generals--or, for that matter, by Ambassadors. The urge to give an optimistic and favorable answer is quite unsurmountable--and understandable. I, therefore, doubt the statement often made that the military are not affected by developments in Saigon and cities generally.

2. The fact that Saigon is "only one-seventh" of the population does not allow for the fact that there are a number of other cities and that the cities in the long run must play a vital military role. For example, the junior officers in the Vietnamese Army come, as they do in all countries, largely from families which are educated, the so-called elite. These people live largely in the cities. The evidence grows that this elite is filled with hostility towards the Govt of Viet Nam, consider therefore the lieutenant in the Vietnamese Army whose father has probably been imprisoned; whose mother has seen her religion insulted, if not persecuted, whose older brother has had an arbitrary fine imposed on him--and who all hate the government with good reason. Can the lieutenant be indifferent to that? Now come the high school demonstrations and the fact that the lieutenant's younger brother has probably been dragged off in a truck (bearing the US insignia) to camping areas with the result that our lieutenant also has a deeply disaffected younger brother, if not a sister, who has been handled disrespectfully by the police.

3. Is it conceivable that this will not affect the energy with which the lieutenant will do his job in supporting his government? Is it any wonder that I hear reports of a major in the G-3 section of a corps headquarters who simply sits and does nothing because he is disgusted with the government? Must there not inevitably be a tendency--not for something spectacular and mutinous--but for the soldiers to get less aggressive and for the populations to get less sympathetic to the war effort? And as this happens will not the popularity of the US inevitably suffer because we are so closely supporting a regime which is now brutalizing children, although we are clearly able, in the opinion of Vietnamese, to change it if we wanted to?

4. Does not all of this mean that time is not on the side of the military effort and that if the situation in the cities is not improved, the military effort is bound to suffer?

5. But instead of improving, everything I can learn shows me that the situation is getting worse. The demonstrations in the schools are to me extremely curious and impressive manifestations. Out of nowhere apparently appears a banner and a plan to put up a roadblock or a scheme for conducting a parade. Perhaps this is the work of Communist agents, even though the students are undoubtedly not Communists. The latest rumor is that there will soon be similar demonstrations by civil servants--and what a fantastic confusion this will create and the government is obviously cut off from reality--not looking at anything objectively but solely concerned with fighting back, proving how right it has been-and privately thumbing its nose at the US.

6. For these reasons it seems to me that the ship of state here is slowly sinking. This brings me to the conclusion, that if there are effective sanctions which we can apply, we should apply them in order to force a drastic change in government. The only sanction which I can see is the suspension of aid and therefore I recommend that the best brains in the government study precise details of suspending aid so as to do ourselves the most good and the least harm.

7. Let us, for example, assume that our aim is to get rid of Nhu. I use this purely for illustrative purposes, as we may think of something better. Once we have made up our minds that we are willing to suspend aid, should we not make a private threat that unless Nhu was removed we would suspend aid? This procedure might have two advantages: First it might result in Nhu's being removed. But, secondly, it would seem to put us on the popular side of the question and would then, when news of it leaked, tend to separate the government from the people. Also, when the tremendous shock of aid suspension took place, it should lessen the hatred which would be visited on us. This should be a period of action with perhaps a few leaks and with a minimum of statements by us--certainly not emotion-stirring statements which would arouse the xenophobia which is always latent here and the arousing of which would strengthen the GVN. We might, for example, be able to express our horror at the brutalization of children, but even this is risky if we are the ones who are doing the talking.

8. Renewed efforts should be made to activate by whatever positive inducements we can offer the man who would take over the government--Big Minh or whoever we might suggest. We do not want to substitute a Castro for a Batista.

9. We should at the same time start evacuation of all dependents. Both in order to avoid the dangers to dependents which would inevitably ensue, but also for the startling effect which this might have.

10. As the aid suspension went publicly into effect, we should be prepared to launch a massive program to protect the lives of the little people in the cities from starvation. Should this be soup kitchens, or should it mean taking anti-inflationary measures?

11. As aid suspension went into effect publicly, should we not start another quiet program to keep the Army supplied so that the war against the Viet-Cong should go on? Should not the Army be supplied by totally bypassing the Govt of Viet Nam, with supplies coming directly from the US to the Vietnamese Army?

12. Might we not thus bring sanctions to bear on the government without impeding the war effort and without making ourselves hated all over the world, as would be the case were there famines and misery?

13. Admittedly this is difficult and intricate and perhaps impossible, but it is also utterly vital and I recommend that it be studied without delay. We are giving it as much study as we can here in the Embassy.

14. If we decide to wait and see, we run certain risks:

a. That the future leadership of Viet Nam, the educated classes--already completely out of sympathy with the regime, and disillusioned with and distrustful of us as the instruments of change--will lose heart. (For while waiting we shall have to resume the rose of supporters of the regime.)

b. More importantly, those individuals whom the regime regards as proximate threats will be systematically eliminated from contention in one way or another.

In short, by a wait-and-see approach, we insure that when and if we decide that we cannot win with the present regime, we shall have even less to work with in terms of opposition than we have now.

What is even more dangerous is that the situation here may not wait for us. The student demonstrations in Saigon, for example, are profoundly disturbing. At the very least, these reflect in the most unmistakable way the deep discontent of the middle and upper-class population of Saigon. They are also the classic vehicle for Communist action. There is thus the real possibility of the situation getting out of hand in such a way that only the Communists will be in a position to act--when and if we decide that we cannot win with this regime.

Lodge

 

87. Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963, 8 a.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Major William Y Smith, Taylor's aide.

1. Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.

2. Vietnam. Bundy opened the meeting by asking Forrestal if he had seen the latest Lodge report from Vietnam,/2/ which Bundy said was one of his best. He added that this would surely lead the President to calling a meeting on Vietnam during the day. Forrestal agreed.

/2/Document 86.

Bundy was visibly disturbed by the way things are going in Vietnam and, in a revelation one seldom sees, seemed at a loss about what to do. When asked if he had seen the Reston article in today's paper (attached),/3/ he said that he had, that he had talked with Reston yesterday, but had batted only about .213 on that particular item. He later said that at least Reston supported continuing the war in the article, which he did not do at the beginning of the discussion yesterday.

/3/James Reston's article appeared in The New York Times September 11. It was entitled "On Suppressing the News Instead of the Nhus." It had as its central premise that the Diem government was doing the American public a disservice by censoring American correspondents in Vietnam. Reston also charged the Kennedy administration with clumsiness in handling the crisis. Reston suggested that the President should insist that the American-supplied equipment not be used against Buddhists and that the administration provide more information about the CIA's role in Saigon. Reston, however, did state that proposed congressional plans to cut off aid so long as Diem remained in power would lead to a "loss of the Vietnamese peninsula and more."

The Reston article led to a general discussion of newspaper treatment of the situation on Vietnam. Bundy remarked that, under the circumstances, he thought the newspaper treatment had been mild; it could legitimately have been much worse. He remarked that someone in the State Department had been talking to Tad Szulc, who was writing inaccurate reports. Forrestal said that he didn't know who it was, but that Szulc was particularly unreliable. Schlesinger, back since yesterday, dissented and said that Szulc actually had a sound base, but just did some "imaginative extrapolation." After laughter died down, this led to a discussion about how to handle bright young reporters who "extrapolated." Carl Kaysen, down on a consultant status, said he believed it was preferable to give them a line for their story rather than have them go off half-cocked in the wrong direction. The matter was left up in the air there.

About this point, Bromley Smith brought in a ticker tape that Diem's brother, Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, was coming to the United States, having left Rome today. The purpose of his visit will be to make arrangements for Madam Nhu's visit. Already wobbly, this was close to the last blow for Bundy, who said that this was the first time the world had been faced with collective madness in a ruling family since the days of the czars. Ralph Dungan said that, if the Pope was peeved with the Archbishop, Cardinal Spellman would undoubtedly put him under wraps in New York.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]

 

88. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963, 11:35 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Phyllis D. Bernau.

TELEPHONE CALL FROM MR BUNDY

B said Pres' reaction on Lodge message/2/is he is personally inclined to think this assessment is most powerful he has seen on this situation. Mtg of Standing Group at 6 and Pres will join./3/

/2/Document 86.

/3/See Documents 93 and 94.

B asked if Sec were coming to teal of payt mtg at 5 and Sec said he understood only Ken Galbraith would be there. B said it is Sec's choice. B replied he does not think there will be decisions and Sec decided he better stay with Viet-Nam.

B said yesterday's session/4/ was difficult: McNamara and Taylor just don't buy the assessment this is going to get worse and something serious must be done. Bob said after reading Lodge's cable that while he did not agree with it and Max did not either he was going to mobilize the Dept to do this if the Pres decides to. B said that may be easier for Bob to do than the Dept. Harriman just says the decision has been made and this is the way we want it. Sec will spend rest of the day on it. Sec said it bothers him because Lodge has not laid it out before Diem. B said he does not think he has had a chance. Referred to what he said in message. B said Hilsman knows the rest of the details.

/4/See Document 83.

 

89. Paper Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Vietnam, Undated. There is no drafting information on the source text, but this is apparently the first paper Bundy asked Hilsman to prepare; see Document 85.

U.S. OBJECTIVES IN CURRENT VIET-NAM SITUATION

I. Background

U.S. Policy in Viet-Nam since the 1954 partition of the country by the Geneva Agreements has been directed toward the securing and maintenance of a strong, viable and free South Viet-Nam capable of resisting Communist aggression with U.S. assistance and support.

II. Broad U.S. Objective in Current Situation

The U.S. policy objective should continue to be the maintenance of a viable, strong and free area in South Viet-Nam capable of maintaining its independence, successfully resisting Communist aggression, and susceptible to U.S. influence.

Prerequisite: To achieve this objective South Viet-Nam must have a regime and government capable of drawing sufficient popular support in the broad mass of the population and that degree of support in the Vietnamese elites required for the effective and dynamic communication of leadership to the masses of the population. Vietnamese leadership must be basically responsive to the burden of aspirations of the people as a whole.

III. Specific U.S. Objectives in Current Situation

A. Personnel Changes in GVN Leadership Under Diem.

1. Exile of Ngo Dinh Nhu and Mme Nhu.

(a) Ngo Dinh Nhu should be removed from all government positions and should leave Viet-Nam for permanent or quasi-permanent exile. He should be accompanied in exile by Mme Nhu.

(b) This in itself would be principal signal expected by Vietnamese leadership and population as a whole that the U.S. has been able to force the situation, and that the character and nature of the GVN has changed in the direction they desire.

2. Appointment of Vice President Tho or Minister Thuan as Acting Prime Minister until new Elections are Held.

(a) Diem should agree to "reign more and do less" and to appoint preferably Vice President Tho, or alternatively Secretary of State Thuan as Acting Prime Minister.

(b) This would further convey to the Vietnamese that a real change is taking place in the character of the regime.

3. Introduction of New Personalities in the Vietnamese Cabinet.

(a) General Duong Van Minh, Acting Chief of the General Staff, should be named as Chief of the Joint General Staff with cabinet rank.

(b) General Nguyen Khanh should be named Secretary of State for National Defense.

(c) General Le Van Kim should be named Secretary of State to the Presidency in place of Thuan, who could be designated Vice Prime Minister if Tho is named Acting Prime Minister.

4. [(d)] Tran Quoc Buu, head of the Vietnamese Labor Confederation, should be named to a cabinet post.

Similarly, Dr. Pham Huy Quat, and Vu Quoc Thuc should be given ministerial positions.

5. [4.] These are not impossible demands since none of the civilians mentioned are open opponents of the Diem regime and the generals have thus far at least ostensibly loyally supported the President.

These changes would further convey the changing character of the now thoroughly discredited Diem government.

B. Policy Changes Under Diem.

1. There should be a clearly announced policy statement made to the National Assembly convoked in extraordinary session reversing current GVN repressive policies.

Specifically: (a) All those arrested as a result of recent events should be released without penalty, and thoroughly amnestied.

(b) Martial law should be revoked and press censorship removed.

(c) A joint statement of reconciliation should be negotiated by Tho as Acting Prime Minister between Diem and a reconstituted committee of the real bonzes. These do not need to include Tri Quang but should include at least Thich Thien Khiet, Mai Tho Truyen and Thich Thien Minh.

The joint statement should include provision for reconstitution for all damage and indemnification of all victims as can be agreed.

(d) Decree Law No. 10 should be repealed immediately by executive action subject to confirmation by vote of the National Assembly at its extraordinary session.

(e) Diem should make a unilateral statement of explanation for the policies of the GVN since May 8 to the extraordinary session of the National Assembly.

(f) The same statement should schedule new elections to be held at a defined date and should give his guarantee that such elections will be held in full and complete freedom.

(g) The entire statement to the National Assembly, and proposals made therein should be subject to vote of confidence by the Assembly or covered by Assembly resolution expressing such confidence.

2. Prosecution of the War.

Subject to the above we should tell Diem that we are ready to prosecute our program to annihilate the Viet Cong menace with renewed vigor and that we expect full cooperation from him in this endeavor.

We should undertake in agreement with him to assist in the quiet removal from Viet-Nam of certain persons, both official and private, presently in Viet-Nam and who may have become anathema to him or to ourselves.

3. U.S. Influence in Conduct of the War.

We should reach at least oral agreement with Diem that the role of U.S. civilian and military advisors will remain unimpaired as heretofore and that we will be able to continue to station personnel for advisory purposes at the provincial and district level and in combat units to the extent required. In exchange we should be ready to inform Diem that we would place General Lansdale at his disposal, if requested, to assist in providing him political advice during the difficult period after the departure of his brother.

C. Specific U.S. Objectives in Case Diem Refuses to Accede Substantially to A. and B.

1. Minimum Objective Under Ngo Dinh Diem.

(a) Removal of Ngo Dinh Nhu.

At a very minimum our objective should be the removal of Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu from all government positions.

(b) Introduction of New Personalities in GVN.

At a very minimum our objective should be the introduction of new personalities without the appointment of Tho or Thuan as Prime Minister.

(c) Change of Policies.

The objectives stated above form a minimum in terms of policy changes for the GVN to restore its image and public support under present leadership.

2. Removal of Ngo Dinh Diem.

If Diem refuses to agree substantially to courses of action calculated to produce the above objectives we should be prepared outright to tell him that we believe his usefulness as chief of state in Viet-Nam has come to a close and that we will no longer support or assist him or his government.

We should suggest that Diem abandon rule without struggle or violence and give way to Vice President Tho in the capacity of Acting President until new presidential elections can be held in Viet-Nam.

3. Accession of New Leadership Under Vice President Tho.

Whether or not Diem agrees to A. we should be prepared to support alternative leadership under Vice President Tho (see separate paper)./2/

/2/Not found.

 

90. Paper Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries, Vietnam, Undated. Secret. There is no drafting information on the source text, but this is apparently the second paper Bundy asked Hilsman to prepare; see Document 85.

POSSIBLE POLITICAL PRESSURE WEAPONS FOR USE AGAINST
DIEM AND NHU

1. Decision of Afro-Asian group to raise GVN repressive measures at regular session of UNGA.

2. Statement by the U.S. to Diem and/or publicly to the effect that U.S. demands that the GVN cease the use of all U.S.-supplied equipment for the repression of non-Communists. Institution of end-use checks to determine whether our demand is being complied with.

3. Appropriately timed leaks on Nhu's contacts with the DRV to effect that Nhu is selling out to the Communists.

4. Suspension of CAS programs in support of the GVN.

5. Evacuation of American dependents from Viet-Nam.

6. As a follow-up to Mr. Hilsman's cable re Senate sentiment on Viet-Nam,/2/ a cable on Senator Church's statement that he will introduce resolution to stop aid to Viet-Nam unless GVN changes its repressive nature.

/2/Document 63.

7. Removal of wraps on Tri Quang so that press can interview him. Purpose: to get across to the public that GVN gestures toward the Buddhists are meaningless and to demonstrate to Diem and Nhu that U.S. may consider Tri Quang a political alternative.

8. Informing the press that U.S. visa being issued to Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau.

 

91. Memorandum Prepared by Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part 1. Secret. There is no drafting information on the source text, but this is apparently the paper Bundy asked Forrestal to prepare; see Document 85.

SUBJECT
South Vietnam

1. The purpose of this memorandum is to analyze some of the favorable and adverse consequences of a U.S. policy toward South Vietnam which would involve the minimum of change in our current relationships with the GVN. It is assumed that under such an approach we would continue to press the GVN, both publicly and privately, for the kinds of changes in policy which we have already recommended to them. We would attempt to maintain and improve our normal contacts with the GVN at all levels and avoid taking any "incorrect" actions. We would not make any significant changes in our aid policy. We would try to maintain a balance in our public posture between expressions of disapproval of specific repressive actions of the GVN and support for Vietnam in its struggle against the Communists.

2. The following are some of the principal arguments in favor of such a policy:

(a) There is a possibility that a hands-off approach by the United States to the internal politics of South Vietnam would permit the natural political forces within the country to achieve their own solution. The United States would not be involved in the replacement of the present government nor in the selection of a new one, with the result that a new government would not be stigmatized as a U.S. puppet. It is also possible that once it became clear that the United States would not involve itself, local leaders (both civilian and military), who up to now have been unwilling or unable to act, would accept the fact that initiative for change would have to come from themselves. If it is true that the political situation in Saigon will continue to deteriorate, the pressures for such local action should build up.

(b) A decision not to use economic sanctions would, of course, avoid the disruptive effects of a suspension of U.S. aid. The war effort in the countryside, at least, in its material aspects, would not be disturbed; and we would not add to the confusion in the cities by triggering a possible runaway inflation.

(c) Although we have already discovered that there is a disinclination among senior military leaders to take any action in the present circumstance, it would seem likely that as conditions within the country became more chaotic, they would be forced to take collective action. It has been suggested that since the military stand the most to lose in the event of a Communist take-over, their self-interest will eventually force them to work for a change in the government. To the extent that military aid continues uninterrupted, they will not be denied the resources to effect a change, and their attitude toward the United States should not worsen.

(d) Despite the voices in the United States which would be critical of such a policy, a recent analysis by the Department of State of editorial opinion in the newspapers/2/ suggests that--at present at least--there is a fairly even division over the question of whether we should get tough or ride it out. In any event, the suggested policy will be justified by whether or not it succeeds in producing the desired changes in GVN policy and personnel. Thus, the real question is whether U.S. domestic opinion will allow us sufficient time to determine whether the Vietnamese can solve their own problems. On this question we are in the best position to make a sound judgment.

/2/American Opinion Summary, prepared by the Public Opinion Studies Staff, Bureau of Public Affairs, dated September 10. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59: Office of Public Opinion Studies, "U.S. Policy on S. Vietnam, April-Dec. 1963")

(e) The same comment would presumably apply to world opinion; and to the extent that the pressure of domestic U.S. and world opinion can be brought to bear on the GVN, U.S. interests would seem to be furthered. Reiteration of our disapproval of the repressive actions of the Diem Government would, for a time at least, preserve the U.S. from complete identification with the unpopular acts of the GVN.

(f) One of the most attractive factors in the suggested policy is that it tends to preserve a wider range of options open to us. If our objectives are not achieved after a reasonable period of time, or if the situation deteriorates to a point where hard evidence indicates that an eventual collapse of the war effort is certain, we should still be able to move up the scale and adopt more aggressive tactics. On the other hand, once we embark on a program of graduated sanctions, turning back would not seem feasible.

3. Some of the adverse consequences of the suggested policy can be summarized as follows:

(a) A fundamental assumption has to be made that there is sufficient time to permit all of the internal and external pressures upon the GVN to change its policies and personnel to crystallize and produce remedial action. We do not have the kind of hard evidence that enables us to predict with any accuracy whether there is enough time. We do not know whether the structure of the civilian government and the military in South Vietnam would hold together long enough while local initiative for change takes effect.

(b) We also do not know what the alternatives are as they appear to the Vietnamese themselves. It is possible that instead of reacting to continued political deterioration in a positive manner, the educated civilian segment of the society might relapse into complete apathy, or worse, turn secretly in the direction of the Viet Cong. As for the military, there also is a lack of information on their physical ability to pull themselves together in the midst of the disintegrating situation. Can, for example, commanders outside of Saigon communicate independently and effectively with each other?

(c) Another obvious problem would be the degree of influence, if any, which the U.S. could have in the formation of a new government should a local initiative crystallize. Despite our public condemnation of repression, there might remain sufficient hostility to the United States among Vietnamese leaders to make it difficult for us to communicate effectively with them. Some of this disadvantage might be avoided if we were to maintain covert contact with the leaders of local coup groups. This would probably be easier to do in the case of military leaders than in the case of civilians, although we have some evidence that even the former are becoming less willing to talk with us.

(d) Although we are probably on reasonably sure ground in assessing our ability to weather domestic U.S. criticism of the suggested policy, we may not be able to assess foreign reaction with the same certainty. It is possible, for example, that a number of Governments, including some friendly ones, would begin pressuring for a Laotian-type solution in Vietnam. Our ability to maintain the American presence there might be seriously compromised if international pressures for the neutralization of South Vietnam got out of hand.

 


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