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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 92-115

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


Washington, September 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Pol 15 Gov't. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Limit Distribution.

Hanoi, Paris, Saigon, and South Vietnam's Future

Proliferating reports of varying credibility allege activity on the part of Ngo Dinh Nhu to negotiate with Hanoi on South Vietnam's future, with or without French connivance. At this stage it is impossible to ascertain fully the validity of such reports but their plausibility and implication are assessed below for contingency planning purposes.


President de Gaulle's statement of August 29/2/ reflects his long-standing belief that neutralization of Southeast Asia is inevitable and desirable. However, neither his words nor reports of French diplomatic activity in Saigon indicate any clear and imminent intention of moving to bring this about in South Vietnam. Nonetheless, his statement and these reports provide a basis for Ngo Dinh Nhu to threaten, directly or indirectly, that clandestine contacts between Saigon and Hanoi might arrange a settlement contrary to United States interests. This threat may be merely a bluff to reduce United States pressures upon Nhu; should it go further Diem would probably stop such activity well short of any deal with Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi, however, would attempt to encourage such contacts if only to exploit contradictions within the non-Communist camp. Conceivably the mixture of truth and rumor, contrived and accidental, could bring about diplomatic pressures for an international conference on Vietnam. Soviet Russia might back such a move; Communist China would reluctantly go along if it thought this could force a withdrawal of the United States from South Vietnam.

/2/See footnote 7, Document 26.

[Here follows the main body of the memorandum.]


93. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963, 6 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 at the White House. The source text indicates the President did not attend the meeting. A memorandum for the record of this meeting by Krulak is in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Trip to Vietnam, September 7-10.


Secretary Rusk, Attorney General, Director McCone, Director Murrow, General Taylor, General Krulak, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Assistant Secretary Manning, Mr. Janow (AID), Mr. Colby, Mr. Bundy, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith

Secretary Rusk, who had read Ambassador Lodge's estimate of the current situation contained in Saigon 478, attached,/2/ reviewed the situation as seen in Washington. He said those in Saigon were in the center of developments, and as a result, felt strongly about what they thought ought to be done. He recalled that the U.S., over the past years, had gained considerable experience in dealing with individuals who, in effect, controlled their governments, i.e. Chiang Kai-shek, Syngman Rhee, etc. From the Washington viewpoint, what was happening in Saigon was not a new situation. He felt that it was most important for us here to be clear as to what our objectives are in Vietnam. He thought we ought to try to define the perimeters of our problems. The U.S. came back into Vietnam in a major way in 1959 in response to an intensified Viet Cong campaign. If U.S. presence is not needed now, we should leave, but we want to leave behind an independent Vietnam. We cannot leave if to do so consists of abandoning Vietnam to the Viet Cong. At the other extreme, we do not want to apply U.S. force because, if we introduce U.S. troops, we will have resumed the situation in Vietnam to that which existed when the French were fighting a colonial war there. He said Nhu probably has to go, but this did not mean that we had to turn against Diem. It is possible for us to work with Diem. Possibly we can persuade Diem to separate from Nhu. Maybe we can't, but as of now, we don't know whether we can force Diem to exile Nhu. Ambassador Lodge so far has not been able to break through to Diem and to conduct meaningful conversations. We do not underestimate the capacity of Diem and Nhu to pull the temple down around their heads and ours if they won't buy what we demand. It is possible that Nhu may turn to the northern Vietnamese and make a deal with them if he concludes that he cannot accept our requirements. As to the reports we receive of U.S. citizens' conversations with their Vietnamese friends, he doubted that when the fate of a nation is at stake we should put very much reliance on what the Vietnamese tell their American friends.

/2/Not attached. but see Document 86.

Turning to a draft paper outlining U.S. objectives in South Vietnam (copy attached),/3/ he expressed doubt that we should cut back U.S. aid which is essential to the war effort in Vietnam or reduce aid which benefits the Vietnamese people. He acknowledged the difficulty of finding pressures which we could use which actually bite into the Diem government.

/3/Not attached, but see Document 89.

Secretary Rusk recommended that the next step consists of instructing Ambassador Lodge to wrestle with Diem in an effort to prompt Diem to make changes in the government we feel are essential if the war effort is to succeed. He pointed out that the degree of urgency should be thought of in terms of weeks. We are not in a hurry in terms of the coming days. His comment referred to a sentence in the objectives paper which states that our judgment is that there is a time urgency.

Mr. Gilpatric reported that the Defense Department had looked closely at our entire military assistance program to Vietnam and concluded that to suspend any part of it would mean an immediate halt to the war effort in Vietnam. This is true in part because our assistance covers spare parts and ammunition.

Secretary Rusk continued his general remarks by recalling a situation on Mainland China during the time when Chiang Kai-shek was encountering dissidence and opposition. The U.S. had decided to terminate its support to China, stepped out of the Chinese picture, and the Communist Mao took over. He saw similarities in the Vietnamese situation and argued that we must not yield to the temptation of despairing of Diem and act in a way which would result in the Communists taking Vietnam. There are several alternatives yet available to us before we have to choose between getting out or sending in U.S. combat troops. If we do go in with U.S. combat troops, the Vietnamese will turn against us. Perhaps we should offer to assist Diem in finding out whether the Viet Cong was responsible for instigating the student riots.

General Taylor supported Secretary Rusk's comments by urging that we look at what is happening in Vietnam in historical perspective. He asked who would organize a religious, political movement in opposition to an existing government during a time when that government was fighting a civil war. He said he doubted that Lincoln, during the Civil War, would have acted in a way to meet the protests of a religious, political movement.

Secretary Rusk expressed his belief that both political and religious factors were involved in the Buddhist demonstrations. He speculated that the protest may have started in Hue as a religious protest, which later became a political protest.

Mr. Hilsman said we had never accused the Vietnamese of religious persecution, but only religious oppression.

General Taylor turned to his thought of asking how actions are to be evaluated when they take place in the midst of a civil war. He believed that there had been some penetration by the Viet Cong of the Buddhists who had staged the demonstrations. He suggested that to clarify our thinking we should separate those things we must have from those things we would like to have from Diem.

Mr. Bundy said he liked Secretary Rusk's sense of timing, i.e., that we do not reach a crisis within days, but rather within weeks.

General Taylor advocated that we avoid pin pricks which serve to annoy Diem. He recommended that in conversations with Diem we be serious and tell him the things that he must do if he is to continue to receive help from us.

Mr. Gilpatric said Defense favored a suggestion that had been made to evacuate all U.S. dependents from Vietnam as a way of indicating to Diem how seriously we felt about the changes we were asking him to make. Both Secretary Rusk and Mr. Bundy shared this view.

Mr. Bundy said we should start pressures against Diem. We are not sure these pressures will be effective, but we can begin now to contain Nhu's power. If Nhu's power continues to ascend in the way it has in the past few weeks, and if Nhu continues to carry out his ideas of how to govern Vietnam, we cannot win the war against the Communists.

Secretary Rusk said that the removal of Nhu would be the symbol of a reconciliation by Diem with the Vietnamese people and with the U.S.

Mr. Hilsman called attention to his paper entitled "A Plan to Achieve U.S. Objectives in South Vietnam," copy attached./4/ He said this plan was merely a concept, but it did have specific courses of action which illustrated how the concept would become reality.

/4/Krulak's record of this meeting makes it clear that Hilsman is referring to early drafts of his "Reconciliation" and "Pressures and Persuasions" track papers. For the drafts as printed, see attachments to Document 114. Krulak's record reads as follows:
"The Group then studied the draft program prepared by Mr. Hilsman. Mr. Bundy made the point that the paper was too much in reliance on the press and on press leaks. General Taylor stated that the proposed Phase I actions would not get rid of Nhu if suasion failed. Mr. Bundy agreed with this, saying that we are not going to get rid of Nhu by putting out black newspapers. He does, however, like the idea of threatening the evacuation of dependents on the basis of pure risk to their well being."

General Taylor returned to the question of urgency. In his view, there is none. Mr. Hilsman commented that this time reference involved weeks and months. Mr. McCone said the Agency estimated we would have a grace period of three months before there was real trouble.

The Attorney General asked whether any estimate had ever been made as to how Diem would react if we said he must do certain specified things or we would withdraw from Vietnam. Mr. McCone said no such estimate had been made. Mr. Gilpatric recalled that some believed Diem would pull the house down around him in reaction to an ultimatum.

Mr. Hilsman said that former Ambassador Nolting believed that if we made clear to Diem that Congress might force us to drastically reduce aid, Diem might yield.

Mr. Hilsman said we might withdraw aid to Colonel Tung's Special Forces. Mr. McCone replied that this could not be done. Aid to the Special Forces was so interlaced that we could not stop some forms of aid without affecting others. General Taylor also doubted there would be any way in which we could withhold support from Colonel Tung alone. Mr. Hilsman repeated his view that he believed such action was possible.

The group turned to a discussion of a Congressional resolution proposed by Senator Church. Secretary Rusk was concerned that our support of such a resolution might get out of control. He predicted that Senators who are opposed to aid would vote for us along with those who would use the withdrawal of aid as a sanction to force Diem to change his method of governing. He agreed that we should encourage Senators to sound off, but was not enthusiastic about voting a specific resolution. Mr. Bundy commented that the plan proposed by Mr. Hilsman put too much weight on press policy. Mr. Murrow agreed. He recommended that we not leak our decisions to the press, as recommended in the plan, but make formal, precise announcements.

General Taylor commented that the plan would not overcome Nhu if he chose to resist.

Mr. Bundy suggested we could tell Diem that we are cutting all links to Nhu and thus isolate Nhu. We would give assistance for the prosecution of the war, but not through Nhu or Colonel Tung. He did not favor the use of black press stories.

In response to a question, Mr. Colby said that Colonel Tung was a nonentity. Mr. Murrow asked then why we should hit him. Mr. Hilsman responded that we were seeking to attack Nhu through Colonel Tung.

General Taylor asked whether the objective of the plan is to reduce the influence of Nhu or eliminate him. Mr. Hilsman responded that the courses of action recommended in the plan will have very limited material effect, but those who are expert in Vietnamese affairs say that the actions proposed will have a profound psychological effect.

General Taylor asked what we do if the plan fails. Mr. Bundy said we need not look at the plan in such black and white terms. He said we could live with an interim target for months. We could decide later if we had to take more drastic action.

Mr. Hilsman said one objective was to take actions, plus words, to disassociate the U.S. government from Nhu. The report is still circulating in Saigon that we fully support Nhu. If we succeeded in disassociating ourselves from Nhu, this may result in his removal.

Mr. Bundy said a good case could be made for continuing U.S. aid, but he suggested that we should build up our own distribution system so that if we wish to redirect our aid we would have a capability of doing so. We do not now have this capability because our aid is distributed by the Vietnamese. Mr. Janow replied by saying that we cannot take over the distribution of our aid. The system is so built that it will defeat the objective of phase one actions. He pointed out that we must decide soon on what we are going to do about several major pending issues, the biggest one being whether we go forward or not with a new PL 480 agreement. If we do, and if we take other big aid steps, the small actions suggested in phase one will be ineffective.

Mr. McCone said that Nhu's base is wider than Colonel Tung's Special Forces. Mr. Hilsman said the steps in his plan were not aimed at achieving a material effect, but rather at creating a psychological effect while continuing to support the war effort.

Mr. Bundy said no one could estimate whether the plan would succeed or not. He said he saw no serious objection in an effort to break the tie between Nhu and the U.S.

Secretary Rusk said that the next step is another attack on Diem by Ambassador Lodge. He said we should review the bidding for the past eight years. Then we should call attention to what has happened in the last few months. We could then explain to Diem that we were behind him in his effort to win the war, but that the actions of the last few months would have to be dealt with in a way which would increase his public support.

Mr. Bundy then read extracts from a paper prepared by Mr. Colby/5/ which outlined an approach by the U.S. to Nhu in an effort to prompt him to take actions which would result in our being able to support him in the government.

/5/Not found, but Colby describes this paper in Honorable Men, pp. 212-213. He notes that it was "clearly out of tune with the Administration's temper."

At this point the meeting adjourned to the Cabinet Room (separate memorandum of record)./6/

/6/Document 94.

Bromley Smith/7/

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


94. Memorandum of Conference With the President/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963, 7 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 White House.


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

Secretary Rusk reviewed for the President the summary of the situation which he had given the group earlier./2/ He emphasized that Nhu has become a symbol which has to be removed. Ambassador Lodge hasn't yet gotten through to Diem. We cannot assume that Diem will not move in our direction. On the other hand, if we move against Diem too fast, we cannot dismiss the possibility that he might bring the Vietnamese house down around him and go to North Vietnam for assistance, possibly with help from the French. He cautioned against reacting to people in the field who want to get on with the job and are frustrated by the problem. He referred to Mr. Hilsman's plan which he said did not involve really important actions, but would have an important psychological effect. He recommended that Ambassador Lodge be told to tell Diem to start acting like the President of Vietnam and get on with the war.

/2/See Document 93.

Mr. Hilsman briefly summarized the concept of the draft plan. /3/

/3/See footnote 4, Document 93.

Mr. Bundy pointed out that the differences between the Hilsman plan and Ambassador Lodge's view is that the latter is asking for suspension of aid. It turns out that it is not easy to cut U.S. aid without stopping the war effort.

Mr. Gilpatric added that cutting U.S. military aid would have an immediate and telling effect on the war effort. Most of our aid involves airplanes. We could, however, withdraw dependents without hurting the war effort.

The President asked whether deterioration has set in and whether the situation is serious. Mr. McCone replied that within three months the situation may become serious.

Secretary McNamara said we could not estimate whether the situation would become serious in three months. He said there had been as yet no serious effect on the war effort. Ambassador Lodge wants action on aid, wants to oust Nhu, and is thinking of a new coup. Secretary Rusk is opposed and he agrees that we should take no hurried action.

Secretary Dillon said he doubted we could get in real touch with Diem. We cannot count on doing so, but we must make the effort. Secretary Rusk agreed.

Director McCone said he agreed with Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara that we should proceed cautiously. Ambassador Lodge has not been there very long. He should see the country rather than merely Saigon. We cannot cut our aid to Colonel Tung without jeopardizing the entire counterinsurgency movement in the northern part of South Vietnam. This would be the cost of creating pressures in Saigon on Diem. We should make another approach to Nhu.

At this point the President read the ticker report of Madame Nhu's interview with reporters in Belgrade (copy attached)./4/

/4/Not attached. In Belgrade attending the Interparliamentary Union, Madame Nhu stated on September 11 that "President Kennedy is a politician, and when he hears a loud opinion speaking in a certain way, he tries to appease it somehow". She continued: "if that opinion is misinformed, the solution is not to bow to it, but the solution should be to inform." (Quoted in Sobel, ea., South Vietnam, 1961-65, vol. I, p. 67)

Mr. Bundy commented that the worse Madame Nhu becomes the easier it is to argue that she must get out of the Vietnamese government.

The President felt that some reply was called for. How could we continue to have her making anti-American comments at the same time she is one of the leaders of a government we are supporting?

The President asked for a paper containing details of the plan suggested by Mr. Hilsman. He wanted to see the interrelationships of the various proposed courses of action. Mr. Hilsman responded that his paper was merely a concept and that proposed courses of action were illustrative of how it might be put into effect.

Mr. McCone suggested that another approach be made to Nhu. He believed that CIA official Richardson in Saigon should not now talk to Nhu. He suggested that Mr. Colby, who knows Nhu, be sent from Washington to Saigon to talk to him.

The President asked whether a draft letter to Diem had been prepared for him as he had suggested. Mr. Bundy replied that it was felt that a letter from the President to Diem asking Diem to silence Madame Nhu would be difficult to write because it dealt with what, in effect, was a family matter. In addition, if the letter became public, the complications might be serious. It was felt that Ambassador Lodge should be instructed to ask Diem orally to silence Madame Nhu.

The President said his idea of a letter was to spell out our general view toward the situation faced by Diem. This is one method of getting Ambassador Lodge going on his conversations with Diem. The letter would not be released to the press. He asked that a draft of our concerns and our complaints be prepared for him. As to a Congressional resolution, he thought it would be helpful, but only if we could control the ensuing situation.

Mr. Bundy said we could support the introduction of the resolution and then suggest that it not be acted upon in a hurry. Secretary Rusk and Senator Mansfield shared the view that the resolution should be introduced, but that hearings on it be delayed.

The President expressed his concern that an effort would be made to attach the resolution to the aid bill. He wanted us to work with the Congressional Committees so that we would not end up with a resolution requiring that we reduce aid. The objective was a resolution merely condemning current actions of the Diem government. We must not get into a situation in which the resolution could be defeated. We should try to avoid having it tied to the aid program.

The President said we need to send an instruction to Ambassador Lodge, including in that instruction a request that he attempt to hush up the press in Saigon./5/

/5/Telegram 387 to Saigon, September 11, 9- p.m., from Hilsman to Lodge, asked that the Ambassador "hold tightest hand on press leaks." (Department of State, Central Files. POL 15-1 S VIET)

Mr. Bundy pointed out that we should start now contingency planning for the evacuation of U.S. dependents. Secretary McNamara agreed. Some 5000 dependents are involved and Defense is responsible for moving them. He felt that evacuation of dependents is a very definite signal to Diem. In addition, he has been concerned about our capability to remove dependents in a crisis situation and favors removing them before any disorders break out. Mr. Murrow suggested that we announce the intention to evacuate dependents rather than leak it to the press. He pointed out that evacuation risks the possibility that the world will conclude that we are taking the first step toward pulling out of Vietnam. He said, however, we have to take this risk.

Mr. Bundy said we would, of course, have to consult Congressional leaders before ordering dependents to leave. What we should do was make our in-house preparations, but not decide now to remove dependents. General Taylor added that we should withdraw the dependents in a way which would produce action from Diem.

The President said we should tell Ambassador Lodge that we are considering his cable. He believed that we should express our concerns to Diem and get a response from him. He agreed that for the next few days all aid decisions should be held up.

Bromley Smith/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


95. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Murrow) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, September 11, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, PR-11, Press Relations. Confidential.

I handed the following to McGeorge Bundy at today's meeting./2/ Until further notice, it will serve as guidelines for our media output on Viet-Nam.

/2/See Documents 93 and 94.

1. Continue to give ample coverage in news output of expressions of U.S. displeasure with aspects of the Diem regime.

2. Watch for and pick up third country, Congressional, and U.S. non-governmental comment critical of the repressive aspects of the Vietnamese government.

3. Seek opportunities to emphasize the difficulties of continuing aid to Viet-Nam on the present scale and, in the President's words, "at this time" in view of growing Congressional concern.

4. Seek opportunities for emphasizing the need to carry the war against the Viet-Cong to a successful conclusion, and particularly evidences of success toward that end.

ER Murrow


96. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak)/1/

Saigon, September 12, 1963, 11:55 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC exclusive for Felt. Krulak sent copies to General Wheeler, General LeMay, Admiral MacDonald, and General Shoup, and to Bundy at the White House; McCone at the CIA; and Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman at the Department of State.

MAC 1675. Ref your JCS 3527-63./2/ It's all right to plan evacuation of dependents-but let's stop there unless we're going to give up SEA, and we must never do that. The battle here is not lost by any manner of means. In fact it's being won. I think we must all realize we are fighting a ruthless, crude, brutal enemy who is using every known trick in the Communist bag. In 1960 he saw he was losing the initial round so he openly flexed his biceps. Our tremendous effort of the past year and one half began to pay off early this year and he saw he was losing the military battle. In seeking a new approach he seized the religious one. Bonze Quang, the culprit we now are giving asylum to in our Embassy, has admitted in conversations since he entered his safe haven that he had been planning to go full out against the Diem regime prior to May 8th. He seized upon this episode as his opportunity. Though the government made concessions, Quang and his cohorts refused to accept them, always demanding more. He remained unable to unseat Diem. The 21st of August crackdown stopped the outward religious effort, and now the school children. This of course is another well organized covertly led Communist trick. And a tough one to handle-but another must. We have chosen to fight Communist aggression here in Southeast Asia; and we must be prepared to meet its every form at every crossroad. This we are doing. If we fail here it will only mean the pattern of failure to come. We're stronger physically, mentally, and morally than the enemy. We must be stronger in our will, determination, and sacrifice. No we haven't lost this one by a long shot and we must not take counsel in our fears. Perhaps some of the tools are tired and worn-having been practically at war since 1945 they must be. So it's another must for us to sharpen the cutting edges of the old or come up with some new, and get on with the offensive. "Amen".

/2/Reference is to JCS telegram 120030Z (JCS 3527-63), September 11, exclusive for Felt and for information exclusive for Harkins, which noted that "Washington level" planning on the evacuation of dependents would begin the next day, "against the possibility that such a step may be determined upon later." (Ibid.)


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

Washington, September 12, 1963, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared by Rusk and Bromley Smith. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive to Felt.

391. Eyes only for the Ambassador.

1. Highest level meeting September 11,/2/ discussed your 478/3/ and draft State Department plan for multiple pressures, public and private, to remove Nhus from scene./4/

/2/See Documents 93 and 94.

/3/Document 86.

/4/Apparent reference to Documents 89 and 90.

2. Sense of meeting was that you should continue frequent conversations with Diem, although all recognize how frustrating these are. On this point Secretary will be sending you a separate cable./5/

/5/Document 98.

3. In the meantime we preparing plans for consideration highest level of variety of concrete moves we can make to give you additional leverage.

4. Among these are the following:

(a) Evacuation of all dependents, which strikes us as desirable.

(b) Senate Resolution, along lines Frank Church's proposal/6/ providing we are sure it will pass with large majority and will not be amended so as to tie the Administration's hands.

/6/See footnote 3. Document 84.

(c) Phased plan of isolation Nhu, including giving aid directly to units and programs and bypassing central government.

5. Re your 483,/7/ in the meantime and over the next few days while fundamental decisions being formulated, AID will stall on the major negotiations or finalizing actions now pending.

/7/In telegram 483, September 11, the Embassy and USOM questioned the wisdom of delaying aid programs to Vietnam, suggested that U.S. policy make a clear distinction between the Palace and the Vietnamese people, and suspend aid only on projects which would affect Diem and his immediate circle of supporters. (Department of State, Central Files, AID(US) S VIET)



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

Washington, September 12, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Secret. Drafted by Rusk. In a telephone call to Hilsman, at 8:23 p.m., September 11, Rusk discussed the drafting of this telegram:
"Sec said he would go home tonight and draft a fairly long discursive message to Lodge to give his own views on paper but H might go ahead on the letter idea. Sec would think that is the means by which we try to get this fellow on board there through persuasion without at this stage a lot of other things that go along with it. Sec replied it would be a presidential letter. H will be sending Lodge cable tonight and will call Sec tonight on WH phone." (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)
Regarding the Presidential letter, see Document 115. The cable Hilsman mentioned is presumably telegram 391, Document 97. There is no record of another telephone conversation between Hilsman and Rusk on the night of September 11. The cable printed here was not sent; see Document 99.

Eyes only for Ambassador from Secretary. Following are some of my thoughts against the background of the voluminous and most helpful information coming from you and country team.

1. Although situation in Saigon is understandably intensive preoccupation of those who have been carrying such a heavy load for us under difficult and dangerous circumstances, this is not first time that the US Government has been confronted with far-reaching issues affecting vital interests in a country whose leadership stubbornly resists measures which we consider necessary to achieve desired results. One thinks of Chiang Kai-shek on the mainland, Syngman Rhee, Sihanouk, Nasser, Mossadegh and others.

2. Our central objective remains a secure and independent South Viet-Nam even though, at some future date, it may be possible to consider a free, independent and non-communist unified country. This central objective was what brought us into South Viet-Nam and its achievement is the condition for our leaving. No one would be happier than we to leave under that circumstance.

3. It seems to me that there are outer limits of policy within which we must therefore operate unless the situation forces us to break through those limits. One would be that we do not get out and turn South Viet-Nam over to the Viet-Cong. The other would be that we do not use large-scale forces to occupy the country and run it ourselves.

4. The key question is what has gone wrong to block or reverse the favorable developments of the first six months of this year when we were beginning to feel that a corner had been turned and that we could anticipate a successful conclusion. The central fact appears to be that the political solidarity of the Vietnamese, notably that of the elite and leadership groups, has disintegrated under the impact of the Buddhist problem, press policy, student and intellectual disaffection, and increasing fears and distrust within the leadership itself. This seriously negative development seems to be geared to brother and Madame Nhu and in the process the position of President Diem has been weakened politically at home, overseas, and more specifically with our Congress and public opinion. The two Nhus seem clearly to be at the heart of the problem both on the merits and symbolically at home and abroad.

5. I agree fully with your sense of urgency which I am inclined to measure in weeks rather than in days. It seems to me that at present we should concentrate on Diem himself to make him see that everything he has been working for for the past ten years is threatened with collapse and failure and that bold and far-sighted action on his part is urgently required in order to unite the country and get it back on a favorable course. This may require persistent talks with him in the days ahead in which we would insist that he listen for a change and break through the flood of words which he uses to avoid coming to grips with his real problems. The question of what type of pressures and when such pressures should be applied is the essence of the judgement which you will have to make on the spot. I am inclined to think that in the next immediate stage we should not threaten what we will not or cannot deliver and that we are not yet ready to cut off assistance which affects the war effort or which would inflict serious damage to the people as contrasted with the regime. You have unlimited information to make clear to him that real statesmanship from him is now required to reverse the collapse of his position at home, internationally and in the United States. Our next approach to him might well be, therefore, to review with him the record of his tenure of the Presidency, including the admittedly positive and courageous contributions he has made and appeal to his pride and patriotism to move toward success and not failure. This could introduce frank and firm discussion of what needs to be done including the baleful effect which the Nhus have been having on his country. Incidentally, we shall be sending you a separate message on Madame Nhu's visit to the United States,/2/ a visit which could well be disastrous for Viet-Nam and not merely an irritant for the US Government.

/2/Apparent reference to telegram 405 to Saigon, September 13, in which the Department informed Lodge that "our feeling is that official approach to Diem on Madame Nhu's possible activities in US not desirable at this time. Would appreciate your ideas on how Madame Nhu's trip to US could be discouraged in a manner not attributable to official US action, for example, do you think there is any possibility that Asta could accomplish it?" (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US)

6. In sum, and reviewing some of our successes and failures in the past in dealing with similar difficult personalities, it seems to me that our real problem now is to come to grips with Diem and be prepared to exchange our full confidence and support for the actions which he must take, however difficult, if there is to be a chance for success. I mention confidence because, despite the fact that his position both originally and now has been made possible by persistent and costly American support, he has on several occasions over the past several years undoubtedly gotten the impression that we were trying to unhorse him. It may be that it will be impossible to succeed along this line but the alternatives are so far-reaching that the present effort seems to me to be worth the tedious and frustrating hours which will undoubtedly be required to get through to him and get him to carry out his own full responsibility.


99. Memorandum for the Record of a Meeting/1/

Washington, September 12, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-186-69. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Krulak. The meeting was held at the White House.


Secretary Rusk
Secretary McNamara
Mr. McCone
Mr. Gilpatric
The Attorney General
Mr. Bundy
Governor Harriman
Mr. Colby
Mr. Hilsman
Ambassador Nolting
Mr. Forrestal
Mr. Mendenhall
Mr. Phillips
Mr. Mecklin
Mr. Murrow
General Krulak

1. The Group initially read a CIA summary/2/ of all the messages which had come in over the past two days. The summary was considered to be so valuable that Mr. McCone was asked if he could bring it up to date daily, and include within it a list of indicators of major change. Examples were how many Buddhists remain imprisoned; students imprisoned; changes in martial law, curfew, etc.

/2/Not found.

2. Mr. Bundy opened the meeting by referring to General Harkins' message where he stated that the Communists had deeply infiltrated the Buddhists and students./3/ Mr. McCone stated that CIA had little specific information on the matter. Mr. Rusk observed that under any circumstance the government would claim that this was the case, while the Communists would certainly seek to invade these movements. Mr. McNamara stated that we would query General Harkins to determine factual background on the report that there is Communist motivation and control in the Buddhist/student movements.

/3/Document 96.

3. With respect to political orientation of the Buddhists, Ambassador Nolting stated that in early July one of the bonzes came to CIA and asked who the U.S. would like to see as President when they overthrew Diem.

4. Mr. McNamara asked that the Group consider what we really want Diem to do, stating that it is important that these points be listed. He mentioned such things as the removal of censorship and relaxation of military law. Mr. Bundy added that actions of over-repression, such as hauling truck-loads of people to jail, should also be eliminated; and Mr. Rusk added that there should be an end to the arrests of people simply because they oppose the government.

5. Mr. Rusk asked what progress had been made in the study regarding evacuation of dependents. Mr. Hilsman replied that the working group was developing a plan, which would be reported upon to him tomorrow and to the Executive Committee on Monday./4/

/4/September 16.

6. The Group then was given a draft message by Secretary Rusk (attached)./5/ After reading it there was considerable discussion as to the impact of the cable on Ambassador Lodge. It was Mr. Bundy's view that it would convey a major change in policy, from one of urgent action to one of restrained sequential steps. He stated that no such step should be taken over a week-end. It was generally agreed that Mr. Rusk's draft message did, in fact, exhibit a major change in thinking here in Washington.

/5/Document 98.

7. Mr. Bundy observed that there was probably still some divergency in Washington, and in this sense Mr. McNamara suggested that Secretary Rusk's message seemed to try to bridge that gap, which is not desirable.

8. It was ultimately agreed that the message would be restudied and, in the meantime, that a brief message be sent to Ambassador Lodge tomorrow stating that his proposals are still under study and that, in the interim, he should go back to Diem to speak about the matter of Madame Nhu, the Senator Church resolution, and the attitude of the U.S. Congress./6/

/6/Presumably a reference to telegram 391, Document 97, which was already sent before this meeting began.

9. Mr. McCone stated that there are many more things that should be considered, such as sending a personal emissary to Diem; arranging for a meeting between Cardinal Spellman and Archbishop Thuc; sending a personal emissary to Nhu to persuade him to leave the country; seeking to get the Foreign Minister to return; and seeking to get Diem to appoint a military man as Assistant Minister of Defense./7/

/7/Regarding the origin of these points, see Document 100.

10. Mr. Bundy obtained the concurrence of the Group that there is no urgency for sending a major policy message to Ambassador Lodge for the next two or three days.

11. The Group then read a draft letter from the President to President Diem./8/ It was generally agreed that such a letter should be forwarded, although this one required some careful study.

/8/Document 115.

12. Mr. McNamara observed that transmittal of such a letter should be preceded by agreement here as to our objectives. In discussing objectives, Governor Harriman stated that it had always been his view that we should work on Diem to improve the government, while still seeking to remove Nhu. Mr. Bundy stated that this is unrealistic; that the general judgment is that splitting the brothers will not work. Mr. McNamara observed that the Defense Department viewpoint is not one of personalities, but one of objectives and actions, and again asked if we could not list the elements of an action program. It was then agreed that a check-list of objectives would be developed by the State Department tomorrow. This would be followed by a comprehensive check-list of the pressures to be used to achieve these objectives, to be completed by Monday. With respect to the second list, Mr. McNamara requested, and it was agreed, that the matter of aid pressures would be kept separate from the remainder.

V.H. Krulak
Major General, USMC


100. Editorial Note

At the meeting of September 12, 1963, McCone mentioned several additional courses of action; see numbered paragraph 9 of Document 99. McCone's points were taken directly from an unattributed CIA paper entitled "A Program for Vietnam," dated September 4. They comprise paragraphs a-e of what is described in the paper as a program which would "be a reasonably feasible outcome of current problems of Vietnam, although flexibility should be maintained on specific components." The additional points of the program, which McCone did not mention, read as follows:

"f. Continue and strengthen Vice President Tho's committee to negotiate a settlement of the Buddhist problem, emphasizing dealings with the local and provincial level clergy, pagodas, etc., on a religious, nonpolitical, basis.

"g. Terminate martial law, reactivate the civilian ministries, and hold the National Assembly elections as soon as reasonably possible. It would not be worth an effort to open the lists to new candidacies as it would be doubtful that any substantial opposition would present itself in any case.

"h. Reshuffle the government in certain minor respects such as replacing Ngo Trong Hieu as Minister of Civic Action.

"i. Endeavor to replace Nhu's advisory role vis-a-vis Diem with a Vietnamese in whom he would have confidence. This might be a combination of two or three in a 'Kitchen Cabinet' to include such figures as Tran Quoc Buu, Trong Vinh Le (extremely weak but probably reassuring to Diem), Tran Ngoc Lien.

"j. Clarify the Vietnam Special Forces High Command (Colonel Tung) subordination to the Joint General Staff. The formal structure now provides for this but we could make particular efforts to ensure a Joint General Staff feeling of full knowledge and at least veto of VNSFHC activities.

"The above suggestions would be supplementary to and conceived as simultaneous with a program of graduated pressures on Diem which carefully signal to him the likelihood of more compelling U.S. actions, forced upon us by pressures of U.S. public and international opinion. They would indicate a sincere search for a way out which would continue the war and Diem's leadership thereof." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous)


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

Washington, September 12, 1963, 9:38 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET Top Secret; Priority. The text of this message was sent from the White House.

396. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge from the President. Your 478/2/ is a major paper and has stirred a corresponding effort to concert a proper response here.

/2/Document 86.

Since it is one thing to talk of these matters and quite another to put them into effective step-by-step operation, we cannot make the big decisions until we have sorted out the staff work. The difficulties and intricacies which your message points out seem to be at least as bad as you think, so this process will take several days.

While we are working, I want you to know that your courageous and searching analysis has already been of great help, and that the strength and dignity of your position on the scene are clear.



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

Saigon, September 13, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret. There is no time of transmission on the source text. Received at 7:02 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House at 7:30 a.m.

505. Eyes only for the Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Adm Felt. Deptel 391./2/

/2/Document 97.

1. Do not see advantage of frequent conversations with Diem if I have nothing new to bring up. Believe mere repetition of points already made would look weak. Visiting Diem is an extremely time-consuming procedure, and it seems to me there are many better ways in which I can use my waking hours. One is by going ahead with my diplomatic calls on the members of the Cabinet who are numerous and who give me interesting information and, of course, another is to spend some time thinking. Not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

2. Do not believe either your paragraph 4 a or b will bring removal of the Nhus unless they are geared to a Vietnamese coup d'etat which is well organized around one man. I would certainly not do a or b as isolated measures.

3. Hope some study will be given to what our response should be if Nhu, in the course of a negotiation with North Vietnam, should ask the US to leave South Vietnam or to make a major reduction in forces. This is obviously the only trump card he has got and it is obviously of the highest importance. It is also obvious to me that we must not leave. But the question of finding a proper basis for remaining is at first blush not simple.



103. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone)/1/

Washington, September 13, 1963, 10:10 a.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Mildred Leatherman of Harriman's staff.

Mr. McCone called Governor Harriman. Mr. McCone said he is becoming increasingly concerned over the report of the possibility of Nhu making a deal up north. He said he is going out to the station to say concentrate attention immediately on that problem. He wondered if State might want to do the same thing with Cabot. Governor said yes, he thinks it is a good idea./2/ Governor said if he does that we are in a much stronger position. He isn't going to get anywhere with the people. Mr. McCone said he didn't know whether that is true or not. Governor said he thinks if our soldiers are right at all, the spirit of fight against the Communists seems to be the one thing they agree on. Mr. McCone said depends on basis of deal he makes. Mr. McCone referred to Thompson's cable this morning./3/ Governor said not sure he saw that; he saw Thompson telegram yesterday dealing with it./4/

/2/In telegram 406 to Saigon, September 13, 7:48 p.m., the Department asked the Embassy to be particularly alert to indications of the Government of Vietnam's contacts with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. (Department of State, Har-Van Files, South Vietnam Policy File, August 31-September 15, 1963)

/3/Not found.

/4/Reference is to telegram 496 from Saigon, September 12, 6 p.m., in which the Embassy summarized a conversation with the British adviser to the South Vietnamese Government, R.G.K. Thompson. Thompson noted that the war could still be won if the Government of Vietnam "totally changed its conduct, looked to the future and spoke to the country eloquently about the 'National Campaign Plan'." He had no hopes that the situation would change for the better and "stressed the dangerous tendency in the GVN to overdo political activities and to be preoccupied with fighting back via press interviews." The Embassy concluded: "Thompson believed the only trump card Nhu had was the withdrawal of the US. For this, he said, North Vietnam would pay almost any price. What, he asked, would we do if the Govt of Vietnam invited us to leave?" (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)


104. Letter From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Secretary of State/1/

Saigon, September 13, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Correspondence-L. Top Secret; Eyes Only.

Dear Dean: I ask that you show this letter to the President personally, as it is vital that it not get into the governmental paper mill. For maximum security I am typing it myself/2/ and am sending it to you by messenger.

/2/The source text was inexpertly typed.

What I ask is that General Lansdale be sent over here at once to take charge, under my supervision, of all U.S. relationships with a change of government here. To function efficiently he must have a staff and I therefore ask that he be put in charge of the CAS station in the Embassy, relieving the present incumbent, Mr. John Richardson.

This is said without casting any reflection on Mr. Richardson. Indeed I think of him as a devoted, intelligent and patriotic American. If his loyal support in the past of the U.S. policy of winning the war with Diem has made it difficult for him to carry out a different policy now, he has never said so or showed it. If, as I am inclined to think, Vietnamese have naturally suspected him of being pro-Diem, it has not been his fault.

My request to put General Lansdale in his place is not because I have anything but praise of Mr. Richardson, but because of my belief that we need a new face and that General Lansdale has outstanding qualifications.

But I hope John McCone will be told my [of] my high regard for Mr. Richardson.

CAS telegram [document number not declassified] September 11,/3/ is the most encouraging report I have seen since arriving in Vietnam. And it is confirmed by a wholly independent source in whom I have great confidence.

/3/Not found.

No written answer to this letter is necessary./4/ General Lansdale's arrival will be a more than adequate response.

/4/In a letter to Rusk, September 24, Lodge informed Rusk that McCone had fumed down his request. Lodge commented: "It is really a pity. Had my request been granted, I believe the coup might have been pulled off." He continued:
"You can be sure I will continue to do my very best to carry out instructions even if I must use persons trained in the old way, who are widely (and however unjustly) believed to be in touch with those who we are trying to replace and who, without ever meaning to be disloyal, do in fact neither understand nor approve of current United States policy." (Department of States, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Correspondence-L)

I hope you will tell the President how much I value his message contained in Deptel 396./5/

/5/Document 101.

With warm regards
As ever yours
Cabot L.


105. Memorandum Prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone)/1/

Washington, September 13, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, South Vietnam Policy, August 31 through September 15, 1963. Top Secret. In a covering memorandum to Rusk, September 14, an assistant to McCone informed him that McCone's summary was of a cable "from a senior CIA headquarters official who has paid a recent visit to Saigon." Copies were also sent to McNamara and McGeorge Bundy. Also included as an attachment was a copy of CIA telegram 0890 from Saigon, September 13, the telegram which McCone is summarizing.

Summary of Cable from Sheldon:

1. Brent, Director of USOM, concurs with Sheldon's recently expressed views as do most of the military. Rufus Phillips dissents and Brent's staff dissents.

2. Brent feels we must stop, look and listen before exercising sanctions by cutting off aid as such action would adversely affect South Viet Nam's closely balanced economy.

3. General Timmes, Chief, MAAG, expressed firm opinion from ARVN division level down that there is no discernible lessening of troop discipline, morale or will to prosecute the war effort. The senior officers have been paying attention recently to political rather than military matters.

4. Ambassador and Trueheart convinced war cannot be won with regime, timing [time] running out, cutting off aid would provoke unpredictable and uncontrollable situation; Ambassador considering initiating coup through General Don with MACV. The Ambassador has the authority to undertake this. Ambassador feels that if such a plan were frustrated by Diem/Nhu and therefore failed, U.S. would be faced with invitation out of SVN.

5. The original abortive attempt to stimulate a coup was based on hope rather than reality with the SVN generals. This attempt revealed to Nhu, leaving U.S. in a weak position. Nhu has further consolidated his position but lacks organization and direct command on part of SVN generals, except for General Dinh who supports Nhu and whose Headquarters are penetrated by Nhu's agents.

6. In summary the U.S. now lacks a means to stage another coup attempt under circumstances of control which will guarantee success.

7. Proponents of complete cessation of aid feel this would provide necessary and sufficient catalyst for early overthrow of government but belief is that Nhu has built into the military establishment effective checks and balances to impede generals from taking action.

8. Lack of realistic opportunity for coup narrows chances to exert pressure for reforms on regime. Selective aid cuts considered extremely complex and must be approached carefully because of effect on economy, currency, etc. Reduction in military aid would directly affect SVN's ability to pursue struggle against VC. Cut in Colonel Tung's Special Forces would probably have no effect on portion of his operation which is active in the political arena. Certain aid frills could be cut but they would have little immediate effect on the regime and would merely be a nuisance.

9. We must note we have been conspicuously unsuccessful in long series of attempts to get Diem to liberalize his regime. Diem in the past has been immovable, extremely stubborn and absolutely closed to outside influences and considers concessions a sign of weakness. There is little hope that Diem will agree to the withdrawal of Nhu from the scene as he considers Nhu indispensable as driving force behind strategic hamlet program and as political manipulator.

10. Following a business-as-usual course in the interest of biding our time until successful alternative appears. We run the risk of having the Diem regime solidify its position and thereby further limit our courses of action.

John A. McCone/2/

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


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

Saigon, September 14, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Priority. Received at 3:11 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House at 4:44 a.m.

507. CINCPAC/POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Eyes only for the Secretary. Your 405./2/

/2/See footnote 2, Document 98.

1. Agree another demarche by me to Diem to prevent Mme. Nhu from talking would be a mistake. I have already told both Diem and Nhu that she should stop talking. I made quite a point of it. My guess is that they have on occasion tried to restrain her without accomplishing much, although she was relatively quiet during my first three weeks in Vietnam.

2. Diem answered me last Monday that Mme. Nhu was going to hold press conferences in New York as a matter of justice to herself and he evidently approved of her doing so. I told him it would have a bad effect on US opinion. While I believe they have urged her to keep still, there is no doubt that they both approve the general tenor of her speeches. This is one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with the family; they prefer to spend their time striking back at old insults, which result in more bad publicity, instead of going ahead with the war, thereby bringing constructive events to pass which would give them a good press. They seem to take no interest in what other people may think, but are simply interested in expressing their own feelings and their own pride. They are really non-politicians.

3. Do not believe [less than 1 line not declassified] would succeed, as he has already pushed Mme. Nhu to the limit to behave herself--once on the telephone in my presence and on two other occasions in personal visits.

4. We are using your wire giving the text of the Church resolution/3/ and are pointing out that one more foolish speech by Mme. Nhu could put more signatures onto the resolution.

/3/See footnote 3, Document 84.



107. Letter From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, September 14, 1963.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Vietnam Policy. Personal and Confidential.

Dear Cabot: Thanks for your note of the 28th/2/ in regard to the prompt action taken on one of your messages which is difficult always to do.

/2/Not found.

All hands here have great admiration for the courageous and incisive manner in which you have moved so rapidly in your new responsibilities.

What makes for some confusion, and therefore some delay in answers to your messages, is the matter of some differences that exist between General Harkins' estimates and conclusions and your own. I assume you see all his messages. It might be helpful where you find yourself in disagreement if you would comment on the differences and explain why. Perhaps there is not as much difference as appears from this end, and therefore an explanation of the differences which do exist and the reasons for them would be helpful.

In this connection, it was of course clearly understood here that General Krulak's reports were based on his contacts with the military, whereas Mendenhall's were based on the civilian.

I suggest you keep this letter personal between us and not refer to it in telegrams. These get wide distribution. I hope you will feel free to call upon me at any time you feel that I can personally be of assistance to you.

I can assure you that from the President on down everybody is determined to support you and the country team in winning the war against the Viet Cong. There may be some differences in opinion or in emphasis as to how it is to be done, but there are no quitters here.

The photographs in the press of your short-sleeved walk through the market place got you a lot of votes here, and I am sure make a new impression of an American Ambassador and his wife in Saigon.

Marie joins in sending you and Emily our love and all best wishes.


/3/Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.


108. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Murrow) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 14, 1963.

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

World Reaction to Developments in Viet-Nam

Some sympathy for the U.S. dilemma in Viet-Nam has emerged in the last week, particularly in Western Europe, but most comment is still critical of U.S. policies. There is virtually no sympathy for the Diem regime, except in South Korea and the Philippines where officials see Diem as the only available anti-communist bulwark. This applies to some extent to Thailand as well.

De Gaulle's oral intervention/2/ was criticized widely in France except by the papers traditionally supporting him. It drew only limited comment elsewhere.

/2/See footnote 7, Document 26.


The situation in Viet-Nam continues to receive major news play but editorial comment has slackened during past week. Available comment, both media and official, has tended to focus on the question of continued U.S. support for the Diem regime. Reference to the possibility of a neutralized Viet-Nam, as implied by De Gaulle, has been limited. Buddhist groups in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia continue to agitate against GVN treatment of Buddhists. Peking and Hanoi reports now reflect belief that U.S. may eventually replace Diem but that this will not affect the war.


Viet-Nam crisis remains the subject of continuing and extensive news coverage and considerable editorial comment in the West European press. Comment has been almost totally critical of the Diem family regime. Though not uncritical of some American moves, the majority of non-Communist papers display considerable sympathy for the U.S. dilemma, and have offered few concrete suggestions for remedies. Recent news coverage has played up U.S. alleged participation in anti-Diem moves but editorial comment on this subject is not yet available.


Crisis continues receive substantial news play though volume has dwindled somewhat since the wave of reaction following the imposition of martial law and attack on pagodas on August 21. Scattered editorials and backgrounders in media are relentlessly critical of the Diem regime and continue to view its removal as the only answer if the war against the Viet Cong is to be won. Criticism of U.S. policy has softened somewhat, most editorial comment viewing U.S. as faced with necessity of dealing with "difficult and corrupt" regime with which it has little sympathy while responding to the longer range necessity of fighting the Viet Cong. De Gaulle proposal for unification has drawn little attention. Three leading Indian newspapers split sharply, one opposing and two supporting it.


Only light and scattered coverage of Viet-Nam issue. Except for Algeria, very little comment specifically condemns the U.S. Some Africans view South Vietnamese events in terms of Catholic oppression during the Middle Ages. Neutralization of the country is offered as a possible solution in Tunisia's Jeune Afrique.


South Viet-Nam situation receiving moderate news treatment. Editorial comment scarce. News treatment often appeared under headlines which point up the disagreement between Washington and Saigon.


Virtually no sympathy or support for Diem regime except as noted above. Some sympathy for U.S. dilemma in Viet-Nam. [I would expect this note of sympathy and understanding to increase unless new and violent acts of suppression occur in South Viet-Nam.]/3/

/3/Brackets in the source text.

I conclude that the degree of the dilemma and the complexity of the issues involved is almost as well understood abroad as it is in Washington!/4/

/4/The exclamation point was added by hand, presumably by Murrow.

Edward R. Murrow


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

Washington, September 15, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, South Vietnam Policy File, August 31 through September 15, 1963. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared by Rusk and Harriman.

412. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. A certain anxiety has been expressed outside the Department on whether it is clear that the operation described in Deptel 243/2/ is definitely in suspense. I am sure you share our understanding that whatever course we may decide on in the next few days, no effort should be made to stimulate coup plotting pending final decisions which are still being formulated here. You may wish to insure that the chiefs of the appropriate US agencies have no different understanding.

/2/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281.



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

Washington, September 15, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Action Plan. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 593 A.

The Problem of Nhu

Ngo Dinh Nhu has played a key role in prosecuting the war against the Viet Cong. He has been the dynamic force behind the strategic hamlet program. He has significantly influenced the reorientation of Vietnamese military concepts from conventional to counter-guerrilla warfare. He has developed mass organizations to infuse the youth and others with political consciousness.

Since May 8, however, Nhu has become the primary factor exacerbating the Buddhist controversy and is the cause of a potentially explosive governmental crisis. For the reasons listed below, he is the major obstacle to any genuine resolution of this crisis.

His Hold on Diem

Nhu exercises an overriding, immutable influence over Diem. He has discredited, neutralized, or caused the removal of many competent and loyal advisors to Diem. Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Secretary of State for the Presidency, claims Nhu is the only person whom Diem trusts. Vo Van Hai, chief of Diem's private cabinet and the most reliable authority on the inner workings of the Presidency, agrees with Thuan that Nhu speaks for Diem at meetings, writes Diem's responses to press queries, and has reduced Diem to echoing his own views.

As a result Diem believes Nhu's charge that the Buddhist problem is basically Viet Cong created. This has degraded Diem in the eyes of his loyal supporters. Vu Van Mau, former Foreign Minister, and General Le Van Kim, deputy acting chief of the armed forces, claim Nhu is now the dominant power in South Vietnam. Our Country Team assessment concludes that at top echelons of government as well as among provincial and district officials, the consensus is that actual power rests with Nhu rather than Diem. Moreover the assessment points to the spreading conviction that Diem is unwilling to dismiss Nhu, with some groups doubting Diem is even able to rule any longer without him.

Nhu's Independent Power: Secret Police and Special Forces

Nhu also has independent sources of power. He directs the secret police and the Can Lao, the semi-covert political control organization. This apparatus of informants permeates bureaucratic, military, and key non-governmental groups. Nhu's surveillance system generates fear and hatred throughout these groups. His power to discredit opponents has led to the removal of competent and dedicated personnel.

Nhu controls the army's Special Forces which, together with the secret police, act as his agents in raids on pagodas, arrests of monks, students, and oppositionists, and the manufacture of "evidence" to "prove" the Communist conspiracy behind these disaffected groups. It is such actions which have exacerbated existing tensions to the point of near revolt.

His Hatred of the United States

Nhu has conducted a virulent public and private anti-American campaign. He has accused the United States of plotting with "colonialists" and "feudalists" to turn South Vietnam into a satellite. He has spread reports that specific United States officials are marked for assassination. He has frequently claimed that the American presence must be reduced because it threatens South Vietnam's independence. He has repeatedly lied to our Ambassador and the CAS station chief concerning his role in developments since May 8.

This has impaired our position in South Vietnam. Colonel Lac, responsible for implementing the strategic hamlet program, claims that progress has slowed in the last three months because of the anti-American attitude of "certain elements" in Saigon. At the same time, Nhu's boast that he commands the basic support of the United States both inhibits his opponents and expands his prestige by humiliating high officials.

His Relations With North Vietnam

Nhu has claimed privately that should United States aid be cut he would seek help elsewhere. Should that fail, Nhu asserts he would negotiate a settlement with Hanoi. Nhu has convinced both Vietnamese and foreign observers that such a prospect is likely. Reports that Nhu is already in contact with Hanoi are so credible and widespread as eventually to undermine morale in the army and bureaucracy, regardless of their current accuracy.

Nhu is capable of believing he could manipulate the situation to his advantage, whether through fighting or negotiating with the communists. His megalomania is manifest in his claim that only he can save Vietnam. Both Nguyen Dinh Thuan and Vo Van Hai testify to Nhu's opium smoking during the past two years, providing at least partial explanation for his excess of self-confidence and fantasies of power.

The Vietnamese Want Nhu Out

According to General Harkins, both sentiment and reality in South Vietnam have polarized strongly and properly against the Nhus. He believes that the country would "survive and flourish" with them gone and Diem still President. We concur fully in General Harkins' view of the Nhus.

General Krulak reports that Nhu's departure would be hailed by military officers. He was told by the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade Commander of strong dissatisfaction with Nhu. Colonel Lac indicated that Nhu would not last 24 hours if the United States made clear it would not tolerate this situation. Tran Quoc Buu, head of the largest labor organization in Vietnam, claims that his followers believe that Nhu must go. He fears that should Nhu emerge victorious from the present crisis, worse blunders will ensue, permitting an eventual Communist takeover. Vo Van Hai believes that Diem cannot regain the confidence of his people so long as Nhu remains.

We agree with the Country Team assessment that (1) Nhu is disliked, hated, feared, or distrusted at all levels in the bureaucracy, the military establishment and urban elite circles, and (2) long-standing and widespread anti-Nhu feelings have now intensified and crystallized into blame for the regime's repressive measures. We also agree with the MACV assessment that many top level military officers seem convinced that he could deal with Hanoi and the "great bulk of the military cannot accept Nhu as leader of South Vietnam under any conditions".


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

Saigon, September 16, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 6:19 a.m. and passed to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA.

523. Eyes only for the Secretary from Lodge. The following should be added to the items proposed for study in paragraphs 10, 11, and 12 of my 478 dated September 11:/2/

/2/Document 86.

1. In connection with the studies now being made of how to put pressure on the GVN, I hope the fact will be borne in mind that not once since I have been here have I been asked for anything by the GVN. When you consider that the US is spending $1-1/2 million a day in this country, and that I am the personal representative of the President, it does seem that they ought to be in some doubt at least about a few major items and that they ought to want to curry a a little favor with me in order to get these items. The explanation for this curious state of affairs is that they are absolutely sure of our aid and know that it comes along automatically no matter what they do and that I am really not needed.

2. I do not believe that any amount of financial pressure will compel Nhu to leave the country even for so short a time as between now and Christmas. Nor do I think we can use our aid in order to strike a bargain that will cause Madame Nhu to stop talking. But it seems to me a healthy thing for people to feel that they must see the personal representative of the President of the US to get some of the largesse which they hope to get out of the US Government. If they got into the habit of coming to me with requests for favors, it ought to be possible, in the not too distant future, to get them to do at least a few of the things we want them to do.

3. We know that ordinary methods of conversational persuasion have no effect whatever and that even if one makes an impression on Diem at the time, he is immediately brainwashed by his brother later. Presenting him with some unfavorable facts which he can only change by performing an act of some kind is therefore certainly worth trying.



112. Memorandum for the Record of the Daily White House Staff Meeting/1/

Washington, September 16, 1963, 8 a.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by W.Y. Smith.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]

Vietnam. Bundy then turned to Vietnam, saying that judging from the reports, it seemed as if things should be quiet there for the next day or so. Forrestal reported that martial law and censorship had been lifted, and that free elections were scheduled. He added that the practical effects of this were not known.

Bundy then commented on how the Halberstam article in the Times yesterday (attached)/2/ laid out positions of the various agencies. He reminded Forrestal that he (Forrestal) had warned that this was coming, but that everyone realized that there was nothing that could be done. Bundy then asked whether it would be useful to have Krulak come up with an analysis of the errors in the article, particularly those parts dealing with the conduct of the war. Bundy added that the reports on the fighting, e.g., number of incidents and wounded, were about the most useful type of evidence he had seen.

/2/Not attached. Reference is to David Halberstam's article in The New York Times, September 15, entitled, "U.S. Civilian Aides in Vietnam Press for a Decision on Diem."

Forrestal tried to discourage Bundy from this, saying that CIA had written a companion piece on the last Krulak analysis/3/ which challenged the DOD version. Bundy said he must not have seen that and asked Forrestal for particulars. Forrestal began to back down a little bit and it turned out that Bundy had seen the CIA piece, whose main import seemed to be that the war in the Delta was not going as well as the war elsewhere and that there were two different kinds of wars.

/3/The CIA companion piece has not been further identified; the Krulak analysis is a reference to a memorandum by Krulak, August 19, analyzing a news report by David Halberstam in The New York Times of August 15. Forrestal gave the Krulak analysis to the President on August 28; see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 259, footnote 4.

Someone then introduced the Alsop article in today's Washington Post (attached)/4/ which evidently says the war is going fairly well.

About this point in the discussion, Cooper of CIA, in an excited outburst, said that there are not two different kinds of wars in Vietnam, but 7 or 8, depending on who does the reporting, to whom he talks, the time of the year he talks, etc. Bundy summed up by saying that Cooper evidently agreed with him that the situation was very difficult to assess.

/4/Reference is to Alsop's "Matter of Fact" column in The Washington Post, September 16. The column was an anecdotal account of a small skirmish in the strategic hamlet of Binh Thanh, near Binh Dai in Kien Hoa Province, which Alsop concluded demonstrated, contrary to popular conception, the Vietnamese masses' will to resist Communism. It was not attached.

Toward the end of the discussion, Bundy said that the removal of martial law and censorship will get the government to the gut issue more quickly with far deeper emotion on both sides.

Judging from the discussion I would say Bundy is not committed to any course of action just now. If anything, he seems more sympathetic to the military viewpoint than I thought. Forrestal tried to be non-committal, but his past actions, as well as those at the table today, put him still squarely on the side of getting rid of Diem. The most surprising thing was Cooper's attitude. To me it indicated more of a split between the CIA and DOD than I, following the evidence at a distance, had been aware of.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]


113. Memorandum for the Record of a Meeting/1/

Washington, September 16, 1963, 11 a.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-647-71. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Krulak. The meeting was held at the Department of State.


Secretary Rusk
Secretary McNamara
Secretary Dillon
Mr. Ball
Mr Gilpatric
General Taylor
Mr. Bundy
Mr. McCone
Governor Harriman
Mr. Bell
Mr. Forrestal
Mr. Hilsman
Mr. Colby
Mr. Janow
Mr. Manning
Mr. Sheldon
Mr. Smith
General Krulak

1. The meeting was preceded by distribution of an up-to-date intelligence roundup by Mr. McCone./2/

/2/Not found.

2. Secretary Rusk opened the meeting by asking if we had any details of what military units had moved out of the capital and what the real significance was. General Taylor replied that we had no definitive information but that we would send an inquiry to General Harkins.

3. Mr. Rusk then asked if there had been any thought given to discussing with the GVN the prospect of getting Tri Quang out of the country rather than releasing him to be a continuing annoyance in Vietnam. Mr. Hilsman said that, to his knowledge, nothing of this sort had been contemplated but that he would suggest it to the Ambassador.

4. Mr. Rusk then asked if there was any basis for real apprehension that students might be going over to the Viet Cong. To this Mr. McCone suggested that the Group might wish to question Mr. Sheldon (from CIA Headquarters) and Mr. Smith (from the CIA Station in Saigon) who had just returned from Saigon this morning. These two individuals were then brought in and the Group questioned them as follows:

a. From Mr. McCone. Do you believe that the dissident students are going over to the Viet Cong?

Reply. Three schools in Saigon have probably been infiltrated by the Viet Cong. This is something that has been known for some time. The general impression is that some Saigon students have defected to the Viet Cong; the number is not large-not exceeding 30.

b. From Mr. McCone. How many students remain in custody?

Reply. Less than 200 students remain in custody-100 of these are in jail, 100 in the armed services. The arrest of students was widespread and extended to almost anyone involved with the Lycee or the university. Release, in most cases, was prompt

c. From Mr. Rusk. Is there, in fact, a difference in view among our various officials in Saigon?

Reply. Yes, there is, except in the U.S. military.

d. From General Taylor. What are your views on the Sheehan and Halberstam articles in the Sunday papers?/3/

/3/Reference is to Neil Sheehan's front-page article in The Washington Post, September 15, entitled "U.S. Acts To End Dispute Among Its Viet Missions," and David Halberstam's The New York Times article of the same date; see footnote 2, Document 112.

Reply. There is some truth in the allegations. This sort of thing finds its way into the paper because everything in Saigon gets leaked by our own people.

e. From Mr. Rusk. How does Nhu go about creating the atmosphere that he enjoys full U.S. support?

Reply. He gives lectures; and he conveys the idea of the Special Forces, the Can Lao, the Republican Youth, and the Women's Solidarity Movement.

f. From Mr. Rusk. Is there still coup talk on the Vietnamese side?

Reply. Yes. Various Vietnamese officials and employees come to CIA with coup ideas all the time. It is mostly talk because the key is the loyalty of the military units, and there is little assurance in this area. Some of the coup talkers speak of having acquired loyalty from junior officers and some units in the Saigon area, but there are no specifics.

g. From Mr. Hilsman. Do you have any views as to the reports that Nhu is an opium smoker?

Reply. The rumor has been current for some years, but it is not believed.

h. From Mr. Rusk. Does any of the U.S. representation believe that we can make a success of the present endeavor with the Diem government totally unchanged?

Reply. No one is known to hold this view in the Embassy, at CIA, USIS or USOM.

i. From Mr. McCone (referring to a cable which had come in from Sheldon)./4/ What are the general ideas which underlie current coup planning?

/4/Not further identified.

Reply. They generally pivot around the thought of a quick, violent attack on the Palace, assassination and then hope for subsequent substantive action by the generals. The substance which they al1 lack is a comprehensive follow-on plan.

j. From Mr. Rusk. Do you agree that the coup planners are hopeful that, if they can cause the initial crisis, the U.S. will do the rest? The question was not answered.

k. From Mr. Rusk. What are your views regarding the rumors concerning possible gestures in the direction of the DRV?

Mr. Sheldon offered, as a hypothesis, that Nhu is extremely wise; that if we corner him and he has no hope of maintaining his influence in any other way he will go to Moscow--probably via Yugoslavia--to propose that the Soviets and French take over our commitments. The compensation would be in terms of U.S. withdrawal and the possibility of a Soviet presence. To this Governor Harriman commented that the Russians would really be getting little out of the arrangement, since we would remove ourselves in any case, as soon as the Viet Cong stopped attacking the GVN.

5. The meeting then turned to the papers which had been distributed over the week-end./5/ Mr. Hilsman made a brief distribution of two general lines of action, one involving conciliation; one involving pressures. He was emphatic in his statement that we should be prepared to reverse our course at any time in the event that we achieved some degree of success. The papers were not discussed in detail.

/5/Reference is to two papers drafted by Hilsman, Monday, September 16, but first prepared on September 11, entitled, "Reconciliation with Rehabilitated GVN" and "Pressure Plan." Copies are in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam (without annexes), and ibid., Vietnam Country Series, Action Plan (with three annexes). The first annex is a Department of Defense memorandum, September 11, entitled "Implication of Partial Cessation of US Military Aid Upon the Military Campaign in the Republic of Vietnam" plus tabs. This document is published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 466 A. The second annex is a list of AID programs and a chart detailing them and the probable effects on Vietnam if they were suspended; neither is printed. The third annex is a copy of Document 110.
Apparently advance versions of these papers were sent to the President by Forrestal on September 15. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part II)

6. Secretary Rusk stated that a cable of instructions would have to be drafted quickly for the Ambassador in order for him to get an accurate view of Washington level reactions.

7. Mr. McNamara proposed that the paper embodying a conciliatory program be taken as a basis;/6/ that an appraisal of the situation at large, as seen here, be developed; that it be followed by the elements of the conciliatory approach; that we include the Presidential letter; that we realize that a conciliatory approach may not succeed, in which case further steps may have to be taken; and finally that the Ambassador's views on all the above be solicited.

/6/Copies of the paper, "Reconciliation With a Rehabilitated GVN," were given to McNamara, Gilpatric, and Taylor, all of whom made written comments on them. McNamara's and Taylor's copies are at the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-186-69, and Gilpatric's copy is at the Washington Federal Records Center, McNamara Papers: FRC 31-A-3470, Viet Sensitive.

8. The general meeting was then terminated, followed by a brief session including the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr. Bundy. General Taylor described the session as the occasion for Mr. Rusk to say that he preferred the conciliatory rather than the pressure approach, and that a cable embodying these thoughts would be drafted for consideration by the President.

9. Subsequently, I discussed events with Mr. Hilsman, who advised me that he had been directed by Secretary Rusk to prepare two cables;/7/ one conveying a conciliatory approach, and one conveying the suasion and pressure approach, stating that these would be taken up with the President in a meeting, probably tomorrow.

/7/These cables, which are similar in substance to Hilsman's papers, are printed as attachments to Document 114.

V.H. Krulak
Major General, USMC


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

Washington, September 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part 11. Top Secret; Eyes Only. There is no drafting information on the source text, but the memorandum was drafted by Hilsman with the assistance of officers in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs. (Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 506; Department of State, Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, Roger Hilsman, May 15, 1984) A handwritten note on the source text indicates that the attached cables had been revised.


Attached are two cables--one on the "Reconciliation Track" and one on the "Pressures and Persuasion Track."

I think it is important to note that these are true alternatives--i.e., the "Reconciliation Track" is not the same as Phase I of the "Pressures and Persuasion Track." The difference is in public posture. Phase I of the "Pressures and Persuasion Track" continues to maintain a public posture of disapproval of the GVN's policies of repression. The "Reconciliation Track" requires a public posture of acquiescence in what the GVN has recently done, and even some effort by the US to put these recent actions in as good a light as we possibly can.

If this distinction, which is a real one, is preserved, then it seems to me clear that it will not be possible to switch from the "Reconciliation Track" to a "Pressures and Persuasion Track" if the former does not work--except in the event that Diem and Nhu provide us with another dramatic act of repression as an excuse. On the other hand, it will be possible to switch from a "Pressures and Persuasion Track" to a "Reconciliation Track" at any time during Phases I and II of the "Pressures and Persuasion Track," although probably not after we had entered Phases III and IV.

My own judgment is that the "Reconciliation Track" will not work. I think that Nhu has already decided on an adventure. I think he feels that the progress already made in the war and the US materiel on hand gives him freedom to launch on a course that has a minimum and a maximum goal. The minimum goal would be sharply to reduce the American presence in those key positions which have political significance in the provinces and the strategic hamlet program and to avoid any meaningful concessions that would go against his Mandarin, "personalist" vision of the future of Viet-Nam. The maximum goal I would think, would be a deal with North Viet-Nam for a truce in the war, a complete removal of the US presence, and a "neutralist" or "Titoist" but still separate South Viet-Nam.

At the same time, I would give Phases I and II of the "Pressures and Persuasion Track" only a fair chance of success, and I think that Phases III and IV will create a situation over which we would have little if any control, at least if they were launched in the immediate future.

Thus, I would recommend adopting as our initial course Phases I and II of the "Pressures and Persuasion Track" testing and probing as we go along and being ready to switch to "Reconciliation" at any moment that it becomes necessary, using the decision to switch as a means of getting at least nominal concessions in order to save as much of our face as possible.

I make this recommendation with the caveat that we do not have sufficient information to make a final and complete judgment on either of the two key issues--where Nhu will lead Viet-Nam if he remains in power and whether or not enough people will continue to fight the Viet Cong to bring victory.

The trouble is the necessary information for a final judgment on these two key issues is simply not available. Nor is anyone likely to acquire it before we make a fundamental decision. This is not an unfamiliar dilemma in the making of foreign policy. At such a time governments perforce operate on informed hunch, hoping only that the hunch they use is the best one available.

But I also think that at such a time governments must not even attempt to make final judgments or to take irreversible actions, but to proceed by incremental steps. It is for this reason that I would reject both "Reconciliation" and Phases III and IV--at least at this time.


[Attachment 1]

Draft Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/2/

/2/Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and others. To be repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt.

Eyes only Lodge. Approved Action Plan for Viet-Nam is outlined below. You should proceed to implement at once.

Our analysis of the situation is as follows: Diem and Nhu are well entrenched and will resist changes stubbornly. Ultimate sanction of cutting aid thus runs risk of forcing them into a corner where their choices will be between capitulation and departure of whole family, and showdown and either Gotterdammerung or a deal with the DRV, with latter more likely.

We are therefore faced with problem not only of reconciliation with GVN but of obtaining sufficient popular support for the Diem-Nhu government to enable it to win the war. The central problem will still be Nhu--his position as political symbol to the disaffected, his philosophy and concept of the State, his conviction that Americans in positions we deem essential are an obstacle to achieving his goal, and his possible machinations with the DRV.

Within Viet-Nam the major target of rehabilitation effort must be the urban elite. Ensuring their support will require credible reforms, which will in turn help to improve the GVN image abroad.


You should institute dialogue with Diem against background of current internal US and external world pressure for reform in GVN. Basis of conversation is Presidential letter forwarded via immediately following cable. Tone should be persuasion combined with sympathy and understanding. Major inducement will be U.S. official statements designed to restore Diem and GVN image at home and abroad (see Public Posture below). Probably wise to have someone like Lansdale assist you through long-standing personal friendship with Diem.

You should say that the programs thus far followed to win the war have been sound and generally successful but have lagged in that they did not take sufficient account of the aspirations of the leading elements primarily in the main urban centers but also in cities at the provincial and district levels. Their support vital to arrest present deterioration.

Political opposition as expressed in the Buddhist movement was not caused by Communist subversion but by the absence of a feeling of stake and participation in the Government and its programs on the part of these leading elements.


Following are major topics you should plan to cover with Diem: a) Family--Diem should think deeply and sincerely about the role of members of his family, not only Nhu and Madame Nhu but also Thuc and Can. He should consider making their role more open and less susceptible to charges they are conspiratorial and therefore nefarious in their activities.

b) Party--Can Lao party should not be covert or semi-covert but a broad association of supporters engaged in a common, winning cause. This could perhaps be best accomplished by disbanding the party and starting afresh.

c) Elections--These should be held, should be free, and should be widely observed. Candidate lists should be reopened and members of the opposition should be allowed full and free participation. They should and can be defeated in a free battle.

d) Assembly--Assembly should be convoked, if necessary in extraordinary session. The Government should submit its policies to it and should receive its confidence. An Assembly resolution would be most useful for external image purposes.

e) Normalcy--Diem should get everyone back to work and get them to focus on winning the war. He should be broadminded and compassionate in his attitude toward those who have, for understandable reasons, found it difficult under recent circumstances fully to support him.

A real spirit of reconciliation could work wonders on the people he heads; a punitive, harsh or autocratic attitude could only lead to further resistance.

f) Press--The press should be allowed full latitude of expression. Diem will be criticized, but leniency and cooperation with the domestic and foreign press at this time would bring praise for his leadership in due course.

g) Buddhists and Students--Let them out and leave them unmolested. This more than anything else would demonstrate the return of a better day and the refocussing on the main job at hand, the war.

h) Secret and Combat Police--Keep its role to a minimum and as circumspect as possible, thereby indicating clearly that a period of reconciliation and political stability has returned.

Following are additional specific remedial actions you should bring up with Diem as appropriate:

a. A repeal or suitable amendment Decree 10.

b. Rehabilitation by ARVN of pagodas.

c. General Association of Buddhists to publish history of Buddhist agitation, naming those who subverted it into political vehicle to overthrow Diem.

d. Establishment of Ministry of Religious Affairs.

e. Liberation of passport issuances and currency restrictions enabling all to leave who wish to.

f. Offer of 1000 student scholarships in US permitting departure of inimical elements.

g. Cabinet changes to inject new untainted blood, remove targets of popular discontent.

h. Acceptance of Buddhist Inquiry Mission from World Federation to report true facts of situation to world.

Public Posture

Concurrently, the Department will undertake to:

a. Work in the UN to blunt the debate in the UN on the resolution condemning GVN for human rights violation.

b. Prepare White Paper placing recent events in perspective, noting essential political character of Buddhist agitation, that only small numbers of pagodas occupied by force and violence, and that Buddhist religion never really seriously interfered with as far as majority Vietnamese concerned.

c. Present this privately before publication to key members of Congress.

d. Announce lifting of travel ban to SVN in view of "reestablishment of situation".

e. Publicize with appropriate indications of approval each step taken by GVN towards better image.


[Attachment 2]

Draft Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/3/

/3/Top Secret; Immediate. To be repeated to CINCPAC POLAD.

Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Exclusive for Admiral Felt. Saigon's 478./4/ Action Plan for Viet-Nam is outlined below. Phases 1 and 2 approved at highest level, and you should proceed to progressive implementation. Washington decision will not be taken on further phases which add increasing pressures, until we see results of actions under Phases 1 and 2.

/4/Document 86.

Part I, Objective and Concept.

Objective. Our overall objective in South Viet-Nam is to win war against Viet Cong. Recent repressive actions of GVN have created disaffection which will inevitably affect war effort unless GVN undertakes changes in both policies and personnel that are effective and credible.

While withdrawal by US would be immediately disastrous to war effort, acquiescence by US in recent GVN actions would be equally disastrous, although less immediately so. We therefore propose follow policy of persuasion coupled with pressure on GVN aimed at inducing it to take actions which will insure sufficient popular support to win war against Viet Cong. This policy should be implemented in such a way as to avoid triggering either civil violence or radical move by GVN to make deal with DRV and remove US presence.

Actions by GVN. Check list of desired GVN actions to ensure popular support necessary to win war are divided into two categories: (A) actions designed to reverse recent policies of repression, and (B) actions essential to set psychological tone and image which will make category A actions effective and credible.

Category A Actions:

1. Release and freedom from pursuit of all those recently arrested, except only those who have indubitably engaged in subversive action.

2. Announcement that Vice President Tho is designated to negotiate with a legitimate reconstituted Intersect Committee of Buddhists, these negotiations to lead to joint statement of reconciliation.

3. Effective revocation of martial law.

4. Removal of all censorship.

5. Scheduling of a definite date for holding of new National Assembly elections; reopening of list of candidates and guarantee that elections will be free.

6. Convocation of extraordinary session of National Assembly to announce actions above.

Category B Actions:

1. Diem's government should be reorganized and broadened to include respected individuals such as Tran Quoc Buu and Pham Huy Quat, with one or two posts given to senior generals such as Big Minh and Kim and with a recall to public service of one or two individuals who have left Vietnam, such as Vu Van Maul

2. Since Nhu and Madame Nhu symbolize to world and to important Vietnamese opinion GVN policies of repression, Nhus' power must be terminated in order to lend credibility to statements of policy changes and assure a fresh start. This requires their departure from Vietnam, at least for extended vacation.

Need to set psychological tone and image is paramount. Diem has taken positive actions in past of greater or less scope than those contemplated in Category A but which have had little practical political effect. Diem has already taken many of steps in Category A but in such a way as to make them hollow or, even if real, unbelievable (e.g., martial law already nominally lifted, assembly elections scheduled, and puppet bonzes established).

Thus specific "reforms" are apt to have little impact without dramatic, symbolic move which convinces Vietnamese that reforms are real. As practical matter this can only be achieved by some visible reduction in influence of Nhus, who are--justifiably or not--symbol to disaffected of all that they detest in GVN.

Even though it not our intention remove Diem, Ngo family may so resist reversal of policies and removal of Nhus as to make Diem's removal inevitable. If so, our goal should be so to structure situation that Diem has option of staying without his brother or retiring of his own free will.

We recognize possibility this campaign may also result in resumed coup plotting. We propose to give no encouragement to such activities at this time, although we remain ready to listen to serious approaches.

Part II, Phase 1.

1. Phase 1 concentrates on suasion by a continuation of your conversations with Diem on problem of US-GVN relations in all its ramifications. Although past experience does not lead us to be hopeful that suasion alone will accomplish desired results, it seems essential to make attempt if only to establish a record and lay groundwork for Phase 2.

2. You should present to President Diem Presidential letter/5/ forwarded via immediately following cable.

/5/Document 115.

3. In presenting Presidential letter it is suggested that you review situation along following lines:

Since your last meeting with Diem USG has been faced with crisis of confidence in Vietnamese Government on part of American public and more particularly Congress. Diem is undoubtedly aware of increasing tempo of criticism of his government appearing in all sectors of US press without regard to geographic location. In addition, he is aware of movement in US Congress, exemplified by Church resolution, which if unchecked could result in Congressional action to cut off all aid to Vietnam.

Another factor must be borne in mind, and that is world opinion. This too has been universally condemnatory of regime and its recent policies of repression. This will inevitably be manifested dramatically in General Assembly when present resolution on Buddhist question is debated. US and other friendly nations who are aiding Vietnam will find it politically difficult support GVN in UN under present circumstances. US cannot control world opinion, but as leader of free world its attitudes carry great deal of influence. If US, major support of South Vietnam, has its confidence in GVN restored, this will have favorable effect on attitudes shown by other nations.

In order to preserve aid program to South Vietnam, which President sincerely desires to do, he has written President Diem personal letter urging him to take steps necessary to permit USG to meet criticisms of its people and Congress and continue assisting Vietnamese war effort.

4. We believe you should also reiterate to Diem actions (see checklist above) which US considers desirable for him to take to counter US and world criticisms and enable us to continue cooperate with him.

5. In this phase we hereby authorize limited, voluntary evacuation of American dependents. Separate cable being forwarded on implementing instructions.

Part III, Phase 2.

1. Concept.

In this phase we add selective cuts in aid which will have least effect on war effort as pressures in your continuing conversations with Diem.

Tone of your conversations should continue be that US purpose is to preserve aid program to SVN, which President desires to do. Regretfully, however, has become politically necessary take certain actions convince US public and Congress we supporting only those GVN efforts with which we agree, i.e., fight against Viet Cong. Otherwise, Congress may cut off all aid.

We notify Diem of these actions with great reluctance and wish assure him we will attempt continue or redirect aid for programs essential to war effort as this can be worked out. If Diem can take dramatic actions we requesting promptly, we feel we can quickly restore conditions but we may have make further cuts, again in order avoid total cut of aid.

2. Actions.

Your Approach to Diem.

In context of above, you should inform Diem that in light of unsatisfactory response to your (Phase 1) effort at persuasion, USG has now instructed you review for him actions relating our programs Viet-Nam which have now, or recently, been taken.

A. We are not moving ahead with decisions on major AID actions, such as negotiation of $33 million additional new PL-480 sales agreement, $5 million in September allotments for the Commercial Import Program (CIP), $5.5 million in releases for licenses of July-August CIP

allotments, and the approval of certain new contracts.

B. We will withhold our support from organs of GVN which have been supporting policies of repression, and will specifically withhold additional supplies and equipment from certain operations and elements of the combat police and DGI and ARVN PsyWar.

C. We will require written guarantees that AID provided equipment will not be used in acts against non-Communist political or religious groups from any GVN agency likely to be involved in such acts.

D. We have given instructions to Mr. John Richardson to suspend immediately payments to all projects serving the current politically repressive activities. Projects not serving those activities may continue to be supported by payments directly to project officers, provided the projects are in our mutual best interest.

E. The Executive Branch considers any effort to contest moves in Congress to restrict or terminate U.S. aid programs in Viet-Nam bound to be ineffective under present circumstances.

F. The US did not oppose the inscription of an item proposed in the United Nations General Assembly censoring the violation of human rights in Viet-Nam, and will not be in a position, due to the state of domestic opinion in the US, to oppose its adoption by the General Assembly unless a radical improvement in the situation in Viet-Nam occurs.

G. Reluctantly the United States has decided that the unsettled conditions in South Viet-Nam require us to evacuate all American dependents.

H. USOM and USIS/Saigon will withhold additional supplies and equipment now being delivered in Saigon from those operations and elements of the Combat Police and ARVN PsyWar and Director General of Information which have been used in support of policies of repression.

Background on AID Actions Above.

Following is provided for your background information on AID aspect of your approach to Diem above, and may at your discretion be communicated to Diem during your conversations.

In recent weeks AID has already been delaying:

A. Issuance of Procurement Authorization on $5.5 million in Supporting Assistance/Commercial Import Program (CIP) funds allotted to Mission in July-August but not yet obligated to GVN.

B. Allotment of approximately $5 million to Mission for September issuance of Procurement Authorizations for Commercial Import Program.

C. Amendment of current PL-480 agreement adding $2.9 million in sweetened condensed milk.

D. Negotiation of new PL-480 agreement covering roughly CY 1964 for about $33 million in cotton, flour, condensed milk and tobacco.

E. Approval of major contracts expected to be presented shortly under loan projects including Saigon-Cholon waterworks (treatment plant $9 million) and Saigon Electric Power ($4 million).

Disclosure of Your Approach.

You should not immediately announce publicly the content of your approach to Diem and the actions taken. You should obtain Diem's reaction on later visits. During your approach, however, you should inform Diem that at some stage White House must announce general nature of actions taken by USG. You should tell Diem that you have authority to recommend to Washington timing of this announcement.

Should we move into this phase (Phase 2), you have discretionary authority to inform certain key Vietnamese, to be selected by you, in confidence about your approach to Diem immediately after it has been made.

Undisclosed Actions.

Begin FYI. In this phase we would immediately institute following other actions which should not be revealed to Diem himself but which would rapidly become apparent.

A. Acquisition of substantial cash resources in plasters, in preparation for direct support by-passing Saigon.

B. On same day or about same time as your approach to Diem, Richardson and certain his officers would indicate to Colonel Tung and selected Vietnamese officers and officials suspension of payments to those projects serving current repressive activities. Burden of CAS statements would be along following lines: "Ambassador has instructed Richardson and staff cease certain payments on instruction received from highest levels in Washington. Reason for suspension of aid to certain programs is that USG cannot condone actions of repression on part GVN and cannot for one moment support such activities."

C. At your discretion, Chief of Station might talk directly to Ngo Dinh Nhu with view persuade him to depart. End FYI.

Additional Actions.

Additional measures which may be taken in Phase 2 at your discretion:

A. Demand by USOM Director for return, or refund, of trucks and other equipment used by police in raids on pagodas and schools.

B. Withholding of participation in hamlet militia leaders training program so long as it is directed by Colonel Tung.

C. Withhold quarterly release 25 million plasters due shortly to Department Defense PsyWar for their publications pending positive indication these funds will not be used to support policy of repression against Buddhists and students or other non-Communist groups or to publicize Nhus favorably./6/

/6/In Hilsman's draft paper of September 16 for persuasion and pressure against the Diem regime, there were distinct Phases 3 and 4 of Part III. Phase 3 in the September 16 paper has been incorporated into this cable in revised form as Part III, Phase 2. Phase 4 has been dropped. The substantive portion of Phase 4 in Hilsman's draft paper of September 16 reads as follows:
"It appears that if Diem has refused to accept US demands in the face of Phase 3 actions, there is no alternative but to announce (publicly or privately) complete disassociation with the Diem regime. Such an announcement should reassert US desires to continue support of the Vietnamese people in their fight for freedom, and to indicate US willingness to support an alternative regime--either in Saigon or elsewhere in Viet-Nam. [Here follows a listing of actions to accompany such an announcement.] If the US correctly has estimated civil and military readiness to overthrow Diem, an alternate government should emerge with sufficient popular support to carry on the fight against the Viet Cong while coping with Diem, if he remains in the Saigon area. If the US has not correctly assessed the readiness of the military to desert Diem and he, in fact, retains control of most major forces, the US would face the final decision of US military intervention or complete withdrawal from Viet-Nam. In this situation, US military intervention to fight a former ally could serve no useful purpose, since there would not exist a sufficient popular base of support of US objectives. Inherent in all Phase 4 activities is the element of extreme danger to US essential personnel remaining in Viet-Nam. Casualties should be expected, particularly in the event there is no popular abandonment of Diem." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam)


115. Draft Letter From President Kennedy to President Diem/1/

Washington, September 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part II. Top Secret; Eyes Only. There is no drafting information on the source text, but this letter was prepared by Hilsman and others at the Department of State. The source text is labeled: "Suggested Draft of Presidential Letter, Adapted to Phase 1 of This Plan."

Dear Mr. President: 1. I am sending you this letter because of the gravity of the situation which now confronts our two countries, in their relations with each other. For us in the United States, difficult and painful decisions cannot long be deferred, and I know that you on your side have problems of similar gravity. Moreover, it is clear to me as I work on this matter that many of its difficulties arise from problems in assessing the real facts of the situation. Both of our Governments, for different reasons, face great difficulties on this score. And so I think it may be important and helpful for you to know accurately just how the situation appears to me. In return, I shall greatly value the most candid expression of your own assessment, and it may well be that you and I between us can work out a new understanding in place of the present troubled, confused and dangerous relationship between our Governments.

2. At the outset, let me state plainly that the central purpose of my Government in all of its relations with your country is that the Communists should be defeated in their brazen effort to capture your country by force and fraud of all varieties. What we do and do not do, whether it seems right or wrong to our friends, is always animated by this central purpose. In all that it does in its relations with your country, the United States Government gives absolute priority to the defeat of the Communists.

3. This purpose, in a general way, has been a part of American policy toward your country for many years, but as you know it took a new shape and clarity at the end of 1961. At that time, in light of the very unsatisfactory situation in Laos, and in view of the increasing efforts then being made by the Viet Cong, I sent two of my most trusted associates on a careful mission of inquiry to your country. The mission of General Taylor and Mr. Rostow was to give me the best possible judgment of the course of the struggle in South Vietnam and the prospect of success. Their comprehensive report/2/ convinced me, first, that the situation was indeed very serious, and, second, that by appropriate and determined action your Government and ours together could find a way to victory. Our two Governments then worked out together, and you and I as their leaders formally approved, a new level of effort and cooperation. And I think it is fair to say that both our Governments have been loyal to that effort, to the limit of their abilities, ever since.

/2/For the report and related documents, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Documents 210 ff.

4. By the hardest kind of joint effort, in which of course your people have borne the heavier and more immediate responsibility, the contest against the Communists in the last year and a half has gradually but steadily fumed in our favor. New levels of alertness and skill were developed in the forces of your country, and the bold and imaginative program of strategic hamlets was pressed forward with steadily increasing energy and speed. Each of us, I know, pays close attention to our reports from all over the country on the course of the struggle against the Viet Cong, and I am sure that these reports agree on the basic proposition that the war has been going well, at least until very recently. And since newspaper reports and the problem of the press generally are an important element of difficulty in our relations, it is only fair for me to say that I have been as much irritated as I am sure you must have been, by inaccurate press reports, which tend to disparage unfairly the effectiveness of our joint effort against the Viet Cong.

5. A great cooperative venture of the kind in which we have been engaged is never easy for the representatives of separate sovereign states. On the one hand, the struggle is Vietnamese at its center, not American. You and your Government have responsibilities, as Vietnamese to Vietnam, which are inevitably different from those which I and my Government have as Americans to America. At the point of immediate battle, when one of our pilots or advisors is in the same danger as your soldiers, these lines of division tend to fade and even disappear, but further back the differences are real and not wholly avoidable. I have read with interest cables from Ambassador Nolting in which he has reported your own awareness of this difficulty and your deep concern with it. I want you to know that I too see this problem. In particular, I recognize that it must be a matter of real difficulty for members of your Government to find large numbers of Americans holding positions of considerable responsibility and authority in matters which are of great and immediate importance to the people of Vietnam. I well understand your insistence upon avoiding, in our relations, anything that might instill in your people a colonial spirit of acceptance of foreign domination. In this regard, I want you to know that I have personally assured myself that the top American personnel, in every department and agency concerned, fully understand my determination that Americans in Vietnam shall act in full respect for the independence of your country and for the proper determination of your people to be free of domination even by their friends. At the same time, as you know, we cannot avoid the necessity for extensive participation by our representatives in a situation in which our own resources, and thousands of members of our armed forces, are so heavily committed. I have been grateful for your ability to understand and respect our necessities, just as I have tried to respect yours.

6. In the last four months, by a series of events which neither you nor I can have wished and whose impact is surely a matter of equal regret to us both, a new and grave set of difficulties has been created for us both. It is not my purpose here to recount in detail events with which you yourself are familiar, nor even to repeat expressions of concern, which you have heard many times from Ambassador Nolting and Ambassador Lodge, on the existing situation and dangers within your country.

7. It may well be your view that American opinion has been misled on these recent events, and I recognize that this is always a possibility in a world in which the accurate judgment of distant happenings is very difficult. But that leads me to urge upon you as strongly as I can that the only way to correct this difficulty is to allow more and not less reporting by Americans in your country. If there is one principle upon which my people are united, by Constitutional commitment, conviction, and tradition, it is that the way to get at the truth is to let people see for themselves. At present, acting on feelings which are understandable, and working from a tradition quite different from our own, your Government is engaged in a limitation and censorship of news, and in a harassment of reporters, which can only have--and is having--the most destructive effects upon confidence between our two peoples. I repeat that I well understand the irritation which tendentious reporting can cause, but I cannot overemphasize to you the damage which is done to your own cause and to our common purpose by limitations of this sort. No single step would do more to reopen the path to effective cooperation than an immediate and complete abandonment of all restrictions upon the flow of news to and from our countries.

8. I must stress, however, that effective cooperation does not depend solely on a freer flow of truthful information. It is a fact, as I found it necessary to say publicly two weeks ego,/3/ that we in our Government are gravely troubled by the danger that some of the methods used by some members of your Government may be creating a situation in which it will not be possible to sustain public support in Vietnam for the struggle against the Communists. You will feel, I am sure, that you have a right to your own judgment on this matter, and it is not likely that in a single message from this distance I can change your mind. What I must do, however, is to make clear the effect of recent events upon the situation here in the United States and upon the possibilities of action open to me.

/3/See Document 50.

9. At the present time it is a fact that unless there can be important changes and improvements in the apparent relation between the Government and the people in your country, opinion here, in the public and in the Congress, will make it impossible for me to continue without change the great cooperative programs which we have been pressing for since 1961. I have said publicly that we do not wish to cut off our aid programs at this time, and I shall not change this position except as such change becomes necessary in response to public opinion and the democratic processes of this country. But it would be wrong for me not to let you know that such change is inevitable unless the situation in Vietnam can somehow take a major turn for the better.

10. At a minimum, and within a short period of time, it will become necessary for this Government to take actions which make it clear that American cooperation and American assistance will not be given to or through individuals whose acts and words seem to run against the purpose of genuine reconciliation and unified national effort against the Communists. This is so because without such limitations and modifications it will become impossible for us to keep on with our major effort in support of your country. Unless I can show the American people that the United States is wholly dissociated from acts which have raised grave questions here, I clearly can not sustain public support for the central effort.

11. There is much more that needs to be talked out between our two countries on these grave matters. I am asking Ambassador Lodge, as my personal representative, to express my views to you in frankness and candor and to be at your disposal for further discussion. What Ambassador Lodge says to you has my explicit authorization and approval. Of course I shall also warmly welcome a direct expression of your personal views in a message to me at any time. I do not suppose that when two independent nations reach a grave level of disagreement the fault can ever lie on one side only, and you will not find us rigid or unresponsive in the effort to reestablish and to sustain in the future the cooperation which has, until lately, had such strikingly effective results. I repeat that it remains the central purpose of the United States in its friendly relation with South Vietnam to defeat the aggressive designs of the Communists. But I must also repeat that this purpose can only be achieved if steps are taken to remove the obstacles that have so seriously and regrettably impaired our cooperative effort.


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