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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 116-145

116. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 16, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part 11. Top Secret, Eyes Only.

South Vietnam

I am trying this memorandum mainly as an exercise in relieving some of my own frustrations.

I think we have come to a position of stall in our attempts to develop a Washington consensus. For a week now the fundamental attitudes of the principal officers of the Government have remained unchanged. The reason for this is, I think, two-fold. First, the nature of the problem itself tends to force the basic political outlooks within the President's official family to the surface. On the one hand, Averell sees a world in which the only successful way to resist the Communist menace is to provide the people concerned with an alternative worth fighting for. On the other hand, to Bob McNamara the issue is more than mechanical: if enough of the enemy can be identified and killed by methods his department has been so successful in developing, there will be time to concentrate on the political and social welfare of the people in the countries where insurgency exists. Each fundamentally views the other's position as an impractical one.

Because of this difference in world views, I do not see how the development of any further information is going to change conclusions. This leads me to the conclusion that the governmental situation here requires Presidential guidance. I am sure that there is a sufficiently large reserve of loyal acquiescence in the official family to permit the President to make a free choice on fundamental policy, but I am equally sure that as time goes by and positions continue to harden, a Presidential decision will become more painful.

Two other thoughts prompt me to hope for early Presidential action. The first is that the longer we continue in an attitude of semipublic fluidity, the worse the leak problem becomes. Until there is a policy behind which to close ranks, the human tendency to influence decision by every means at one's disposal will continue. My second thought is a corollary to the first. General Krulak has just called me to complain that our instruction to the field/2/ to hold off major aid decisions is, in his view, a back drawer way of effecting a policy which has not yet been agreed upon. As time passes, General Krulak's point will become more valid and emotions will start to rise again.

/2/Document 97.

If the President is inclined to grasp the nettle, I have a thought on the way he might do it. On the assumption that his political guidance will be to the effect that we must attempt to bring about the changes in policy and personnel which would restore to the GVN a fuller measure of its people's support, the President might direct that the first phase of Roger's "pressure plan" be put into effect immediately. The President might observe that, as a practical matter, the first phase is almost parallel to the "policy of reconciliation" which Bob McNamara calls "Track 1". The significant difference is the political tone which the U.S. adopts during this first phase. Instead of embracing the GVN and trying to endorse its public image, we maintain the current public atmosphere of disapproval and tension. In short, I am suggesting that the President approve a mechanical course which I think would be acceptable to Bob McNamara while at the same time setting a political tone which would be unacceptable but on which, I think, the Secretary of Defense would quickly and sincerely defer to the President's judgment. This might best be done by direct conversation between the President and the Secretaries of State and Defense. Of course we will inevitably have to face the problems implicit in phases 2, 3, etc.; but once the political direction has been set, we can get back to the more logical and less emotional business of analyzing our own actions in the light of their intrinsic value as tools to accomplish our purpose.

Two items of incidental intelligence: Roger tells me that he believes the Secretary of State is waiting for the President to give a signal and is also very concerned (I think rightly) about Ambassador Lodge's opinion. I also have just had a talk with Greg Henderson, political officer in Korea. He confirms very strongly that the Korean Government is watching us in South Vietnam with great care. The Government-controlled press in Seoul is advising us to stay out of internal affairs in Vietnam and in Korea and to eschew aid as a means of influencing political development in both countries.



117. Editorial Note

On September 16, 1963, David Halberstam reported in The New York Times that there were basic disagreements between the United States and South Vietnam over the strategic hamlet program in the Camau peninsula, and to a lesser extent, in the Mekong Delta. In an article entitled, "Rift With Saigon on War Tactics Underlined by 2 Red Attacks," Halberstam wrote that U.S. officials in Vietnam were becoming increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of isolated strategic hamlets in areas so long dominated by the Viet Cong, and they reportedly called for an immediate halt of construction of additional hamlets there. Halberstam claimed that the Vietnamese Government was resisting U.S. pressure to consolidate in the peninsula and the Delta and wished to continue to construct small hamlets.

President Kennedy read this article and sent the following short memorandum to Robert McNamara on September 16: "How accurate is this story[?] Is there a split between our military and the Vietnamese on the strategic hamlets in this area[?]" (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam-1)


118. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) and Madame Tran Van Chuong/1/

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

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret. Drafted by Kattenburg on September 17. On a copy of this memorandum sent to the White House, Forrestal wrote: "Family life in Vietnam", and next to Madame Chuong's threat to run over her daughter: "Mother love." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part II)

Madame Chuong called me several times during the day and asked me to come to her new house to discuss a "vital matter" with her. When I got there at 8:00 p.m., I saw her alone. Ambassador Chuong was nowhere in sight, although he called me this morning on a related matter.

Clandestine Government

Madame Chnong told me in conspiratorial tones that "many Vietnamese of all parties" had asked her husband to head up a government of national unity. When I asked for specific names, she mentioned Nguyen Ton Hoan (Dai Viet, Paris), Pham Huy Co (exile, Paris), and later also Bui Van Tinh (former Minister of Interior and Ambassador to Japan). She said that her husband had never wanted to get mixed up in "exile politics" but now the pressure on the Chuongs was so great from so many Vietnamese to do something that she was considering the idea and wanted my advice "as a friend".

I said of course I had no advice, not even personal, to offer, but I thought we would like to be kept informed of the progress of this development. I said I assumed whatever "government" was created would remain clandestine. She asked whether the U.S. would support such a government. I did not respond to this but said I thought a surfaced government could hardly obtain any form of recognition while the Diem Government remained in power in Saigon. She said she was speaking of a clandestine government and clandestine support. I left her further queries unanswered other than to indicate again desire to be kept informed.

Madame Nhu

Madame Choong then said that she had told the Vietnamese community in New York and Washington (who constantly came to her for guidance and advice) that when the "wife of Nhu" came they should "run her over with a car" (sic), and that if they could not do that they should throw eggs and tomatoes at her every time she appeared in public. She, Madame Chuong, had organized the White House picket demonstration of Vietnamese recently and she was quite capable of organizing against this "monster".

(Ambassador Chuong called me first thing today to stress that Madame Nhu should under no circumstances be received by high level U.S. officials, in particular the President. If she knew now that she would not be received, she would be much less likely to come. Her reason in coming is primarily to talk to top officials; the press and TV are only a secondary concern.)

One more point conveyed, though somewhat indirectly, by Madame Chuong: the U.S. is rapidly losing friends in Viet-Nam and is moving awfully slowly in coping with the situation. There is only one solution; get rid of both Diem and Nhu. The U.S. is responsible for doing it because it is only through U.S. support that the government holds together. All Vietnamese cordially hate it. Nhu is "un barbare" and Diem is an incompetent. What is the U.S. waiting for?

I tried to handle her as tactfully as possible while retaining her confidence.


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

Saigon, September 17, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, South Vietnam Policy Files, September 16-30,1963. Secret. There is no time of transmission on the source text.

0940. 1. Following is gist of 40 minute meeting [less than 1 line not declassified] with General Tran Thien Khiem afternoon 16 Sept. Meeting originated by Khiem through Maj. Nhon who notified [less than 1 line not declassified] on moments notice that Khiem has some time available and would like [less than 1 line not declassified] to drop in right away. From start and at Khiem's initiative, discussion devoted to status of situation since Khiem's talk with Harkins 31 August./2/ Khiem very candid throughout, was as usual thoughtful, but apparently straightforward. Answered questions without hesitation.

/2/See Document 33.

2. The Generals are still acting within legality and plan continue doing so as long as possible but becoming increasingly concerned over additional evidence Nhu negotiating for settlement with North.

3. Second week of September Generals formally requested President Diem to turn over to military key Departments of Defense, Interior, Psychological Warfare, and Education, proposing specific names as related in following paragraph. President has taken proposal under consideration but has already notified them that no decision will be made until after elections are held./3/ Should proposal be turned down, Generals prepared continue push in other (no amplification obtained) directions.

/3/See Document 155.

4. For Defense, they have proposed Gen. Duong Van Minh, or Tran Van Don, or Nguyen Khanh. They anticipate that if decision is favorable, Gen. Don will be chosen. For Interior, their candidate is Ton That Dinh. Rationale is that Dinh will be acceptable to Diem. For Psywar, either General Tran Tu Oai or Le Van Kim. For Education, Tran Van Minh or Pham Xuan Chieu.

5. Counsellor Nhu has discussed with some Generals (Khiem stated he was not in on discussion and only mentioned Big Minh and General Nghiem as being among those with whom Nhu discussed the item) his conversation with Polish Commissioner Maneli. He told Generals that Maneli had brought him a proposal from DRV Prime Minister Pham Van Dong for start of trade between North and South Vietnam. Nhu had informed the Generals that he had taken this under consideration and would consult with them in any future move. According to Nhu, Maneli had stated that he was at Nhu's complete disposal and ready to fly to Hanoi at a moment's notice. Nhu had also stated that French Ambassador Lalouette had also offered his services toward same end.

6. In connection with necessity maintain utmost security at present moment, Khiem stated that the key group is composed of three Generals: Big Minh, Nguyen Khanh, and himself who only fully confide among themselves. Allied Generals such as Kim, Chieu, and others are consulted only as need arises but are not privy of all thoughts and planning of the triumvirate. Khiem pleased that as far as he can determine, there has been no leak as to exactly what contacts USG has had with any member of trio.

7. In a side note, Khiem said that General Dinh was acting under instructions from Counsellor Nhu when Conein was called in for interview. Dinh had been instructed to deliberately intimidate Conein, hence pointed guns prop during interview. [less than 1 1ine not declassified] did not ask source of Khiem's info.

O. In another incidental comment, Khiem said that General Dinh claims that an American official has offered him the amount of 20 million plasters if he, Dinh, would overthrow the government and has so reported to Counsellor Nhu.

9. In closing, Khiem reiterated that the Generals would under no condition go along with Nhu should he make any step toward the North or even toward neutralization a la Laos.


120. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone)/1/

Washington, September 17, 1963, 12:01 p.m.

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


Sec resumed the call and replied the mtg at 5:30 today/2/ is to deal with the question as to what we now tell Lodge to do. Letter will come up/3/--also whether to bring him back. What is on Sec's mind is we might have him have one more talk prior to coming back for consultation. Then back here and then maybe take the other man back/4/ after talking here. M said in that Agency there would be insurmountable problems raised re this man--no confidence at all in him and M could assume no responsibility for the operation. Sec said question of how he is hooked on and the organization responsibilities do not have to follow the particular pattern as in the letter. Missed what M said. Sec thinks it should be talked out. If it is a policy question, that is one thing. Other kinds of questions are another matter. Harriman had a long talk this a.m. and within limits of confidence etc. he seems to be thinking along the terms we are. M not sure what terms are. This whole thing was built up by him through Rufus Phillips. Lodge does not know this fellow. Sec said Lansdale denied this. This point seems fairly incidental. Big job is getting something to Lodge that makes sense and also consider how--bring him back or send someone out--not too keen on Hawaii. M said you get him in town and then the press and Congress are on him. This not so in Hawaii. M said the Unna article/5/ was incredible and Sec told him what it stemmed from. Sec will be spending most of the rest of the day on it but if Lansdale thing is not appealing to M and McNamara . . ./6/ Sec thinks it is a small part of it. M said he has no confidence at all in him. They could replace Richardson if Lodge wants it but not someone from the outside./7/

/2/Reference is to a meeting at the White House with the President. In addition to Rusk and McCone, McNamara, Robert Kennedy, McGeorge Bundy, and Harriman attended. Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) No record of the meeting has been found.

/3/Document 104.

/4/Reference is to Lansdale.

/5/Reference is to an article by Warren Unna in The Washington Post, September 17, entitled "U.S Policy Mired in Views of 3 Agencies." Unna claimed that the Department of Defense and CIA wanted to get on with the prosecution of the war while the Department of State remained concerned about the Diem government's repression and unpopularity.

/6/Ellipsis in the source text.

/7/Rusk and McGeorge Bundy had another telephone conversation, September 17, 3:47 p.m., regarding the 5:30 meeting. The transcription reads as follows:
"B returned the call and Sec thought at 5:30 the small group should meet first. B said that is the way it is. Only Sec, McNamara, McCone, Harriman, Bundy and AG will be there. Sec said key question is whether we bring him (Lodge) back. Question of message etc. B said Pres' reaction is against that but he has not examined all of it." (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)


121. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

SACSA-M 525-63

Washington, September 17, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-186-69. Top Secret; Sensitive.

Reconciliation versus Pressures and Persuasion

1. The two draft messages/2/ do not differ significantly from the longer papers which you saw yesterday. /3/ The truly important document is in the covering memorandum. /4/

/2/Attachments 1 and 2 to Document 114.

/3/See footnote 5, Document 113.

/4/Document 114.

2. Taking the covering memorandum, paragraph by paragraph, these observations are pertinent:

a. Paragraph 1. Unless it is desired to set up circumstances where Reconciliation must be rejected as a barren course of action, it need not be accepted that Reconciliation and Pressures and Persuasion must be incompatible.

b. Paragraph 2. As long as the concept is retained that Reconciliation is nothing more than total acquiescence on our part, the content of this paragraph is correct. Under those circumstances Reconciliation would have to be rejected. It would be preferable, however, to see Phase I and Reconciliation both altered, to make them the very same. The revised Phase I would embody expressions of dissatisfaction and sincere warning on our part, coupled with hope, confidence, and a willingness to go halfway with Diem in any genuine action which he undertakes. As it stands now, neither Reconciliation nor Pressures embodies this total philosophy. Reconciliation, as expressed, has too little candor and too little bite. Pressures, as expressed, dwells too much on the limitations of Nhu and gives no evidence of US determination to help Diem wherever he exhibits good faith.

c. Paragraph 3. This is speculation and, along with Governor Harriman, I find no basis for real benefit for Nhu or South Vietnam in such a sequence.

d. Paragraph 4. This suggests that Hilsman himself is not content with the program which he has established.

e. Paragraph 5. If Phase I of the Pressures and Persuasion track were designed to give Diem hope, while still presenting a picture of the unfavorable future which he must expect if he does not re-establish himself in the world opinion arena; if; in addition, Phase I did not pivot on the elimination of Nhu but only made plain to Diem the great benefits of reduction of Nhu's authority; if Phase I made clear our willingness to participate in rehabilitating the GVN in the world's eye, then there would be no problem of switching from one policy to another as Hilsman describes it, because under this arrangement there would only be one policy.

f. Paragraph 6. The long range plans of Nhu and the adequacy of GVN national resolve to achieve victory are facts that we cannot expect to have until matters are essentially concluded.

g. Paragraph 7. To proceed, as Hilsman proposes, with initial steps aimed at the elimination of Nhu, without offering hope to Diem regarding our own intentions, is indeed placing our confidence in an informed hunch. However, to proceed along the lines which I have described earlier, where Phase I has both strength and conciliatory characteristics, changes this significantly.

3. To exemplify the shift which would make the idea of reconciliation compatible with the idea of escalating pressure, I have made some marginal notes and interlineations on a copy of the Pressures and Persuasion approach./5/ With those changes, I believe that the sequence of events is more logical, and far more promising, than either of the cables in their present form.

/5/Not printed.

V.H. Krulak
Major General, USMC


122. Memorandum From the Deputy Regional Planning Adviser of the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs (Mendenhall) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/

Washington, September 17, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 25 Buddhist Dispute. Secret.


Purpose and Itinerary

On September 6, 1963, I departed Washington, D.C., at your instruction and pursuant to a decision reached that day at the White House, to visit Viet-Nam and report back promptly on the situation in that country. This report supplements and completes the telegrams I sent (Saigon's 453, September 9, 1963/2/ and Department's telegram 375 to Saigon, September 10, 1963/3/), and the oral reports I made on my return on September 10, 1963.

/2/Document 78.

/3/In telegram 375, September 10, Mendenhall, who had returned to Washington, sent the Embassy an additional report on his visit to Vietnam. Mendenhall's report covered a conversation he had with the Dean of the Saigon University Law School, Va Quoc Thuc, who predicted that Vietnam was on the verge of an explosive religious war between Catholics and Buddhists. This pessimistic view, Mendenhall stated in his telegram, "emphasized the gravity of the political crisis in Viet-Nam." (Department of State, Central Files, POL S VIET)

I arrived in Saigon at 6:00 a.m., September 8, and spent a few hours in consultation with Mr. Trueheart (the DCM) and other Embassy officers and attended a meeting with Ambassador Lodge, Trueheart, General Harkins (CG, MACV), General Meede (Chief of Staff, MACV), General Krulak (who had a similar mission on behalf of DOD as mine) and Colonel Dunn (Assistant to Ambassador Lodge).

At 10:30 a.m. I departed for Hue, and proceeded from there to Da Nang and Nha Trang. I talked with as many knowledgeable people as I could at these points, and returned to Saigon shortly after noon on September 9. I spent the remainder of that day consulting with American and Vietnamese officials, talked again with Ambassador Lodge, and left Saigon at 8:30 p.m. September 9.

Situation in Viet-Nam

1. Saigon. I found a virtually complete breakdown of the civil government in Saigon following the events of August 20, 1963. The Embassy has reported that Thuan, Secretary of State for the Presidency and Assistant Secretary of State for National Defense, felt useless, and that he stated he found Thanh, Secretary of State for National Economy, reading a detective story during office hours since the Ministry was not functioning. At a USOM meeting I attended, it was indicated that the Ministry of Rural Affairs was likewise not functioning. The USOM Director stated that Vietnamese officials in general did not want him to visit their offices because of their fear of the consequences of being seen with Americans. He added that in one case when he did visit a Vietnamese official in his office, that official looked under all the objects in his office for hidden microphones before he began to talk. Dean Vu Quoc Thuc also told me he had offered his resignation as Dean of the Saigon University Law School.

Saigon was heavy with an atmosphere of fear and hate. Fear is more prevalent than it was in October, 1961, when General Taylor and Mr. Rostow visited Viet-Nam on a special Presidential mission. Then the fear had been created by Viet Cong advances; this time, however, it arises from the reign of terror conducted by the Government itself. Many high officials are not sleeping at home because of their fear of arrest. I was warned immediately on arrival that I must be extremely careful about contacting Vietnamese friends because this might compromise them with the regime. My actual contacts were arranged circumspectly, and my friends' first remarks when I saw them were to the effect how greatly the situation had worsened since my departure from Viet-Nam a year ago.

The arrest of hundreds of students has had enormous effect on many officials, both civilian and military, because these are their children or nephews or nieces. Not only is this reflected in the attitude of bitter dislike displayed by officials toward the Government, but the Government's repression has also absorbed the attention of many officials in attempting to protect their children or negotiate with the police for their release.

The war against the Viet Cong has clearly receded to a secondary status for the people of Saigon. As my Vietnamese contact indicated, their first concern is now their "war" with the regime itself.

Dean Thuc brought up with me the explosive danger of a religious war between Buddhists and Catholics which could be sparked by continued GVN repression of the Buddhists. As an example of GVN "conciliatory" measures toward the Buddhists, I was told that provincial bonzes had been released from prison and told to return to their provinces, but their identification papers were retained by the Government. Then on departure from Saigon they were arrested as Viet Cong because of their lack of identity papers. Word of this quickly spread through Saigon, with the result that a number of provincial bonzes have taken refuge in various homes in Saigon, including those of army officers.

Nhu is held clearly responsible by the people of Saigon for repression by the Government--he is the focal point of their bitterness and hate. Diem has become increasingly identified with Nhu as responsible for these measures, but this probably does not represent a majority view except among the students.

Increasing reports are being received that students are talking of moving over to the Viet Cong because of oppression by the Government. Also significant in this connection was Dean Thuc's equating of the dangers from the Government and the Viet Cong.

2. Mekong Delta Provinces (South of Saigon). Because of lack of time I did not visit this area. In any case, the Buddhist problem has had no impact there, apparently because of the easy-going attitude of the Southerners on all matters, including religion.

I discussed the security situation in this area with the DCM who said that while there has been some improvement in road security, the incident rate continues to be very high. He also said that the number of armed Viet Cong is about 25,000 in the country as a whole. He described the strategic hamlet program in the Delta as a mess, largely because of lack of coordination between the military and civilian authorities.

I had also intended to call on Colonel Hoang Van Lac, Special Commissioner for Strategic Hamlets, to get his assessment of the situation since his detached, experienced judgment is valuable. I found, however, that his views had just been obtained by Rufus Phillips of USOM. Lac confirmed the disorganized state of the strategic hamlet program in most of the Delta provinces, and expressed the view that the war would be lost by 1965 if the GVN is not changed.

3. Provinces Just North of Saigon. I was informed by the Embassy Political Officer in charge of internal affairs that security has much improved in the Zone D area where Viet Cong installations have been broken up and the area is now being cries-crossed by roads. However, the Viet Cong have largely moved over from Zone D to the Duong Minh Chu region in northern Tay Ninh province.

4. Central Plateau Provinces. Bad weather for flying, plus lack of time, prevented a visit to this area. Since there are so few Vietnamese in this region, there has, in any case, been no particular impact of the Buddhist problem here.

In this area there has been substantial improvement in security over the past year which is in important measure attributable to the programs carried out with the Montagnards. Recent deterioration (presumably only temporary) has occurred in Darlac Province where a new province chief, in a literal application of strategic hamlet orders from Saigon, has tried to recover part of the arms issued to certain Montagnard villagers, and thus stirred up resentments. (This is a typical provincial application, without judgment or discrimination, of orders emanating from Nhu and/or Diem, and is prompted by the provincial official's fear of the consequences if he fails to obey orders completely.)

I was also informed [less than 1 1ine not declassified] that the Special Forces border guards recently installed in areas close to the Laos border have found many more Viet Cong in those areas than was previously thought to be the case. It is impossible to state, however, whether this represents an increase in Viet Cong in these areas since there is no real previous base for comparison.

5. Central Coastal Provinces. I concentrated most of my brief stay in Viet-Nam in this area, visiting Hue, Da Nang and Nha Trang. This is the region (together with Saigon) where the Buddhist problem has been most acute and has had the greatest impact.

I got a very good feel for the four northern provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam and Quang Tin. I found Hue and Da Nang cities of fear and hate, just like Saigon. The civil bureaucracy in those cities, as well as the regional civil service with its headquarters in Hue, is riddled with bitter discontent over the Government's repression. Students, civil servants and young officers in the Hue area are reported to feel increasingly that they may as well move over to the Viet Cong since the only reign of terror they know has been that of the GVN.

Province chiefs in these four provinces, on the other hand, are loyal to the Government-not surprisingly since that appears to be the first criterion for selection. District chiefs, to the extent their views were known, are also considered loyal with one exception.

The armed forces in these four provinces presented a mixed picture. [less than 1 1ine not declassified] appears by his conduct completely loyal. (One report I received was that he has been bought by the Government for 2 million plasters. This could not be confirmed, but my source stated Tri had plenty of cash, including dollars.) The Corps G-2 and G-3 were described as strongly condemnatory of the GVN's repression of the Buddhists. Their future was uncertain following the removal of General Nghiem as Corps Commander because of his Buddhist sympathies.

I was told that considerable dissatisfaction exists among lower-ranking officers for political reasons, but the extent of this discontent is not clear (partly because of limitations under which U.S. military officers appear to operate in their relations with Vietnamese officers on political and civilian matters). In any case, it is evident that the armed forces continue to function as a disciplined force under current circumstances.

The political dissatisfaction of both civilian and military officials is vented almost completely on Nhu. Diem appears largely to escape the same opprobrium.

Security in Quang Tin is deteriorating--August, 1963, was the worst month since November, 1962. This province was described as generally poor from a security standpoint. (This incidentally is a province where the province chief was unanimously described to me as incompetent, but as one who owed his job to his loyalty to the Government.) In Quang Nam, where the Viet Cong had been gradually pushed back from coastal areas over the past months, there is recent evidence of a reversal of this trend (e.g., the nightly appearance of Viet Cong about 1000 meters from the Special Forces training camp located about 10 kilometers from the city of Da Nang). It is not clear whether the Buddhist issue has caused or contributed to this worsening of security, but it is known that the Buddhist agitation has extended to rural villages in Quang Nam and Thua Thien. Reports from Hue have stated that in the latter province villagers are beginning to opt for the Viet Cone.

Aside from the four northern coastal provinces, time did not permit me to get the same feel for the other coastal provinces. During my stop in Nha Trang, I was only able to talk to U.S. military officers who, from their limited vantage point, believed there was no Buddhist problem now in the Nha Trang area, although that very morning a report had been received (and was being checked) that a statue of Buddha had "miraculously" sprung up about 20 kilometers out of Nha Trang. I had hoped to talk to the [less than 1 1ine not declassified] but found he was absent. Reports of this which I was later shown in Saigon stated that strong feelings and an atmosphere of terror exist in the Nha Trang area in connection with the Buddhist problem. I also got indications that this problem was felt in varying degrees in Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Ninh Thuan, and Binh Thuan provinces.


1. If Nhu remains in Viet-Nam, thus retaining his power, the choice for the Vietnamese people will be between Diem-Nhu and the Viet Cong. The evidence indicates that, with this choice, the people will move in gradually growing numbers toward the Viet Cong. I had thought on the basis of my earlier tour of duty in Viet-Nam that the Vietnamese people might, under such circumstances, begin to shift from anti-Communism to neutralism. While these are small indications that neutralist thinking is indeed developing, I came away from this visit convinced that the bitterness of the Vietnamese over the recent oppression of the GVN will move them increasingly all the way over to the Viet Cong unless rapid steps are taken to remove Nhu. Both our DCM in Saigon and our Consul in Hue also believe this will be the case.

2. Thus, no matter how good our military measures are, it will not be possible to win the guerrilla war if Nhu remains in power. One need only recall Mao Tse-tung's dictum of the guerrillas as fish and the people as water. With the people increasingly hostile to the Government, its armed forces cannot defeat the guerrillas. To cite one way in which security is likely to deteriorate: There have been cases in Central Viet-Nam (not specifically associated with recent political events) of strategic hamlets betrayed from within, e.g., by leaving gates open or furnishing Viet Cong with defense plans. This type of betrayal can be expected to grow unless GVN policies and personnel are changed.


That Nhu be removed from Viet-Nam, and that the U.S. take whatever action is necessary for this purpose.

The U.S. responsibility vis-a-vis the Viet-Nam problem is inescapable: Vietnamese pursue a constant refrain of asking what we Americans are going to do about the situation in their country. When we reply that it is up to them to act, they retort that the U.S. put the Ngo family into power and gave it all the arms it possesses, which are now being used against the people, not the Communists. The U.S. can thus not escape responsibility whether it acts or fails to act. A refusal to act would be just as much interference in Viet-Nam's affairs as acting.

123. Memorandum by the Assistant Director for Rural Affairs, United States Operations Mission, Vietnam (Phillips)/1/

Washington, September 17, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. An attached note from Forrestal to McGeorge Bundy, September 17, reads: "This does not add to what you already know; but I still think that Phillips' judgments of Vietnamese reactions are as good as any we have. If you think of it, he is the only reporter we have with first hand-long term knowledge of this situation both in Saigon and in the field."


1. I wish to express my strong disagreement with the need to hinge our doing anything in Viet-Nam to change the GVN upon making a decision now to commit U.S. forces there, as expressed by Mr. Mecklin to the Cabinet level meeting of 10 September, /2/ and in his paper "A Policy for Viet-Nam"./3/

/2/See Document 83.

/3/Document 81.

2. Mr. Mecklin stated that in order to achieve the desirable policy objective of ousting the Nhus, without allowing the VC to make unacceptable gains, it was necessary to decide in advance to introduce U.S. Combat forces into Viet-Nam. Such a decision is necessary under all circumstances according to Mr. Mecklin, because there is real danger that a successor regime would be even more ineffective or that Vietnamese military forces would fragment into rival camps.

3. The dangers Mr. Mecklin has cited certainly exist, however, he overstresses them. Mr. Mecklin also overestimates Mr. Nhu's strength and the potential opposition's weakness. If the opinions of many key Vietnamese who speak as intimate friends can be considered evidence, Nhu commands little true loyalty. At present he has support from certain key military figures such as Col. Tung and General Dinh but this is based more on opportunism and on their loyalty to the President than to Nhu. Nhu is a cold ruthless man who has on occasion denigrated most of his followers in front of others. This has earned him intense dislike along with fear and respect for his brains but not deep loyalty.

4. Secondly, the officer corps is not as indecisive or divided as it may seem to an outsider. The Generals did not launch a coup because they lacked the troops, a plan, confidence in the U.S. support for the GVN as well as word of support for the coup, and a sufficiently favorable climate of opinion among the officer corps. The key missing item was confidence in the U.S.-without some tangible evidence of U.S. support it was extremely difficult if not impossible to rally the subordinate unit commanders required. With the tide of sentiment running high in the officer corps against the Nhus-it will not be difficult to mobilize this sentiment if the U.S. acts. But words of criticism only have little meaning. They have been heard before (after the 1960 coup, after the Taylor Mission, etc.).

5. In my opinion it will not be necessary to go so far as to cut off all aid. Selective cuts keyed to a carefully managed psychological warfare campaign aimed at specific targets such as Tung and the Nhus will seriously undermine confidence in the Nhus while restoring confidence in the U.S. A local "cold war" will certainly ensue. We must be prepared for it with the necessary funds to go around Saigon, if this is required, to keep the province program moving. The crisis will require steady nerves and it will probably produce retaliatory action by Nhu such as the declaration of certain Americans persona non grata. We must be prepared to stand our ground, request precise evidence and so forth, and keep tightening the thumb screws. We must be careful to aim each action at the Nhus, thus if the war effort is impaired the blame can be pinned on the Nhus. Given the feelings of the officer corps against the Viet Cong so heavily cited by the Defense Department, it is extremely likely that they will act before the VC make any serious inroads.

6. Concerning the stability of any successor regime, the Generals have declared and there is little reason to doubt their sincerity, that they do not wish a military dictatorship. Many of them cite Korea as an example of what they do not want. Detailed discussion, during the preparatory period of the aborted coup, revealed that the Generals want a mixed government with minor army participation. Their main interest being to reform the army, the civil administration in the provinces so that both would cooperate and fight the war with the degree of spirit required to win. There is some danger, of course, of a struggle for power but it is conditioned in Viet-Nam by the need to work together in order to survive.

7. Certainly no one should rule out the possibility of the ultimate use of U.S. troops and they should be ready to protect dependents if the going gets rough before Nhu topples but the entire policy should not be hinged on this contingency. The use of U.S. troops to fight the war against the VC would, in any case, be a mistake. The Vietnamese are willing to fight and can fight. If we can help give them a government worth fighting for, this single action will be worth more than any number of U.S. troops.

8. This need to give the Vietnamese something worth fighting for and the conclusion that the Vietnamese will fight to win for a government without the Nhus are what Mr. Mecklin and I agree upon. However I believe he underestimates the results of a determined psychological warfare campaign by the U.S. (both covert and overt) to prepare the stage for a successful overthrow of the GVN while being too optimistic about the possible results of the direct use of US forces.

Rufus C. Phillips/4/

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


124. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff /1/

Washington, September 17, 1963, 4:20 p.m.

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

Governor Harriman called Mr. Forrestal. He said Roger and he [were] very much disappointed with draft./2/ Proposal of visit a disaster. He said it is sending two men opposed to our policy, plus one who wouldn't stand up, to carry out policy./3/ Mr. Forrestal agreed. He said this must have been added after he saw it.

/2/Reference is to a draft of the telegram, Document 125.

/3/Harriman is apparently referring to McNamara and Taylor when he describes the "two men opposed to our policy." The "one who wouldn't stand up" has not been identified.

Governor, Hilsman and Forrestal discussed the situation and what message to Lodge should say.


125. Telegram From the White House to the Embassy in Vietnam /1/

Washington, September 17, 1963, 9:28 p.m.

/1/Source: Washington Federal Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 68 A 5159, SGN (63) 19 GVN. Top Secret; Flash; Eyes Only. Prepared in the White House and sent to the Department of State for transmission to Saigon. Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 545-547.
In a memorandum to Rusk, McNamara, McCone, Harriman, and Robert Kennedy, September 17, Bundy stated that he drafted this cable. Bundy attached a draft of CAP 63516 which was similar although not identical to the text printed here. Bundy's memorandum reads in part: "I have taken the liberty of doing a draft of a possible instruction that would initiate action under what we are now calling Phase I of Track 2--namely, a final effort of persuasion and pressure short of a decision to dump the regime no matter what." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part II)

CAP 63516. Eyes only personal for Ambassador Lodge. Dept pass immediately. Deliver only one copy. No other distribution in Dept whatever. From the President.

1. Highest level meeting today has approved broad outline of an action proposals program designed to obtain from GVN, if possible, reforms and changes in personnel necessary to maintain support of Vietnamese and U.S. opinion in war against Viet Cong. This cable reports this program and our thinking for your comment before a final decision. Your comment requested soonest.

2. We see no good opportunity for action to remove present government in immediate future. Therefore, as your most recent messages suggest, we must for the present apply such pressures as are available to secure whatever modest improvements on the scene may be possible. We think it likely that such improvement can make a difference, at least in the short run. Such a course, moreover, is consistent with more drastic effort as and when means become available, and we will be in touch on other channels/2/ on this problem.

/2/ Not further identified.

3. We share view in your 523 /3/ that best available reinforcement to your bargaining position in this interim period is clear evidence that all U.S. assistance is granted only on your say-so. Separate telegram2 discusses details of this problem, but in this message we specifically authorize you to apply any controls you think helpful for this purpose. You are authorized to delay any delivery of supplies or transfer of funds by any agency until you are satisfied that delivery is in U.S. interest, bearing in mind that it is not our current policy to cut off aid entirely. In other words, we share your view that it will be helpful for GVN to understand that your personal approval is a necessary part of all U.S. assistance. We think it may be particularly desirable for you to use this authority in limiting or rerouting any and all forms of assistance and support which now go to or through Nhu or individuals like Tung who are associated with him. This authorization specifically includes aid actions currently held in abeyance and you are authorized to set those in train or hold them up further in your discretion. We leave entirely in your hands decisions on the degree of privacy or publicity you wish to give to this process.

/3/Document 111.

4. Subject to your comment and amendment our own list of possible helpful actions by government runs as follows in approximate order of importance:

a. Clear the air--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 leads; a punitive, harsh or autocratic attitude could only lead to further resistance.

b. 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 refocusing on the main job at hand, the war.

c. 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. While tendentious reporting is irritating, suppression of news leads to much more serious trouble.

d. Secret and combat police--Confine its role to operations against the VC and abandon operations against non-Communist opposition groups thereby indicating clearly that a period of reconciliation and political stability has returned.

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

f. Elections--These should be held, should be free, and should be widely observed.

g. Assembly--Assembly should be convoked soon after the elections. The government should submit its policies to it and should receive its confidence. An Assembly resolution would be most useful for external image purposes.

h. 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.

i. Repeal or suitable amendment Decree 10.

j. Rehabilitation by ARVN of pagodas.

k. Establishment of Ministry of Religious Affairs.

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

m. Acceptance of Buddhist inquiry mission from World Federation to report true facts of situation to world.

5. You may wish to add or subtract from the above list, but need to set psychological tone and image is paramount. Diem has taken positive actions in past of greater or less scope than those listed, but they have had little practical political effect since they were carried out 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).

6. Specific "reforms" are apt to have little impact without dramatic, symbolic move which convinces Vietnamese that reforms are real. As practical matter we share your view that this can best be achieved by some visible reduction in influence of Nhus, who are symbol to disaffected of all that they dislike in GVN. This we think would require Nhus departure from Saigon and preferably Vietnam at least for extended vacation. We recognize the strong possibility that these and other pressures may not produce this result, but we are convinced that it is necessary to try.

7. In Washington, in this phase, we would plan to maintain a posture of disapproval of recent GVN actions, but we would not expect to make public our specific requests of Diem. Your comment on public aspects of this phase is particularly needed.

8. We note your reluctance to continue dialogue with Diem until you have more to say, but we continue to believe that discussions with him are at a minimum an important source of intelligence and may conceivably be a means of exerting some persuasive effect even in his present state of mind. If you believe that full control of U.S. assistance provides you with means of resuming dialogue, we hope you will do so. We ourselves can see much virtue in effort to reason even with an unreasonable man when he is on a collision course. We repeat, however, that this is a matter for your judgment.

9. Meanwhile, there is increasing concern here with strictly military aspects of the problem, both in terms of actual progress of operations and of need to make effective case with Congress for continued prosecution of the effort. To meet these needs, President has decided to send Secretary of Defense and General Taylor to Vietnam, arriving early next week. It will be emphasized here that it is a military mission and that all political decisions are being handled through you as President's senior representative.

10. We repeat that political program outlined above awaits your comment before final decision. President particularly emphasizes that it is fully open to your criticism and amendment. It is obviously an interim plan and further decisions may become necessary very soon.


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

Saigon, September 18, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. Received at 7:58 a.m. and passed to the White House at 8:25 a.m.

536. For President only, pass White House directly, no other distribution whatever. Re your CAP 63516./2/

/2/Document 125.

1. If Secretary of Defense and General Taylor come to Viet-Nam, they will have to call on President Diem and I will have to accompany them. This will be taken here as a sign that we have decided to forgive and forget and will be regarded as marking the end of our period of disapproval of the oppressive measures which have been taken here since last May. It would certainly put a wet blanket on those working for a change of government. The family are only too anxious to promote the idea that everything is finished and cleared up, and we should now go ahead and win the war.

2. Believe, therefore, that Secretary of Defense and General Taylor should come with eyes open knowing that this is what the reaction will be. It is quite impossible at their level to distinguish between the political and military.

3. I have been observing a policy of silence which we have reason to believe is causing a certain amount of apprehension and may just be getting the family into the mood to make a few concessions. The effect of this will obviously be lost if we make such a dramatic demonstration as that of having the Secretary of Defense and General Taylor

come out here./3/

/3/McGeorge Bundy called Rusk to discuss this message at 10:19 a.m. The transcription of the conversation began as follows:
"B said Pres asked B to check with Sec on the incoming. Sent it around for distribution to those present yesterday p.m. What he is thinking about is best message back and best way of structuring the mission so as not to have consequences Lodge is concerned about."

The conversation concluded:
"Sec said last para is crucial to whole business. B replied this is Bob's preference. Meet with Harkins in Hawaii but Pres thinks you have to look at it to see it. Sec hopes we will not announce anything until further communication with Lodge. B said nothing will be announced. Mentioned stop order to UAJ and Sec will talk to Harriman about it." (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations) The last sentence is a reference to the question of including U. Alexis Johnson in the McNamara-Taylor party.



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

Washington, September 18, 1963, 10:05 a.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. No Distribution. Transcribed by Mildred Leatherman.

Governor Harriman called Mr. Bundy. He asked what is the reaction to the answer from Lodge./2/ Mr. Bundy said he and Mike talked to the President on it a few minutes and he has some ideas which Mike is putting into draft reply./3/ He thinks we should be able to stage manage so doesn't give Mr. D any comfort and doesn't undercut Lodge. Thinking about going back to him making mission more palatable. Suggestion personal counsel with people at table yesterday as to how they would advise doing it. They talked about making it military and not joint mission. Governor said Alex/4/ fairly high fellow in State Dept; also bit brainwashed by Nolting. Mr. Bundy said he would make the point to Secretary. Governor said perhaps Secretary will want to send a lower level fellow. Mr. Bundy said knowing of Governor, Roger, and Mike's relationship, they would have a representative if Mike went. Mr. Bundy said he would call the Secretary.

/2/Document 126.

/3/For the telegram as sent, see Document 127.

/4/U. Alexis Johnson.


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

Washington, September 18, 1963-4:52 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. Drafted in the White House and sent to the Department of State for transmission to Saigon. Bundy's covering memorandum to Rusk, September 18, reads: "As I said on the telephone, the President is very clear in his mind that he wants this to go out at once, but I am sure he would be responsive to any amendment you yourself would wish to propose to him."
On the White House draft of this telegram there is a marginal note indicating that McNamara also received a copy. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables) Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, p. 548.

431. Personal for Ambassador Lodge from the President. No other distribution. I appreciate your prompt comment and I quite understand the problem you see in visit of McNamara and Taylor. At the same time my need for this visit is very great indeed, and I believe we can work out an arrangement which takes care of your basic concerns. Will you let me have your comment on the following as soon as possible:

1. We can make it clear here, and McNamara and Taylor can make it clear in Saigon to the GVN, that this visit is not designed to bring comfort to Diem. My own thought is that in any visit McNamara makes to Diem he will want to speak some home truths on the military consequences of the current difficulties, and also to make it clear that the United States Government is not open to oriental divisive tactics.

2. We can readily set up this visit as one which you and I have decided on together, or even as one which is sent in response to your own concern about winning the war in the current situation. For example, we could announce that the purpose of the mission is to consider with you the practical ways and means of carrying out my announced policy that we will support activities which will further the war effort in South Vietnam and avoid supporting activities which do not. The whole cast of the visit will be that of military consultation with you on the execution of the policy which you and I have determined.

3. As our last message/2/ said, my own central concern in sending this mission is to make sure that my senior military advisers are equipped with a solid on-the-spot understanding of the situation, as a basis both for their participation in our councils here, and for the Administration's accounting to the Congress on this critically important contest with the Communists. Having grown up in an Ambassador's house, I am well trained in the importance of protecting the effectiveness of the man on-the-spot, and I want to handle this particular visit in a way which contributes to and does not detract from your own responsibilities. But in the tough weeks which I see ahead, I just do not see any substitute for the ammunition I will get from an on-the-spot and authoritative military appraisal.

/2/Document 125.

4. I do not think I can delay announcement of the McNamara mission beyond Saturday,/3/ and I will be grateful for a further prompt comment on this message/4/ so that we can be firmly together on the best possible handling of the announcement and of the mission itself.

/3/September 20.

/4/Lodge advised the President in a message transmitted in telegram 540 from Saigon, September 19, received at 11:18 p.m., September 18, as follows:
"Believe it would be helpful if you could announce that I had asked McNamara and Taylor to come to consider with me ways and means of carrying out your policy. They can indeed be most helpful to me.
"Believe we cannot avoid a call by McNamara, Taylor, and myself on Diem, and we must make every effort that this call does not look like an endorsement." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US)



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

Saigon, September 19, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Received at 5:54 a.m. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House at 7:10 a.m.

541. CINCPAC/POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Eyes only for the Secretary.

1. Dinner last night with Ambassador and Mrs. Goburdhun (Chairman of the ICC in Vietnam), brother Nhu, Foreign Minister Cuu, my wife, and me.

2. Nhu was extremely talkative. He repeated time and again that it was he who had invented the strategic hamlets, that everyone, including the Americans, had said he couldn't do it but that he had done it. He reiterated time and again that the Buddhists had been murdered and had not committed suicide.

3. In all this Cuu was a faithful echo. But when Cuu said that the Buddhist corpses had been found with their arms straight instead of folded, Mrs. Goburdhun intervened with some heat and said that this had not been the case.

4. I have all along suspected that Nhu had promoted the dinner so I did not bring anything up, but waited for him. I was not disappointed. After awhile he said he could quite understand how Americans were naturally horrified to think that they were supporting conditions which were so bad that Buddhist priests were killing themselves. And he said he could quite understand why Senator Church had put in his resolution/2/ (copy of which I had already sent to Palace).

/2/See footnote 3, Document 84.

5. I said I was glad he understood it, adding that he should realize that in the last few days four more Senators had added their names and that it would not be difficult to get enough signatures to guarantee a majority. This would be a body blow to foreign aid.

6. He then said that President Kennedy was the leader of the Free World and that he must save President Kennedy's face.

7. I said that I was not worrying about President Kennedy's face but about our joint ability, Vietnamese and Americans, as partners, to carry out the program and that one of the things which endangered the program was the extremely bad publicity which there had been ever since last May and which had created grave doubts as to whether the program was worthy of support. I said something should be done to show Americans there had been a real improvement and it was for that reason that I had suggested that he go away for awhile at least until December so as to provide an opportunity to get the appropriation bill passed. I said I realized that he and the President, in principle, were in favor of atoning to the Buddhists, but that President Diem had to do something symbolic which would hopefully provide some material for a photograph.

8. Nhu said: I don't care for myself; I would be glad to do anything. We must do whatever is necessary. But if I go away it will hurt the morale of the Republican Youth which is so essential to victory. But I will be glad to do whatever is necessary. All along he kept stressing the vital importance of the Republican Youth and never once mentioned the Army.

9. As we broke up, I said several times: I hope to hear from you very soon.

10. This meeting certainly gave me the chance to make the point I wanted to make and it was a meeting which, I am sure, he (and not I) had arranged. This made for a tone most favorable to me and put me in a much stronger position than if I had sought an audience.

11. Frankly, I am not impressed by his statement that he is willing to do anything because actually he isn't.

12. Nhu is always a striking figure. He has a handsome, cruel face and is obviously very intelligent. His talk last night was like a phonograph record and, in spite of his obvious ruthlessness and cruelty, one feels sorry for him. He is wound up as tight as a wire. He appears to be a lost soul, a haunted man who is caught in a vicious circle. The Furies are after him.



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

Saigon, September 19, 1963, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central files, POL 15 S VIET Top Secret; Immediate Eyes Only. Received at 7:04 a.m. and passed to the White House at 8:35 a.m.

544. Eyes only for President only, pass White House directly, no other distribution. Re your CAP 63516./2/

/2/Document 125.

1. Agree that no good opportunity for action to remove present government in immediate future is apparent and that we should, therefore, do whatever we can as an interim measure pending such an eventuality.

2. Virtually all the topics under paragraph 4, letters a to m, have been taken up with Diem and Nhu at one time or another, most of them by me personally. They think that most of them would either involve destroying the political structure on which they rest or loss of face or both. We, therefore, could not realistically hope for more than lip service. Frankly, I see no opportunity at all for substantive changes. Detailed comments on items a to m are contained in separate telegram./3/

/3/Document 131.

3. There are signs that Diem-Nhu are somewhat bothered by my silence. According to one well placed source, they are guessing and off-balance and "desperately anxious" to know what US posture is to be. They may be preparing some kind of a public relations package, possibly to be opened after the elections. I believe that for me to press Diem on things which are not in the cards and to repeat what we have said several times already would be a little shrill and would make us look weak, particularly in view of my talk with Nhu last night at a dinner where I had a golden opportunity to make the main points of your CAP 63516 as reported in 541./4/

/4/Document 129.

4. Also, I doubt that a public relations package will meet needs of situation which seems particularly grave to me, notably in the light of General Big Minh's opinion expressed very privately yesterday that the Viet Cong are steadily gaining in strength; have more of the population on their side than has the GVN; that arrests are continuing and that the prisons are full; that more and more students are going over to the Viet Cong; that there is great graft and corruption in the Vietnamese administration of our aid; and that the "heart of the army is not in the war". All this by Vietnamese No. 1 General is now echoed by Secretary of Defense Thuan (see my 542),/5/ who wants to leave the country.

/5/In telegram 542, September 19, Lodge reported the gist of a conversation between D'Orlandi and Thuan in which Thuan reportedly stated that the war was going badly and that he would be glad to leave Vietnam. Lodge commented that Thuan's statement, taken with Big Minh's of September 18, was a good indication of just how badly things were going in Saigon. Lodge's concluding observation was: "So we now have both the Secretary of Defense and the number one General on record--not just the Saigon rumor mill." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

5. As regards your paragraph 3 on withholding of aid, I still hope that I may be informed of methods, as requested in my 478, September 11,/6/ which will enable us to apply sanctions in a way which will really affect Diem and Nhu without precipitating an economic collapse and without impeding the war effort. We are studying this here and have not yet found a solution. If a way to do this were to be found, it would be one of the greatest discoveries since the enactment of the Marshall Plan in 1947 because, so far as I know, the US has never yet been able to control any of the very unsatisfactory governments through which we have had to work in our many very successful attempts to make these countries strong enough to stand alone.

/6/Document 86.

6. I also believe that whatever sanctions we may discover should be directly tied to a promising coup d'etat and should not be applied without such a coup being in prospect. In this connection, I believe that we should pursue contact with Big Minh and urge him along if he looks like acting. I particularly think that the idea of supporting a Vietnamese Army independent of the government should be energetically studied.

7. I will, of course, give instructions that programs which can be effectively held up should be held up and not released without my approval provided that this can be done without serious harmful effect to the people and to the war effort. Technical assistance and dollar support to communications support programs may be one way. This would be a fly-speck in the present situation and would have no immediate effect, but I hope that it may get Vietnamese officials into the habit of asking me to release items which are held up and that, over a long period of time, it might create opportunities for us to get little things done.

8. But it is not even within the realm of possibility that such a technique could lead them to do anything which causes loss of face or weakening of their political organization. In fact, to threaten them with suppression of aid might well defeat our purposes and might make a bad situation very much worse.

9. There should in any event be no publicity whatever about this procedure. If it is possible to halt a program, I intend to appear not as a czar but as one who will try to do his best to put the item back on the track.

10. As regards your paragraph 6 and "dramatic symbolic moves", I really do not think they could understand this even if Thao wanted to, although I have talked about it to Diem, and to Nhu last night (see my 541). They have scant comprehension of what it is to appeal to public opinion as they have really no interest in any other opinion than their own. I have repeatedly brought up the question of Nhu's departure and have stressed that if he would just stay away until after Christmas, it might help get the appropriation bill through. This seems like a small thing to us but to them it seems tremendous as they are quite sure that the army would take over if he even stepped out of the country.

11. Your para 8. I have, of course, no objection to seeing Diem at any time that it would be helpful. But I would rather let him sweat for awhile and not go to see him unless I have something really new to bring up. I would much prefer to wait until I find some part of the aid program to hold up in which he is interested and then have him ask me to come and see him. For example, last night's dinner which I suspect Nhu of stimulating is infinitely better than for me to take the initiative for an appointment and to call at the office. Perhaps my silence had something to do with it.



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

Saigon, September 19, 1963, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET Top Secret; Immediate. Received at 7:16 a.m. and passed to the White House at 8:02 a.m.

545. Eyes only for President only, pass White House directly, no other distribution. This telegram supplements my 544/2/ I am in general agreement with list of "possible helpful actions" with the important qualification that items are for most part not possible of attainment. They involve leopard's changing his spots. Specific comments on correspondingly lettered items paragraph 4 follow:

/2/Document 130.

a. Clear the air. Diem is, of course, in a sense already trying to get everyone back to work and focussed on winning the war. That is, he would like them to forget or ignore or accept his interpretation of recent events. He is in his present situation precisely because he took a deliberate decision not to be broadminded and compassionate and not to adopt a real spirit of reconciliation. Much the same comment applies as in a.

[b.] Diem will not let any of the leadership elements out unless he is satisfied that they are thoroughly cowed and will cause no further trouble. He will not leave them unmolested if they turn out to be uncowed. His whole approach with Buddhists and students has been to terrorize them. If he were now able to convince students, for example, that they would not be molested, chances are very great that demonstrations, etc., would get completely out of hand. This is on assumption that there had not been simultaneously a radical change in the government.

c. Press. For the moment foreign press appears to be operating as freely as before August 20, censorship is off, dispatches are going through without delay. I do not think Diem would consider changing GVN policies on domestic press.

d. Secret and combat police. This would be equivalent to asking Diem to tie both hands behind his back. He will abandon operations against opposition when he is satisfied they are no longer a proximate threat and resume them when he concludes that they are.

e. Cabinet changes. Popular discontent does not run particularly to the Cabinet but to the family. I should not be surprised to see some Cabinet reshuffling after elections, but I would not expect it to have any measurable effect on popular attitudes, since public would not expect new blood to have any more authority than the old. For example, there is a brand new Foreign Secretary, Mr. Cuu, and he is the most shameless sycophant I have ever seen.

f. Elections. These are now ten days away. We have already reported before elections postponed that there are only about half as many candidates as the last time and that there was widespread apathy among voters. Elections will not be a meaningful expression of popular will and could not at this stage be made to seem so, even with most skillful press agentry. Government will probably have to make massive and well observed effort to get voters to polls.

g. Assembly. GVN may well submit policies to Assembly for vote of confidence, but I do not really believe that this will have much effect on the "external image."

h. Party. Diem might conceivably agree to abolish Can Lao party. However, as we have previously estimated, something else would immediately be created to take its place, because a secret political organization is an essential part of the family's power base and scheme of operation.

i. Decree No. 10. Possibly something can be done on this.

j. Rehabilitation of pagodas. This is going forward and is probably nearly completed.

k. Ministry of Religious Affairs. Department previously rejected this idea in favor of Council on Religious Affairs (Deptel 1196)./3/ Believe this was right decision.

/3/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 159.

1. Liberalization of passport issuances, etc. This is a key control device which Diem would not consider giving up. It would probably work against our own interests, in removing from the country much of the solvent opposition.

m. Buddhist inquiry mission. GVN would not permit free inquiry by outside body, in my opinion.



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

Washington, September 19, 1963, 10:23 a.m.

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


Sec referred to telegram about Maneli/2/--he wonders if it is not better since there are one or two utterly simple and fundamental things that are crucial at most to find out from the British Amb whether this means something on the spot de facto partition or call the whole thing off. [sic] Sec worried about signal that would go to the North until we go to Maneli in this situation and say what about a cease-fire. It seems to him we can find out what the answer is to the central question without exposing ourselves. Sec asked H to give it some thought.

/2/Not found.

H just reading 544/3/ and he seems to want some of our thinking re para 5 he asks for it-Sec said they have not figured anything out there and his guess is to wait until the trip occurs and see what happens there. Can't see action here. H then said it is just that para 5 asked for our thinking which we could get out. Sec said o.k.

/3/Document 130.


133. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

Washington, September 19, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, William R Bundy Papers, Chron (ISA) 1963. Top Secret.

Here is a first crack at draft instructions./2/ In my talk to Mac, he expressed the fear that Dean Rusk will be very sensitive to any statements that appear to make you responsible for recommending a change in policy or getting deeply into political matters. Hence, I have tried to couch this in the most diplomatic possible language while at the same time making clear that you can inquire in any area whatever. In particular, note the language about "refining" our present policy./3/

/2/Attached to the source text, but not printed. For the instructions as approved, see Document 142.

/3/Reference is to a sentence in the Bundy draft in the last paragraph which reads: "The principal objective of your mission is to obtain information that will assist me in further refining our present policy and in directing the necessary actions to make it effective, to be carried out in a concerted fashion by US representatives in the field under Ambassador Lodge, as well as through Washington agencies concerned."

Checking this against General Krulak's first draft/4/ to General Taylor, I see that my draft does not include a reaffirmation of our basic resolve to see the war through. This could well be added as an initial sub-paragraph for what you would say to Diem, but should be accompanied by reference to the President's announced position of assisting those actions which will further the anti-Communist effort, while at the same time discouraging and refusing support to those actions that do not.

/4/Not found.

I understand that you are meeting with the President and Dean Rusk this afternoon./5/ So far I have only talked to Mac on the phone, but will be working with him just as soon as we can get together. For your information, he may bring up the suggestion that State be represented not by Walt Rostow but by Marshall Green, Hilsman's new deputy. Green is a very old friend of both Mac and myself and is a particularly good observer, unscarred by emotions. In many ways, I would consider him preferable to Walt, and it may well be that he would also sit better with Dean Rusk.

/5/Rusk and McNamara met alone with the President from 4 to 4:45 p.m., September 19, in an "off-the-record meeting." No account of this meeting has been found. (Kennedy Library, President's Log Book)

W.P. Bundy/6/

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


134. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)/1/

Saigon, September 19, 1963, 7:47 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to Lodge. Received at 12:11 p.m. JCS sent it to the White House exclusive for Bundy; to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman; and to the CIA exclusive for Helms.

MAC J00 7536. Personal for Gen Taylor, Adm Felt and Gen Krulak. From Gen Harkins.

1. As everyone else seems to be talking, writing and confusing the issue here in Vietnam, it behooves me to also get into the act. From most of the reports and articles I read, one would say Vietnam and our programs here are falling apart at the seams. Well, I just thoroughly disagree.

2. The RVN is divided into two parts, Saigon with its satellite Hue and the remainder of the country. In Saigon one can hear any imaginable rumor or grievance one wants to hear and I suppose could get better ones for a price.

Thank goodness I do not get to read the newspapers until they are at least three days old. If I got them as soon as you do, I would be afraid to go to work or I wouldn't know what to do. All is not black. No, far from it.

3. As you know, our programs are pointed towards the RVNAF and the people in the countryside. None are designed for Saigon.

The programs for the Armed Forces are completed or on schedule. The ones in the country continue without let-up. Both are paying dividends.

4. I remain as optimistic as ever, particularly on the military side and I firmly believe there is reason for optimism in some of the other spheres.

Here are some of the indicators.

a. Martial law has been lifted.

b. Press censorship relaxed.

c. The rapid reaction by RVNAF in countering several larger than usual VC attacks and the impressive results obtained by the RVNAF counter forces as regards both VC killed and VC supplies and equipment captured.

d. The voluntary movement by the heretofore reluctant Behnar Montagnards tribesmen in the Pleiku area seeking resettlement and government protection.

3. [e.] The obvious interest displayed at all levels of the RVNAF to get on with the war against the VC. This particularly apparent since the lifting of martial law.

f. The obvious desire evidenced on the part of RVNAF personnel to further develop rapport and understanding with their US adviser counterparts.

g. As reported in the most recent Task Force Saigon Weekly Program Report (Saigon A-204 to State 16 Sep)/2/

/2/Not printed. (Ibid., Def 19 US-S VIET)

(1) Although business continued slow the shortened curfew (now relaxed) and lengthened business day allowed more general circulation of people throughout the area. Restaurants and theaters renewed evening activities and taxi and cyclo-posse were available until late.

(2) Rice and hog deliveries to Saigon from province not affected by martial law and local curfew. Small increase in daily rice deliveries over August. Hog deliveries only slightly less than before with wholesale price steady.

(3) Trend toward normal relations between USOM technicians and counterparts continued.

(4) USOM provincial representatives continue to report province programs outside Delta problem areas going well and Inter-Ministerial Committee efficiency returning to normal. Provincial operations normal or nearly so with exception of Thua Thien. Individual programs remained on schedule.

(5) All Corps have made comparable consistent progress during period in hamlet completions.

(6) GVN sponsored seed seminar this week in Saigon is latest step in establishing efficiency system for distribution of seeds to farmers.

(4) [7] Tam Giang irrigation project in Phu Yen Province officially opened. Project financed by GVN will provide water to irrigate some 2400 hectares of rice lands.

5. These and others are indications that our programs are moving. We must not stop them and let fourteen million people go down the Communist drain. Admittedly we are on the front-line and the VC are using every trick in their bag. Murders, ambush, propaganda, Buddhists, and school children all are part of their game. They know they're losing and are going to desperate ends to hang on. We can not give up now.

Incidentally President Diem accepted my recommendation and is moving the Ninth Division to the IV Corps beginning 19th Sept.

Had a long talk with Sec Thuan today. He's back in business and needed his batteries charged.

Also, through Thuan, sent Diem a letter/3/ pointing out several "musts" in the conduct of the war and asking him to direct his commanders to assume an all out offensive. Regards.

/3/Not found.


135. Memorandum for the Record by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Washington, September 19, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-186-69. Confidential.

Visit of Former Ambassador Tran Van Chuong

1. Ex-Ambassador Tran Van Chuong called on me today at his request. The purpose was to warn me against the optimistic reports on the military situation coming from military officials in South Vietnam. He is convinced that the basic facts are quite different. He thinks that there can be no final victory with the Diem Government which is more disliked by the people of the country than was the government of Bao Dai.

2. He recited his resistance to the Diem program and his efforts to change the character of the Administration. In July 1962, he wrote a very strong letter to Diem urging him to become a political figurehead while retaining the position of President and giving the real political power to a Prime Minister. He resigned this year after seeing the ineffectiveness of his recommendations for change.

3. He stresses the predominant importance of Saigon, not only as the capitol and population center but also as being the "heart and brains" of South Vietnam. Hence, Diem's unpopularity in Saigon has a particular significance.

4. I told him that I hoped to revisit South Vietnam fairly soon and asked how I could learn the true situation, who were some senior civilians with whom I might talk and exchange views. Tran Van Chuong replied that it was impossible since it would be too dangerous for such civilians to communicate with me.

5. I urged him to think over the problem of a foreign official trying to understand the situation in Vietnam and to telephone me if he had any constructive suggestions.



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

Washington, September 19, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 15 Gov't. Secret. Drafted by Kattenburg and signed by Hilsman. A note on the source text indicates that Rusk saw it. Copies were sent to Ball, Harriman, Forrestal, Colby, William K. Bunce of USIA, Albert L. Whiting, Krulak, Heinz, U. Alexis Johnson, Rostow, and Manning.

Country Team Assessment--Viet-Nam Situation

The following represents the views of the Country Team/2/ or the great majority thereof in response to our Deptel 353 to Saigon of September 7, 1963,/3/ asking for an assessment of attitudes of a wide cross section of the Vietnamese population toward top GVN political and military leadership, toward the Viet Cong and continuation of the war, and toward the United States.

/2/These views were reported to Washington in telegrams 470 to 477 from Saigon, all September 1. (All ibid., Central Files, POL 15 S VIET, except telegram 472 from Saigon, ibid., POL 18 S VIET) MACV did not concur with the assessment of the rest of the Country Team and sent its own more optimistic views in telegram JOL 7384 from Saigon, September 11. (Ibid., POL S VIET)

/3/Document 73.

1. Since May 8, and especially since August 21, discontent in Vietnamese society has been accompanied by a spread of fear, uncertainty and frustration regarding the future, and in some instances, transformed into disaffection. Morale has been badly hit, particularly among

a. the top echelons of the Vietnamese Government;
b. the civilian bureaucracy;
c. the urban professionals;
d. the intellectuals;
e. the students;
f. some levels of the police and security forces.

The military, thus far, have been the least affected.

2. There is overwhelming feeling among Vietnamese that

a. Ngo Dinh Nhu is the real power in the Vietnamese Government;
b. Mr. and Mrs. Nhu are mainly to blame for the disastrous course of events and must be ousted.

3. Diem and Nhu are generally considered "twins", but considerable (nostalgic) hope remains that they may yet be separated and Diem retained thereafter as the head of a new government.

4. Discontent has in some cases become intense disaffection; but talk will be transformed into action only if the US encourages this and takes the lead.

5. The feeling is widespread that the US must provide stimulus and backing for the overthrow of the regime and construction of a new one. The US is regarded with hope, disappointment, and, more recently, with criticism and resentment. United States responsibility for the continued tenure of the Ngo family is repeatedly cited; similarly, the US is blamed for having enabled the regime to prevent the development of an alternative leadership.

6. Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho is considered a possible successor to Diem, but would require Vietnamese military backstopping. He is regarded as a good administrator, capable, honest, and a suitable titular head of state, but not as a strong man.

7. The generals are considered the group most likely to be able to bring about a change in the government; but even they will move only if the US prods them to do so.

8. The ideas of Buddhist leader Tri Quang do not go beyond overthrowing the present regime; he appears as a religious revolutionary with agitational ideas and potential, but without institutional or constructive ideas.

9. De Gaulle's neutralist proposals have been received by the Vietnamese with little interest or support.

10. The Viet Cong is regarded with strong hostility. However, because the belief is growing that the US cannot be counted on, and the Viet Cong can, and that life under the DRV would be no worse than that under the Ngo regime, the Viet Cong are being mentioned as an undesirable, but possibly the only, alternative to the present government.

The Embassy adds, in its own overall commentary, that there is little question that continuation of the present situation will be increasingly exploited by the Viet Cong and will increasingly sap RVNAF capabilities.

11. The student uprisings are extremely serious, and have alarmed Vietnamese officials and military more than any other evidences of popular disaffection.


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

Saigon, September 20, 1963, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. Received at 4:13 a.m. and passed to the White House at 5:07 a.m. On another copy of this telegram, there is a marginal note indicating that the President saw it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables)

555. For President only, pass White House directly, no other distribution whatever. Further to your CAP 63516./2/

/2/Document 125.

1. Here is what I have done in compliance with your paragraph 3:

a. I read pertinent parts to Chief of CAS and Chief of MAAG asking them to let me know of any programs which could be held up without impairing the war effort. I am not sure whether anything significant will be found in these two agencies.

b. I requested Chief of USOM to notify me of any of his programs which could be held up and which would give concern to Diem and Nhu without disrupting the Vietnamese economy.

2. Chief of USOM suggested holding up on technical assistance and dollar support for the communications program conducted by the Vietnamese Director of Information; and continue holding up for a very short time on support of the commercial import program. I stipulated that this last should not be held up so that it would in any way create inflation, panic, or injury to the standard of living of the masses.

3. When Vietnamese officials call to inquire about these two programs, they are to be told that President Diem will have to speak to me about it. If he asks me to come and see him, I will, of course, go-which will be the first time that I will have been asked to do him a favor. There will then be several different ways for me to handle the matter. I am thinking now of listening to his request that the program be set in motion again and then doing to him in reverse the kind of thing which he does to me; that is, launch into a long statement on something that interests me, to wit, how urgent it is for him to take action so that it will appear in America that there has been some real improvement in GVN.

4. Getting Diem and Nhu to bring about an improvement in the appearance of the GVN is a prime responsibility of mine, and I shall try to leave no stone unturned. I believed, however, that we might face a situation after the appropriation bill has been voted in which no coup d'etat has taken place and in which we are faced with the simple but unpleasant choice of pressing on vigorously with Diem and Nhu or else not pressing on at all. Under these circumstances, I think we should definitely press on and that my job will then be to develop as much influence with Diem and Nhu as possible, to advise and guide them, and, when expedient, to do favors for them. For this reason, I do not want to burn any bridges without your knowledge and approval.



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

Saigon, September 20, 1963-5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Priority; Eyes Only. Received at 5:48 a.m. and passed to the White House.

556. Following are highlights of statements made to U.S. officer September 18 by General "Big" Minh. Statements were touched off by officer's request for Minh's evaluation of Viet Cong situation:

1. Minh thought VC were gaining steadily in strength and 80 percent of population now have no basis for choice between GVN and VC.

2. Lifting of martial law was simply eyewash for Americans. The situation remains the same. Arrests were continuing, and Minh remarked that the two guardhouses outside his headquarters were full of prisoners.

3. Student problem had by no means been resolved and was in fact very grave. Minh said he knew that students were going over to VC but cited no numbers or facts in support.

4. Middle ranks of Army were badly disaffected and were asking for a coup. According to Minh, officers were not fighting aggressively because they do not have their heart in it. With the proper government, they would fight "four times harder."

5. Minh felt sure that Nhu was in charge. Said when he took military problems to Diem these days, Diem either referred him to Nhu or called Nhu in.

6. Minh claimed that every District Chief and Province Chief was Can Lao Party member and charged that these officials were demanding and receiving kick-backs from rural population on U.S. aid extended. Proceeds were going into party coffers. Archbishop Thuc, according to Minh, was "attending to everything but church business.

Minh gave impression of having thought very carefully about coup possibilities but gave no indication as to whether or not he might be actively planning a coup. In hypothetical terms, he said that coup would have to be carried out suddenly and with complete success, so as to leave no opportunity for Viet Cong exploitation and to avoid risk of civil war.

Asked by U.S. officer whether his visit embarrassed Minh, latter replied in the negative. He said that he had been told, like everyone else, to stay away from Americans but order was not in writing and he had made it clear that he would not sacrifice his old friendships. He would be glad to see U.S. officer at any time.



139. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)/1/

Saigon, September 20, 1963, 6:55 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Secret; Immediate; Personal. Also sent personal to Taylor. A note on the source text indicates that the President saw this cable. Received at the JCS at 9:54 a.m. The JCS relayed this message to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman; to CIA exclusive for Helms; and to the White House exclusive for Bundy.

MAC J00 7585. Ref A. Saigon to SecState 542./2/ B. Saigon to SecState 556./3/ I had read ref A prior to a meeting with Sec Thuan this afternoon and among other things we discussed how the war was going, Strategic Hamlet program, Thompson report,/4/ and the wealth of rumors that were still going around Saigon. I said one of the rumors was that he (Thuan) wanted to resign and get out of the country. He categorically denied this and said it was fantastic. He said any such rumor that could be spread around deeply endangered his life. He said that he was discouraged for a time and that his health was not too good and that he said he thought he would like to have an Ambassador's post some place. He asked me to please try to "squelch" even the discussion of such a rumor that he wanted to resign or that he could get anybody else to go with him.

/2/See footnote 5, Document 130.

/3/Document 138.

/4/Not further identified.

Ref B (556) which is an unevaluated statement by General (Big) Minh: I have this to say--since I have known Big Minh a year and one-half, though I have a very high estimate of his leadership qualities, he has contributed nothing to the war effort here either as commander of the field command or as an advisor to the President. In fact, he has done nothing but complain to me about the government and the way it is handled ever since I have been here. As you know, Big Minh has been under suspicion since 1960 and has never been given real command of troops since that time and he has been kept in positions where people keep a close watch on him. My intelligence people, in analyzing his statement, feel this: that he might have been again attempting to probe the US position to elicit an expression of support for a coup. This was Minh's first meeting with Americans since the 21st of August and this might also explain his eagerness to communicate his views. The statement that 80 percent of the populace no longer supports the government can certainly not be confirmed. We have no evidence to indicate that numbers of students are turning in desperation to the VC, though there is some element of collusion between student group leaders and the National Liberation Front.

At the meeting today with all senior advisers, none evidenced any disaffection of the middle ranks.

As I have said before, you can get almost any viewpoint you want and some of these indicate there are still coup discussions going on among the military. We will continue to evaluate all statements as well as we are able.


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

Washington, September 20, 1963, 7:40 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared with Forrestal, William Bundy, and Janow of AID. On another copy of this telegram there is a marginal note indicating that the President read it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables)

447. Eyes only for the Ambassador. No other distribution. Re your 544,/2/ para 5. Although not sanguine our search any more successful than yours following recaps our thinking on possibilities for use of aid (additional to our 435)/3/ as means of exerting pressure on GVN for accomplishment our objectives without interfering seriously with war effort:

/2/Document 130.

/3/Telegram 435, September 18, provided the Embassy in Saigon with current thinking on the status of U.S. aid to South Vietnam. Since August 22, the telegram noted, all new significant aid to Vietnam was being withheld as well as travel of AID personnel to Vietnam. The telegram described this action as a "slow fuse" which could eventually have massive impact on supply and the budget of South Vietnam. It was another thing to consider cutting "the continuous almost daily flow of aid based on earlier commitments and orders." The Department asked Embassy personnel to discuss with the USOM Director all "pending aid program actions." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET)

1. USOM Saigon could require written guarantees from GVN agencies that AID equipment provided hereafter not be used in actions of repression.

2. USOM Saigon could terminate support of those elements of the combat police and the GVN Director General of Information not being used against Viet Cong.

3. USOM Saigon could withhold participation in the hamlet militia leader training program so long as directed by Colonel Tung.

4. USOM and/or MAAG Saigon could withhold quarterly release of plasters to Department of Defense PsyWar for its publications pending positive indication these funds will not be used to support repression or publicize the Nhus favorably.

5. You could inform Diem that you have given instructions to Richardson to suspend immediately payments to all projects serving currently politically repressive activities./4/

/4/In telegram 609 from Saigon, September 28, the Embassy submitted comments by Richardson on paragraph 5. Richardson noted that the number of CIA programs being used by the Diem government for repressive political activities was "actually rather limited." Any cutback by CIA, in Richardson's opinion, would "have only a pin-prick effect unless accompanied by cutbacks in the programs of the larger American agencies in Saigon." (Ibid.)

6. We recognize that such steps would mainly serve purpose of exerting psychological pressure on GVN and would of course represent little in way of economic pressure.

7. On the other hand, continued suspension of new PL 480 sales, new CIP allotments and further procurement authorization under existing allotments will not only constitute political pressure on GVN when Diem is at your discretion made aware of what we are doing, but also likely sooner or later to have economic consequences which may adduce further pressure on GVN. Economic consequences could be a) triggering speculation, hoarding, price rises not justified by current supply, budget, or reserve situation, or (b) actual supply shortages and decline plaster counterpart contributions to budget in 3-8 months as present pipeline runs out. (Unfortunately we may thus unavoidably hurt our friends among Vietnamese people to some extent.)

8. You may also wish consider advisability of acquiring substantial cash resources in plasters for possible use in providing direct support to counterinsurgency program in provinces if that becomes desirable./5/

/5/In telegram 609, September 28, the Embassy submitted comments by Richardson on paragraph 8. Richardson stated the CIA capability for purchase of plasters "was not unlimited" and he doubted direct payments could be made to the provinces, bypassing the central government. The only case in which such a plan might work was if a Corps Commander declared his opposition to the central government. (Ibid.)

9. In addition, DOD study among planning papers being pouched concludes that direct support of armies in field bypassing Saigon is technically feasible and line of communication could be so reoriented in about thirty days.

10. Our judgment is that continued inaction on aid matters (excepting necessary counterinsurgency) would not produce any immediate serious economic consequences because of size of pipeline and GVN reserves. On other hand, might generate significant psychological pressures on GVN thus strengthening your hand and general posture of the US with Vietnamese people.

11. Want to emphasize above is partial list. AID Washington staff has prepared a checklist of all possible AID actions assessed in increasing order of impact on GVN (included among the planning papers being pouched)./6/

/6/Not found.



141. Editorial Note

On September 21, 1963, Secretary of Defense McNamara responded to President Kennedy's queries about the veracity of the article in The New York Times by David Halberstam, September 16 (see Document 117). McNamara's signed memorandum to the President, September 19, reads as follows:

"In your memorandum dated 16 September 1963, you inquired as to the accuracy of subject article and whether there is a split between our military and the Vietnamese on the strategic hamlet program in the Delta area.

"Attached is an analysis, based upon reports received from the U.S. Military Assistance Command, as well as country team statistics. It indicates that there is no rift between our military and the Vietnamese on the program and that the article contains other inaccuracies." (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 3131, Vietnam-1)

The attached analysis referred to by McNamara was 19 pages long and dated September 20. In it, the Department of Defense maintained that the United States and South Vietnam differed over strategic hamlets in the Camau peninsula and the Delta, but agreed on goals and strategy for the program. According to the analysis, Halberstam underestimated the effectiveness of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam, overemphasized Viet Cong successes, and failed to mention the supposed 4 to 1 casualty ratio in favor of the government forces. This analysis is published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 446B.

There is a more general unattributed analysis of Halberstam's views of the strategic hamlet program in the Delta, dated September 17, at the Kennedy Library. This document states that Halberstam's conclusions are "overly lugubrious" and "should be treated with reserve!" According to the analysis, joint U.S.-GVN strategic planning called for a holding action in the Delta until other corps were sufficiently secure to allow transfer of forces there. In effect, the analysis maintained that the military situation in the Delta was not getting markedly worse, but the battles to dislodge the long-entrenched Viet Cong were yet to be fought. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous)

The Central Intelligence Agency prepared on September 26 a memorandum for McCone, entitled "David Halberstam's Reporting on South Vietnam." In this analysis the CIA drew the following conclusions:

"A review of all the articles written by Mr. Halberstam since June indicates that he is by and large accurate in terms of the facts that he includes in his articles. The conclusions he draws from his facts, plus the emphasis of his reporting, however, tend to call his objectivity into question. Since June, the great majority of Halberstam's articles have dealt with the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam and the injurious effects of the crisis on the struggle with the Viet Cong.

"In his almost invariably pessimistic reports, Halberstam makes liberal use of phrases 'some Americans,' 'informed Vietnamese', or 'lower (or higher) ranking Americans,' etc. Such sourcing is impossible to refute. However, other observers writing from South Vietnam indicate that large segments of the American military community have been and still remain optimistic about the course of the war. Such optimistic sources are almost never quoted by Mr. Halberstam." (Ibid., Halberstam Article, 9/63)


142. Memorandum From the President to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

Washington, September 21, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Report 10/2/63. Top Secret. McGeorge Bundy sent Rusk a copy of this memorandum under cover of a memorandum, September 21, which reads as follows:
"This is the McNamara instruction as the President finally approved it today. Bob asked me to take back to him the additional sentence which you and I discussed yesterday, saying that his notes showed that the President specifically approved this addition. I did take it back to the President and he did approve it, although I presented the arguments against it as you and I have discussed them. I don't think it's a major matter." (Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 OSD)
There is no indication on the source text to which sentence Bundy is referring. Attached to another copy is a draft of this memorandum with revisions in Bundy's handwriting. The major revision is the insertion at the end of the first paragraph of the sentence beginning '`If the prognosis in your judgment`2 There are two other minor revisions in Bundy's hand. The first is the insertion, in the second sentence of the second paragraph, of the phrase, `,consult fully with Ambassador Lodge on, and the second is the substitution in the first and only sentence of the third paragraph of a call', for your formal call." (Kennedy Library, National security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous) This memorandum was sent to Saigon eyes only for Lodge in an unnumbered telegram, September 22. (Department of state, Central Files, POL US-MCNAMARA) Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 551-552.

It may be useful to put on paper our understanding of the purpose of your visit to South Vietnam. I am asking you to go because of my desire to have the best possible on-the-spot appraisal of the military and paramilitary effort to defeat the Viet Cong. The program developed after General Taylor's mission and carried forward under your close supervision has brought heartening results, at least until recently. The events in South Vietnam since May have now raised serious questions both about the present prospects for success against the Viet Cong and still more about the future effectiveness of this effort unless there can be important political improvement in the country. It is in this context that I now need your appraisal of the situation. If the prognosis in your judgment is not hopeful, I would like your views on what action must be taken by the South Vietnamese Government and what steps our Government should take to lead the Vietnamese to the action.

Ambassador Lodge has joined heartily in supporting this mission and I will rely on you both for the closest exchange of views. It is obvious that the overall political situation and the military and paramilitary effort are closely interconnected in all sorts of ways, and in executing your responsibility for appraisal of the military and paramilitary problem I expect that you will consult fully with Ambassador Lodge on related political and social questions. I will also expect you to examine with Ambassador Lodge ways and means of fashioning all forms of our assistance to South Vietnam so that it will support our foreign policy objectives more precisely.

I am providing you separately with a letter from me to President Diem/2/ which Ambassador Lodge and you should discuss and which the Ambassador should deliver on the occasion of a call on President Diem if after discussion and reference to me I conclude that such a letter is desirable.

/2/See Document 147.

In my judgment the question of the progress of the contest in South Vietnam is of the first importance and in executing this mission you should take as much time as is necessary for a thorough examination both in Saigon and in the field.

John F. Kennedy


143. Memorandum for the Record/1/

Washington, September 23, 1963, 10 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 OSD. Top Secret. Drafted by McGeorge Bundy who sent a copy to Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman under cover of a memorandum, September 23, which noted: "The last sentence of the first paragraph of the instructions was inserted by the President after I reported the divergent views on it to him at Bob McNamara's request." The meeting was held at the White House.

Meeting on McNamara/Taylor Mission to South Vietnam
Present at the meeting at 10:00 a.m. this date were: President, Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Acting Secretary Ball, Mr. McGeorge Bundy

The President signed the draft instructions to Secretary McNamara/2/ and then supplemented those instructions by a number of comments.

/2/Document 142.

1. He thought that it would in fact be necessary for Secretary McNamara to see President Diem twice. In these visits he should press the need for reform and change as a pragmatic necessity and not as a moral judgment. If the Secretary and General Taylor reach the conclusion from their own investigations that such change is essential for the winning of the war, they should press this conclusion strongly.

2. The President did not think that threats to cut off aid were likely to be effective. Since in fact only small changes were likely to be made in the immediate future, it would be better to let such adjustments speak for themselves.

3. The President thought that Diem would undoubtedly be aware of U.S. connections with his opposition and that Secretary McNamara and General Taylor should simply avoid such matters and concentrate upon the positive accomplishments of the last decade and upon the very high level of U.S. support and cooperation which has characterized the period as a whole. He also thought that General Taylor in particular could emphasize the affirmative decision of 1961 and the hopeful prospects as they appeared a year ago, as against the graver situation which has now developed.

4. The President thought it would be desirable for some member of Secretary McNamara's party-perhaps General Taylor-to press these same points with brother Nhu separately, especially if President Diem did not include his brother in meetings with Secretary McNamara. It would be important that the setting and background of any such meeting should be such as to minimize the danger of its use by Nhu as a proof of continuing American support for him.

5. The President asked Secretary McNamara if the members of his expedition could be counted on for security vis-a-vis the press, and Secretary McNamara assured him that he planned to take most energetic measures to prevent leaks by members of his mission.

6. Mr. Ball suggested, and the President agreed, that a further effort be made to emphasize to the SVN government the folly of sending Mme. Nhu to the U.S. at this time. (In this connection the President noted that Mme. Nhu had now included "junior U.S. officers" under her fire; he remarked that as long as she had limited her criticism to the President, her opposition had not been serious but that an attack on subordinates of the Pentagon was obviously intolerable.)

7. The President emphasized to Secretary McNamara the importance of getting to the bottom of differences in reporting from U.S. representatives in Vietnam. Secretary McNamara agreed that this was a major element in his mission and said that his own judgment was more and more that the Ambassador and his associates were thinking in terms of the future course of the struggle in the light of the present behavior of the regime, while General Harkins and the military were reporting on the present or very recent military situation and discounting the possible impact of political events on the future course of operations. (This estimate coincided precisely with what the President himself had said some days earlier after reading Lodge's major cable 478 from Saigon.)/3/

/3/Document 86.

8. The President was sure that Diem would spend a good deal of time on his troubles with the press. He thought Secretary McNamara should agree that the press has not always been right in its accounts. (The President thought there was a great deal of truth in Joe Alsop's column that morning/4/ which dealt with the zealous spirit of criticism and complaint among certain newspapermen in Saigon.) But the only way to deal with such press criticism was to get on with the job. "The way to confound the press is to win the war."

/4/Joseph Alsop's column, "Matter of Fact," entitled "The Crusaders," appeared in The Washington Post, September 23.

9. General Taylor thought it would be useful to work out a time schedule within which we expect to get this job done and to say plainly to Diem that we were not going to be able to stay beyond such and such a time with such and such forces, and that the war must be won in this time period. The President did not say "yes" or "no" to this proposal.

10. It was agreed that the President would send out to Saigon a draft letter to Diem, and in signing the memorandum of instructions he said that he believed the question of delivery of the letter could be settled by the Secretary with Ambassador Lodge, without further reference to him for approval.



144. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, September 23, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam. Top Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Hilsman.

Dear Cabot: I am taking advantage of Mike Forrestal's safe hands to add four rather personal points.

The first is that I have the feeling that more and more of the town is coming around to our view and that if you in Saigon and we in the Department stick to our guns the rest will also come around. As Mike will tell you, a determined group here will back you all the way.

I think you are probably right in the judgment that no pressures--even a cut-off in aid--will cause Diem and Nhu to make the changes we desire and that what we must work for is a change in government. But I also think that selective aid cuts are the first step in putting starch in the spaghetti--which is the second point I wanted to make.

The third point is the reasons behind this judgment. High-ranking generals in a country like Viet-Nam are reluctant to set loose the forces that will follow a change in government. Inevitably in such a period of flux, able colonels and majors will displace at least some of them and they know it. Thus, generals are not going to move until the forces below them--the middle-grade officers--generate enough pressure to convince the generals that they must act first. The only way to generate this broad pressure from below, it seems to me, is for the U.S. to maintain its posture of public disapproval and to make this disapproval real and credible by cuts directed at what we disapprove. (At the same time we should be preparing for a quick reorientation of the LOC's to support the field units and programs directly, bypassing the Saigon Government entirely.)

My fourth and final point is entirely personal-to say that you have handled an incredibly difficult task superbly. My very heartiest and most sincere congratulations./2/

/2/Lodge responded in a letter to Hilsman, September 26, which reads in part as follows:
"We are working on selective aid cuts without too much confidence in their effectiveness.
"But I agree with you on the United States maintaining its posture of silent disapproval. In fact I have never realized before in my life how much attention silence could attract. As you know, Madame Nhu is attacking me in her newspaper for being so silent." (Ibid.)

Good Luck,
Roger Hilsman/3/

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


145. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff/1/

Washington, September 23, 1963.

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

Forrestal asked if there were any last minute instructions. Harriman said to reserve State's position. Say they can't speak for State.

Harriman mentioned that he listened to CBS this morning and got the flavor of the lady who is coming here./2/ He said he was worried. He said she said she was a true friend because she was telling us where we made our mistakes.

/2/Madame Nhu.

Harriman said it was important that no one official see her.

Harriman said he thought he would talk to one or two people about this. He said he would talk to Al Friendly./3/

/3/Harriman's conversation with Friendly of CBS is not printed. (Memorandum of telephone conversation, September 23; Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations)

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