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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, January-August 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 146-165

146. Memorandum for the Record by Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Berry, Jr./1/

En Route to Saigon, September 23, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington Federal Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back Up Documents and Notes, 9/25/63-Trip to SVN. Secret.

Secretary McNamara's Instructions to Party Delivered Aboard Plane, 1230-1330 (EDST) 23 September 1963

1. Mission. Mr. McNamara read the President's memorandum of instruction/2/ and commented that the essence of the mission is to appraise the effectiveness of the SVN military effort to defeat the Viet Cong and to evaluate present and future prospects for success. If the prognosis is not hopeful, what action must be taken by SVN and what must USG do to lead SVN to that action?

/2/Document 142.

2. Letter to Diem. The President will forward to Saigon a letter to Diem/3/ which Lodge will deliver when Lodge and McNamara call on Diem. Letter will be presented to Diem on judgment of Lodge and McNamara. Not necessary to refer decision to President.

/3/See Document 147.

3. Press Statements. While mission of party is inevitably broader than military, all press and public statements must emphasize military nature of the mission. Members of party should not mention publicly political aspects of trip.

4. Congressional Testimony. Immediately upon return, Mr. McNamara and General Taylor expect to be called to testify before Congress. Their testimony must be based on thorough investigation and extensive field trip.

5. Field Trips. Extensive field trips are necessary to build acceptable public posture. Each team member should spend maximum time possible in field. Mr. McNamara and General Taylor will spend most of their time traveling. Mr. Colby will spend most of his time in Saigon. Mr. Forrestal and Mr. Sullivan should alternate working in Saigon and traveling with McNamara-Taylor. So should Mr. Bundy and General Krulak.

6. Overall Assignment to Members of Party. Mr. McNamara make following assignments:

a. Mr. Bundy: Edit report.

b. Mr. Forrestal: Assist Mr. Bundy edit report.

c. Mr. Colby: Evaluate intelligence.

(1) Why do so many conflicting intelligence reports exist? Evaluate views of individuals and agencies.

(2) Appraise trends of SVN society.

d. Mr. Sullivan: Evaluate conflicting views of US personnel in SVN.

e. General Krulak: Determine attitude of GVN and US military.

7. Individuals to be contacted.

a. Mr. Forrestal:

American businessmen-

Lincoln Brownell

George Calfo

b. Mr. Sullivan:





French British

Jacques Poulton (French businessman)

Thuc (Dean of Law School)

Labor Leaders

c. Mr. Bundy:

ICC Members--

Cox (Canadian)

Goburdhan (Indian)

d. Mr. Colby:

SVN businessmen

SVN labor leaders

e. Gen. Krulak:

British and Australian Military Mission--


Cable questions to Thompson through Serong

8. Questions to be answered. All members of the group should seek answers to the following questions. However, primary responsibility for ascertaining answers is assigned to individual cited.

a. (Colby) Have key elements of SVN power base moved away from Diem? What are these elements? How far away from Diem have they moved? What is their likely future trend?

b. (Colby) How serious is the student movement? Is it voluntary? If not, how organized? Who organized it? What of its future?

c. (Krulak) Is there increasing unrest among the military? Has the situation changed since May? How? What of the future? (Sullivan will also assess views on this question held within the US Embassy.)

d. (Forrestal) How has the SVN economy been affected by the recent unrest? What of the future?

e. (Sullivan and Colby) What of the civil servants? How is their morale? What of the future?

f. (Bundy and Sullivan) What is the true picture concerning political control of the village and hamlets? Do we have an accurate way of measuring this? If not, how can we measure accurately the picture of the situation in each hamlet? Does the USOM report of-the situation in the hamlets jibe with the Jacob Coat chart? /4/

/4/Not further identified.

g. (Forrestal) Can our military and economic aid be used as a lever to move Diem government to follow our recommendations? If so, how?

h. (Sylvester) What can be done to improve relationships with the press and reporting by the press? Have other national presses followed the same line as US press?

i. (All) Is GVN government operated effectively as compared with the past?

j. (All) What changes have occurred in the physical and mental health of Diem and Nhu?

k. (All) Has there been a shift in relationship of Diem and Nhu? If so, what? How does their relationship today compare with that of the past?

1. (All) Is it likely that Diem can retain effective political power?

m. (All) If he can, can we expect the military effort to succeed? Or will it deteriorate? (This is the crucial question.)

Mr. McNamara enjoined all members of party to list additional questions and give them to Mr. Bundy for consolidation and use in guiding inquiry and writing final report.

9. General guidance.

a. Effort will be made to hold daily staff meeting, probably in early morning. Will be conducted by Mr. McNamara or Mr. Colby, whichever plans to be in Saigon for day.

b. Single reporting system to Washington to be in effect for entire party, perhaps daily reporting cables. Any differences of opinion will be cited in group cable.

c. Inform Mr. Sylvester of all press contacts--formal or informal--in advance when possible. Always have third party present.

d. All members of party make daily memoranda for record. Give to Mr. Bundy for use in preparing final report.

10. Final Report.

a. Must be completed before return to Washington.

b. Guides for report are proposed outline prepared by General Krulak and master list of questions consolidated by Mr. Bundy.

c. To maximum extent, report will be worked out in Saigon. Layover in Honolulu is scheduled for completion of report.

d. Should there be any dissenting views, they will be cited in the final report.

11. Summary.

The job is to appraise the course of the war, the present and future of the Diem government, and to determine how the US can best influence the SVN government.

Sidney B. Berry, Jr.
Lt. Col, USA
Military Assistant


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

Washington, September 24, 1963, 9:25 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET-US. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft with Harriman and McGeorge Bundy. Repeated to USUN eyes only for Secretary Rusk.

476. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge and Secretary McNamara. Herewith text of letter from President to President Diem. President's own judgment is that this letter is not appropriate and not likely to be productive unless in your judgment after further consultation situation is so serious that Presidential pressure of this sort is essential. President does not believe that this kind of letter can be used more than once in a situation of this sort and unless you disagree, his belief is that McNamara can make these points for him orally with less likelihood of personal offense.

Alternatively, somewhat softer language may remove this difficulty. Please tell us what you both think./2/

/2/In telegram 593 from Saigon, September 25, Lodge and McNamara transmitted their views. The telegram reads as follows:
"We both agree with the President's conclusion. Situation is very serious but is not likely to be influenced by the delivery of a letter from the President to Diem and, therefore, we recommend against transmitting one to him." (Ibid., POL 1 S VIET-US)

Letter begins:

"Dear Mr. President:

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

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

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

4. By the hardest kind of joint endeavor, in which of course your people have borne the heavier and the more immediate responsibility, the contest against the Communists in the last year and a half has gradually but steadily turned in our favor. New levels of alertness and skill were developed in the forces of your country; and the essential program of strategic hamlets was pressed forward with steadily increasing energy and speed. Each of us, I know, pays close attention to our reports from all over the country on the course of the struggle against the Viet Cong, and I am sure that these reports agree on the basic proposition that the war has been going well in a considerable portion of your country, at least until very recently.

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

6. It may well be your view that American opinion has been misled on these recent events, and I recognize that this is always a possibility in a world in which the accurate judgment of distant happenings is difficult. But that leads me to urge upon you as strongly as I can that the only way to correct this difficulty is to allow more and not less reporting by Americans and by other newsmen in your country. If there is one principle upon which my people are united, by Constitutional commitment, conviction, and tradition, it is that the way to get at the truth is to let people see for themselves--regardless of the irritations and criticism that a free press inevitably produces.

7. I must stress that, as I found it necessary to say publicly three weeks ago, we in our Government are gravely troubled by the danger that some of the methods used by some members of your Government may be creating a situation in which it will not be possible to sustain public support in Vietnam for the struggle against the Communists. What I must make clear is the effect recent events are having upon the situation here in the United States.

8. At the present time it is a fact that unless there can be important changes and improvements in the relations between the Government and people in your country, opinion in the United States, both in the public and in the Congress, will make it impossible for me to continue without change the great cooperative programs which we have been pressing together since 1961. I have said publicly that we do not wish to cut off our aid programs at this time, but it would be wrong for me not to let you know that a change is inevitable unless the situation in Vietnam takes a major visible and credible turn for the better.

9. At a minimum, and within a short period of time, it will become necessary for this Government to take actions which make it clear that American cooperation and American assistance will not be given to or through individuals whose acts and words seem to run against the purpose of genuine reconciliation and unified national effort against the Communists. Otherwise, it will become impossible for us to keep on with our major effort in support of your country. Unless I can show the American people that the United States is wholly dissociated from the public figures and public acts which have raised grave questions here, I clearly cannot ask the support of the American people and the Congress for the central effort.

10. There is much more that needs to be talked out between our two countries on these grave matters. I am asking Ambassador Lodge, as my personal representative, to express my views to you in complete frankness and to be at your disposal for further discussion. I have also instructed Secretary McNamara and General Taylor to review and to report to me on the present military situation. What Ambassador Lodge says to you has my explicit authorization and approval; I have given him complete authority in all aspects of United States operations in South Vietnam, and I rely upon his judgment. Of course I shall also welcome a direct expression of your personal views in a message to me at any time.

11. I repeat that it remains the central purpose of the United States in its friendly relations with South Vietnam to defeat the aggressive designs of the Communists. But I must also repeat that this purpose can only be achieved if major steps are speedily taken to remove the obstacles that have so seriously and regrettably impaired our cooperative effort." Ends.



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

Washington, September 25, 1963, 4:24 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET Top Secret, Priority. Drafted by Mendenhall; cleared by Barnett, Bundy, and in substance by Janow of AID; and approved by Hilsman.

478. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Para 2 your 555./2/ We have been giving careful thought to your views re desirability avoiding actions on aid which would hurt standard of living of masses. We believe continued holding up of commercial import programs and new PL 480 sales will have greatest effect on monetized sector of economy, limited effects on less monetized sector, and little or no effects on non-monetized sector.

/2/Document 137.

We would accordingly expect that effects on mass of rural people who subsist largely on what they produce (except for textiles) would be minimal. In cities prices almost all items consumed except domestically produced foodstuffs could be expected to rise, but again we would estimate that these foodstuffs (rice, nouc man and fish) represent major items in budgets of mass of people. We would anticipate in case of key item of rice that GVN would in interest its own political position endeavor keep prices under control through export licensing restrictions, as it has traditionally done in recent years whenever rice prices threatened to rise.

If contrary to expectations aid suspension did result in sharp price rises for little man perhaps effects could be offset by expanded program of PL 480, Title II, relief operations in countryside. Could such operations be administered in cities through private organizations like Catholic Relief Services and analogous Buddhist organizations to prevent channeling relief supplies through GVN?



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

Saigon, September 26, 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.

1222. 1. Following is account of half hour [less than 1 line not declassified] meeting with Gen. Khiem morning 26 Sept at latter's request. Khiem explained he holding these meetings at direction of Gen. Duong Van Minh who wants to keep this channel open on continuing basis. Khiem in turn reports contents of conversations to Minh and to Minh only. [less than 1 1ine not declassified] Khiem pleased there no leaks so far.

2. Khiem cited recent Viet Cong show of strength in battlefield, where ARVN losses for first time almost as heavy as Viet Cong's. He added that through recent operations mounted by Col. Phnoc of ARVN J-2 (Comment: From other sources known to have been in progress for past few weeks) evidence is mounting steadily that VC very strong, have thoroughly completed plan and have assets in place for takeover attempt in Saigon should any major disturbance occur.

3. Khiem aware that coup planning by "civilians" continues. "Civilians" of course not aware of evidence of Viet Cong strength in possession of Generals nor can they be told.

4. Thus while Generals (i.e., Minh, Khiem, and Khanh) have not abandoned contingency (unspecified) planning for later action should it be necessary, they now firmly determined not attempt overthrow Diem pending latter's decision on governmental changes requested by Generals (see Saig-40 IN 21 114)./2/ Khiem now somewhat optimistic that Diem will go along. Khiem indirectly set date of 4 Oct as Generals' deadline for Diem's acceptance of Generals' recommendations.

/2/Document 119.

5. Optimism stems from fact that Generals feel Diem now accepting grave danger posed by VC which direct result of Diem's wrong policies in past and mistakes made in governmental structure up to present.

6. Once in possession of key ministries (at one point desirability of Big Minh for Defense and Gen. Don for Interior discussed) and with clear lines in the chain of command from Defense to sector chiefs in military field and from Interior to province chiefs who would have no say so on military operations, Generals confident nation will be in position effectively to fight threats from within and from DRV (Khiem mentioned that Generals harping with Diem on very real threat from without and Generals opine this probably decisive factor in Diem's present tendency to go along with Generals recommendations).

7. Diem has already taken one step desired by Generals by signing some three or four days ago an order specifically placing Col. Tung and his Special Forces High Command directly under Joint Chiefs of [General] Staff. How effectively this order will be implemented should become evident in very near future ([less than 1 line not declassified] commented that JCS could well start with inquiry as Tung's disposal of funds available to him).

8. Diem has also taken another action which pleases the Generals by shipping Dr. Tuyen out of the country./3/ Khiem considers Tuyen one of Nhu's men most responsible for ineffectiveness of civilian organs in fight against Viet Cong.

/3/As the Republic of Vietnam's diplomatic representative to the United Arab Republic.

9. In somewhat daydreaming comment on how new government would function, Khiem said that with all Dept posts in hands of military, Counsellor Nhu's influence on conduct of affairs of nation will be minimal.

10. Field comment: We do not share Khiem's belief that Diem will accept and introduce recommendations made by the General Officers to the extent hoped for by Khiem.


150. Report by the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

Saigon, September 26, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Record Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back-up Documents and Notes, 9/25/63--Trip to SVN. Secret.


/2/According to William P. Bundy, who accompanied McNamara to Vietnam, Professor Smith is a pseudonym. Bundy recalls that "Smith," who was also in Saigon at the time, "was a long-standing student and writer on Vietnam who had been a totally strong supporter of Diem up to that point." Bundy thinks that "Smith's" opinions carried "special weight" because of his previous support for Diem. He remembers that it was his impression at the time that "Smith's" testimony had "considerable weight with McNamara." (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, William R Bundy, June 26, 1984)

Smith, a professor at a leading American University, speaks Vietnamese fluently, is an oriental scholar, possesses wide contact among the leaders of both North and South Vietnam, and in the course of his daily work has access to transcripts of NVN radio broadcasts and to personal letters and other documents smuggled out of NVN. He is just completing a visit to SVN, having last visited the country in 1960 and 1953. During this trip he did not travel extensively outside of Saigon. In a long interview with McNamara he stated:

1. He brought with him to SVN a belief that we could probably manage to get along with Diem and it would be dangerous to make a change. After several weeks here, he has changed his mind.

2. Diem has aged terribly since 1960. He is slow mentally.

3. Nhu is a person with his back to the wall; he has spread the fear of arrest in non-political figures throughout all segments of Saigon; he is in a panic and has reached a stage of desperation.

4. Diem would not last 24 hours without Nhu who handles the bribes and manipulates the power base necessary for his survival. Nhu would not last 24 hours without the cloak of Diem's prestige. Each knows his need for the other.

5. It is impossible to liberalize the regime. Diem is incapable of changing. Therefore we must choose between winning with the regime as it is or supporting a change to another.

6. For years the public has been criticizing the regime but has done so behind their hands. Now the criticism is open, by people in the streets, and participated in by soldiers and policemen.

7. The treatment of the Buddhists has particularly stuck in the gullets of all class of Vietnamese. They are shocked by the use of troops on sacred ground. It has struck deeper than anything else the regime has done and the action disgusts Catholics and Buddhists alike. There is no Buddhist-Catholic clash. There has been no formal Buddhist organization in the past; suddenly people have been organized with press handouts, etc. There was latent opposition to the regime throughout the country which crystallized around the Buddhists after the Hue incident. It is clearly a political and not a religious movement.

8. The first point to study carefully is: Can we win with this regime. He believes we cannot. Then we must face the question of what is going to replace it. Any movement away from the regime is extremely risky. Neither the students nor the Buddhists can overthrow the government. Only a military coup or an assassination will be effective and one or the other is likely to occur soon. In such circumstances we have a 50% chance of getting something better.

9. The Ambassador's policy of silence has won approval everywhere except in the palace.

10. Thompson said last week the strategic hamlet program has proven it will work. The NVN broadcasts have attacked nothing as much as the hamlet program.

11. Through independent sources he has confirmed that Nhu told Alsop what Alsop reported Nhu said/3/ and that the NVN have approached Nhu through the French as Nhu reported.

/3/See footnote 2, Document 151.

12. A colonel in the Army, a mutual friend of Nhu and the professor, reports that a few days ago Nhu inquired how the Army would react to negotiations with the NVN. The colonel told Nhu that he would not live 24 hours after the start of such negotiations.

13. If the Communists take over control of SVN, not another political leader in all of Asia will place any confidence in the world of the West. Indeed, the loss of confidence will not be limited to Asian leaders.

14. The American government cannot do anything other than to either publicly support Diem or keep our mouths shut. If we follow the latter policy, a coup will probably take place within four weeks. It will be a gamble as to who will take over power after an interim military government.

15. Professors at the University in Saigon report life has been hell; if the University is reopened the students will be out on the streets and the Dean of the Literary School will be with them.

16. Nhu is putting more and more people into jail and tension is continuing to rise. As tension rises it will eventually affect the morale of the troops. The elimination of the curfew and martial law have been accompanied by increasing arrests in the middle of the night. The jails have never been as full.

17. Coup plotting by the US would defeat its own end. We would end up with a government tarred with the reputation of an American puppet.

18. The VC have not taken advantage of the period of political instability because their political leadership is poor and NVN facing a disastrous food shortage wishes an accommodation with SVN.

19. It is soft-headed to believe that "democracy" will work under today's conditions in SVN. Many of the Diem regime's repressive measures would be continued by a successor regime. But the people will tolerate them for a time if the government will explain why they are imposed and when they may be lifted. Many in SVN today talk of a choice between perpetual repression under Diem or perpetual repression under Communists.

20. Many in SVN have been puzzled by the US attitude. The government has not spoken with one voice. If the US government, following my return, says nothing to support the Diem regime, an explosion will occur within 2, 3, or 4 weeks.

Robert S. McNamara/4/

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


151. Memorandum Prepared for the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone)/1/

Washington, September 26, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA/TOP Files: FRC 67 A 222, IAF-1963. Secret. Prepared in the CIA and transmitted to the Director of USIA by Ray S. Cline, Deputy Director (Intelligence).

Possible Rapprochement Between North and South Vietnam

1. Summary. The information, rumors and interviews on which Joseph Alsop's article in the 18 September Washington Post/2/ was based are but the most recent signs that the GVN, the DRV, and the French may have been engaged of late in exploring the possibilities of some kind of North-South rapprochement. It is highly unlikely that any such explorations seriously concern imminent reunification, since Hanoi's frequently stated conditions for unification would entail the capitulation of the GVN and the handing over of South Vietnam to the Communist North. We consider the chances less than even that the GVN is now seriously interested in some form of rapprochement of lesser dimensions than reunification--e.g., de facto cease-fire, formal cease-fire, or some variant of neutralization. Nevertheless, there is sufficient possibility of serious Ngo family interest in such latter rapprochement to merit continuing close attention. A variety of motives could induce (or may have already induced) the Ngo's to explore the possibilities of rapprochement with Hanoi: (a) a desire to develop their own "sanction" to counter threats of US aid cuts and provide the GVN some maneuverability in face of US pressures; (b) a general interest in maximizing available options during a crisis period (e.g., one in which they might find themselves losing the military support necessary to prevent total defeat); (c) and a new willingness to listen to long-standing French arguments or overtures. We would expect such exploratory activity to subside if US/GVN relations or the course of the war against the Viet Cong should improve--and, conversely, to increase if either of these should further deteriorate.

/2/Entitled "Very Ugly Stuff."

2. The Alsop article. On the basis of information available to us, Alsop's facts would appear to be essentially correct, but his conclusions should be examined in the perspective of considerations he does not mention. A chain of events somewhat similar to that which Alsop recounts occurred last year: In March 1962, Ho Chi Minh indicated in an interview with Wilfred Burchett his interest in a peaceful solution to the Vietnam problem. (It should be noted that the last confirmed visit of Burchett to North Vietnam occurred in March 1962. Hence it is possible that Alsop is referring to the 1962 visit, not a more recent one.)/3/ In September 1962, the Indian chairman of the ICC reported that Ho had said he was prepared to extend the hand of friendship to Diem ("a patriot") and that the North and South might possibly initiate several steps toward a modus vivendi, including an exchange of members of divided families. There is an appreciable difference, however, in the GVN response to the 1962 situation and its present behavior. Though rumors of some form of contact between Nhu and the Viet Cong have been extant for years, the existence of such contacts has heretofore been denied. Now, however, Nhu acknowledges contacts with the North and has dropped transparent hints that the GVN would not necessarily refuse to consider overtures from Hanoi.

/3/No copy of the March 1962 interview with Ho Chi Minh has been found. The reference to the "more recent one" is to the Burchett interview with Ho Chi Minh in May 1963; see footnote 3, Document 44.

3. Although none of the recent rumors and speculations concerning an arrangement for accommodation between the DRV and GVN has been spelled out in any detail, we believe the principal factors affecting any meaningful rapprochement would be the following:

a. Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu is a brilliant, shrewd and ambitious man, with a consummate interest in maintaining his political power and all the accoutrements necessary to its exercise. He has a deep antipathy toward the Hanoi regime, reinforced by the fact that the Viet Minh Probably tortured and killed his oldest brother. Nevertheless, it would be quite in character for Nhu--and Diem--to seek some measure of maneuverability vis-a-vis the US to avoid being boxed between two unacceptable alternatives: abject surrender to US demands or a loss of all political power. It is within this context that the likelihood of Ngo family dealings with North Vietnam should be assessed. We believe that if Nhu and Diem feel themselves soon to be faced with such extreme alternatives, they might well be moved to cast about for some sort of agreement with Hanoi. Diem would be less likely to accept an arrangement with Hanoi than his brother, but circumstances are now more propitious than before for Nhu to argue this course. Nhu's acute appreciation of Communist tactics and untrustworthiness would probably set limits to the nature of any agreements with the DRV to which he would be a willing party. Nhu would not be likely to consider unification an acceptable alternative. However, if the Ngo's were moved to seek a rapprochement with the DRV on terms less drastic than reunification--e.g., a cease-fire--they might seriously entertain the almost certain minimum DRV demand for the removal of US forces.

b. The DRV. Although recent progress made by South Vietnam in waging the war against the Viet Cong has caused Hanoi to extend its timetable, no available evidence indicates that the Communists are anything but confident of ultimate victory. Thus, Hanoi is not yet in a position where it feels any pressure to seek a rapprochement with the GVN on any but its own terms. So far as reunification is concerned, the DRV's minimum conditions--as frequently spelled out by Ho--include the termination and withdrawal of al1 US military support from South Vietnam and the establishment of a national coalition government within South Vietnam to include all political groups, including the Viet Cong. The coalition, in turn, would negotiate with Hanoi on terms of reunification for all Vietnam. These conditions would be patently unacceptable to Diem and Nhu. However, Hanoi might be willing to consider something less than reunification, particularly if it thought that its aims could thereby be achieved more quickly and cheaply than by continuing a campaign of armed insurgency. Hanoi's conditions for such a more modest rapprochement might be considerably less stringent.

c. The French. Despite present stresses in Franco-US relations, it is unlikely that France would offer to replace US assistance to the GVN (even if the French felt able to make such an offer, which they probably do not). In fact, France is not likely to make any aid offer sufficiently substantial and concrete for Nhu to feel sanguine about casting the US aside and turning toward negotiations with the DRV under an umbrella of French support. On the other hand, France would certainly not discourage--and may well be actively abetting--overtures from Saigon or Hanoi exploring the possibilities of a rapprochement and a neutralization of South Vietnam. At least some key French officials probably feel that Hanoi is almost certain to dominate the Indochinese peninsula eventually since the army and political organization which vanquished France is not going to be defeated by the South Vietnamese, even with US assistance. To persons of such persuasion, it probably appears that France's long-term interests lie in seeking a posture which wins Hanoi's friendship and may one day enable France to serve as Hanoi's bridge to the West. One indication of the existence of such sentiments is the degree of French support enjoyed by Tran Van Huu--a former French puppet premier under Bao Dai who now resides in Paris and actively advocates a neutralist solution for South Vietnam. French attitudes toward Vietnam are colored by a desire to regain as much influence as possible in Indochina, reinforced by a dislike at seeing US predominance in South Vietnam and Laos. Officials holding such views are likely to receive a sympathetic hearing from De Gaulle, for there is little in such lines of argument that he would not find appealing.

d. Attitudes within South Vietnam. Even if Nhu himself were inclined in this direction, he would find "selling" a deal with Hanoi to key elements of the Vietnamese population a delicate and difficult problem. The difficulties, in fact, would appear virtually insurmountable at the present time. Nhu could not reasonably expect to effect any real rapprochement with the North without signaling his intent to the ARVN generals-and the US intelligence community. During recent weeks, ARVN generals have indicated that any approach to the North on Nhu's part would provide them with the necessary excuse to "save South Vietnam" by mounting a coup. Nhu's adroitness and skill in political manipulation cannot be ignored, however, and if he were genuinely anxious to pursue such a tack, he might believe, rightly or wrongly, that he could outmaneuver even his military opponents particularly if he had some commitment of French assistance.

4. Caveat. The preceding argument is based on the assumption that Diem and Nhu, although operating under tremendous pressures, remain essentially rational. Some observers, including Alsop, feel that both Ngo brothers may no longer be rational. Should this be the case, the likelihood of Nhu's endeavoring to seek an accommodation with Hanoi must be assessed considerably higher than indicated above, for Nhu's essential judgments of his own capabilities, his country's interests, and the degree of the Communist threat would no longer be balanced or realistic. To a somewhat less extent the same would also have to be said of Diem-though he would be more likely to withdraw totally from the world (e.g., into a monastery) and leave all political decisions to his brother.


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

Saigon, September 27, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Top Secret; Priority; Eyes Only. Received at 1:36 a.m. and passed to the White House and to Rusk at USUN.

602. Reference: Department telegram 478./2/

/2/Document 148.

1. No disagreement with your analysis in general terms. In my para 2 Embtel 555,/3/ I was thinking of poor people in towns and cities who may get caught up in inflationary spiral following in the wake of aid cut-off. Agree food, clothing and shelter represent bulk their expenditures, but aid imports not unrelated these items. In direct sense, milk and cotton financed in past by us. We also finance such things as medicines, raw material for many other products consumed by such people. It is our estimate that if shortages and price increases occur for various commodities this may have radiation effect on other commodities having no relation to shortage imported commodities. This, in short, was intent my message.

/3/Document 137.

2. Agree that government will try insure stability rice prices and present GVN stock position such that effective demand can be readily satisfied. Your questions on free distribution surplus foods difficult to answer. CRS unable cope with present program for lack qualified administrative personnel; no analogous Buddhist organization in existence. Further, there are considerable stocks flour in Saigon warehouses under CRS program which could be quickly put to use, if necessary. Our guess that in such eventuality GVN would insist on getting into act.

3. My staff is continuously assessing economic and price indicators and so far see no reason for altering our present posture "maximum administrative delay".



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

Saigon, September 27, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, INF 8 US. Top Secret. Received at 2:53 p.m. A handwritten note on the source text indicates it was passed to the White House.

605. Pass to USIA for Murrow.

1. I propose that immediate study be made to ascertain the feasibility of VOA broadcasting a series of utterances in Vietnamese to South Viet-Nam at regular intervals, said utterances being well edited and well presented statements of basic American ideals such as free speech, free press, habeas corpus, due process, dignity of the individual, pursuit of happiness, all men created equal, government is the servant of the people, etc. At present virtually all these principles are being flagrantly violated in Viet-Nam. In fact, I have just received well authenticated report of the police knocking on doors in the middle of the night and taking the women in the family off to jail for interrogation.

2. Purpose of this proposal should be to arouse Vietnamese people to a point which would worry Diem and Nhu to the point where they would complain to me and thus provide leverage to U.S. foreign policy objectives.

3. My belief that this might be effective is based on Diem's complaint to me against Armed Forces Radio broadcasts here which mentioned free speech, and no arrest without trial. This material came from the American Heritage series and was used to fill the space which had been used by the commercial when the main program had been broadcast in the U.S. AFRS was told "palace was upset". If such things disturb Diem and are regarded by him as a threat to his power structure, they might give us leverage with him.

4. Surely it is much better for U.S. influence to be asserted through the force of our ideals rather than through our money or our power plays, necessary though these sometimes are. The Viet Cong, for example, do a good deal with very mediocre equipment and this is due at least in part to the appeal of their ideals, although terrorism also plays a large role.

5. It might just be that in the present tense time this would cause more anxiety than withholding of commercial import funds is doing.

6. Would it not be a splendid thing for our world-wide reputation for us to get hard things done in Viet-Nam through the power of American ideas?

7. All of the above is based on my belief that VOA has large audience in Viet-Nam.

8. Mecklin concurs.



154. Report by the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

Saigon, undated.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back Up Documents and Notes 9/25/63-Trip to SVN. Secret.


During a long interview, lasting two hours, Richardson stated (in his words and sequence of thought):

1. The Buddhist crisis crystallized the discontent which had been lying dormant for some time.

2. The future is so uncertain he cannot predict what will happen.

3. The massive arrests of the students has been very bad.

4. The arrests include the arrest of children of the military officers and high-ranking bureaucrats.

5. The night arrests are particularly bad for they cause the people to hate you.

6. R/2/ told Diem that for each cabinet member it is a personal crisis.

/2/"R" is a code name for Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Vietnamese Secretary of State at the Presidency and Assistant Secretary of State for National Defense.

7. What he particularly deplores is the climate of suspicion.

8. Diem is still respected but they can't swallow his family.

9. R particularly fears action by the highest level of the armed forces.

10. Twice within the last few days R turned down proposals that he be Secretary General of the Council; Diem said this makes you Prime Minister but R said he can't accept such a post in this Administration.

11. R has been told he is under surveillance--the family looks on him as an American.

12. He does not see anyone with enough moral authority to replace Diem but the course Diem and his family are following will lead to disaster.

13. Diem is devoted to his country but wed to his family.

14. The relationships between the US military advisors and their counterparts are good, but if the atmosphere of suspicion does not evaporate, the lower levels of the Vietnamese will withdraw from that relationship--"I see the process".

15. Diem is respected; he has a lot of moral qualities, but people are damaging his reputation and that will ruin him. It is a tragedy.

16. "I ask you Mr. Secretary to be very firm; it is the only way. Don't cut off aid; suspend the aid."

17. Diem is anxious about the delay in commercial aid.

18. After talking to high-ranking officials in the SVN armed forces, R has nightmares. But men are capable of doing very stupid things.

19. Four generals have asked to be in the cabinet. They are very dangerous.

20. To save his country we must put pressure on Diem to force him to stop the repressive measures and force Nhu to leave. Otherwise a coup will occur and this will be disastrous.

21. Nhu was the instigator of the attack against the pagodas.

22. Don't believe what you see on the surface; the people are angry.

23. The episode of the students is absolutely horrible.

24. In the bottom of their hearts many officers have been fumed against the government.

25. The Navy Commander who saved Diem's life in 1960 can't even convince his own father of the merit of the government.

26. People hate Madame Nhu and her brother. If Nhu tried to succeed his brother, there will be war.

27. Not only have there been night arrests, but kidnappings by the Surete.

28. The night arrests are terrible; mothers try to delay the taking of their daughters until dawn. It is horrible--like Kadar in Hungary.

29. You asked me "How many people were arrested; how many released?" "I don't know."

30. The managing editor of Trudo, a paper suspected of being pro-American has now been jailed.

31. The feeling of many of the cabinet members is that they are fed up. They want to resign. But if they do, they are lost. Many cannot afford to leave the country and those who don't will be put in jail. There were 36 secret agents in Mau's house when he was going to leave.

32. R told Diem: you can't survive without American aid. The plaster will go, then the dong--the rate is already dropping.

33. Khiem, the brother of Madame Nhu and head of the secret police, is a mad man and obsessed with sex. R is on his assassination list.

34. The Minister of Economics, a devout Catholic, told R he could not sleep last night thinking of Nhu's statements which were so anti-American. He believed no one could benefit other than the Communists and this led him to conclude there must be a Communist behind him.

Robert S. McNamara/3/

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


155. Editorial Note

Under new election laws adopted by the National Assembly on June 13, 1963, and promulgated by President Diem on June 16, elections for the Republic of Vietnam's National Assembly were to take place on August 31. The laws called for a 2-week active campaign beginning on August 16 and culminating on election day. The events of August 21 and the imposition of martial law delayed this schedule, and elections were ultimately held on September 27. On October 7, the Embassy submitted to the Department in airgram 249 a report on the campaign and the elections. The following comprises the summary portion of that report:

"Preceding election day on September 27, potential candidates had been effectively limited by a variety of factors ranging from a general sense of the hazards of independent politics to quite specific indications that their particular candidacies were unwelcome. One candidate with a reputation for independent views, Nguyen Tran, was disqualified. Thus on September 27 the alternatives before the voters were limited; there was no known oppositionist in the running. This fact suggested that any candidate still in contention would be more or less acceptable to the government, or at least not seriously opposed thereby, and this consideration was probably a major factor in the government's decision to proceed with the elections at this time. The advantages in so proceeding depended on the government's ability (a) to produce a large voter turnout, thus refuting the idea of popular discontent which might manifest itself in abstentions from the polls, (b) to maintain tight public security against the threat of VC disruptive activity or popular manifestations, and (c) to administer the voting in a manner that appeared both fair and efficient, so as to enhance the government's prestige both among its own people and internationally. In general, the government appeared to have succeeded on these points, although some doubt is cast on point (c) by the existence of charges of various malpractices such as the issuance of more than one voting card to 'reliable' individuals and of manipulated vote-counting. If such practices in fact took place, the Embassy doubts that they were designed to swing elections to particular individuals (the GVN did have a list of favorites, and did work for them), although this may have been the incidental result. It seems more likely that such practices were designed to insure the appearance of a large voter turnout which was a factor of more concern to the government. It is of course also possible that corruption or misplaced zeal at the local level may have influenced some results.

"In general, the GVN ability to mount successfully an effort such as that represented by the election in the present state of popular feeling represents impressive evidence of the GVN's ability to control its own people (not, however, of its popularity), to carry out a complex and widespread organizational project, and to maintain a surprisingly high degree of security against potential VC disruptive efforts. Not to be entirely ignored either, is the long-run benefit resulting from the training of both government and people in the basic mechanics of electoral procedures.

"With regard to the victorious candidates for the 123 seats, these included 60 incumbents (25 incumbents were beaten). 96 candidates who were supported by the GVN (according to a CAS report) won election. These included 55 members of the National Revolutionary Movement (NRM) and 19 women, all of whom are probably members of the Women's Solidarity Movement (WSM). On the other hand, based on the same CAS resort, GVN-supported candidates were defeated in 15 cases (the GVN remaining neutral in the rest of the elections). It is not clear that all these 15 defeats will be allowed to stand, since some challenges to the elections held in Saigon have already been registered, and it remains possible that various devices might be used to overturn the results already recorded. Nevertheless, the GVN is likely to acquiesce in most (if not all) of these defeats.

"The new legislature will have an almost even balance between new deputies and incumbents, and among the new faces will be two deputies of Chinese-origin, representing the first emergence of the Cholon Chinese community into Vietnamese public life. Missing from the new Assembly will be such relatively independent figures, who tended to be identified with organized labor, as Pham Van Tung and Tran Sanh Buu. These men were, interestingly enough, beaten by the two Chinese-origin deputies. As has been indicated, the extent to which candidates were screened as well as the large percentage of government-backed candidates who won, combine to suggest that the most conspicuous characteristic of the new Assembly will be its docility. Given the already established powerlessness of the National Assembly as an institution, the new personnel do not appear likely to cast themselves in the role of innovators. Any significant evolution in the function of the Assembly during the next few years will therefore probably have to depend on initiatives taken outside the legislature itself." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 14 S VIET)

The elections took place with only minor and isolated incidents of violence notwithstanding earlier reports, mostly based on Government of Vietnam sources, that the Viet Cong sought to sabotage the voting procedures on a countrywide basis. As the Embassy observed elsewhere in airgram A-249, the lack of violence "provided a remarkable example either of VC indifference to the idea of disrupting the elections or of GVN ability to provide a high degree of security at least for a short time over its national territory." The Embassy also noted that the elections represented a "calculated risk" to the Diem government in that they gave voters the option of leaving their ballots blank as a sign of disapproval, and polling stations provided a potential focus for popular demonstrations against the government. On the other hand, the Embassy noted, the Diem government stood to gain in domestic and international prestige if it could carry off the elections successfully. While the Embassy was unprepared to accept the stated 92.82 percent voter participation at face value, it did believe there was a massive voter turnout, in part because of subtle official pressure and in part because of the holiday atmosphere which the Diem government attempted to associate with the elections.


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

Saigon, September 27, 1963, 9 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Top Secret; Priority; Eyes Only. Received at 10:18 a.m. and passed to the White House at 12:48 p.m. and to Rusk at USUN at 1 p.m.

608. Deptel 447./2/ Following comments on possible means of exerting pressure on GVN without interfering seriously with war effort were prepared by USOM Director Brent. Analysis strikes me as sound and I hope will be helpful in Washington consideration of problem:

/2/Document 140.

1. We must recognize that the management of the aid program cannot alone achieve major political changes or reversals in direction. Properly timed announcements and actions on aid matters can be used to reinforce and make effective other strategic moves.

2. In Viet-Nam the problem is complicated by the security situation and the US strategic interest. We must face the fact that we cannot hold SVN without the Vietnamese; they can hold for a considerable length of time without us. It is politically intolerable to postulate the possibility of our assuming the position the French were in during the period 1947-1954.

3. Since the GVN is as aware of these facts as we, it is not reasonable to assume sudden success of any moves we might make which rely either solely or largely on the aid program.

4. Items 1 through 4 of Deptel 447 are largely "psychological" rather than "real" in their impact. The GVN could compensate for any of these actions through diversions of materials and funds or through other measures. Recognizing these limitations, we believe they can exert great pressure on the GVN if appropriately publicized in each case as symbols of US determination to disassociate ourselves from the Palace Guard. Properly handled, they can undermine the "political credit rating" of Nhu (and by inference Diem) and at the same time improve the US image in Asia and elsewhere and assuage US public opinion which Washington feels important at this time.

5. The careful timing of each move is important. The tactical moves cannot be trotted out at any time with equal effect. Each move should follow immediately on the heels of a new provocation on the part of the GVN to show a cause and effect relationship. These provocations may be directed either against the US (occurring almost daily in "The Times of Viet-Nam" and in Mme. Nhu's tirades abroad) or against the Vietnamese populace.

6. The individual tactical moves must be part of a larger plan having the purpose of changing the composition or the policies of the present government. We assume that we are concluding that the war cannot be won on a permanent basis with the present government; that covert negotiation with the military will proceed concurrently with other US actions to effect a change in government, and that the management of the aid is designed to reinforce such other attempts to change the government. If this assumption is incorrect, the moves outlined in paragraphs 1-4 of Deptel 447 hold little promise for achieving our objectives.

7. Publicity or exploitation of tactical moves in the aid program may vary from use of VOA, leaking to the press by the Ambassador or merely passing out to key GVN officials.

8. With respect to the individual suggestions:

(a) GVN written guarantees--This action should only be taken on programs we are prepared and willing to terminate. The GVN would in all likelihood refuse such guarantees as an affront implying past or proposed "repressions" on their part. Then we would proceed to suspend the aid project we had selected for such treatment and appropriate publicity would put the GVN in the position of having refused to give guarantees against repression. We could select, for such treatment, items in the police program to lend additional credibility to our position.

(b) Combat police and DGI--Though the discrimination between elements of the programs being used against the Viet Cong and those not so engaged will be difficult given the war footing of the nation as a whole, we nevertheless feel there is considerable opportunity for psychological impact in this area.

(c) Hamlet militia leaders--Concur with idea that US withdraw support and suggest that word be passed along to GVN military that US not prepared support personal political vehicles of Nhu.

(d) DOD psywar--We suggest that [garble] withhold funds for this item in their joint support budget and then tell General Oai that we are doing this because of the close tie-in of his activities with the personal fortunes of Counsellor Nhu. Hopefully this will have the effect of making the psywar effort more independent of Nhu's direction since the operation itself is one we would prefer to continue to support.

9. Item 8 of Deptel 447 suggests the accumulation of substantial plaster resources for use by the US directly in the provinces. There is now on deposit in the Bank of Viet-Nam about $2-3 million worth of plasters belonging to the US Government as repayments on prior years Mutual Security Program loans. We could gradually withdraw those funds and hold in escrow as cash for unilateral operations during a short period of administrative foul-up in the wake of a coup or coup attempt. We do not recommend dollar purchases, especially large-scale purchases, because (1) it would frustrate our cut-back on commercial imports by yielding the GVN foreign exchange for expenditures anywhere, and (2) it would put us immediately under suspicion of contemplating a takeover operation. If we should ever get ourselves in the unfortunate position of fighting a war on the side of rebellious Generals while the Ngo family still retains power in Saigon, we could pump in dollars or military scrip and make that acceptable currency in the regions we control.

10. Regarding questions on the commercial import program, reserves are at about $150-160 million and annual earnings of foreign exchange are about $60-70 million. This would provide sufficient exchange for almost 12 months of commercial imports at the present level of licensing (excluding major investment projects and military hardware). We are assuming that the GVN would draw down reserves for a period of time rather than permit serious shortages to occur and prices to rise, in order to frustrate the US efforts to force the government to capitulate to our demands for reform.

After some months of aid cut-offs we could expect importers and government bureaucrats to become worried that reserves will be exhausted and hoarding, speculation, and major price increases to set in. This would be the period of major psychological impact on the government and it is our estimate they would be more inclined to talk than they are now.

If we were to elect to be more selective in the management of the commercial import program we could renew financing the kinds of goods necessary for the day-to-day well-being of the people (fertilizer, milk, cotton, medicines, etc.) adding up to perhaps $40 million on an annual rate and deleting from our program such things as steel, cement, machinery, etc., that are essential for the economy as a whole but do not directly affect people going to the market place. This approach would have the advantage of permitting us to identify ourselves and our program with the masses of people. It would have the disadvantage of permitting the GVN to hold out longer since their reserves would not be drawn down as rapidly. On balance, the latter course appears preferable.



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

Washington, September 28, 1963, 1:30 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Mendenhall; cleared with McGeorge Bundy, Ball, and Harriman; and approved by Hilsman.

496. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Believe it might be helpful to you to have preliminary Department thinking on possible Vietnamese Government structure and composition under various hypotheses. Hypotheses examined consist of (a) revamped and broadened Diem Government with or without Nhu playing some role, (b) successor government headed by Tho and (c) government under preponderantly military leadership. Seems clear from our studies that Viet-Nam has no lack of qualified leadership or executive talent if available personnel resources are put to effective use.

Principles. We believe it desirable assure adequate regional representation in government under all three hypotheses. Southern areas have strongly tended to feel that Diem Government has discriminated against their area in favor of persons from northern and central VietNam. Southern areas are crucial to country and to winning of war and should be properly represented in government.

We also believe effort should be made to establish as broad a government as is feasible in an effort to unify political circles, educated class and people in war against Viet Cong. However if attempted too broadly result might be introduction into government of disparate and incompatible personalities who might hinder effective prosecution of government affairs.

We therefore think it might be useful establish, at least for duration of hostilities, a Political Consultative Council to which certain leading figures might be nominated in order avoid political and personality clashes in executive branch. Proposals for nominations to this body could be made by any member of Cabinet but should be approved by majority or two-thirds vote of Cabinet.

Council's role should be clearly advisory only. Its views and recommendations should be considered by Cabinet but decisions should rest with Cabinet. But to give this organ sufficient substance to make membership attractive, it should be consulted by government on all major issues.

Such body would appear particularly desirable in view supine status National Assembly which will not be improved by current elections. We also believe this device could be useful in giving Viet-Nam's educated elite an institutional channel for political expression which they have been denied to date by Ngo family.

Personalities. Effective broadening of Diem Government would have to be based on assumption (which we realize is questionable) that Diem (and Nhu if he remained on scene) would be willing change approach to politics and method of governing to permit real sharing of authority. Otherwise we recognize that either new figures would not participate or changes in Cabinet would represent only facade changes as they have been in past.

In revamped Diem Government we would propose Vice President Tho be given considerable coordinating authority over Cabinet in fact (perhaps in new post of Prime Minister) and not just in name as he now has. Thuan could be retained as SecState for Presidency, but relieved of his Assistant Defense portfolio as these two positions are too burdensome for one man however able to carry. We suggest team of General Big Minh as SecState for National Defense and General Kim as Deputy who could conduct Magsaysay-type operation in Viet-Nam through coordination of military and strategic hamlet programs. General Don (next ranking general after Minh) could become Chief Joint General Staff. Interior might also be headed by General (Khiem, Khanh or Chieu) who would work closely with Minh and Kim.

Other Cabinet posts could be filled from following list of able personalities: [less than 1 1ine not declassified], Vu Van Thai, Nguyen Huu Chau, Vu Quoc Thuc, Vo Van Hai, [less than 1 1ine not declassified], Nguyen Thanh Lap, Tran Quoc Buu, Tran Dinh De (incumbent), Tran Ngoc Lien, Tran Le Quang (incumbent), [less than 1 1ine not declassified], Bui Van Thinh, Nguyen Quoc Dinh, Tran Van Chnong, Tran Van Lam, [less than 1 1ine not declassified].

Under second hypothesis of successor government headed by Tho, government could be largely same as that outlined above for revamped Diem government. However, seems unlikely that Tho would want to retain Thuan in government since Thuan during days when he was Diem favorite made little secret of his low regard for Tho.

Under third hypothesis preponderantly military government would likely consist of generals named above, with Big Minh as head because of popularity within armed forces and acceptability to other generals. Generals could be expected occupy certain key posts in government, but other ministries could probably be filled from above civilian list.

Political Consultative Council under any of three hypotheses could include well-known political oppositionists like Pham Huy Quat, Phan Quang Dan, Pham Khac Suu, Nguyen Ton Hoan, [less than 1 line not declassified], Hoang Co Thuy (most of whom are now in prison or exile). Tri Quang and [less than 1 line not declassified] as leading Buddhist and Catholic figures, respectively, could be named to Council. Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Thao might also be nominated to Council since his inclusion in government would probably not be acceptable to generals. Professional people [1 line not declassified] could likewise be chosen, together with business representatives like [less than 1 line not declassified], Nguyen Van Buu.

Would appreciate any comments you may have on subject this message.



158. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Saigon, September 29, 1963, 2:30-5:30 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 US/McNamara. Secret. Drafted by Flott and transmitted to the Department of State as an enclosure to airgram A-244 from Saigon, October 3. According to the airgram, the memorandum was not cleared with the participants. A summary of the conversation was transmitted in telegram 612 from Saigon. (Ibid., ORG 7 OSD) The meeting was held at the Gia Long Palace. A record of this discussion is printed in part in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. II, pp. 749-751.

Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Republic of Viet-Nam
Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Secretary of State for the Presidency and Assistant Secretary of State for National Defense
Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador
Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense
General Maxwell D. Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Paul D. Harkins, Commander, Military Assistance Command, Viet-Nam
Frederick W. Flott, First Secretary of Embassy (interpreting)


During the first two hours of the meeting, President Diem held forth on the course of the war, the key role played by the strategic hamlets program, and on the wisdom of the various major decisions of his government. During the third hour, Secretary McNamara explained, briefly but deliberately and with considerable force, the concern of the U.S. Government at the recent political unrest in Viet-Nam. He noted that this unrest and the repression that had brought it on could endanger the war effort and the American support for that effort. Secretary McNamara brought up the unfortunate public declarations of Mme. Ngo Dinh Nhu.

After Diem had made the inevitable rebuttals and explanations, General Taylor stressed the vital importance of responding to the very legitimate anxiety felt in the U.S. Diem cannot have missed the point that Secretary McNamara's remarks were a carefully thought-out and deliberately expressed statement of U.S. disapproval and concern, and that this disapproval and concern was felt just as strongly by the Department of Defense as by the Department of State.


During the first two hours of the meeting, Diem did almost all the talking, often using a number of maps in a rambling discussion of the war and the wisdom of various policies and courses of action adopted by his government. During this virtual monologue, he made the following principal points, all of which he had touched on in greater or lesser detail at earlier meetings with the Ambassador:

Strategic Hamlets

The war was going well, thanks in large measure to the strategic hamlets program. Due to that program, the Viet Cong enemy was having increasing difficulties in finding food and recruits, and was being steadily forced into increasingly difficult and unrewarding tactical situations. Diem said that American deliveries under Public Law 480, particularly in the category of feed grains, had been most helpful to the success of the strategic hamlet program. (He made no other direct acknowledgment of American aid.) He said that the British had given the Vietnamese government valuable advice at the outset of the program, based on British experience in Malaya. He said that for a variety of local reasons, his government had not followed the British advice in all instances.

He recalled that the British had advised him to consolidate and hold firmly one area before extending the strategic hamlets program to another. They had also advised him to hold the arterial coastal highway and consolidate the area between it and the seacoast before trying to secure areas further inland. He noted that the British had said that the strategic hamlets program should be limited at first to the most populous and most productive areas of the country. He remarked in this connection that he had made important departures from the British plan, but always for good and valid reasons.

Outlining his thoughts on maps, he explained that if he had disregarded, even for a short time, the under-populated and comparatively unproductive highlands, these areas would have become a base for Viet Cong attacks and for a Viet Cong drive to the sea to cut the highway and split the Republic.

He acknowledged that his strategic hamlets program was overextended and that in some areas the Viet Cong could attack and overwhelm poorly garrisoned strategic hamlets. He said that he realized some strategic hamlets were set up before the defense personnel were properly trained or armed, but that on balance both the risks and the losses were acceptable. For example, he said, he could push ahead rapidly with the establishment of ten substandard strategic hamlets. The Viet Cong could attack these and overwhelm, say, two of them. But if two fell, eight others would survive and grow stronger, and the area in which the Viet Cong could operate with impunity would shrink faster than otherwise would have been the case.

Another reason he gave for making departures from the British plan was that by so doing he could put isolated strategic hamlets into key crossroads and junction points, and force on the Viet Cong considerable detours in their supply routes. Further to the question of departures from the British operational plan, he said he had taken the calculated risk of opening highways to traffic before the areas through which they passed were absolutely secure. He said that, on the whole, he was satisfied with this gamble, and that thanks to his willingness to make departures from the plan and accept risks, the war effort was further along.

The strategic hamlets, then, affected all aspects of the war: the military, sociological, economic, and political. When Viet Cong cadres who had escaped to the north a few years ago returned to the south, they were amazed at the economic and sociological progress that had been made. This impression of real progress in South Viet-Nam increased their propensity to defect (see below under Defections). Thanks to the strategic hamlets program there is a growing grass-roots democracy. While the country's institutions are not yet perfect, they have been strengthened by the strategic hamlets program; in two or three more years Viet-Nam will be a model democracy.


The matter of cadres was the key to the solution of all the country's problems. It must be remembered that Viet-Nam is an underdeveloped country that is still suffering from a serious lack of trained personnel. At the time of Independence, there were, say, five judges in the whole country. There should be at least one per province. Much has been accomplished. At present about half of the provinces have one judge, and of the other half, sometimes two or even three, share, one judge. It is hard to apply to the letter the right of habeas corpus and other refinements of a legal system inherited from the French in these circumstances.

But progress is being made. Cadres are brought in from the provinces to a training camp fifteen kilometers outside of Saigon. They are taught to draw on locally available resources, and experience gained in one area is passed on to cadres from another area. On Fridays there are political discussions. Members of parliament and high officials visit the camps and stimulate discussion groups. When the training cycle is completed, the cadres return to their strategic hamlets and set up comparable discussion groups there. Democracy and its institutions are strengthened. (Later on in the meeting, Diem returned to the subject of lack of cadres when attempting to explain away the recent political unrest and Buddhist and student demonstrations.)

Creation of New Provinces

Diem traced out on the map the new provinces he had created or intended to create. He seemed to see in the creation of new provinces a way of bringing a greater effort to bear on solving the problems of an area.

For example, he is creating a new province west of Saigon to sit astride the Viet Cong communications route running from Tay-Ninh Province southeasterly to the Delta. This will impede access from the Viet Cong stronghold on the Cambodian border northwest of Saigon to the Delta. Diem claimed that the Viet Cong commander for that stronghold lived in air-conditioned comfort in Phnom Penh and frequently drove to the Vietnamese border from the Cambodian capital in an American automobile


He noted that the elections held a few days before had been a great success. Many more people voted than ever before, thanks in part to the fact that there were about 50% more ballot boxes than at the last elections. Communist efforts to disrupt the voting had been a failure, partly as a result of several successful security operations in which "all three security services" participated.

Again, the vast extension of the strategic hamlets program made it easier and safer for people to vote than in past years, and he was touched at the interest of even the simplest peasants in exercising their suffrage and participating in the democratic process. In spite of the improved security situation, at least two people were killed by the Viet Cong because they voted, and he felt this loss deeply and personally. The discussion groups in the strategic hamlets had further increased the people's interest in government and voting. (Ambassador's comment: This contrasts with well-founded observation that truckloads of soldiers were carted around in trucks so that they could vote several times in one day.)

Crop Destruction and Defoliation

In response to his rhetorical question, he said that the crop destruction and defoliation programs were useful and were necessary for a speedy conclusion of the war. He noted that the British experience in Malaya left no doubt as to their importance. "If you want to add years to the length of this war," he said, "simply cut off these programs." He explained that in some parts of the country, the Viet Cong were using half of their troops to grow food, and that except for the Delta area, where food is so plentiful that controls are almost impossible, the Viet Cong was very hard pressed for food, all the more so because it was increasingly difficult for them to get into villages or to force farmers to give them food.

He said flatly that regardless of whatever confusion might reign on the subject in Washington, crop destruction and defoliation were not humanitarian questions but were simple tools of victory. His field commanders, he said, felt particularly strongly about this. Some had complained that they had food patch targets in mind which, if they could not be attacked by the end of October, would produce a crop that would sustain the enemy for months.

Larger Viet Cong Units

Diem noted that while the total number of Viet Cong had declined in the past year, the number of relatively large units--companies and battalions--engaged had risen. He explained that this was because of the success of the strategic hamlets program. In the past, the Viet Cong could get what they wanted from a village--food and recruits--with a mere handful of men. Now they were increasingly forced to mount a company-scale attack to get into the village. Furthermore, since the whole rural environment had become much more actively hostile to the Viet Cong, they were forced to group up in larger units to survive. These larger units, of course, offered better targets to the government's forces. The fact that there was a greater use of large units by the Viet Cong was one more indication of how well the war was going for the government. It was one more indication that the Viet Cong found themselves more and more in the position of being like a foreign expeditionary corps, rather than as a force that could exist and move in the population like a fish in the sea.

Public Works and Opening Roads

Diem attached great importance to his public works program and the strategic concepts served by it. He showed on the maps where he had put through roads and canals, or had improved existing ones, and noted the many economic, social, political and military advantages that resulted from this effort. He remarked that in many parts of the country food deliveries by road were almost normal, as in pre-war times. This development relieved the navy of the job of convoying sea-borne supplies, and left it free to pursue the enemy more aggressively.

As if to answer the constant American representations in favor of a more mobile and aggressive employment of his forces, Diem remarked that it was sometimes necessary to commit troops to static defenses, as around key public utilities, factories, and bridges. Other forces had to be committed more or less statically to reinforce strategic hamlets that were in particularly exposed areas or had not yet generated their own trained defensive forces.

During a discussion of public works and their influence on the economic well-being of various provinces, General Harkins turned the conversation to the Seventh Division area southwest of Saigon, remarked that Kien Phong Province was very well run and that the province chief, Lt. Col. Dinh Van Phat, was very able indeed. President Diem acknowledged this. General Harkins went on to make the point that the situation in the adjoining province, Kien Tuong, was bad, and that the province chief, Major Le Thanh Nhut, was not doing his job and should be replaced. Diem objected to this, and tried to explain away in terms of the local economic geography, the difficulties of the lagging province. General Harkins made it clear that with all due respect to the President's explanation, he continued to have his doubts about the leader of the lagging province.

Viet Cong Defections

Diem ended his optimistic monologue by saying that there had been a significant increase in the rate of defections from the Viet Cong. As noted earlier, many cadres who had left the south a few years ago were impressed with the social progress and improved standard of living in the south and contrasted these with the depressed condition in the north. This was especially true of those who had some education and could make comparisons. So many Viet Cong were trying to defect that senior unit commanders and hard-core Communists were being forced to take this new desire to defect into account in planning operations. Commanders had become loathe to send their men out individually or in small groups. This was another of the forces that compelled the Viet Cong to establish larger units.

Knowing that their commanders would be unlikely to trust them on an individual or small-scale mission that would give them an opportunity ably to defect, many individual Viet Cong would try to distinguish themselves in a number of encounters so that they would be entrusted with a mission which would offer them an opportunity to surrender. The earlier land reform program of Diem's government, which had won the government so much popular support, was generally known to the Viet Cong, and awareness of this land reform was often a factor in an individual's decision to come over to the government side. (Ambassador's comment: See Vice President Tho's remarks on Viet Cong defections in Embtel sent SecState 613, September 30, 1963.)/2/

/2/Document 159.

Diem concluded his optimistic presentation by noting that although the war was going well, much remained to be done in the Delta area, which presented many special problems. The battle-hardened 9th Division was recently transferred to that area from the north, and it would soon make its presence felt. He noted that it was hard to wage war in an area that consisted mainly either of muddy rice paddies or of the thick and almost impenetrable foliage of coconut plantations. General Harkins remarked at this point that the war in coconut plantations would be greatly facilitated if Diem would lift his prohibition on the use of 500-pound bombs (forbidden after the disturbingly accurate bombing of the palace by rebels in the Vietnamese air force in February, 1962). Diem seemed to be in some doubt as to whether the General had made his statement in earnest or was simply "needling" him. He replied half-jokingly that if there should be a real need for the use of 500-pound bombs and if the war could be won that way, he would give the necessary clearance. (Although the conversation was in French, he used the English word "clearance", and on other occasions used a number of other American military expressions.)


When a suitable pause occurred in the monologue, Secretary McNamara began his statement. He said that he was in Viet-Nam because it was the sincere desire of the United States to help Viet-Nam win the war against the Viet Cong. He emphasized that this was basically a Vietnamese war and that all the United States could do was to help. The Secretary noted that while the progress of the war was reasonably satisfactory, he was concerned over a number of things. There was the political unrest in Saigon, and the evident inability of the government to provide itself with a broad political base. There was the disturbing probability that the war effort would be damaged by the government's political deficiencies and the attendant loss of popularity. The recent wave of repressions had alarmed public opinion both in Viet-Nam and in the United States.

Diem ascribed all this to inexperience and demagoguery within Viet-Nam and to misunderstanding in the United States of the real position in Viet-Nam because of the vicious attacks of the American press on his government, his family and himself. He said nothing to indicate that he accepted the thesis that there was a real problem, and his whole manner was one of rejecting outright the Secretary's representations.

The Secretary resumed by saying that he knew what it was to be attacked by the press, but that, regardless of what one thought of the accuracy of the press--and he was willing to acknowledge that some press accounts may have been in error--there was no escaping the fact that there was a serious political crisis, a crisis of confidence in the government of Viet-Nam both in Viet-Nam and in the United States. This was demonstrated by such tangible evidence as the resignation of the Foreign Minister, the recall or resignation of Ambassador Tran Van Chuong at Washington, and the fact that Saigon University was closed. The Secretary warned Diem that public opinion in the United States seriously questioned the wisdom or necessity of the United States Government's aiding a government that was so unpopular at home and that seemed increasingly unlikely to forge the kind of national unity or purpose that could bring the war to an early and victorious conclusion.

President Diem rebutted these points in some detail and displayed no interest in seeking solutions or mending his ways. He said the departure from office of Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau was dictated by personal and not political considerations. His wife's family seemed to be foredoomed to violent deaths. One of them had died in an airplane accident. Others had met other violent deaths. Mau's wife thought that there must be some kind of a curse on the family and urged her husband to make a vow to make a pilgrimage to lift the curse. Diem remarked that during his tenure as Foreign Minister, Mau was often out of the office. When Diem asked where he was, he learned he was at his home, urging his mother to take nourishment or his wife to look after her health. The wife had had one serious operation after another--Diem implied it was lung cancer, but did not specifically so state.

With regard to the relief of Tran Van Chuong as Ambassador at Washington, Diem stated that the Cabinet had voted unanimously to relieve him. Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau, who was present, had voted in favor of relieving him, too.

As for the university and the student unrest in general, Diem explained that the student body and even the faculty were most immature, untrained and irresponsible. He repeated that Viet-Nam was an underdeveloped country, with almost no suitable staff for its universities. He said the dean of the Science Faculty at the University of Saigon was only 32 years old. He said the students who demonstrated against the government had been misled by troublemakers both in the student body and in the faculty. The government had no choice but to arrest the students. Shortly afterwards (after this benevolent attention of a benevolent government, he implied) the students recognized the error of their ways, and felt duped and cheated by those who had misled them. They cursed their former leaders, and sang the praises of the government; many of them were now pro-government in their attitudes. He said that few of the high school teachers were qualified for their jobs, and students and teachers alike were inexperienced politically. Again, by serene tone and manner he indicated that he had satisfactorily explained away whatever misunderstanding it was that might have been bothering his guests.

The Secretary said that no small part of the Vietnamese government's difficulties with public opinion in the United States came from the ill-advised and unfortunate declarations of Madame Nhu. The Secretary took from his pocket a newspaper clipping and said that as he boarded his aircraft in Washington he had been greeted by the following. He read a report of Mme. Nhu's statement to the effect that American junior officers in Viet-Nam were behaving like little soldiers of fortune, etc./3/

/3/Madame Nhu is reported to have stated in late September 1963 that younger American officers in Vietnam "are acting like little soldiers of fortune. They do not know what is going on. With their irresponsible behavior, they have forced senior officers into following a confused policy." (As quoted in Sobel (ed.), South Vietnam, 1961-65, p. 75)

The Secretary emphasized, and the Ambassador confirmed his remarks, that such outbursts were most offensive to American public opinion. The Secretary said that the American people would flatly refuse to send out the best of their young officers to face mortal perils to support an effort that had such irresponsible spokesmen. One of the Americans present asked flatly if there were not something the government could do to shut her up. At this point Diem seemed to be just a bit weary and a bit on the defensive. His glances and manner suggested that perhaps for the first time in the whole conversation, he at least saw what his guests were talking about, especially when the Ambassador remarked that Mme. Chiang Kai-shek had played a decisive part in losing China to the Communists.

But nevertheless he rose to the defense routinely and with his standard and well-known arguments. Mme. Nhu was a member of parliament. She had a right to speak her mind, both as a member of parliament and as a member of a free society. Furthermore, one cannot deny a lady the right to defend herself when she has been unjustly attacked. Mme. Nhu had been under a merciless and scurrilous press attack for many months, and if she became exasperated, that had to be understood. Finally, he asked if the Secretary had read Mme. Nhu's denial./4/ Again, very sure of himself, Diem indicated that a careful reading of the denial, or more accurately the explanatory statement, would clarify the matter and allay his interlocutor's anxieties.

/4/Not further identified.

The Secretary indicated that this was not satisfactory and that the problems of which he spoke were real and serious and would have to be solved before the war could be won or before Viet-Nam could be sure of the continued American support that he sincerely hoped it would merit and receive.

The Buddhist Controversy

While on the subject of the inaccuracies and injustices of the press treatment of his government, President Diem held forth at considerable length on the Buddhist controversy. He acknowledged that he bore a certain responsibility in all this: He had been too kind to the Buddhists. He had given them so much assistance that the number of Buddhist temples in the country had doubled during his administration.

Diem spoke for some twenty minutes on the Buddhist problem, but said almost nothing that had not figured in the controlled-press handling of the matter. He repeated the allegations of orgies in pagodas, and emphasized that the heart of the problem was the fact that "anyone could become a bonze (priest) who shaved his head and acquired a yellow robe." He said that one of the three bonzes who took refuge in the American Embassy had been a policeman until he was expelled from the force two years ago for unsuitability and poor performance. He had become a vagabond until some two or three months ago, when he proclaimed himself a bonze and took refuge in the Embassy. Diem said the Buddhists were very publicity-conscious, and even had a man dress in European clothes in order better to get through a police cordon in front of USIS. This man then put on his robe, which he had carried concealed, and took off his wig and broke out various anti-regime streamers and slogans.

At this point Diem added darkly that "some American services in Saigon" were engaged an anti-regime plotting and that he was "preparing a dossier" and might return to the subject in due course. He offered no further explanation, and none was sought; he passed on quickly to continue his tirade against the Buddhists.

He said that most of the Buddhist sects in Viet-Nam support the government's position and deplore the attitude of the irresponsible extremist minority that is making all the trouble. He said that part of the Buddhists' trouble lay in too rapid growth and lack of organization. For example, he said, no records are kept on who is or is not a bonze, and there are no universally accepted standards for ordainment. He proposed to help the Buddhists by assisting them in setting up a national register of all bonzes. Work on this project had already started, and would be pushed vigorously.

At about this point one of the Americans noted that things were in such bad shape that the United Nations were considering sending a delegation to study the problem of repression of the Buddhists. Diem said very quickly, "Well let them come and see for themselves, we will let them see what the real situation is."

Diem warned that the Viet Cong were quick to take advantage of the disorders caused by the Buddhists. He said that at the time of raids on the pagodas and the proclamation of martial law--August 21, 1963--the Viet Cong brought four field radio sets into the outskirts of Saigon--much closer then they had dared come before. They felt that if the disturbances were to increase, they could do this with impunity. By August 25, they saw that the disturbances were not spreading and pulled their radios back to where they had been before. Diem also said that the Buddhist organization based in Ceylon was Communist-dominated, and that he had learned from an unimpeachable German source that one Buddhist priest traveling to Viet-Nam from abroad was a Communist. For all these reasons, Diem said, the Vietnamese armed forces and police had made a united front in imploring him to proclaim martial law and allow them to suppress the disorders which a few Buddhist extremists were creating.

General Taylor recapitulated the points made by the Ambassador and the Secretary, and reminded President Diem that regardless of the explanations he offered for the disorders, a serious crisis of confidence was developing in the United States and it was vital for the government of Viet-Nam to respond to this legitimate anxiety.

The Secretary closed by repeating once again that he had made his representations as a friend who sincerely wished to help the Vietnamese in their war effort. There was no note of strain or unfriendliness on either side. The Secretary and the Ambassador noted that they were expected back at the Palace in two hours for dinner, and expressed their pleasure at this prospect.

Throughout the meetings Secretary Thuan said nothing.

Comment: Secretary McNamara made very clear to President Diem the United States Government's disapproval of the situation in Viet-Nam. It must have been clear to Diem that there was no rift between the Departments of State and of Defense. The Ambassador observed that Diem appeared much younger and brighter than at the last two meetings at which he had seen him. Diem offered absolutely no assurances that he would take any steps in response to the representations made to him by his American visitors. In fact, he said nothing to indicate or acknowledge that he had received even friendly advice. His manner was one of at least outward serenity and of a man who had patiently explained a great deal and who hoped he had thus corrected a number of misapprehensions.


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

Saigon, September 30, 1963, 7 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 OSD. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. Passed to the White House.


1. McNamara, Taylor, and I had conversation with Vice President Tho. He opened up conversation immediately by recalling that two years ago he had said to General Taylor that the American effort in Viet-Nam should have three characteristics: It should be rapid; it should be efficient; it should be intelligent. We had succeeded in the first two parts but had failed in the third: we are not using our strength intelligently.

2. When asked to elaborate on this. He said that it was obvious that police state methods were being used and that this was creating deep discontent and yet we were unable to do anything about it. He felt sorry to speak so frankly, but the situation was very serious.

3. When asked to say what we should do to be intelligent and to make our influence effective, he said that he did not feel free to tell us. It was his duty not to set himself apart from the President, that he had already gone very far in saying what he had.

4. We pressed him hard on different methods which had been proposed. He agreed that protestations and words by Ambassadors and others were totally ineffective. He said that withholding economic aid would do nothing since we had inflation already; introduction of US troops would be "idiotic" as would be an attempt by the US to organize a coup d'etat.

5. When we asked him if there were any Vietnamese or foreigners in Saigon whose advice we should seek, he said that the best people were out of the country but that they could not advise us on details. When asked to suggest persons out of the country, he suggested Vu Van Maul

6. When asked whether it was true that all the dissatisfaction was in the cities and that there was none in the villages, he said that this was not true, that he had spent his life in the villages of the southern part of country and knew them intimately. There was serious discontent in the villages, but not because of the police state methods being used in the cities. The villager is discontented for several reasons: first, he feels he has to pay too much money to the local village agent who is demanding much more than the 100 plasters and ten days of work which the villager had agreed to do. Then, said Tho, when the villager leaves his hamlet in the morning to go out to work in the field, he meets the Viet Cong who forces him to pay another set of taxes.

7. When General Taylor remarked that this should not happen in a well fortified hamlet, Tho said that it did not happen in the hamlet-it happened when the villager steps out of the hamlet and goes into the field.

8. When General Taylor said that in a properly defended hamlet this should not happen, Tho said: Why, General Taylor, there are not more than 20 to 30 properly defended hamlets in the whole country.

9. With some warmth he said: Why do you gentlemen think that the Viet Cong is still so popular? Two years ago there were between 20-30,000 in the Viet Cong army; for these last two years we have been killing a thousand a month; and yet the Viet Cong is even larger today. Why is this true?

10. When General Taylor and I suggested it might be intimidation, Tho said: Intimidation can make them join, but it cannot stop them from running away. While some of them do run away, there are many who stay. Why is this?

11. When I suggested that it might be the promises that the Viet Cong make, Tho said: They cannot promise a thing-neither food nor shelter nor security. The answer is that they stay in the Viet Cong army because they want to, and the reason they want to is their extreme discontent with the Government of Vietnam.

12. Comment: Vice President Tho evidently wants us to straighten out the whole situation here and yet does not hesitate to disapprove of any methods of doing so. But his analysis of village attitudes is worthy of consideration.



160. Memorandum of a Conversation by the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)/1/

Saigon, September 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington Federal Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back-up Documents and Notes 9/25/63-Trip to SVN. Secret.

Point 1. [less than 1 line not declassified] resources include [less than 1 line not declassified] scattered throughout the country and university professors at Dalat, Hue, and Saigon. Many if not most of these men have had experience in Communist China as a basis for comparison with South Vietnam.

Point 2. What one sees in South Vietnam is scenery but underneath the apparent calm of the surface is a "turning of the screw" which is increasing with control of the government over the people. The machinery to dominate the people is as perfect as that employed by the Communists. The government has established a police State although the family has successfully disguised this fact. [less than 1 line not declassified] will send us a list of examples of police state actions in South Vietnam.

Point 3. At first, people who had been tortured were afraid to speak out but now they are willing to do so. "Absolutely people have been tortured." He "is so harassed and bothered by the situation that he is asking himself should not the Church speak out and publicize it before the world?"

Point 4. When the [less than 1 1ine not declassified] arrived, the regime and the Church sat in the witness box together but now he is separated. The government has gone so far as to censor the Pope's speeches.

Point 5. The torturing of prisoners is continuing and is applied to any adversary of the regime. The students and the intellectuals see all adversaries being eliminated. They see no help from the Church and the US. Therefore, they are forced to other solutions: some are going and will continue to go to the Viet Cong but more are turning to neutralists. With neutralism they believe "we will have no more war and at least a hope to topple the regime". They "prefer the devil we do not know to the one we do".

Point 6. The intellectuals believe the continued presence of Diem could be useful (they say he is not very intelligent but that he does have the respect of many of the people). What they believe is that if the family stays they (the intellectuals) will be working for the Communists.

Point 7. If the United States and the Church do not find a solution, they are working for the Communists. We could lose the country to the Communists even though we continue to have technical military successes. [less than 1 1ine not declassified] stated he was a Sicilian who knows the mentality of the Mafia. Here it is big Mafia, the Viet Cong. At a certain time all is quiet because the Mafia has given the order to make it so. But if the policy of the Mafia changes the calm disappears and unrest erupts. In South Vietnam, there are districts which we believe to be quiet but this is so only because the Viet Cong have an interest to make it appear so. Through the [less than 1 1ine not declassified] knows there are many districts where all appears tranquil, where people are working, and where VC attacks have dropped off but where there are many VC simply biding their time and the people appear to denounce them.

Point 8. If Nhu achieves complete power, the first thing he will do is to ask the United States to go home, and then he will make a deal with the Communists because he believes he could then become boss of all of Vietnam, but, of course, the Communists would never permit him to do so.

Point 9. The ideas that Nhu is teaching the republican youth are strongly Communist ideology--as laying the basis for Communism.

Point 10. There is time to save South Vietnam but it requires that we change Nhu immediately. The results would be so advantageous that it is worth running the risk. There would be some disorder but the gain would be worth it.

Point 11. Nobody, no Bishop, has sufficient courage to contradict Thuc. He has struck fear in the heart of all

Point 12. It is impossible to reason with Nhu, Madame Nhu, and Thuc. They refuse to accept the advice of [less than 1 line not declassified]. It is too late to lead them to modify the policies. The only way to change the situation is to force Nhu to leave.

Point 13. It is difficult to predict how the Army will behave if the Nhu's continue in power because of "double controls" similar to but more effective than those in the Soviet Army. The authority of the generals is limited. They are moved around frequently to limit their power and the regime holds back from combat at all times certain units to utilize in support of the cell.

Point 14. People are not sure of the position of the United States because in November 1960 and February '62, the United States appeared to support the government against those who wished to overthrow it. The people believe the Americans think that (the Americans) were wrong in criticizing Nhu, the elections are over, the Buddhist problem solved (this is of course nothing but scenery), and all is well.

Point 15. The United States government has not been speaking with one voice in Saigon. This has blurred US policy in the minds of the potential opposition and has confused the people.

Robert S. McNamara /2/

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


161. Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs' Special Assistant (Sullivan)/1/

Saigon, September 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back up Documents and Notes, 9/25/63-Trip to SVN. Top Secret.

I talked at length with the French Charge, the Canadian ICC Commissioner, and the Indian ICC Commissioner on the subject of relations between North and South Vietnam. All of them were inclined to doubt that there was much substance in current rumors about a Nhu-Ho deal. However, all of them insisted that we should not discount the possibility of such a deal in the future. (The French Charge said "three or four months.")

Their reasoning was similar. All of them felt the North was hurting very badly economically and was aware that the Viet Cong was losing the battle in the South. They therefore concluded that, in return for two stipulations, the North would be willing to negotiate a cease fire agreement with the South. These two stipulations are: North-South trade and the departure of U.S. forces.

An additional factor which [less than 1 line not declassified] felt might impel the North to such a deal was Chinese pressure. If U.S. forces could be removed from Vietnam, the Chinese might ease somewhat their pressure on Hanoi and grant them a greater measure of autonomy.

All three felt Brother Nhu might be willing to make such a deal for two reasons. First, his supreme confidence in being able to "beat the Communists at their own game"; and second, his desire to be rid of the Americans. The French Charge admitted that Ambassador Lalouette had talked with Nhu in these terms. Both Nhu and Lalouette had concluded that the progress of the war, prior to recent events, was such that a deal could probably safely be negotiated by the end of this year. Nhu's subsequent disclosure of these talks to Alsop/2/ has embarrassed the French and they now say they distrust Nhu's ultimate intentions.

/2/See footnote 2, Document 151.


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

Saigon, October 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-A-3470, Back-up Documents and Notes, 9/25/63-Trip to SVN. Secret. This was the second private meeting between Taylor and Minh. The first, as Taylor recounts in Swords and Plowshares, pp. 297-298, was on the tennis court at the Saigon Officers Club on September 29 with Secretary McNamara as a spectator. The two Americans were under the impression Minh had an important message for them, but Minh refused to be drawn out by what Taylor later described as "broad hints of our interest in other subjects which we gave him during breaks in the game." In a memorandum to McNamara, September 30, Taylor explained the misunderstanding as follows:
"Colonel Jones, one of our tennis players yesterday, at my request, contacted Big Minh last night to probe the situation with him. He reports that Big Minh was confused yesterday as to what was taking place. He gave Jones no impression of having sent word to see you and me. As far as he was concerned, the occasion was simply a game of tennis. He indicated that he has no message to communicate to me now but would be very glad to discuss the military situation at any time. He sees no problem in my calling on him or in his coming to see me." (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-186-69)

Farewell Call on Major General Duong Van Minh (Big Minh) 1 October 1963

1. In the course of my farewell call on General Minh and in response to my questions, the following points came out: (Also present was Colonel Raymond Jones, Assistant J-3, Hq MACV.)

a. General Minh as always is deeply concerned over the country. He considers that many difficulties remain in the military program. There hasn't been enough understanding between the population and the armed forces in the field. There is still no unimpeded channel of military command from Saigon to the field. There is divided responsibility between the military commanders and the provincial officials. All of these circumstances make ultimate success doubtful to General Minh.

b. With regard to the Buddhist difficulties, General Minh considers that the matter is basically a struggle for special privileges between Buddhists and Catholics. Many provincial officials are favoring the Catholics in granting the many forms of government permits controlling commercial transactions, travel, and the like. There has been no obstacle to the practice of the Buddhist religion but individuals have been jailed for contributing money to the Pagodas. General Minh feels that this Buddhist issue has not yet cropped up in the Armed Forces but he is always afraid that it may at any time.

c. The student riots reflect the resentment of parents for the many forms of injustice perpetrated by the central government. There has been some Communist inspiration behind the demonstrations but the basic cause is this sense of injustice which permeates most of the urban society.

d. General Minh has no solution for the unhappy conditions which he perceives. He understands the difficulty of the United States in manipulating the aid program to influence the Diem government. It would be tragic, he feels, to retard the military campaign by a cut back in aid. He sees no opposition to the present government which might rally domestic and foreign support.

e. I told General Minh that he could always communicate with me on any subject through General Harkins.

2. In summary, General Minh sees his country in chains with no way to shake them off.

M. D. T. /2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.


163. Letter From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to President Diem/1/

Saigon, October 1, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense university, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Top secret. A typewritten note on the source text reads: "Following Letter from General Taylor to President Diem being delivered 2 October with approval of secretary McNamara and concurrence of Ambassador Lodge."

Dear Mr. President: This letter responds to our conversation after your dinner on 29 September/2/ in which you kindly expressed an interest in receiving my professional comments on the military situation as I observed it during visits in the past week to all the corps and divisions of your Army and to many of the provinces under attack by the Viet Cong. As I mentioned to you, the primary purpose of these visits was to determine the rate of progress being made by our common effort toward victory over the insurgency. I would define victory in this context as being the reduction of the insurgency to proportions manageable by the National Security Forces normally available to your Government.

/2/No contemporary record to this conversation has been found, but Taylor recounts a final meeting in Swords and Plowshares, p. 298.

To keep the length of this letter within bounds, I shall not dwell on the many encouraging indications of military progress since my visit of last September. Certainly, if one looks back to October 1961 when we first discussed the expansion of the U.S. Military Aid and laid the groundwork for the Counterinsurgency Program now in course of implementation, the advances made in defeating the enemy in the field and giving security to the rural population in strategic hamlets testify to the basic soundness of the agreed program. It was not until the recent political disturbances beginning in May and continuing through August and beyond that I personally had any doubt as to the ultimate success of our campaign against the Viet Cong.

Now, as Secretary McNamara has told you, a serious doubt hangs over our hopes for the future. Can we win together in the face of the reaction to the measures taken by your Government against the Buddhists and the students? As a military man I would say that we can win providing there are no further political setbacks. The military indicators are still generally favorable and can be made more so by actions readily within the power of your Government. If you will allow me, I would mention a few of the military actions which I believe necessary for this improvement.

The military situation in the I, II, and III Corps areas is generally good. It is true that there are never enough offensive actions against the enemy to satisfy one who believes that only a ruthless, tireless offensive can win this war. The record of one of the divisions in the III Corps falls notably short of the minimum standard for mobile actions in the field set by your High Command-twenty days out of every thirty. As a result, some of the hard core war zones of the Viet Cong remain virtually untouched. In my opinion, the full potential of the military units in this area is not being exploited.

But as you have recognized, your principal military problems are now in the Delta. I am convinced that your decision last year was sound in giving top priority to resisting the desire of the enemy to cut through to the coast in the II Corps area and thus divide the country. The success in frustrating this tactic was achieved at the expense of the campaign in the south where the Viet Cong have always had their principal sources of strength. Now, I feel sure, the time has come to regroup our forces and place the center of gravity of our efforts in the IV Corps area. You have wisely recognized this need for readjustment by ordering the 9th Division to the south. I feel that other measures with a similar purpose are or soon will be necessary. I have in mind actions such as an overhaul of the hamlet program in such provinces as Long An and Kien Tuong where the work has gone either too fast or too slow-in either case, with the effect of delaying the attainment of an adequate system of completed hamlets meeting the standards set by your Government. Related to the requirements of a successful hamlet program is the need for a methodical clear-and-hold campaign by the tactical units of the IV Corps. I have a feeling that, in the past, there has been an inclination to favor the rapid, sweeping operations which have little permanent effect in securing a base for the erection of secure hamlets.

You know full well the nature of the terrain of the Delta. Even to the casual visitor, it is apparent that we must learn to use the numerous waterways of the region as highways to open up controlled territory and at the same time to interdict the water-borne movement of the enemy. I doubt that we have given enough attention to small boat operations directed at exploiting these waterways in support of the campaign.

The kind of war we are fighting in the Delta is a small unit war, fought principally by small infantry-type organizations. These are the forces which bear the brunt of combat and take the inevitable losses. Yet I found on my recent visit that the infantry companies in the Delta and elsewhere are often less than two-thirds of authorized strength--a hundred men for duty out of a company of an authorized strength of about 150 men. The diversion of military manpower between the point of intake and the front-line is a problem of all armies in time of war. I would suggest that you may desire a close examination of this problem in your Army. Headquarters soldiers do not hurt the Viet Cong--infantrymen with rifles in the jungle do.

In closing, Mr. President, may I give you my most important overall impression? Up to now, the battle against the Viet Cong has seemed endless; no one has been willing to set a date for its successful conclusion. After talking to scores of officers, Vietnamese and American, I am convinced that the Viet Cong insurgency in the north and center can be reduced to little more than sporadic incidents by the end of 1964. The Delta will take longer but should be completed by the end of 1965. But for these predictions to be valid, certain conditions must be met. Your Government should be prepared to energize all agencies, military and civil, to a higher output of activity than up to now. Ineffective commanders and province officials must be replaced as soon as identified. Finally, there should be a restoration of domestic tranquillity on the homefront if political tensions are to be allayed and external criticism is to abate. Conditions are needed for the creation of an atmosphere conducive to an effective campaign directed at the objective, vital to both of us, of defeating the Viet Cong and of restoring peace to your country.

I hope, Mr. President, that you will accept these frank comments as those of an old friend of South Vietnam and an admirer of its courageous resistance to the common enemy. Both of our countries have put too much into this war to be satisfied now with less than a victorious conclusion. I am convinced that the energized program outlined above can achieve the success which we seek.

With respectful regards,
Maxwell D. Taylor /3/

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


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

Washington, October 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Organizations and Alignments. Secret. Drafted by Mendenhall with the concurrences of Woodruff Wallner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, and William B. Buffum, Deputy Director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs. Sent through Harriman.

Possible Political Proposals at the United Nations General Assembly re Viet-Nam

It is possible that during the UNGA consideration of the Ceylonese resolution on human rights in South Viet-Nam/2/ certain political suggestions regarding Viet-Nam may be made by other delegations. If any formal proposals are made they would, of course, be referred to the Department by USUN for instructions.

/2/As of October 1, the Ceylonese draft resolution was being modified in informal negotiations. In the resolution, the General Assembly expressed its concern "with the serious violation of the human rights of the vast majority of people" of South Vietnam. The second operative paragraph requested the Secretary-General: "To communicate this res to authorities of South Vietnam, to consult with them with a view to alleviating the situation, to take all appropriate steps to help restore the human rights of the people of SVN, and to keep the GA informed of developments relating to this situation." The draft resolution was transmitted in telegram 1076 from USUN, October 1. (Ibid., Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

It may well be, however, that political suggestions or comments regarding Viet-Nam may be made as obiter dicta in speeches to the General Assembly or during corridor conversations. It would seem desirable that we have approved lines of reply for U.S. representatives to use at their discretion to insure that U.S. views are clearly known before ideas and positions of other delegations crystallize.

The anticipated suggestions from other delegations and proposed U.S. lines of reply are as follows:

1. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Viet-Nam.

Proposed U.S. Response: As President Kennedy stated in December, 1961,/3/ "The United States, like the Republic of Viet-Nam, remains devoted to the cause of peace and our primary purpose is to help [South Viet-Nam's]/4/ people maintain their independence. If the Communist authorities in North Viet-Nam will stop their campaign to destroy the Republic of Viet-Nam, the measures we are taking to assist [South Viet-Nam's] defense efforts will no longer be necessary." Thus, if the Communist regime in Hanoi will cease and desist in its subversive aggression against the Republic of Viet-Nam, the United States can withdraw its forces from that country.

/3/For text of this statement, Kennedy's part of an exchange of messages with Diem, December 15, 1961, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 801.

/4/All brackets are in the source text.

2. Neutralization of South Viet-Nam

Proposed U.S. Response: Neutralization of South Viet-Nam alone would pave the way for an early Communist take-over of that area. Without external assistance the armed forces of South Viet-Nam could not withstand the aggressive pressures of the much larger armed forces of the Communist regime in North Viet-Nam. Moreover, the Hanoi regime, as is currently obvious, has developed an extensive subversive and guerrilla network in South Viet-Nam which could at any time overthrow the government of a neutral South Viet-Nam.

If there is to be any discussion of the neutralization of Viet-Nam, it can only be in terms of the neutralization of all of Viet-Nam when the Communists in North Viet-Nam are prepared to agree to give up political power and control in their zone.

3. Elections for the Reunification of Viet-Nam

Proposed U.S. Response: We support the position of the Government of the Republic of Viet-Nam that elections can be held only when there is real assurance that the electorate in North Viet-Nam will be free of coercion./5/

/5/Harriman initialed his approval of all three proposals.


165. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission at the United Nations/1/

Washington, October 1, 1963, 8:37 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central files, SOC 14-1 S VIET-US. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Kattenburg and Hilsman and signed by Ball. Also sent to Saigon and repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

Tosec 105. USUN please pass Secretary for 3 pm Oct 2 meeting with Buu Hoi./2/ Ambassador Buu Hoi called on Hilsman Sept 30. Conversation dealt exclusively with internal Viet-Nam situation and US-GVN relations. (Conversations here with Buu Hoi on UN aspects being communicated to you by septel.)/3/

/2/See Document 168.

/3/In telegram 894 to USUN, October 1, the Department sent the Mission at the United Nations a summary of Assistant Secretary Harlan Cleveland's conversation with Buu Hoi on U.N. matters affecting South Vietnam. Buu Hoi informed Cleveland that South Vietnam would welcome a visit by an informal group of countries to get the facts on the Buddhist situation. Buu Hoi believed such a visit would have an ameliorating effect on concern about the Buddhist crisis at the United Nations, and hoped Secretary-General U Thant would arrange it. The visit proposal was the result of a genuine desire by South Vietnam to show the world that the Buddhist crisis was over, but Buu Hoi noted the Ceylonese resolution should not be debated until the group returned. The Department of State agreed and suggested to USUN that if U Thant was willing to accept and sponsor the idea, the Mission should discreetly work for postponement of consideration of the Ceylonese resolution. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)

Hilsman made following major points. Buu Hoi subsequently informed us he had immediately reported by cable to Diem.

1. U.S. opinion had been and remained deeply affected by repressions against religious and student groups which inexplicable to US public in light of major burden we undertaking on side of Vietnamese in effort to win war against Communists.

2. As President said, GVN needs broadest possible political support to win war and therefore should make changes of policy and perhaps personnel. Our own policy insofar as GVN concerned clearly stated by President; we support what furthers war effort; we oppose what hinders it.

3. Rightly or wrongly, GVN's present image is unfavorable and positive steps must be taken to change it. There should be far less talk on part of GVN personalities and more action. President should now generously dramatize desire for conciliation. Calling Buddhist priests Communists is not answer. Answer lies instead in releasing them and students on wide scale. President should bring eminent individuals into a broadened and rejuvenated cabinet.

In his responses, Buu Hoi indicated religious part of crisis over even before pagoda raids August 20. Crisis had become entirely political and bonzes had overextended position to point where govt had to force showdown to survive. As Buddhist and humanist, Buu Hoi regretted deplorable manner in which pagoda raids carried out. He noted that aged Venerable Khiet had now reversed his position and that by letter of September 27 to Diem Bonze Chau had done same. (For Saigon: Please report text this letter if available.)/4/ While Government's actions up to and including martial law were excusable on grounds survival, he agreed in large part that now government must start on new basis and that broadening and reform have become utterly essential. Deplored lack trained people in administration and services. Stated current problem boiled down to one of personnel: finding right people and letting them do job without constant interference and favoritism. Hoped that new Assembly would assume active role and thereby reveal to world that changes are occurring. Did not think there would be real problem in overhauling government, but that bringing conviction of change to countryside and outlying areas would, as before, be real difficulty. Said too many projects always remained paper projects, breaking down in implementation.

/4/In telegram 621 from Saigon, October 2, the Embassy reported as follows:
"Letter from Thich Tam Chau to Diem has not yet been publicized. CAS has received info evaluated as probably true that for seven or eight days preceding September 24 Chau was hospitalized and being fed intravenously as result his refusal to accept food. While this info does not logically preclude such letter from being written, it would throw doubt on its authenticity or on circumstances under which written." (Ibid.)

Buu Hoi queried Hilsman re USG attitude towards Nhu and his departure. Hilsman replied that US officials felt Nhu had made important contribution to strategic hamlet program but that he had apparently become political symbol to many Vietnamese. If this true President Diem should consider Nhu's future role very carefully. Buu Hoi said Nhu's talents cannot be spared but that his only ambition was to work in narrowly prescribed field of his interests. Hilsman said that if Nhu's role was to be limited President might consider how to dramatize this, perhaps through device of period of study abroad concerned with limited role Buu Hoi described.

In separate subsequent private conversation with Department officer, Buu Hoi urged strongly that we bring Diem specific suggestions for government reform in structure and functioning. Wished in particular to suggest (asking this not be repeated as coming from him) that we should work toward elevation of Nguyen Dinh Thuan as Prime Minister actively charged with all affairs of government. Indicated we should under no circumstances, however, mention Thuan or any other name directly to Diem. Buu Hoi feels Diem should play increasingly more distant ruler role, with Nhu's job defined as something like "Government Planning Director".

In Secretary's conversation with Buu Hoi, aside from UN aspects, Secretary might wish range generally over same points covered by Hilsman and perhaps endeavor draw out Buu Hoi further on specific notions government reform. Secretary might wish keep in mind Buu Hoi is prominent scientist in field tropical dermatology and leprosy, whose diplomatic activity only small adjunct to scientific work based in Paris laboratory. Buu Hoi was last in Saigon during August in vain attempt mediate Buddhist crisis but successful effort persuade his mother not commit suicide by fire. He prefers continue to work within existing VN government framework, though is at heart strong opponent many aspects of regime. We do not know to what degree he retains full confidence of Diem and Nhu, although we believe they regard him as too useful and essential to afford lose his services.



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