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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

I. Reassessment in Washington and Inaction in Saigon, August 28-September 7, 1963:
The Coup Stalls, President Kennedy's Public Statement, Attempts To Negotiate Nhu's Removal and Change South Vietnam's Policies

1. Memorandum of Conference With the President/1/

Washington, August 28, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. The meeting was held at the White House. There are two other records of this meeting: a memorandum of conversation by Hilsman, August 28 (ibid., Hilsman Papers, Country Series--Vietnam, State memcons) and a memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 28 (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII).


Vice President (late), Secretary McNamara, Under Secretary Ball, Secretary Dillon, Attorney General, General Carter, General Taylor, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, Under Secretary Harriman, Ambassador Nolting, General Krulak, Director Murrow, Mr. Helms, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Mr. Colby (CIA), Mr. Bundy, General Clifton, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith

The meeting began with a briefing by Mr. Colby who read an extract from the situation report cabled from Saigon by the CIA staff chief./2/ Mr. Colby said we had tried to clear up the confusion caused by a telegram sent commercially from an unknown person in Laguna Beach, California, to Ambassador Lodge in Saigon urging him to try to overthrow Diem. Reports had reached Washington to the effect that Diem thought this message was an instruction from the President to Lodge./3/

/2/Apparent reference to Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 307.

/3/See Document 2.

General Taylor reported on the U.S. forces in the area available to evacuate Americans in Vietnam, if required. He said 3000 to 4000 evacuees could be airlifted by U.S. forces now in Vietnam. Other U.S. forces are being moved closer to Saigon so that they can respond more quickly and move a larger number of people. Ambassador Lodge has expressed his concern that the airlift capability is inadequate. Admiral Felt is engaged now in figuring out ways of increasing the number of Americans who could be removed from dangerous areas promptly in an emergency. The airlift in Vietnam outside of Saigon is substantial. In response to a question, General Taylor said there were over 4000 Americans in Saigon, excluding the military./4/

/4/Krulak's memorandum for the record is the most detailed of the three versions of this meeting. See Document 2.

General Taylor said that Vietnamese forces loyal to Diem in the Saigon area outnumbered two to one the forces we believed would follow rebel generals in the event of a coup. Outside of Saigon, the forces controlled by generals who might rebel outnumbered Diem's forces. He concluded that in the long run the forces controlled by rebel generals would outnumber forces which would remain loyal to Diem. He cautioned that a head count of troops was not all-important because a small number of tough units could control the situation even though outnumbered by less well-trained forces.

Mr. Hilsman said that General Dinh is the key to the situation. [1 sentence (1-1/2 lines) not declassified]

Ambassador Nolting said that, as he pointed out yesterday, he believed that Diem and Nhu knew of our activity with the generals.

Mr. Ball reported that Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins had suggested that we or they leak to the press the movement of the 7th Fleet to a position off Saigon. The President doubted this suggestion should be approved because our fleet movement would appear to be such obvious evidence of an intention of the U.S. to intervene militarily in Vietnam.

Secretary McNamara stated that he believed we should decide first whether we are backing the Vietnamese generals in their effort to overthrow Diem. If we are, then we should plan how to induce doubtful generals to defect. In his view, events have almost pulled us along in the last twenty-four hours.

Mr. Ball said that it would be difficult if not impossible for us to live with a situation in which Nhu was ascendant in Vietnam. He believed we had no option but to back a coup. We are already beyond the point of no return. The question is how do we make this coup effort successful.

Mr. McNamara said he believed that we should not proceed as if we were being pushed. If we decided to back a coup we should go in to win. The cables he had read from Saigon raised doubt in his mind that the coup generals could overthrow Diem. At least initially, forces loyal to Diem can overpower forces opposing him.

The President noted that both Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins had recommended that we go ahead. He did not believe we should take the position that we have to go ahead because we have gone so far already. If a coup is not in the cards, we could unload. The generals talking about a coup did not appear to be very enthusiastic.

Mr. Bundy commented on the consequences of backing off vs. the consequences of going forward. He believed we should decide today what we should do to defect the generals. Every time we act to help the rebel generals we reduce our freedom to choose between going ahead or breaking off efforts to overthrow Diem.

Mr. Ball said that one major change which we could make would be to instruct our military officers to talk to the generals. Up to this point, we had had no contact with the coup generals except through CIA officials. Until our military officers contact the generals, several generals who we now consider doubtful would not shift to supporting the group planning to overthrow Diem.

The President commented that we had asked General Harkins twice if he approved of our going ahead in support of a coup. Both Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins say we should support the rebel generals.

In response to the President's question, Ambassador Nolting said he was surprised when he reamed that General Harkins favored our supporting a coup. Further encouragement to the generals opposing Diem runs counter to our agreement on continuing economic assistance which we reached with Diem some time ago. Diem foresaw at that time a disagreement with the U.S. about how they were running the internal affairs of Vietnam. Nolting said he had grave reservations about proceeding against Diem. The good faith of the U.S. is involved. In addition, he had given personal commitments to Diem which were based on instructions sent to him from Washington when he was Ambassador. We should not support a coup in the expectation that we can get another government which we can deal with and a base on which we can win the war against the Viet Cong. Supporting a coup is bad in principle and sets a bad precedent. The alternatives he saw are three:

1. To decide to support the coup generals and help them line up a preponderance of force so that there would be a quick takeover.

2. Back off from contacts already made with dissident generals, which he admitted would be difficult to do.

3. Leave the dissident generals alone and, if they have the guts to attempt a coup, support them at that time.

Mr. Bundy called attention to the difference between gaining operational control of a coup and the present situation in which we are merely telling the generals that we understand how they feel about Diem and that we can't live with the Nhus.

Mr. Hilsman said there were some things we could do in which the U.S. hand would not show.

Mr. Ball, commenting on Ambassador Nolting's statement, said Diem had broken promises he had made to us. The actions they are taking are in violation of good faith. He was not sympathetic to the allegation that we were breaking commitments. He cited reports which indicate that Diem and his followers are taking anti-American actions. He saw the situation as follows:

1. We can't win the war against the Communists with Diem in control. The U.S. position in the eyes of the world is being badly damaged. Hence, we can't back off from our all-out opposition to Diem and Nhu.

2. If we merely let the generals proceed and then, if they fail to overthrow Diem, we have lost as well. This outcome is half-baked and no good.

3. We decide to do the job right. There is no other acceptable alternative. We must decide now to go through to a successful overthrow of Diem.

Mr. Harriman stated his agreement with the position expressed by Mr. Ball.

Secretary Dillon commented that if anything starts it will be labeled as a U.S. show from the very beginning. If we decide to back the rebel generals we must do whatever is required to be certain they succeed in overthrowing Diem.

The President said we should decide what we can do here or suggest things that can be done in the field which would maximize the chances of the rebel generals. We should ask Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins how we can build up military forces which would carry out a coup. At present, it does not look as if the coup forces could defeat Diem.

Secretary Dillon interrupted to say, "Then don't go."

The President asked the Defense Department to come up with ways of building up the anti-Diem forces in Saigon.

Mr. Hilsman said that Ambassador Lodge was asking standby authority:

1. To suspend all economic aid to the Diem government, but continue aid by giving it directly to the generals.

2. To suspend all U.S. operations in Vietnam.

3. To assist the coup generals by making U.S. military equipment available to them.

4. To make a public announcement that the U.S. was supporting the forces trying to overthrow Diem.

Secretary McNamara thought we should tell Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins:

1. Don't let a coup start if they think it can't win because we can't live with Diem if a coup attempt is made and the coup fails. He questions whether, on the basis of the forces now available to the rebel generals, a coup can succeed.

2. We need a list of actions which would be of help to the coup generals, such as ways of gaining support from now doubtfu1 generals and the movement of U.S. fleet units./5/

/5/See Document 2.

Mr. Bundy commented that most generals favor a coup and pointed out that the U.S. controls all military assistance being given to Diem.

Mr. Harriman said that we have lost Vietnam if the coup fails. He believes we cannot win the war with the Nhus. We have lost the fight in Vietnam and must withdraw if a coup does not take place. We put Diem in power and he has double-crossed us. Diem and his followers have betrayed us. He favored removing Nhu and felt that it was a mistake that we had not acted a long time ago. We had made a mistake in working with Nhu on the strategic hamlet plan.

Mr. Hilsman said that we can't stop the generals now and that they must go forward or die. He agreed that we cannot win the war unless Diem is removed.

In response to the President's question, Mr. Harriman said we had been winning the war with Diem because the generals were with him. The generals are defecting now because of the recent actions which Diem had taken against the Buddhists. In the present situation, the opposition to Diem can be rallied.

The President thought we should go back to Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins again, telling them that counting up the forces favoring Diem and the forces opposing Diem, it was clear that Diem held the balance of power.

Mr. Bundy said our request of Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins should be specific in that we should ask them how they evaluate the pro-Diem and anti-Diem forces. He noted that both Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins counted heavily on the caliber of the various troops.

The Attorney General expressed his concern as to whether we knew what we would do if Diem acted to destroy the coup before the generals were ready to pull it off. He noted that some people thought Diem knew already of the coup plans. Diem would know that if the coup were successful he would be finished. and, therefore, he would obviously try to break up a coup by arresting the generals before they were ready. He thought we should figure out how we could offset any action of Diem to destroy the forces opposing him.

Ambassador Nolting asked what condition Vietnam would be in if a coup is successful. He was not clear whether the resulting government would bring about stable leadership or whether the rebelling generals would be unable to agree on who should be the leader.

Mr. Hilsman said the generals could put the Vice President of Vietnam in power and govern the country the way the generals have in Korea. He acknowledged that we have little information about how the generals plan to run the country if they are successful. He expressed his strong view that Diem and Nhu would have to be exiled.

Ambassador Nolting said that only Diem can hold this fragmented country together./6/ Possibly Diem could get Nhu and his wife to leave, but he doubted this would be possible. We should try once again to persuade Diem to remove Nhu and Madame Nhu. Ambassador Lodge had chosen not to try to do this for fear of exposing the coup generals to a sudden reaction by Diem if Diem refused to remove the Nhus.

/6/See Document 2.

Governor Harriman stated his disagreement. The political situation in Vietnam will blow up sometime. We have in Vietnam a situation similar to that which existed in Korea under Syngman Rhee. The political forces in Vietnam will rally quickly against Diem.

Ambassador Nolting said that Nhu was not anti-American nor is Diem.

The President asked that the group adjourn now, to meet again at 6:00 PM

Bromley Smith/7/

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


2. Editorial Note

Both Hilsman's memorandum of conversation and Krulak's memorandum for the record treat William E. Colby's briefing during the noon meeting with the President in greater detail (see footnote 5, Document 1). Hilsman's account reads as follows:

"The meeting began with the CIA briefing-Saigon is quiet; military operations continue but at a lessened pace; photographs of Nhu have appeared on some public buildings, contrary to earlier information General Don is not in the hospital but at his post; the JGS statement assuming responsibility for martial law; and some GVN action to surface new Buddhist leaders, returning some Buddhists to their homes who have promised to be cooperative.

"On operations, Colby noted that the meeting with Big Minh would be at 8:15 p.m. Washington time today. Colby briefed the report on the Khiem meeting; on the forces as reported in cabled traffic and on the CIA Station's assessment of the situation [document number not declassified]. There was some discussion of the message intercepted by Tung from the crackpot in Laguna Beach. The Attorney General suggested that CIA should arrange for several more messages from the same person to thoroughly discredit the cable since Khiem apparently feels that President Diem believes that this is a genuine instruction." (Memorandum of conversation by Hilsman, August 28; Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, State memcons) For text of the JGS statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pages 865-866. The CIA document from Saigon is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume III, Document 307).

Krulak's record of this part of the meeting reads as follows:

"Mr. Colby described the Saigon situation as generally unchanged, with minor troop movements in the Saigon area, relaxation of restrictions and some release of prisoners. In the hinterland there has been a slow drop in the offensive operations, but not dramatically so. The GVN released a statement by the Joint General Staff that the military did participate in the pagoda raids and the GVN seems to be actively engaged in generating favorable statements from the Buddhists.

"He described Ambassador Lodge's response to the State query regarding the situation and mentioned President Diem's dissatisfaction with a telegram that he had received from Laguna Beach, purportedly from President Kennedy, urging replacement of the Diem government. The President asked how this could be explained, to which Mr. Helms replied that the Station Chief could handle it easily.

"Mr. Colby discussed the matter of the balance of forces in the Saigon area, reciting the content of messages which all present had on the subject. He was emphatic in stating that the point of no return had been reached." (Memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 28; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII)

Later in the meeting, evacuation planning was discussed; see footnote 5, Document 1. Krulak's memorandum for the record reads as follows:

"General Taylor discussed the matter of military capabilities for protection and evacuation, referring to Ambassador Lodge's question as to the adequacy of US military forces in the region. He pointed out that the reaction time of the BLT task group offshore had been reduced from 48 to 24 hours; that the shipping involved could readily lift several thousand evacuees and the people could be moved much closer to the coast. He discussed the location of the CVA task group and stated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had asked Admiral Felt what further changes are required in response to the concern expressed by Ambassador Lodge. General Taylor continued, noting that there were 4 BLTs on Okinawa on 24-hour alert; that C-130 aircraft were in the process of being assembled at Okinawa, and that all related plans were being reviewed.

"Mr. McNamara added that a most important asset is the helicopters and C-123s already in-country, which could be used to move refugees either into the countryside or to ships at sea. He commented that the US forces present in Vietnam are of neither the type nor the size which warranted consideration for participation in large scale fighting.

"The President raised the question of the Embassy evacuation plan, to which Ambassador Nolting replied that it had been recently brought up to date and reorganized. General Taylor, from his notes, recited key parts of the plan."

Regarding possible United States actions which might be of assistance to the "coup generals" (see footnote 5, Document 1), Hilsman's record included the following exchange between the President and Hilsman:

"The President asked Hilsman what ideas State had for swinging over the uncommitted generals, and Hilsman replied that we had a number of ideas including suitably discreet comments about the US attitude towards the Nhus to generals such as Dinh, the leaks about the presence of the Seventh Fleet and other US forces, [1 line not declassified] and that State intended to work out with Defense and CIA some suggestions along these lines.

"Hilsman also questioned the Secretary of Defense's assumption that we could prevent the coup from starting at this stage. He felt that, as we had said before in the meeting, Diem and Nhu were undoubtedly aware that coup plotting was going on and that the generals probably now had no alternative to going ahead except that of fleeing the country. The President said that he was not sure that we were in that deep. As he understood it, only two contacts by two CIA men had been made with two Vietnamese generals. This was a question we would have to look into if it was a judgment of the field that the coup would not work."

At the end of the meeting Ambassador Nolting made a statement that "only Diem can hold this fragmented country together" (see footnote 7, Document 1). In Hilsman's record this statement and the subsequent disagreement between Nolting and Harriman are recorded as follows:

"Mr. Nolting again intervened saying that he profoundly felt that only Diem could hold this fragmented country together.

"The President said, 'Even without the Nhus?' Nolting replied that he thought President Diem could be persuaded to remove Madame Nhu from the scene and at least to make brother Nhu less conspicuous.

"Mr. Ball said emphatically that he disagreed with Mr. Nolting's estimate-that attempting to go along with Diem and Nhu spelled nothing but disaster.

"With some heat Mr. Harriman said that he had disagreed with Mr. Nolting from the beginning when he first assumed office as Assistant Secretary; that he felt he was profoundly wrong about this; and that he was sorry to have to be so blunt about saying this.

"Mr. Hilsman said that he wished to associate himself with Mr. Ball and Mr. Harriman; that he felt given the history of the past few days a Diem-Nhu government could not in the long run win. Furthermore, looking to the other countries in this area, he wanted to point out that the consequences of the US acquiescing in the continuation of Nhu in a commanding position and acceptance of the desecration of the temples would make our task more difficult through Asia. He thought the President would be interested to know that the Koreans had ordered a special study of US-South Viet-Nam relations in order to decide how much repression the US would tolerate, to serve as a guide for Korean actions in the upcoming elections."


3. The President's Intelligence Checklist/1/

Washington, August 28, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series. Top Secret; Eyes Only for the President. A note on the source text by Clifton indicates that the President read the checklist.

1. South Vietnam

A. Though some easing of martial law was evident in Saigon yesterday, steps were being taken to tighten the security ring around the Presidential Palace, which houses Diem and the Nhus.

B. The Palace security guard, normally provided by an elite Army unit, is now, we hear, being drawn from units under Colonel Tung, the pro-regime commander of the Special Forces. In addition anti-aircraft guns have been emplaced in the Palace area.

C. Meantime, the shadow of Ngo Dinh Nhu looms ever larger. His picture has begun to show up in public buildings--one report says Diem's is coming down--and a million posters of Nhu, resplendent in his Youth Corps uniform, have been made up for nationwide distribution.

D. Some Army leaders fear that Nhu plans a further power grab.

E. Military operations against the Viet Cong continue, but martial law commitments led to the suspension of a large-scale operation in central Vietnam and the number of small-scale government actions has declined.

[Here follow items unrelated to Vietnam.]


4. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, August 29, 1963, 12:20 a.m.

/1/ Source: Kennedy Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to Felt, to Bundy at the White House (where it was received at 2:43 p.m., August 28), to Rusk, Ball, and Harriman at the Department of State, and to McCone at CIA.

MAC 1557. Ref State 243,/2/ which used my name in one or two instances, I certainly had impression that military had concurred. Also CINCPAC 250456Z/3/ indicated his opinion was incorporated in State 243 and that my support had been volunteered.

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

/3/The text of this message is contained in CINCPAC 281916Z, August 28, repeated to the Department of State by the JCS as 281941Z, August 28. The text reads as follows:
"State has sent message to Amb Lodge and exclusive to me authorizing course of action to give Diem chance to rid himself of Nhu and his gang and to replace with best available military and civilian. Ambassador will consult with you and CT. Note particularly line of action 2 which has to do with military leaders. I talked to WashDC while policy was being formulated and while message being drafted and cleared. My opinion is embodied in the message. I volunteered your support. As related matter, I have reviewed your OPlans 60-62 and 61-62. Assistance is available on short notice but you should anticipate possible needs and make appropriate requests." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables)

This led me to presume that there was indeed coordination at all levels. I too had second thoughts even when I saw State 243 in that it was a bit contradictory. On the one hand it gave Diem a chance yet at the same time it told military to go ahead. The Amb made decision after receiving approval of modification that his instructions were clear to go ahead on military side. This was done and [document number not declassified]/4/ reflects result of that decision. I have always been of opinion and have so stated in past few days that whatever we do it should be done with least bloodshed and with hopes that resultant relations between US and Vietnamese, regardless of which Vietnamese finally end up in control, should be on the same friendly cooperative basis that has been evidenced since I have been here the past year and a half.

/4/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 299.

I flatly refused to personally get involved unless I had approval from highest US authority--which I have not. On the other hand, presuming that State 243 and 256/5/ represented our government's position I had no choice but to go along. As you can see from my MACV 1544/6/ I thought I'd better check.

/5/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Vol. III, Document 305.

/6/In this telegram to Taylor, August 28, Harkins noted that telegram 243 to Saigon, August 24, implied his support and Felt had already volunteered his support. In the absence of specific instructions and unless otherwise directed, therefore, he planned to support Lodge fully. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69)

Now the die is cast though as yet we have not received the details of how it's to be done--and in the final analysis, in my opinion, it will not be accomplished unless we give the final say so.

I feel the key to the whole solution is the elimination of the Nhus from active participation in affairs Vietnam. By elimination I do not mean destruction. I hope that we could even pay for a protracted leave of absence from the post to someplace where their voice of authority could not be heard.

I have the feeling that the military involved could live with Diem provided the Nhus were out of the picture. Though I agreed to the change in the terms of reference I based my agreement on the fact that in the past when we have tried to separate Diem from the Nhus, either in action or statement, the result has been nil. On the other hand I too have second thought that we never actually have given Diem a chance to react to any new instructions or advice Amb Lodge might have imparted to him. I have not had a chance to discuss this with the Amb and therefore do not know Diem reaction to the initial conversations. I do know that the feelings here, both in the military and civilian, run high against the Nhus--and from reading reports from world wide sources there is a great deal of concern and confusion as to just who is running Vietnam. At this time people are choosing sides and the various factions are lining up one against the other. Again, at this time, it is not at all clear what the line-up will be. Big Minh has asked to meet with CAS in the morning. Purpose of the meeting is unknown. It might clarify some of the unknowns.

In my opinion as things stand now I don't believe there is sufficient reason for a crash approval on our part at this time.

If, as reported and not absolutely confirmed, Nhu and cohorts have taken enough action in the eyes of the civilians and military here--and the world--to put themselves way out on the end of a limb, it might be that if we continue the pressure on Diem, Nhu and cohorts will be forced to take the initial actions which would make any reaction by the local military the next logical step. To me this is bound to come. The Vietnamese people can't live with them, the military can't live with them, and neither can we.

My one hope above all is that whatever happens there will be little or no bloodshed and we can get back to the main purpose of our being here--helping these very fine people fight the war against the VC.


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

Washington, August 28, 1963, 5:16 p.m.

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


B said the mtg at 6 is acquiring more importance because of a real possible split between State and DOD-does not think it will be the same without Sec because Harriman is so passionate and can't speak for Dept as Sec can and Sec's and Bob's relation is helpful. Sec will be there. B thinks Bob and Taylor think more than the record indicates that decisions taken Sat were without adequate consultation between State and DOD. B read from a message./2/ Pres likely to start 6 p.m. mtg by talking with Sec, McNamara, Taylor and B as notetaker to get a slightly common front on this. B said Hilsman has most of the stuff.

/2/Apparent reference to telegram JCS 3368-63, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 309.


6. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, August 28, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State memcons. Top Secret; Eyes Only; No Distribution. Drafted by Hilsman. The meeting was held at the White House. There are two other records of this meeting: a memorandum of conference by Bromley Smith, August 28 (ibid., National Security File, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam) and a memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 28 (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII).



White House
The President
McGeorge Bundy
Mr. Forrestal

State Department
Secretary of State
Governor Harriman
Assistant Secretary Hilsman
Ambassador Nolting

Defense Department
Secretary of Defense McNamara
Deputy Secretary Gilpatric
Gen. Maxwell Taylor
Major Gen. Victor Krulak

General Carter, Deputy Director
Richard Helms, Deputy Director for Plans

Attorney General Kennedy

Secretary Dillon

Mr. Edward Murrow

The Vice President

The meeting was delayed because of the preceding civil rights meeting. The President asked the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, Mac Bundy and General Taylor to meet with him privately in another room.

Upon their return the President announced that three messages would be sent to Saigon--one from General Taylor to General Harkins asking him for his personal assessment of the situation and the plans of the generals./2/ The second is a personal message from the President to Lodge/3/ saying that the President wanted to be assured that there was full coordination between Saigon and Washington; that he wanted Ambassador Lodge's personal and frank assessment; that he wanted to avoid any situation in which the field was going ahead on a plan that was against their better judgment because they thought it was orders from Washington and that Washington was issuing instructions on the false assumption that the field agreed; the third cable/4/ is the general cable drafted by McNamara, Harriman, Bundy, Forrestal and Hilsman following this morning's meeting./5/

/2/Document 7. According to Smith's memorandum of this meeting, the President made the following remarks about the message to Harkins: "We were in doubt about General Harkins' views. We thought he was for the coup plan, but General Harkins apparently thought that a decision had been made in Washington to back a coup and that his task was to carry out a decision communicated to him."
Smith's memorandum continued:
"The President concluded the meeting by saying we wanted to get (General Harkins' views as to what we should do, not his reaction to what he thought was the decision here. The President repeated that General Harkins' message was not clear on this point."

/3/Document 9.

/4/Document 8.

/5/Bromley Smith's memorandum included the following account of revisions of telegram 268:
"The group went over the draft message to Ambassador Lodge sentence by sentence. Mr. Bundy suggested that the second paragraph be revised so that Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins would not feel that they had to go ahead with the plan to support a coup. Mr. Bundy also suggested revising paragraph 4 to show that removing the Nhus is the most important objective."

The meeting broke up with Mr. Harriman's saying "Mr. President, I was very puzzled by the cable from General Harkins until I read the outgoing from General Taylor."/6/ (The President had some difficulty containing himself until everyone had left the room, whereupon he burst into laughter and said, "Averell Harriman is one sharp cookie.")/7/

/6/General Harkins' cable is Document 4. General Taylor's cable is JCS 3368-63, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 309.

/7/According to Krulak's account of this meeting, Harriman and the President had the following exchange near the end of the meeting:
"Governor Harriman stated that he hoped we are not giving any idea of wobbling on our course. The President stated that the important thing is that we have to make sense; we must not let the field feel that we are in any way heavy-handed, or obliging them to take actions which are not, in their good judgement, sound."


7. Telegram From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins)/1/

Washington, August 28, 1963, 8:36 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Operational Immediate. Also sent to Lodge, Felt, McNamara, Gilpatric, McGeorge Bundy, Rusk, Ball, Hilsman, Harriman, Helms, and each of the Joint Chiefs. Hilsman refers to this telegram in To Move a Nation, p. 493.

JCS 3385-63. The President has read your MACV 1557/2/ and has asked me to send the following reply. He is most desirous of receiving your personal views on this operation at this stage and as it may develop later. You should not be inhibited by concern over what the Washington view may be; we need your on-the-spot impressions of the best course of action.

/2/Document 4.

Your recent message raises certain questions on which we should like amplification:

a. In saying "the die is cast" do you mean that it is too late to turn back from supporting the Generals? Later in the cable you appear to favor going direct to Diem prior to encouraging the coup.

b. You state that there is insufficient reason for "a crash approval on our part." Does this mean that we can delay a decision for a matter of days, for example. What are the risks of leaks, apprehension of leaders by Diem or of premature coup action?

c. You state that "if we continue the pressure on Diem", Nhu may be levered into provocative action. What forms of pressure do you have in mind?

d. What role can you play in influencing the senior military authorities? At some time in the near future should you not talk to Big Minh and perhaps some of the other Generals and assess the quality of their plans? We do not want to become involved in any coup which will not succeed.

These are some of the points on which you can help us. The President wants you to know that he reposes great confidence in you and wants your uninhibited advice. Next meeting with President will be 1200 EDT August 29. He would like to hear from you by that time.

In closing, let me say that while this operation got off to a rather uncoordinated start, it is now squarely on the track and all Washington agencies are participating fully in its support.

This message closely parallels concurrent State cable to Ambassador Lodge./3/

/3/Document 8.


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

Washington, August 28, 1963, 9:32 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency. Repeated to CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Felt. The text of this telegram was sent from the White House for transmission over Department of State channels. It was cleared by Rusk and Hilsman.

268. Eyes only for Ambassador and Gen. Harkins.

1. Your 364/2/ reviewed this morning at highest levels and is most helpful. We note that you continue to favor the operation; we also assume your concurrence in conclusion of [document number not declassified],/3/ which we share, that if this operation starts it must succeed. But it remains unclear to us that balance of forces in Saigon yet gives necessary high confidence of success, and we need daily assessment from you on this critical point. In particular, we share your view that Big Minh's position and views are important and we await report of his conversation.

/2/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Vol. III, Document 306.

/3/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Vol. III, Document 307.

2. More broadly, we are assuming that whatever cover you and we maintain, prestige of U.S. will necessarily be engaged in success or failure of this effort. Thus we ask for your present estimate of latest point at which operation could be suspended and what would be consequences of such suspension. We continue to believe Nhus must go and coup will be needed, but we do not which [wish] to bind you against your better judgment at any stage. Conversely, while we assume Generals' operation still subject to delay or cancellation, if you believe die is cast, we need to know it.

3. In addition to recommendation in your 364, which we are still considering, what other actions do you recommend to increase prospects of success? Specifically, do you think we should

(a) add discreet diplomatic and military endorsement to approach made by CAS to Generals, especially to emphasize official view of the USG that Nhus should be replaced, but without direct comment on coup planning?

(b) through General Harkins and other military officers discreetly hint to General Dinh, Colonel Vien and other military leaders who are potential fence-sitters that US opposed to continuation of Nhus?

(c) add financial inducements as appropriate in affecting all individual decisions of uncertain key figures?

(d) undertake and discreetly publicize movements of US forces in Pacific toward South Vietnam, in addition to present E and E contingency deployments?

(e) indicate our concern by beginning evacuation of appropriate US dependent personnel?

4. We have concurred until now in your belief that nothing should be said to Diem, but changing circumstances, including his probable knowledge that something is afoot, lead us to ask again if you see value in one last man-to-man effort to persuade him to govern himself and decisively to eliminate political influence of Nhus. All evidence indicates to us that removal of Nhus is center of problem.

5. We understand that what we have told Generals is that they will have to proceed at their own risk and will not be bailed out by us. While this is sound initial approach, we must surely be ready to play every effective card at decisive moments. Therefore request your report of additional actions you and Harkins expect to take or recommend after coup begins to insure its success.

6. We shall be meeting tomorrow here at noon, our time, with President, and count on having your report by then to keep Washington in fullest coordination with you and Harkins.



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

Washington, August 28, 1963, 9:33 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Emergency. The text of this message was sent from the White House for transmission over Department of State channels. It was cleared personally by Rusk and Hilsman.

269. Eyes only for the Ambassador from the President. You are getting separately a longer message (Deptel 268)/2/ which reflects interdepartmental meeting with me this morning. In this personal message I want to emphasize again that I wish to have your independent judgment and also that of General Harkins at every stage. The basic policies set forth in Deptels 243 and 256 represent my best current judgment, but this judgment in turn is heavily dependent on your on-the-spot advice, and I trust you will not hesitate to recommend delay or change in plans if at any time you think it wise.

/2/Document 8.

Messages from Harkins to Joint Chiefs/3/ give some impression of uncertainty on his part as to presently planned timing of action by Generals, so I am asking through General Taylor/4/ for a direct message from Harkins to me as Commander-in-Chief, giving his personal assessment of the total situation and his best advice as to present and future courses. You will get a copy of Taylor's message, and you should explain to Harkins that I have high confidence in his judgment. While naturally there are differences of emphasis among the many officials concerned here in Washington, Washington will act as a unit under my direction, and that unit has respect for what Harkins has accomplished and for his candid judgment at every stage.

/3/MAC 1540, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 300, and MAC 1557, Document 4.

/4/See Document 7.

In all this, I continue to think of you as my personal representative and repose greatest confidence in you.



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

Saigon, August 29, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 3:17 a.m. and passed to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA.

371. Hilsman from Kattenburg. Had three hour conversation with President Diem afternoon August 28. More than on earlier occasions (1955, 1958) he talked largely to himself. While there no doubt he is in full possession his faculties, impression of growing neurosis cannot be escaped. Was as if words themselves had magic which made them believable as they came out and he then echoed and re-echoed them further. In moment real emotion, toward end of conversation he said "I'm ready to die, at once, if sweat and blood of last nine years now to be sacrificed to small group of agitators in Buddhist disguise, whom population any case despises."

Diem made vigorous and impassioned defense his policies since May 8 Hue incident, described communist infiltration Buddhist clergy in minute detail (mumbling largely irrelevant and very hard to follow examples, none of which when further reflected upon constitute any real hard evidence--though I asked him provide same and he said he would "when inquiry is complete").

He also passionately defended brothers Nhu and Thuc, stating it was "criminal" that U.S. press would attack a man of such total integrity and holy devotion as Thuc. Described brother Nhu as pure intellectual, a philosopher who never raised voice in debate, never sought favor for himself, said "wish Americans could provide me with another like him." As for Madame Nhu, he had said things to her but she had been mighty provoked by U.S. press. Republican Youth of both sexes, main achievement of Nhus, had been perhaps greatest benefit brought to country since 1954, symbolized new, vital and democratic generation brought out of vacuum in which country plunged when he took over. Brother Luyen had seen rightly reasons for government policies, was explaining them effectively in London, and contrasted with perfidy of Chuong who had never forgiven fact some his ricelands taken in land reform.

Do Van Ly, who had been with Diem in U.S. (as I would remember) was philosopher and capable publicist. Prince Buu Hoi had left Saigon and would represent Viet-Nam in UN if debate took place. (Diem did not specify when he would arrive New York.) Buu Hoi had been ill at first when seeing condition to which bonzes had brought his mother, but had recovered and realized insane atmosphere which leading younger bonzes ("les meneurs") were creating in pagodas and Buddhist community.

Viet-Nam was still much too underdeveloped to be properly understood by most Westerners. Bonzes had from beginning played on traditional primitive proclivities in people for irrational acts, had consciously developed wild atmosphere of raving and noise. All this carefully stirred up by extremely clever Viet Cong cadres. Latter were still at it and GVN knew who some of them were and were following them in present wanderings in pagodas all across SVN.

Diem said Buddhist issue now entirely solved. He had met morning August 28 with members Vietnamese Sangka, real representatives Vietnamese Buddhist clergy which shunted aside by agitators like 24-year old Nghiep who dignified in U.S. press as "venerable." Meeting had brought complete solution all points at issue and mutual respect both sides. Now that country rid of agitators, it could go back to winning war and principal task building democracy through Strategic Hamlet Program.

Action night of August 20 had been unanimously requested by Generals on 19th and 20th and he had agreed, after careful personal study, that government could no longer tolerate impossible situation created by Communist controlled agitators. How could American press and even official broadcasts accuse Colonel Tung ("not a great warrior, but a good man in special operations against NVN") of being responsible for action which all Generals his armed forces had pressed on him out of patriotic sense of duty and devotion to country.

But U.S. press was in any case most irresponsible and creating terribly dangerous misunderstandings. Constant misstatement of fact in U.S. press must be corrected, and he asked me do all I possibly could to help in this, "for sake all our years of work" and all that had been built up, and in midst terrible war against cruel and implacable enemy. He realized latter would stop at nothing, not even at organizing attacks in U.S. against his government. But at least "technical cadres" among American services here who were organizing U.S. press corps against him should stop their insane activities. He made this last plea in strong and impassioned language.

I was unable to break in more than once or twice, but did manage convey to him, I think (speaking frankly as friend, having known him 10 years), that his image abroad, and I thought in Viet-Nam too, had deteriorated considerably. I asked whether he intended convoke National Assembly explain government actions and whether and when he would hold new elections. He responded he was studying possibility meeting Assembly, failed to respond to question on elections. When I was finally able break monologue and leave, he said with great sincerity "try help us." I said "please try to do same for us."



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

Saigon, August 29, 1963, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Emergency. Received at 4:42 a.m. and passed to the White House at 4:52 a.m.

373. Eyes only for the President from Lodge. In separate telegram to State Department/2/ I try, in collaboration with General Harkins, to respond to questions in your 269./3/ This represents my very best thought and conclusions reached during stay in Vietnam which has been short but also rich with opportunities to observe, learn and evaluate. Any course is risky, and no action at all is perhaps the riskiest of all. Thank you for your expression of confidence in me as your personal representative. I appreciate this very much and will do my best to deserve it.

/2/Document 12.

/3/Document 9.



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

Saigon, August 29, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency; Eyes Only. Repeated Operational Immediate to CINCPAC. Received at 7:03 a.m. and passed to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA. Printed also in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 11, pp. 738-739 and Declassified Documents 1982, 591 B.

375. CINCPAC Exclusive for Felt.

1. We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable fuming back: The overthrow of the Diem government. There is no turning back in part because U.S. prestige is already publicly committed to this end in large measure and will become more so as facts leak out. In a more fundamental sense, there is no turning back because there is no possibility, in my view, that the war can be won under a Diem administration, still less that Diem or any member of the family can govern the country in a way to gain the support of the people who count, i.e., the educated class in and out of government service, civil and military--not to mention the American people. In the last few months (and especially days), they have in fact positively alienated these people to an incalculable degree. So that I am personally in full agreement with the policy which I was instructed to carry out by last Sunday's telegram./2/

/2/August 25. Apparent reference to telegram 243 to Saigon, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281. Because of the time difference between Saigon and Washington, telegram 243 arrived in Vietnam on August 25.

2. The chance of bringing off a Generals' coup depends on them to some extent; but it depends at least as much on us.

3. We should proceed to make all-out effort to get Generals to move promptly. To do so we should have authority to do following:

(a) That General Harkins repeat to Generals personally messages previously transmitted by CAS officers. This should establish their authenticity. (General Harkins should have order from President on this.)

(b) If nevertheless Generals insist on public statement that all U.S. aid to Vietnam through Diem regime has been stopped, we would agree, on express understanding that Generals will have started at same time. (We would seek persuade Generals that it would be better to hold this card for use in event of stalemate. We hope it will not be necessary to do this at all.)

4. Vietnamese Generals doubt that we have the will power, courage, and determination to see this thing through. They are haunted by the idea that we will run out on them even though we have told them pursuant to instructions, that the game had started.

5. We must press on for many reasons. Some of these are:

(a) Explosiveness of the present situation which may well lead to riots and violence if issue of discontent with regime is not met. Out of this could come a pro-Communist or at best a neutralist set of politicians.

(b) The fact that war cannot be won with the present regime.

(c) Our own reputation for steadfastness and our unwillingness to stultify ourselves.

(d) If proposed action is suspended, I believe a body blow will be dealt to respect for us by Vietnamese Generals. Also, all those who expect U.S. to straighten out this situation will feel let down. Our help to the regime in past years inescapably gives us a large responsibility which we cannot avoid.

6. I realize that this course involves a very substantial risk of losing Vietnam. It also involves some additional risk to American lives. I would never propose it if I felt there was a reasonable chance of holding Vietnam with Diem.

7. In response to specific question (c) in Deptel 268,/3/ I would not hesitate to use financial inducements if I saw a useful opportunity.

/3/Document 8.

As to (d) I favor such moves, provided it is made clear they are not connected with evacuation Americans. As for (e); I fear evacuation of U.S. personnel now would alarm the Generals and demoralize the people.

8. In response to your para 4, General Harkins thinks that I should ask Diem to get rid of the Nhus before starting the Generals' action. But I believe that such a step has no chance of getting the desired result and would have the very serious effect of being regarded by the Generals as a sign of American indecision and delay. I believe this is a risk which we should not run. The Generals distrust us too much already. Another point is that Diem would certainly ask for time to consider such a far-reaching request. This would give the ball to Nhu.

9. With the exception of paragraph 8 above General Harkins concurs in this telegram.



13. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, August 29, 1963, 5:30 p.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University; Taylor Papers, T-172-63. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC for Felt.

MAC 1566. Ref. JCS 3385-63./2/Amplification statements in my MACV 1557/3/ follows:

/2/Document 7.

/3/Document 4.

A. By reference to die being cast I meant that Generals have received assurance of U.S. support in their projected task of removal of Nhus from position of influence. Should we withhold such support U.S./RVN relations would be estranged indefinitely and future effectiveness of support programs in Vietnam would be zero. Withholding previously proffered support would constitute breach of faith and would undoubtedly result in failure of Vietnamese to ever again be able to place credence in official U.S. statements or commitments. Amplification my views with regard going direct to Diem prior to encouraging the coup contained in para C below.

B. Generals will not move without U.S. support and until detailed practical plans are drawn, and forces aligned. The status of plans, if any, at the moment are extremely well guarded secrets from U.S. military authority. They are likely to remain so. There are so many rumors flying around that piecemeal leaks may well be inconsequential. Plotters have kept their number to an absolute minimum, apparently. A problem facing the Generals and arguing against precipitate action on their part is I believe their genuine patriotic desire to accomplish their ends with absolute minimum of bloodshed and damage. If Generals can line up overwhelming strength to guarantee quick relatively painless decision, I believe they will do so at the cost of a few days time. In meantime believe only danger of rash or premature acts lies with pro Nhu forces if they see intolerable balance of power lining up against them. Such rash action seems unlikely yet. The security of key Generals is good, except for Big Minh who is not physically located at JGS. Believe that as long as Big Minh moves about openly, the Nhu forces do not dare eliminate him. In the meantime opportunity is open to persuade Diem to remove Nhus.

C. In my view, we can and should bring further pressure on Diem concurrent with continued negotiations with Generals. The two approaches are not incompatible provided we inform the Generals in advance of our ultimatums, being presented Diem. I believe that Ambassador should immediately make firm effort, repeated as necessary, to convince Diem to send Nhus abroad, as private citizens, as condition for continued U.S. support of his regime. Amb could reinforce demarche with world condemnation of Vietnam over Buddhist reprisals which all believe engineered by Nhus. Diem may well refuse but his refusal of this direct ultimatum, often considered but never before advanced, will certainly stiffen our resolve to back the Generals as the only remaining course of action. Moreover, should this approach, and the possibility that Diem may accept, force Nhu to attempt his own coup, the position of the Generals coup group will be strengthened militarily and psychologically in any counter-coup action.

Ambassador does not concur in this approach. My thought is we should do everything possible and leave no course of action untried in our efforts to solve the present dilemma without bloodshed.

As to what role can I play I might try assist Amb Lodge in placing pressure on Diem by indicating how present state of affairs so detrimental to war effort which has been going so well. Attempt at this time on my part to see Big Minh would I believe only put the finger on him. You will note from CAS [document number not declassified]/4/ Minh has advised U.S. assistance Special Forces company "accidentally" stationed by his quarters. CAS [document number not declassified] also indicated Generals are quite coy as regards any details of their plans. Such position on their part I believe is understandable at this time. Up to now I have not discussed any plan of action with Generals. In fact I have no authority to do so. However I am ready to do so if directed, and if it is determined CAS has gone as far as it can go-and Generals now need more concrete assurance of U.S. backing. As I see most of the Generals quite frequently, approach can be done in course of normal meetings. I agree we do not want to back any plan that does not augur for success.

/4/Dated August 29, not printed. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Cables)

In summation it is my opinion that not only are we unalterably committed to support actions of Generals to relieve Vietnam from the Nhu influences but that also such course of action is in the best interests of our country.

Skillful execution on part of all concerned could lead to successful accomplishment of task with little or no bloodshed. We must accept fact that less skillful execution while still accomplishing over-all aim could well result in more intense actions with resultant severe consequences. However on balance feel that competence of those involved and their determination to rid their country of festering sore will insure success.

In all corps the war against the VC is progressing, although at somewhat diminished rate.

Apparent atmosphere of calm prevails throughout Saigon which belies the intense undercurrents which abound within the city which is rife with rumors, tensions and undercurrents. Situation is potentially explosive.

Suggested course of U.S. action is to continue our present assurances of support to the Generals while at the same time attempting persuade Diem to take necessary action to remove Nhus from country.


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

Washington, August 29, 1963, 10:10 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series--Vietnam. Secret; Limit Distribution. Prepared in the Department of State.

Viet-Nam: Reporting of Tad Szulc, New York Times/2/

/2/Apparent reference to a New York Times article entitled, "Long Crisis Seen on Vietnam Rule," August 28, in which Szulc reported that some officials in Washington believed the only solution for the Vietnam crisis was to remove Nhu, or Nhu and Diem if the two brothers were inseparable, by a military coup. These unnamed officials were, according to Szulc, not sure that such a plan was feasible.

The President said he thought Tad Szulc seemed to be getting pretty close to things. Mr. Hilsman said the whole point here is the mere fact that for the benefit of the military out there we had to do something to get the blame off them and that, of course, is bound to give smart pressmen grounds for speculation. He called attention to the latter part of the article and said that it left the impression that we are trying to give that things are simmering, that the situation must be allowed to mature. Mr. Hilsman assured the President that the situation was being watched very closely.

The President said, "We are not making any more press comments, are we?" Mr. Hilsman said inevitably there have to be statements on events. For example, when the Vietnamese Government says we were wrong when we protested the beating up of the pagodas then we had to reply that we stand by our statement of the other day. Nothing beyond that.

The President asked if Mr. Hilsman thought anyone was talking to Szulc. Mr. Hilsman said he did not think anyone was. The people here are under strict instructions. He said the President would notice the article was based on GVN statements and USG statements-the only things attributed to the US Government are past hard statements. The rest are Szulc's deductions.

The President said, "O.K., Roger, fine."


15. Memorandum of Conference With the President/1/

Washington, August 29, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Smith. The meeting was held at the White House. There are two other records of this meeting: a memorandum of conversation by Hilsman, August 29 (ibid., Hilsman Papers, White House Meetings, State memcons) and a memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 29 (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69).


Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Secretary Dillon, General Carter, Director Murrow, Under Secretary Harriman, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, General Krulak, Ambassador Nolting, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Mr. Helms, Mr. Bundy, General Clifton, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith

Secretary Rusk reported that both Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins agreed that the war against the Viet Cong in Vietnam cannot be won under the Diem regime. /2/ General Harkins wants to try to separate the Nhus from Diem. He believes our target is more Nhu than Diem. The question for decision is whether to instruct General Harkins to back up the approaches made to the Vietnamese generals by the CIA agents. Ambassador Lodge has already told one CIA official, Mr. Phillips, to tell the Vietnamese generals that the U.S. Ambassador is behind the CIA approach. Although indicating our support of a coup, we should avoid getting committed to the details of the generals' coup planning.

/2/See Documents 11,12, and 13.

Ambassador Nolting/3/ said the first question the coup generals would ask was whether they could use the U.S. helicopters now operating with the Vietnamese army.

/3/Hilsman's and Krulak's records of the discussion at this meeting both recount that Nolting recommended, to use Hilsman's phrase, "one last try with Diem." Krulak's version also adds that Nolting thought that "the likelihood of separating the two [Diem and Nhu] is slight." Hilsman and Krulak also include an observation by Hilsman that the conversation between Kattenburg and Diem (see Document 10) indicated that it would be fruitless to try to split Nhu from Diem.

The President asked whether anyone had any reservations about the course of action we were following./4/ The issue was whether we should continue as we are now doing or withdraw from the present effort.

/4/Hilsman includes in his record the following exchange among the President and his advisers at approximately this point in the discussion:
"The Secretary said that although we had a need to know the adequacy of the plan, we should not get directly into planning.
"Mr. Hilsman asked if the Secretary was making a distinction between participating in coup planning and further reassurances to the Generals. The Secretary said that this was precisely the distinction he was making.
"Ambassador Nolting intervened and asked if we intended to get so deep into engineering a coup against Diem as to, for example, use American helicopters to transport the forces of the coup Generals to Saigon.
"The President said that he wanted to get back to the basic question. In the light of the cables from Lodge and Harkins, was there anyone in the EXCOM who wished to withdraw from the operation? And, secondly, what was the feeling of the EXCOM about the issue of an approach to Diem?"

Secretary McNamara recommended that we disassociate ourselves from efforts to bring about a coup, but he did favor an attempt by General Harkins to get Diem to fire Nhu. He believed that this effort should be undertaken sometime later, i.e. two or three days later, when the coup capability of the Vietnamese generals is greater. Mr. Gilpatric agreed with this view, adding that we should confront Diem with an ultimatum expiring within a few hours so that Diem could not take counteraction against the generals in the period before they were ready to act.

Secretary McNamara said he sees no valid alternative to the Diem regime. Vice President Tho is apparently not the man to replace Diem. A military junta of the Vietnamese generals now planning a coup is not capable of running the Vietnamese government for very long. Therefore, a last effort should be made to persuade Diem to change his government by dismissing Nhu.

In response to the President's question as to who is running the government now, Ambassador Nolting replied that President Diem was in control and continuing to work his usual eighteen hours a day. Diem relies on Nhu for ideas. His executive officer is Thuan who is opposed to Nhu but loyal to Diem. Thuan would remain with Diem if Nhu were dismissed.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that we were dealing with Nhu who, if a coup were successful, would lose power and possibly his life. Therefore, Nhu had nothing to lose and we must recognize this fact in dealing with him. Nhu might call on the North Vietnamese to help him throw out the Americans. The U.S. should not go to Diem with a request that he fire Nhu but that the Vietnamese generals, as a prelude to a coup, demand of Diem that he dismiss Nhu.

Secretary McNamara said he favors trying to save Diem, but Ambassador Lodge appears not to support such an attempt.

Secretary Rusk said that the first phase is to remove Nhu and Madame Nhu from power. Ambassador Lodge appears to believe that there is no hope of separating Diem and Nhu.

Mr. Murrow pointed out that problems of public opinion would be simpler if the Vietnamese generals are in the posture of remaining loyal to a Diem who had dismissed the Nhus. Mr. Bundy pointed out the great difficulty of attempting a coup which resulted in Diem remaining as head of the government. He foresaw great difficulty in trying to save Diem as the figurehead of a new government.

Ambassador Nolting suggested that we inform both Diem and the Vietnamese generals that there would be no U.S. economic or political support until the changes we demanded were made. He asked that we talk to Diem directly. He predicted that Diem would not be surprised to be told by us that the Vietnamese generals also want a change in the government.

The President pointed out that if Diem says no to a change in government there would be no way in which we could withdraw our demand./5/

/5/Hilsman's record has the President asking at this point: "whether we would really pull out of Vietnam in any event."

General Taylor urged that before any ultimatum was given to Diem we have a coup plan in our hip pocket. He cautioned against the U.S. getting involved in the coup planning in such a way as to prematurely commit us to an uncertain coup to be carried out by people we were uncertain about.

Secretary Rusk acknowledged that we should not get into detailed planning of a coup, but we did have a need to know whether the generals were counting on our support.

General Taylor urged that any coup plan be given to General Harkins who could say whether or not in his opinion it was militarily feasible.

The President commented that an announcement that we were cutting off U.S. aid was a bad signal. Mr. Hilsman responded that we need a U.S. signal which could be given by General Harkins and other U.S. military officers.

Mr. Bundy said that General Harkins could be instructed to tell the generals that the CIA channel is spelling out official U.S. policy. Mr. Hilsman added that reassurance by U.S. military officers to certain Vietnamese generals might persuade those generals on the fence to come over in support of a coup.

Secretary McNamara recommended that for the time being we do not give Ambassador Lodge authority to say, at a time of his choosing, that U.S. aid to Diem is stopping. Secretary Rusk said that we could wait until the generals form a government and then announce that we are transferring to them U.S. aid.

Secretary McNamara suggested that we do not announce we are cutting aid, but wait until the generals have taken over the government, we recognized the new government, and then say publicly that our aid would be continued to the new government. Mr. Bundy commented that prompt recognition of a new government and an announcement that we were continuing U.S. aid to them would convince everyone that we had been in cahoots with the Vietnamese generals.

The President said that we could announce we were suspending our aid because of the unstable conditions in Vietnam. However, this was a later action and we should decide now on the actions to be taken immediately.

Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara agreed that we should instruct General Harkins to back up the CIA and get information about coup planning. General Taylor asked that we avoid making any commitment to the generals until they had produced a coup plan acceptable to us.

The President commented that the Vietnamese generals would obviously try to get us more and more involved, recalling a comment made by Ambassador Nolting--what was our position if we were asked whether U.S. forces were available to support the Vietnamese generals? Mr. Hilsman said our objective was merely to reassure the generals of our support. These generals want to have a bloodless coup and will not need to use U.S. equipment with the exception of possibly U.S. helicopters.

Secretary McNamara suggested we learn as much as we can about the coup plans without talking about the use of U.S. forces. Mr. Bundy added that the coup was their show and that we should stick with our plan, which was to support the Vietnamese effort.

The President raised the problem of evacuating U.S. nationals and asked whether our capability was sufficient. Secretary McNamara summarized parts of the evacuation plan, calling attention to the forces which can be brought to Saigon within ten hours. General Taylor said it was hard to describe the evacuation force as sufficient to the need, but the military is moving additional U.S. forces into areas closer to Vietnam so that they would have a capability of expanding the number of people who could be quickly evacuated.

The President summarized the agreed actions to be taken:

1. General Harkins is to be instructed to back up the CIA approaches to the Vietnamese generals.

2. Ambassador Lodge is to be authorized to announce the suspension of U.S. aid. We have to give him this authority, but we should control the timing of this announcement.

3. No announcement is to be made of the movement of U.S. forces to the area. This information will leak out in any event. We do not want the Vietnamese to conclude that we are getting in a position to intervene in Vietnam with U.S. fighting forces.

4. Ambassador Lodge is to have authority over all overt and covert operations.

Mr. Helms suggested that certain planned covert actions which would lead to a considerable amount of confusion in Vietnam would be taken only when all plans for the coup were ready. Mr. Hilsman said that a group was at work listing covert actions to be taken in the event of a military coup. The President asked that this list/6/ be made available to him this afternoon.

/6/Not found.

Secretary Rusk called attention to the high risk which is involved in the course of action we were taking. He warned that shooting of and by Americans would almost certainly be involved. Before any action is over he said that American troops would be firing their weapons and American citizens might be killed.

The President asked what approach was to be made to Diem. Secretary Rusk responded that in the cable to Ambassador Lodge we would raise the question of who should talk to Diem and when, but we would not instruct him in the next day or two to tell Diem that Nhu must go.

The President asked what we would tell Diem. Must we tell him that he must choose among firing Nhu or having us cease our aid or being faced with a military coup. Ambassador Nolting responded by pointing out that Ambassador Lodge so far had had no substantive talk with Diem. He urged that we instruct Ambassador Lodge to have a cards-down talk with Diem now. This talk would take place before we discussed a coup with the Vietnamese generals. If we proceed in this fashion, we would have nothing to hide. He said we should tell Diem that we want a new deal and that our commitments have been altered by recent events in Vietnam. If we lay it on the line with Diem, telling him that we can't continue our aid unless he changes, we, by so doing, would have the best chance of getting a stable base on which we could continue the war against the Viet Cong.

Mr. Bundy urged that we not tell Ambassador Lodge to do something he does not want to do. Secretary Rusk pointed out that if Ambassador Lodge takes this line with Diem, telling him he must change or else, the effect will be to stimulate Nhu to immediate action.

Mr. Bundy noted that Ambassador Lodge hasn't yet said anything to Diem.

Ambassador Nolting recommended that both Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins see Diem and Nhu and tell them how they have alienated the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese military officers. The resulting situation is one which we cannot accept. Secretary Rusk disagreed with this suggestion and predicted that the sole result would be to trigger action by Nhu. We should not proceed along this line until the generals are ready to launch a coup.

The President commented that if Diem rejects our demands, there is the possibility that the generals' planning would be upset and Nhu would act against them.

Ambassador Nolting said it was not clear whether the generals want to get rid of both Nhu and Diem. He said that he believed the generals wanted to get rid of both Nhus and believed that we could live with Diem and a new government. Mr. Hilsman noted that we have already told the generals that they can keep Diem in their new government if they wished. This is a decision which is up to them.

Mr. Bundy said he had heard from Director McCone, who is not in Washington. Mr. McCone says he favors another attempt to persuade Nhu to leave. He even suggested that Mr. Colby, who knows Nhu, make this attempt. Mr. McCone wants to be certain that a coup can be brought off before we commit ourselves to supporting the generals' attempt.

Secretary Rusk repeated this view that our main target is the Nhus.

A smaller group met with the President in his office. The cables of instruction were agreed upon./7/

/7/Documents 16 and 17.

Note: The President telephoned Mr. Bundy from Hyannisport, with the result that Mr. Bundy sent a cable,/8/ Personal-Eyes Only, from the President to Ambassador Lodge, reserving ultimate decision on U.S. action. Ambassador Lodge replied the following morning, expressing his understanding of the President's reservation./9/ Secretaries Rusk and McNamara were the only officials in the government who knew of this message and the reply (copies attached).

/8/Document 18.

/9/See footnote 2, Document 18.

Bromley Smith/10/

/10/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


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

Washington, August 29, 1963, 5:03 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency. The text of this message was sent from the White House for transmission over Department of State channels. According to the memorandum supra, the telegram was cleared by the President. Hilsman and Rusk cleared the telegram for transmission. Another copy indicates that the President saw it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State cables) Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, p. 538.

272. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins.

1. Highest level meeting noon today reviewed your 375 and reaffirmed basic course./2/ Specific decisions follow:

/2/See Document 15. Telegram 375 is Document 12.

2. In response to your recommendation, General Harkins is hereby authorized to repeat to such Generals as you indicate the messages previously transmitted by CAS officers. He should stress that the USG supports the movement to eliminate the Nhus from the government, but that before arriving at specific understandings with the Generals, General Harkins must know who are involved, resources available to them and overall plan for coup. The USG will support a coup which has good chance of succeeding but plans no direct involvement of U.S. Armed Forces. Harkins should state that he is prepared to establish liaison with the coup planners to review plans, but will not engage directly in joint coup planning./3/

/3/In telegram 385 from Saigon, August 30, Lodge thanked Rusk for the "prompt decisions," but noted that the Mission had no further contact with the Generals. General Khiem canceled a meeting with a CIA officer and was unavailable to receive a telephone call from Harkins. Lodge thought that this wariness might reflect concern for security. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)

3. Question of last approach to Diem remains undecided and separate personal message from Secretary to you/4/ develops our concerns and asks your comment.

/4/Document 17.

4. On movement of U.S. forces, we do not expect to make any announcement or leak at present and believe that any later decision to publicize such movements should be closely connected to developing events on your side. We cannot of course prevent unauthorized disclosures or speculation, but we will in any event knock down any reports of evacuation.

5. You are hereby authorized to announce suspension of aid through Diem Government at a time and under conditions of your choice. In deciding upon use of this authority, you should consider importance of timing and managing announcement so as to minimize appearance of collusion with Generals, and also to minimize danger of unpredictable and disruptive reaction by existing government. We also assume that you will not in fact use this authority unless you think it essential, and we see it as possible that Harkins' approach and increasing process of cooperation may provide assurance Generals desire. Our own view is that it will be best to hold this authority for use in close conjunction with coup, and not for present encouragement of Generals, but decision is yours.



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

Washington, August 29, 1963, 8:17 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency. Drafted by Rusk, cleared with the White House, and approved by Hilsman. Another copy of this telegram has a marginal note indicating the President read it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables) Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, p. 539.

279. Eyes only for the Ambassador from the Secretary. Deeply appreciate your 375/2/ which was a most helpful clarification. We fully understand enormous stakes at issue and the heavy responsibilities which you and Harkins will be carrying in the days ahead and we want to do everything possible from our end to help.

/2/Document 12.

Purpose of this message is to explore further question of possible attempt to separate Diem and the Nhus. In your telegram you appear to treat Diem and the Nhus as a single package whereas we had indicated earlier to the Generals that if the Nhus were removed the question of retaining Diem would be up to them. My own personal assessment is (and this is not an instruction) that the Nhus are by all odds the greater part of the problem in Viet-Nam, internally, internationally and for American public opinion. Perhaps it is inconceivable that the Nhus could be removed without taking Diem with them or without Diem's abandoning his post. In any event, I would appreciate your comment on whether any distinction can or should be drawn as between Diem and Counselor and Madame Nhu.

The only point on which you and General Harkins have different views is whether an attempt should be made with Diem to eliminate the Nhus and presumably take other steps to consolidate the country behind a winning effort against the Viet Cong. My own hunch, based in part on the report of Kattenburg's conversations with Diem/3/ is that such an approach could not succeed if it were cast purely in terms of persuasion. Unless such a talk included a real sanction, such as a threatened withdrawal of our support, it is unlikely that it would be taken completely seriously by a man who may feel that we are inescapably committed to an anti-communist Viet-Nam. But if a sanction were used in such a conversation, there would be a high risk that this would be taken by Diem as a sign that action against him and the Nhus was imminent and he might as a minimum move against the Generals or even take some quite fantastic action such as calling on North Viet-Nam for assistance in expelling the Americans.

/3/See Document 10.

It occurs to me, therefore, that if such an approach were to be made it might properly await the time when others were ready to move immediately to constitute a new government. If this be so, the question then arises as to whether an approach to insist upon the expulsion of the Nhus should come from Americans rather than from the Generals themselves. This might be the means by which the Generals could indicate that they were prepared to distinguish between Diem and the Nhus. In any event, were the Generals to take this action it would tend to protect succeeding Viet-Nam administrations from the charge of being wholly American puppets subjected to whatever anti-American sentiment is inherent in so complex a situation.

I would be glad to have your further thoughts on these points as well as your views on whether further talks with Diem are contemplated to continue your opening discussions with him. You will have received formal instructions on other matters through other messages. Good luck.



18. Message From the President to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, August 29, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, Staff Memorandum, MG Bundy. Transmitted in telegram CAP 63465 with the notations: "Personal for the Ambassador from the President" and "No Department or other distribution whatever". The source text is a copy that Bundy sent to Clifton under cover of a Top Secret Eyes Only memorandum of August 30, which reads as follows:
"The enclosed envelope should be opened by the President only, and when he has read the messages it contains you should destroy them. The reason for this extraordinary procedure is that these messages are not in the normal series and their existence is not known except to the President and to the Secretary of State, so I do not want them in a message file that may be seen by others who believe themselves privy to the most classified material. You should tell the President, however, that I discussed the outgoing message in draft with the Secretaries of State and Defense who concurred in it. The Secretary of Defense in particular thought it was a wise and necessary cable.
"You may wish to ask the President after he has read the messages whether he wants to send any further message to the Ambassador on this topic. My own advice is not to do so at this time, but to be ready to call his attention to this question again if the developing situation makes it advisable.
"I am sorry to be so cryptic."
The other message included in the envelope for the President was Lodge's reply; see footnote 2 below.

I have approved all the messages you are receiving from others today, and I emphasize that everything in these messages has my full support.

We will do all that we can to help you conclude this operation successfully. Nevertheless, there is one point on my own constitutional responsibilities as President and Commander in Chief which I wish to state to you in this entirely private message, which is not being circulated here beyond the Secretary of State.

Until the very moment of the go signal for the operation by the Generals, I must reserve a contingent right to change course and reverse previous instructions. While fully aware of your assessment of the consequences of such a reversal, I know from experience that failure is more destructive than an appearance of indecision. I would, of course, accept full responsibility for any such change as I must bear also the full responsibility for this operation and its consequences. It is for this reason that I count on you for a continuing assessment of the prospects of success and most particularly desire your candid warning if current course begins to go sour. When we go, we must go to win, but it will be better to change our minds than fail. And if our national interest should require a change of mind, we must not be afraid of it.

This message requires no direct answer but if you do wish to reply, your answer should be unnumbered and headed "For President Only, pass White House directly, no other distribution whatever," and referencing White House cite number./2/

/2/Lodge replied in WHASA 16262 directly to the President with no other distribution whatever, August 30, noon, as follows:
"1. I fully understand that you have the right and responsibility to change course at any time. Of course I will always respect that right.
"2. To be successful, this operation must be essentially a Vietnamese affair with a momentum of its own. Should this happen you may not be able to control it, i.e. the 'go signal' may be given by the Generals." (Ibid.)


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

Saigon, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy the CIA sent to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy, and to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 4:45 a.m.

[document number not declassified] 1. On evening 29 August, [less than 1 line not declassified] informed CAS that he had a report from a source of medium reliability to the effect that within 24 hours the govt would begin the arrest of Generals who might not be fully loyal. The [less than 1 line not declassified] rep intimated that this was the same source who on 20 Aug had provided report forecasting govt attack on the pagodas.

2. It was decided to attempt alert the Generals to this information while cautioning them that info was not confirmed and could be speculative. Of the various means available to pass this in best was thought to be contact with Major Nhieu who is next-door neighbor of Colonel Ralph E. Newman, USAF, MAAG. Major Nhieu is the Administrative Assistant of General Duong Van Minh. Newman, Nhieu and General Minh have a close relationship resulting from fact Colonel Newman was General Big Minh's advisor for approx 7 months.

3. Col Newman was contacted by a CAS officer. Col Newman immediately attempted contact with Major Nhieu but was unable to telephone him or to find anyone at home at Major Nhieu's residence. Col Newman volunteered that he was also on good terms with General Le Van Kim and could probably pass message to General Kim.

4. Newman was requested to call General Kim and state he had been approached by Vietnamese friend who was extremely worried about his son who had been arrested on Sunday during roundup of students and that Newman very much wanted talk with General Kim with respect to securing release of arrested boy.

5. Colonel Newman placed call to General Kim's residence and noted immediately that telephone line was being monitored. An individual attempting to imitate General Kim's voice came onto the line and repeatedly requested Colonel Newman's location. Col Newman then asked to speak to Mrs. Kim. A woman then came on line and Colonel Newman recognized her voice as that of Mrs. Kim. Col Newman passed message concerning fictitious arrested student and asked come to General Kim's house. The line was then broken. Very soon thereafter, General Kim's aide came to Col Newman's house and escorted Col Newman and CAS officer to General Kim's house. The message was passed to General Kim who was most appreciative of the warning. General Kim promised to get the message to General Big Minh immediately. General Kim did state that it was very dangerous for Col Newman to come to his house and that for the time being these contacts should be suspended. Col Newman noted the presence of approx one platoon of troops in the vicinity of General Kim's house. Upon departure from Kim's house Newman and CAS officer were escorted away from the house over a back road and through gates apparently very seldom used.

6. There are at least two among other hazards in the present situation at the Generals' end of this operation. The first is that the arrest of four or five key figures among the Generals might bring this operation to a halt at least for the short run. This action seems easily within capability of GVN. It is puzzling that action of this nature has not already been taken. We can only be speculative on this subject. GVN may be attempting to avoid direct confrontation in hope that steam will gradually go out of Generals' present course. It may worry about causing further disaffection throughout Armed Forces or revolt in corps areas. GVN could be waiting for premature coup to crush military opposition. Or it may be building up its dossiers on course of coup plotting to present to armed forces and general public after arrest of key Generals in effort diminish impact these arrests. Another hazard is that one or another of Generals involved might betray details of operation. So far we cannot point fingers at anyone. Hope HQS will understand that speculation on possible negative factors does not represent negative station attitude. We are bringing all capabilities we can think of to bear.


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

Saigon, August 30, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Emergency. Received at 7:39 p.m. Repeated Operational Immediate to CINCPAC. According to CAP 63468, August 30, the President read this cable. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables) Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 739-740.

383. Eyes only for the Secretary. CINCPAC POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. Deptel 279./2/

/2/Document 17.

1. I agree that getting the Nhus out is the prime objective and that they are "the greater part of the problem in Vietnam, internally, internationally and for American public opinion."

2. This surely cannot be done by working through Diem. In fact Diem will oppose it. He wishes he had more Nhus, not less.

3. The best chance of doing it is by the Generals taking over the government lock, stock and barrel.

4. After this has been done, it can then be decided whether to put Diem back in again or go on without him. I am rather inclined to put him back, but I would not favor putting heavy pressure on the Generals if they don't want him.

5. My greatest single difficulty in carrying out the instructions of last Sunday/3/ is inertia. The days come and go and nothing happens. It is, of course, natural for the Generals to want assurances and the U.S. Government has certainly been prompt in its reactions. But here it is Friday and, while in one way much has been done, there is not yet enough to show for the hours which we have all put in.

/3/August 25; see telegram 243 to Saigon, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 281.

6. If I call on Diem to demand the removal of the Nhus, he will surely not agree. But before turning me down, he will pretend to consider it and involve us in prolonged delays. This will make the Generals suspicious of us and add to the inertia.

7. Such a call by me would look to the Nhus like an ultimatum and would result in their taking steps to thwart any operation dealing with them.

8. I agree with you that if a sanction were used, it could provoke an even more fantastic reaction. In fact I greatly dislike the idea of cutting off aid in connection with the Generals' operation and, while I thank you for giving me the authority to make an announcement, I hope we will never have to use it.

9. It is possible, as you suggested in your penultimate paragraph, for the Generals when, as and if their operation gets rolling to demand the removal of the Nhus before bringing their operation to fruition. But I am afraid that they will get talked out of their operation which will then disintegrate, still leaving the Nhus in office.

10. If the Generals' operation does get rolling, I would not want to stop it until they were in full control. They could then get rid of the Nhus and decide whether they wanted to keep Diem.

11. It is better for them and for us to throw out the Nhus than for us to get involved in it.

12. I am sure that the best way to handle this matter is by a truly Vietnamese movement even it if puts me rather in the position of pushing a piece of spaghetti.

13. I am contemplating no further talks with Diem at this time.



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

Washington, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy the CIA sent the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 1:58 p.m. According to CAP 63468, August 30, the President read this cable. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables)

65032. Reference: CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]./2/

/2/Document 19.

1. HQS highly concerned by implications of reference particularly re vital factors of initiative. Query where subsequent Sta contacts with Generals now stand re General Kim warning in paragraph 5 reference.

2. We fully aware need U.S. Government determine rebel Generals plans capabilities before committing them support, but at same time do not feel that other, perhaps more vital factors, should be sacrificed for sake of coordination. Can means other than personal meetings be used to keep contact with Generals such as radio, S/W, cut outs, et cetera.

3. Request Sta check with Ambassador Lodge to determine any actions to be taken prior expiration 24 hours cited by [less than 1 line not declassified] source. Urge all bear in mind that GVN may be circulating such reports in order pressure Generals into premature steps which easy to foil. Please advise OPIM.

4. Secretary Hilsman informed of reference. He shares our concern.


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

Saigon, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy the CIA sent the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. Received at the Department of State at 1:59 p.m.

0483. 1. CAS officer has been having series of conversations over past several days with Lt. Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, former Chief of Kien Hoa Province and now nominally an inspector of strategic hamlets stationed at Presidency.

2. Col Thao has figured prominently in past reporting on coup plotting, both on part of Tran Kim Tuyen and Huynh Van Lang. Col Thao has for some months expressed his dissatisfaction with the Diem regime quite openly and has even written notes to this effect to CAS.

3. On 30 August Col Thao reported to CAS officer that he had attended dinner evening before with Generals Khiem, Khanh, and Duong Van Minh. Main points of conversation follow:

a. They stated that if someone else takes initiative to mount coup d'etat against GVN, they will support it.

b. General Khiem pointed out that Generals have too much to lose by initiating a coup. By this he apparently meant in Thao's opinion the Generals' houses, positions and material possessions.

c. The Generals stated they would support Vice President Tho as temporary interim government. This would represent legality.

d. Generals Khiem and Khanh agreed that they would support General Minh if both Diem and Nhu are killed during a coup attempt. They would support Tho only if Nhu survived a coup attempt and in preference to Nhu.

e. Generals for first time openly indicated their opposition to Nhu. Whereas as recently as one week ago they would perhaps privately indicate their opposition to Nhu, they now state this as a group.

f. Generals said that if first step of attempted coup is successful, i.e., the assassination of President Diem, they would then support the coup openly. Generals Khanh and Khiem promised they would do their best to send units in wrong directions in case they were instructed to take steps to crush coup attempt.

g. Colonel Thao told Generals it may be necessary to move military units in Saigon. That is, some units inclined to support the government would be moved away from palace and other units that might support a coup attempt would be brought into position where they could do so. Generals agreed they would do their best to implement this suggestion. They also said they would try to make suggestions to Colonel Le Quang Tung to have the latter move some of his units out of the way. Col Thao claimed that some units have already been moved and that this is proceeding well.

h. Col Thao claimed that his group now can count on three battalions. They hope to have a total of five battalions. He said that the plan is to use three battalions to hit the palace, keeping two battalions in reserve. This is based on group's belief that they must have enough forces to control the situation for three or four hours. This would give Generals time to proclaim support and come to the assistance of the coup group.

i. Thao said that his group hopes to execute a coup within one month and preferably sooner. He said that there are risks involved in hasty action and risks involved in waiting too long. The group is attempting to determine the best timing.

j. Thao said that the following individuals would be welcome in a new government: Vu Van Mau, Tran Van Chuong, Tran Le Quang, Vu Van Thai, Huynh Van Lang, Nguyen Huu Chau. Thao also said that opposition politicians, for example Dai Viet leaders, would be considered if they agreed with the principles of the group. He said that the group is not now in contact with the Dai Viet Party.

k. Thao said that he would wish to become head of military security in a new government.

1. Thao stated that he did not know if his group consisted of the "best men" but he was certain that it consisted of the "most determined".

4. CAS comment: We believe Thao is trying to plan and organize toward a coup at some indeterminate time. Will attempt some assessment of Thao's activities 31 Aug. Ref para 3 g, Thao appears unaware that the Generals he was talking with lack the capability of moving troop units around without Diem's approval, that is, at this time and in the absence of a coup attempt on their own part.


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

Saigon, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is a copy the CIA sent the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. Copies were also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy and to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak.

[document number not declassified] Ref: CAS Wash 65032./2/

/2/Document 21.

1. During 30 Aug CAS sought meeting with Gen. Khiem who responded through Maj. Nhon that he was "too busy" today. Khiem was called to Palace for lengthy conference this morning. Ambassador has requested Gen. Harkins to call on Khiem for meeting in Harkins' office to offer additional bona fides and to question Gen. Khiem on specific plans and timing. Gen. Harkins' initial attempt to contact Khiem met with response that Gen. Khiem was in conference. Do not know when Generals Harkins and Khiem will get together. We are suspending further contacts until after results of Harkins-Khiem meeting are known.

2. With respect CAS Saigon 0445,/3/ wish point out that neither Col. Newman nor Col. Strickler have been made aware of initial plans or actions and that Gen. Kim's warning was friendly one to Col. Newman simply requesting that Newman, who is old friend, not call on Gen. Kim over immediate future.

/3/Document 19.

3. Re ref para 2, we have discussed question of SW, radio, cut outs, etc., with Minister Trueheart in absence of Ambassador. We all believe that this kind of communication would not allow enough substantive exchange. For future, we will rely on established liaison between Khiem and CAS officer since latter has excellent reason for contacting Khiem. Will also explore further utilization of Maj. Nhon as cutout. However, if situation progresses to point where Generals will [want?] some tactical advice, Conein might also have to enter into relationship.

4. As addendum, we have previously failed to note that CAS officer did turn over to Khiem, at latter's request, on 28 August complete ordnance list, obtain sketch of Camp Long Thanh showing weapons emplacements. This is cited as another example of assurance re USG intentions since these plans were provided for purpose of attack on Col. Tung's training camp in environs of Saig.


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


Washington, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-172-69. Top Secret. There is no indication on the source text that the President saw this memorandum or chart. A copy of the chart is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous.

Probable Loyalties of Vietnamese Units and Commanders

The enclosure offers, in tabular form, a presentation of the probable loyalties of key military units and commanders in the event a coup d'etat is undertaken in South Vietnam in the near future. With the exception of information on the Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps, which originated in the Joint Staff, the summary is based upon a Central Intelligence Agency report received from Saigon on 29 August./2/

/2/CIA telegram 0441 from Saigon, August 29. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)

Maxwell B. Taylor/3/

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







Appraisal of Loyalty

Presidential Guard


15 WWII Tanks, 12 Armored Personnel Carriers, At least 1,000 Automatic Rifles

Most likely will remain loyal to Diem. This is an elite unit and presidential favorite. Leader, LtCol Khoi is strong, and most likely to remain with Diem under any circumstances. The equipment is well adapted to urban fighting.

Armor Branch


21 WWII Tanks, 41 Armored Personnel Carriers, 14 Armored Cars

Loyalty to Diem highly questionable. Many dissidents in this branch, whose units are assigned to many other organizations. Commander, Col Thien, has no operational command, but has impressive following among unit commanders. The equipment is well adapted to urban fighting.

Airborne Brigade


Conventional infantry equipment including counter-armor weapons such as bazookas and recoilless rifles.

Could likely be led to act against Diem in case of a coup, either under present leader, Col Vien, or one of the many other dissident officers in brigade. Vien has claimed to be loyal to Diem, but could probably be pushed aside by another in case he should try to remain loyal. This brigade has a history of coup plots and attempts.

Marine Brigade


Conventional infantry plus artillery and mortars.

Unknown. Brigade will probably follow the commander, LtCol Khang who is strong, respected by his subordinates and competent. In past Khang has been steadfast and loyal to Diem, however recent reports indicate he is dissatisfied, upset and perhaps ready to take part in a coup.

Special Forces (plus additional units)


Conventional light infantry.

Probably will stand by Diem. All through current unrest these units have been active in Saigon in physical action against Buddhists. These forces are under command of Col Tung, who is judged to be absolutely loyal to Diem. His units will most probably follow him.

Vietnamese Air Force


63 Light bombers, 17 Helicopters, 38 C-47 Transports

Likely ready to join non-Communist coup group. Unit has history of disaffection. Present commander, Col Hien is a weak leader, but in past has been strongly sympathetic to Diem and Nhu. Many officers in the Air Force are capable, and are ready to take over command.

Vietnamese Navy


Light infantry; river boats with machine guns; patrol craft with 20 and 40 mm cannons.

Likely to remain loyal to Diem. Can probably be held together by present commander, Capt Quyen, who in two coup crises in the past, has sided with Diem immediately and emphatically.

Quang Trung Training Center

Highly variable--estimated 2,000 poorly disciplined trainees.

All light infantry weapons.

Significance is large quantity of weapons and proximity to Saigon (3 miles). Commander, BGen Xuan is a dissident, a Buddhist, and close to BGen Chieu who is reportedly anti-regime.

Thu Duc Reserve Officers School

Highly variable--estimated 400.

Rifles and handguns.

Students may be ready for a coup, but their capability open to some question. Many are discontented for various reasons. Commander, Col Son, is exceptionally competent officer who was once not trusted by regime, but has been wooed recently. His present inclinations are unknown, but Son has the courage and ability to make him an important figure on whichever side he chooses.

Saigon Uniformed Police


Hand guns, light automatic weapons

Unknown, however, leaders are customarily responsive to direct orders from Palace.

Civil Guard


Rifles, light automatic weapons.


In addition to the above forces, there are regular Army units, more remote from Saigon, but which might be brought into the conflict.

III Corps

8,608 (all believed to be within 50 miles of Saigon)

Conventional infantry including 105 mm Howitzers.

Unknown. Not predictable which units might follow the present leader. Actions of leader himself, BGen Dinh, not possible to predict. Normally his opportunism might lead one to expect him to leap to winning side, but he has recently become identified with regime. Next most influential officer in Division is Col Thieu who is Catholic and known as strong supporter of Nhu.

IV Corps

17,505 (estimated 8,850 within 50 miles of Saigon)

Conventional infantry including 105 mm Howitzers.

Unit itself unknown, but commander BGen Cao idolizes Diem and has sworn to devote his life to supporting him. Cao is considered completely loyal to Diem. However, there is reason to question Cao's ability to command loyalty of subordinate units. Both his Deputy and his Chief of Staff are reported disaffected. BGen Khiem reportedly commands loyalty of several of the more influential officers in 7th Division, near Saigon. Khiem is reported to be strongly anti-Nhu, in spite of the fact that he is now serving as Chief of Staff of Joint General Staff.


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

Washington, August 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Top Secret. Drafted by Mendenhall and cleared in draft by Allen S. Whiting, Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for the Far East, Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Possible Diem-Nhu Moves and U.S. Responses

The courses of action which Diem and Nhu could take to maintain themselves in power and the United States responses thereto are as follows:

1. Diem-Nhu Move: Preemptive arrest and assassination of opposition military officers and/or Vice President Tho.

U.S. Response:

(a) We should continue to pass warnings to these officials about their danger.

(b) CAS should explore the feasibility of prompt supply of a warning system to these officials.

(c) If several general officers are arrested, we should invoke aid sanctions to obtain their release on the ground that they are essential to successful prosecution of the war against the Viet Cong.

(d) Encouragement of prompt initiation of the coup is the best way of avoiding arrests and assassinations of generals.

2. Diem-Nhu Move: Sudden switch in assignments of opposition generals or their dispatch on special missions outside of Saigon.

U.S. Response: We should recommend that the opposition generals delay in carrying out any such orders and move promptly to execution of the coup.

3. Diem-Nhu Move: Declaration of Ambassador Lodge and/or other important American officials in Viet-Nam as personae non gratae.

U.S. Response:

(a) We should stall on the removal of our officials until the efforts to mount a coup have borne fruit. This situation again shows the importance of speed on the part of both the U.S. and Vietnamese sides. We should also suspend aid.

(b) Should the GVN begin to bring physical pressure on our personnel, we should introduce U.S. forces to safeguard their security.

4. Diem-Nhu Move: Blackmail pressure on U.S. dependents in Viet-Nam, such as arrests, a few mysterious deaths or-more likely-disguised threats (like Nhu's recent threat to raze Saigon in case of a coup).

U.S. Response:

(a) We should maintain our sangfroid with respect to threats.

(b) We should urge American personnel to take such precautions as avoidance of unnecessary movement and concentration of families. We should also issue arms to selected American personnel.

(c) We should demand the release of any Americans arrested and should insist for the record on proper protection of Americans by the GVN. (GVN failure to furnish this protection could serve as one of the justifications for open U.S. intervention.)

(d) We should evacuate dependents and other nonofficial personnel at the earliest possible moment that Ambassador Lodge considers it consistent with the overall operation.

(e) We should intervene with U.S. forces if necessary to protect Americans during evacuation and to obtain the release of those arrested.

5. Diem-Nhu Move: Severance of all aid ties with the U.S., ouster of all U.S. personnel (except for a limited diplomatic staff), and demand for removal of all U.S.-controlled military equipment in Viet-Nam.

U.S. Response:

(a) We should stall in removing U.S. personnel and equipment from Viet-Nam. This move by the GVN would again, however, underscore the necessity for speed in our counteraction.

(b) If Diem-Nhu move to seize U.S.-controlled equipment, we should resist by all necessary force.

6. Diem-Nhu Move: Political move toward the DRV (such as opening of neutralization negotiations), or rumors and indirect threats of such a move.

U.S. Response:

(a) Ambassador Lodge should give Diem a clear warning of the dangers of such a course, and point out its continued pursuit will lead to cessation of U.S. aid.

(b) Encourage the generals to move promptly with a coup.

(c) We should publicize to the world at an appropriate moment any threats or move by Diem or Nhu toward the DRV in order to show the two-edged game they are playing and help justify publicly our counteractions.

(d) If the DRV threatens to respond to an anti-Diem coup by sending troops openly to South Viet-Nam, we should let it know unequivocally that we shall hit the DRV with all that is necessary to force it to desist.

(e) We should be prepared to take such military action.

7. Diem-Nhu Move: Appeal to De Gaulle for political support for neutralization of Viet-Nam.

U.S. Response:

(a) We should point out publicly that Viet-Nam cannot be effectively neutralized unless the Communists are removed from control of North Viet-Nam. If a coalition between Diem and the Communists is suggested, we should reply that this would be the avenue to a Communist take-over in view of the relative strength of the two principals in the coalition. Once an anti-Diem coup is started in South Viet-Nam, we can point to the obvious refusal of South Viet-Nam to accept a Diem-Communist coalition.

8. Diem-Nhu Move: If hostilities start between the GVN and a coup group, Diem and Nhu will seek to negotiate in order to play for time (as during the November, 1960, coup attempt) and rally loyal forces to Saigon.

U.S. Response:

(a) The U.S. must define its objective with crystal clearness. If we try to save Diem by encouraging negotiations between him and a coup group, while a coup is in progress, we shall greatly increase the risk of an unsuccessful outcome of the coup attempt. Our objective should, therefore, clearly be to bring the whole Ngo family under the control of the coup group.

(b) We should warn the coup group to press any military advantage it gains to its logical conclusion without stopping to negotiate.

(c) We should use all possible means to influence pro-Diem generals like Cao to move to the coup side. For example, General Harkins could send a direct message to Cao pointing to the consequences of a continued stand in support of the Ngo family and the advantage of shifting over to the coup group.

(d) We should use, or encourage the coup group to use, military measures to prevent any loyal forces outside Saigon from rallying to Diem's support. For example, we can jam radio communications between Diem and these forces and we can encourage interdiction of transportation by blowing up bridges.

(e) We should encourage the coup group to capture and remove promptly from Viet-Nam any members of the Ngo family outside Saigon, including Can and Thuc who are normally in Hue. We should assist in this operation to any extent necessary.

9. Diem-Nhu Move: Continuation of hostilities in Saigon as long as possible in the hope that the U.S. will weaken because of the bloodbath which may involve U.S. personnel.

U.S. Response:

(a) We should maintain our sangfroid and encourage the coup forces to continue the fight to the extent necessary.

(b) We should seek to bring officers loyal to Diem over to our side by direct approaches by MACV or CAS inducements.

(c) We should encourage the coup group to take necessary action to deprive the loyal forces of access to supplies.

(d) We should make full use of any U.S. equipment available in Viet-Nam to assist the coup group.

(e) If necessary, we should bring in U.S. combat forces to assist the coup group to achieve victory.

10. Diem-Nhu Move: A Gotterdammerung in the Palace.

U.S. Response

(a) We should encourage the coup group to fight the battle to the end and to destroy the Palace if necessary to gain victory.

(b) Unconditional surrender should be the terms for the Ngo family since it will otherwise seek to outmaneuver both the coup forces and the U.S. If the family is taken alive, the Nhus should be banished to France or any other European country willing to receive them. Diem should be treated as the generals wish.

11. Diem-Nhu Move: Flight out of the country (this is unlikely as it would not be in keeping with the past conduct of the Ngo family).

U.S. Response:

We should be prepared, with the knowledge of the coup group, to furnish a plane to take the Ngo family to France or other European country which will receive it. Under no circumstances should the Nhus be permitted to remain in Southeast Asia in close proximity to Viet-Nam because of the plots they will try to mount to regain power. If the generals decide to exile Diem, he should also be sent outside Southeast Asia.



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