243. Eyes only Ambassador Lodge.
For CINCPAC/POLAD exclusive for Admiral Felt. No
further distribution. Re CAS Saigon
026522. Document 275. reporting General
Don's views; Saigon 32033. Document 274. Saigon 316,44. See footnote 3,
Document 276. and Saigon 329.55. Document 276. It is now clear that
whether military proposed martial law or whether Nhu tricked them into it, Nhu took advantage of its imposition to
smash pagodas with police and Tung's Special Forces loyal to him, thus placing onus on
military in eyes of world and Vietnamese people. Also clear that
Nhu has maneuvered himself
into commanding position.
US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in Nhu's hands. Diem must be given chance to rid
himself of Nhu and his coterie
and replace them with best military and political personalities
If, in spite of all of your efforts, Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the
possibility that Diem himself
cannot be preserved.
We now believe immediate action must be taken to prevent Nhu from consolidating his position
further. Therefore, unless you in consultation with Harkins perceive overriding objections
you are authorized to proceed along following lines:
(1) First, we must press on appropriate levels of GVN following line:
(a) USG cannot accept actions against Buddhists taken by Nhu and his collaborators under cover
(2) We must at same time also tell key military leaders that US would
find it impossible to continue support GVN militarily and economically unless above steps are
taken immediately which we recognize requires removal of the Nhus from the scene. We wish give
Diem reasonable opportunity
to remove Nhus, but if he remains
obdurate, then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we
can no longer support Diem . You
may also tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct
support in any interim period of breakdown central government
Concurrently with above, Ambassador and country team should urgently
examine all possible alternative leadership and make detailed plans as
to how we might bring about Diem
's replacement if this should become necessary.
Assume you will consult with General Harkins re any precautions necessary protect American
personnel during crisis period.
You will understand that we cannot from Washington give you detailed
instructions as to how this operation should proceed, but you will also
know we will back you to the hilt on actions you take to achieve our
1 Source: Department of State,
Har-Van Files, Overthrow of the Diem Government in South Vietnam, 1963. Top Secret;
Operational Immediate. Printed also in United States-Vietnam
Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 536-537 and Declassified
Documents, 1975, 321B. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared by Hilsman, Forrestal, and Ball. Approved by Harriman for transmission and classification. The
drafting and clearance of this message has occasioned subsequent
controversy which is reflected in the memoirs and recollections of
some of the principal personalities involved at the time. General
Maxwell Taylor stated in
Swords and Plowshares, pp. 292-294, that the cable was an “end run”
by an anti-Diem faction in
Washington including Hilsman,
Harriman, and Forrestal. Taylor believed the cable was
ill-conceived, confusing, and would never had been approved had
Hilsman and his colleagues
not taken advantage of the absence from Washington of most of the
high-level officials of the administration. Hilsman, in To Move a Nation, pp.
487-488, and in a later oral history interview (Kennedy Library, Oral History
Program) maintained that the cable was cleared by the President and
all representatives of the relevant agencies.
7 Reference is to telegram 244 to Saigon, August 24,
9:37 p.m., in which Hilsman
provided the Embassy with a guidance for simultaneous play in
Washington and Saigon. This guidance and the proposed VOA broadcast were supposed to separate
in the public's mind the South Vietnamese Army's press imposition of
martial law and the attacks by Tung's Special Forces and the secret police on the
pagodas and the large-scale arrests of Buddhist leaders and
demonstrators. The guidance pointed out that the secret police and
the Special Forces were not under the command of the Armed Forces.
(Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET) For text of the VOA guidance as actually broadcast, see Document 287.