Secretary Rusk, Secretary
Murrow, General Taylor, General Krulak, Under Secretary Harriman, Deputy Secretary
Secretary Hilsman, Assistant
Secretary Manning, Mr.
Janow (AID), Mr. Colby, Mr. Bundy, Mr. Forrestal, Mr. Bromley Smith, Attorney
Secretary Rusk reviewed for the
President the summary of the situation which he had given the group
93. He emphasized that Nhu has become a symbol which has to be removed.
Ambassador Lodge hasn't yet
gotten through to Diem. We cannot assume that Diem will not move in our direction.
On the other hand, if we move against Diem too fast, we cannot dismiss
the possibility that he might bring the Vietnamese house down around him
and go to North Vietnam for assistance, possibly with help from the
French. He cautioned against reacting to people in the field who want to
get on with the job and are frustrated by the problem. He referred to
Mr. Hilsman's plan which he said
did not involve really important actions, but would have an important
psychological effect. He recommended that Ambassador Lodge be told to tell Diem to start acting like the
President of Vietnam and get on with the war.
Mr. Bundy pointed out that the differences between
the Hilsman plan and Ambassador
Lodge's view is that the
latter is asking for suspension of aid. It turns out that it is not easy
to cut U.S. aid without stopping the war effort.
Mr. Gilpatric added that cutting
U.S. military aid would have an immediate and telling effect on the war
effort. Most of our aid involves airplanes. We could, however, withdraw
dependents without hurting the war effort.
The President asked whether deterioration has set in and whether the
situation is serious. Mr. McCone
replied that within three months the situation may become serious.
Secretary McNamara said we could
not estimate whether the situation would become serious in three months.
He said there had been as yet no serious effect on the war effort.
Ambassador Lodge wants action on
aid, wants to oust Nhu, and is
thinking of a new coup. Secretary Rusk is opposed and he agrees that we should take no
Secretary Dillon said he doubted
we could get in real touch with Diem. We cannot count on doing so, but we must make the
effort. Secretary Rusk agreed.
Director McCone said he agreed
with Secretary Rusk and Secretary
McNamara that we should
proceed cautiously. Ambassador Lodge has not been there very long. He should see the
country rather than merely Saigon. We cannot cut our aid to Colonel Tung without jeopardizing the
entire counterinsurgency movement in the northern part of South Vietnam.
This would be the cost of creating pressures in Saigon on Diem. We should make another approach
Mr. Bundy commented that the worse Madame Nhu becomes the easier it is to argue
that she must get out of the Vietnamese government.
The President felt that some reply was called for. How could we continue
to have her making anti-American comments at the same time she is one of
the leaders of a government we are supporting?
The President asked for a paper containing details of the plan suggested
by Mr. Hilsman. He wanted to see
the interrelationships of the various proposed courses of action. Mr.
Hilsman responded that his
paper was merely a concept and that proposed courses of action were
illustrative of how it might be put into effect.
Mr. McCone suggested that another
approach be made to Nhu. He
believed that CIA official Richardson in Saigon should not now
talk to Nhu. He suggested that
Mr. Colby, who knows Nhu, be sent from Washington to Saigon
to talk to him.
The President asked whether a draft letter to Diem had been prepared for him as he
had suggested. Mr. Bundy replied that it was felt
that a letter from the President to Diem asking Diem
to silence Madame Nhu would be
difficult to write because it dealt with what, in effect, was a family
matter. In addition, if the letter became public, the complications
might be serious. It was felt that Ambassador Lodge should be instructed to ask
Diem orally to silence
The President said his idea of a letter was to spell out our general view
toward the situation faced by Diem. This is one method of getting Ambassador Lodge going on his conversations with
Diem. The letter would not
be released to the press. He asked that a draft of our concerns and our
complaints be prepared for him. As to a Congressional resolution, he
thought it would be helpful, but only if we could control the ensuing
Mr. Bundy said we could support the introduction of
the resolution and then suggest that it not be acted upon in a hurry.
Secretary Rusk and Senator
Mansfield shared the view that
the resolution should be introduced, but that hearings on it be
The President expressed his concern that an effort would be made to
attach the resolution to the aid bill. He wanted us to work with the
Congressional Committees so that we would not end up with a resolution
requiring that we reduce aid. The objective was a resolution merely
condemning current actions of the Diem government. We must not get into a situation in
which the resolution could be defeated. We should try to avoid having it
tied to the aid program.
Mr. Bundy pointed out that we should start now
contingency planning for the evacuation of U.S. dependents. Secretary
McNamara agreed. Some 5000
dependents are involved and Defense is responsible for moving them. He
felt that evacuation of dependents is a very definite signal to
Diem. In addition, he has
been concerned about our capability to remove dependents in a crisis
situation and favors removing them before any disorders break out. Mr.
Murrow suggested that we
announce the intention to evacuate dependents rather than leak it to the press. He pointed out
that evacuation risks the possibility that the world will conclude that
we are taking the first step toward pulling out of Vietnam. He said,
however, we have to take this risk.
Mr. Bundy said we would, of course, have to consult
Congressional leaders before ordering dependents to leave. What we
should do was make our in-house preparations, but not decide now to
remove dependents. General Taylor added that we should withdraw the dependents in a
way which would produce action from Diem.
The President said we should tell Ambassador Lodge that we are considering his cable. He believed
that we should express our concerns to Diem and get a response from him. He agreed that for the
next few days all aid decisions should be held up.
4Not attached. In
Belgrade attending the Interparliamentary Union, Madame Nhu stated on September 11 that
“President Kennedy is a
politician, and when he hears a loud opinion speaking in a certain
way, he tries to appease it somehow”. She continued: “if that
opinion is misinformed, the solution is not to bow to it, but the
solution should be to inform.” (Quoted in Sobel, ea., South Vietnam, 1961-65, vol. I, p. 67)
5Telegram 387 to Saigon, September 11, 9- p.m., from
Hilsman to Lodge, asked that the Ambassador
“hold tightest hand on press leaks.” (Department of State, Central
Files. POL 15-1 S VIET)
6Printed from a copy that bears this