Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the United States Special Technical and Economic Mission at Saigon (Blum)1
I saw Bao Dai for half an hour this morning for a final meeting prior to my departure for the United States.
I opened the meeting by saying that I was going to the United States, where I would undoubtedly be asked to report on what STEM had been doing and what prospects were for the coming year. I therefore desired to have any comments that Bao Dai might care to give me. He started off by saying that there were two ways of looking at the problem in Vietnam, the military and the political. In his opinion the political was far more important than the military and the failure of the French to understand this was one of the reasons for all the present difficulties.
Bao Dai said that he understood very well the delicacy of STEM’s position and the difficulties we had in operating. He realized that to some extent the Vietnamese Government had to deal with us in a very discreet and even covert manner in order to obtain our aid without offending French sensibilities. The fact was that Vietnamese needs were so great that as much aid as we could give could be well used. However, the political situation made this difficult. He referred to the fact that if he wishes to come to us to ask for a radio station for Dalat (Nguyen-De referred to the same project when I saw him briefly before seeing Bao Dai), he would have to do so most discreetly. He pointed out that the French were already accusing us of mixing up in local affairs. Later in the conversation Bao Dai, probably thinking back on this same question, said that while it is desirable for us to bring our aid as actively as circumstances permit, we should not give it too much publicity. He said that we were well known by this time and everybody would know that it was American aid that was being given. However, it was better not to publicize it too vigorously. I have the impression that Bao Dai once again had in mind French susceptibilities [Page 407] and that over-publicizing American aid would merely result in embarrassing him.
I pointed out to Bao Dai that the publicity given to American aid helped serve the political purpose of making the Vietnamese realize that America was interested in their welfare. He said that he fully recognized this and he thought that American aid was a matter of great importance because he could point to it in telling the people that it was Bao Dai who had made this possible.
Bao Dai spoke of the present difficult political situation and said that it reminded him of the situation ten years ago. When the French found themselves in a weak position as a result of Japanese invasion, they (Admiral Decoux)2 were extremely amenable toward the Vietnamese. However, just as soon as Allied victories started in Europe and French strength began increasing, the French once again became difficult and intransigeant. Bao Dai said it was the same thing now as a result of the victories at Vinh Yen. However, he pointed out that this was only a relatively small victory and there might still be trouble ahead. His own attitude, he said, was one of “souplesse” and “patience” and he asked that American opinion understand the difficulty of his position. He said it would take time to resolve the present problems and one must not expect such accomplishments overnight. French pressures were too strong for him to be able to combat the situation vigorously. To try to do so would serve no good purpose. He gave two specific examples: (1) Tran-van-Huu had told Bao Dai that de Lattre had stated that if Tran-van-An3 were appointed Minister of National Economy the French would prevent the exportation of 30,000 tons of rice, so badly needed to exchange for Indian jute. (2) Last week Giao’s VBD troops in Central Vietnam had been seriously attacked by large Viet Minh forces. In spite of their insistent calls for help the French refused to send reinforcements. The reason was that Giao had insisted he be given responsibility for defense of a particular sector and now the French were callously allowing him to suffer defeats in order to teach him a lesson. (When I was in Hue a few days ago Giao showed me the full documentation on this particular incident, including the various exchanges of telegrams.) In summary, Bao Dai repeated that the situation was bad and was to some extent getting worse.
In conclusion, he asked merely that the United States understand his position and he emphasized that the aid which we bring is of great benefit, even though the results are not seen immediately.