Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs (Young)1

top secret


  • Vietnam and Southeast Asia


  • Senator Mike Mansfield
  • Assistant Secretary Walter S. Robertson
  • Assistant Secretary Thruston B. Morton
  • Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr.

At the Secretary’s request Mr. Robertson, Mr. Morton and Mr. Young went to see Senator Mansfield this morning with respect [Page 2351] to General Collins’ analysis of the situation in Vietnam (Saigon’s 2108 of December 6). Mr. Robertson explained to Senator Mansfield that the Secretary had a summary of this telegram early this morning and had asked that it be brought to Senator Mansfield’s attention so that the State Department might have the benefit of his reaction and advice.

After reading the telegram and discussing various points Senator Mansfield stated his conclusions as follows:

The prospects for helping Diem strengthen and uphold South Vietnam look very dim given the best of circumstances. Any elections in 1956 will probably favor the Communists.
Nevertheless, the United States should continue to exert its efforts and use its resources, even if it will cost a lot, to hold Vietnam as long as possible. Any other course would have a disastrous effect on Cambodia, Laos and Southeast Asia. The Senator strongly opposed the idea of abandoning our effort in Vietnam. That course of action would lead to the absorption of Cambodia and Laos by the Communists.
Therefore, he felt we should continue to do whatever was possible to support the government of Diem. Senator Mansfield sees no alternative Prime Minister. While recognizing Diem’s weaknesses as an administrator and manager, Senator Mansfield feels we ought to continue to back Diem, strongly encourage him to make Dr. Quat Minister of Defense immediately, and urge Diem to delegate as much as possible of the day-to-day operations of the government to others. Senator Mansfield was of the opinion that General Collins’ time limit of two to three weeks was playing with “political dynamite” because it was giving Diem such an awfully short time in which to show results or be replaced.
With respect to Mr. Robertson’s point that the French would subject the Secretary to great pressure on immediately finding a replacement for Diem, Senator Mansfield took the strong position that this line of action would only confound the already great difficulties in Vietnam. It would add much confusion, take time, and probably increase the divisions within Vietnam beyond what they are today. Senator Mansfield was certain the refugees and many of the Catholic bishops and church officials would oppose the replacement of Diem. The Senator felt that Diem represented what small hope there may be in building something in Vietnam. He was against relinquishing even the small chance we have with Diem for some unknown and untried combination.
Senator Mansfield agreed with General Collins’ recommendation that Embassy Paris urge Bao Dai to cease the long distance wire-pulling from the Riviera and to give Diem complete backing and initiative to run the government without interference from Bao Dai. Senator Mansfield strongly urged that it was so important to get this idea across to Bao Dai that Ambassador Dillon himself should make the approach assuming the publicity of such a meeting could be kept to a minimum. The Senator also felt very strongly that Bao Dai should not return to Vietnam.
In addition to the above, Senator Mansfield said that Dr. Quat in his opinion was an able man who could do much to help bring the army under control and into loyal support of the government. He hoped Diem would appoint Quat right away. The Senator said that [Page 2352] the remarkable aspect of Diem was unlike most of the Vietnamese, he really was honest, incorruptible and a devoutly dedicated nationalist as well. However, the Senator expressed the personal view that in politics one often has to make some compromises in order to get results. He thought that Diem should be encouraged not only to delegate responsibilities to trusted and capable ministers, but should also give in to a certain amount of compromise. The Senator suggested that Dr. Fishel would probably be the best person to work out with Diem the problem of delegation and political adjustments. It was clear that the Senator had great confidence in Dr. Fishel. He hoped that the Department and the Embassy would give the latter full leeway and since he appears to have the complete confidence of Diem. On Mr. Robertson’s point that the French and the British would continue to push very hard for Tam, Senator Mansfield was firmly opposed to our accepting Tam or exerting any pressure at all on Diem to include Tam in his cabinet. Senator Mansfield agreed with Mr. Robertson that to do so would compromise the cabinet and provide the Communists with a ready made argument for charging the Diem government with being a puppet of the old colonial regime.

  1. On Dec. 8, Assistant Secretary Robertson transmitted a copy of this record to the Secretary of State, accompanied by a memorandum summarizing the main points made by Senator Mansfield. (751G.00/12–854) The views of the Senator were sent to Saigon in telegram 2333 of Dec. 8. (120.251G/12–654)