396.1 GE/5–2054

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Adviser to the United States Delegation (Bonsal)

top secret

Participants:

  • Ngo Dinh Luyen, Bao Dai’s Personal Representative Philip W. Bonsal

Subject:

  • Bao Dai’s concern over the outcome of the Geneva Conference and his desire for direct US assistance for Viet-Nam

Mr. Ngo Dinh Luyen called at his request. After telling me that Bao Dai has almost decided to change his government, Mr. Ngo Dinh Luyen said that Bao Dai is somewhat worried about recent declarations by the President and the Secretary. Specifically, he would like to know whether the US is disposed to give assistance to Viet-Nam and in what form.

Bao Dai wonders whether help for the Vietnamese army could be immediate in view of the present situation. Although Bao Dai hopes that the Vietnamese army will be able to hold back the enemy, he would [Page 860]like to know whether we have decided to give direct assistance if such assistance should be necessary. Bao Dai considers that the French military effort is becoming daily more insufficient.

According to Ngo Dinh Luyen, Bao Dai is very worried about the consequences of a take-over in the Delta by the Vietminh. The Delta is the great reservoir of recruits for the Vietnamese National Army and its loss would be a tremendous blow. Bao Dai would envisage direct US intervention if the French were to abandon the Delta.

I said that I saw no signs of a policy of abandonment of the Delta on the part of the French. In fact I had been much encouraged by the reaction to the admittedly serious military situation on the part of Bidault and of the French Government in general. Ngo Dinh Luyen replied that Bao Dai fears that French public opinion may force the French Government to adopt a policy of appeasement.

According to Ngo Dinh Luyen, Bao Dai thinks that the Geneva Conference will probably result in a Communist victory. He is considering the attitude which the Vietnamese Government should adopt in that eventuality. He is weighing in his mind the apparent divisions of opinion between Western powers. He is trying to determine the attitude which the Vietnamese Government should adopt in the event that the Conference in Geneva takes a position contrary to the basic position of the Vietnamese Government.

Ngo Dinh Luyen mentioned a telegram which Bao Dai had received from Governor Tri in which the situation in North Viet-Nam is described as “tragique”.

In describing the new policy which Bao Dai would like to adopt, Ngo Dinh Luyen stated that His Majesty is anxious to take an entirely new political stand and at the same time create a real Vietnamese National Army. He has, however, not finally decided to proceed actively at this time and would only do so with US support. Ngo Dinh Luyen asked whether that support would be forthcoming. In reply Bonsal made the customary statement regarding our unwillingness to interfere in internal Vietnamese affairs.

Ngo Dinh Luyen then said that Bao Dai’s thinking was along the lines of bringing Ngo Dinh Diem in as Prime Minister and making a complete change in the cabinet. Ngo Dinh Luyen took occasion to say that the French have always dominated His Majesty and that French influence has had the result that many of the men whom His Majesty has called in to serve the governments have, as a consequence of that service, seen their influence and prestige in Viet-Nam seriously diminished. Ngo Dinh Luyen stated that Bao Dai would welcome political suggestions from us.

[Page 861]

Ngo Dinh Luyen stated that he had conveyed to Bao Dai the remarks made by General Smith to Ngo Dinh Luyen concerning the time which it takes to form truly combat worthy troops (17 months) as well as the longer period required to train really effective officers at field and general levels.1 His Majesty’s comment is that there are Vietnamese soldiers in the French Expeditionary Corps, in the national army and in various irregular paramilitary, and suppletif forces. It is His Majesty’s intention to group all these forces in a new Vietnamese army. Bao Dai is aware that the French will oppose this move for two reasons. First, because they want to keep all French Union forces under their own control and over half of those forces are Vietnamese. (This is probably an exaggeration; the accurate proportion is perhaps 40%.) The second reason is that, according to His Majesty, the French fear a possible agreement between Viet-Nam and the Vietminh, an agreement which would be possible if the preponderance of forces on the Franco-Vietnamese side were to become that of the Vietnamese National Army controlled by the Vietnamese Government.

Bao Dai’s general idea is to create a nucleus of combat-worthy troops which would largely be those taken from the present French Expeditionary Corps. His concept is that the army would be a highly mobile, aggressive, offensive-minded force. Ngo Dinh Luyen concluded this exposition of Bao Dai’s alleged views by an appeal that we should understand His Majesty’s position.

Bonsal asked whether the rather drastic measures proposed, while they might eventually result in the creation of a Vietnamese National Army along the lines envisaged by His Majesty, would not at least at first disorganize and weaken the major fighting units upon which the continuation of successful resistance to the Vietminh depends. In reply Ngo Dinh Luyen stated that of course His Majesty would envisage proceeding gradually and avoiding any such situation as that contemplated in Bonsal’s question.

Bao Dai is anxious to obtain direct US assistance for the Vietnamese army. Ngo Dinh Luyen here was referring to MDAP assistance. Bao Dai’s thought is that such assistance should come direct to the Vietnamese army instead of through the French authorities as at present or that, if this should prove impractical, there should at least be a specific earmarking of certain items of US assistance as being destined for the Vietnamese National Army. If such an arrangement could be made it should be supplemented by some sort of control machinery to see that earmarked items actually did get to the Vietnamese army. [Page 862]Luyen stressed that Bao Dai did not wish to introduce any revolutionary changes which might adversely affect the present combat situation even though theoretically such changes might be desirable.

In conclusion Bonsal told Ngo Dinh Luyen that he would convey the above to General Smith and would advise Ngo Dinh Luyen in the event the General wished to make any specific replies or comments at this time.

  1. See memorandum of SmithNgo Dinh Luyen conversation, May 18, p. 843.