1. Letter From the Acting Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs (Young) to the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins)2
Dear General: I have been hoping to find time to write you a letter about a few things that are better expressed in this manner than by telegram.
First, I can hardly convey the sense of reassurance and appreciation which your efforts have created in Washington. Your telegrams are followed closely and discussed in all the agencies, in all the departments and at all levels. We like the hard-hitting, businesslike approach of your seven-point program.3[Page 2]
The big problem is still effective leadership in Viet-Nam. I realize Diem’s deficiencies in providing dynamic, positive, dramatic energy and force at a time when it is so desperately needed. This is the one component above all that no foreign country or external aid program can supply. A country either has a leader and a unified following or it doesn’t. My own thinking is that time may evolve a leadership group in Viet-Nam if there is time. Sometimes under pressure nations like people rise to unknown heights. It is too early to tell whether there is any hope in Viet-Nam for this larger dimension and stature. Diem is a good man and a resonant untarnished symbol of Nationalism. That is a precious ingredient. With it we can perhaps appeal to the Vietnamese people in the north and in the south to rally behind an effective government in a program of national reform. It could spike the Communist propaganda guns. It could attract the support and assistance of our other Asian friends. So many Asian representatives in Washington have told me how glad they are the United States is supporting Diem and not some puppet or profiteer.
As a practical matter the government of a national union around Diem is a good formula if Diem can bring in a few strong competent men like Quat. We here in the Department have thought of this formula as meaning Diem would concentrate primarily on serving as spokesman and voice for Free Vietnamese Nationalists. The running of the government would be left to something of an executive vice president who might be Quat, in charge of key ministries such as defense, interior, national economy, etc. An emergency council or national council would frame up the major policy decisions for Diem’s approval. You know the obstacles to this better than I do—the jockeying for power and the jealous rivalries.
In any event it seems to me that the question of succession as well as the problem of Bao Dai can best be handled if originated out of genuine Vietnamese impulses. The problem we have had with the French regarding Diem for the past three months is primarily to avoid a political crisis and the selection of a successor which would appear dictated by the French. In my opinion, the promptings for the new premier would be more effective if arising from the Vietnamese themselves—perhaps with discreet proddings here and there, if the time ever comes.
For the moment the Department fully agrees that the time has not yet come to consider actively the question of succession. Some of us are keeping it in the back of our minds and studying possibilities amongst ourselves, I assure you. Of course Senator Mansfield believes that there isn’t much else besides Diem and the process of replacement would create far more chaos and confusion than is even present today in Free Viet-Nam.[Page 3]
I would like to continue this letter just a little longer to refer to recent press items about your discussions with General Ely. Most of this has been dribbling out since Mendes-France came to Washington. The press got the first notion of our general approach from French background briefings during his visit to Washington. But nothing much appeared at that time. Then there were a few articles in the Paris press on the Vietnamese force levels. The whole business came to a head in the article in the U.S. News & World Report dated December 10 entitled “U.S. Inherits Another Headache—French Turns Over Indo-China Job to America”. This gave figures substantially accurate, and an account of US-French exchange of views embarrassingly complete. About the time this appeared, the Time correspondent came in to see me with a cable from the Time office in Paris along the same line as the U.S. News & World Report article. I was informed that the Paris office had received the story from French sources.
We have, of course, tried to keep the security questions under close wraps and are just as concerned and even shocked as you probably are to have this all out in public print before the programs are completed. The hard-bitten fellows around here shrugged their shoulders and said “that’s what always happens with the French”.
In closing, may I earnestly ask that you let me know by letter or otherwise whether or not we are giving you adequate backstopping here in Washington. Please let me know how we can improve our help to you.
With very best wishes,
Kenneth T. Young, Jr.
- Source: Collins Papers, Vietnam File, Series VII, Z; attached to a letter from Collins to Young, December 31. Secret; Official–Informal.↩
On December 13, 1954, Generals Collins and Ely signed for their respective countries a memorandum of understanding on development and training of autonomous Vietnamese armed forces. The memorandum consisted of seven paragraphs which are summarized as follows:
- Subject to American approval, the Vietnamese force structure to be attained by July 1, 1955 to total 77,685 military and 4,000 civilian personnel.
- Reduction to this level by selective discharge of the least effective personnel of the Vietnamese National Army (VNA).
- Full autonomy (all units in the VNA commanded and staffed by Vietnamese personnel) to be granted by France to South Vietnam not later than July 1, 1955.
- Responsibility for assisting South Vietnam in organizing and training its armed forces to be assumed by the Chief, U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group(MAAG) under the overall authority of the French Commander-in-Chief in Indochina.
- Chief, MAAG to recognize this authority in strategic and security matters.
- U.S. and French personnel assigned as advisers and instructors to the VNA to be under the direction of the Chief, MAAG.
- These arrangements and agreements to be subject to the consent of the Government of Vietnam.
For the complete text of this memorandum and an accompanying memorandum for the record, see telegram 2261, December 14, 1954, Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2366.↩