284. Memorandum of a Conversation, Saigon, December 28, 19551
- On 28 December 1955 General Williams met with President Diem, at the request of the President to discuss matters of military import. The President had returned on 27 December 1955 from a trip to Hue and information he had received there had apparently prompted the meeting.
- Present at the meeting were:
- President Diem
- Lt. Gen. Williams
- Colonel Finn
- Lt. Col. Croizat, USMC (Interpreter)
- After greetings, General Williams read a message of holiday greetings that General O’Daniel had sent to the President. General Williams gave the President a paper2 he had prepared on guerrilla fighting and remarked that he hoped the President would read it carefully and that it would be of some assistance in forming plans to combat the Viet Minh.
President Diem stated that he had several points of military interest to discuss as a result of his recent trip to Hue. The first point was that it was now apparent that the Viet Minh had failed to realize their political aims through propaganda and other means of indoctrination and were now employing open military action. The activities [Page 603] in the Plaine des Joncs were mentioned as an example. The danger areas in Central Vietnam are Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and the 17th Parallel area. The Viet Minh have regrouped their cadres for concerted action in key areas.
General Williams stated that he had spent all of Tuesday, 27 December 1955 being briefed in detail by TRIM Field Advisors and no one had mentioned such Viet Minh activity.
President Diem said that such information does not normally come through military channels, but Viet Minh units have begun holding maneuvers in the mountain and other out of the way areas. To combat the Viet Minh, many localities of Central Vietnam have formed village guards. (The President referred to those units as Self-Defense Corps Units, Village Guards and Popular Forces.) The President mentioned that these units were being formed even though there was no money available as yet. The Self-Defense Corps units in the South would remain within the confines of the village but this is not possible in Central Vietnam because the villages are more widely separated. Units will be required to maneuver outside of villages and have already had a few skirmishes with the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh cadres moved into Quang Tri about three months ago and several prisoners have been taken. At first the prisoners would not talk but the good treatment they are receiving is beginning to have the intended effect and they are commencing to talk. They say that the Viet Minh depend more on their Popular Forces than on the Regular Army and that in case of an invasion of South Vietnam, the Popular Forces would be cast loose and with the cooperation of the already present fifth column would spread throughout Vietnam. Our own Popular Forces of the villages have had good success against the Viet Minh; much better than the Garde Civile (National Police) because they know the terrain and have more initiative. The Garde Civile is held back because of administrative red tape and cannot act quickly. I have had to advise the Garde Civile authorities in the South to exercise caution in their recruiting because they are getting men with various political leanings. The entire Garde Civile needs a strong political indoctrination.
The President described his visit to the troops west of Long Xuyen for Christmas. He spent one afternoon at Long Xuyen discussing the political party, “Movement of National Revolution.”
General Williams asked if the President had received word that General Williams was available to accompany him on his trip.
[Apparent omission in the source text.]
President Diem replied that it definitely would support him, a few people got out of line now and then but any such tendencies were easily checked. The Army is glad to see this new party take charge of the Long Xuyen area and establish loyal control. The Secretary [Page 604] of Interior does not have the full support of all the Province Chiefs and Police Chiefs. Some of them are actually Communists even though I have prohibited government leaders from joining specific political parties.
- President Diem stated that General Minh of the 1st Military Region was in the process of reviewing the military situation in the West. A good bit of news is that Hunh Fu Cho, the father of the Hoa Hao movement has rallied to the government. The situation is beginning to improve. The operations of the Viet Minh and dissident sects is [are] now generally concentrated in the Plaine des Joncs and in Camau. The Viet Minh have reorganized the cadres in Camau and have picked up some rebels that have been split away from Ba Cut’s main force.
- The President stated that to be successful against the Viet Minh you must use the same tactics they employ. There are a great number of ex-Viet Minh who have rallied to the government but the ceiling on the strength of the Army makes it impossible to integrate them. However, many have been placed in the Garde Civile and they will be very helpful in the Popular Forces. They are definitely the troops that should be used to fight the Viet Minh; as they know how best to fight them. There is another part to this problem and “I hope you can help me solve it.” General Ty is against the ex-Viet Minh personally and his staff and commanders in most cases mimic him. Colonel Oai and Colonel Phuong are two very capable officers who are ex-Viet Minh but no one will listen to them. Colonel Duc has defended them but rather weakly. In the South the local commanders, who are favorites of General Ty, do just what they want. The situation is better in Central Vietnam. I have directed that maximum use be made of the ex-Viet Minh officers but this order is obeyed with reluctance and in many cases the reluctance is almost sabotage. In general it would not be good to have the National Army coordinate the activities of the Popular Forces. In Central Vietnam there could be some collaboration between the Popular Forces and the Army if the Army Officers utilized were carefully selected. We should start Guerrilla Warfare of our own. The Army does not understand, as it sees only the classic military solution. A number of things will have to be changed; including the manner in which the Secretary of Interior3 handles his responsibilities. The intellectuals of Vietnam view democracy with a French background and think that instead of cooperating with the government, they must oppose it and force it to grant these concessions.
- The President stated that he had seen several plans for the defense of Vietnam and that the General Staff was in the process of [Page 605] preparing a new one. But they are considering only Vietnam and not the overall situation that would include all of Indochina at least. Vietnam would only be a part of an overall plan. In view of Admiral Radford’s visit I am interested in what you think about a SEATO Defense Plan. Would it be a static defense plan or would the war be carried to Haiphong or some other place. The General Staff lacks sufficient information to prepare an accurate plan for Vietnam. We must know all of the external [sic] that would influence the defense of our country.
- General Williams [said?] that he had been in Vietnam for two months and had learned a lot. I know most of the things of which you have spoken. Many of them are covered in the paper I gave you and if the suggestions in that paper are implemented, many of your problems will be solved. It was very difficult to obtain local approval of the Self-Defense Corps and I am awaiting approval from Washington. I consider the Self-Defense Corps to be necessary and you might ask Admiral Radford when an answer to our request can be expected. Also, I consider it proper for you to request strong support for your Garde Civile and to ask the Admiral for information concerning what action SEATO will take in case of aggression. As for the Army, I have repeatedly spoken of the danger of Officers having difficulties and jealousies among themselves. Such things will surely destroy the very thing you are trying to build. The FAVN General Staff must be made to move faster, think more quickly, and to plan ahead. I have found that, with the end of the year only three days away, the General Staff has not provided the paper targets for range firing; although the money is available. I have given up trying to get the targets through FAVN and have used my own money with which to purchase them. The Viet Minh will attack only when Moscow tells them to and that means international war which the Communists do not want. The real danger lies in the local Viet Minh cadres and they must be destroyed like vermin. The greatest trouble in the Army lies with the completely inadequate logistical system.
- At this point the meeting came to a close as President Diem had another engagement. The possibility of a later meeting was discussed briefly but no definite date or time was established.
- Source: Center of Military History, Williams Papers, Conferences with Diem 6 Nov 55–5 Oct 56. Drafted by General Williams’ aide, Colonel John M. Finn, from a text in Williams’ handwriting. In the folder with the memorandum is an undated note by General Williams stating that the text was handcopied from a photocopy because of the photocopy’s poor condition.↩
- Not found attached, but printed infra.↩
- Bui Van Thinh was Minister of the Interior.↩