70. Telegram From the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) to the Department of State1
4074. 1. To make sure sect leaders had no doubts as to U.S. support of Diem and to try to ascertain specific sect demands, I invited Cao Dai Generals Phuong and Trinh Minh The to call on me evening 22. Phuong opened conversation with statement to effect Diem had made definite promises with respect to supporting Cao Dai troops, which he failed to keep. Specifically, he said, Diem had promised him 6 million piastres monthly, 5 million from defense funds and 1 million from secret funds. He said he still wanted Diem to remain as Prime Minister but that he was desperately trying to find means of supporting his troops. I replied to this that the U.S. would support integration of certain Cao Dai troops into National Army unless these forces were used against government. I asked what sect leaders really wished, since their desires were not clear from the manifesto. Phuong replied that Hoa Hao and Binh Xuyen wished maintain insecurity in country, so that they might continue to profit therefrom. I asked why, if this was case, Phuong and The joined them in signing manifesto. Phuong replied he thought himself abandoned by Diem and U.S. Diem, he added, is trying to form and develop political party to destroy other parties and the sects. The Hoa Hao and Binh Xuyen are supported by “others”, not named, while Cao Dai troops are ill fed and equipped. I commented that Phuong has been financially aided by Diem and that U.S. will continue to give certain aid through established Vietnamese channels to integrated forces which support Diem and that Cao Dai will profit therefrom. Changing his tack somewhat, Phuong said that he had signed manifesto because of Diem’s political blunders. Diem, he alleged, pits religion (Catholic) against religion; sect vs sect. People from Center Viet Nam have come to Phuong to complain of the activities of Ngo Dinh Can’s party of national revolution, “Catholic party designed to establish a family dictatorship.” I replied that Diem had guaranteed religious [Page 143] liberty and that U.S. would support no other policy. Obviously no Catholic troops were in position to attack the Cao Dai and assured him U.S. would never support a Catholic army. Phuong added he wants national unity and is grateful for U.S. aid to that end. Diem, he said, is not acting in interests of unity and he signed manifesto to warn Diem to abandon his policy.
2. Turning to General The, I said that he had rallied to the government “unconditionally”, had been handsomely paid, and was now in the National Army. I mentioned that all this money came from U.S. sources, and asked if he expected U.S. to pay his forces if government were overthrown. The replied one might be surprised to see his signature on manifesto but it was a strategem to gain admittance to meeting of sects’ leaders. His purpose in attending meetings is to keep leaders from adopting extreme measures. He said some leaders wanted to eliminate Diem entirely but he had succeeded in softening manifesto to permit Diem remain in office.
3. To both Phuong and The I said that our objective was to help the country, including sects, and we were studying a solution to sect problem with French and Diem. I pointed out that if the sects acted against the government there would be no solution and in any event, none was possible in five days. I suggested that if Phuong and The wished to help Viet Nam they should advise their fellow sect leaders not to take any action in five days. I added that if they should succeed in overthrowing Diem, U.S. might very well withdraw and reminded them they could expect no aid from Ho Chi Minh.
4. This conversation left me with a sense of unreality which marks so many situations here. Discussing this problem with these generals was like trying to reason with two stubborn four year old children. They were either lying very ineptly or they are alarmingly stupid considering the influence and power they wield. In most instances their accusations were without foundation and their arguments without logic. Trying to determine from them exactly what they wanted was completely futile. I am convinced that their evasive answers to my questions were clumsy attempts to cover selfish motives of sect leaders. Only advantage in this conversation was that it quite clearly indicated that sects don’t trust each other and possibly will not hang together very long.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/3–2355. Secret. Repeated for information to Paris.↩