72. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) and Bishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, Saigon, March 25, 19551
Saigon, March 25, 1955
- Ngo Dinh Thuc, Bishop of Vinh-Long and brother of Prime Minister Diem, called on Ambassador Collins at the latter’s invitation the evening of March 25. Ambassador Collins told Mgr. Thuc that he wished to talk to him confidentially, not as a Bishop but as the brother of the Prime Minister; he added that he himself was speaking as a friend of Vietnam and Mr. Diem.
- Ambassador Collins told the Bishop that he wished to discuss with him problems relating to two of the Prime Minister’s brothers, Nhu and Can. He said that the Prime Minister was widely criticized for relying on his family in political matters rather than on his Cabinet and members of his administration. Nhu, in particular since he is always near the Prime Minister, is held responsible for actions Diem takes, or fails to take. Ambassador Collins said he believed it would be advantageous to Diem and to the country if Nhu were to be sent abroad on a mission, perhaps as Ambassador.
- Bishop Thuc said he was aware of this criticism. He added that when Diem returned to Vietnam in 1954 he had relied heavily on Nhu for the formation of his first Cabinet, since he knew hardly anyone. However, after the first month or two Diem ceased to rely on Nhu and now neither consults him nor listens to his advice. In fact, Diem has on several occasions reproached Nhu for having introduced to him men who turned out to be worthless. For example, Diem has recently chided Nhu for having persuaded him that Trinh Minh The, with whom Nhu has been very friendly, was worthy of trust.
- Thuc went on to say that Diem urged Nhu last fall to attend a UNESCO meeting at Montevideo, since he was run down and the change would have been good for him, but Nhu refused, saying he could not leave as long as Diem was under attack. By staying, however, Nhu has drawn on himself all the criticism which Diem’s enemies did not quite dare vent on the Prime Minister.
- Ambassador Collins said that if Diem does not in fact rely on Nhu, that is an even stronger reason for his leaving, since by his presence he is harming the Prime Minister in the eyes of the public. He went on to say that in Center Vietnam Ngo Dinh Can is popularly believed to be more powerful than the Government Delegate Duyen. Can is also accused of organizing a Catholic party and Army. While Ambassador Collins does not believe these charges, he does [Page 146] think that Can’s presence and activities in the Center lay him open to criticism which redounds adversely on the Prime Minister. He added that it would be a good thing if Can were sent to the U.S. for a few months to be treated for the heart condition from which he is said to suffer. We could arrange such a trip easily. Bishop Thuc replied that Diem’s warmest supporters in the Center are non-Catholics. However, it is true that Can organized the Center for his brother’s return in 1954, and it is also true that he has a political party.
- As a final remark to Bishop Thuc, Ambassador Collins said that he hoped no further Catholic dignitaries would visit Vietnam for at least six months. Also, the religious banners hung about the streets near the Palace lend credence to the criticism that Diem is basing his policy on the Catholic Church. Thuc said that Cardinal Gilroy’s visit had been proposed by R.G. Casey,2 and that the banners had been produced by the seminarists of [name deleted], and not requested by Diem.
- Bishop Thuc said he would see Diem on his return from Hue March 27 or 28 and would discuss these matters with him.