86. Editorial Note

On July 8, 1961, as Ambassador Nolting was returning to his residence in mid-afternoon from the Embassy chancery in Saigon, two unidentified men on a motor bicycle threw a hand grenade at his automobile. The grenade hit the automobile, but did not explode. The assailants escaped. In telegram 34 from Saigon later that day, Nolting briefly described what had happened. Expressing the hope that “no special notice” would be taken of the incident, Nolting said [Page 204] that the Embassy would continue business as usual. (Department of State, Central Files, 123-Nolting, Frederick E.)

To prevent unnecessary anxiety on the part of American residents in Saigon, Nolting issued a notice on July 11 urging that they also continue business as usual but that they conduct themselves prudently in the near future. A copy of the notice was sent to the Department of State as an enclosure to despatch 27 from Saigon, July 13, which provided further details on the July 8 incident and concluded that the evidence suggested that the attack “was not part of a campaign of terror directed against Americans but was more probably an isolated incident instigated by overzealous but unskilled Viet Cong cadres.” (Ibid.)

On July 31, Nolting wrote to Cottrell about the safety of Americans in Viet-Nam and enclosed reports of rumored Viet Cong terrorist activities in the Saigon area. Nolting stated that he was not requesting any specific protective actions but was merely letting Cottrell know “how things look to me in connection with the security of Americans, and to send you some of the confusing reports with which we are daily confronted.” The Ambassador concluded:

“What it all adds up to in my judgment-and, I think it is fair to say, in that of our Security Watch Committee-is a scare campaign on the part of our adversary to weaken and if possible destroy U.S. influence and action in this country. To the threats, the Communists add from time to time an action or two, to lend credence to the threats. What, if anything more, they can or will do remains to be seen. We here are unanimous on the proposition that we will not be bluffed, or terrorized, out of the necessary work to be done here.

“The safety of American dependents weighs heavily on my mind, as you can well understand. In the light of all evidence available to me, I see no reason for changing our present policy with respect to dependents, which is that they should be permitted to come to this post, subject to a full briefing of the officer concerned on the conditions here, after which he should make his own decision. If directly asked, I should myself say that I see no compelling reason not to bring dependents.” (Ibid., Viet-Nam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, Administration-U.S. Embassy Saigon)

On May 23, 1962, a special military tribunal in Saigon condemned to death four students for various acts of terrorism and sabotage. One of them was implicated in the assassination attempt on Ambassador Nolting, although the student claimed his participation was indirect. (Telegram 1523 from Saigon, May 25, 1962; ibid., Central Files, 751K.00/5-2562)