122. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1

1084. Believe public reopening of issue American presence and mutual confidence by Ngo Dinh Nhu in interview with Warren Unna 2 cannot be ignored. Unless you perceive objection, request you seek interview with Diem to protest Nhu action and clarify GVN intentions. You may state you speaking under instructions.

You may draw on following at your discretion:

We are aware of propaganda Communists generate as result US military presence SVN. We also very much aware of US casualties and dollar costs resulting from assistance we supplying GVN at GVN request. It is in our interest to reduce our military commitment in SVN as fast as VC threat effectively reduced and this has always been our policy.
We do not believe that time has yet arrived when Viet Cong threat so reduced and GVN military capabilities so improved that we can safely undertake large reduction US military presence. It is our understanding that this view shared by GVN. (This connection we note Nhu considers even amnesty program premature.) We hope that [Page 295] a cut of perhaps 1,000 men may be possible later this year but that would depend on progress made and would come only after private discussion with GVN.
When time does arrive to reduce US forces, best procedure is obviously joint announcement by both governments that in light progress made against VC, cuts in order. We would hope to work it out in that fashion.
Public call for cut in US forces by high official like Nhu likely generate new and reinforce already existing US domestic pressures for complete withdrawal from SVN.
Statement that some American casualties incurred because our advisors are daredevils and expose themselves needlessly likely to have very bad effect on morale US forces. To be effective, advisors must often be at or near scene of battle. We believe, as President Kennedy said in his State of Union message,3 that our casualties suffered in Viet-Nam were incurred in defense of Free World. It will not be well taken by US public or by US forces in Viet-Nam to be told our casualties were needless.
As GVN well aware, Americans were not behind attempted 1960 coup and our actions at that time were correct and in accordance with international practice. To suggest we were behind coup can only serve Communist cause.
If GVN has any evidence of US plotting as alleged in Unna interview we would like to see it. Our policy has been full support for Diem government in fight against Viet Cong and efforts provide better life for Vietnamese people.

If Diem indicates he agrees our forces should not be subject large cut at this time, you should suggest a public statement to this effect. You may say it will be difficult for us to justify to Congress greater U.S. forces than GVN apparently wishes and that public statement GVN position therefore important.4

If on contrary Diem agrees with Nhu that large cut in order or in general associates himself with Nhu position as reported by Unna, you should seek at your discretion to clarify exact GVN position and intentions on these issues. If it seems useful to you, you may state until [Page 296] further progress against VC achieved, we believe war can be won only by maintaining something like present level US forces SVN. If it appears useful tactic, you may also request list of activities which GVN believes could be cut.

Believe above points should also be made to Nhu in manner you deem appropriate.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 6 US. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Heavner and cleared by Hilsman, Rice, Koren and in DOD/ISA by Heinz. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. On Sunday, May 12, the front page of The Washington Post featured an interview by Warren Unna with Ngo Dinh Nhu, in which Unna quoted Nhu as saying that “South Viet Nam would like to see half of the 12,000 to 13,000 American military stationed here leave the country”. Unna described Nhu as the power behind the throne and wrote that Nhu told U.S. authorities 5 months earlier that it was possible to withdraw one half of the American forces, and that the presence of unnecessary American forces lent credence to Communist propaganda. Unna reported that Nhu and Diem distrusted Americans working at local levels in Vietnam and that Nhu felt that many American advisers were only intelligence gatherers. Referring to American impatience, Nhu said that the time was not ripe for a general counter-offensive. He added, according to Unna, that “many of our American friends who died here are cases of soldiers who exposed themselves too readily”.
  3. For text of President Kennedy’s State of the Union message, January 14, 1963, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 11-19.
  4. Heinz and Hilsman faced sharp questioning from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 14 as a result of the Nhu interview, and Hilsman cabled Nolting on May 16 to reemphasize the need to persuade Diem to restrain Nhu in his public remarks: “Reactions to Nhu interview very strong on Capitol Hill. Foresee considerable domestic criticism and opposition our Viet-Nam policy as direct result. My own feeling is that Nhu’s action incomprehensible and I wonder whether he will not repeat performance if not brought up sharply and immediately. If you have not already seen Diem, you should be sure to couch your protest in strongest possible language.” (Telegram 1098 to Saigon, May 16; Department of State. Central Files. DEF 6 US)