134. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
Counselor Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu was most forthcoming in his observations and assessment of situation here, with particular emphasis on role of U.S. advisors. He appreciates and regrets problems caused by recent published interview. In long discussion, I found nothing inconsistent with U.S. objectives in what he had to say. This was, in brief, that South Viet-Nam must continually strive for self-sufficiency in all fields if it is to endure as free nation. It cannot be expected that foreign assistance will continue in present dimensions for prolonged period, and it is up to Vietnamese people to make this unnecessary. While much remains to be done, a great deal has been accomplished under difficult circumstances, thanks in large part to American material assistance and advice. Said he hoped I realized that he is neither anti-American nor xenophobic. Said he realized that he is unpopular among many Vietnamese, because he is trying to get GVN to promote a genuine revolution among the people and this annoyed the stand-patters. Nhu gave many examples of what he called his “lectures” to Vietnamese officials, high and low, civilian and military.[Page 325]
These lectures, he insisted, were not aimed against American assistance or advice. On contrary, he said they were aimed at making Viet-Nam self-sufficient as rapidly as possible so as to ease the burden on her friends. Citing examples, he said when ARVN general recently complained about too much U.S. advice, he asked him how often he had visited ARVN training centers. When told never, he said that Generals Harkins and Timmes are in the field every week visiting training centers and other installations and when Vietnamese officers can do the same there will no longer be the need for American officers to fill the gaps. In another instance, he said he asked ARVN battalion commander how many times he had been visited by ARVN general during operations. When told never, Nhu asked about U.S. general officers and commander said latter had visited battalion several times during operations. Nhu said he then told ARVN general present that when Vietnamese generals could do the same they would be in better position to talk about no need for U.S. assistance. Talking about U.S. civil advisors, he said he had found their reports and advice to be direct, well-motivated and generally correct. On this score, he had one request to make, i.e., that our people be diagnosticians rather than physicians, meaning that they should size up a difficulty and report it to higher authority in Saigon rather than trying to fix it by end-running the Province Chief, which caused difficulties. He was explicit in promising prompt investigations through Ministerial Committee to remedy insofar as possible such situations. He agreed time not yet ripe for lessening U.S. advisor-support role, but said he would continue to work toward that end as desirable for both countries. Said he deplored being misunderstood, but had gotten used to it. I said that his views as expressed to me were entirely consistent with U.S. views and objectives, and I was reassured to have them. At same time, I hoped he would not ignore serious problems created for us by reports, such as the recent one, which was 180 degrees different from what he had just told me.
(Comment: Nhu was as usual somewhat subtle and difficult to understand, but apparently sincere and cordial throughout. He is, however, capable of reacting emotionally and I dare say he did so when confronted by Unna’s questions.)
- Vice President Tho. In an hour’s discussion with Vice President Tho, I found him more bullish on situation here than I had ever seen him. This was tempered by worry about handling of Buddhist situation, by developments in Laos, and by present poor prospects of developing any regional ties. But he thought things were going well internally in struggle against VC, emphasizing particularly economic improvements especially in rural area. He was most outspoken in appreciation of U.S. support. As regards regionalism, I asked him whether he was interested in the Mekong River development plans, [Page 326] remarked that this seemed to me offer long range prospects of collaboration among SEA countries. He said he was interested in this planning, and felt that best way to make progress was to continue technical studies and planning, leaving political aspects aside until more propitious time. With regard to U.S. advisors, Tho said that it is true that the presence of U.S. advisors, especially civilian, in remote country areas caused the Vietnamese people to wonder who was running the government. While he entirely agreed that the benefits of U.S. advice should be continued until victory is assured, he suggested as a device an inspection system from several central locations rather than having Americans living constantly and conspicuously in small rural villages.
- Foreign Minister Maul. In a briefer courtesy call, we discussed mainly the need to work more effectively on improvement of the image of the GVN to the outside world. Mau said what struck him as most ironic was the picture of President Diem as aloof from the people when in fact his main strength lies in the liking and respect of the peasantry. He said he (Mau) had many friends among the intellectuals in Saigon, but since most of these had been in one way or another deprived of some of their privileges and possessions by the government in its attempt to benefit the people, he thought they would be the very last to be won over. On the public image topic, I suggested two things: that the staff of the GVN Embassy in Washington be beefed up by several young officers who could help tell the story of Viet-Nam to American groups (he said he thought this was a good idea and would see what he could do about it); second, that resident U.S. and other foreign journalists be taken by Diem on some of his trips to the provinces, so that they could see and report on his touch with the people. Mau said he agreed and would do what he could, but added that Diem had “disappointments” in trying to do this in the past.
Re relations with Laos, Mau remarked that they were “improving” and business was being conducted almost normally, albeit with some ambiguity. He remarked that he had attended the Laotian National Day and offered a toast to the King as usual. I asked about the invitation to the Laotian King to visit Saigon. He repeated that Diem preferred to have this next year in view of the situation here, but was willing to have the visit this year if the King preferred, and the GVN representative in Vientiane had been so instructed. He said he was waiting to hear the King’s preference before issuing a formal invitation.
On Cambodia, he said he saw no prospect of improvement so long as Sihanouk continued to “insult” Diem.
Re Thailand, Mau remarked that, despite the fact that Thailand had sent back to North Viet-Nam about 10,000 to 15,000 Vietnamese residents of Thailand. the number of those still remained about the [Page 327] same, 38,000. This he attributed to the fact that they were sent back to Thailand as a fifth column after indoctrination in North Viet-Nam. He went on to say that personally he would expect the pressure of Communist subversion to be stepped up in Thailand when, as he anticipated, the going for the VC becomes too hard and costly in SVN.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-S VIET Secret; Limited Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, and CINCPAC.↩
- Ambassador Nolting left Vietnam on May 24. He returned to Vietnam on July 11, after a holiday and consultations in Washington.↩
- An apparent reference to Document 131.↩