138. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

1159. Embtels 1038 and 1050; Deptel 11172New York Times today reports Buddhists still very upset by Hue incident and failure GVN take meaningful steps toward religious equality. Story states Buddhists planning hunger strikes and four weeks of memorial services.3

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We have noted your recommendations and Diem’s essentially negative response as contained reftels. In face continuing Buddhist agitation, however, believe Diem may after further reflection be willing shift his ground. Urge Embassy make continuing effort move him on this problem which could either become very serious for GVN or be susceptible considerable easing by greater show GVN good will.

You may wish again raise problem with Diem, in whatever terms you think best in order persuade him take further actions meet Buddhist demands. You might wish consider suggesting public reassurance by Diem that Constitutional provision (Article 17) for religious freedom will be enforced, especially with understanding Buddhists will have equal rights with Catholics to hold processions, display flags, etc, promise full investigation of Hue incident by special commission, release of any Buddhists held by Hue authorities, and offer continue discussions with Buddhist leaders. Doubt GVN can be persuaded now to admit responsibility for Hue incident, but investigation headed by prominent Buddhist could cover this problem.

Since drafting above have received Reuters ticker May 29 on GVN communique urging “Absolute Respect” for all religious groups. What is background?4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIEI Secret. Drafted by Wood. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Telegrams 1038 and 1050 from Saigon are printed as Documents 129 and 131. Telegram 1117 to Saigon is summarized in footnote 3 to telegram 1038.
  3. The article was written by David Halberstam, who quoted a Vietnamese Government source as saying that President Diem had told Buddhist leaders on May 15 that they were “damn fools” to ask for religious freedom when it was guaranteed by Vietnam’s Constitution. (The New York Times, May 29, 1963, p. 5)
  4. See Document 139.