190. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report1

TDCS DB-3/655, 301


  • Appraisal of the Ngo Diem Regime as of 26 June 1963
This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this agency or any component. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at the time of its preparation. Prepared for internal use as a guide to the operational environment, this commentary is disseminated in the belief that it may be useful to other agencies in assessing the situation for their own purposes.
The Government of Vietnam (GVN) is now waging what it considers to be a war for survival with its difficulties expanded by the deteriorating military situation in Laos. In the GVN’s view, the Laos problem increasingly deprives them of an important buffer against Communist insurgency and opens the GVN frontier to direct Communist aggression. It is therefore most unlikely that the GVN will accept any advice which, in the opinion of its top officials, might undermine its control of the internal political situation. By this reasoning, it can be anticipated that recommendations looking toward broad political and social reforms will be strongly resisted, both by President Ngo Dinh Diem and his family, and by certain military and civilian officials.
Efforts to effect any changes, such as broadening the government to include selected oppositionists, relegating the President’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, and his wife to less prominent roles, and permitting opposition delegates in the National Assembly, are not believed feasible at this time for the following reasons:
President Diem will not discard any family member under pressure. He has a strong traditional sense of family loyalty and is convinced that he is the only person of sufficient stature to lead his country in the battle for survival. Any American demarche envisioning the dismissal of Nhu, Madame Nhu, or of his brother Ngo Dinh Can, political leader of Central Vietnam, would probably be adjudged by Diem as personally insulting and as a gross infringement of his sovereignty and would meet with his flat refusal. Requests or demands that his family members be relegated to positions of apparent honor but without real power would also draw a negative response, with the chances of success being hardly better than those for a demarche for their dismissal. In Diem’s view, either would be demanding not only that he fight on without the services of his most trustworthy advisers, but also that he forfeit the power factors which they represent, i.e. Ngo Dinh Can’s Movement of National Revolution, Ngo Dinh Nhu’s Republican Youth Organization, Strategic Hamlet Program and Can Lao Party, and Madame Nhu’s Women’s Solidarity Movement.
Proposals to permit opposition participation in the GVN and to institute political liberalization and reform would undoubtedly place Diem on the horns of an extremely painful dilemma. Diem may realize that he can no longer deal with the opposition in this customary stern fashion, but he almost surely reasons that reforms and other changes would probably give oppositionists the opportunity they need to effect his downfall. Oppositionists themselves have given every indication that they consider the overthrow of the present regime of paramount importance, even over the prosecution of the war against the Viet Cong. Furthermore, a review of various old opposition leaders and groups shows little to indicate that they would work in good faith, either with a reshaped GVN under Diem, or even among themselves.
The most noteworthy feature of the Buddhist crisis has been the shift of certain population segments from apparent apathy to active opposition. The students, for example, have identified themselves emotionally with the Buddhist cause, and on 16 June a pastoral letter was read in all Roman Catholic churches of the Saigon Archdiocese which tended to lend support to Buddhist demands for freedom of religion within all of South Vietnam.
The immediate test for the GVN in the eyes of the Buddhists, of politically motivated elements waiting on the sidelines, and of the general public is the prompt and full implementation of the 16 June GVN agreement to Buddhist demands. If the GVN fails to prove its sincerity to Buddhists within the near future, it will almost certainly be in for increased difficulties. Evolution in this direction has already started. On paper, the GVN went about as far in meeting Buddhist demands as could be expected, and both sides cooperated closely in [Page 425] achieving the agreements and in carrying off without incident the funeral of Thich Quan Duc, the self-immolated Buddhist priest. There are, however, concrete indications that certain elements of the GVN have no intention of accepting the agreements as a permanently valid solution. Newspapers, especially the English-language Times of Vietnam, have hinted strongly at the existence of Viet Cong and foreign intrigues and machinations behind the Buddhist protests. There are disturbing reports of efforts to start agitation to revise the agreement “by popular acclaim.” The Republican Youth Organization has been reported as directed to make personal contacts calling for such a revision, and Diem himself has been stated to be backing this effort. Against this must be set Diem’s statement to United States Charge d’Affaires Trueheart that he intends to abide fully by the 16 June agreement.2 The agreement, however, is not precise or detailed, and the execution of some points therein is a continuing matter with the possibility of real or manufactured misunderstanding great on both sides. Buddhist leaders who are watching the situation very closely for indications that the GVN is reluctant to implement various terms of the agreement have stated that they are especially attentive to the problems of the students who are still in jail as a result of participation in demonstrations. Leading monks have stated that GVN failure to fulfill the agreements in any way will result in further Buddhist action.
A GVN attempt to subdue the Buddhists by force is likely to fail in the long run because of broad popular discontent over the problem and support for the Buddhists. The use of force would also possibly start a chain of events relegating religious aspects of the Buddhist crisis to the background and supplanting them with cumulative political developments directed at toppling the regime. If the GVN makes an effective and early effort to handle this matter sincerely, the chances are good that Diem will ride out this storm as he has done others before. However, he is potentially in more serious danger now than at any time since the war with the religious sects in 1955.
  1. Source: U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Background Use Only. TDCS information reports contained telegraphically-dispatched, unevaluated intelligence information which was distributed by the CIA to other appropriate government agencies.
  2. See Document 185.