219. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

85. CINCPAC for POLAD. Herewith is interim report of situation here as I see it, after two days of intensive briefings, discussions with American, Vietnamese, and foreign officials and private citizens, including American newsmen, and some sampling of Saigon opinion.

Our patient, I think, is still on critical list, but improving. Difficulties seem to be confined mainly to larger cities, affecting only slightly peasant population in central coastal areas and not at all in Delta. Saigon and Hue are still very volatile and people are scared. Buddhist Association leaders, unfortunately, can still take initiative to bring down government, but seem to be hesitant to do so. Each day that passes slightly increases chances of surmounting this crisis. Coup rumors are rife and evidence of plotting exists, but it is my present judgment that no direct intervention in this matter on our part would be helpful or wise. (Have passed the word on position to be taken if approached, as per instruction.)2

Restoration of Diem’s confidence in US intentions, badly shaken by several happenings in past weeks, and subsequent leading of him to take more positive and sensible political actions, will take some time. I have spent seven hours with him since my return and have, Thuan reports, made some headway, but I have nothing of significance to report in terms of concrete actions or decisions. He is hurt by what he considers misrepresentations and calumnies (both in Viet-Nam and outside), torn by conflicting advice, resentful of US pressure, and not completely in control of his government’s actions (Nhus). He is, in brief, in a martyr’s mood himself. We have not yet been able to persuade him to snap out of it, make a virtue of necessity, and take his case fully and candidly directly to the people. We are still working on this. In my judgment, his motives and intentions are still good; some of his resentments and suspicions concerning the Buddhist agitation are well-founded. He is visibly tired. Our main problem at moment is to get him relaxed enough to take the helm and steer the ship on a true and sensible course.

[During] this difficult period, I think our best bet is to work quietly along existing guidelines. While making our views and especially US domestic considerations amply clear, we should not try to blueprint his course for him. Specifically, we should not reiterate our threat of [Page 488] disassociation, nor feel stuck with it if other means of easing the situation (even the passage of time) work in favor of a political modus vivendi here. Rather, I think, we should continue, as has been done, to tell him the facts of life about public opinion at home and let him work out his own accommodation. We will continue to defend the legitimate rights of US newsmen here (I have again made very firm representations to Diem on the Browne-Arnett case),3 but I think we must accept the fact that we will probably continue to have a generally bad press for some time, until political calm returns and we can demonstrate the success of the overall strategy and plan. With luck—I emphasize this—[and?] an appearance of calm determination4 on the part of Americans to see this crisis surmounted, I believe there is a reasonably good chance of reestablishing the basis for continued progress here.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POLS VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London, Paris, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Bangkok, and CINCPAC.
  2. No such instruction has been found. Wood underscored the reference to an instruction in the source text, and put a question mark in the margin.
  3. See Documents 210 and 211.
  4. Wood underscored the reference to “an appearance of calm determination” in the source text, and added the marginal notation “N.B.”