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

235. Saigon’s 299.2 To Lodge from Hilsman. As situation develops, we await further clarification of what has happened and what the present distribution of power may be. As we are sure you will agree, three possibilities appear still open: (a) that military are in fact in control and that Diem continues as President by sufferance; (b) that Diem with military cooperation has strengthened his own position; [Page 605] and (c) that Nhu is actually calling the shots. Possibility also exists that even though military not in saddle now, they may use martial law period to their advantage. If so, might be wise not to press to have martial law removed too quickly.

As the facts emerge, we would appreciate your appraisal of the relative power situation of specific groups and individuals, both military and civilian.

Regardless of who is running the show, we should continue to seek the same objectives. These are acceptable solution to the Buddhist problem and a more responsive and representative government capable of carrying on the war effectively. GVN must show own population and world that improvement in Buddhist position will be eventual outcome of evolving situation. If we impress this need on both civilians and military at all levels GVN, we may be able to achieve some progress not only on immediate Buddhist problem (with all implications this has for U.S. and world opinion) but also on longer range objective of broadening regime and limiting Diem’s exercise of arbitrary power. As situation develops, we may deem it useful to throw our influence toward reducing or eliminating the power of the Nhus. However, we will welcome your fresh reading of this and other aspects of the situation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIEI Secret; Operational Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and Ball and cleared in substance with Ball and Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Document 261.