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

314. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman. This is preliminary reply your 235.2

As of now, we feel reasonably sure that no military coup has taken place and that Palace is in control. Exact roles of Diem, Nhu and Madame Nhu are not clear but weight of evidence is that influence of Nhus has not diminished. Tone of Army radio broadcasts has a strong Nhu flavor; it is also to be noted that within 24 hours of coup, radio broadcast lengthy Nhu directive calling on Republican Youth to support government action.

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Military are ostensibly working together and we know of no disagreements among them. However, we do not believe that military should be regarded as monolithic structure at this point. Specifically, we believe that there are at least three power elements in Army, represented by General Don, General Dinh and Colonel Tung. We are reasonably sure that Dinh and Tung are not taking orders from Don and we believe that each of three is getting direction from Palace. Further, both Dinh and Tung (who are known to detest each other) have military forces in Saigon. Should regular Army decide to take over in earnest, i.e., depose Diem, possibility of serious fighting in Saigon would be considerable, as Tung could be expected to defend Diem. He is thoroughly disliked and distrusted by Army and has always derived all his authority from Palace.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Document 268.
  3. On August 21, Ambassador Lodge was in Tokyo en route to Vietnam. He planned to stop off in Hong Kong before proceeding to Saigon. In the middle of the night he received a telephone call from the White House briefing him on the Diem government’s declaration of martial law and its attacks on the pagodas. Lodge was instructed to go to r Saigon as soon as possible, and the President authorized that a U.S. military airplane be made available to him. On the morning of August 22, Lodge took off for Saigon, an 11hour, non-stop flight from Tokyo. He arrived at Tan Son Nhut airport at 9:30 p.m., August 22. (Interview with Henry Cabot Lodge, August 4, 1965; Kennedy Library, Oral History Program) Mecklin in Mission in Torment, pp. 189-190, provides a dramatic account of Lodge’s arrival. Lodge did not present his credentials until August 26 and technically he was not U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam until then.