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

320. CINCPAC for POLAD. Following is memorandum of conversation between Rufus Phillips, Director of USOM Rural Affairs, and General Le Van Kim held on August 23:

Begin Text: Following are statements made to me by General Le Van Kim, currently acting as Deputy for Public Relations to General Don, during course of a conversation with him on 23 August 1963. General Kim is an old personal friend and asked that this conversation be kept in closest personal confidence.

General Kim opened conversation by saying, bitterly, that Army is now acting as puppet of Counselor Nhu, who tricked it into establishing martial law. The Army, including Generals Dinh and Don knew nothing of plans to raid Xa Loi and other pagodas. This was carried out by Colonel Tung’s Special Forces and combat police on Nhu’s secret orders. Nhu is now in control and General Don is taking orders directly from him.

According to Kim, 1426 people (Buddhist monks and laymen) have been arrested. All of explosives and arms found in pagodas were planted. Now the population believes the Army was responsible for repression of Buddhists and is turning against Army. Unless this situation is corrected and people are told truth, Army will be seriously handicapped in its fight against Communists.

General Kim said students from Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy had held demonstrations on morning of 23rd. Kim felt these demonstrations were bound to spread, that students were on verge of violence. Riot control briefings had just been given to ARVN unit leaders on morning of 23rd and he hoped violence between Army and students could be avoided. However, Nhu had ordered Cao Xuan Vy (Director General of Youth) to organize a massive demonstration of Republican Youth involving over 500,000 people for 25th of August. Kim believes that such a demonstration, if it could be organized, would produce a riot of unimaginable proportions and, therefore, must be avoided. He said he doubted that Nhu would listen to any contrary advice about demonstrations.

I asked Kim if the Army was united. He said that Nhu had deliberately split the command between Colonel Tung, General Dinh and General Don and was dealing with each separately. Don (who is [Page 614] his brother-in-law) does not command much natural support among officer corps but most of other Generals and senior officers, he felt, could be rallied around him (Don). Key question was where did US stand. If US took clear stand against Nhus and in support of Army action to remove them from government, the Army (with exception of Colonel Tung) would unite in support of such an action and would be able to carry it out. He felt that retaining President, even though he personally did not like him, would be preferable providing all Ngo family influence could be permanently and effectively eradicated. It was not just a question of getting rid of Nhus, he said, but of also removing their followers from scene.

Finally, Kim said that he and seven other general officers had been obliged on 22 August to sign an oath of loyalty to President Diem which fully supported actions taken by government against Buddhists. He said US must not be fooled by this document, that vast majority of Army and most of Generals who signed document, did not approve of repression of Buddhists but had to sign at this time or expose themselves to individual elimination by Counselor Nhu.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. Hilsman cites this telegram in To Move a Nation, pp. 484-485, as part of an approach by Vietnamese Generals to American officials.