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

329. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman. Embtel 3142 We are reporting separately conversations with Vo Van Hai (Embtel 316),3 General Kim (Embtel 320),4 Thuan (Embtel 324)5 and General Don (C-AS Saigon 0265).6

These conversations confirm fully conclusions contained reftel. In addition, they indicate that:

Nhu, probably with full support of Diem , had large hand in planning of action against Buddhists, if he did not fully master-mind it. His influence has also been significantly increased.
He probably found relatively fertile soil in which to work, i.e. certain of Generals were genuinely worried about GVN handling of Buddhist situation and ready for decisive military action, such as martial law.
It is nevertheless also possible that Regular Army was not cut in fully on planned action against pagodas, which was carried out by Police and Colonel Tung’s Special Forces. (On other hand, Don’s [Page 621] statement that Army planned simply to return bonzes to their own pagodas is disingenuous, if he meant to do this could be Done peacefully.)
Finally, and most important, we do not conclude that any of officers with actual military strength in Saigon (Don, Dinh, Tung) is at this point disaffected with President or with Nhu. We must assume that latter have, or may well have, strings of power still in their hands.

Suggestion has been made that U.S. has only to indicate to “Generals” that it would be happy to see Diem and/or Nhus go, and deed would be Done. Situation is not so simple, in our view. Specifically, as indicated (d) above, we have no information that officers with troops in Saigon are disposed to act in this way. Moreover, there is no showing that military have agreed among themselves on a leadership.

Action on our part in these circumstances would seem to be a shot in the dark. Situation at this time does not call for that, in my judgment, and I believe we should bide our time, continuing to watch situation closely.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2-4 S VIET Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:05 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Document 269.
  3. Paul Kattenburg was in Saigon, August 22-30. He reported to Hilsman in telegram 316, August 24, on a conversation he had with Vo Van Hai, Chief of Diem ‘s private staff. Although a long-time Diem loyalist, Hai confided that he feared for his life and thought he was under surveillance by Nhu’s agents. Hai told Kattenburg that Nhu had “carefully stage-managed” the crackdown on the Buddhists, had used Madame Nhu to further his own campaign against the bonzes, and had arranged for the Generals to meet with Diem just hours before the raids on the pagodas. Hai said that Nhu decided to act before Lodge’s arrival so as to confront the new Ambassador with a fait accompli. He complained about the Nhu system of favoritism and privilege and pointedly told Kattenburg that the Generals would move against Nhu if only they were given the word. “It would not be difficult,” Hai reportedly said. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 25 S VIET)
  4. Document 274.
  5. Document 273.
  6. Document 275.