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

To State attention Governor Harriman. Do not question good intentions animating decision directing VOA broadcast 8:00 A.M., August [Page 637] 26.2 But Department should know this action has complicated our already difficult problem as follow:

It has eliminated the possibility of the generals effort achieving surprise. This is definitely not practical politics even though I still hope. that the Generals will succeed. Purpose of my message of yesterday (CAS Saigon 0292)3 was to make clear our view that in the interest of achieving Washington objective and at same time of minimizing loss of life (including American life), we should not tip off Nhu on our decision.
The statement that I am “under instructions” to say certain things to Diem is not true. And even if it were true, the VOA would not be the vehicle through which I get such instructions. Also if it were true, the instructions would be fallacious since nothing is accomplished with any man by making him lose face. If our objective is to be achieved at all, it must be achieved by the Vietnamese themselves and must look natural. The US must not appear publicly in the matter, thus giving the “kiss of death” to its friends.
Believe Department’s earlier telegram4 giving me charge of tactics is sound and should be adhered to. Obviously the VOA statement cuts right across tactics I had planned.
Possibility inherent in [that?] VOA broadcast will tend to increase chance of bloodshed should there be a violent reaction to what is building up. This is a time which calls for action and very few words.
If VOA causes failure of our plan the effect in Congress will certainly be unfortunate.

Would appreciate your comment.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 5 VIET-US. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Operational Immediate. Sent via CIA channels as CAS 0329 from Saigon. The Department of State passed the message to the White House and to the Office of the Secretary of Defense exclusive for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, and Krulak. There is no time of transmission on the source text, but it was received at the Department of State at 3:11 p.m. The source text is not signed.
  2. Document 287. On August 28 the CIA distributed TDCS 3/557,818, which stated that, “by 28 August 1963 Ngo Dinh Nhu had interpreted the 26 August Voice of America broadcast and other U.S. actions since the arrival of Ambassador Lodge as clear indications that the U.S. Government desires Nhu’s removal from any position of influence in the government.” The report also stated that Nhu did not think these actions necessarily meant that the U.S. Government desired the departure of Diem from power. Nhu reportedly ordered the arrest of civilian oppositionists. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, CIA cables)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 285.
  4. Apparent reference to telegram 244 to Saigon, August 24; see footnote 7, Document 281.
  5. In telegram 248 to Saigon, August 26, drafted by Rusk, the Department replied: “Deeply regret VOA broadcasts which complicate your situation. This resulted from failure of machinery here over weekend to carry our policy instructions which would have prevented these broadcasts. Dept and VOA will do utmost to avoid any comment not coordinated with you. VOA will broadcast only hard news for the next few days as part of its general news coverage but will refrain from relaying press speculations as they did on this occasion. We are all deeply aware of delicacy and danger of situation in Saigon and are determined to prevent actions or statements here would catch you by surprise or make your formidable task more difficult. Again my regrets.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, State Cables)