308. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency(Murrow) to the President1


  • Foreign Reaction to Diem Repression and U.S. Foreign Policy

Press and public reaction to the events in Viet-Nam received to date is almost universally critical of Diem and, directly or by implication, the United States.

The closest thing to a sympathetic comment appeared in Rome’s right-wing Il Tempo: “The background of the crisis is in fact political …2 The neutralist orientation of the Buddhist clergy in a country at war becomes an indirect support for the enemy to the degree to which it prevents general psychological mobilization.”

Far East

Editorialists are almost unanimously critical of the Diem Government actions and generally blame the U.S. for continuing it in power. The pro-communist press of the area is playing the obvious theme that the U.S. always supports unpopular dictatorships. Official spokesmen [Page 673] in Japan, Thailand, and Korea have maintained a cautious attitude, aside from Marshal Sarit’s announced willingness to host a conference of Buddhist countries to consider the problem.

The Malayan Straits Times called the Diem Government action the. beginning of disaster and added: “What the U.S. does in principle is the fact on which the future of Diem hangs. The U.S. may accept what is a fait accompli and press for concessions or back up indignant words with indignant deeds.”

Burma’s English language Guardian called the crackdown a “colossal blunder.” It asked the Saigon regime to stop this “mad war” against Buddhists, and called on the U.S. to give the regime an ultimatum.

According to the Manila press, the Philippine Government is considering following the Cambodian lead in breaking diplomatic relations with Saigon, and hopes other Asian nations will do the same.

Hanoi has gone all out on what it calls the “white terror drive.” Peking has given heavy news coverage, but so far no original comment. North Korean papers find a parallel between South Vietnamese events and the collapse of Syngman Rhee’s government as a result of “ruthless suppression of the people by the U.S. imperialists and their stooges.

Western Europe

Some of the French press has been particularly scathing. Le Combat (anti-Gaullist) said, “Washington has committed a capital error. To erect the detestable regime of the Diem clan as … a barrier would have been justified … for a short time if the barrier had not been rotten.” Les Echos (financial) wrote: “In taking over our (the French) role, the U.S. has inherited our difficulties but has not remembered the lesson. To drop Diem in favor of whom?” Le Figaro (conservative), typical of the more balanced comments, took due note of the increasing dissatisfaction with Diem’s course in the United States.

La Stampa (liberal, Turin) said perhaps the Diem regime “has dug its own grave.” The Vatican Osservatore Romano saw the conflict as more political than religious, but the Catholic Avvanire d’Italia of Bologne said that between the Diem Government and the Buddhists it would have to declare flatly for the Buddhists.

Die Welt (independent, Hamburg) called on Washington to let the Diem regime fall, and to “establish contact with the non-communist opposition.”

The Scotsman (conservative) speculated that Diem was forcing the U.S. to look for new Vietnamese leadership. The London Times (independent) warned Diem that his “dangerous game,” which could prolong [Page 674] the war, might cut off American aid. The Guardian (liberal) said the difficulty lies not in alternative leadership but the absence of an alternative U.S. policy.


In the only African comment received, the Algerian radio reported that Algeria’s delegation to the U.N. has been instructed to support measures putting an end to “the inhuman reprisals to which 70 per cent of the South Viet-Nam population has been subjected.”

Near East and South Asia

News coverage has been unusually heavy in Ceylon and India. Editorialists in those countries, Iran, Pakistan, and Lebanon are universally critical of Diem and the United States for keeping him in power. There is growing sentiment in Ceylon and India to take the problem to the U.N.

The Ceylon Observer flatly accused the U.S. of being “committed, to the cynical view that it matters not whom it hires to engage the enemy in the outlying marshes if they will help to keep Fortress America safe.” Critical comments by Buddhist leaders in Ceylon have been widely reported, including one to the effect that the “dollar-Vatican axis” is responsible for the events in Viet-Nam.

The Times of India credited the U.S. with a “large part of the blame” for the situation, and said that “one would have thought that after what happened in South Korea… the U.S. State Department would have realized that the communists’ worst enemies are not necessarily democracy’s best friends.”

The Indian Express asked: “Will Washington at last realize that nothing will be gained, and much will be lost, by propping up such a thoroughly unpopular regime in Saigon?”

Dawn of Karachi caricatured the State Department shedding crocodile tears over a Buddhist corpse. Ettelaat of Teheran, in an editorial titled “Dark Future for South Viet-Nam,” claimed Viet-Cong forces had increased from 15,000 to 25,000 in the last year “despite substantial U.S. economic and military aid.”

Soviet Union

After a slow start, Moscow press and radio is now playing the crisis heavily. Moscow domestic radio said August 27 that Lodge’s arrival coincides with “an unprecedented wave of terrorism against the population.” It asserted that the Diem “autocracy” exists “only by the kind consent” of Washington.

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Other broadcasts asserted that Lodge’s instructions are to restore order and “to see that the local puppet rulers act against the people more flexibly and without undue publicity,” and that, although the U.S. has full control, it has not lifted a finger to stop the “bloody terror.

Edward R. Murrow4
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA/TOP Files: FRC 67 A 222, IAF-1963. Drafted by B. Anderson of the Office of Plans and Research, USIA. Copies were sent to Donald M. Wilson, Ralph Bunce, and Orem Stephens, all of USIA.
  2. All ellipses in this document are in the source text.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.