88. Memorandum for the Record of a Conversation With the Presidential Counselor (Ngo Dinh Nhu)1

Ngo Dinh Nhu began [less than 1 line not declassified] by stating that an important current of “revisionism” thought was moving with increasing strength throughout various departments of the Government of Vietnam, within the armed forces, and in such semi-private organizations as the Republican Youth. It was not clear as to what Nhu meant by “revisionism”. He seemed to imply that a general reexamination of the processes and performance of government in its broadest sense was taking place-a self-criticism and self-examination. [1 sentence (1-1/2 lines) not declassified] Nhu said that part of this process represented an effort to grapple with the problem of “control”. He said that in developed societies with a tradition of democratic control, absorbed by the citizenry during early youth, such institutions as a free press, free association and assembly, democratic political institutions, and free universities contribute to democratic control of the society. However, in the underdeveloped state of war-time South Vietnam, other forms of control are necessary. Nhu did not define these other forms of control but gave the impression of making an exploratory effort toward locating and applying control measures. He repeated several times that the objective was to achieve “liberty, fraternity, and justice.”
Nhu said that one area of revisionist thought and of the control problem lay in the problem of relationship between the province chief and the central government, especially the ministries. Nhu feels that province chiefs have acquired too much power, usurping “illegal power” to a degree which results in local abuses and lack of a sufficiently coordinated and disciplined governmental process. Province chiefs are not sufficiently responsive to the various ministries of the central government. He cited relationships between the Ministry of Finance and the province chiefs and said that the Ministry of Finance had inadequate control of the discharge of fiscal responsibilities by a province chief in his province. Province chiefs were also insufficiently responsive to the Ministry of Interior.
Another sector of revisionist thinking is in the field of education. Nhu thinks that the Vietnamese educational system, including the universities, is not geared to the needs of a developing new country in terms of modern statehood. The Vietnamese educational system does not produce civic-minded graduates imbued with a sense of patriotism or of service to the nation. He said that, in contrast to the American system, civics is not even taught anywhere in the Vietnamese educational process.
Nhu claimed that revisionist soul-searching was taking place in the Cabinet ministries with respect to the organization, personnel, and performance of these ministries. And he claimed that similar self-examination is taking place within the armed forces. He mentioned his growing interest in psychological warfare as conducted by the armed forces and said that psychological and political warfare consciousness and practice within the armed forces cannot be achieved as long as this sector is left primarily to a handful of trained specialists within the armed forces. Trained specialists tend to be ignored by their commanding officers and consequently fail to achieve the objectives sought. Nhu’s thesis is that psychological and political warfare consciousness within the armed forces must be obtained by training the commanding officers themselves from general staff officers and corps commanders on down to the various echelons of command. This program has already been started and Nhu referred to the 133 officers who had just been graduated at the Psychological Warfare Cadres Training Center in Saigon. Nhu spoke at the graduation ceremonies and an article on the subject is carried in the Times of Vietnam, 13 April 1963, Page 2. General Tran Van Don headed up this course of instruction.
Nhu touched only briefly on the American economic aid problem and said that he thought some economic aid should be augmented, other aid should be programmed for elimination in the long run, some forms of aid should be programmed for elimination in the short run, and some aid could be eliminated almost immediately.
On American presence in South Vietnam, Nhu repeated his view that it would be useful to reduce the numbers of Americans by anywhere from 500 to 3,000 or 4,000. He said that when the Americans first arrived, the Vietnamese had a particular respect for them because the Americans were very hard-working, disciplined, and without “rancor” among themselves or toward other persons. However, Nhu feels that the process of discipline has broken down with the passing of time and the numerical increase of the American presence in South Vietnam. He repeated that the influx of Americans and their stationing in the provinces had been welcomed with the thought that Americans located in the provinces would come to understand the [Page 224] difficulties confronted by the Vietnamese and would interpret Vietnamese problems sympathetically and with more knowledge of the situation. This had not proved sufficiently to be the case.
Nhu said that for us to understand President Diem we should recall that Diem had spent a great part of his life in reaction against and resistance to French domination. He would be extremely sensitive to any situation which seemed even to imply the shadow of a protectorate status or of, as Nhu put it, “condominium”. [2 sentences (3 lines) not declassified]Nhu said that he wanted to avoid “institutionalizing” certain substantive relationships and procedures jointly engaged in by the Vietnamese and by American personnel. These relationships and procedures should not become “juridical”. Aside from these problems of the institutional and juridical, Nhu said that, for his part, he was disposed to consult with and inform American personnel as fully as before on problems and programs of joint interest.
According to Nhu, President Diem has received a considerable flow of complaints and statements of irritation from his military and civilian chiefs about problems of relationships with American counterparts. He cited General Dinh as being among these officials and claims that General Dinh had commented to the effect that there were too many Americans in South Vietnam. Complaints had come in from the Joint General Staff. Nhu volunteered his recognition that one advantage of the American presence at all echelons was to help keep Vietnamese officials honest and stimulate them into better performance as Vietnamese officials did not want to look bad in the eyes of a foreign officer. The Vietnamese officials were at a disadvantage with respect to their American opposite numbers as the Americans controlled the “means”, that is, the funds and goods. This contributed to the sense of inadequacy and inferiority felt by Vietnamese officials. In this connection and in passing, Nhu cited as an example the allegation that U.S. Special Forces were directly distributing funds and goods instead of doing so though Vietnamese authorities.
[1 sentence (1-1/2 lines) not declassified] He said that Colonel Le Quang Tung had made some criticisms and Nhu had replied to the effect that anyone can avoid making mistakes by just sitting back in his chair and “smoking his pipe”. President Diem had recently called down both Tung and Nhu because of inadequacies in the Vietnamese Special Forces performance and Nhu, himself, implied that Tung was not sufficiently experienced, qualified, or senior for the responsibility he now holds. Nevertheless, he gave [less than 1 line not declassified] no real impression that Tung was slated to be changed from his present assignment.
Nhu then referred to problems relating to the construction of the long earthen wall, “the Maginot Line”, as a defensive measure in the province of Vinh Long. This had been an initiative on the part of [Page 225] the province chief and had not been cleared with the Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets. When Nhu called the province chief in for an explanation, the province chief justified the project and said that American opposition was based on personal antagonism to him. Nhu described the province chief as having made an effort to put the problem on a “nationalist” basis. He allowed the province chief to make his presentation in defense of the project before the Interministerial Committee and then asked the Regional Delegue for his view, which turned out to be in support of the province chief. After examination, Nhu ruled against the project on the basis of effectiveness alone and then succeeded in reversing President Diem’s judgment since Diem had previously heard the province chief’s defense and had approved the project. Nhu expressed appreciation for American representations against this project which had been made on a private and constructive basis to Vietnamese authorities.

[1 page of source text not declassified]

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 334, MAC/V Files:FRC 69 A 702, 501-03 (63). Secret. Drafted on April 15. The name of Nhu’s interlocutor, who drafted the memorandum, was not declassified.