118. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) and Madame Tran Van Chuong1

Madame Chuong called me several times during the day and asked me to come to her new house to discuss a “vital matter” with her. When I got there at 8:00 p.m., I saw her alone. Ambassador Chuong was nowhere in sight, although he called me this morning on a related matter.

Clandestine Government

Madame Chnong told me in conspiratorial tones that “many Vietnamese of all parties” had asked her husband to head up a government of national unity. When I asked for specific names, she mentioned Nguyen Ton Hoan (Dai Viet, Paris), Pham Huy Co (exile, [Page 238] Paris), and later also Bui Van Tinh (former Minister of Interior and Ambassador to Japan). She said that her husband had never wanted to get mixed up in “exile politics” but now the pressure on the Chuongs was so great from so many Vietnamese to do something that she was considering the idea and wanted my advice “as a friend”.

I said of course I had no advice, not even personal, to offer, but I thought we would like to be kept informed of the progress of this development. I said I assumed whatever “government” was created would remain clandestine. She asked whether the U.S. would support such a government. I did not respond to this but said I thought a surfaced government could hardly obtain any form of recognition while the Diem Government remained in power in Saigon. She said she was speaking of a clandestine government and clandestine support. I left her further queries unanswered other than to indicate again desire to be kept informed.

Madame Nhu

Madame Choong then said that she had told the Vietnamese community in New York and Washington (who constantly came to her for guidance and advice) that when the “wife of Nhu” came they should “run her over with a car” (sic), and that if they could not do that they should throw eggs and tomatoes at her every time she appeared in public. She, Madame Chuong, had organized the White House picket demonstration of Vietnamese recently and she was quite capable of organizing against this “monster”.

(Ambassador Chuong called me first thing today to stress that Madame Nhu should under no circumstances be received by high level U.S. officials, in particular the President. If she knew now that she would not be received, she would be much less likely to come. Her reason in coming is primarily to talk to top officials; the press and TV are only a secondary concern.)

One more point conveyed, though somewhat indirectly, by Madame Chuong: the U.S. is rapidly losing friends in Viet-Nam and is moving awfully slowly in coping with the situation. There is only one solution; get rid of both Diem and Nhu. The U.S. is responsible for doing it because it is only through U.S. support that the government holds together. All Vietnamese cordially hate it. Nhu is “un barbare” and Diem is an incompetent. What is the U.S. waiting for?

I tried to handle her as tactfully as possible while retaining her confidence.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret. Drafted by Kattenburg on September 17. On a copy of this memorandum sent to the White House, Forrestal wrote: “Family life in Vietnam”, and next to Madame Chuong’s threat to run over her daughter: “Mother love.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous, Part II)