12. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

375. CINCPAC Exclusive for Felt.

[Page 21]
We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable fuming back: The overthrow of the Diem government. There is no turning back in part because U.S. prestige is already publicly committed to this end in large measure and will become more so as facts leak out. In a more fundamental sense, there is no turning back because there is no possibility, in my view, that the war can be won under a Diem administration, still less that Diem or any member of the family can govern the country in a way to gain the support of the people who count, i.e., the educated class in and out of government service, civil and military—not to mention the American people. In the last few months (and especially days), they have in fact positively alienated these people to an incalculable degree. So that I am personally in full agreement with the policy which I was instructed to carry out by last Sunday’s telegram.2
The chance of bringing off a Generals’ coup depends on them to some extent; but it depends at least as much on us.
We should proceed to make all-out effort to get Generals to move promptly. To do so we should have authority to do following:
That General Harkins repeat to Generals personally messages previously transmitted by CAS officers. This should establish their authenticity. (General Harkins should have order from President on this.)
If nevertheless Generals insist on public statement that all U.S. aid to Vietnam through Diem regime has been stopped, we would agree, on express understanding that Generals will have started at same time. (We would seek persuade Generals that it would be better to hold this card for use in event of stalemate. We hope it will not be necessary to do this at all.)
Vietnamese Generals doubt that we have the will power, courage, and determination to see this thing through. They are haunted by the idea that we will run out on them even though we have told them pursuant to instructions, that the game had started.
We must press on for many reasons. Some of these are:
Explosiveness of the present situation which may well lead to riots and violence if issue of discontent with regime is not met. Out of this could come a pro-Communist or at best a neutralist set of politicians.
The fact that war cannot be won with the present regime.
Our own reputation for steadfastness and our unwillingness to stultify ourselves.
If proposed action is suspended, I believe a body blow will be dealt to respect for us by Vietnamese Generals. Also, all those who expect U.S. to straighten out this situation will feel let down. Our help to the regime in past years inescapably gives us a large responsibility which we cannot avoid.
I realize that this course involves a very substantial risk of losing Vietnam. It also involves some additional risk to American lives. I would never propose it if I felt there was a reasonable chance of holding Vietnam with Diem.

In response to specific question (c) in Deptel 268,3 I would not hesitate to use financial inducements if I saw a useful opportunity.

As to (d) I favor such moves, provided it is made clear they are not connected with evacuation Americans. As for (e); I fear evacuation of U.S. personnel now would alarm the Generals and demoralize the people.

In response to your para 4, General Harkins thinks that I should ask Diem to get rid of the Nhus before starting the Generals’ action. But I believe that such a step has no chance of getting the desired result and would have the very serious effect of being regarded by the Generals as a sign of American indecision and delay. I believe this is a risk which we should not run. The Generals distrust us too much already. Another point is that Diem would certainly ask for time to consider such a far-reaching request. This would give the ball to Nhu.
With the exception of paragraph 8 above General Harkins concurs in this telegram.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Emergency; Eyes Only. Repeated Operational Immediate to CINCPAC. Received at 7:03 a.m. and passed to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA. Printed also in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 11, pp. 738-739 and Declassified Documents 1982, 591 B.
  2. August 25. Apparent reference to telegram 243 to Saigon, vol. III, p. 628. Because of the time difference between Saigon and Washington, telegram 243 arrived in Vietnam on August 25.
  3. Document 8.