2. Editorial Note
Both Hilsman’s memorandum of conversation and Krulak’s memorandum for the record treat William E. Colby’s briefing during the noon meeting with the President in greater detail (see footnote 5, Supra). Hilsman’s account reads as follows:
“The meeting began with the CIA briefing-Saigon is quiet; military operations continue but at a lessened pace; photographs of Nhu have appeared on some public buildings, contrary to earlier information General Don is not in the hospital but at his post; the JGS statement [Page 7] assuming responsibility for martial law; and some GVN action to surface new Buddhist leaders, returning some Buddhists to their homes who have promised to be cooperative.
“On operations, Colby noted that the meeting with Big Minh would be at 8:15 p.m. Washington time today. Colby briefed the report on the Khiem meeting; on the forces as reported in cabled traffic and on the CIA Station’s assessment of the situation [document number not declassified]. There was some discussion of the message intercepted by Tung from the crackpot in Laguna Beach. The Attorney General suggested that CIA should arrange for several more messages from the same person to thoroughly discredit the cable since Khiem apparently feels that President Diem believes that this is a genuine instruction.” (Memorandum of conversation by Hilsman, August 28; Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, State memcons) For text of the JGS statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pages 865-866. The CIA document from Saigon is printed in volume III, page 671).
Krulak’s record of this part of the meeting reads as follows:
“Mr. Colby described the Saigon situation as generally unchanged, with minor troop movements in the Saigon area, relaxation of restrictions and some release of prisoners. In the hinterland there has been a slow drop in the offensive operations, but not dramatically so. The GVN released a statement by the Joint General Staff that the military did participate in the pagoda raids and the GVN seems to be actively engaged in generating favorable statements from the Buddhists.
“He described Ambassador Lodge’s response to the State query regarding the situation and mentioned President Diem’s dissatisfaction with a telegram that he had received from Laguna Beach, purportedly from President Kennedy, urging replacement of the Diem government. The President asked how this could be explained, to which Mr. Helms replied that the Station Chief could handle it easily.
“Mr. Colby discussed the matter of the balance of forces in the Saigon area, reciting the content of messages which all present had on the subject. He was emphatic in stating that the point of no return had been reached.” (Memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 28; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII)
Later in the meeting, evacuation planning was discussed; see footnote 5, supra. Krulak’s memorandum for the record reads as follows:
“General Taylor discussed the matter of military capabilities for protection and evacuation, referring to Ambassador Lodge’s question as to the adequacy of US military forces in the region. He pointed out that the reaction time of the BLT task group offshore had been reduced from 48 to 24 hours; that the shipping involved could readily lift several thousand evacuees and the people could be moved much closer to the coast. He discussed the location of the CVA task group and stated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had asked Admiral Felt what further changes are required in response to the concern expressed by Ambassador Lodge. General Taylor continued, noting that there were [Page 8] 4 BLTs on Okinawa on 24-hour alert; that C-130 aircraft were in the process of being assembled at Okinawa, and that all related plans were being reviewed.
“Mr. McNamara added that a most important asset is the helicopters and C-123s already in-country, which could be used to move refugees either into the countryside or to ships at sea. He commented that the US forces present in Vietnam are of neither the type nor the size which warranted consideration for participation in large scale fighting.
“The President raised the question of the Embassy evacuation plan, to which Ambassador Nolting replied that it had been recently brought up to date and reorganized. General Taylor, from his notes, recited key parts of the plan.”
Regarding possible United States actions which might be of assistance to the “coup generals” (see footnote 6, supra), Hilsman’s record included the following exchange between the President and Hilsman:
“The President asked Hilsman what ideas State had for swinging over the uncommitted generals, and Hilsman replied that we had a number of ideas including suitably discreet comments about the US attitude towards the Nhus to generals such as Dinh, the leaks about the presence of the Seventh Fleet and other US forces, [1 line not declassified] and that State intended to work out with Defense and CIA some suggestions along these lines.
“Hilsman also questioned the Secretary of Defense’s assumption that we could prevent the coup from starting at this stage. He felt that, as we had said before in the meeting, Diem and Nhu were undoubtedly aware that coup plotting was going on and that the generals probably now had no alternative to going ahead except that of fleeing the country. The President said that he was not sure that we were in that deep. As he understood it, only two contacts by two CIA men had been made with two Vietnamese generals. This was a question we would have to look into if it was a judgment of the field that the coup would not work.”
At the end of the meeting Ambassador Nolting made a statement that “only Diem can hold this fragmented country together” (see footnote 7, supra). In Hilsman’s record this statement and the subsequent disagreement between Nolting and Harriman are recorded as follows:
“Mr. Nolting again intervened saying that he profoundly felt that only Diem could hold this fragmented country together.
“The President said, ‘Even without the Nhus?’ Nolting replied that he thought President Diem could be persuaded to remove Madame Nhu from the scene and at least to make brother Nhu less conspicuous.
“Mr. Ball said emphatically that he disagreed with Mr. Nolting’s estimate-that attempting to go along with Diem and Nhu spelled nothing but disaster.[Page 9]
“With some heat Mr. Harriman said that he had disagreed with Mr. Nolting from the beginning when he first assumed office as Assistant Secretary; that he felt he was profoundly wrong about this; and that he was sorry to have to be so blunt about saying this.
“Mr. Hilsman said that he wished to associate himself with Mr. Ball and Mr. Harriman; that he felt given the history of the past few days a Diem-Nhu government could not in the long run win. Furthermore, looking to the other countries in this area, he wanted to point out that the consequences of the US acquiescing in the continuation of Nhu in a commanding position and acceptance of the desecration of the temples would make our task more difficult through Asia. He thought the President would be interested to know that the Koreans had ordered a special study of US-South Viet-Nam relations in order to decide how much repression the US would tolerate, to serve as a guide for Korean actions in the upcoming elections.”