288. Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting1

1. Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]

3. Vietnam. The coup in Vietnam was the subject of a somewhat rambling discussion which focused mainly on the problem of recognition but also touched on a number of other points.

Bundy made it clear that we would recognize the government in the next day or two. He asked that this word be gotten to the American Republics Section of the State Department because he knew that cables were already coming in from Latin American countries which pointed up how our recognition policy in Vietnam appeared to differ from that in Latin America. Cooper of CIA suggested this might be a good time to spell out US recognition policy. Bundy replied he was enough of a diplomatic historian to know that if a government did this it would certainly be in trouble, because the approach to recognition changed with circumstances.

Schlesinger said we must recognize that our recognition policy toward Latin America is different from our policy in other parts of the world because of our special responsibilities. He admitted that our recent emphasis on constitutionality of governments in Latin America could be jeopardized by our recognition of the Vietnamese coup and tried to draw a distinction between the Far East situation and the one in Latin America. Bundy commented that he was sympathetic with Schlesinger’s approach, but what it seemed to amount to was, if we liked people, we would say what they did was constitutional and if we didn’t we would not. After a bit more discussion, there seemed to be a consensus that the two criteria for recognition should be (1) an effective government, and (2) one that has the support of the people. This approach will avoid the strict legal approach to recognition and avoids centering our policy solely on constitutionality and legitimacy.

Bundy said that he had no intention of making publicly any clear-cut statements along the lines above, but he did think it might be a good idea for the President to have a press conference this week2 to explain our attitude toward the Vietnamese coup and, in process, draw some distinctions between the various types of military revolts. He asked Gordon Chase to compile the President’s previous statements on recognition.

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One interesting sidelight is the importance of a coup having the support of the people. Bundy and others were impressed with the fact that the Saigonese people threw garlands of roses on the tanks and seemed genuinely pleased with the revolt. In contrasting this with certain Latin American military coupe, Bundy remarked that Latin American generals would do well to plan for some such demonstration of support. He made the remark half jokingly, but he was serious in noting that such things were important. Given my suspicious mind, I wondered if all the local support in Saigon was spontaneous or whether some of it had been arranged.

At one point, the discussion turned on what was the determining factor in bringing about the coup. The subject came up when, in talking of recognition, Bundy said that perhaps we should have a policy of showing our support for various governments not by mere recognition, but by willingness to provide them economic and military assistance. In discussing the effectiveness of such assistance, Bundy remarked that he thought cutting off the commodity support program in Vietnam was probably the determining factor in bringing about the revolt at this time. Forrestal agreed. Hansen of BOB, however, took a somewhat different view, saying that the verbal pressure we had put on also had some effect, and was probably the most important thing we did. There followed some discussion which came down to the fact that our cutting off assistance to the special forces and cutting the commodity support program were two actions that showed that we meant business with our words. The primary point Hansen was trying to make never became clear, but I think it probably stemmed from the fact that, as a budgeteer, he would not like to see the assistance programs manipulated in every crisis.

Bundy deplored the slaying of the brothers Nhu, and said the evidence was mounting that they were assassinated. Bundy remarked there are supposedly some pictures which will soon appear publicly, showing the brothers in a pool of blood with their hands tied behind their backs. Bundy said this was not the preferred way to commit suicide, and regretted that the coup leaders still insisted that it was.

With respect to the government of Vietnam, Bundy and Forrestal agreed that perhaps a provisional government would be preferred over a period of months rather than settling in for a long time with a more constitutional government of less effective people. These remarks were related to the difficulty of getting good civilians in the cabinet.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by W.Y. Smith.
  2. The President held a press conference on November 14; for the transcript, which includes questions and answers on the situation in Vietnam, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 845-853.