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

917. Report of conversation with General Minh and General Don. Lt. Colonel Conein was with me.

I began by saying we had made preliminary arrangements for resumption of milk and flour deliveries and asked who should be Brent’s contact in the Vietnamese Government for discussion of this and other aid matters.
They said that the new government was going to be announced later in the day and that Brent could deal with the appropriate minister.
I stressed repeatedly the importance of publishing a very complete and detailed account of their efforts to arrange safe passage for Diem and Nhu; their repeated telephone calls and urgings to Diem to resign; and the provision of an armored car so that Diem and Nhu would not be lynched on the way out of the Palace. Like many people in this part of the world, they do not appreciate the importance of public relations, but I think maybe I made a dent.

I then stressed the importance of getting the Nhu children out soonest and was told that they were now in Saigon and that the Generals, too, wanted to get them out soonest.2

On the question of Ngo Dinh Can, they said that their General in Hue had just telephoned that there was a very large and hostile crowd around the house where Can lives with his mother and that he was obviously thoroughly loathed for all his many cruelties in the past and that the crowd wanted his skin. I asked whether or not Can wanted to leave his mother and the country, and they did not know. This is an exceedingly puzzling question. It would obviously be very bad if Can were lynched. It would also be bad if we tore him away from his mother.3
Both Minh and Don have made extensive inquiries regarding the whereabouts of Tran Quoc Buu, the labor leader. Each member of the Generals’ council specifically interrogated, and they are absolutely definite that none of them had taken any steps to have him arrested. They say that he is not in any police station; that he was not arrested but has been kidnapped and is now in some private house. They are continuing the search. (FYI—Believe it is important for Department to point out to George Meany4 and others that new government says that this man was not “arrested” but has been kidnapped.)
They said that Dr. Tuyen had resumed to Saigon from Hong Kong via Bangkok and had at once started pulling his old plotting organization together. They suspect him of having engineered the kidnapping of Buu in order to make trouble for the new government and put it in wrong with the world labor movement.
I repeatedly stressed the importance of the Generals keeping united and going out and winning the war and not getting a reputation for arbitrary arrests, which would damage their ability to win the war as it had damaged that of the Diem regime.
Minh seemed tired and somewhat frazzled, obviously a good well-intentioned man. Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?
Deptel 7045 seems to show some divergence between ourselves and yourselves on significance and merit of the coup. Here is how it looks to us:
To whomever has ever been involved in either a military or a political campaign, this coup appears to have been a remarkably able performance in both respects. To mention but one out of [many] features, the way in which secrecy was preserved and no papers of any [Page 562] kind were used during and preceding operations might be profitably studied by any organization in which leaks and a superfluity of paper are problems. The concentration of effort on switchboards, radio stations and communications facilities showed a realism not possessed, for example, by those who attempted the coup against Hitler.
Experts who have all along been hostile to the coup and who said “win with Diem” now say that this coup means that the war can be drastically shortened. One observer, watching the performance of the ARVN, said if these men can perform like this when their hearts are in it, why isn’t it reasonable to believe that they can do equally well against the Viet Cong?
I quite agree that Generals should make clear that they were opposed to any harm coming to Diem and Nhu and that the rest of the Ngo family will be humanely treated. I recognize that these Generals will make mistakes, and I hope they don’t start arbitrary arrests and fighting among themselves. Also I am doing everything I can for Buu and Thiep. But this is only way these people can get a change—which they are very happy about.
And we should not overlook what this coup can mean in the way of shortening the war and enabling Americans to come home. Hope we can get solidly behind the new crowd and give them a real chance.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Priority. Received at 9:55 a.m. and passed to the White House at 10:15 a.m.
  2. The three youngest children of Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu were in Dalat during the coup. The eldest daughter was in the United States with her mother. They were taken to Phan Rang on the coast and then to Saigon. With the cooperation of the Military Committee and the American Embassy, the Nhu children left Saigon at 4:20 on November 4 for Bangkok accompanied by an Embassy official and a nurse. (Telegram 713 to Bangkok, November 4, ibid., POL 15-1 S VIET)

    See Marguerite Higgins, Our Vietnam Nightmare, p. 225, for her recollection of her role in arranging for the evacuation. A memorandum of a telephone conversation among Madame Nhu, her eldest daughter Le Thuy, and Roger Hilsman, November 4, concerning the arrangements for the evacuation of the children is in Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memorandum of Conversations. Secretary Rusk and other U.S. Government officials followed the November 4 evacuation of the Nhu children from Vietnam very closely, reflecting the President’s desire that they be reunited with their mother as soon as possible. (Department of State, Rusk Files, Telephone Conversations)

  3. In telegram 714, November 4—4:58 p.m., the Department agreed that Can should not be harmed and that “we should make every effort to get him and his mother, if necessary, out of country soonest, using our own facilities if this would expedite their departure.” (Ibid., Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)
  4. President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
  5. Document 286.