302. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

949. Eyes only for President, pass White House directly, no other distribution whatever. Now that the revolution has occurred, I assume you will not want my weekly reports, pursuant to Deptel 576,2 to continue, although I will, of course, gladly continue them if you desire. Herewith a “wrap-up” report for the week ending November 6.

Question: Are we gaining or losing on balance and day by day in the contest with the Viet Cong?

Answer: I believe prospects of victory are much improved, provided the Generals stay united. Thompson of the British Advisory Mission thinks that, in such an event, the war could be considerably shortened as compared with the period estimated during the Diem regime. General Harkins concurs.

General Harkins says that during the past week “the Revolutionary Committee was greatly preoccupied with matters relating to the coup. However, they did not lose sight of the necessity to keep a weather eye out for the counter-insurgency effort. While VN initiated activity diminished, it did not come to a halt. VC activity, on the other hand, remained fairly constant. On balance, while the VN cannot be credited with gaining, they lost no ground”.

Question 2: Is the government responding to our threefold need for improvement in (a) campaign against the Viet Cong; (b) internal developments and (c) actions affecting relations between American people and government?

Answer: On (a) General Minh intends—and I expect—a stepped-up campaign against the Viet Cong. General Harkins is also optimistic about this.

Under (b) it is obvious that there have been revolutionary internal political developments.

Under (c) the whole trend of the new crowd is to have warm and cordial relations with the American people and government. General Harkins says: “We have found the attitudes of the Vietnamese in their relations with their American advisers to be extremely cordial and open.”

Question 3: What does the evidence suggest on the strengthening or weakening of effectiveness of GVN in relation to its own people?

[Page 576]

Answer: Evidence suggests much strengthening of the relationship of the new government with its own people.

It is evident even to a foreigner who does not speak Vietnamese that the coup is very popular. People cheer the American flag; they are free to express their loathing of the “family” and the pagodas are full of smiling people.

Crowds gather in front of newspaper offices waiting for papers. Although newspapers understandably do not yet show much individuality of editorial opinion, they already reflect variety in coverage of important news stories. Perhaps local reporters no longer simply accepting Vietnam Press and Information Directorate handouts but going out seeking news.

Question 4: And more specifically what effect are we getting from our own actions under Deptel 5343 and what modifications in either direction do you think advisable?

Answer: Now that we have a few days’ perspective since the coup, we can say that we got a great effect from our actions under Deptel 534.

At the time of the pagoda raids of August 21, U.S.G. and GVN seemed to be totally deadlocked. Diem and Nhu evidently thought that the US was hooked; it seemed that we were on the horns of a dilemma in which we were forced either to do nothing or else to injure the war effort and dangerously lower the basic living standard of the people-or else to act like a colonial power. There seemed to be nothing which would hurt Diem and Nhu which would not hurt us as much, if not more. We were being totally taken for granted by the GVN; we were never asked to do even the smallest favor.
We began to show our displeasure. Responding to the President’s declaration in Washington, I adopted a policy of silence and of simple correctness in relations with Diem and Nhu. In this period I privately gave advice to Diem and Nhu which, had they followed it, would have resulted in their being alive today. Then there were these facts: our failure to provide any US planes or naval vessels, as was customary, for the October 26 National Day ceremonies; the Voice of America broadcasts on the dignity of man and human freedom; and, particularly the evident indignation caused to Americans by Madame Nhu’s statement regarding US junior officers,4 which impressed Vietnamese. Our evident determination to give asylum to Tri Quang was much noticed. Also, we did not, as we had done in the past, turn over coup information to GVN.
When the effect of the withholding of commercial import payments, coupled with the withholding of payments to Colonel Tung started to be felt, cracks began to appear in the blank wall, and it was evident that we were getting some room for maneuver. There was a loosening up of the masonry and signs that we were no longer being taken completely for granted. Diem’s message to me through Thuan, Diem’s own questions to me Sunday, October 27 at Dalat and on last Friday morning, all may have marked a new attitude on his part, or the beginnings of one. Vice President Tho’s evident approval of what we were doing and [less than 1 1ine not declassified] evident last minute desire to get on the right side of the US were noteworthy straws in the wind. We really seemed to be getting some leverage.
There is no doubt that the coup was a Vietnamese and a popular affair, which we could neither manage nor stop after it got started and which we could only have influenced with great difficulty. But it is equally certain that the ground in which the coup seed grew into a robust plant was prepared by us and that the coup would not have happened with [when] it did without our preparation. General Don as much as said this to me on November 3. Our actions made the people who could do something about it start thinking hard about how to get a change of government.
Another indication of this was the statement made on the radio by Vietnamese speakers on the day of the coup that the Diem-Nhu regime had deprived the country of US aid without which the Communists would gain and that the Army’s coup would enable the country to get this economic aid and thus survive. This was not in any proclamations put out officially by the Generals’ committee, but it was widely said by nameless “authorized spokesmen”. Ex-Minister of Health De has also emphasized importance our action on aid.
All this may be a useful lesson in the use of US power for those who face similar situation in other places in the future. The President, the State Department, the military, the AID, the USIS, and the CIA deserve credit for this result. Without united action by the US Government, it would not have been possible. Many Americans in Saigon were required suddenly to start thinking differently, a difficult thing to do. The fact that they did so is creditable.
Perhaps the US Government has here evolved a way of not being everywhere saddled with responsibility for autocratic governments simply because they are anti-Communist-a course which can eventually lead many people to believe that the foreign Communist autocracy which they don’t know is preferable to the local autocracy which they do know. Nothing could put the cause of freedom into a stronger position than for those on the side of freedom to be able to clean their own house and not be so often in a situation in which we have to put up with autocrats at the very worst or at the best with [Page 578] Colonel Blimps in order to avoid being taken over by Communism. The ingenuity which was shown in working out a way to put pressure on Diem and Nhu without endangering the war effort, and without lowering the basic living standard of the people made a most valuable contribution. Clearly the coup has brought about a change; let us hope it will turn out to be a great improvement.
In a country like this, exhortations, argument, rhetoric, and facial expressions mean very little. Actions apparently are an international language. But they must not be “colonial” actions, only the kind of pressure which partners can put on each other. Our actions were not “colonial” and when Madame Nhu accused me of acting like the Governor General of Indochina, it did not ring true.
The prospects now are for a shorter war, thanks to the fact that there is this new government, provided the Generals stay together. Certainly officers and soldiers who can pull off an operation like this should be able to do very well on the battlefield if their hearts are as much in it.
My thanks to you and all those associated with you for comprehending [comprehensive] and imaginative guidance and support.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET Top Secret. Received in two parts at 6:47 and 8:11 a.m. and passed to the White House at 7:40 and 8:35 a.m.
  2. Document 195.
  3. Document 181.
  4. See footnote 3. Document 158.