7. Telegram From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins)1

JCS 3385-63. The President has read your MACV 15572 and has asked me to send the following reply. He is most desirous of receiving your personal views on this operation at this stage and as it may develop later. You should not be inhibited by concern over what the Washington view may be; we need your on-the-spot impressions of the best course of action.

Your recent message raises certain questions on which we should like amplification:

In saying “the die is cast” do you mean that it is too late to turn back from supporting the Generals? Later in the cable you appear to favor going direct to Diem prior to encouraging the coup.
You state that there is insufficient reason for “a crash approval on our part.” Does this mean that we can delay a decision for a matter of days, for example. What are the risks of leaks, apprehension of leaders by Diem or of premature coup action?
You state that “if we continue the pressure on Diem”, Nhu may be levered into provocative action. What forms of pressure do you have in mind?
What role can you play in influencing the senior military authorities? At some time in the near future should you not talk to Big Minh and perhaps some of the other Generals and assess the quality of their plans? We do not want to become involved in any coup which will not succeed.

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These are some of the points on which you can help us. The President wants you to know that he reposes great confidence in you and wants your uninhibited advice. Next meeting with President will be 1200 EDT August 29. He would like to hear from you by that time.

In closing, let me say that while this operation got off to a rather uncoordinated start, it is now squarely on the track and all Washington agencies are participating fully in its support.

This message closely parallels concurrent State cable to Ambassador Lodge.3

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Operational Immediate. Also sent to Lodge, Felt, McNamara, Gilpatric, McGeorge Bundy, Rusk, Ball, Hilsman, Harriman, Helms, and each of the Joint Chiefs. Hilsman refers to this telegram in To Move a Nation, p. 493.
  2. Document 4.
  3. infra .