78. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of the State1
453. CINCPAC for POLAD. For Hilsman from Mendenhall. This is interim report based on observations and discussions both in Saigon and provinces. Have spent bulk of time in central coastal provinces where Buddhist problem is most acute.
I have been struck by fear which pervades Saigon, Hue, and Da Nang. These cities have been living under reign of terror which continues. I have just been told by Dean of Law School Vu Quoc Thuc that again today hundreds of students were arrested.
These are also cities of hate directed mainly at Nhus but President Diem himself is increasingly identified with Nhus as sharing responsibility. Most families of government officials (civilian and military) in cities have felt government’s oppressive hands on their children, with results in attitude that can be expected. Growing number of students themselves are talking of Viet Cong being preferred alternative to existing government (I have been told this in both Saigon and Hue).
American contacts, both official and social, with Vietnamese have been severely curtailed in cities since August 20 because of Vietnamese fear to be seen with Americans. I have personally experienced furtiveness which appears necessary to talk with Vietnamese in current police state atmosphere.
In visits to Hue and Da Nang I found following re four northern provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam and Quang Tin based on conversations with Consul, MAAG, USOM, USIS, [less than 1 1ine not declassified] officials:
Army presents mixed picture. Top commanders are loyal-not too surprisingly since dissidents tend promptly be replaced (like General Nghiem who disapproved GVN Buddhist policy by General Tri who supports it).
Considerable disgruntlement exists below top level, but extent is not clear perhaps partly because of limitations under which MAAG officers operate with respect to political field. Seems clear, however, that discipline continues prevail under present circumstances.
In civilian bureaucracy province chiefs remain loyal—again not unexpectedly since they are shifted if any doubt arises (as in Thua Thien recently) or continue despite incompetence if loyal (as in Quang Tin). [Page 145] District chiefs to extent known by persons I contacted probably are loyal with one exception. Civil bureaucracies in Hue [and?] Da Nang riddled with dissatisfaction (as in Saigon).
Course of war appears be taking downturn in certain of these provinces. Quang Tin had worst month in August since last November. In Quang Nam several recent incidents seen [seem?] indicate that VC who were being pushed away from coastal areas now beginning push back in that direction. Not known whether popular dissatisfaction has been factor in these developments, but may be pertinent that in both Quang Nam and Thua Thien discontent over Buddhist issue extends to villages and in Hue it is now being reported that villagers say they may as well submit to VC as to GVN.
GVN “conciliatory” measures have no effect in changing attitudes. I am told that, despite release of some arrested, second rounds of arrests have occurred and some of those released are re-arrested by a second security service. Pagodas and schools are claimed officially to be open but in many cases are not. Perhaps noteworthy that Consul in Hue and [less than 1 line not declassified] Da Nang have seen only three bonzes in streets since August 20.
- I also stopped in Nha Trang and talked with American military officers who indicated from their limited vantage point of staying out of civilian affairs that there appeared be no further Buddhist problem. I missed [less than 1 line not declassified] but have been informed in Saigon that he has reported people in that area very upset and held down only by fear of retaliation and atmosphere of terror.
Shall report more fully on return to Washington early morning September 10.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:49 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC.↩