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

2284. Eyes only for the Secretary from Lodge. Your 2027.2

There is no doubt that the situation here is fragile and unstable. The religious crisis, the rumblings among senior officials, and the delays in administrative action continue. See my 22823 for friction between General Khanh and General Minh.
This unhappy country emerged from colonialism ten years ago and has been trying to get along since then with help from us that is, in all truth, advisory and not at all colonial. The question clearly arises as to whether this “advisory” phase is not about to be played out and whether the United States will not have to move into a position of actual control. This time has clearly not arrived yet, but it may be approaching. Whether it means that we will have a High Commissioner or a Commissioner General, or a man who really gives the orders under the title of Ambassador, will have to be determined in the light of circumstances as they develop. It appears to me now that such a relationship can only succeed if we are invited in.
Replies to your specific questions are as follows: [Page 347]
As you will see from my talk with Khanh on Thursday afternoon, I have made this point very clear to him. I will, of course, be glad to talk to Hoan, Oanh and Do Mau, and impress them with the importance of concentrating on the defeat of Viet Cong. I also stressed again yesterday the importance of increasing GVN diplomatic activity.
Monsignor de Nittis has just called here Friday morning and is tremendously upset because the trial of Dang-Sy is, at [after?] all, going to be held in Hue, and he fears violent actions against the Catholics. I am going to talk to Khanh about this, but this shows what chance there is of getting the “religious communities to declare a moratorium”. Everything is going the other way. I intend to tell Buddhist leaders Saturday night that they must do their part to avoid religious strife. Any more of these barbaric public trials can destroy the country.

We have at the present time literally hundreds of Americans, each of whom individually has many contacts with their Vietnamese counterparts. I started in some months ago making a list and am pouching it to you now. The question of going further than we are now going by installing American personnel involves the whole question of whether we shall shift from a basis of being advisory to that of being actually in control. We could probably use military government personnel in provinces and districts. Have we not got many in the U.S. who did military government in World War II?

It does not seem to me that it can possibly work for us to compel them to install American advisors throughout the government in a control capacity against their will. The result would be absolutely certain xenophobia, a stoppage of effort by the Vietnamese, a placing of full responsibility by [on] us for everything that went wrong. To bring about a system where the Americans run the show, we must be asked to do it. You can find many Vietnamese around town who will tell you frankly that they would like the Americans to run the country for ten years and get it through this difficult period, and then turn it back to the Vietnamese. But we have not reached the point where any Vietnamese in a position of responsibility will say this.

With a good deal of prodding by me, General Khanh is making radio speeches, and they go over quite well. This is a new departure for Viet-Nam, and it is promising; but you cannot expect any “crash” results from it. It must, at best, be gradual.

This is your most promising question. At this moment, I personally cannot think of “further incentives”, but I do not doubt that some could be found.

I believe that greater security at night is the one thing which would be most appreciated by people throughout this country, and that if the able-bodied men could join with the military forces to patrol the villages and hamlets at night, you would get an increased degree of security which would be much appreciated and which would, at the same time, discourage the Viet Cong. Also this would tend to lessen the emphasis on military activities such as napalm bombing which, whatever their military merit may be, hit women and children and do not make votes for our side.

I am also interested in promising land to veterans as we did in the Civil War.

Finally, I wonder whether the Americans should not give up “business as usual” atmosphere in Saigon, with its lavish cocktail parties and black tie dinners. If we lived in tents and drank out of lister bags, GVN might step up the pace. As it is, we keep numbers of them up at night going to our parties. This raises the question of evacuating dependents, which should not be done suddenly, but we can at least start policy of not bringing out any more. Also, the luxury items at our commissary (which are not available to Vietnamese) do not give a sense of urgency.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Supra.
  3. Telegram 2282, May 22, contained a long report of a conversation between Lodge and Khanh on Thursday, May 21, which ranged over many topics. One was the upcoming trial of Generals Don, Kim, and Dinh. Lodge suggested that they be found not guilty and released on the grounds that they had been misled by General Xuan. Khanh stated he had solid information that Generals Kim and Xuan planned to transform South Vietnam into a pro-French neutralist state and that the trial would expose Chief of State Minh’s role. According to Khanh, Minh was already considering resignation. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S).