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

2377. CINCPAC for Ambassador Lodge and De Silva.

During the past several days we have had chance to sit down [less than 1 1ine of source text not declassified] and review the situation emerging from the 28 May Dalat disposition of charges against Major Generals Tran Van Don, Ton That Dinh, Le Van Kim, Mai Huu Xuan, and Brigadier General Nguyen Van Vy.
Considerable uneasiness exists both because original charges of pro-neutralism were neither proffered nor sustained and because the Generals now that they are free and together have a far greater capability to engage in anti-regime coup plotting. A key factor is the attitude of Major General Duong Van (Big) Minh. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] who conversed with Minh immediately after the court of honor terminated, states Minh was definitely unhappy with those proceedings and said as much in aside to him. Minh also stated that he would be remaining in Dalat with the newly released Generals through 2 June, returning to Saigon 3 June, at which time he desired to see [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] again. Generals Don and Kim likewise, but in a friendly fashion, urged caution on the part of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] but did not explain the reason for such caution. The circumstances were such that discussion was impossible.
Again, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] General Kim, probably the most perceptive of the Vietnamese Generals, had emerged from his detention somewhat aged and strained. By contrast, General Dinh appears more physically and mentally fit than ever before. There were no perceptible, remarkable changes in the other detainees.
The ex-detainees, although stripped of command, have been given the function of creating among themselves a special planning staff. Among them are some of the best minds and tacticians that the Vietnamese Army has known. Kim is politically and administratively astute. Dinh, while tending to flamboyance, has in the past shown tactical skill. Don still has some following in both military and civilian circles, particularly I Corps, although aspirant General Nguyen Chanh [Page 435] Thi, Deputy I Corps Commander, was the only member of the MRC to demand the continued detention of the Generals. Xuan is clever and well-connected, with undoubted lines both into the French and VC camps. Vy, who suffered a heart attack following the events in Dalat and is now in the Grall Hospital, is a long-time friend and supporter of Khanh and can be dismissed from the role of probable coup plotters.
It is probably true Khanh has these officers under careful surveillance. The quantity of the surveillance, as proven by past experience, may not be entirely adequate, particularly given the fact that the families of the Generals have been brought to Dalat and have used the interval between 30 January and the present to test and probe former loyalties and to secure means of clandestine communication.
Although it is not explicit in any statement or action of the ex-detainee Generals, they must know the Dalat affair is but the first of many steps designed for them by Khanh. If they believe this, and if they have any aspirations towards gaining power, and we must assume they have, then they probably conclude they must act quickly. We believe that the profundity of the crisis which could attend a power grab on the part of these individuals is such that urgent and strong measures should be agreed upon to halt them before they move.
In this light it is recommended that we be authorized to have [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] inform Minh, Kim and the others that they would not have American support before, during or after any new coup attempt and to emphasize that such rash actions on their part would lead only to American disengagement and a probable Communization of SVN. We believe we can make this point effectively with them in such a fashion that they would believe it. We must state this position, however, as upon the highest authority in Washington and without conditions.2
[less than 1 1ine of source text not declassified] will be contacting Minh again at his request on Wednesday morning.3 He plans merely to listen and elicit further details of Minh’s mood and thinking. Because of time factors it may become urgent, however, that we have within our arsenal, for immediate use, the authority to take the position outlined above.
We are of course alert to reactions to the Dalat affair and are carefully probing military attitudes particularly. A Mission assessment of reaction among various power groups will be transmitted next day or two. So far, we have no evidence to indicate strong military reaction for or against the Dalat decisions.
As a contingency, however, the use of the statement of position noted above could be effective in giving military opinion one way or the other on the matter or another coup. If we wait until we are faced with a move by the Generals (and that moment may quickly or never come) we might lose by a few hours the possibility of forestalling such actions. In the interest of time we recommend that we be suitably empowered to approach the Generals as outlined above if and when this is clearly essential. We would not, however, unless so instructed plan the approach prior to Amb Lodge’s return from Honolulu end this week.
Charge has shown General Harkins this message and he concurs.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–9 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Also sent to CIA. the Office of the Secretary of Defense. the White House, JCS, and CINCPAC.
  2. Ball recommended that this authority should be granted by Rusk in Honolulu in consultation with Lodge. (Tosec 68, June 2; ibid.) Rusk and Lodge sent Nes the authorization in Secto 40. June 2. (Ibid.)
  3. June 3.