213. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

2459. Eyes only for Rusk from Lodge. Comment: I suggest that the distribution of what follows be limited to those knowing about proposal for Congressional resolution on Vietnam. End comment.

I became worried about likelihood that General Khanh would announce his re-organization of the Government of Vietnam just at the worst possible time from the standpoint of Congress and that this might have a very serious effect on passage of a resolution, assuming that it is planned to have one.
I therefore called on him this morning and recalled what he already knew, that preparatory work was going on in Washington affecting Vietnam about which I could not give him any details, but I did want to say that these activities in Washington must not be upset by news of more changes in Vietnam which would give a further impression of instability. I therefore asked him what was his timing on his proposed re-organization of the government?
He said first that he felt he was considerably affected by what was being done in Washington and felt he had the right to be kept informed, and that he would assure me here and now that his reorganization would not be done at a time which would be embarrassing to Washington. In other words, his re-organization would take place after we had done what we needed to do in the US. He asked whether I thought 30 days from the present date would be enough time, and I said that offhand I thought it was.
I then asked whether he would give me plenty of notice ahead of time and a list of all principal personnel involved, and he said that he would. He also said that he would make proper public relations preparation, i.e., communiques, speeches, etc.
I then told him of Hoan’s suggestion to me reported in Saigon 23382 that the village administrative councils be given the right to vote “no confidence” in the village administrator, this procedure to be used only in flagrant cases of corruption, torturing, etc. I had wondered whether this might not be a useful gesture provided it was undertaken on the stipulation that a two-thirds vote would be needed and that the central government in Saigon could dissolve the village council at will.

Khanh said that this had been considered at length and that there was no doubt that in the present state of development of the Vietnamese people, it could lead only to anarchy and disorder and would be a made-to-order opportunity for the Viet Cong to make trouble and bring about paralysis in local government which was paralyzed enough already. Village councils could make written complaints, which was enough. He said that when the matter had come up at the Council of Ministers, that out of 15 present, only 2 had voted for it—Hoan and one other.

Comment: I am disposed to accept Khanh’s view of this idea. End comment.

I then told him of the oral message which I had received from Hoan on Wednesday,3 to wit, that Hoan threatens to leave the government if General Khanh re-organizes it. I told Khanh that suspecting a trap, upon receiving this message, I had sent back word that I did not know what Hoan was talking about.
The message also expressed a desire on Hoan’s part to have an informal talk with me, not in official circumstances. I have sent back word that I understood he was going to be at the Australian Embassy tonight, Friday night, in honor of the Australian Foreign Minister, and that we would have a chance to talk there. I told Khanh that I intended to tell Hoan that this is an extremely bad time for him to leave the government.
On a totally different subject, I pointed out to Khanh that in our Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had made very effective use of a promise to veterans of the Union Army to be given land in the West and wondered whether something similar could not be done in Vietnam. Khanh said yes, the idea had great merit, particularly as regards lands in the high plateau which the French authorities in the colonial days had always described to the Vietnamese in very frightening terms so as to keep them out. Khanh felt the idea definitely had great merit.
As I was leaving, he said: “You will be pleased to hear that I am following your advice and am working on General Minh. He is coming in to see me here at 11 o’clock. I hope you will agree that I am a good pupil.”4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Dated May 28. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
  3. June 10.
  4. In telegram 2258 to Saigon, June 12, Rusk told Lodge that he received telegram 2459 just after he drafted one to Lodge expressing concern about sweeping changes in the Khanh government. Rusk stated that the line Lodge took was “precisely what I had in mind.” While Rusk realized that Khanh’s government was “less than ideal,” and that Khanh needed men he could trust to share his responsibilities, a sweeping reshuffle would give the impression of “confusion, internal bickering and misdirection.” (Department of State. Central Files. POL 15–4 VIET S)