24. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2132. For the President. Embtel 2059.2 As you know, the signing and publication January 9 of the joint civilian-military communiqué put an official end to the political crisis which was ushered in by the Armed Forces Council’s coup on December 20. Today the government issued a second communiqué to explain that Vietnamese-U.S. relations are, as always, intimate and cordial while tomorrow evening, Chief of State Suu is giving a “tea party” for the wrap-up conciliation of the principal participants, Vietnamese and U.S., in the recent coolness. Hopefully thereafter, we will make a new start forward.
The Ministry of Interior announced Sunday3 evening that the detained HNC members had been released and permitted to return home. The Minister of Interior has informed us that March 21 is the current target date for the convocation of the National Assembly and that he now envisages a mixed procedure of elections in the cities and appointments in the countryside for choosing the Assembly’s membership. Lower Interior officials have indicated privately to us that the Cabinet will consider a proposed election law this week.
Despite these indications of conciliation between the armed forces and the government, General Khanh, in talking with Alex Johnson on January 94 just before the signing of the first communiqué, made it quite clear that he still considers the armed forces the only true guardian of the nation’s anti-Communist spirit with the responsibility to intervene whenever they consider that there are undesirable elements working their way into the government. He intimated that he was seeking the Buddhists as colleagues in this monitorship of the government.[Page 51]
The suggestion of an alliance of some sort between Khanh and the Buddhists, long predicted by Huong, finds some verification in the Buddhist encouraged strikes and demonstrations in the Hue-Danang area. Young Turk General Thi who is responsible for law and order in the region is doing little, if anything, to suppress the demonstrators. The Buddhist Institute will certainly raise the level of their anti-Huong activities if the word gets about that the army will not intervene. Fortunately, in the Saigon area, the local commander, General Dong, is a staunch character apparently loyal to Huong.
Thus, the basic unbalanced political equation remains with us: the civilian government, weak in prestige and authority, is caught between two forces whose objectives are not identical—the army and the Buddhist Institute—but both of which desire some degree of indirect control over the government without assuming corresponding responsibilities. An added element of instability is that both of these turbulent elements have their own internal lines of division.
Viet-Cong military activity declined during the week, following the major battle at Binh Gia the week before. The week was marked by Viet-Cong harassment of thirteen district capitals by mortar fire—mostly in the Delta. Similarly, on the government’s side, although the number of ground operations increased, contact with the Viet-Cong was down.
The personnel strength of the armed forces has continued to rise slowly but steadily during recent weeks and will not fall much short of the year end goal. Furthermore, a conscription law is under revision and a new draft is expected to be completed this month. The proposed law specifies that deferment is a privilege and not a right, and may be voided.
While there have been some indications of public relief over the termination of the internal political tension, press censorship has prevented many of the facts from being generally known. The preparations for Tet, the lunar new year festival, have attracted far more popular interest than the political goings-on.5
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis.↩
- Document 14.↩
- January 10.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 21.↩
- In forwarding this telegram to the President, McGeorge Bundy, in a January 12 memorandum, wrote that Khanh’s own ambition was the principal unknown in the political situation: “If he were really content to maintain a watchdog position, we could move forward with some confidence. But there is good reason to suspect him of a desire to return to full power in the manner of De Gaulle, and that is why we are dealing with an interim government. “Moreover, the recent telegrams make it fairly clear that serious communications between Khanh and the United States Government do not now exist. After a little time for cooling off, we may wish to raise with Max the question of real contact with Khanh. After all he exists.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, President/TaylorNODIS CLORES)↩