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

2207. For the President. Embtel 2131.2 By Saturday of last week,3 we thought that we might be entering an era of good will with the civilian and military leadership integrated amicably into the Huong government. On that day, a formal treaty of understanding was signed between [Page 61]Huong and Khanh covering the participation of military officers in the Cabinet. In our view the officers agreed upon were generally quite good.

General “Little” Minh as Armed Forces Minister seemed an excellent choice. General Thieu, as second Deputy Vice Prime Minister, is able and relatively experienced but, as a Catholic with Dai Viet political connections, is a sure target for Buddhist criticism. General Vien, the Minister of Information, is intelligent and cooperative but without experience in the information field. General Ky, the erratic Chief of the Air Force, had apparently accepted the post of Minister of Youth, Sports and Civil Defense but was known to be insisting upon retaining his military assignment concurrently. Prime Minister Huong had taken a position in opposition to any “double hatting” but was willing to leave the final decision on the matter to the military themselves. Events seemed to be moving smoothly just up to the time for the presentation of the new Cabinet to Chief of State Suu at Gia Long Palace on Tuesday afternoon.4 Shortly before the hour fixed for the ceremony, General Khanh, speaking for the Armed Forces Council, called everything off and threw the entire matter into renegotiation.

We now know that the issue raised at this last minute was a complaint championed by General Ky that, while the military were contributing some of their best officers to the Cabinet, on the civilian side there had been no purging of undesirable ministers. I have just learned that Prime Minister Huong has acceded to this complaint and will replace the present Foreign Minister, Lam, and Minister of Health Dieu shortly after the Tet holiday, that is to say, about February 5. The principal count against Lam appears to be a past association with General “Big” Minh, a fact which suggests that General Khanh as well as Ky had a hand in tossing this last minute monkey wrench. The presentation of the Cabinet to the Chief of State has been rescheduled for 5:00 o’clock today, January 20, but we will keep our fingers crossed until the tea and cakes have been served.

While we have felt that the introduction of some military officers into the Cabinet is desirable in order to oblige them to share the responsibility, the foregoing events show how fragile is any agreement reached with General Khanh and his generals. As a group, they are basing their actions and decisions upon a “consensus of views” which thinly disguises a caucus procedure. Working in such an atmosphere, the generals have been unable to develop any basic unity of purpose and have displayed lack of responsibility in their actions and little reliability in fulfilling their undertakings. Khanh is in the middle of this turmoil pulling the strings and seeking to maneuver to his personal advantage. Thus far, he [Page 62]has got away with it by virtue of his agility of wit and foot, but one senses that this cannot last indefinitely. Needless to say, it is a sad way to conduct military business.

Tuesday, January 19 was a bad day not only because of the disappointment at Gia Long Palace but because of the renewed indications of new Buddhist difficulties. Several of the Buddhist Institute leaders told us yesterday5 that they are embarking on a hunger strike “to the death” if necessary in a desperate effort to bring down the Huong government. There are some indications that Khanh is equally a Buddhist target, but we have been misled on this point before. Last Saturday, Alex Johnson and I met for two hours with three of the Buddhist leaders trying to find some ground for accommodation.6 All we got was another repetitious airing of grievances which ring true only in the ears of the leaders of the institute. They have no identifiable program other than getting Huong out of office in the hope of replacing him with another civilian cabinet filled with officials of their own choosing. They refuse to recognize that the overthrow of Huong is almost certain to bring about an all-military government, the last thing which they desire.

The week was quite favorable to the government in a military sense. Viet Cong incidents were down in number and in intensity from those of the previous week. The Viet Cong lost 422 killed in action as against 146 for the government. However, pacification progress remained sluggish as during past weeks.

Taylor
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. Presumably a reference to Taylor’s previous weekly report in telegram 2132 ( Document 24) rather than to telegram 2131.
  3. January 16.
  4. January 19.
  5. This conversation is described in telegram 2193 from Saigon, January 19. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S)
  6. Taylor and U. Alexis Johnson’s meeting with Tri Quang, Phap Tri, and Quang Lien on Saturday, January 16, is described in telegram 2169 from Saigon, January 16. (Ibid.)