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

3727. For the President. The big event of the political week was the voluntary dissolution of the Armed Forces Council by the generals who composed it. Quat gets the credit for having engineered this operation, [Page 633] quietly pressing the senior generals toward this solution. We feel that it is a most happy development as the disappearance of the Armed Forces Council removes a mechanism which invited the generals to interfere with civilian government and engage in politics.

As I reported during the week,2 Quat is still uncertain as to the organization of the military high command.3 He wants to get rid of General “Little” Minh, now Commander-in-Chief, because of his unpopularity with his fellow generals but does not know whom to put in his place. In view of the paucity of able generals for the senior positions, Quat may end up with General Thieu as both Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief. Organizationally this focusing of responsibility offers some advantages but it is also a dangerous concentration of power in one officer whose character is untested.

Our two latest U.S. reinforcements, the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Marine battalions for the Chu Lai Airfield, have arrived and are rapidly shaking down in their defensive positions. The impression of professional alertness and competence which they convey has had a good effect on all who see them but the future will hold problems in this regard. If they are not actively employed shortly, I suspect boredom is going to be a major factor to preoccupy their commanders. There is some limit on the useful work which could be done within their defensive perimeters.

The Viet Cong raised the tempo of their activity somewhat during the past week, particularly in the Mekong Delta region. There they committed a Viet Cong battalion to battle, the first time since March 8 that a unit of this size has been engaged. I have the feeling that the period of relative inaction is over and that the Viet Cong offensive may be under way. It may take the form of a large number of small actions rather than of the large headline filling types which the press is anticipating.

There is considerable action under way in preparation of the municipal and provincial elections which are scheduled for May 20. With their approach, the Vietnamese press has been paying greater attention to the need for elections for a National Assembly. Many of the editors show more fervor than good sense in urging general elections under the present conditions of insecurity in many provinces. Quat is thoroughly aware of what is realistic and can be counted upon keeping this enthusiasm within bounds. Incidentally, there is a higher interest in standing [Page 634] for office in the municipal and provincial elections than we had anticipated. We are told that there is an average of five candidates for each provincial council seat and nine for each municipal seat, a competition which is double that of previous elections. Working for the government appears to be gaining in appeal.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. No time of transmission is on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State at 12:27 p.m. May 11. A copy in the Johnson Library is marked with an “L” indicating that the President saw it (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam,NODIS-LOR, Vol. II (A))
  2. See Document 284.
  3. Ambassador Taylor reported later in the day (telegram 3728) that Quat had resolved the question of the military leadership. General Thieu had agreed to take the Ministry of Defense, and General Tran Van “Little” Minh would become Chief of the General Staff. The title of Commander-in-Chief was being abolished. Quat indicated that he hoped to announce these and other changes in his government by the end of the week. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 VIET S)