2. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
4173. Part I.
Curious calm has settled over Saigon in wake of military's return to power. No one (including military) appears to have clear idea what form new govt will take, and for the moment, Suu, Quat and his Ministers rest in place in caretaker capacity. Key civilian and military leaders did not meet on either Saturday or Sunday2 to discuss policies, governmental structure or personnel thus there have been no significant developments since Friday night. Quat, Do and Tuyen all gave impression they feel they are still very much in picture and in position strongly to influence final outcome. (A very definite element in our ability to obtain information is what Bui Diem frankly expressed to me the other day as the real sense of shame from Quat on down that they have not been able to make a go of civilian government.)
Civilian politicians are beginning to stir somewhat and their activity should increase sharply within next few days as they attempt to sell themselves or their favorites to Generals committee (in first instance Thieu and Ky) as ministerial material.
Within military group there does appear to be some ferment. Some of younger officers apparently feel that Quat's invitation presents them with opportunity to bring about “real” revolution which they feel has been denied people ever since November 2, 1963. This group seems to include VNAF Commander General Nguyen Cao Ky,DGNP Lt. Colonel Pham Van Lieu and perhaps I Corps Commander Nguyen Chanh Thi. They may be reinforced in their thinking by such civilians as Dinh Trinh Chinh (Info Minister), Tran Quang Thuan, Bui Tuong Huan and possibly Bui Diem.
As yet it is not possible to know precisely what form of govt will satisfy needs of “real” revolution, but as outlined roughly to EmbOffs by [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Tran Quang Thuan, it will be lean, simplified and authoritarian, led by younger men with prime purpose of gearing nation for war. Noteworthy to us that such govt appears to have appeal to such disparate types as [less than 1 line of source text not [Page 7]declassified] on one hand and Tri Quang on other (see Hue tel 215 rptd Dept 4162).3
While it remains too early to assess with any precision the extent to which this ferment is widely shared among key individuals, there are certain characteristics to the attitude which might be noted: (a) its proponents are younger men who tend to be from the center or north and to share an intellectual affinity with Thich Tri Quang; (b) the attitude is strongly nationalistic with overtones of xenophobia; (c) it has a sense of disillusion with what is regarded as recent experiment with more democratic way of life, it desires to see concrete results rapidly taken through decisive governmental action; (d) it is, therefore, authoritarian; (e) it tends to oversimplify difficulty of complex questions and ability of antiquated bureaucracy to perform.
In short, this attitude is, as it claims, both revolutionary and ultranationalistic, holding belief common in underdeveloped world that decisive action must be taken by governmental decision without undue concern for counter considerations. Such government likely be hard on local ethnic Chinese and French interests. It would be hard on “Sudistes” particularly French educated “bourgeois”. Catholic attitudes in turn likely be shaped by degree government able effectively prosecute war plus indications of govt attitude towards them. It would probably present some difficulties in its relations with USG and from standpoint US public opinion.
It remains to be seen, however, whether attitude is really dominant, if it is, whether it can remain so, whether it can successfully handle opposition it will tend to create, and whether it can produce results it demands. Most likely prospect is that strong revolutionary flavor will be watered down when government attempts frame realistic goals and policies and galvanize torpid administrative apparatus.
Embassy inclined to feel that “revolutionary” label might be useful device for new govt to adopt to help it overcome apathy which many of populace might feel at yet another governmental change. If govt can successfully sell itself as “revolutionary” and get off the mark with a specific program, it might well be in position to move somewhat more effectively toward solving many of nagging problems (e.g., conscription, rice deliveries, irresponsible press situation) which have plagued its predecessors. However, it in turn will continue to be plagued by the deep seated [Page 8]inefficiencies of the administrative structure. To be in position to do this, govt would need some new faces and probably a new chief executive. But it is hard to see who they might be. Although Quat might be retained in some capacity, if revolutionary label is to have currency at all, someone new must head the ticket, but the person has not yet emerged. Possible he does not exist.
As for governmental structure, it seems likely, based on current fragmentary information, that revolutionary govt will have some things in common with Minh-Tho govt that held power from Nov 1963 to Jan 30, 1964. Differences are essentially that this time military committee superimposed over govt will be smaller, presumably more wieldy body, and that govt, on basis experience other govts since Nov 2, 1963, will not be as diffident as Tho govt of technicians. It essential that executive under military committee act without bucking every question to military for decision. For efficiency executive should be single individual rather than executive committee as some have proposed.
As adjunct to this govt, we believe that religious council should be established. (Quat had intended to form such body with representation drawn from all major religious groups.) This consultative body would not act as a legislative body, but would be brought in to handle any incidents of religious friction and would have an advisory voice in the drafting of legislation affecting the religions.
Hopefully it could to some degree develop as a forum in which inter-religious fears and suspicions could have some airing.
(For the moment Catholics and Sudistes can be expected to scrutinize emerging government with wary eye. Catholics will be most unhappy if Thi-Ky-Lieu [Thieu]combination appears clearly to be dominant and consolidating their position, particularly in the security services, and if efforts are not made to appease their suspicions that anti-Catholic actions are in works. Southerners will tend to interpret developments as consolidation of north-center political control, unless there is reasonable regional/religious balance in eventual Cabinet. Same attitudes likely prevail among Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, although these groups will remain split in prevailing factions. In short, groupings opposition to Quat will remain potential opposition, depending on their assessment of strength of Generals' intentions, steps may be taken to appease their interests, and possible momentum shown by new government in prosecuting the war.)
As for any type of legislative body, we feel that decision on this should be deferred. If, after its establishment, govt draws heavy critical fire from “out” politicians, it might prove useful to provide them with forum such as Council of Notables in which they can talk without being able to do much harm. For the future, we feel that govt should go on [Page 9]record promising elections to a constituent assembly in about one year's time in order channel energies of peripatetic politicians.
Unless Dept has some reservations on any of foregoing points in Part II, we would propose to bring what influence we can bring to bear in bringing them about.4
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to Bangkok, Vientiane, Hue, and CINCPAC for POLAD. Passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA.↩
- June 12 or 13.↩
- Telegram 4162 from Saigon, June 12, repeated telegram 215 from Hue to Saigon, June 11, which reported on a conversation with Tri Quang on June 11. Tri Quang indicated that if Quat could not survive the political crisis without making concessions to the opposition, he felt that the military should take over again. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXV)↩
- In telegram 2899 to Saigon, June 14, the Department of State agreed with this line: “We have for long time felt need for some forward, progressive look in SVN Govt.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S)↩