116. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

3001. For Ambassador from Secretary. Ref: Embtels 37552 and 3761.3 Over-all situation has been reviewed at highest levels today and I wish to give you clear flavor of our thinking.4

Basic decision GVN faces is as stated in para 2 your 3761, whether to seek “over-all political solution before attempting local military solution in Da Nang.” Our own strong view here is that in existing situation this is right course for GVN to follow and that we should not seek to turn them from it in the direction of an immediate showdown in Da Nang. While we recognize there may be Communist influence at work in Da Nang, our overall reading is that Kyʼs charges of Communist domination and his announced intent to take over Da Nang and shoot the Mayor made it almost inevitable that Chuan would act as he did.5 From previous reporting it had been apparent that large numbers of 1st Division troops were in sympathy with Struggle Movement and that significant elements in Da Nang and major sentiment in Hue were likewise. Whether Chuan was a weak man or not our reading is he would have forfeited his position and probably been unable to get the support of his troops if he had tried to carry out the original plan. We also note that the use of pro-GVN demonstrators, envisaged in the original plan, was tried on the morning of April 5 and clearly failed. Accordingly, under present changed circumstances our overall reading is that Da Nang operation would be unwise unless and until GVN has prepared the way by visible political moves and hopefully by obtaining agreement at least of moderate Buddhist elements led by Tam Chau to such moves. We reach this [Page 335] conclusion simply on our assessment of all available information from Embassy, CAS, and MACV reporting. But we must also bear in mind that our action in supporting Da Nang operation through airlift, including the decision to send tanks during April 6,6 have heavily involved USG so that if Da Nang operation were undertaken and failed—as we believe overwhelmingly likely under present circumstances—it would result not merely in tremendous criticism of USG here and elsewhere but could mean that our whole position within SVN would be gravely damaged and we might be virtually unable to resume any kind of cooperative relation with major elements particularly in I Corps area.
Accordingly, we believe you should not urge immediate Da Nang operation at present, but rather that entire focus of your efforts at all levels should be to get political process started. Your offer to Thieu to sit down quietly with Directory and to help in lining up any recalcitrant groups struck the right note, and we believe you should be proceeding in these directions in every useful way. We share your doubts whether Tam Chau and much less Tri Quang can in fact make or stick to a bargain, but the only way to find out and to put Tri Quang in the wrong is for GVN to get ahead urgently with its projected national political moves. It appears possible that these moves may satisfy Tam Chau at least without any dangerous acceleration of the Constitutional timetable. GVN appears to be in position where by convening visible group immediately to work toward Constitution-making body it can satisfy at least moderate Buddhist elements while in fact it is merely fulfilling its earlier commitments. Whether, as national political script unfolds, GVN may have to accelerate timetable is something that we will both have to assess as occasion arises. But for time being at least we see no alternative but maximum support of immediate measures.
We recognize of course that situation in I Corps must be faced as soon as possible. However, visible political measures and, we hope, endorsement and possible participation by some or all Buddhist elements offer at least the hope that much of the wind would be taken out of the sails of the Struggle Movement. This could create entirely different environment in I Corps, both aiding and justifying any eventual use of force GVN may feel compelled to take.
As to our involvement in supporting GVN build-up in Da Nang, we still believe that our justification for this must be that GVN was and is entitled to defend country and thus to restore its authority over intolerable and unreasonable regionalistic opposition movement which cannot be tolerated in critical wartime situation. But, as I have indicated at the [Page 336] outset, it is our strong feeling that any showdown in I Corps should now await further national political measures, and that latter should be the focus of our immediate efforts.7
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by William Bundy, cleared by Rostow and McNamara, and approved by Rusk.
  2. In telegram 3755 from Saigon, April 6, Lodge reported that if negotiations then underway with Struggle committees in Hue and Danang did not bring immediate results, Ky planned to return to Danang that afternoon, move into town with tanks at midnight, install a new mayor, and “reoccupy” the major public buildings. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 3761, April 6, Lodge reported that the GVN had decided to seek a political solution before a military one and had accepted the Buddhist proposal offered to Ky the previous evening to hold a constitutional convention within 6 months. (Ibid.)
  4. According to Valentiʼs brief notes of the Presidentʼs meeting from 5:20 to 6:20 p.m., April 6, McNamara stated: “Struggle movement may be too strong to throw off. We donʼt know much about their objectives. They obviously have strength we didnʼt know about, and I donʼt want to go to war against them.” Humphrey agreed, stating that it was “too uncertain to judge who will line up on top.” (Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File)
  5. In telegrams 3755 and 3761, Lodge passed on reports that General Chuan, ARVN Commander of I Crops, had lost control, did not follow orders, and had come under Communist domination.
  6. In telegram 3755, Lodge reported that Ky had thanked him for U.S. support, “especially the tanks which he said were of the greatest psychological value in awing the crowds.”
  7. At the Presidentʼs 5:20 p.m. meeting on April 6, it was also discussed “whether Lodge should say struggle movement is infested with communists.” (Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File) In telegram 3759 from Saigon, April 6, Lodge had proposed telling the press that Communists “had a good deal of influence” in the opposition movement. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. L) In telegram 2996, transmitted to Saigon following the meeting, Rusk urged Lodge not to “underwrite personally the extent of communist involvement in the struggle movement,” due both to the lack of convincing evidence and the likelihood that such charges would prove counter-productive. (Ibid., NODIS, vol. 3) In a telephone conversation with McNamara at 7:45 a.m. on April 7, the President said that it looked to him like “thereʼs a very serious danger that thereʼs been a complete infiltration of the [dissidentsʼ] power base by the Communists.” McNamara responded that he felt the same danger, “particularly in that first corps area.” (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation between Johnson and McNamara, Tape F66.14, Side A, PNO 3)