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

1631. 1. I called on Ky at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, July 22.

2. As soon as I came in, he began by saying that he had been in the extreme northern part of Viet-Nam yesterday, and he felt that Vietnamese and Americans now fighting there had arrived “just in time.” He agreed with my guess that Hanoi had planned a double barreled retaliation for the bombings of June 29: a military surprise in the extreme North and sabotage-terrorism in Saigon. The Vietnamese-American reaction had, he thought, surprised Hanoi.

3. In a speculative discussion of what Hanoi was thinking, he made the same analysis which I have made to Washington: that Hanoi sees itself defeated militarily; politically in Saigon; and economically with the anti-inflation and port decongestion measures. But it still thinks it can triumph in the field of criminal violence, i.e. terrorism and subversion via the village guerrilla. Hanoi, Ky believes, is waiting to see if revolutionary development will succeed. They believe it will not, and that Americans, regardless of military, political and economic success, will tire and leave, and then Hanoi, still possessing its tool of criminal, subversive, terroristic warfare can start all over again. It is not, Ky said, a stupid theory. When, therefore, General Thangʼs program really gets rolling, Hanoi will realize the jig is up—and not before. This does not diminish the importance of winning the three other wars (of which bombing North Viet-Nam is a crucial part).

4. Continuing to talk before I had even raised the purpose of my visit, Prime Minister Ky spoke about the Province of Go Cong, where the local authorities had stopped the transportation of lobster and fish to Saigon. He looked into it and found that they had been bribed by black marketeers, and, he was sure, by the French.

5. Turning to the Buddhist self-immolation last night, Ky had the would-be self-immolator talk in response to questions, with the conversation being taken down on a tape recorder. The man had said that he had not given a thought to self-immolation and that suddenly he had felt strange (Ky indicated that he had been drugged). Then the man said he had lit a cigarette and “was set on fire.” Ky plans to give all this to the press. The man evidently was neither a religious fanatic nor a mental defective, but had been used.

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6. I then brought up the purpose of my visit, which was to call his attention to the fact that two candidatesʼ lists in Saigon had been disqualified on the basis of technicalities. The first was led by Phan Khac Suu, and had been disqualified because one of the candidates had not produced an “extrait de casier judiciaire.” (Which I translate as a legal document certifying that the subject has no criminal record.) The other was headed by Dang Van Sung. I hazarded the guess that maybe the Prime Minister did not realize these disqualifications had been made—undoubtedly in good conscience—but that the political effect would be considerable given the prominence of the two men.

7. Ky knew all about both cases, and that the law was, strictly speaking, against both persons. He said, however, he had “done a favor” for Phan Khac Suu and had arranged to have him put on the list. He realized this could create a precedent which would plague him, but in view of Phan Khac Suuʼs prominence, he thought he should do it.

8. As regards Dang Van Sung, he said that he had no co-signers—no team mates—and was alone on his list. Sung was unable to find anybody to team up with him, even after he had been given two or three days to do so. He has, therefore, agreed to withdraw his candidacy.

9. I stressed the importance of these elections in terms of U.S. opinion, of which Ky was well aware—also the effect on world opinion. I told him our leading television and press men would be here.

10. He said that the Generals had had a meeting concerning the elections, and had agreed that it had to be organized honestly, that the world was going to watch, and that they were not going to emulate the procedure of the late President Diem, who had moved troops into an area to supply more votes as needed. General Thang had been put in charge of the elections to be sure that they would be free and honest.

11. I then read him paraphrase of POLAD Francisʼ wire no. 029,2 which in paragraph 12 describes a scene in Tam Ky on July 16 of what might be the first anti-election action taken by Communists. On that date Viet Cong attached VNQDD headquarters, killing a number of party members. They were clearly after the party leadership. As a result of the attack, the leading VNQDD candidate, Phan Thong, lost both his legs, but has sent word from the hospital to the Province Chief that he would not be counted out and intends to run.

12. Ky knew all about this, and said that General Lam had told him about it.

13. I asked Prime Minister Ky what was planned in connection with regional forces and popular forces. I said they were badly needed to protect the pacification process and were frequently diverted by division [Page 513] and corps commanders. We believe that they should be under the primary control of General Thang.

14. In reply, Ky said the Generals had agreed to reorganize the regional forces, putting them under the direct control of the Province Chief, and, he said, General Thang now has control of the Province Chiefs. He evidently regards this as a big forward step.

15. I then adverted to the importance of not being stampeded by pressure for wage increases, which I said simply stimulate merchants to raise their prices, and in turn stimulates further demands for higher wages. I assured him that we on the U.S. side were doing everything that we could, and hoped the GVN would pay close attention to this, and try to keep wage pressures dampened.

16. Ky agreed and said that on certain items, prices have started to go down. He had heard an unconfirmed report that the Banque de lʼIndochine in Laos was selling gold. He was sure that both the French and the Viet Cong needed piasters badly, having in mind the plans they have for sabotaging the elections.

17. As I was about to leave, he talked to me in a very informal and personal way about his belief that the time had come to establish a rallying point (“centre de ralliement”) in North Viet-Nam for what he believed were many fervent anti-government elements in North Viet-Nam. The knowledge that there was a rallying point might, if all else was well organized, bring about an uprising. He made it absolutely clear that he was definitely not advocating an amphibious landing. He was talking about a parachute drop of “a battalion—about 400 men,” all Vietnamese, no Americans, at a point which he knows of south of the 19th parallel, in the western part of the area, in the mountains. North Viet-Nam is narrow at that point. The men would be thus close to the sea. They could be supplied at night by planes. There are now so many planes flying around at night that this would not attract attention. They could conduct sabotage operations, terrorism, and help political uprisings. Life would not be anything like as dangerous for them as the life of the Viet Cong is here now. He said that Viet-Nam has the finest soldiers in the world for this kind of duty.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Rostow forwarded the text of telegram 1631 to the President at 4:35 p.m. on July 22. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 9) Also passed to CIA and Defense.
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram 14858 to Saigon, July 25, the Department of State indicated that it would “not wholly rule out” such a project but believed that Ky should not be given any encouragement for now. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)