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

3260. 1. General Kyʼs office called at 11:55 and asked whether I could call at 12:15.

2. When I entered, he first told me he had decided to appoint a woman as the Mayor of Dalat. He then said he wanted to talk to me about his troubles with General Thi. He was speaking to me in my capacity as a “friend”, and having in mind that he, Ky, is the same age as my son, he spoke as follows:

3. Thi was becoming more and more difficult. His judgment was poor, he had delusions of grandeur, he did none of the things that were expected of him. For example, he had done nothing about pacification/revolutionary development. He was deliberately insubordinate; he would receive orders from the government and return them, scribbling on the order “this crazy government”. It was obvious that one fourth of the country was exempt from the control of the national government. As long as this condition obtained Viet-Nam could not really call itself a nation.

4. He had had a meeting with all of the Generals this morning, less Thi, Vinh Loc and Quang, and had told them that he intended to share this burden with them, and asked them to take appropriate steps for removal of General Thi. If not, he, Ky, would go back to commanding the air force and someone else could be Prime Minister. He could not go on this way. The Generals this morning had wanted to know what I thought.

5. A meeting of all ten Generals with Thi present is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, morning. He asked my advice.

6. In reply, I said that as U.S. Ambassador, I could not, of course, interfere in what was essentially an internal affair, and that for the record I could not say much more than that the United States Government very much desired the stability of the Government of Viet-Nam which we regarded as indispensable to successful prosecution of the war.

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7. General Ky had, however, said he wished my comments as a friend and that in that same spirit the Generals this morning had wanted to know what I thought. Speaking in this unofficial and friendly capacity, I submitted the following thoughts:

8. This was obviously a question of major importance. Being as important as this, it was absolutely indispensable that every step be carefully prepared so that there could be no possible hitch, and that General Ky would not stumble and fall flat on his face.

9. If the charge of insubordination was made against General Thi, I asked, could it be substantiated? Did you have names and dates and specifications to support charges of nonfeasance as well as charges of insubordination? Were your charges so well documented that they would command the support of public opinion? Better still, were your charges good enough so that they would stand up in court of law, and so that General Thi would realize that the jig was up and he had better leave? Did you have plans made for his successor? Did you feel that you knew how to remove him and install his successor? Can you put it across? Can you make it stick?

10. Could you insulate I Corps effectively enough so that the removal of General Thi would not result in a chain reaction in which the other corps commanders and all the members of the Directorate might not find their tenure shaken?

11. I advised him to get some bright lawyers to go to work immediately and go through all of the instructions and paper traffic between him and General Thi, and see whether they could document a case of insubordination and nonfeasance. I thought this was the best way in which the afternoon could be spent. I agreed to think about the matter and if I had any further views to call on him again later in the afternoon.

12. Comment: I hope that this search for proof will cool him off and persuade him back away from the confrontation tomorrow. It was also clear to me that I was being brought in long after a decision had been made to try to do something. Ky had taken the preliminary steps this morning and was definitely committed to going ahead with it tomorrow.

13. One must sympathize with his view that he cannot accept responsibility without being able to give orders that are carried out in all the different corps. As the Department knows, I have long disapproved of the corps system, although recognizing it as one of the facts of life. Thi, in his recent actions in the DMZ, reminds one of the Chinese warlords whom I first encountered when I visited China in 1929. Subordination of corps commanders to central authority may be part of Viet-Namʼs march toward nationhood.

14. In response to questions from me, Ky said (a) that there was no suspicion of Thi playing with Communists and (b) that Thieu was supporting Ky. If Thieu is supporting Ky wholeheartedly and actively it [Page 279] might mean much since no one is more expert at elimination of troublesome persons.

15. Had lunch with Marine Generals and the U.S. military all spoke well of Thi, his cooperativeness and devotion to pacification.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Flash; Exdis. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 3:21 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA.