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

179529. From the President for Lodge.

As you prepare to pay your final calls, I have been mulling over your recent cables. Two problems stand out in my mind.
The first one is the absolutely crucial problem of ensuring that the Vietnamese military stay united among themselves in this critical [Page 339] pre-election period and that they loyally support the elected government which emerges. I personally emphasized this to Do and Bui Diem yesterday.
Thieu and Ky should understand that we cannot decide for them who should be the military candidate, and that we cannot force the military to rally behind that candidate. This is their job and they must face up to it. Please tell Thieu and Ky that each has said publicly that he would not oppose the other; we have accepted their statements at face value because we know they both are patriots. This is a critical period in which they and their colleagues must subordinate personal feelings and ambitions to the national interest. They must support the political process now in train and ensure that it does not fail. Disruption of military unity now, or failure of the military to support the proper conduct of the elections and to rally behind the elected government, would be disastrous for South Viet-Nam, for the support of the American public behind our effort in Viet-Nam, and for international support generally. This must not happen.
I know that you have been seeing Ky with good effect and are likely to see Thieu on this very issue. I of course leave to you how to get this message across, but as you prepare to leave there should be no doubt in Ky’s or Thieu’s minds of the depth of our feeling on this score. FYI. We continue to be concerned about what they may try to do if your departure creates a gap before Bunker’s arrival. We are exploring this with Bunker. Since we are in a war situation, general protocol practice about avoiding an overlap between ambassadors need not apply. This is not an indication of any lack of confidence in Porter but a concern lest someone in Saigon decides to play tricks between you and Bunker. End FYI.
The second problem of critical importance is the revamping and remotivating of the Vietnamese armed forces for the vital task of pacification. This is covered in a separate message.2
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared by Read. On April 18 Komer submitted the text of the cable through Rostow to the President. In a covering memorandum of April 18, Rostow told Johnson that he and Komer concurred in the transmission of the cable, which “might be helpful” to Lodge. “It fits his thought and ours; but he is only likely to be forceful if he receives guidance from you,” he noted. The President approved Rostow’s recommendation to “check it out” with Rusk and McNamara. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXIX, Cables) According to an attached note of April 19, McNamara telephoned approval. (Ibid.)
  2. This issue was discussed in telegram 179530 to Saigon, April 21. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)