232. Memorandum From the Ambassador’s Special Assistant (Lansdale) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

SUBJECT

  • Talk with Thang, July 6

I saw General Nguyen duc Thang the afternoon of July 6, largely at the request of Arch Calhoun who was compiling some information from Mission sources. Here are highlights of our talk:

Agreement. I probed for details of any agreement between Chief of State Thieu and Prime Minister Ky on how much authority Ky would have as Vice President, over the Cabinet and RVNAF. Thang said that there is only a vague understanding, to the best of his knowledge, and feels that Ky is uneasy about the vagueness. Thang recalls that, when this subject came up during the final hours of deciding the Thieu-Ky coalition, Thieu indicated that Ky would have a large say in Cabinet and RVNAF appointments “because we are brothers in the family.” Thang knew of no further clarification. He guessed that there hadn’t been any, since Ky and the four Corps Commanders, who were meeting with Thieu the afternoon of July 6, had implied in their talk at the Palace earlier in the day that Thieu owed them a debt. (I gave this information orally to Arch Calhoun.)

Disfavor. Thang commented that General Thieu could be expected to harbor a grudge against three individuals for a long time. Thieu will be unable to forgive General Loan for what he believes were threats against his life, General Tri for the way he belittled Thieu on radio and TV, and General Thang for what he believes were acts that made Thieu lose prestige in the Army (telling Thieu that the Generals wouldn’t back him against Ky, and Thang’s statements during the confrontation).

Proposal. Thang said that Prime Minister Ky had talked to him the morning of July 6 about staying on in the Army, rather than retiring at the end of the year. Ky asked Thang to consider taking over the Political Warfare Directorate, after the September elections.2Thang asked [Page 583]me what I thought of this idea. I replied that Thang already knew that I believed he must continue serving his country and should not retire. As for the Polwar Directorate, it was a nice but ineffective spot for a real leader, which I believe Thang to be—unless given some disciplinary authority. His opposite number, on the enemy side, would have equal authority with combat commanders, with a parallel chain-of-command, and participate in top policy decisions—and it would be unrealistic to expect to match his effectiveness with something not designed to match it. I expressed a personal opinion that Thang should be given a command position, where he could exercise leadership to help his country, if he returns to the Army.

Ministry. I pushed Thang again about considering staying on in the Ministry. He refused to budge from his decision to leave when an elected Constitutional Government takes office, although he admitted that he has no real thoughts yet on who might replace him and keep the fine work going after he has left. However, he reaffirmed his pledge to me that he would keep working hard at his Ministry tasks until the end.

  1. Source: Center for Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, Lansdale (1967–1968). Secret; Sensitive. Copies were sent to Locke, Westmoreland, Komer, Calhoun, Hart, and Jacobson.
  2. In telegram 347 from Saigon, July 5, Bunker reported that Thang had attacked Thieu for his “trickiness and indecisiveness” at the June 29–30 meeting of ARVN Generals. Bunker also reported that Ky suggested to Thang that he become Chief of the JGS if Vien became Minister of Defense. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)