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

17626. For the President from Lodge. Herewith my weekly telegram:

A.
Year of the Ram
1.
Tomorrow is the beginning of Tet, the three day holiday which is the most important festival of the year—Year of the Ram—for all Vietnamese. Saigon is in a festive mood, whole blocks covered solidly with brilliant Tet flowers and fusillades of firecrackers ringing constantly on every street. There appears to be no threat here now, as in [Page 104]the recent past, that the city might soon be in Communist hands, even though terrorism is common. There are high hopes for constitutional government. I have less news this Wednesday than at any time in the last year and a half. I hope that “no news is good news.”
B.
Constitution
2.
Before recessing February 3 for a ten day Tet vacation, the Assembly moved about half way through Chapter III of the Constitution dealing with legislative powers and organization. The Assembly has so far decided that the lower house will have from 100 to 200 members and the upper house 30 to 60. An unusual provision is that members of the upper house will be elected at-large from the whole nation rather than from electoral districts. Since most well-known political figures live in Saigon, this provision could mean a “Saigon senate” with little rural representation.
3.
Representatives of the Assembly and the Directorate have been meeting intermittently to exchange views and to try to iron out their differences on constitutional provisions. Both Deputies and members of the Directorate have told us that broad areas of agreement exist, but some important disagreements remain. A letter from General Thieu to Assembly Chairman Phan Khac Suu summarizes some of the Directorate's objections to the first draft of the Constitution. The most important of these concern the role of the military in politics, the power of the legislature to force removal of the Prime Minister, the power to declare emergencies, and the abolition of censorship.
4.
Members of the Directorate have told us that agreement has been reached on the important question of the legislature's power to force removal of the Prime Minister. They say that the National Assembly may “propose” the dismissal of the Cabinet, but the proposal is not binding on the President.
C.
Revamping the Army
5.
The decisive factor in defeating the Huk uprising in the Philippines was that Magsaysay was able to get the Philippine army to behave itself—to be generous and considerate of the welfare of the civilians. The absence of such a helpful attitude on the part of the ARVN here has been a major problem.2

[Page 105]

[Here follows discussion of a report on the renovation of the ARVN, casualties, Chieu Hoi, economic matters, and peace talks.]

Lodge
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. In a memorandum describing a meeting with members of S/P in early January, Lodge underscored the urgency for retooling the ARVN. “It was clear that any revamping of the ARVN must be done despite the present layer of generals, young as they are,” the Ambassador argued. “It took 37 years to depose the horse in the American Army, and it will take as long to sell the generals on the necessary revamping of the ARVN. It can only be accomplished by bringing up new leaders from below.” (Memorandum from Allan Evans, Deputy Director for Research, INR, to Hughes and Denney, January 13; Department of State, INR/REA/SA Files: Lot 75 D 378, POL-1 General Policy, Background SVN 1967)