325. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


  • Some Observations on Thieu and Ky
The following are comments and observations by George Carver based on his meetings with President Thieu and Vice President Ky on 2 August 1968.
The meeting with Vice President Ky was delayed since he was in a prolonged session (subsequently described as cordial) with two Lower House deputies who had often been sharply critical of Ky. Carver noted that this session itself was a small straw in Saigon’s freshening political breeze. Ky received Carver in his private office at the Palace, wearing a U.S.-style tropical worsted summer uniform without rank insignia and looking considerably older and more grave than in early 1965 when they last had met. The atmosphere was cordial and relaxed but quite correct. He said all the proper things with apparent sincerity.
Ky stressed the need for unity in the face of a common enemy, said nothing obviously critical of Thieu, and emphasized several times that the Thieu-Ky problem was a thing of the past. He stressed that no “nationalist” could any longer think in terms of coups or similar actions. In short, he has swallowed his pill, and though he obviously does not like its taste, he is taking it (for the time being at least) with dignity, perspective, and reasonably good humor. His vanity and desire to be appreciated, however, are still very near the surface. He beamed visibly at the suggestion that the considerable over-all progress over the past few years was due in no small part to his efforts. Ky beamed again at the suggestion that he apparently was one who recognized the need for subordinating personal to national interests. Ky seemed quite proud of the fact he had just been chosen out as a pilot in the F–5 jet; with a touch of irony, he noted that he had more time for flying since he wasn’t too busy now.
Carver’s session with Thieu was equally cordial but more formal. Thieu handles himself with quiet confidence and an increasingly sure touch. He was obviously pleased with Honolulu’s outcome. He thinks more clearly about the future than most Vietnamese. Thieu noted that the struggle had long been in a primarily military phase, would eventually reach a primarily political stage, and is about to enter a transitional stage between the two. The Communists were now busily preparing for this transitional stage leading to the political struggle ahead, and we ought to do the same. Few Vietnamese display this kind of realism.2
Carver noted some interesting comparison and contrast in the reactions of Ky and Thieu to certain salient points. Both strongly endorsed the need for the Vietnamese to demonstrate unity in their opposition to the Communists. It was in this context that Ky made his “no coup” comments and mentioned his overtures to opposition deputies in the interest of unity. It was in the same context that Thieu raised the necessity for him to personally provide the missing element of leadership necessary to get the “Lien Minh Alliance” off the ground.3
Ky readily assented to the desirability of aggressively exploiting the policy of National Reconciliation in the case of appropriate Viet Cong defectors. He said he was urging his colleagues to move with more aggressive imagination on this score. Thieu, on the other hand, was much cooler. He didn’t disagree, but noted that there were “many problems” and quickly switched to a more congenial subject.
Ky reacted enthusiastically to the suggestion that peasant youth ought to be tapped for leadership at lower levels. Expressing vigorous assent, he expounded—with some emotion—his views on the need for [Page 944] a non-Communist social revolution. Thieu, on the other hand, gave pro-forma assent, but patently has little interest in any juggling of the social order and sees no need for upsetting things by attempting to do so. Once again, after polite, perfunctory agreement (in effect, acknowledging the problem without accepting the solution), Thieu quickly switched to other topics.
In sum, Carver observes that Thieu seems to be performing well and steadily growing in his role as President, and Ky seems to have accepted his secondary role with reasonable grace. While Thieu lacks Ky’s vision, flair, and intuitive, emotional grasp of the basic social problems which constitute the seedbed of Vietnam’s insurgency, Ky lacks Thieu’s capacity for sustained endeavor, attention to detail, and patience. Ky may be cultivating the image of a dedicated patriot ready, waiting, and available in an hour of crisis, but this may be acceptable so long as it keeps Ky on his good behavior.4
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80–R01580R, 271—Vietnam Task Force. Secret. This unsigned memorandum was derived from telegram CAS 6132 from Saigon, August 6. In an August 8 covering note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to Smith, Helms wrote: “I believe the President will be interested to read this report. Would you please pouch it to him at the Ranch? For your information, and that of Walt’s, George Carver returns to Washington late today and will be briefing the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board tomorrow.” No record of that meeting has been found. According to attached covering notes, the memorandum was also sent to Rusk, Katzenbach, Bundy, Clifford, Nitze, and Wheeler. Carver was in Vietnam for a 2-week observation mission July 20–August 8.
  2. The Department had urged Bunker to encourage Thieu to make an unofficial overture to the North Vietnamese or the NLF. (Telegram 216256 to Saigon, August 6; Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 90) In a meeting on August 7, Thieu told Bunker that he had given Bui Diem authority to establish private contacts with the North Vietnamese in Paris. (Telegram 34711 from Saigon, August 7; ibid.) In telegram 216978 to Paris and Saigon, August 7, Rusk described Thieu’s response as “not having the sense of urgency we would like to see,” and he directed the delegation to encourage Bui Diem to move forward and the Embassy in Saigon to press to have the additional personnel sent to Paris immediately. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-August 1968)
  3. In telegram 34703 from Saigon, August 7, Bunker reported on a conversation with Thieu during which the pilot mechanism for the involvement of the Lien Minh in rural development was outlined: “Thieu said the program for Lien Minh had now been worked out and submitted to him. It would be tested out initially in Saigon. A committee, organized on functional lines like a cabinet, would be set up with sub-committees to study and oversee the program, making modifications as experience indicated. Once the Saigon program seemed to be progressing satisfactorily, then it would be extended out into the provinces. A program to train cadre would be developed and plans made to expand the organization since it was important that centers also be established outside the capital.” (Ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL US–VIET S)
  4. In his August 8 report on the trip, Carver concluded: “On the whole, despite the real Communist menace and emotional worries about American policy, I found the political atmosphere in Saigon at least momentarily healthier than it has been in over a decade. Vietnamese moods are mercurial, but formerly repressed or taboo thoughts and ideas—peace, settlement, even hazy notions of victory in a finite time frame—are now openly talked about. The light of day is helping to dispel at least some of their mystery for the Vietnamese. Thieu’s government may be strongly liked by only a few and distrusted (in some measure) by many. It is inclined (I think dangerously but not irremediably so) to approach Vietnam’s problems with the same concepts that permitted these problems to reach their present crisis proportions, but for the time being, at least, Thieu’s government is governing.” (Central Intelligence Agency, SAVA (Carver) Files, Job 80–R01720R, GAC Trip to Saigon)