244. Memorandum From William L. Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1


  • Instructions to Ambassador Bunker on Recent Political Developments in South Vietnam

Attached at Tab A2 is a draft State Department cable submitted for White House clearance which instructs Ambassador Bunker to make strong representations to President Thieu on the implementation of his emergency decrees (e.g. tougher new Press law, prospective political party law) and the judicial treatment of political prisoners—e.g. Truong Dinh Dzu). The cable expresses high concern that recent political developments will “create a domestic issue in the United States of [Page 870] dangerous dimensions” and that a “picture here of an increasingly autocratic GVN could have a seriously adverse effect on the prosecution of current U.S. policies respecting Vietnam.”

We strongly recommend against clearance of this or any other cable which seeks to restrain Thieu from actions to limit the permissiveness of Vietnamese political life and thereby to better prepare the GVN for a ceasefire contingency. State’s cable is, we believe, a prime example of overreacting to initial, scattered reporting and of imposing their judgment of American political reactions on the Thieu regime.3

In answer to State’s particular concerns we note the following items:

State’s concern over the new press law is based exclusively on the initial criticism of only two Saigon-based publishers and some local U.S. press coverage. Subsequent information from Saigon makes clear that State overreacted to the situation. Thus, Embassy Saigon on August 17 reported that the press law controversy “continues at a subdued level”, and that the National Press Council has urged members to “remain tranquil.” It also noted that “there have been no organized protest actions so far,” In an August 11 speech in Qui Nhon, also reported by the Embassy, President Thieu denied that the law is aimed at subduing nationalist opposition and noted that “nine or ten” papers (down from over 40) should continue publication. Other sources echo Thieu’s sentiment, and predict that 10 papers representing a variety of opinion will survive.
The attached cable expresses concern over a prospective political party law which would similarly stiffen requirements for legal recognition of political parties, presently numbering over 30. Again, subsequent information from the field contradicts State’s concern. Two of Thieu’s closest advisors, General Dang Van Quang and Presidential Secretary Hoang Duc Nha recently have stated that the President does not plan to move on this decree in the near future. The leaders of Vietnam’s two largest parties (the Farmer Worker Party and the Progressive Nationalist Movement) have indicated either that they favor tougher legislation or that they have no choice but to accept tighter requirements.
Answering State’s concern over the “indefinite detention” of political prisoners, we note that Thieu has offered a conditional release of Vietnam’s most celebrated detainee—Truong Dinh Dzu, a 1968 presidential candidate. On August 4, Embassy Saigon reported that Dzu refused to cooperate with GVN offers to release him in exchange for his agreement to remain in any province of his choosing and not to cause problems for the GVN. With respect to the more general questions of “political” arrests, Thieu obviously is not going to tolerate an irresponsible opposition which parrots the enemy’s criticisms at a time when he faces one of the greatest Communist military and political threats in South Vietnam’s 18-year history.
Lastly, our overall reaction to State’s concern over a more authoritarian government in South Vietnam is: So what? Since we have long criticized the disorder of South Vietnam’s politics, should we now urge Thieu to ease off on measures designed primarily to remedy the South’s chronic permissiveness? We all have long held that greater authority is not only more desirable but also inevitable as Vietnam faces the enemy threat increasingly on its own. Clearly, Thieu faces an extreme situation today with a massive invasion and possibility of a ceasefire. For him to do less by way of political preparations would be irresponsible. In any event, Thieu is not a Diemist leader. He is far more supple and astute, and unlike Diem is willing to accord respect to a middle ground of responsible opposition.

Finally, neither we nor State are competent to make judgments on how domestic American opinion and the forthcoming elections will respond to Thieu’s use of his emergency decrees. However, we personally believe that battlefield performance and negotiating progress far outweigh in-house GVN politics as a campaign issue. As long as ARVN holds and we demonstrate our negotiating good will, political developments in Saigon will probably have only a limited impact in the U.S.


For the above reasons, we urge that you disapprove the draft cable at Tab A.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 161, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, August 1972. Secret; Exdis. Sent for action.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. In an August 12 memorandum to Kissinger entitled “GVN Ceasefire Preparations and Political Developments,” Negroponte wrote the following: “We believe that State’s concern misses the main issue: how best can the GVN prepare itself for a prospective ceasefire and a political struggle with the enemy. The Department, in our view, once again is overreacting to the situation, imposing its own concern for niceties on South Vietnam and second guessing both Thieu and the American electorate.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1330, Unfiled Material [3 of 8])
  4. Haig circled the word “disapprove” and signed that option.