205. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Martin) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

683. I will be grateful if you will give the following to the Secretary ASAP:

Personal and absolutely eyes only for Secretary Kissinger.


To emphasize the gravity of the point I am making, I am quoting an extract from a conversation yesterday between one of Tom Polgar’s boys and Major General Loan, former Saigon Chief of Police (you may recall famous picture of him shooting captured VC) who is a close associate of Ky.

Begin quote: Loan warned that it would not be possible for the Americans to bug out leaving the Vietnamese to fend for themselves. In the event of an effort to evacuate Americans, he said he was sure that the Vietnamese Marines and other troops guarding Tan Son Nhut [Page 743]would prevent American planes from landing or taking off. Loan said that he had heard rumors that a division of American Marines would be sent here to help evacuate the Americans. This, he said, would not help—they would have more angry Vietnamese than they could handle. The only evacuation of Americans that could take place, according to Loan, would be in connection with the evacuation of all the Vietnamese who wanted to leave such as was done in the evacuation of North Viet-Nam. Loan volunteered the above—his opinion was not solicited. He seemed very serious with this warning and one had the impression he personally would support a policy of preventing the departure of the Americans unless it included provisions for evacuating all the Vietnamese who wanted to go as well. End quote.

The point is that the WSAG decision recorded in paras 2 and 3 of State 074933 slugged “For the Ambassador from the Secretary”2 conveying “decision” that we immediately evacuate all dependents—a decision taken without prior consultation with me—is the kind of action that can result in the wholly needless death of a lot of Americans, plunge this city into total chaos and irretrievably throw away any chance we may have of salvaging anything at all of American policy interests in this area.
Weyand and his party, as well as every senior member of my staff, were appalled. In my message to you yesterday I asked that you see to it that some safety device be put on the “panic button.”3
There is a great compulsion these days to yield to the syndrome “don’t just sit there, do something,” but if there was ever a time for coolness and dispassionate judgment, there is a premium for it now. Therefore, it would be a great step forward if you would instruct my friend, Habib, to cool it a bit, to not react to panic pressures such as those from the voluntary agencies, and to couch communications to us in terms of a contingent authority which permits me to use my judgment on tactics and timing.
Another example, in addition to the dependent’s evacuation message, but far less serious, was Gayler’s message to JCS bringing up again question of continuing Hanoi liaison flights.4 JCS replied that State taking action to “terminate” flight and State informs CINCPAC and Saigon that “in response to query from DOD, we have agreed that Hanoi liaison flights should be quietly suspended.”5
If queried, before snap decision made, we could have informed State that GVN would have preferred to have kept this contingency open for possible usefulness if and when current situation can be moved to negotiation stage. This arbitrary action removes that contingency but, aside from satisfying Gayler’s long standing desire to eliminate it, and Habib’s compulsion to be “decisive,” it has made no other contribution to U.S. policy interests. We have “quietly” suspended this week’s flight and informed both the GVN and DRV the suspension was for “mechanical difficulties.” I would appreciate your having the decision to suspend the Hanoi flights revoked and let us decide whether we resume, as U.S. interests seem to dictate. I would intend to keep it suspended for “mechanical reasons” for the time being.
In short, you either have confidence that my judgment on the scene is quite likely to be better than that of Habib and Ingersoll in Washington or you ought to recommend to the President that he put one of them out here and relieve me. In that case, perhaps I can make an even greater contribution by speaking out with complete candor on how we got in this current situation.
I think a great deal of the current situation can be retrieved and the situation stabilized. I am now engaged in a round of discussions with the Prime Minister, General Vien and the President. I have just seen Air Marshal Ky and obtained his undertaking to use his full influence to avoid the situation where Vietnamese will be fighting Vietnamese until I can carry on a series of talks with the political leaders. I plan to see the President again late this evening. Now that Weyand has departed I can move. Full report will follow this channel soonest.6 If you and the President wish me to continue, I shall continue to use my judgment on the scene on those quickly evolving matters which can only be decided here in the light of the actual realities on the ground, and I will be grateful if you so instruct Habib.
Both Weyand and David Kennerly can give you and the President a more intimate flavor of the actual realities here.
Warmest regards.
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 3, Martin Channel, April 1975, Outgoing (1). Secret; Immediate. Sent with the instruction: “Deliver immediately.”
  2. Document 203.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Telegram 75291 to CINCPAC, April 3; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files.
  6. Martin’s report is in backchannel message 684 from Saigon, April 4; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 3, Martin Channel, April 1975, Incoming (1).