United States decides to support Ngo Dinh Diem

United States decides to support Ngo Dinh Diem

President Eisenhower approves a National Security Council paper titled “Review of U.S. Policy in the Far East.” This paper supported Secretary of State Dulles’ view that the United States should support Vietnamese prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, while encouraging him to broaden his government and establish more democratic institutions. Ultimately, however, Diem would refuse to make any meaningful concessions or institute any significant new reforms and U.S. support was withdrawn. Diem was subsequently assassinated during a coup by opposition generals on November 2, 1963.


GBH Openvault

As the sister-in-law of President Diem, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu was considered the first lady of South Vietnam in the late 1950s through the early 1960s. Here she argues that the Diem government was the only legitimate government in South Vietnam, that they were undermined by the United States and that the United States, therefore, paid a price. She discusses the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 and the results of the Paris Peace Accords. She reflects on Ngo Dinh Nhu and President Diem’s characters and her own reputation as the “Dragon Lady” of Vietnam. Finally, she describes the diplomatic efforts of Ngo Dinh Nhu towards North Vietnam and the arrogance of the United States in intervening.

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Interview with Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, 1982

This 13 part series covers the history of Vietnam from France's colonial control, through the 1945 revolution, to the 1975 U.S. evacuation from Saigon and the years beyond. The series' objective approach permits viewers to form their own conclusions about the war. 101--Roots of a War--Despite cordial relations between American intelligence officers and Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the turbulent closing months of World War II, French and British hostility to the Vietnamese revolution laid the groundwork for a new war. 102--The First Vietnam War (1946-1954)--The French generals expected to defeat Ho's rag-tag Vietminh guerrillas easily, but after eight years of fighting and $2.5 billion in U.S. aid, the French lost a crucial battle at Dienbienphu--and with it, their Asian empire. 103--America's Mandarin (1954-1963)--To stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam--supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinyh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon. 104--LBJ Goes to War (1964-1965)--With Ho Chi Minh determined to reunite Vietnam, Lyndon Baines Johnson determined to prevent it, and South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, the stage was set for massive escalation of the undeclared Vietnam War. 105--America Takes Charge (1965-1967)--In two years, the Johnson Administration's troop build-up dispatched 1.5 million Americans to Vietnam to fight a war they found baffling, tedious, exciting, deadly and unforgettable. 106--America's Enemy (1954-1967)--The Vietnam War as seen from different perspectives: by Vietcong guerrillas and sympathizers by North Vietnamese leaders by rank and file and by American held prisoner in Hanoi. 107--Tet (1968)--The massive enemy offensive at the Lunar New Year decimated the Vietcong and failed to topple the Saigon government, but led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal. 108--Vietnamizing the War (1968-1973)--President Nixon's program of troop pull-outs, stepped-up bombing and huge arms shipments to Saigon changed the war, and left GI's wondering which of them would be the last to die in Vietnam. 109--Cambodia and Laos--Despite technical neutrality, both of Vietnam's smaller neighbors were drawn into the war, suffered massive bombing, and in the case of Cambodia, endured a post-war holocaust of nightmare proportions. 110--Peace is at Hand (1968-1973)--While American and Vietnamese continued to clash in battle, diplomats in Paris argued about making peace, after more than four years reaching an accord that proved to be a preface to further bloodshed. 111--Homefront USA--Americans at home divide over a distant war, clashing in the streets as demonstrations lead to bloodshed, bitterness and increasing doubts about the outcome. 112--The End of the Tunnel (1973-1975)--Through troubled years of controversy and violence, U.S. casualties mounted, victory remained elusive and American opinion moved from general approval to general dissatisfaction with the Vietnam war. 113--Legacies--Vietnam is in the Soviet orbit, poorer than ever, at war on two fronts America's legacy includes more than one half million Asian refugees, one half million Vietnam veterans and some questions that won't go away. Series release date: 9/1983

To stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam--supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinyh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon.

No materials may be re-used without references to appearance releases and WGBH/UMass Boston contract. 2) It is the liability of a production to investigate and re-clear all rights before re-use in any project. Rights Holder: WGBH Educational Foundation


Why did the united states continue to support south vietnamese leader ngo dinh diem’s corrupt and weak regime? a. presidents kennedy and johnson feared losing vietnam to communism. b. u. s. officials were caught by surprise when a military coup led to diem’s death. c. by 1963, diem’s forces had regained much of the vietnamese countryside from the outnumbered viet cong. d. diem had built a stable and broad base of support for his government using advice from american officials. e. diem had the support of his people, which pointed to an eventual south vietnamese victory over the communists.

A. President Kennedy and Johnson feared losing Vietnam to communism is the correct answer.

They supported South Vietnam under the policy of containment. They supported the corrupt government because they wanted to defeat the communist north and Vietcong. The US government considered it to be like domino, if southern Vietnam fell to communists, it would set of a chain reaction which will bring other countries under the influence of communism. Decolonization was another factor for supporting South Vietnam ,as new countries were gaining their independence, US, china and Russia considered them to be their potential allies and whether they were eligible for support or not depended on their government. Since South Vietnam was a non communist state it was obvious that US would support it.


United States decides to support Ngo Dinh Diem - HISTORY

The Diem – Bao Dai referendum of October 23, 1955 has been the subject of various previous Embassy reports. 2 The intent of this despatch is to complete the story by giving further details of the government’s anti- Bao Dai campaign, describing the actual conduct of the voting and pointing to some of the conclusions which might be drawn from the results.

Government Preparations for the Referendum

The Ministries of Interior and Information played the major roles in preparing the people of Free Vietnam for the referendum. A referendum committee led by representatives of these two ministries and including a number of political groups took charge of all information and propaganda activities. The political groups on the committee included such government parties as the Association of Functionaries of the National Revolution, the National Revolutionary Movement, the Association for National Restoration (Cao Daist) and the Movement of Struggle for Freedom. The committee carried on the following activities: 1) sent cadres to virtually every house in Saigon, Cholon and all other principal cities on October 16, 22, and 23 to urge the people to be sure to vote and, of course, to vote for Diem 2) organized meetings in villages and remote country areas to explain the referendum to the people 3) sent radio cars and film production teams to various village areas to show films on election procedures, 4) sent mobile voting groups to remote areas and hospitals on election day 5) made provisions to change railway time tables where necessary on October 23 to give travelers time to vote.

A most intensive propaganda and educational campaign was carried on in Saigon and other cities with the double objective of whipping up hatred of Bao Dai and of urging all citizens to vote. The government radio devoted hours of broadcasts daily to the referendum radio cars roamed the streets broadcasting Diem propaganda and exhortations to vote millions of leaflets, pamphlets, posters and banderoles covered walls, buildings, taxis, and buses dummies of Bao Dai hung on practically every street corner and public square. The most popular dummy caricatured Bao Dai carrying a bag of money on his shoulders, a pack of cards in his hands and pictures of naked women in his pockets. In the square before the central market in the heart of Saigon an enormous twenty foot high dummy of Bao Dai was put up depicting him in his yellow royal robes, carrying money bags and playing cards in one hand, a broken dragon scepter in the other, a woman on his knees. Behind him was a Vietnamese, representing the common people, breaking Bao Dai ’s throne with a long pole.

The posters and leaflets which covered all the population centers in Free Vietnam were of two kinds—those intended to show the people how to vote and those intended to inflame them against Bao Dai . An excellently done poster which described in easily understood cartoons each step in the voting procedure was the best example of the first type. The number and variety of anti- Bao Dai and pro- Diem leaflets and posters was virtually limitless. A random sampling of the slogans they contained follows: 1) Beware of the evil king Bao Dai ’s preference for gambling, women, wine, milk and butter. Those who vote for him betray their country. 2) Bao Dai , puppet king selling his country. 3) To depose Bao Dai is to save Vietnam. 4) Bao Dai , master keeper of gambling dens and brothels. 5) Bao Dai , head traitor. 6) Drawings of Bao Dai offering a map of Vietnam to colonialists in return for millions of piasters of Bao Dai receiving money from Binh Xuyen of Bao Dai embracing French women of Bao Dai on a leash held by a Frenchman of Bao Dai with his foot on the neck of a Vietnamese. 7) Revolutionary Ngo Dinh Diem , hero of the people. 8) Ngo Dinh Diem , savior of the people. 9) Let us vote for Diem to build a democratic society. 10) Ngo Dinh Diem , father of all children. 11) Not to go to the polls is a crime toward the fatherland.

Conduct of the Referendum

The conduct of the referendum was observed by Embassy, USOM , and USIS officials in various parts of the country. Their reports unanimously agreed that the referendum was conducted in compliance with the procedures laid down in the government proclamation outlining the method of voting. This was also the view expressed by representatives of the British, French, and Australian missions [Page 591] in Saigon. The secrecy of the ballot was everywhere respected, and no evidence was found of fraud or direct intimidation. The usual procedure was for the voter to present his census registration card as proof of eligibility to vote, pick up a ballot and envelope, enter a curtained voting booth, place the closed envelope in the ballot box and finally have his registration card stamped to show that he had voted.

Some sidelights in connection with the voting may be of interest: 1) Groups of students went from house to house in Saigon early in the morning of October 23 reminding people to vote. 2) There were large crowds at all the polling booths when they opened at 7:00 a.m. By 9:00 a.m. most of the booths in Saigon, unprepared for the early rush, had temporarily run out of ballots. Two-thirds of the vote was in by 10:00 a.m., although the polls did not close until 5:00 p.m. The great majority of polling places were efficiently organized and voting was expeditiously carried out. In some instances, however, one narrow door served as both entrance and exit. In these cases, to avoid the crush many voters climbed out of windows after depositing their ballots. 3) Ballots contained pictures of both Diem and Bao Dai , with a dotted line between them to facilitate separation by the voters. At many booths, those in charge of the voting separated the pictures in advance and handed both pictures to the voters along with an envelope. This was theoretically done to speed up the voting. However, it was noted that care was taken in every instance to see to it that Diem ’s picture was on top when the voters received the two pictures. 4) No mention was made in the voting regulations about absentee voting. Some polling places insisted on the physical presence of every voter, while others permitted one individual to vote for others as long as he was able to present their census registration cards as proof of eligibility. 5) After placing the picture of one candidate in the envelope, nearly all the voters simply dropped the other picture on the floor. The floors of polling places soon grew inches thick with discarded Bao Dai pictures, with no Diem pictures to be seen. This sight undoubtedly had its psychological effect on any undecided voters. No attempts were made by officials, however, to observe what picture the voter discarded or whether he discarded any at all. 6) As each voter deposited his ballot, a badge was pinned on his shoulder carrying the legend “I have done my duty as a citizen” as a reminder to those who had not yet voted.

Significance of the Result

The official result of the referendum was announced by Minister of the Interior Bui Van Thinh in a statement made at Saigon City Hall on the morning of October 26. The final voting figures were: Diem —5,721,735 (98.2%) Bao Dai —63,017 (1.1%) invalid—44,155 (.7%) number of eligible voters not participating—131,395 (2.2%). Bui Van Thinh’s statement announcing the result is attached as Enclosure [Page 592] 1 to this despatch. 3 The text of the speech made by Ngo Dinh Diem at Saigon City Hall acknowledging the result of the referendum and proclaiming the state of Vietnam to be a republic is attached as Enclosure 2. 4

The result of the referendum is difficult to assess with any degree of confidence because of the questions raised in the minds of impartial observers by the overwhelming vote for Diem and especially by the enormous percentage (97.8%) voting of those eligible. A sweeping Diem victory was anticipated, but that virtually every citizen south of the 17th parallel would vote for Diem was not anticipated. Given the high rate of illiteracy, the hundreds of tiny villages without communication facilities and the inevitable factors of ignorance, apathy, and illness, it is difficult to believe that nearly 98% of the eligible population actually cast votes. Other factors working against a virtually unanimous turnout were the instructions issued by various anti-government sect leaders telling their members to abstain from participation in the referendum and the presumed efforts of Vietminh cadres in the South—in line with communist broadcasts from Hanoi—to persuade villagers under their influence to abstain from voting.

A further element of uncertainty is the fact that statistics in Vietnam are notoriously unreliable. The figures of the recent census, which determined the total number of eligible voters, may themselves be questioned in light of the lack of security prevailing in some areas during the census, the feebleness or lack of Government authority in other regions, and the limited machinery available to the Government in carrying out the census.

However, it is by no means impossible that the results announced by the government were approximately correct. The electoral campaign was completely one-sided. No support for Bao Dai or opposition to Diem was permitted, while the government carried out a most intensive and efficient propaganda campaign for Diem and against Bao Dai . There was a genuine upsurge of national pride at this first opportunity to express the people’s will at the polls, accompanied by a desire on the part of the individual citizen to play a personal role on a historical occasion by casting his ballot. Also helping to swell the vote totals was the widespread fear that failure to vote might mean future difficulties—that an individual who could not produce a registration card stamped to show that he had voted in the referendum might be singled out by the government at some future time for reprisals. All of these factors undoubtedly helped to contribute to the enormous turnout of voters.

Anti- Diem nationalist elements, whose most vocal spokesman is the clandestine Dai Viet Radio, refused to credit the official referendum results announced by the government. The Dai Viet radio made the following allegations of fraud: 1) The government had the ballots printed in different colors—red for Diem , blue for Bao Dai 5 —so that its agents could easily spot a discarded Diem ballot. This tended to intimidate those who might have voted for Bao Dai . 2) The vote counters, who were supposed to be picked at random from the crowd, were all Diem agents who were chosen by prearranged signals. These agents manipulated the voting results as they pleased. 3) Police and security agents received instructions to vote one hundred times each. All of these allegations are unsupported by evidence. Despite a widespread feeling of skepticism among foreign observers about the near unanimity of the vote, no solid evidence has yet turned up to substantiate charges of fraud.

On the assumption that the announced voting figures are reasonably accurate, they seem to call for a revision of heretofore accepted estimates of the political strength of the Vietminh in South Vietnam. It might be argued that the Vietminh deliberately refrained from attempting either to interfere with the conduct of the referendum or to reduce the margin of Diem ’s victory on the ground that Diem ’s triumph was a foregone conclusion. It seems more logical to assume, however, that the Vietminh cadres in the South would have wished to weaken and discredit Diem . Reports that the Vietminh campaigned for Bao Dai have not been substantiated, but it is known that the Vietminh radio in Hanoi repeatedly urged the populace in the South to abstain from voting, and it may be assumed that the Vietminh cadres in the South bent their efforts in that direction. In this they failed utterly, and Diem emerged from the referendum with enhanced prestige and a solid vote upon which he could base his claim for backing in carrying out his uncompromising anti-communist policies and his domestic program. Another result of the referendum was to bury Bao Dai so completely under a landslide of votes that it is difficult to see how either his remaining handful of supporters or the Vietminh could or would want to use him as a basis for anti- Diem moves in the future.

It should not be assumed, however, that Diem ’s overwhelming victory over Bao Dai is a true measure of his popularity in Vietnam. It must be remembered that the referendum was in one sense a travesty on democratic procedures, since the Diem forces maintained absolute control over all avenues of propaganda and did not permit the opposition to make its case. Furthermore, the referendum questions were so designed that in order to depose Bao Dai it was necessary to [Page 594] vote affirmatively for Diem . Voters who wished to depose Bao Dai without voting for Diem had no way of registering such a vote.

It remains to be seen, therefore, how a Diem -backed slate of candidates will fare in a truly democratic election, in which the opposition is free to oppose and the voters are free to vote for whomever they please. Diem has repeatedly said that he wishes to hold such an election, and it may be assumed that his resounding triumph in the referendum will add strength to his desire. As the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, he is now more firmly in the saddle than ever before.


Misalliance

Edward Miller

Product Details

Publication Date: 04/15/2013

Related Subjects

In the annals of Vietnam War history, no figure has been more controversial than Ngo Dinh Diem. During the 1950s, U.S. leaders hailed Diem as &ldquothe miracle man of Southeast Asia&rdquo and funneled huge amounts of aid to his South Vietnamese government. But in 1963 Diem was ousted and assassinated in a coup endorsed by President John F. Kennedy. Diem&rsquos alliance with Washington has long been seen as a Cold War relationship gone bad, undone either by American arrogance or by Diem&rsquos stubbornness. In Misalliance, Edward Miller provides a convincing new explanation for Diem&rsquos downfall and the larger tragedy of South Vietnam.

For Diem and U.S. leaders, Miller argues, the alliance was more than just a joint effort to contain communism. It was also a means for each side to pursue its plans for nation building in South Vietnam. Miller&rsquos definitive portrait of Diem&mdashbased on extensive research in Vietnamese, French, and American archives&mdashdemonstrates that the South Vietnamese leader was neither Washington&rsquos pawn nor a tradition-bound mandarin. Rather, he was a shrewd and ruthless operator with his own vision for Vietnam&rsquos modernization. In 1963, allied clashes over development and reform, combined with rising internal resistance to Diem&rsquos nation building programs, fractured the alliance and changed the course of the Vietnam War.

In depicting the rise and fall of the U.S.&ndashDiem partnership, Misalliance shows how America&rsquos fate in Vietnam was written not only on the battlefield but also in Washington&rsquos dealings with its Vietnamese allies.

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The Fall of Diem

President Kennedy tried to impress upon President Diem the need for major government reforms in Saigon, but Diem ignored the warnings. In August, Diem declared martial law and his forces raided the pagodas of the Buddhist group behind the protests. Soon after, South Vietnamese military officers contacted US government representatives and inquired about what a US response would be to a military coup in Saigon. The officers assassinated Diem and overthrew his government in November 1963.

In August and October 1963, President Kennedy and his advisors had met several times to discuss the potential consequences of a coup in Vietnam and how the United States should react. The tapes reveal President Kennedy's reservations about US support for a military coup in South Vietnam. They document meetings the president held with State Department, White House, military, and intelligence advisors during the week after Cable 243 was sent.

The cable, which was dispatched on August 24, 1963 when President Kennedy and three of his top officials were away from Washington, set a course for the eventual coup in Vietnam on November 1, 1963, leading to the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his assassination the following day on November 2, 1963. Cable 243 has been described by historian John W. Newman as the "single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War."


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June 19, 1972: Dean Orders Falsified Documents Removed from Watergate Burglar’s Safe

White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971) pages from the Pentagon Papers memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]


MSU and Vietnam: A dark chapter of the school’s history

After World War II, the political world was split between Communists aligning with the Soviet Union and anti-Communists aligning with the United States. During the resulting Cold War, these two countries fought over influence in conflicts around the globe. For instance, the U.S. government attempted to bolster anti-Communist efforts in Vietnam by providing resources and support to the South Vietnamese government. This support eventually escalated into military intervention during the Vietnam War .

Michigan State University had an early but important role in Vietnam. From 1955 to 1962, a collection of professors, researchers and faculty members known as the Michigan State University Advisory Group (MSUAG) worked for the South Vietnamese government. That government the advisory group helped form eventually became increasingly corrupt and violent in the lead up to the Vietnam War.

Morrill Hall, Michigan State University, circa 1952

John Hannah meets Ngo Din Diem in 1953

John Hannah presents Ngo Dinh Diem with an honorary degree in 1957.

MSUAG and Vietnamese officials

Jeeps are presented to the South Vietnamese police force.

South Vietnamese soldier detaining suspected guerilla, 1963

The man who started it all

The relationship between MSU and Vietnam starts with one man: Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was a politician of sorts that served under the French-supported government in Vietnam for nearly two decades. However, Diem had his own ambitions for an anti-Communist Vietnam with him at the helm. In 1950, during the French Indochina War, Diem left Vietnam and started looking for foreign support.

While Diem was looking for allies abroad, he met Wesley Fishel, then a professor and researcher in Japan as part of MSU Extension . Fishel had worked in military intelligence for years, and bonded with Diem over their shared anti-Communist views.

Eric Scigliano, a freelance journalist and son of MSU advisory group member Robert Scigliano, says Diem’s views also resonated with the American political elite.

“Diem, who was very charming and outgoing, used his Catholicism and anti-Communism to open doors for him,” Scigliano said. “The Kennedys, cardinals, senators, all got to know Diem then.”

In 1953, Fishel brought Diem to Michigan State University, where he made an impression on then MSU president John Hannah. Hannah, a former assistant secretary of Defense under Eisenhower , said in a letter to Diem that he was eager to help with his vision of Vietnam.

“Michigan State College will be pleased to render any assistance that it can to your government,” Hannah wrote. “I am very grateful for your good wishes and extend to you Sir the best wishes of Michigan State College.”

Scigliano says that Hannah’s political ambitions for MSU kicked off this relationship with Diem.

“[Hannah] had connections in Washington, he was dedicated to the anti-communist cause, and he had a very expansive idea of the university’s mission,” Scigliano said. “His goal was not merely to educate, it was to advise and share [the university’s] knowledge more broadly.”

Charles Keith, a historian of Vietnam at MSU, says after the GI bill in 1944, universities across the country were scrambling to exert influence globally.

“This is a moment when leaders of important institutions like Michigan State believe that their mission involved taking their expertise overseas,” Keith said. “They imagined the world as a laboratory in a sense, where they could mold the world in America’s image.”

The relationship between MSU and Diem was so strong that he was hired as a consultant and eventually given an honorary degree from the school. Hannah, using his connections in the Eisenhower administration, lobbied for MSU to work on Diem’s new regime in South Vietnam.

In 1955, an agreement was reached between Michigan State University and Ngo Dinh Diem, then the president of South Vietnam. Through a grant from USAID , the MSU Advisory Group in Vietnam was formed. Over the next seven years, MSU faculty members provided Diem’s new South Vietnamese government with resources in civics, agriculture, policing and much more.

The MSUAG’s activities in Vietnam are documented in the MSU Vietnam Archive.

On the ground in South Vietnam

The Vietnam that MSU faculty came to in 1955 was literally divided. After the end of the French-Indochina War, Vietnam was split into two regions: The Communist North Vietnam led by the Viet Minh, and the pro-Western and anti-Communist South Vietnam led by Diem. Despite this, communist forces had pockets of influence in rural areas throughout the south.

Eric Scigliano describes growing up in Saigon while his father worked for the advisory group.

The MSU advisory group spent the bulk of the first year building up Diem’s new government. Together, they founded the National Institute of Administration in South Vietnam. There, MSU advisers trained government officials in basic civic functions like rooting out corruption and collecting census data.

In that first year, the MSU advisory group faced another challenge: Over 800,000 refugees from North Vietnam were fleeing persecution and running south. Keith says this presented a logistical problem for the advisory group.

“They were pressed into service. In many cases they weren’t fully trained in those issues and there wasn’t a systematic series of programs to deal with things like that,” Keith said.

The advisory group still helped with the refugee crisis. They advised Diem on where to resettle refugees and designed economic aid packages, but Diem largely ignored their advice. Scigliano says Diem saw the resettlement program as an opportunity to consolidate support.

“He strategically placed the Catholics around the country. A lot of them were being set up in new rural villages and earlier residents got displaced,” Scigliano said. “MSU people warned him that this was a bad idea, but this advice went unheeded.”

This would be a sign of how Diem worked with the MSU group in the coming years.

Policing South Vietnam

Possibly the biggest project of the MSUAG was their work to modernize South Vietnam’s police force. Working closely with the CIA, criminal justice experts from MSU trained the Saigon police force in everything from traffic enforcement to collecting fingerprints. But in another clash with the advisory group, Keith says Diem was more interested in the political possibilities of the police force than anything else.

“Diem was worried first and foremost about immediate threats to the regime and political challengers,” Keith said. “So he viewed a much more centralized police and security apparatus as essential to his political survival.”

Diem’s government already had a military force to root out the political opposition. The Civil Guard fought perceived Communist threats in the South like the Viet Minh, the National Liberation Front and eventually the Viet Cong.

While most MSU advisers urged Diem to keep the police out of politics, others were ambivalent or even supportive. In a letter, police adviser Arthur Brandstatter said he “never agreed with the position that the Americans should try to help develop a democratic police force under conditions of instability and insurgency.”

Over time, the CIA began exerting more influence on police operations in Saigon. Jeremy Kuzmarov, a professor of history that has written about the advisory group, says that some MSU advisers worked closely with the CIA to promote western political interests.

“Some of the MSU advisers were working with secret police elements that were focused on political policing,” Kuzmarov said. “They were designed to develop lists of subversives, to catalog them, and many were rounded up and they were often tortured.”

During an interview for an MSU oral history project , Brandstatter admitted to the possibility of unknowingly recruiting CIA agents for help in South Vietnam.

“They may have been undercover, I don’t know. They were represented to us and to me as officers who are from the military police,” Brandstatter said.

In a 1965 article in Ramparts magazine, Vietnam project supervisor Stanley Sheinbaum acknowledged that several MSU advisers had CIA ties.

Police adviser Arthur Brandstatter describes his role in the advisory group as part of MSU’s oral history project.

Meanwhile, Scigliano says a storm of frustration was brewing across South Vietnam. Buddhists that were displaced by the refugee program, so-called political subversives and growing Communist guerrilla groups began protesting against Diem, and he began cracking down.

“South Vietnam became more and more of a police state as there was more and more resistance to Diem’s rule,” Scigliano said.

The partnership dissolves

As the situation in South Vietnam worsened, Keith says faculty members remained optimistic about their impact in Saigon.

“I think a lot of them believed that the proper application of American knowledge and know-how would stabilize the situation in no time,” Keith said. “That proved not to be the case.”

Diem’s increasingly harsh measures and erratic behavior caught members of the advisory group off guard. In 1960, MSU adviser Robert Scigliano wrote an article in which he offered measured criticism of Diem’s handling of political opponents. That was the first of several critical articles from academics on the advisory group.

On top of that, Keith says, by 1962, the CIA and the U.S. military took on a larger role in operations in South Vietnam , displacing civilian and academic advisers.

“It’s clear that what the Diem regime wants and needs for its survival is more military-oriented aid,” Keith said. “So the MSU programs are really a drop in the bucket at that point.”

Frustrated with the criticisms from faculty and the scale of the programs, Diem chose to not renew the contract with MSU in 1962.

While members of the advisory group returned to Michigan State and more details of their work came to light, student groups like the Students for a Democratic Society began ramping up anti-war protests. In 1965, the muckraking magazine Rampart published “The University on the Make,” a salacious account of the program that shed an unflattering light on MSU.

Protests against the Vietnam War grew at universities across the country, but Keith says they were more potent at Michigan State because of the advisory group.

“It personalized the issue for a lot of protestors,” Keith said. “They could make a specific argument about the university having supported a regime that people perceived a client state of American imperialism.”

Over the next decade, anti-war groups targeted MSU professors that worked in South Vietnam, none more than Wesley Fishel. Fishel was harassed and picketed by student protestors for years, and posters reading “Wanted: Wesley Fishel for Exploitation, Racism, Murder,” were plastered across campus. Despite this, Fishel remained at MSU until his death in 1977.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, protests against Diem’s regime culminated in his assassination during a military coup in 1963. The instability and unrest that followed in Vietnam coincided with increased US military involvement and the Vietnam War.

MSU published the files on the MSUAG in the MSU Vietnam Group Archive during the late 1990’s. Charles Keith oversaw the digitization of the records in 2008 and says MSU has been nothing but cooperative. The archive, which has over 100,000 documents, letters, pictures and maps, is open to the public on MSU’s campus and online . Researchers , historians and journalists frequently cite them when chronicling this chapter of MSU’s history.

Keith says that the fallout from the MSUAG’s work in Vietnam changed the school’s priorities on foreign aid and research. Specifically, he says MSU’s extensive work in African agriculture and education, which began in the late ‘60s, is based in research as opposed to politics.

“MSU is a leader in the relationships between American institutions of higher education and Africa,” Keith said. “Vietnam had something to do with that MSU burnt its fingers a little bit in Asia.”

According to MSU’s African Studies Center , the school’s work in Africa is community and aid-oriented. Some of the program’s priorities include supporting experts, teaching African languages and disseminating information to the public.

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GBH Openvault

Brother of Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Luyen was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom. Ngo Dinh Luyen recounts why Bao Dai chose Ngo Dinh Diem to be the first president of South Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Luyen describes the panic in South Vietnam around August 1954 due to the advancing Communist forces. He talks about United States politics in regards to Vietnam, and that while it was driven by good intentions, in the beginning, the United States did not do anything different from the French. Ngo Dinh Luyen also talks about the 1963 coup and that he does not know who was responsible but suggests that it may have been helped by the Americans.

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Interview with Ngo Dinh Luyen

This 13 part series covers the history of Vietnam from France's colonial control, through the 1945 revolution, to the 1975 U.S. evacuation from Saigon and the years beyond. The series' objective approach permits viewers to form their own conclusions about the war. 101--Roots of a War--Despite cordial relations between American intelligence officers and Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the turbulent closing months of World War II, French and British hostility to the Vietnamese revolution laid the groundwork for a new war. 102--The First Vietnam War (1946-1954)--The French generals expected to defeat Ho's rag-tag Vietminh guerrillas easily, but after eight years of fighting and $2.5 billion in U.S. aid, the French lost a crucial battle at Dienbienphu--and with it, their Asian empire. 103--America's Mandarin (1954-1963)--To stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam--supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinyh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon. 104--LBJ Goes to War (1964-1965)--With Ho Chi Minh determined to reunite Vietnam, Lyndon Baines Johnson determined to prevent it, and South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, the stage was set for massive escalation of the undeclared Vietnam War. 105--America Takes Charge (1965-1967)--In two years, the Johnson Administration's troop build-up dispatched 1.5 million Americans to Vietnam to fight a war they found baffling, tedious, exciting, deadly and unforgettable. 106--America's Enemy (1954-1967)--The Vietnam War as seen from different perspectives: by Vietcong guerrillas and sympathizers by North Vietnamese leaders by rank and file and by American held prisoner in Hanoi. 107--Tet (1968)--The massive enemy offensive at the Lunar New Year decimated the Vietcong and failed to topple the Saigon government, but led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal. 108--Vietnamizing the War (1968-1973)--President Nixon's program of troop pull-outs, stepped-up bombing and huge arms shipments to Saigon changed the war, and left GI's wondering which of them would be the last to die in Vietnam. 109--Cambodia and Laos--Despite technical neutrality, both of Vietnam's smaller neighbors were drawn into the war, suffered massive bombing, and in the case of Cambodia, endured a post-war holocaust of nightmare proportions. 110--Peace is at Hand (1968-1973)--While American and Vietnamese continued to clash in battle, diplomats in Paris argued about making peace, after more than four years reaching an accord that proved to be a preface to further bloodshed. 111--Homefront USA--Americans at home divide over a distant war, clashing in the streets as demonstrations lead to bloodshed, bitterness and increasing doubts about the outcome. 112--The End of the Tunnel (1973-1975)--Through troubled years of controversy and violence, U.S. casualties mounted, victory remained elusive and American opinion moved from general approval to general dissatisfaction with the Vietnam war. 113--Legacies--Vietnam is in the Soviet orbit, poorer than ever, at war on two fronts America's legacy includes more than one half million Asian refugees, one half million Vietnam veterans and some questions that won't go away. Series release date: 9/1983

To stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam--supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinyh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon.

No materials may be re-used without references to appearance releases and WGBH/UMass Boston contract. 2) It is the liability of a production to investigate and re-clear all rights before re-use in any project. Rights Holder: WGBH Educational Foundation


United States decides to support Ngo Dinh Diem - HISTORY

JFK and the Diem Coup

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 101

Posted - November 5, 2003

JFK TAPE DETAILS HIGH-LEVEL VIETNAM COUP PLOTTING IN 1963

DOCUMENTS SHOW NO THOUGHT OF DIEM ASSASSINATION

U.S. OVERESTIMATED INFLUENCE ON SAIGON GENERALS.


Washington D.C., November 5, 2003 - A White House tape of President Kennedy and his advisers, published this week in a new book-and-CD collection and excerpted on the Web, confirms that top U.S. officials sought the November 1, 1963 coup against then-South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem without apparently considering the physical consequences for Diem personally (he was murdered the following day). The taped meeting and related documents show that U.S. officials, including JFK, vastly overestimated their ability to control the South Vietnamese generals who ran the coup 40 years ago this week.

The Kennedy tape from October 29, 1963 captures the highest-level White House meeting immediately prior to the coup, including the President's brother voicing doubts about the policy of support for a coup: "I mean, it's different from a coup in the Iraq or South American country we are so intimately involved in this…." National Security Archive senior fellow John Prados provides a full transcript of the meeting, together with the audio on CD, in his new book-and-CD publication, The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (New York: The New Press, 2003, 331 pp. + 8 CDs, ISBN 1-56584-852-7), just published this week and featuring audio files from 8 presidents, from Roosevelt to Reagan.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Diem coup, a critical turning point in the Vietnam war, Dr. Prados also compiled and annotated for the Web a selection of recently declassified documents from the forthcoming documentary publication, U.S. Policy in the Vietnam War, to be published in spring 2004 by the National Security Archive and ProQuest Information and Learning. Together with the Kennedy tape from October 29, 1963, the documents show that American leaders discussed not only whether to support a successor government, but also the distribution of pro- and anti-coup forces, U.S. actions that could be taken that would contribute to a coup, and calling off a coup if its prospects were not good.

"Supporting the Diem coup made the U.S. responsible for the outcome in South Vietnam in exactly the way Bobby Kennedy feared on October 29," said Dr. Prados. "Ironically, though, as the conversation continued, he and the other doubters abandoned these larger considerations and concentrated only on whether a coup would succeed - nothing else mattered."

The posting today also includes the transcript of Diem's last phone call to U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, inquiring "what the attitude of the U.S. is" towards the coup then underway Lodge dissembled that he was not "well enough informed at this time to be able to tell you."

By 1963, about mid-way through America's involvement in the wars of Vietnam, the policymakers of the Kennedy administration felt trapped between the horns of a dilemma. South Vietnam, the part of the former state of Vietnam which the United States supported, remained in the throes of a civil war between the anti-communist government the U.S. favored and communist guerrillas backed by North Vietnam. Government forces could not seem to get a handle on how to cope with the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, as the communist movement was known. American military and intelligence agencies disputed progress in the war. While denying journalists' observations that the United States was slipping into a quagmire in Vietnam, the Kennedy administration was privately well aware of the problems in the war and tried measures of all kinds to energize the South Vietnamese effort.

One big problem was in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, with the South Vietnamese government itself. Plagued by corruption, political intrigues, and constant internal squabbling, the South Vietnamese were often at loggerheads. With the Americans, whose interest lay in combating the National Liberation Front guerrillas, the South Vietnamese promised cooperation but often delivered very little. There were other difficulties rooted in the way the South Vietnamese government had been created originally, and the way the U.S. had helped organize the South Vietnamese army in the 1950s, but these factors would not be directly relevant to the events of 1963. (Note 1)

The Saigon government was headed by President Ngo Dinh Diem, an autocratic, nepotistic ruler who valued power more than either his relations with the Vietnamese people or progress in fighting the communists. Diem had originally come to power by legal means, appointed prime minister of the government that had existed in 1954, and he had then consolidated power through a series of military coups, quasi-coups, a government reorganization, a referendum on his leadership, and finally a couple of staged presidential elections. Diem styled South Vietnam a republic and held the title president, but he had banned political parties other than his own and he refused to permit a legal opposition. From 1954 onwards the Americans had been urging political reforms upon Diem, who repeatedly promised that reforms would be made but never enacted any.

The autocratic style of Diem's leadership was not lost upon the South Vietnamese, who were less and less enamored of the Saigon leader. A major military coup against Diem had occurred in November 1960, which he had survived only due to divisions among the military leadership. Diem exploited these to play factions off against each other and thus secure his own political survival. In February 1962 disgruntled air force pilots had bombed the presidential palace in hopes of killing Diem and forcing new leadership, but that too did not work, as Diem at that moment had been in a different part of the palace to the one that was attacked. Diem reassigned military officers to improve his security but again neglected to undertake political reforms. (Note 2)

The Kennedy administration between 1961 and 1963 repeatedly increased the levels of its military aid to Saigon, funding growth in the Vietnamese armed forces. The U.S. military, and American military intelligence, focused on the improvements in the ratio of troop strength between the government and guerrillas that followed from force increases and argued the war was successful. Diplomats and aid officials were more pessimistic. The CIA, ordered to make an intelligence assessment in the spring of 1963, permitted their view to be swayed by the military and produced a national intelligence estimate that downplayed Diem's political weaknesses. President Kennedy heard warnings from his State Department officials and a rosy picture from the military, and felt reassured by the CIA estimate. (Note 3)

White House impressions were shattered beginning on May 8, when South Vietnamese security forces acting under the orders of one of Ngo Dinh Diem's brothers, fired into a crowd of Buddhist religious marchers celebrating the Buddha's 2,527th birthday. The rationale for the breakup of this march was no more serious than that the Buddhists had ignored a government edict against flying flags other than the South Vietnamese state flag. Another of Diem's brothers, the Roman Catholic archbishop for this same area of South Vietnam had flown flags with impunity just weeks before when celebrating his own promotion within the Church the Buddhists may have been encour-aged by that act to think their own actions would be permitted as well. Suppression of this Buddhist march in the ancient Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue led to a political crisis, the "Buddhist crisis," that ignited Saigon throughout the summer and fall of 1963. (Note 4)

The two brothers of Diem implicated in the Hue suppression were not even the Saigon leader's main problem. Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu sat in the presidential palace as private counselor, manipulator, emissary, and puppetmaster of the Saigon government. Even more than Diem himself Nhu was regarded widely in South Vietnam as a menace, directing Diem's political party, some of his intelligence services, and Special Forces created under one of the American-sponsored aid programs. Nhu took a very negative view of the Buddhist troubles. President Diem's response to the Buddhist crisis, once he passed beyond denying that anything was happening, was to promise political and religious reforms, and negotiations for a modus vivendi with the Buddhists were carried out in Saigon. Nhu, however, encouraged the South Vietnamese leader to renege on the agreement and, once again, Diem failed to enact any of the political concessions that had been agreed.

Buddhist religious demonstrations came to Saigon in late May and soon became almost daily events. On June 11 the protests attained a new level of intensity after a bonze publicly immolated himself at a busy Saigon street intersection as the climax of a demonstration. Photographs of the scene startled the world, and made the Buddhist troubles a political issue in the United States for President Kennedy, who faced a tough problem in continuing economic and military aid to a government so clearly violating the human rights of its people. The CIA put out an addendum to its previous national intelligence estimate revising its assessment of Diem's political prospects, and State Department intelligence circulated a report predicting major trouble in Saigon. (Note 5)

President Diem's worsening situation led him to declare martial law in August 1963, and on August 21 Ngo Dinh Nhu used the martial law authority to carry out major raids on the largest pagodas of the Buddhist group behind the protests. Nhu conducted the raids in such a way as to suggest that South Vietnamese military commanders were behind them, and used troops funded by the United States through the CIA to carry out the raids. Within days of the raids, South Vietnamese military officers were approaching Americans to inquire as to what the U.S. response might be to a military coup in Saigon. (Note 6)

This situation forms the background to the selection of documents included in this briefing book. The documents frame those meetings and major instructions in which President Kennedy was directly involved in considerations of a coup in Saigon. There were two main periods during which these deliberations took place, August and October 1963. The first sequence followed quickly on the pagoda raids, the second occurred once the South Vietnamese generals initiated a new round of coup preparations. The documents here consist primarily of records of meetings or key cabled instructions or reports pertinent to the coup, which would eventually take place on November 1, 1963. (Note 7)

There were two major episodes where the American involvement in these Vietnamese political events would be the most intense, although the U.S. remained heavily engaged in Vietnam throughout. We have for the most part selected documents that reflect high level action by the United States government-meetings with President Kennedy and his chief lieutenants. Our document selections reflect these intense sequences, but they are drawn from a much larger set of materials in the National Security Archive's U.S. Policy in the Vietnam War, Part I: 1954-1968. The first period of intense activity occurred in August 1963, when South Vietnamese military officers initially planned to secure American support for their coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. This period included an incident that became very well-known in U.S. government circles, in which State Department official Roger Hilsman originated a cable giving the South Vietnamese generals the green light for a coup against Diem (Document 2). Much of the succeeding U.S. activity revolved upon making it seem that policy had been rescinded without in fact changing it. The second high point came in October 1963, when final preparations were made for the coup that was carried out.

In the wake of the coup against Diem and the assassination of the Saigon leader and his brother, many observers have wrestled with the question of President Kennedy's involvement in the murders. In 1975 the Church Committee investigating CIA assassination programs investigated the Diem coup as one of its cases. (Note 8) Kennedy loyalists and administration participants have argued that the President had nothing to do with the murders, while some have charged Kennedy with, in effect, conspiring to kill Diem. When the coup did begin the security precautions taken by the South Vietnamese generals included giving the U.S. embassy only four minutes warning, and then cutting off telephone service to the American military advisory group. Washington's information was partial as a result, and continued so through November 2, the day Diem died. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recounts that Kennedy was meeting with his senior advisers about Vietnam on the morning of November 2 (see Document 25) when NSC staff aide Michael V. Forrestal entered the Cabinet Room holding a cable (Document 24 provides the same information) reporting the death. (Note 9) Both McNamara and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a participant as White House historian, record that President Kennedy blanched at the news and was shocked at the murder of Diem. (Note 10) Historian Howard Jones notes that CIA director John McCone and his subordinates were amazed that Kennedy should be shocked at the deaths, given how unpredictable were coups d'etat. (Note 11)

Records of the Kennedy national security meetings, both here and in our larger collection, show that none of JFK's conversations about a coup in Saigon featured consideration of what might physically happen to Ngo Dinh Diem or Ngo Dinh Nhu. The audio record of the October 29th meeting which we cite below also reveals no discussion of this issue. That meeting, the last held at the White House to consider a coup before this actually took place, would have been the key moment for such a conversation. The conclusion of the Church Committee agrees that Washington gave no consideration to killing Diem. (Note 12) The weight of evidence therefore supports the view that President Kennedy did not conspire in the death of Diem. However, there is also the exceedingly strange transcript of Diem's final phone conversation with Ambassador Lodge on the afternoon of the coup (Document 23), which carries the distinct impression that Diem is being abandoned by the U.S. Whether this represents Lodge's contribution, or JFK's wishes, is not apparent from the evidence available today.

A second charge has to do with Kennedy administration denials that it had had anything to do with the coup itself. The documentary record is replete with evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the U.S. response might be, by withdrawing U.S. aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally. In addition, at several of his meetings (Documents 7, 19, 22) Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning Document 17).

The ultimate effect of United States participation in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem was to commit Washington to Saigon even more deeply. Having had a hand in the coup America had more responsibility for the South Vietnamese governments that followed Diem. That these military juntas were ineffectual in prosecuting the Vietnam war then required successively greater levels of involvement from the American side. The weakness of the Saigon government thus became a factor in U.S. escalations of the Vietnam war, leading to the major ground war that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson opened in 1965.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

DOCUMENT 1
DCI Briefing, July 9, 1963

SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library: John F. Kennedy Papers (Hereafter JFKL: JFKP): National Security File: Country File, box 51, folder: Cuba: Subjects, Intelligence Material.

This document shows that Director of Central Intelligence John A. McCone briefed President Kennedy within twenty-four hours after a South Vietnamese general first approached CIA officer Lucien Conein. At the time multiple different plots were anticipated, at least one of which might become active the following day (the Tuyen plot referred to aborted, Tran Kim Tuyen was sent out of the country as ambassador to Egypt). The CIA also here recognizes the political significance of the Buddhist issue in South Vietnam.

DOCUMENT 2
State-Saigon Cable 243, August 24, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Meetings & Memoranda series, box 316, folder: Meetings on Vietnam 8/24/63-8/31/63

This is the notorious "Hilsman Cable," drafted by Assistant Secretary of state For Far Eastern Affairs Roger A. Hilsman in response to a repeated contact between General Don and Conein on August 23. The U.S. government position generally supported action to unseat Ngo Dinh Nhu and if Diem's departure were necessary to reach that goal, so be it. Hilsman's stronger formulation of that position in this cable was drafted while President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and CIA director McCone were all out of town. Though the cable had the proper concurrences by their deputies or staff, the principals were converted by officials who opposed the Hilsman pro-coup policy. Much of the rest of August 1963 was taken up by the U.S. government trying to take back the coup support expressed in this cable while, out of concern for the U.S. image with the South Vietnamese generals, without seeming to do so.

DOCUMENT 3
Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 26, 1963, Noon

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country Series, box 4, folder: Vietnam: White House Meetings 8/26/63-8/29/63, State Memcons

The first of a series of records of meetings in which President John F. Kennedy and his lieutenants consider the implications of a coup and the difficulties of bringing off a successful one.

DOCUMENT 4
Memorandum for the President, August 27, 1963

SOURCE JFKL: John Newman Papers, Notebook, August 24-31, 1963.

National Security Council staffer Michael V. Forrestal sends a memo to President Kennedy advising on what he may expect to hear at the meeting on Vietnam policy scheduled for that afternoon.

DOCUMENT 5
Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 27, 1963, 4:00PM

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country Series, box 4, folder: Vietnam: White House Meetings 8/26/63-8/29/63, State Memcons

President Kennedy continues his consideration of a policy of support for a coup in Saigon, this time with the participation of recently-returned ambassador to Saigon Frederick C. Nolting. The former ambassador opposes any coup in Saigon but frankly admits that the prospects for a coup depend upon the U.S. attitude. Secretary Rusk argues that Nolting's recommendations are inadequate. Kennedy orders Assistant Secretary Hilsman to prepare a study of the contingency options. This is the State Department record of the meeting.

DOCUMENT 6
Memorandum of Conference with the President, August 27, 1963, 4:00 PM

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File, Meetings & Memoranda series, box 316, folder: Meetings on Vietnam 8/24/63-8/31/63

A different record of the same Vietnam policy meeting, one compiled by the National Security Council (NSC) staff, reports more fully on comments by CIA's William Colby, Secretary McNamara, Roger Hilsman, McGeorge Bundy and others.

DOCUMENT 7
Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 28, 1963, Noon

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country Series, box 4, folder: Vietnam: White House Meetings 8/26/63-8/29/63, State Department Memcons

State Department record of the meeting on Vietnam policy, notes continued opposition by former ambassador Nolting, interventions by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Deputy Secretary of State W. Averell Harriman, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon, and others. There is discussion of the status of coup forces as well as U.S. military moves. The meeting ends with an understanding the White House will re-establish a policy-making body along the lines of the "Executive Committee" created during the Cuban Missile Crisis and that it shall meet daily. (Another, NSC staff, record of this meeting with additional detail is available in Foreign Relations of the United States 1961-1963, v.4, pp. 1-9, ed. John P. Glennon, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1991.) The importance of the Vietnam issue is further highlighted by the fact that President Kennedy is taking the time to hold two of these policy sessions on the same day as the massive March on Washington for civil rights by African-Americans and others.

DOCUMENT 8
Central Intelligence Agency, Current Intelligence Memorandum (OCI 2703/63), "Cast of Characters in South Vietnam," August 28, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 201, folder: Vietnam: General, CIA Reports 11/3/63-11/5/63 [An August document filed with November materials]

The front page of this intelligence memorandum contains notes by McGeorge Bundy on his impressions of the discussion at the White House meeting that day at noon. The memorandum itself is a useful rundown on the various South Vietnamese persons involved in the coup plots and counterplots.

DOCUMENT 9
Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 28, 1963, 6:00 PM

SOURCE: JFKL: John Newman Papers, Notebook, August 1963

In a brief meeting following President Kennedy's encounter with the civil rights leaders who had led the March on Washington (see the recording of that meeting and its transcript, available in John Prados, ed. The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President. New York: The New Press, 2003, pp. 69-92 and Disc 2), the President declares that a series of personal messages from him to U.S. officials in Saigon will be designed to elicit their views on a coup and a general cable will furnish fresh directives.

DOCUMENT 10
Memorandum of Conference with the President, August 29, 1963, 1200 Noon

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Meetings & Memoranda series, box 316, folder: Meetings on Vietnam, 8/24/63-8/31/63

Policy review of the latest issues in the coup plotting in South Vietnam, where President Kennedy asks for disagreements with the course of action the U.S. is following. Secretary McNamara recommends the U.S. disassociate itself from the South Vietnamese military's coup plans, with some support from other officials, particularly Ambassador Nolting. All agree that Diem will have to get rid of Nhu, however. The President is told that American official Rufus D. Phillips, a former CIA officer, has been ordered to inform the South Vietnamese generals that Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge is behind the contacts which CIA officers are having with them. Kennedy issues instructions, then breaks up for a smaller meeting in the Oval Office.

DOCUMENT 11
Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 29, 1963, 12:00 Noon

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers: Country Series, box 4, folder: Vietnam: White House Meetings 8/26/63-8/29/63, State Department Memcons

President Kennedy explores the possibility of "an approach to Diem" on reforms and getting rid of Ngo Dinh Nhu. However, Secretary Rusk reports that both the U.S. ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, and the military advisory group leader, General Paul D. Harkins, are on record agreeing that the war cannot be won with a Diem-Nhu combination at the head of the Saigon government. This is a different version of the meeting described in Document 10.

DOCUMENT 12
State-Saigon Cable 272, August 29, 1963

SORUCE: Lyndon B. Johnson Library: Lyndon B. Johnson Papers: National Security File: Country File Vietnam Addendum, box 263 (temporary), folder: Hilsman, Roger (Diem)

These are the instructions adopted by President Kennedy at the White House meetings on this date. They are carefully drawn to associate the United States with moves to oust Ngo Dinh Nhu from the South Vietnamese government, notes that "a last approach to Diem remains undecided," and that the U.S. will not engage in joint coup planning though it will support a coup "that has a good chance of succeeding."

DOCUMENT 13
National Security Council Staff-State Department Draft, Michael Forrestal and Roger Hilsman, "Suggested Draft of Presidential Letter Adapted to Phase I of the Plan," September 12, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country File, box 4, folder: Vietnam, September 11-20, 1963 (2)

President Kennedy's instructions in late August to Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger Hilsman led to a two-phase plan to put pressure on Diem for reforms and to dispense with his brother Nhu. Hilsman prepared such a plan, which included evacuation of Americans and terminating aid parts of the South Vietnamese military. This plan was at the center of U.S. discussions throughout much of September, but in the middle of it Kennedy privately had Hilsman prepare a letter to Diem with the help of Michael Forrestal of the NSC staff designed to ask Diem to make reforms, while simultaneously reassuring the Saigon leader and warning him that the U.S. would take actions (according to the Hilsman pressure plan) "which make it clear that American ccoperation and American assistance will not be given to or through individuals whose acts and words seem to run against the purpose of genuine national reconciliation and unified national effort." This was a reference to Ngo Dinh Nhu. The annotations in this draft are Roger Hilsman's.

DOCUMENT 14
State Department-National Security Council Staff Draft, Roger Hilsman-Michael Forrestal, Potential Kennedy-Diem Letter, September 12, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Meetings & Memoranda, box 316, folder: Meetings on Vietnam, September 11-12, 1963

This is a clean copy of the final draft of the letter included as Document 13. President Kennedy brought up the letter at a national security meeting in the evening of September 11, asking if one had been prepared as he had previously suggested. National security adviser McGeorge Bundy tried to dissuade Kennedy from the letter idea. The letter was prepared, however, but ultimately rejected as too awkward and indirect (trying to get rid of Nhu without mentioning him by name, for example). Instead President Kennedy decided to send Robert McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor on a survey trip to South Vietnam, where they could speak to Diem privately, as well as evaluate prospects for a coup on the ground. That trip took place at the end of September. Diem proved unresponsive. Kennedy turned back to his pressure program.

DOCUMENT 15
Central Intelligence Agency, Untitled Draft, October 8, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: President's Office File, Departments and Agencies series, box 72, folder: CIA, 1963.

Ngo Dinh Nhu struck back at his American enemies by using newspapers he controlled in Saigon to reveal the name of the CIA station chief in Saigon, John Richardson, claim there were divisions between Ambassador Lodge and the CIA station, and that the CIA was responsible for adverse developments in South Vietnam since the Pagoda Raids of August. Much of this was then picked up and reported in the press in the United States. John Kennedy had scheduled a press conference for October 9 and in this briefing note the CIA tried to prepare him for questions that might be asked. Kennedy was indeed asked about the CIA in Saigon at that news conference, and he replied, "I can find nothing . . . to indicate that the CIA has done anything but support policy. It does not create policy, it attempts to execute it in those areas where it has competence and responsibility." The president described John Richardson as "a very dedicated public servant." Clearly JFK kept very close to his CIA briefing note.

DOCUMENT 16
Department of State, "Successor Heads of Government," October 25, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country File, box 4, folder: Vietnam, 10/6/63-10/31/63

Joseph A. Mendenhall, of the Far East Bureau of the State Department, who had recently completed a survey mission to South Vietnam at President Kennedy's request, supplies a list of possible Vietnamese figures to head a successor government in Saigon. Note that the list assumes a civilian government and includes none of the military men who eventually constituted the junta that replaced Diem.

DOCUMENT 17
Department of State, "Check-List of Possible U.S. Actions in Case of Coup," October 25, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: Roger Hilsman Papers, Country File, box 4, folder: Vietnam 10/6/63-10/31/63

Mendenhall also compiles a set of options the Kennedy administration can take in support of a coup aimed at the Diem government. Note that he mentions providing money or other "inducements" to Vietnamese to join in the plot. The CIA would actually provide $42,000 to the coup plotters during the coup itself (other amounts in support are not known).

DOCUMENT 18
National Security Council Staff, "Check List for 4 PM Meeting," no date [October 29, 1963]

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 201, folder: Vietnam, General, Memos & Miscellaneous, 10/15/63-10/28/63

National security adviser McGeorge Bundy supplies an agenda for the last meeting President Kennedy held with his top officials prior to the actual coup in Saigon. Bundy suggests opening with an intelligence briefing on the array of opposing forces, proceeding to a discussion of whether Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge should make an expected trip home for consultations, and ending contingency planning for a coup.

AUDIO CLIP
President Kennedy Meets with His National Security Council on the Question of Supporting a Coup in South Vietnam (10 minutes 55 seconds) From John Prados, ed. The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (New York: The New Press, 2003, 331 pp. + 8 CDs, ISBN 1-56584-852-7)
(See Document 19 below for the official NSC staff record of this meeting)
[NOTE: This audio clip is a Windows Media Audio file (.wma) and should be opened using Windows Media Player]

DOCUMENT 19
Memorandum of Conference with the President, October 29, 1963, 4:20 PM

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File, Meetings & Memoranda series, box 317, folder: Meetings on Vietnam, 10/29/63

The NSC staff record of the discussion at the meeting that followed from Bundy's agenda. American leaders suddenly exhibit cold feet, starting with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who, as he had done during the Cuban Missile Crisis, warns against precipitate action. Bobby Kennedy was seconded by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Maxwell D. Taylor and CIA director John McCone. Other doubts are also expressed. The group also considered a cable of instructions to Ambassador Lodge. (The recording and a transcript of the discussion at this key meeting is available in John Prados, ed. The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President, op. cit., pp. 97-140 and Disc 3.)

DOCUMENT 20
Draft Cable, Eyes Only for Ambassador Saigon, October 29, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 204, folder: Vietnam: Subjects: Top Secret Cables (Tab C) 10/28/63-10/31/63

This document is the NSC staff's draft of a cable to Ambassador Lodge which is discussed at the meeting recorded in Document 18. It contains instructions for the ambassador's travel as well as arrangements for operating the embassy in a coup situation, and material on Washington's attitude toward the coup.

DOCUMENT 21
Draft Cable, Eyes Only for Ambassador Lodge [CIA cable 79407, noted in upper right hand corner], October 30, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 201, folder: Vietnam, General: State & Defense Cables, 10/29/63-10/31/63

McGeorge Bundy answers a cable from Ambassador Lodge with additional commentary flowing from President Kennedy's meeting on October 29. Note Washington's presumption that "We do not accept . . . that we have no power to delay or discourage a coup." The discussion at the meeting and in the previous cable and this one clearly indicate the Kennedy White House miscalculated its ability to influence the South Vietnamese generals and their plans.

DOCUMENT 22
Memorandum of Conference with the President, November 1, 1963, 10:00 AM

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File, Meetings & Memoranda series, box 317, folder: Meetings on Vietnam 11/1/63-11/2/63


President Kennedy meets with his national security team even as the South Vietnamese generals in Saigon are activating forces for their coup. Kennedy is briefed on coup forces and on the progress of the coup thus far, which appears to be (and is) going against President Diem. Secretary Rusk and CIA director McCone advise on relevant matters for U.S. action and Secretary McNamara comments on public relations aspects of the situation.

DOCUMENT 23
Department of State, John M. Dunn, Memorandum for the Record, November 1, 1963

SOURCE: Gerald R. Ford Library: Gerald R. Ford Papers: National Security Adviser's Files: NSC Convenience File, box 6, folder: Henry Cabot Lodge, inc. Diem (2)

This document records President Ngo Dinh Diem's last conversation on the telephone with Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. Diem asks what is the attitude of the United States toward the coup plot and Lodge replies, disingenuously, that he does not feel well-enough informed to say what the U.S. position actually is.

DOCUMENT 24
Central Intelligence Agency, "The Situation in South Vietnam," November 2, 1963

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: President's Office File, box 128A, folder: Vietnam: Security, 1963

The CIA reports the fall of Diem and the success of the generals' coup. The report notes that Diem and Nhu are dead, by suicide as announced on the radio.

DOCUMENT 25
Memorandum of Conference with the President, November 2, 1963, 9:15 AM

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Meetings & Memoranda series, box 317, folder: Meetings on Vietnam 11/1/63-11/2/63

This is the NSC staff record of the initial high level meeting held by President Kennedy in the wake of the Saigon coup. It was during this meeting that NSC staffer Michael Forrestal entered the room with news of Diem's death. Kennedy and his advisers confront the necessity of making public comment on the death of Ngo Dinh Diem and consider the implications for the United States.

DOCUMENT 26
Embassy Saigon, Cable 888, November 2, 1963
SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 201, folder: Vietnam: General, State Cables, 11/1/63-11/2/63

The Embassy provides several accounts of what actually happened to Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu.

DOCUMENT 27
Memorandum of Conference with the President, November 2, 1963, 4:30 PM

SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Meetings and Memoranda series, box 317, folder: Meetings on Vietnam, 11/1/63-11/2/63

A follow-up meeting is held by President Kennedy in the afternoon, as recorded in this NSC staff record. Director McCone of the CIA argues that Washington lacks any "direct evidence" that Diem and Nhu are, in fact, dead. There is discussion of resuming U.S. military aid programs that had been suspended in the last weeks of the Diem regime. Note that Kennedy's appointments schedule for this date indicates the meeting took slightly more than one hour. The discussion as noted in this document cannot have consumed that amount of time.

DOCUMENT 28
CIA, "Press Version of How Diem and Nhu Died" (OCI 3213/63), November 12, 1963
SOURCE: JFKL: JFKP: National Security File: Country File, box 203, folder: Vietnam: General, Memos and Miscellaneous 11/6/63-11/15/63

This document comments on what is known about the deaths of Diem and Nhu and raises questions about some of the details that have appeared in the press. The CIA shows (Paragraph 7) that it still does not have an authoritative version of the deaths even almost two weeks after the coup. Its best judgment is, however, close to the truth (for the most authoritative account of the killings see Nguyen Ngoc Huy, "Ngo Dinh Diem's Execution," Worldview Magazine, November 1976, pp. 39-42).

DOCUMENT 29
Department of State, Memorandum William P. Bundy-Bill Moyers, "Discussions Concerning the Diem Regime in August-October 1963," July 30, 1966

SOURCE: Lyndon B. Johnson Library: Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, National Security File, Country File Vietnam, box 263, folder: Hilsman, Roger (Diem 1963)

At the request of President Johnson's press secretary, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs William P. Bundy sets to paper a retrospective view of the Kennedy administration's decisions regarding policy toward Diem, the forcing out of Nhu, and how support for the South Vietnamese coup developed at top levels in Washington.

1. For a general overview see Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking, 1983.

2. See Denis Warner, The Last Confucian. New York: Macmillan, 1963 also Anthony T. Bouscaren, The Last of the Mandarins: Diem of Vietnam. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965. A recent reinterpretation that frames Diem as a misunderstood reformist is in Philip E. Catton, Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

3. John Prados, Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 105-108.

4. See, in general, Pierro Gheddo, The Cross and the Bo Tree: Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1970.

5. American eyewitness reports on these events can be found in Malcolm Browne, The New Face of War. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968 and David Halberstam, The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era. New York: Knopf, 1964. An important recent reconstruction of these events through the eyes of American journalists can be found in William Prochnau, Once Upon a Distant War: Young War Correspondents and the Early Vietnam Battles. New York: Random House, 1995. For the CIA intelligence reporting see Harold P. Ford, CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968. Langley (VA): CIA History Staff/Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1998 (the last-named source is available in the National Security Archive's Vietnam Document Collection).

6. Prados, Lost Crusader, pp. 113-115.

7. Specific studies of the coup against Diem include Ellen J. Hammer, A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987 and, more recently, Howard Jones, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

8. United States Congress, Senate (94th Congress, 1st Session). Select Committee to Study Governmental Activities with Respect to Intelligence, Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1975.

9. Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. New York: Times Books, 1995, p. 83.

10. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Greenwich(CT): Fawcett Books, 1967, p. 909-910.


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