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Washington involvement

Incident of Buddhist flag - US involvement - Coup Generals (7) 

Washington involvement 

Mendenhall's report is totally different. He talks about the standstill of the civilian government and the people fearing and hating Nhu. He predicts that there will be possibly a religious war or the people will lean to communists... Nhu must go if one wants to win over communists.

Due to difference between two reports, Kennedy asks :" Is that both of you come back from one country ?". Krulak answers :"Mr Mendenhall visits cities of Vietnam; I go to rural areas of Vietnam where the war occurs."

The contradiction of two reports causes a debate between two sides, for and against Mr Diem. Ambassador Nolting says the government of Saigon overcomes the hatred and terror of 1961 and survives while the war against communists is in good progress. George Bundy, security advisor, says :"One can't compare like that because 1961 was the year of terror and hatred against Vietcong, but now of opposing Diem."

At that moment, Michael Forrestal introduces Rufus Phillips to Kennedy and his advisors. Phillips was once in the military delegation of General Landsdale; he returned to Vietnam in 1962 to work with vice-director of an economic aid organization for rural areas.

Phillips says that he agrees with Cabot Lodge to let General Lansdale return to Vietnam and use his influence to neutralize Nhu, but Hilsman answers that detente policy towards Mr Diem's government has been put in the memorandum already rejected by Washington.

These "activists" in Washington don't object Lodge about his "colonialist" behavior, but also don't want to cut tie with Mr Diem; they have sent a message to Lodge telling him to discuss with Mr Diem and let Lodge decide by himself.

John Mecklin is the last man to report to Kennedy; he shows pessimism about Mr Diem's regime and this can hurt the effort of a war against communists. However, he suggests not to cut aid, but should use the military to topple Mr Diem and ameliorate that war against communists. This suggestion is rejected. Fed up with the Korean war, Kennedy says that a majority of military advisors oppose using American Army to fight against the guerilla war in Asia and an old ally.

At last, Kennedy orders to study ways to cut economic aid to SVN. He is also frustrated about division among his men.

In Saigon, there is also another division between Cabot Lodge and General Harkins about the meeting 10/9/1963 at the White House. Harkins says that Krulak's report is correct, but Lodge sends a message to Washington suspecting validity of optimistic observations of young generals. Lodge suggests to cut aid totally, but Kennedy is afraid that this would hurt the fight against communists and force Mr Diem to surrender to U.S. As a result, losing all political authority, Mr Diem can find a compromise with communists as Mr Nhu once suggested. Kennedy wants to build a pressure on Mr Diem so that the latter will eliminate Mr Nhu and change the current policy. On 17/9/1963, Kennedy orders Lodge to make a plan to urge Mr Diem to change the policy before a coup d'etat can be used.

However, Lodge insolently tells Mr Diem to see him instead. Seeing no other solution than a coup d'etat, Lodge sends a message to Dean Rusk that,"I believe that we should continue contacting Big Minh and urge him to act if he wants."

Kennedy is so feeble that he is tricked by Cabot Lodge. Once more, Kennedy sents an investigative delegation to Vietnam with Defense Minister McNamara and general Maxwell Taylor to estimate the progress of the war and future steps.

During 10-day stay, McNamara and Taylor go investigating all war areas. Taylor agrees with general Krulak that the war against communists is in good progress... The report McNamara-Taylor shares optimism of the Pentagon about the progress of the war and pessimism of the State Department about the political situation. The delegation suggests creating a pressure by cutting aid as a neutral measure rather than by overthrowing Mr Diem.

The report shows that there is no proof about the rumor that Mr Nhu can negotiate with communists. It also explains that the Special Force is kept in the capital not to attack pagodas but to protect Mr Diem.

The report is approved on 2/10/1963. Next, aid cut will be the one of 14 millions dollars for Saigon Hydroelectricity... This is also what General Duong Van Minh has waited for a long time.

Colby suggests with CIA director McCone letting him go to Saigon to convince Mr Nhu to leave Vietnam. McCone presented this idea to a higher level but it was not accepted. Next, McCone personally comes to see Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to dissuade them from using coup d'etat. He says that CIA did study and find none can replace Mr Diem and that if Mr Diem is overthrown, there is not only one coup d'etat, but many more to come... Next, McCone tells David Smith of CIA in Saigon not to support assassinating Mr Diem and involve in the affair.

General Taylor and director McCone say that a defeat is not due to the danger of a coup d'etat and if there is a success, the effort of a war against communists will come to standstill because of lack of experience of the new government. The whole administrative machine of SVN will be interrupted and all heads of provinces under Mr Diem would be all replaced.

At the time, Mr Nhu's close friends informs Mr Nguyen Tran that Mr Diem agrees to let Mr Nhu go. Mr Cao Xuan Vy is asked by Mr Nhu about the address of a hotel Mr Vy boarded before when he has taken a trip to Tokyo. Mr Nhu also calls in his friends like Nguyen Cao Thang, Nguyen Buu and Cao Xuan Vy in order to say goodbye. At that moment, Bishop Thuc just arrives; seeing Mr Nhu leave, bishop Thuc says :"Don't go anywhere". Then, Mr Nhu stays and the coup d'etat occurs.

4 days before the National Day (26/10/1963), General Harkins, head of MACV (Pha'i Bo^. Co^' Va^'n Qua^n Su+. My~ o+? VN) meets General Tran Van Don and tells him that he opposes a coup d'etat. Stunned, Mr Don calls Conein who in turn says that that's Harkins' own idea.

Started up from this, Kennedy sends a message to Lodge telling him to show Harkins all offical messages about Vietnamese coup generals' organization of a coup d'etat. After reading them, a frustrated Harkins sends consecutively 3 messages on 30/11/1963 as follow :

- "Last week, I said that I would stay out of the coup d'etat. Lodge promised to let me know the plot, but he didn't. I am mad because the plan of General Tran Van Don will be executed."

- Harkins objected Lodge's unfavored report about the military situation to Washington and this Lodge didn't let him know. He confirmed that he is against a coup d'etat.

- Harkins knows very clear about Vietnamese generals when Cabot Lodge doesn't know them well; due to this, Harkins is against the coup d'etat. Harkins says : I got many contacts with these generals and find out that none of them having a determination can replace Mr Diem, at least to the way of confronting communists. Obviously, none of them has capability to take the power." However, he says to General Taylor that he is not Mr Diem's man. He recognizes that Mr Diem has many mistakes, but one must convince him to change. He continues :"Whether it is right or not, we support him for 8 years of difficulty. I think that it is nonsensical to overthrow, kick and eliminate him."


General Tran Van Don meets Conein at Tan Son Nhat airport and invites him to Nha Trang for a talk. Here, Don let Conein know that coup generals are ready to act because they have attracted General Ton That Dinh to their side; Dinh is commander of the 3rd Military Corps and governor (To^?ng Tra^'n) of Saigon-Gia Dinh; Dinh has been discontent because he was not promoted after he has helped crush the Buddhist riots and "foreign adventurers". General Tran Van Don has exploited this from Dinh for many months.

Mr Do Mau also writes that at mid-night he goes to Ton That Dinh's house to kneel down before Dinh to beg him to participate in the coup d'etat. It's Do Mau to urge Mr Diem to withdraw the Special Force out of Saigon by lying to Mr Diem that it is needed to confront intruding communists. This Special Force has been cut U.S. aid, but they still stay in Saigon to protect Mr Diem until Mr Do Mau tricks Mr Diem.

General Tran Thien Khiem, "god-son" of Mr Diem, let him know that there is a conspiration of a coup d'etat, but Mr Diem doesn't believe this.

Next, Tran Van Don and Ton That Dinh come to Gia-Long Palace to present him a plan of renovating the government and suggest a dismissal of Mr Nhu. 

On 24/10/1994, knowing that Lodge and his wife are going to Dalat for a leave, Mr Diem lets Truong Cong Cuu (Tru+o+ng Co^ng Cu+`u) to tell Lodge that they shouldn't be outside alone due to security reason. He invites the couple to fly to Dalat on Sunday so that they can attend the inauguration ceremony at the Atomic Center of Dalat and stay there with him.

At a dinner of the Sunday evening, Mr Diem talks about a rumor to assassinate Lodge and says that is nonsensical because he has the vital duty to keep Lodge safe.

Close to 1/11/1963, Kennedy complains with Robert Kennedy that Cabot Lodge refuses to show openness to Mr Diem.

Rebellious generals plan to kidnap Messrs. Diem-Nhu at a military parade on the National Day 26/10/1963, but it fails because all guns in the area must be emptied of cartridges during this occasion.

On the same day, through a go-between Conein, Tran Van Don meets Lodge at Tan Son Nhat airport. Don complains, "The spirit of the army declines gravely due to the Buddist incident". When Lodge answers that he is willing to help, Don says : "Ambassador has enough means. What we need is support of U.S. if we are successful. Don't interfere in this because it is an internal matter of the Vietnamese !"

On 28/10/1963, Don phones Conein to his office to let Conein know about the day of the coup d'etat and informs the U.S. 4hrs before the coup. Don also requests Lodge not to go to Washington on 31/10/1963 because he is afraid that Gia-Long Palace will have suspicion.

Although Lodge confirms that there would be a coup d'etat, but Washington is still worried; they send one message to Lodge telling him to dissuade rebellious generals except that Lodge is sure 100% that the coup d'etat is well accomplished. Next is the second message :"We don't accept that we have no right to postpone or dissuade the coup d'etat. Lodge answers :"It's too late. The matter is in the hands of Vietnamese generals. They don't want us to interfere. They don't want our help even...weapons...They want to direct it. Washington says that it wants to step aside; then do it."

Lodge's message makes William Colby, CIA head of the Far-East Affairs, criticizes : "Yes, that is a coup d'etat by Vietnamese generals. But I think basic things are decided in Washington because few weeks before, in a press conference, President says that it is essential to have new personnel in the Vietnamese government and this was related to Messrs. Diem-Nhu..."

On the other hand, in a secret message sent to George Bundy, national security advisor, Lodge confirms clearly :"Saigon CIA carry decisively all my directives. I myself check every contact between General Don and Conein who executes my orders in any case."

After the coup d'etat, Lodge talks about U.S. arrangement as follows :"...It is equally the ground in which the coup seed grew into a robust plant was prepared by us and that the coup would not have happened as it did without our preparation."

Later, when General Tran Thien Khiem becomes ambassador to U.S., he admits that the organization of the coup d'etat is to please the Americans, "We think that president Kennedy wants so. It's the only way to save the effort of the war against communists. We think that U.S. cutting military aid means telling us to do so..."

In "The Ten Thousand Day War" by Michael Maclear, 1981, p. 81, the Vietnamese generals effectively regarded the coup as American-ordered, and it was staged only when the generals knew they would inherit American aid. Mr Diem's press secretary, Ton That Thien, quotes one of the coup leaders, General Kim, on his motivations :"I ask him afterwards because I considered him loyal to president Diem. And General Kim said "The Americans told us to choose between Mr Diem and American Aid. We had no choice." 

Few days before the coup d'etat, informed by Mr Ngo Dinh Can who says that Mr Do Mau betrayed him. Mr Diem tells General Khiem who already sided to the coup generals to arrest Mr Do Mau; Khiem lies Mr Diem that he did so.

In his diary, attache' Do Tho writes that knowing there is a coup d'etat, at 1h45 pm of 1/11/1963, Tho drives to the Gia Long Palace. Recognizing that he is only a Buddhist among 4 attache' officers and Mr Do Mau's nephew, Do Tho asks if he is trusted he will volunteer to stay next to Mr Diem because another attache', captain Le Cong Hoan, is married with one kid. Mr Diem agrees and from then on he follows Messrs. Diem-Nhu who leave Gia-Long Palace to Ma Tuyen (Ma~ Tuye^n)'s house in Cho Lon, then go to the church "Father Tam". The group organizing the coup d'etat send some officers to "receive" the two.


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