Objections by top advisors
On Monday, CIA director John McCone, Defense Minister McNamara and General
Taylor objected fiercely the sent message. Concurring with wth the military,
McCone sees Mr Diem as best leader. General Taylor is angry at reading the
message. He says that the people opposing Diem is grouped in the State
Department which take advantage of the absence of important officials in the
government to draft directive which is never accepted in a common situation.
Feeling uneasy due to contradictory ideas among his advisors, Kennedy,
going around the table, asks who wants to retract the message. Although
McCone and Taylor don't agree with the message, they don't suggest to
cancel it. Taylor says, "We can't change our policy in 24 hrs; if so who
can trust us ?". That is a strange reasoning because the message is still top
secret, then how can one be afraid that "no one will trust us
anymore" ? To manage a country, if knowing that something is wrong then
one should correct it; if not, he would commit a bigger mistake. It is
known that after the message is executed, Kennedy is so regretful because
he has created a shameful picture for U.S. and brought havoc to an ally whom
U.S. has committed to support. East and West have that difference.
In a meeting on the next day when the difference in ideas is still
maintained, Kennedy sends a message to Cabot Lodge asking him about the
plan and leaders of the coup d'etat. Taylor drafts a message telling
Lodge that the message 243 of 24/8/1963 is studied again by the government
because there is no words from the Defense Department and and its General Staff.
When there is another meeting taking place, officials of the State
Department comprising people against Mr Diem suggest going ahead with the
coup d'etat. Ambassador Nolting rejects the idea and says that doing this
is breaking the promise with Mr Diem. He says straightforwardly that, "I
think some people at the State Department feel happy to see me go...because
they are using many ropes to squeeze Mr Diem's throat. I feel there is a
movement to topple Mr Diem coming from Undersecretary of State Averell
Harriman, Roger Hilsman and others of the State Department. This is against
the advice of the CIA. I want this to be recorded to the document." After
saying this, Nolting resigns.
U.S. News and World Report says the official message from the State
Department to Cabot Lodge in the Saturday afternoon of 24/8/1963 is "leaps
and bounds" of U.S. in interfering into the internal affair of SVN without
a previously elaborate study.
Later, Cabot Lodge calls the message "ill-advised, reprehensible and
insane". However, receiving it on Sunday of 25/8/1953, Cabot Lodge holds
immediately a meeting of high-ranked officials for discussion and then he
sends a message to the State Department for a permission to contact Vietnamese
coup generals to let them know demands of U.S. without informing Mr Diem. The
State Department agrees.
Next, Cabot Lodge orders CIA to contact the Vietnamese military to ask about
the plan of a coup d'etat. To encourage Viet generals, CIA let them know that
U.S. wants to eliminate Mr Nhu and Buddhist demands must be satisfied; if not
U.S. will cut economic and military aid to SVN. U.S. will accept a new
government. However, the success or failure of the coup d'etat is
responsibility of Vietnamese generals. Conein, a CIA, contacts General Tran
Thien Khiem and the latter agrees on demands and promises to answer Conein
after he meets General Duong Van Minh.
On 26/8/1963, at 11 am, Cabot Lodge presents credential to Mr Diem and
talks about dismissal of Mr Nhu. Mr Diem asks him :"Nhu's working for
me as adviser does any matter to you ?". Cabot Lodge says, "That is the idea
of Mr Kennedy."
Conein is assigned to contact General Duong Van Minh, but head of CIA
Richardson tells Conein not to encourage Mr Minh and just litsen to his
report. Not to agree with Richardson's restriction, Cabot Lodge orders
Conein to receive his order from now on.
Cabot Lodge sends a telegram to Kennedy saying, "We come to a point of no
return to overthrow Diem's government. Prestige of U.S. is put on
this goal. To me, we can't win over Diem's government." To urge Vietnamese
generals to act fast, Cabot Lodge requests for cutting economic aid if
Vietnamese generals demand it as a signal of support from U.S..
General Harkins doen't want the coup d'etat without effort to demand Mr
Diem to eliminate Mr Nhu in advance. Cabot Lodge sends a message saying
that is a danger because Vietnamese generals has been fed up much. The White
House gives Cabot Lodge to cut aid at his will but not to use it as an
Guessing that a bloodpath can occur in Saigon due to strong reaction from
Mr Diem, Kennedy orders the Navy to transfer 5,000 American citizens by a
special fleet out of the sea of SVN and in Okinawa in Japan. 3,000 of marine
corps are in alert 24/24hrs.
From special documents of the White House, Doctor Ellen J. Hammer discovers
that Roger Hilsman takes preliminary steps for possible reactions from Mr
Diem's government. If Cabot Lodge and his officials were seen as
"undesirable elements", U.S. would ignore them until the aftermath of the
coup d'etat. If Mr Diem consents with Hanoi a neutrality for SVN or an
accord, let a coup d'etat occur to set up a new government. U.S. will
find all ways to make the military loyal to Mr Diem leave him. U.S. will
be ready to stop loyal elements and let the rebellious military arrest Mr
Diem and his family, and bring them out of Saigon. If the resistance
continues, U.S. will use ready means in SVN to help the rebellious
military; if necessary U.S. will let American soldiers help them to
victory, including to destroy the palace Gia-Long. If Mr Diem's family
is still alive, Mr Nhu will be banished; about Mr Diem, it's up to
While the State Department is taking care of how to overthrow Mr Diem,
some Americans go to see him, especially Mr Paul Kattenburg, head of
Vietnam section at the State Department who knew Mr Diem before. In a
moment of emotion, Mr Diem says :"I will ready to die immediatly, if
blood and sweat spent for 9 years go way just to sacrifice for a small
group of instigation under the label Buddhism." Paul Kattenburg answers,
"Help us in order we can help you." After that Kattenburg suggests a
withdrawal of U.S. because he sees that Mr Diem's government has no
future, no hope to win with or without Mr Diem. But the pressure around
Kennedy forces him to escalate, not retreat.
On 31/8/1963, Kattenburg returns to Washington to report the U.S. government
his observations that U.S. doesn't understand tradition,
culture, history, people and opponents in SVN. He repeats Cabot Lodge's
warning that :"If U.S. continues supporting the oppressing regime with
bayonets at every corner and negotiations with "puppet" monks, we will be
kicked out of SVN in 6 months !". So, Kattenburg concludes :"In that
situation, it's better for us to decide a withdrawal with honor."
Answering Taylor's question for further explanation, Kattenburg says
:"From 6 months to one year, seeing us lose the battle, the Vietnamese will
gradually lean to the other side and as a result, we will be obliged to
leave." The Secretary of State Dean Rusk says :"Your words are just
predictions. We won't withdraw from Vietnam until victory... We won't
direct the coup d'etat."
Kennedy turns to vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson whom Kennedy rarely asks
his thinking about Vietnam. Johnson will replace an assassinated
Kennedy. He says :" We shouldn't hold the role of a cop and a thief, but
must negotiate with Mr Diem."
Johnson had many times to warn officials at the State Department that they
should not misuse authority in Vietnam because the Americans as Westerners
lacks experiences on the Oriental matters and as a result, they don't know
what's the best for VN. Sometimes we must act, sometimes we don't. The
war is going on : who knows whether or not a committee of coup generals would
be more successful than a clean and deified man who overcame many
impossible obstacles. Except that we know for sure the successors of Mr
Diem would be better than him. The wisest thing is to continue working
with the man we did know although he is complexed. Who else has
determination and iron will like him ?
While his specialists on foreign policy are working out a workable plan,
Kennedy announces foolishly on the CBS in the night of 2/9/1963 :"I don't
think that the war will be won unless the government of SVN tries to get
support from the people." When journalist Walter Cronkite asks :"Does Mr
Diem got enough time to get that support ?" Kennedy answers :"I think yes
if there is a change of policy and, possibly, the personnel. Without that
change, I don't see any chance for that." In other words, Kennedy
publicly demands Mr Diem to change policy and eliminate Mr Nhu. That
declaration is too open to make Mr Diem accept. Losing face to the
world, how can one get support from the Vietnamese ? It's the lofty policy of
Kennedy who wants to order rather than skillfuly convinces a man of
fidelity like Mr Diem to yield.
It's Cabot Lodge to create an asphyxiating atmosphere by the same lofty
behavior and keep a distance from Mr Diem. A Republican colleague
criticizes Cabot Lodge as follows :"I think Lodge must need at least two
weeks to find out a bit the situation before reaching any decision. But
Lodge is against Mr Diem from the beginning when he just arrives in
Saigon. His telegrams to Washington shows denouncement. Lodge is the
important obstacle for some of us to hinder a coup d'etat." A high-ranked
official at the State Department says that before 1/11/1963, Lodge has
many times to receive order to contact tightly Mr Diem, but Lodge answers
:"My policy is not to go to Diem, but he must come to me."
Marguerite Higgins cites words from minister of Justice Robert Kennedy
that "Cabot Lodge's activities in many months before the coup d'etat is
terrible." However, according to Lyndon B. Johnson, "it's not Lodge's
actions to be terrible because he just carries the policy of Washington."
Johnson means that the policy of Kennedy puts much pressure on Mr Diem;
it comes to such point that "a branch must be broken" and the coup d'etat
U.S. News and World Report, basing on minutes of a meeting at the White
House at 10h30 of 6/9/1963, writes that Robert Kennedy talks about
punishing Mr Diem as follows :"If we come to a conclusion that we will
lose the battle to Diem, why don't we eradicate that painful prickle ?"
After that meeting, Kennedy sends a delegation to Vietnam led by General
Krulak of the military and Joseph A. Mendenhall, a high-ranked official of
the State Department who once served as political advisor at the U.S.
embassy in SVN. They arrive at Saigon on 8/9/1963, separate right away at
the airport and promise to see each other again in 36 hrs.
Krulak goes to see 80 military advisors, including 150,000 U.S soldiers in
Vietnam. Investigating in detail about the ongoing war, he concludes that
the South Vietnamese fight against communists is going well. Mendenhall
contacts American officials along the Coast of Central Vietnam where the
Buddhist matter is tense. He also meets some Vietnamese in Saigon whom he
knows having knowledge and objectiveness. He depicts that Saigon, Hue and
Da Nang are cities of "hate...living under a regime of terror". He
concludes that from a hatred toward Mr Nhu, the people come to hate Mr
On 9/9/1963, Krulak and Mendenhall leaves Saigon to Washington with John
Mecklin, a relation official at the U.S. embassy who was recalled for
consultation. Each drafts own report. To Mecklin, Krulak and Mendenhall
don't like each other and they just talk to each other when "it can't be
On the next day, at 10h30, Kennedy convenes a meeting at the White House
for the three to report their findings. Krulak reports that the war is in
good progress. It is hurt by the political crisis, but it's okay. The
war against communists will win if the military and social aid is
continued despite great shortcoming of the regime.