As the Logevall reading notes, the Kennedy administration grew increasingly convinced that replacing Diem was a precondition to achieving victory in Vietnam: as John Kenneth Galbraith pithily put it, "Nothing succeeds like successors." Here we see correspondence between Dean Rusk and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge as the administration pondered its options.


Aug 31 10:48PM '63 

ACTION: Amembassy SAIGON Emergency 294
INFO: CINCPAC POLAD - Exclusive for Admiral Felt 


Re your 391, agree your conclusion favoring direct effort on GVN. US cannot abandon
Viet-nam and while it will support Vietnamese effort to change government that has
good prospects success US should not and would not mount and operate one. To use your
metaphor, when the spaghetti was pushed, it curled; now we must try pulling. 

In the meantime, our primary objective remains winning the war and we concur your
suggestion that we should now reopen communications with Diem. Decision on exact
course awaits your recommendations and consideration by highest authority. What
follows is thinking of interdepartmental meeting chaired by Secretary today. 

As to general posture, it seems desirable to maintain both publically and in our
private talks with GVN the leverage of US discontent with repression which has eroded
war effort within Viet-nam as well as support of Congress, US public, and world.
Impression should be, both privately and publically, that US is engaged in candid and
critical discussion to improve government not overthrow it. Decision on changing
government is Vietnamese. 

In your talk with Diem, our thought is you should first stress common interest in
defeating Viet Cong. Then in frank but tough line point out that daily juxtaposition
of continuing American casualties and massive US aid with repressive measures
contrary deepest American convictions will make it difficult for Executive and
Congress to continue support. But time is rather short. President Kennedy may well be
obliged at next press conference to express US disapproval of repressive measures.
Should we find it impossible to reach an agreement with GVN on a program to undo the
damage caused by recent GVN actions, then suspension of aid might soon be forced upon

Specific policies and actions should be designed to develop political support within
Viet-nam necessary to win the war and also to restore damaged image abroad. Our
feeling is that your list of specifics should begin with blunt warning, if required,
not to arrest Generals who are so badly needed in war effort, and with strong demand
Madame Nhu leave country on extended holiday. (Question of future role of Nhu could
be left to later discussions.) 

In the intermediate discussion the most important is relations with the Buddhists.
Our feeling is that you should frankly say that negotiations with puppet bonzes will
not accomplish purpose. We recognize that the other side of this coin is that we must
assure Diem that we will make every effort to persuade the Buddhist leaders to throw
themselves fully into the common effort for the independence and security of

Other points might be: 

1. Repeal of Decree 10 by immediate executive action or by special session
of the National Assembly. 

2. Restoration of damaged pagodas. 

3. Release of students and reopening of closed universities. 

4. Removal of press censorship. 

At some stage, you will wish to talk about future relationships between American
advisers et al and free scope to them in helping to carry on the war effort at all
appropriate governmental levels. (In this respect we fully agree with Harkin's
decision to refrain from giving assurances in light of statements made to him. He and
all military advisers should now concentrate on reestablishing normal relationships
at all levels GVN to get on with the war.) 

Also would you think it useful if we tried to get Vatican to summon Archbishop Thuc
to Rome for lengthy consultations? 

If initial discussions go well, at some stage you may want to urge some form of
reorganization of the government introducing the Generals and perhaps other civilian
leaders into ministerial posts. 

It may be important at a fairly early stage to raise the subject of the GVN improving
its relations with its neighbors and especially to avoid interfering with Cambodian
traffic on the Mekong. 

The above is not an instruction but intended only for your comments. 

We will appreciate your views on it and on any additional actions we should require
of the GVN in order to get on with the task. 

President has reviewed this message and approves it in general. He suggests you
should also plan your response to probable Diem claim that all this trouble comes
from irresponsible press. He thinks you should say we hold no brief for press but
Diem has been playing into their hands. Fact is that actions of GVN have now created
a situation which is very difficult indeed for USG. For example, large cut in aid
program in House largely due to sense of disillusionment in whole effort in Viet-nam.
There are reports that still further cuts may be pressed on same ground, and in such
a case USG simply would not have resources to sustain massive present level of
support. So we need very quick and substantial response to your demarche. You should
add that President will be commenting on situation in SVN in TV interview to be taped
Monday a.n. at Hyannis and broadcast Monday evening. While in this interview he will
be as restrained as possible, if asked it will be impossible to avoid some expression
of concern. This expression, however, will be mild in comparison to what may have to
be said soon unless there is major improvement. 




[Document has handwritten notation "President read"] 

SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library Presidential Papers: National Security Files: Country File: Vietnam 1961-1963, State Department Cables, August 24-31, 1963 (Box 198-199). 



Aug 31 10:49 PM '63 

ACTION: Amembassy SAIGON Emergency 295
INFO: CINCPAC POLAD - Exclusive for Admiral Felt 


It seems to me that we must keep our eyes fixed on the main purpose of our presence
in South Viet-nam and everyone on the US side needs to review the bidding on this
elementary purpose: why we are there, why are we asking our fellows to be killed and
what is getting in the way of accomplishing our purpose. The actions of the GVN and
the Nhus have eroded this purpose inside Viet-nam and internationally and they have
also eroded our capacity to provide political leadership in the US necessary to
support the effort in Viet-nam. To raise these questions is not merely an emotional
reaction to two individuals. They involve the fundamental requirements of political
leadership in Viet-nam which is necessary to coalesce the Vietnamese people in a war
effort which we can support. Diem must realize that his obligation of political
leadership runs to the solidarity of his people which may require conciliatory
actions which are distasteful to him personally. He must make a systematic effort to
improve his international position, and a demonstration to the American people that
we are not asking Americans to be killed to support Madame Nhu's desire to barbecue



[Document has handwritten notation "President read"] 

SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library Presidential Papers: National Security Files (NSF), 1961- 1963: Vietnam: State Department Cables, August 24-31, 1963. (Box 198-199)

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