Memorandum of Conversation on the Current Situation in South Viet-Nam, 5 July 1963

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 728-729

July 5, 1963

George Ball, Nolting, Chalmers Wood, George Springstein

Nolting opened with review of the Buddhists situation which he characterizes as serious. He regretted that Diem had not taken it in hand earlier but emphasized that Diem had given his word that the agreement would be carried out. It was Nolting's experience that when Diem gave his word, he followed through although sometimes it was handled in his own way. The ambassador said that although interference by the Nhus was serious, he believed that the GVN would be able to come through this one slowly. As to tactics, the more Diem was prodded, the slower he went. While Nhu was troublesome, he was chiefly responsible for gains which had been made in the provincial pacification program. The Under Secretary asked what would happen if there were a change in government. The ambassador replied that he would give his view which was not completely shared by Mr. Wood. In his view, if a revolution occurred in Vietnam which grew out of the Buddhist situation, the country would be split between feuding factions and the Americans would have to withdraw, and the country might be lost to the Communists. This led to the question of how much pressure we could exert on Diem. Mr. Nolting replied that if we repudiated him on this issue, his government would fall. The ambassador believed that Diem would live up to the agreement unless he believed that he was dealing with the political attempt to cause his overthrow. As to the role of the Catholics in the government, Ambassador Nolting did not believe that Diem gave them preference. Unfortunately, many persons in the government felt that it would help their careers if they became Catholic. It was true that the government had been unwise in the ostentatious manner in which it supported and encouraged the publicizing of Catholic ceremonies, however. In general, Vietnam had been a country in which there was a great degree of religious tolerance. Now the situation seemed out of hand. It was deplorable because we had been winning.....Turning the point of Ambassador Lodge, Mr. Nolting commented that the more Lodge was built up as a strong man who was going to tell Diem where to get off, the harder it would be for Lodge to do his job in Vietnam. The Under Secretary suggested that Ambassador Nolting could reassure President Diem on this point.

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