VIETNAM - History, Documents, and Opinion
Edited by Marvin E. Gettleman
Pub. by Fawcett -1965, Repub. by Times Mirror -1970
THE GENESIS OF UNITED STATES SUPPORT FOR NGO DINH DIEM
By ROBERT SCHEER
Foreign correspondent for Ramparts magazine, author of A View from Phnompenh, Ramparts, IV (July 1965). pp. 25-31, and co-author (with Maurice Zeitlin) of Cuba: Tragedy in Our Hemisphere (New York, 1963).
The selection is from:
How the United States Got Involved in Vietnam
(Report to the Center for the study of Democratic Institutions [Santa Barbara, CA] 1965), pp. 13-16, 20-44. By permission of the Fund for the Republic.
U. S. Support for Diem
During the late fall of 1954, while Buttinger was in Vietnam, a serious split was developing among Americans concerned with Vietnam. As Cherne's telegram indicated, U.S. missions in Saigon were strongly backing Diem. For example, an abrupt halt was called to the revolt of General Hinh, the head of the Vietnamese army and an officer in the French army as well. When General Collins arrived in mid-November 19541 as Eisenhower's Special Ambassador, he made it clear that the United States would not pay the army if Diem was overthrown. In a matter of days Hinh was sent out of the country and dismissed as head of the army.
However, from the very beginning Diem displayed that tendency toward autocracy and family rule for which the mass media of the United States would belatedly condemn his administration eight years later. In early 1955, when he moved to crush the religious sects, whose military forces rivaled his power, some influential Americans began to side with the French against him. The most important of these was General Collins, and his view was shared by other American observers. Among them was the newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop, who contended that Diem's base of support was too narrow to rival that of the Vietminh. (Both men were later to renew their support of Diem after he defeated the sects.)
At this juncture, when it looked as if the United States might dispose of Diem, his reservoir of support, his "lobby," proved decisive. In the ensuing struggle the curious alliance of Lansdale, the CIA agent, Buttinger, the ex-Austrian Socialist, and Cardinal Spellman won the day.
On the offcial level, Lansdale convinced his Director, Allen Dulles, of Diem's efficiency, and the latter convinced his brother, who, as Secretary of State, talked with the President. The recent book on the CIA, The Invisible Government, by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, places the total responsibility for swinging U.S. support to Diem at this stage on Lansdale, but the private political pressures were important. Buttinger returned from Vietnam excited about Diem but fearful that the United States was not totally committed to him. He turned to the group around the International Rescue Committee, one of the most useful of them being the public relations counsel for the organization, Harold Oram. Oram knew the head of the Catholic Relief Services in Washington and that gentleman introduced Buttinger to Cardinal Spellman.
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
The Cardinal was still an enthusiastic believer in Diem, and Buttinger alerted him to the impending crises in Diem's fortunes.
Spellman sent Buttinger back to Washington to meet with Joseph P. Kennedy and finalIy, according to Buttinger in an interview with this author, these two powerful men, in a long-distance telephone conversation, decided to whom Buttinger should tell his story. In Washington, Kennedy introduced him to Senator Mike Mansfield and to Kenneth Young of the State Department. John F. Kennedy was in California at the time but Buttinger had a long conversation with his administrative assistant.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Spellman had arranged meetings with the editorial board of the New York Herald Tribune, the chief editors of Life and Time [owned by H. Luce, a friend of Spellman], and several editors of The New York Times. On January 29, 1955, two days after Buttinger's visit to the Times, that paper carried an editorial which closely paralleled Buttinger's arguments on Diem's behalf. Buttinger also elaborated his position in The Reporter of January 27, 1955 and The New Republic of February 28, 1955.
From the spring of 1955 on, the U.S. commitment to Diem was complete. This meant that the United States would ignore any French protestations and the Geneva Accords - including the provisions calling for reunification through free elections, which, as even Diem's most ardent supporters conceded, would bring the Communist-oriented Vietminh to power. A cardinal, a CIA agent, and an ex-Austrian Socialist seemed to have carried the day against the instincts of a general turned President.
One provision of the Geneva Accords, it will be remembered, had specified that during a 300-day period following the signing of the Accords
"any civilians...... who wish to go and live in the zone assigned to the other party shall be permitted and helped to do so..... "
This led to a great flow of refugees between spring 1954 and spring 1955. The bulk of the movement was from the Vietminh area in the North to the South and eventually involved close to a million people. (According to Bernard Fall, only about 150,000 refugees went North to the Vietminh.)
These statistics were interpreted in the United States as a repudiation of Vietminh rule by the Vietnamese people - a mass flight to freedom. But the interpretation ignored two facts:
U. S. Support for Diem
(l) the number of people going North was held to a small total by order of the Vietminh, which wanted its sympathizers to remain in the South to prepare for the elections;
(2) the bulk of those going South fell into two groups - dependents of the colonial native army (200,000) and Catholics (679,000).
The Catholics were a by-product of the French rule, members of a minority religion which had been brought by Portuguese and French missionaries into a predominately Buddhist population. The Catholic communities in the North had enjoyed a protected status under the French and they had raised militia units that fought beside the French against the Vietminh. With the collapse of the French, these communities feared reprisals, or at least grave restrictions on their activities, under the new Vietminh rule.
One American who did much to blur the distinction between the Catholic minority and the rest of the population in the North was Tom Dooley, a young navy doctor turned writer, whose book Deliver Us from Evil had a great impact on the American public.
Dooley had gone to Vietnam as part of the U.S. Navy's program of aid in transporting the refugees to the South. He witnessed the great suffering of an uprooted people. As a Catholic, he was particularly impressed with their religious opposition to Communism and the fact that they fled with the physical symbols of that religion in hand:
"..... recognizing us as friends and not as foes, they hoisted, on a broken spar, their own drenched flag; a flag they had hidden for years..... their symbol, their emblem, their heraldry...... a yellow and gold flag displaying the Pope's tiara and the keys of Saint Peter."
Working among the Catholic refugees, Dooley took no account of the fact that 90 percent of the Vietnamese population would be indifferent to the yellow and gold flag, even in the unlikely event that they understood its symbolism.
To Dooley, even aside from the religious aspect, these people were on the side of the "free world" in opposition to the total evil of Communism:
"...... how, outside expanding Russia, do you go about being an imperialist nowadays?" "Ho Chi Minh has been a Moscow-trained puppet from the Start." "The Godless Cruelties Of Communism......."
The Vietminh was indicted:
They preached hatred against the institutions, traditions, and customs of colonial Vietnam. Everything "feudal" or "reactionary" was to be destroyed.........
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
DooIey combined his anti-Communism with a strenuous belief in an American- style economic system as the basis of any country's prosperity and freedom:
... we continually explained to thousands of refugees. as individuals and in groups, that only in a country which permits companies to grow large could such fabulous charity be found.... These companies [that sent drugs]..... responded with the enthusiasm of great corporations in a great country.
With this ideological background, it becomes easier to understand Dooley's rather extensive rewriting of history. No act attributed to the Communists was dismissed as unbelievable or as requiring factual substantiation. All of them fitted the "devil theory" and were passed on to the millions who read his book, heard his lectures, and saw the film based on Deliver Us from Evil.
Dooley's account of the American effort begins not with the $2.6 billion spent in support of the French between 1950-54, but rather with the mission to aid the refugees.
"We had come late to Vietnam, but we had come. And we brought not bombs and guns, but help and love."
The 17th Parallel that divided the refugees from the free world was
"the rim of Hell" with "the demons of Communism stalking outside and now holding the upper half of the country in their strangling grip." Those who fought the "devils" were, by definition, heroes......
It is unfair to treat DooIey's book as history, although it may have served as such for many of its readers. Its significance was to provide a vocabulary of Communist horror that found its way into the speeches of presidents and was, for many ordinary Americans, their only significant emotional encounter with Communism in Asia.
According to [Roman Catholic] Dooley, Ho Chi Minh had begun his war against the French in December 1946, "by disembowelling more than l,000 native women in Hanoi" who were associated with the French. There had been rumors about this, but no factual evidence is provided in any of the standard accounts of that period. An authoritative refutation is supplied by the French writer, Paul Mus:
I am today in a position to state and to prove that four-fifths of the stories or reports of awful atrocities inflicted by the Vietnamese on our compatriots in Hanoi, December 19, 1946, are either made up or in error.
U. S. Support for Diem
Dooley [with total support of Cardinal Spellman and the RC press] lent highly emotional support to the goals of American foreign policy in Vietnam, but he sharply criticized inefficiency in execution. America proved receptive to this type of criticism and DooIey became a folk hero. In 1960 the Gallup Poll found him to be one of the ten most admired Americans.
Dooley believed in his work and his writing, and was deeply moved, as he said, when President Diem gave him the highest award of his land. It attests to his innocence that he did not know that the choice for the award had been inspired by the CIA's man in Vietnam, Colonel Edward Lansdale.
On January 25, 1955, Look carried an impressive photo-story of the flight of the refugees. The article was by Leo Cherne and it combined a poignant description of the plight of the refugees with a political message. The subheading stated the theme:
"Battered and shunted about by war, they are too weary to resist the Reds without us."
The United States had a responsibility to become involved further in Vietnam because the South is
"still free but will fall under Red control if Communists win elections set for July of 1956."
And this was the likely event, said Cherne, for "if elections were held today, the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese would vote Communist."
But if the South Vietnamese might be indifferent to the Communist menace, others were not:
"Asians are convinced that U.S. prestige and influence in Asia cannot survive another defeat. Europe wants to see whether the Communists will be stopped here or will grow into an irresistible force...... "
Cherne stated the U.S. predicament:
"No more than eighteen months remain for us to complete the job of winning over the Vietnamese before they vote. What can we do?"
The answer was for the United States to "mobilize democratic leadership," which could be found among the [Roman] Catholic refugees. The International Rescue Committee was helping to do this by ferreting out the educated men among the refugees and funneling them into the government administration.
It was later to be charged by many in the United States that Diem's regime floundered on his pro-[Roman] Catholic prejudice.
But the heavy use of [Roman] Catholic refugees as administrators was natural, because they were certified opponents of the Vietminh who also were educated. As Cherne said of the Catholic refugees, "there is an army of 400,000 Vietnamese ready and anxious to convince their countrymen that they must choose freedom." By embracing the [Roman Catholic] refugees, Diem helped maintain his administration [ Roman Catholic clique .... JP] in power, but he also planted seeds for the anti-Catholic demonstrations that led to the fall of his government in 1963.
[America supported the RC cult + disregarded American ideals ... JP ]
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
There is no doubt that the movement and resettlement of 900,000 refugees from North to South Vietnam was the most successful program of the Diem administration. It was also the first immediate result of massive American aid, which laid out about $89 for each refugee (in a country with an $85 per year per capita income). The U.S. Seventh Fleet joined the French navy to move the refugees, and private agencies (Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, Red Cross, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Michigan State University, etc.) poured in to assist the large numbers of French and American government personnel in Saigon.
Once the refugees had been transported, the paramount task was to see to their permanent well-being by integrating them into the economy. The South was under-populated and this facilitated the provision of land to the refugees. Usually, the refugees had moved as whole villages, with their hierarchies and leadership generally intact. During the first two years of the program, most of these were supported by a U.S. relief program of dollar aid and surplus agricultural food distributed by the Catholic Relief Services.
In his book The Two Vietnams, Bernard Fall concluded, "Obviously most of these refugees were then still living from handouts rather than from the fruits of their labor." A good portion of the land cleared for them was in the Cai San project, where 90,000 were settled in an area formerly sparsely populated. This was the showplace for government tours by visitors to Vietnam. The land was cleared by 100 tractors ordered by the United States Operations Mission, which also brought in technicians and representatives of the tractor firms from the United States to train native operators.
This was an effective crash program of American aid; it had little to do with the ability of the Diem government to develop the economy as a whole. In fact, the refugee program had a negative impact on the Vietnamese not so favored. An essentially "welfare" movement tailored to the needs of a minority group by a minority leader was bound to grate on the non-Catholic majority. The religious problem in Vietnam had some of its roots in this program.
U. S. Support for Diem
In the final analysis, the refugees were not integrated into South Vietnamese society. The "flight to freedom" of the refugees provided an important public relations basis for continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was used as such by those Americans concerned about Diem's future. The U.S. government had helped Diem over the hurdles posed by the rival sects, the opposition elements, the Vietminh, and the "non-elections."
[The reference is to the nationwide elections scheduled under the Geneva Agreements for 1956, but never held because of Diem's and the United States' opposition. See pp. 159-160.-ed.] But if Diem as Chief of State, an office he assumed on October 26, 1955, was to continue to hold off the Vietminh, he would have to develop a governmental structure, provide political stability, and carry out a program of economic development. All of this would require massive American aid, both economic and technical. The flight of the refugees and the wide publicity given to it in the United States made the American public receptive.
At this point, the various individuals committed to the development of Vietnam as a showcase of democracy began to draw together as an unofficial "Vietnam lobby." The founding of the American Friends of Vietnam in the fall of 1955 provided the "lobby" with a formal organization.
This group led the fight on Diem's behalf during the next six years. The announced purpose of the American Friends of Vietnam was "to extend more broadly a mutual understanding of Vietnamese and American history, cultural customs, and democratic institutions." In actuality, it was concerned with the political objective of committing the United States to a massive aid program on Diem's behalf. In pursuit of that policy, the organization cited the alleged success of the program to date in creating an "economic and political miracle" in Vietnam.
The Friends was primarily an organization of the liberal center. Its founding members as listed on its letterhead included Senators Kennedy and Neuberger, Max Lerner, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Representatives Edna Kelly and Emmanuel Celler, with the Socialist Norman Thomas and the "right wing" Governor J. Bracken Lee. This provided an attractive political balance.
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
Power in the organization resided in a fourteen-member executive committee, some of whose members were also on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, including Leo Cherne and Joseph Buttinger.
Cardinal Spellman and the Church's program in Vietnam were represented on the board by Monsignor Harnett, head of the Catholic Relief Services.
Two members of the executive committee, Norbert Muhlen and Sol Sanders, were on the staff of The New Leader, and the political philosophy of that magazine, militant anti-Communism plus sympathy for government-inspired social reform, best summarizes the philosophy of most of the executive committee members. Another member of the executive committee was Elliot Newcomb, who was later to become the treasurer of the organization. Newcomb and Harold Oram, were partners in a public relations firm, Newcomb-Oram, which two months before the formation of the American Friends of Vietnam had signed a contract with Diem's government to handle its public relations in the United States. Newcomb subsequently left the firm, but Oram continued to be registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent acting for the Diem government until June 30, 1961. The Diem government paid the Oram firm a $3,000 monthly fee plus expenses, with a third of it earmarked for a full-time campaign director. This position was held from 1956 to the end of the contract in 1961 by Gilbert Jonas, who had been executive secretary of the American friends of Vietnam and later became its secretary and assistant treasurer.
Up to this point Vietnam had not been a popular subject for American scholarship or journalism. There were few "experts" on the area in the universities or the press. The vastly expanded American role in the period following the Geneva Accords produced a great demand for knowledge about the country. As a result, those who were most intimately involved in the American program there generally blossomed as the chief sources of information and opinion. This was natural, but most of them were committed protagonists and their writing soon became propaganda for the cause. This was particularly true of university participation. The one group of social scientists most informed about the area was pulled in to work on a U.S.-sponsored program that came to typify American political involvement in Vietnam.
U. S. Support for Diem
This was the group sent out by Michigan State University.
In 1955, '56, '57, even '58, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his entire government had a fantastically complete and almost naive, confidence in Americans, per se.
Especially "on the in" in those days was the Michigan State University Group, paid by the U.S. Government under a contract to "advise" the Vietnamese Government in a number of fields of activity. Among their "advisory" duties was the formation of what is now referred to by "foreign adventurers" and the foreign press as "the secret police of Mr. Ngo Dinh Nhu."
The MSU group proceeded with "training" for several years. The head of the MSU group was considered the most "in" man among the foreigners and many considered him more "in" than the President's own ministers.
The MSU group enjoyed an extraordinary power based on this confidence. Not only did they "train" but they also "controlled" in large measure-the now famous "secret police."
The most "in" man of 1955 referred to in this 1963 editorial from The Times of Vietnam, a Diem-controlled paper, was Wesley Fishel, the young professor who had persuaded Diem to come to the United States to line up American support for his cause. Fishel first went to work for the Diem government in 1954 as an "advisor on government reorganization." He was also a member of the personal staff of Special Ambassador Collins and, in Fishel's words to this author, "I was the only contact that he [Collins] had with Diem that was at all effective for many months...... After two years I surfaced - to use a CIA term - to become head of the MSU program."
In addition to Fishel's and Diem's interest the decision to formally associate Michigan State involved higher policy considerations. The National Security Council in the spring of 1955 had decided on continuing all-out U.S. support for Diem. No less a personage than Vice-President Nixon called John Hannah, the president of Michigan State, to elicit his support. Hannah was told, according to Fishel, that Vietnam had been declared top priority and that it was in the national interest for his university to become involved. Officially, the project would be part of the International Cooperation Administration program of assistance to underdeveloped countries. It was in fact the largest operation and would involve 54 professors and 200 Vietnamese assistants. It was also to fill a special need.
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
The Geneva Accords had prohibited increases in the strength of either side through the introduction of "all types of arms" or build-ups in troop strength. The presence of the International Control Commission (made up of nationals of Canada, Poland, and India) offered the prospect of unfavorable publicity to the United States if its Military Assistance Advisory Group, United States Operations Mission, or CIA agents operated openly. The Michigan group would Serve as "cover."
Diem, as a minority figure in his own country, required a strengthened police power. The Diem government had reason to expect an attack from segments of the armed forces hostile to it or from police units under the control of the bandit Binh Xuyen sect. It was for this reason, according to Fishel, that Art Brandstatter, head of the Michigan State University School of Police Administration and ex-Colonel of M.P.s, began training Diem's Palace Guard. As part of this training program, described in MSU monthly reports, the Palace Guard was supplied with guns and ammunition the Michigan State professors obtained from the U.S.-MAAG.
Bao Dai, when he had been Chief of State, had placed the national police and security services under the control of the Binh Xuyen, and they were hostile to the Diem government. By April of 1955, Diem could call upon army troops whose loyalties had been ensured by Ambassador Collins' statement that the United States would only meet the payroll of an army committed to the Diem government. These were employed to crush the Binh Xuyen. The Michigan State professors decided to concentrate their energies on the reconstitution of the police apparatus. Their monthly report for July 1955, stated:
It has been generally agreed and the Ambassador has specifically asked that we concentrate almost exclusively on the police and field administration projects until the election of next July..... It is now felt by the MSU team that in order to be in accord with U.S. policy locally it is necessary to engage almost exclusively in immediate impact programs until after the elections in July 1956 and that the immediate impact programs in our program are the field administration and the police projects.
By November 1955, the professors were able to state in their monthly report :
During the month of October we received a notice of Washington's approval of the recommended expanded police program submitted August 29. We started immediately to implement this program. Conferences were held at USOM on October l0 and the Embassy on October 23 and 24, trying to coordinate Internal Security operations in Vietnam, in which our government has an interest.
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