These abstracts are meant to inform readers of the content of the as yet untranslated Vietnamese articles only – please do not cite.
Who is really responsible for the fall of South Vietnam
into the hands of the Communists
A definite answer based on declassified materials
of the United States Government
(Article in Vietnamese published in THE KY 21 Magazine – No. 127, November 1999 –
AI THỰC SỰ TRÁNH NHIỆM VỀ VIỆC MIỀN NAM VIỆT NAM
RƠI VÀO TAY CỔNG SẢN?
Tài liệu mật của Chính phủ Hoa kỳ được công khai hóa
cho phép trả lời câu hỏi này một cách dứt khoát
“I have devoted 36 years of my life to study the coup d’état of November 2, 1963 with the hope that I could contribute to the detoxification of hatred and antagonism among the Vietnamese people. And today I’m very happy to have found the real answer for the question: “Who is really responsible for the fall of South Vietnam?” And I can say for sure that “All of us were victims of Mr. Kennedy” – Ton That Thien
The view put forward in this article is: President Kennedy was mainly responsible for the eventual fall of South Vietnam into the hands of the Communist.
This view was reinforced by the arguments and evidence in two important works on the coup d’état of November 2, 1963: The Year of the Hare: America in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 – February 15 – 1963 by Professor Francis Xavier Winters, and Lodge in Vietnam, a Patriot Abroad by Professor Anne Blair.
After studying the secret and top secret materials (report, transcripts of discussions between Kennedy and his staff and records of communications between Washington and the American Embassy in Saigon, encompassing five volumes titled Foreign Relations of the US, 1961-1964 , and the General Records of the year 1964 of the Department of State, revealing detailed discussions between Mr. Kennedy and his staff not only day by day but also hour by the hour), the two professors separately came to the same conclusion: it can be said that it was Mr. Kennedy who had sold out Vietnam to the Communists. Other people in his close entourage such as Mr. Averell Harriman, Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Asian Affairs and the other two members of the “Overturn Diem” trio – Roger Hillsman and Michael Forrestal, and Mr. Cabot Lodge, American Ambassador to Vietnam – were also responsible, but the ultimate decision was Mr. Kennedy’s. Additional details concerning and explaining Mr. Kennedy’s actions were provided in A Death in November, America in Viet Nam by Ellen J. Hammer, Our Viet Nam Nightmare by Marguerite Higgins and Kennedy in Viet Nam, a Prelude to War, American Policy 1960-1963 by William Rust.
There were three facts which confirmed that the blame must fall entirely on Mr. Kennedy:
- Mr. Kennedy was intimidated by the Soviet supported communist offensive in Laos, and gave big concessions to the Communists. These concessions created very good conditions for the Communist to increase their attack on South Vietnam.
- After pushing South Vietnam into a very difficult situation, not only did Mr. Kennedy put the blame on the government of South Vietnam – saying that the government was incompetent – but he also created conditions to further weaken the government.
- He made it impossible for either the government of Vietnam or the successive governments in the United States to salvage the situation.
After the defeat at the Bay of Pigs, Mr. Kennedy lost the will to fight. He instructed Mr. Harriman to find a solution to avoid war [in Vietnam]. This solution was the International Conference on Laos in May 1961 which concluded with the Agreement on Laos in July 1962. In this agreement Kennedy gave the Communists the three following concessions, which turned out to be the death knell for South Vietnam.
- The United States did not insist on the complete withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from Laos, and the withdrawal would not be subjected to strict international control and supervision. The result was that Hanoi only withdrew from Laos 3000 troops out of a total of 10,000, with no international supervision;
- The United States agreed to dismantle SEATO, which specified that Laos and South Vietnam were under the protection of its members, including United States;
- The United States did not insist on strict international supervision of the movements along the frontier of Laos and Vietnam. As a result some people in the United States have nicknamed the Ho Chi Minh trail as “Harriman Memorial Highway.” Mr. Kennedy also approved a secret meeting between Mr. Harriman and the representatives of Hanoi to ask them whether they would agree to have a solution for South Vietnam similar to the one in Laos, where the Pathet Lao were able to claim a share of power.
These facts sent a very clear message to the Communists that the United States would abandon Vietnam as it had done in Cuba and Laos. These signals encouraged the leadership of the Vietnamese Communists to step up their attack in South Vietnam after Mr. Kennedy became president in 1961.
This put the government of South Vietnam before a host of problems. The greatest problem was military: how to cope with the massive attacks of the Ccommunists with limited means and the open movement of troops and weapons through Laos into South Vietnam. The related strict control and security measures applied by Mr.Diem in the areas under the control of the Southern government triggered public discontent and accusations by the opposition that he was oppressive and anti-democratic.
Mr. Kennedy overthrew the government of South Vietnam in order to ensure that he would win the election for the second term in November 1964.
Mr. Kennedy wanted to get the support of both the left, by demonstrating that he is an ardent supporter of civil rights, and the right, by showing his determination to fight communism. At the same time he had the intention of abandoning South Vietnam in 1965. This was confirmed by two persons very close to Kennedy. One was Mr. Kenneth O’Donnell, his personal secretary, in his memoirs, and the other was Mr. Charles Bartlett, a well-known journalist and a close friend of Mr. Kennedy.
Kenneth O’Donnell wrote in his memoir that in the spring of 1963 Mr. Kennedy said to Senator Mike Mansfield that he agreed with Mr. Mansfield’s on the need for “a complete military withdrawal from Vietnam”, but he could not do it right away as this would anger the Republicans. He would have to wait until his re-election in 1965.
Mr. Kennedy told Mr. O Donnell that in 1965 he would be the least popular American president, and people will berate him as somebody who has given in to the Communists. But he said “I don’t care”.
Charles Barret confirmed to professor Winters in 1988 that Mr. Kennedy had told him of his decision to withdraw from Viet Nam in September 1963, saying “We have no future in Viet Nam. They are going to kick our asses out of there. I can’t give up on Viet Nam before 1964. I could’nt go out there and ask for re-election after giving up on two pieces of territory [Laos and Viet Nam] to Communism.” But after the elction was won, he would be free to disengage.
Mr. Kennedy was giving up., allowing Hanoi to attack South Viet Nam via Laos, but he wanted to put the blame on Mr. Diem, accusing Mr. Diem of not being able to stop the Communists, of being anti-democratic and repressing religion. In fact Mr. Kennedy considered the government of South Vietnam to be a threat to his re-election, as he needed to improve his image on both the left and the right. He had mistakenly identified his winning of the election with the long-term interests of the United States. Under the Constitution of the United States he was the ultimate authority, therefore he was the one that was responsible for the loss of South Vietnam.
The overthrow of the South Vietnamese government brought about disastrous consequences for Vietnam. According to the teachings of Lenin, the moment the administrativeve structure is disintegrated is the right moment for an all-out attack to seize the government. This was exactly the situation that happened right after the overthrow of President Diem’s government on November 2, 1963.
Nguyen Huu Tho said: “The overthrow of Diem was a godsend for us.” He ought to have said ‘Kennedysend’s.
SHARING THE BLAME
Mr. Kennedy and his entourage, Mr. Diem and his family, the Venerable Thich Tri Quang, as well as the generals, intellectuals and politicians of South Vietnam were also responsible for the downfall of South Vietnam: Mr. Diem for focusing strictly on order and security, not understanding the importance of American media and public opinion, and tolerating his family’s provocative ways; Mr. Nhu for being too forceful towards the opposition, Mme Nhu for speaking irresponsibly, Father Thuc for meddling and not respecting the Buddhists; the Venerable Thich Tri Quang for inciting rebellion by Buddhist disciples and stirring up American public opinion, acting on his pride and under the illusion that overthrowing Mr. Diem would give power to the Buddhists; the generals for being very naive in thinking that by overthrowing the president they could better fight the Ccommunists; the intellectuals and politicians for demanding too much from the government while the country was under relentless attacks and subversions by the Communists, and hoping that the United States would overthrow the president in order to establish a Jeffersonian democracy.
But all those factors together could not have caused the disintegration and downfall of South Vietnam. It was Mr. Kennedy’s decision to leave Laos wide open to military movements, coupled with the revelation of the weak determination on the part of the United States to stop communism in South East Asia and the spread of the belief in the need to liberate South Viet Nam from American imperialism that had created conditions for the victory of the North Vietnamese Communists over South Vietnam.
I have dedicated 36 years of my life to study the coup d’état of November 2, 1963 with the hope that I could contribute to the detoxification of hatred and antagonism among the Vietnamese people. And today I’m very happy to have found the real answer for the question: “Who is really responsible for the fall of South Vietnam?” And I can say for sure that “all of us were victims of Mr. Kennedy”, therefore there is no reason for us Vietnamese to continue to accuse each other. We share some of the blame, but we were all victims of Mr. Kennedy’s decisions, so we should not accuse each other but instead work towards what we all wish for, i.e. harmonious relations amongst a united Vietnamese community.
Note to readers
An article written in English with similar content, titled The Year of the Hare – New Light on the Anti-Diem Coup, was published in World Affairs, Winter issue, November/December 1999. It can be accessed on this web site through the following link: