INTERVIEW WITH BUI DIEM
INTERVIEWER: I am interviewing Mr. Bui Diem on June the 4th 1996 for the Cold War program about Vietnam. If I could start by asking you for your appraisal on President Diem. What sort of man was he?
BUI DIEM: Briefly speaking, I have a lot of respect so the time he ruled the country and especially around the end of his regime he relied mainly on his family and consequently he caused a lot of problem around the country. And it is this kind of problem that later on provoked his downfall.
INT: How much support did he have in the country?
BD: Well, in Asia and in the Orient, you know very well that normally people respected those people who were in power and so whether it was Mr. Diem or another one, they respected the men in power. But in the same time, people saw him a very honest man, dedicated to the country, but his views about how to rule the country became very difficult for a lot of people later on to accept and that is the reason why around in 1963, for instance there are a lot of discontent among the population, I think especially among the intellectual, among the political groups and in the same time the religious group, the Bhuddist group for example.
INT: What had he done then to cause the people to be alienated?
BD: Well, it is a kind of accumulation of circumstances, not really one single thing, but the one single thing which provoked the whole drama was the Bhuddist crisis in August 1963.
INT: What happened?
BD: Well,... normally people in Vietnam at that time regarded him as a man from the Catholic religion. His brother archbishop too down in Bilong was a very powerful man, all his brothers were Catholic and somehow, rightly or wrongly people had the impression that he favored the Catholics at the expenses of all the religious groups and through a kind of accident in Hwai, people thought that well, the governor or the area gave instructions from the troops to shoot at the manifestation there then and some of these people died and by then the whole fervor among the Bhuddists around the country came up and provoked the fall of Mr. Diem.
INT: What about the strategic hamlets policy? How did that work, was that a mistake?
BD: Well, conceptually speaking and from my personal point of view, I was in the opposition by then, I was not in the government of Mr. Diem and I opposed his regime. Conceptually speaking, I thought that it was quite a good concept, in the sense that well, it prevent the Communist from getting support from the population, but the bad thing is that Mr. Diem regime did not have all the cadres well-trained enough and honest enough to conduct the whole program and the people in the countryside and through corruptions and through a lot of malpractices provoked this contempt of the population. But as I mentioned to you, in terms of concept, I think that it was quite a good concept.
INT: When did the Americans start to have doubts about supporting Diem?
BD: Well, the American had doubt about supporting the beginning by the sixties, the beginning of the sixties, when there was already a coup against Mr. Diem. But the coup failed and so from then on, there are a lot of Americans who thought at that time that time came up for the end of regime of Mr. Diem, while a lot of old Americans thought that, well, we should continue with him and try to convince him to correct the mistakes that he committed during the years in regime, in power.
INT: Do you think that the generals would have gone ahead with the coup against Diem if they thought the Americans hadn't supported it?
BD: Definitely, no. Well, one can say that it was a green light from the American who pushed the general to set up the coup and to start the coup himself.
INT: In what way was that green light given?
BD: Well, it was a kind of very subtle communication between the US embassy in Saigon, through indirect signal through Lew Collin and through all the people between the military group and the US embassy itself.
INT: What was your opinion of the wisdom of the coup at the time?
BD: Well, I was in the opposition by then and I was very much in favor of the coup. In fact, I was in very close touch with one of the plotter of the coup, General Kim. But in retrospect right now, I think that the general didn't have any clear idea about how to rule the country and they just follow the trend in the country against the government and also Mr. Diem and they organized a coup. But once they succeeded in the coup, they didn't how to rule the country and again, it is my very personal point of view, it was the mess created by this kind of situation in 1964 that the American intervened later on. Without the mess provoked by the coup of Mr. Diem... against Mr. Diem, perhaps... well, who knows? There are a lot of iffy questions, but perhaps the American didn't have to intervene.
INT: You were an adviser to one of the administrations that followed Diem. How much did you know of what was going on with the Americans? How much were you told by them about what they were planning?
BD: Very little, almost nothing.
INT: Sorry, could you make that into a statement, I put that in the form of a question....
BD: Well, I was in the government and I was (unintelligible) censored by then the minister, the Prime Minister office for Dr. Khanh, the Prime Minister and we didn't even know when the first group of marines in the... land in Danang and on, in the morning of March 18th I was called upon by Dr. Kuang who asked me to join him in his home and by then I ran into a friend of mine at the US embassy and Dr. Kuang told me that, well, you have to sit down with (unintelligible) and drop the communiqué about the landing of the marines. Well, I objected, but he said that well, finish the communiqué first and we talk about it later and only after that he explained to me that a few days before, Maxwell Taylor, the US ambassador mentioned to him that probably it would be wise to try to have some marine troops, defend the base of Danang, from which the airplane took off for bombing North Vietnam, in the Rolling Thunder campaign.
INT: Can you recall any other instance around that time where you felt that you government people were not important?
BD: Well, we are not informed almost about everything, because again, I have mentioned to you there it is no use for me to talk in terms of having insight on the situation. But for instance, the landing of the marines, for instance the arrival of the Korean troops and the support given by the Australian and by the New Zealanders and by all the people, all this we knew only vaguely and we come up to the situation only at the last minute to face the situation.