INT: Do you think that the fact that you were unable to control the government, or rather the South Vietnamese government was not in complete control or relied a lot on American support led to support for the NLF?
BD: Oh... well putting aside the problem of the NLF, I think that we Vietnamese in the South Vietnam, we bear a lot of responsibility over all the situation, in the sense that we gave the impression to the American that we did nothing and that they had to take out only action by themselves. And concerning the NLF for instance it was a period in which the NLF was a very active, but from my point of view I did not think by then and I do not think by now that the situation really needed a massive intervention from the US troops. Of course, we need the American support, perhaps at one part of the American troops it would be required for helping us, saving the very urgent situation. But the problem of bringing half a million US troops in Vietnam was never, never in our mind. And I remember very well, Dr. Kuang, my Prime Minister, well he had a lot of doubts about it and he talked to Maxwell Taylor about it and General Maxwell Taylor himself share many of the opinion of Dr. Kuang about the advisability of bringing so many troops to South Vietnam.
INT: Did any of the administrations after Diem try to make advances, diplomatic gestures towards either the NLF or to Hanoi?
INT: Why not?
BD: Well, the other side had a ver, very rigid position and we knew about it and it was quite ifor us to move in that direction, because the other side required some kind of complete surrender and it was impossible for us in South Vietnam to move in that direction, although we, among many Vietnamese, we thought of it and among the Vietnamese families and there are contacts in between families through indirect wealth.
INT: But the...
INT: I thought there was a time at which President Diem's brother Mr. Nhu was planning to or actually making direct approaches to Hanoi and that was one of the reasons that the Americans fell out with Diem.
BD: I don't think that it was the only thing which provoked the kind of differences between the Americans and Mr. Diem. Personally, I made a lot of research about this period of time and I could not, up to this point in time, find evidences to the effect that Mr. Chu himself had got in direct contact with the other side, perhaps a lot of rumors and a lot of feelings around, you see, but I couldn't find yet any kind of tangible evidences of this kind of contact between Mr. Diem brother with the other side.
INT: Going forward again to 1965. Once the troops had landed at Danang, was the South Vietnamese government from then on in a weak position of not being in control of the political situation of the country. Was it's position weakened do you think?
BD: No, after the landing of the marines, apart from the kind of doubts, inner doubt among many of the Vietnamese about the massive introductions of American troops, on the surface it provoked a lot of assurances for the population, because they say that the Americans were very, very strong, with all the equipment, the planes were roaring overhead and all day long and so it gave them some kind of assurances that the enemy cannot overcome the situation.
INT: You then came to the United States as ambassador in 1966.
BD: Yeah, at the end of '66.
INT: How frequent were your contacts here? What sort of contacts did you have here? Who did you meet and how often?
BD: Well, we met quite often with the State Department and with the White House and we all knew very well that at that time, my main contact at the State Department was Mr. William P. Bundy, the elder brother of MacGeorge Bundy and at the White House the contact was with Walt Rostow. But in the same time there are a lot of aides from the two men and aide from Walter Rostow and aide from Bundy and we got in touch either directly with Bundy or Rostow or through many of their aides.
INT: And what was your principal purpose at that time? In your dealings with the American administration what were you trying to achieve?
BD: Well, it is very difficult to describe the kind of purpose that, for an ambassador who is posted in Washington at that time. I had to follow the instructions from the government to maintain contacts with the American administration to understand the policy of the US administration firstly and in the same time, to get in touch with the member of the Congress and the members of the news media. So, it is a kind of overall contacts that the end of the day, gave me some kind of idea about what is going on in the US, for, for in the Vietnamese government in Saigon.
INT: What would you say was your biggest success in that period?
BD: Well, very, very gradually I came to the point that rightly or wrongly, the public opinion was very much against war, whether it was some kind of happening of circumstances through which the American society itself was going through a change and the war happened exactly at the same time. But somehow there was a very, very large trend and in the US public opinion against the war and I sensed it right away and it was one of my main concern of when every weekend I conveyed my assessment of the situation.
INT: Just going back to the time you were still in Vietnam, you had visits from Robert McNamara in 1963, a visit from McNamara in 1963. How did he go down?
BD: Well, first of all, the first time when he came to South Vietnam in 19 64, not in '63, I was not yet in the government, I was a newspaper man and he was in charge of my paper, the Saigon Post and so I went around looking upon them as a kind of performer you see and it is very interesting, each time McNamara came along was kind of raising both hands like that, "Vietnam [Vietnamese phrase]. Vietnam [Vietnamese phrase]."
INT: What does that mean?
BD: Well, it... mean long live Vietnam, one thousand year Vietnam, yes, but as you have known it already, in some of these occasion the pronunciation from Mr. McNamara was so Westernized that the Vietnamese and understood it in another way and they understood it as Vietnam [Vietnamese phrase] means that, well, Vietnam want to lie down.
INT: Sorry, can you start that again... Just go back to McNamara's visit in '64. Just describe again when you were the editor of the Saigon Times.
BD: Well, he apparently under the instruction from the Johnson administration to go around the country to promote General Khanh as leader of South Vietnam and so he appeared publicly in many of the public meetings along with General Khanh and each time he appeared with General Khanh, both of them raised their hands like that together and so they said, Vietnam [Vietnamese phrase] , it means long live Vietnam or Vietnam one thousand years, you see. But the pronunciation from Mr. McNamara was very bad and so, well, it provoked a lot of misunderstanding and the public laugh at it, because they understood the Vietnam [Vietnamese phrase] as Vietnam long live Vietnam, but in the same time it means that, well, Vietnam has to lie down and the public laughed at it right away.
INT: When McNamara came again in 1965, when you were actually in government. Can you describe that.
BD: Oh, well, he came in 1965 when I just became assistant to Prime Minister Ky and I drafted a long memo to Ky, to ask Ky to talk to McNamara about a lot of strategic questions, a lot of long-range prospect of the war, how the American view the war to be ended through military victory or through peace... by negotiation, what else. But somehow Mr. McNamara came and he never let the Vietnamese general ask him the question one way or the other and he came out like a machine gun asking a lot of statistics like that and with his yellow pad, he put down all the indications and as soon as the answers were given, he took up and left. He was not interested, that much about the opinion of the Vietnamese at all.
INT: So what was your impression of him?
BD: Very bad. He was a too cold a man and he has no compassion whatsoever and from then on, in spite of the fact that later on I had to deal with him as an ambassador and the relations that would be between the ambassador and the Secretary of Defense, but I had some kind of inner feeling in myself which prevent me from trying to become friend of Mr. McNamara, I never tried to do it.
INT: (Asks BD to repeat story about McNamara visit in 1963.) What position you had and what McNamara did?
BD: Well I was at this time special assistant to Prime Minister Ky, General Win Kal Ky and Mr. McNamara, as Secretary of Defense, came in, yes in July 1965 to have an assessment of the military situation and of the overall situation which the new government of General Ky by then. And so we had on one side in a meeting, General Ky, General Khanh, all the generals and the ministers of the Vietnamese government and on the other side Ambassador Lodge, then McNamara and General Wheeler, then General Westmoreland and the two side sat along a long table like that and Mr. McNamara, he came from a long trip from Washington and he looked very, very refreshed, you see, and well, he start right away asking a lot of questions on his agenda, you see, and not much of an exchange of idea between the two sides.