Interview with Eldridge Durbrow, 1979

 
02/01/1979
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Eldridge Durbrow interview. Stanley Karnow cutaways. Access copy with audible and visible time code.

Transcript

Additional interview questions

Durbrow reverses.
Interviewer:
Okay? What was Saigon like when you first went out there in 1957 as ambassador?
What was Saigon like when you first went out there as ambassador in 1957?
What kind of impression did Ngo Diem make on you?
What kind of impression did Ngo Dinh Diem make on you?
Do you think he had a grasp of the problems in Vietnam at the time?
Did you get to know Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and Nhu’s wife?
How did you find Nhu?
Were Nhu and Diem dependent on each other?
What kind of impression did Madam Nhu make on you?
Looking back, do you think the United States made the right choice in backing Diem?
Many American officials praised Diem and uh, excuse me I'll do it again...
Many American officials praised Diem. He's acclaimed by Congress. Did this make it difficult to get Diem to go through with reforms?
In the late 1950s you believed that Diem was doing well, but later in the early 1960s you began to have doubts that the military and political situations were going well. What was going wrong at the time?
At the same time there was a growing internal opposition to Diem...
At the same...
At the same time there was a growing internal opposition to Diem...Okay? At the same time there was a growing non-communist, internal opposition Diem to that culminated in a coup in November 1960 again him. Could you describe those events and explain them?
What happened during the coup of November 1960?
Who was behind it?
Who was behind it?
Who was behind it?
The coup against Diem could have been serious. It could have overthrown him and he was the person that the United States was supporting. Didn't we have intelligence on what was going on?
After the aborted coup against Diem in November 1960, many Vietnamese began to have doubts about him. Do you share those doubts?
What kind of reaction did you get from Diem when you pressed him for reform?
At the time the CIA station chief in Saigon was a man called Nick Natsios who was very critical of Diem. Did you agree with Natsios?
In those days American military policy was to strengthen the South Vietnamese army for conventional war, for invasion from the North. Did you think that was the right approach?
Why did they call him Stonehead McGarr?
It was clear during those days that there were differences, sharp differences between you and General Sam Williams who was the head of the military advisory group. What were those differences?
Why was he nicknamed Hanging Sam Williams
During the time that you were running the mission, was General Williams communicating directly from the Pentagon and getting encouragement from the Pentagon?
1959? In those days there was a series...
Back in the late 50s there were allegations in the American press of misuse of American aid funds and corruption and so forth, and that touched off Congressional hearings. Could you describe what happened?
In November 1960, Senator Gore said that the American mission in Saigon was divided, uncoordinated and that there was also a lack of coordination between the mission in Washington. Could you comment on that?
Did you think at the time that Washington took the Vietnam situation seriously?
Up to 1960 you reported that the situation in Vietnam was improving but at the same time you asked for more advisors, more American advisors. Why was that?
You stayed...
You stayed on for a few months after the Kennedy administration came in. What do you think President Kennedy wanted in Vietnam?
Should the United States have put combat troops in sooner?
Should we have had American ground troops in Laos, Cambodia and in Vietnam?
Yeah. I have it. Yeah. In January 1961 General Lansdale visited Vietnam and wrote a report critical of both the Americans and Vietnamese.
In January 1961...
In January 1961 General Lansdale visited Vietnam and wrote a report critical of both the American mission and the Vietnamese government under Diem. What do you think of that report? Do you think it was valid?
Lansdale recommended that you be replaced by Ambassador Nolting. How do you feel about that?
Better do it over again. I'm going to repeat that statement...
In...
In his report in January 1961 General Lansdale said "If the right Americans...
Go? After his trip to Vietnam in January 1961 General Lansdale wrote a report in which he said "If the right Americans influenced Diem in the right way, Diem would respond." And he recommended that you be replaced. What do you think about that?
Do you think the Kennedy administration wanted to treat Diem more gently than you had?
Looking back, do you think it was better to treat Diem gently?
Looking back, do you think it would have been better to treat Diem gently?
What were the...
What different approach should have been taken towards Vietnam?
Did you see or foresee the siege of the Buddhist crisis of 1963?
When you were there did you foresee the Buddhist crisis that would break out in 1963?
Was the United States responsible for the overthrow and assassination of Diem?
Why did Madam Nhu dislike you?
Did you have any particular disputes with her?
Did you have any particular disputes with Madam Nhu?
What do you think are the lessons of Vietnam? What should we have learned from Vietnam?
What specific reform and changes did you recommend to Diem?
What was Diem's reaction when you talked firmly to him?
What role did the Chinese who lived in Vietnam play there?
What was the role of the Chinese residents of Vietnam?
End of cassette #2