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Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981

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Summary
Nguyen Cao Ky served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 until 1967 and then Vice President unti 1971. Nguyen Cao Ky recalls wanting to move the war north as a way to stop the Communists from infilitrating South Vietnam. As much as Nguyen Cao Ky wanted to see a unified Vietnam, he knew that was not possible and that the higher priority was to stop the spread of communism. Nguyen Cao Ky also talks about the Buddhist unrest in 1964 and his arrangement for the departure of Nguyen Khnah.
Topics
Nationalism and communism, Military assistance, American, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Influence, War--Economic aspects, Prostitution, Political psychology, Presidents--Election, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States, Capitulations, Military, Armed Forces--Officers, Ex-prime ministers, Propaganda, Communist, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion, Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976), Buddhism and politics, Vietnam--Politics and government
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Transcript

Pursuit of victory in North Vietnam

VIETNAM
Nguyen Ky
SR #2633
Tape 1 Side 1
T 385
Huntington Beach, California Tone will be minus 10. Speed. Mark it.
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Mr. Ky, in 1964...you wanted to take the war north. Why did you do that, what did you hope to accomplish?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, because militarily speaking I think that's the only way we could stop them. I mean you could stop the invasion of the Communists.
Interviewer:
You can't just fight within South Vietnam?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
There's no way. I remember during the Guam conference with President Johnson I instructed Cao Van Vien the Chief of General Staff at that time to give to the American Delegation a complete briefing about our plan, you know. In that I asked the the agreement of American government to...support the idea having me as a volunteer to go north with uh two or three uh Vietnamese divisions...or what we asked them is to provide us with air support or you know ah naval supply.
Interviewer:
But but back in '64 when this question first came up, what uh, what was the reaction of the Americans?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I remember many...many conversations I had with Secretary Dean Rusk for example. I had the feeling that ah, American government always a...afraid that if we go north and the Chinese Communists will you know come south to rescue the Vietnamese Communists. And um...em...
Interviewer:
What did you think of that? Would they have come?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well I, I remember at that time I, I told uh Mr. Dean Rusk that that thing will not happen. I don't think the the Chinese will come south to rescue the the Vietnamese Communists.
Interviewer:
Why?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
...Well, because I don't think, first I don't think the Vietnamese Communists will ask the Chinese to come south and second, I think, um, even at that time we knew the Vietnamese Communists leader are more or less side with the Russians and that's something that the Chinese don't like...and you see what happened today showed that I, I am right in my judgment.
Interviewer:
But you...Our goal was always independence for South Vietnam. Was yours the same?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I beg pardon?
Interviewer:
The goal of the United States was always independence for South Vietnam.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yes.
Interviewer:
It wasn't to conquer the north. Was your goal the same?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh yes. Yes.
Interviewer:
But, but did you want to reunify with all of Vietnam?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yes, sure that every Vietnamese want to see Vietnam unify but, ah, at that time our first priority is be bring peace back to Viet...the whole Indochina and the worse to stop the communist invasion first. And then let the people of both south and north live in peace for a while and then maybe later on let the people decide by themselves.
Interviewer:
But the best way to stop them was by heading north?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah. In order to destroy the enemy capabilities to sustain our invasion war.
Interviewer:
You finally had a chance to go north in ah February '65. You were in the lead plane of that uh reprisal attack at Chap Le.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeh.
Interviewer:
Tell us what happened and how you felt about it?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah, but it again, it’s a very limited mission you know using only air power. (cough, cough) and, ah, but even for a you know very limited mission, ah, incursion into the north...ah it provide us a big excitement at that time. I was commander of the Air Force at that time and I remember that for the first air mission...ah, when we crossed the border I had more, you know, pilot volunteer than what we we need for the mission.
Interviewer:
It was good for morale to finally to be heading north?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeh, yeh.

Buddhist unrest and Nguyen Khanh's leadership

Interviewer:
Uhm, there was a lot of Buddhist unrest on 1964 from August on. Was Khanh stirring this up, what was he doing at that time, why all the unrest?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well why all the unrest? Because remember uh the Buddhists raised to power not only ‘64 but back in ‘63, you know...after the coup against the President Diem...and...the Buddhists become a political force, strong and well organized. But then I think the Buddhist leaders ah they thought that they they are the true the real power...so they begin to ask you know too much...Khanh trying to play a, a smart politicians.
He tried to accommodate, you know ah not only the Buddhists but other other groups, other factions ah also and that's the cause of the downfall of Khanh because ah there so much groups, so much faction you know, so much differences that you couldn't ah please everyone and get the support uh from everyone.
Interviewer:
Were you instrumental in trying to get him out?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I arranged ah the departure of Khanh but I never want really wanted his departure. I arranged his departure only after ah he shows that he could not ah govern any more. Remember at that time um, coup and anti coup uh, happen uh every two or three weeks, every month in South Vietnam you know.
Interviewer:
So you gave him a medal and sent him on his way.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah, I think that's the the best arrangement I can get fr...for him...I like him but, uh, because his instability you know, political instability so the feeling among the senior you know ah general officers at that time ah was against him.

Relations with Maxwell Taylor in 1964

Interviewer:
Tell me about your relationship with Ambassador Taylor, in particular about the incident I think it was December 1964 when he got you and some of the other generals into a tongue lashing.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, when, when Jim [sic] Taylor was Ambassador in Saigon you know I was a Junior officer I think...one star general commanding of the air force...so actually I I didn't have too much you know relations or conversation with Taylor but uh we had met once I had the impression that ah...he looked down, you know, on us like you know big brother you know looking down the young uh junior officer.
Take 659
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Tell us what what happened when you first went into the American Embassy to see Taylor.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well I think that day the armed forces ah had decide to abolish the national high council you know the civilian body. So I think Ambassador Taylor was very you know unhappy so that morning we were all ah meet together at the headquarters of the chief, general chief of staff and uh, General Khanh after talking with Ambassador Taylor in the telephone he said to us, he said that ah "Taylor wants to meet with me, but I am not going so why don't you" he asked me and General Thieu and Admiral Cang , I think, commander of the Navy and General Thi, so four of us, ah we went down the uh, American Embassy to see Ambassador Taylor so when he first came in, you know, in his office he was, he looked very, very you know, uh... unhappy.
He didn't even shake hand with us, just say sit down. So we sit down and listen to him. And he said, “Ah, well gentlemen remember a few days ago ah I gave a, a dinner and I told you that ah, ah we want stability, we don't want any trouble, any changes in, and now you see what happened you know, you abolished a national council and so and so,” uh, so he says something like “Ah, it's a waste you know,” either waste of time or waste of a food that he gave to us but well I, I understood that that it was a waste of a food.
So I said to him I said, “Now listen General, I don't think it’s a waste because I remember that (cough) the piece of a steak that you gave to me, it, it’s the best of a piece of steak I never had in my, you know, whole life. I was poor Vietnamese. So I really appreciate the food, it’s not a waste.”
Ah, so he said “Why you ah did that, why you did that.” I said well why you did ah because we thought ah, it’s in our interest, the interest of a Vietnam. That's that's the whole, you know, conversation because he didn't convince us that we are doing wrong or either convince him that he's wrong and and we are right.

Ky becomes prime minister

Interviewer:
How did you feel in, in, in June of 1965 when you finally became the Prime Minister? How did you feel then, were you optimistic, were you excited?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Frankly, remember that ah...that day because the the uh...the fight between the civilian factors. Uh at that time we had Chief of State and the Prime Minister both civilian but they belong to two different political parties you know, so at the end they couldn't govern because the Chief of State, you know, is against the Prime Minister.
So I remember that night about 11:00 they called all of us the armed forces council to the Prime Minister's office and they decide both you know, resign and handed the power back to the military and after that uh, we had a long meeting at the headquarters of the marine corps to decide who will be you know the next uh Prime Minister.
And I remember that we first proposed General Thieu cause he was the senior officer at that time but uh facing the difficult situation at that time, Thieu, ah, refused...
Interviewer:
So then...
Nguyen Cao Ky:
...and then after that we proposed a few more.
Camera Roll 661
Clapstick
Interviewer:
When you were finally appointed the Prime Minister, how did you feel? Were you excited? You finally had a chance to run your government.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, not excited because first I didn't want that responsibility. I didn't want that job, but as I mentioned earlier after you know almost two days meeting and after uh we proposed few more you know senior army general like Cang and Thi and all they declined ties you know refused responsibilities, so that at the end they all come to me and said, “Well what about you, Ky, because now that the civilian handed the power to us you know uh we must have someone you know responsible for the government.”
So when we come back to the meeting and I asked all of them 60 or 70 of them you know in the room I said okay ah, one more time anyone wanting to be prime minister...and said no so Thieu said "I propose Ky” and all of them just stood up and you know uh accept uh the offer.
Then I I didn't give them the answer. I said I have to go back and talk with my wife first. And when I told her about that offer you know she- she- you know she was not excited. She said oh no not that job, not as a prime minister. I said what can I do now ha, ha.
So I accept I accept the role and responsibilities with only one goal in my mind which is to bring back stability to South Vietnam, to write a new constitution, and to establish a new regime, a democratic regime in South Vietnam.
I was not excited you know, I accept the role, responsibilities, as any other responsibilities toward my country.

Role and achievement of A.R.V.N. in relation to the Americans and Tet

Interviewer:
The...How did you feel when the American troops were building up in ‘65, did you uh, was this necessary or were you worried they would take over the war. Were you glad when they came?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No, I, I didn't uh think they would take over the war, you know of the responsibilities of the Vietnamese uh. But then '68, '69 ah, they really took over you know the responsibilities and...
Interviewer:
But at the beginning they were necessary?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No.
Interviewer:
They were not necessary?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well at the beginning when I was Prime Minister I think ah we need additional troops right at that time ah, so, ah, arriving of an American troops, w—was welcome. But instead of ah strengthening you know the Vietnamese armed forces to replace you know the American unit...you see in the next years more American troops coming. They bu...they really build up uh a big massive armed forces - air ah, sea and ground forces.
So after that they are so you know, involving in the war that they took over everything. And that's bad because at the end we lost our own identity. The Communists became the true nat—nationalist and we become American puppet. And that's American press help a lot too, to make it appear that we are you know puppet of American.
Interviewer:
Well, get to that later. Let me ask you about this...the Tet Offensive.
Let’s just cut for a minute.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Maybe you could try.
VIETNAM
Nguyen Cao Ky
SR #2634
Tape 1, Side 2
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Mr. Ky, let's jump back to the to the Tet Offensive. Why wasn't there a general uprising as the Communists took over?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Because the majority of the Vietnamese are against communism. That's ah that's what I am trying to tell everyone you know, for many years that ah basically we we are against communism and not only the southerners but even the pe...many people in the north are against communists.
Interviewer:
So, their goal of trying to inspire a general uprising do you think that this was a realistic goal?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
That’s what they thought but the Tet Offensive shows to them and to the whole world that uh, the, the Vietnamese armed forces are capable to stop their offensive, and also to show that uh the majority of the Vietnamese people are supporting a non-communist regime in South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
You won the battle, didn't you?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I won the battle. I can say I won the battle because I was by myself that night. Thieu was out of town and I was by myself. At 2:00 in the morning ah, the base commander he called me, he said well better you took a helicopter with your family and go somewhere because is no longer safe at the base. They are inside the base.
And uh th...he said to me that ah he had many casualties he had no reinforcement and ah...he didn’t think he could hold them longer. Well I said that uh if you stay and then I will stay, and then we we stay and fight them and we stop them.
Interviewer:
This is at Tan Son Nhut?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah...So the next morning I took over the command uh, direct uh, the troops, uh, secur...security forces, the police forces and I uh dispatch General Tong down to the IV Corps the delta, and uh we actually clean them out of the city ah within two months and they suffer a lot of big heavy casualties.
Interviewer:
It was widely reported in the American press as a...as a, a victory for the Communists.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Ha, ha, ha. I don't know, during the wartime you know everything they did ah the American press make it a big noise and big victory for them while I had the impression that all the all along the war the western press siding with them.
Interviewer:
But wasn’t the...?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No, you can you can see by yourself that uh...the people stay with us and the soldiers stay and fight and it was it was a victory for the non-communist.

Political and social impact of the American presence in the South

Interviewer:
What was ah...The press also gave us pictures of vast social changes in, in 196-...after 1968. You know, prostitution and overcrowding because of refugees and so on, did this tear apart the fabric of South Vietnamese life? Can you comment on that?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh, prostitution...now the tell tell me somewhere in this world that there is no prostitution. Tell me some city, some country where there is no prostitution. So there is prostitution in Vietnam, in Saigon of course. There is corruption of course. There is black market, yes.
Ah but, because we are living in in war for long time - thirty years, and with the vast, the big presence of a foreign troops in you know in Vietnam it created a lot of social problems...but we f...we recognize the problem and we face them and try to solve them. But we we lost the war not because prostitution, not because corruption, but uh, uh because from the beginning we uh, we had a adopt strong, a strong, a strong...a wrong strategy. That's all.
Interviewer:
Military strategy.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeh.
Interviewer:
What was the...When you came to the United States in 1970 what was your reaction when the demonstrations and the media uh uh comments. Did you think that the U.S. support for South Vietnam was running out?
End of Roll
Roll 662
Clapstick
(Phone rings)
Interviewer:
Near the end of the American involvement when there is all the American uh, people and the American wealth and money, and didn't this have a real effect on South Vietnamese customs?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh yeh, oh yeh.
Interviewer:
Tell us about it...What did you feel personally that it was doing to your society, the American presence?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, like like a black market you know. Uh, the press at that time tried to blame it on ah Vietnamese official or Vietnamese people but uh, you know that most of the goods came, you know, ah that selling at the black market came from the various PX...and uh it’s wartime and a lot of people both sides, American as well as Vietnamese are involving in the black market you know, so it it created a big uh, uh upside down society.
Interviewer:
Did you feel your society was losing its identity and, and how?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah, well losing id—identity because first because at that time all y...you heard about war, you know, from American side...ah, so people are paying more attention about what Mr. Johnson said, what ah, General Westmoreland said, what McNamara said but, uh, concerning what we said, what we think the people just ignored it. That's the big...biggest lost we suffered.
Um, even among the military y’know the Vietnamese unit who fought alongside American unit uh had received more ah commodities, you know, more facilities ah, ice cream, food, cigarette ah...so at the end you know, they are so uh, Americanized that I remember one day I told Thieu and Vinh that if it continued like this and someday when American withdrawal, go home ah the Vietnamese armed forces will will no longer have all the you know the, the facilities and commodities that we have today and uh...the, the fighting capacities of soldiers will diminish.
Interviewer:
Not enough ice cream.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah, I think it's really you know ah changed ah you know, the face of the society and in in, in the worse, no not better.
Interviewer:
The, the Communists could then say we’re the ones that are gonna preserve the society.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Exactly.
Interviewer:
You tell me that.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well that's the reason they use it for their propaganda you know they said that ah we are puppet of American, we are working you know, for America, receive money from America die for American, they are the true liberators you know. They, the...they fought for a nationalist cause and for the Vietnamese people...so wh—when you look just at the surface, when you look at, at what happened you know to the society, a lot of people listen to that propaganda and believed them.
That's why I remember one day I told Mr. Johnson, I said why don't you just...stay (saw noises) you know stay behind the scenes like the Russian, like the Chinese and uh let us make the show--do the show. Well, he just smiled and we never get you know a good response from American government. They they want to do most of the time they want to do it by themselves.
Well like a big executive officer of a big, you know, manufacturers. That, uh, well...I invest money, (saw noises) soldiers, equipment, I want to control, I want to direct, I want to take decisions.
Interviewer:
Tell me when you came to the United States in 1970...

Encounters with protesters

Clapstick
Interviewer:
When you came here in 1970...all the demonstrations and the media comments, how did you feel about that, those?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well...I had demonstration in New Zealand, in Philippines and uh of course during my visit to the United States back in 1970...I tell you an example of when I stayed in Williamsburg before I c...went to the How...White House.
I stayed one night at Williamsburg with my wife and it was very cold and the next morning when I wake up there was a group of thirty of them young so-called "hippy" you know long hair and uh dirty. They stood outside shouting so we were, we were escort by twenty-one secret agents at that time so I asked the chief secret agent ah to invite them you know to come inside the hotel and I will come down and and talk with them.
So first he said oh no I can't let them come closer to you because they are ah dangerous people, you know taking drug, and so on and so...I said no just let them because it it cold outside you know. I invite them to come inside warm, and I want to to, to meet and talk with them.
So finally they arranged for not all of them but about fifteen of them to come inside the lobby, so I come down and I stood there you know. They all surround me. I asked them what are you against and they said I am against the war, we are against the war.
Well I said, Me too I am against the war. The reason I am against the war because in war I risk my life every minute and you can see that I have a beautiful new wife and beautiful new family and I, I want to live, not to die in wartime so a as you, as any other people in the world, I am against war.
But uh, when the war is imposed on you and when you have to defend your own country then you have to accept war. Ah. As I said we are against corruption. I said, me too. I am against corruption. Do you think I as a chief of government, I am corrupted? They said not you, but you know your government.
Yes, I said it’s true there is corruption in Vietnam as there is corruption in anywhere. Ah, can you tell me that in your own society, you know there is no, the most advanced society in the world, that can you tell me today that there is no corruption? and at that they said, oh you are right ha, ha, ha.
So, ah, you know, I I talked with them and I explained to them everything you know, with honesty with my heart. Then when I left for the White House, they all stood there and clapped and the guy ah from the State Department you know who, who escort us, you know, he said to me well I think President Nixon needs you. Stay here as he advise for PR, public relations. So you know, that’s, that's that kind of a meeting, ah I had many in my life.
Interviewer:
But in general were you discouraged by the ah way you were received in other demonstrations. That must have hurt your feelings.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No, not at all because I know that whether they avenge me because their ignorance or because they are they belong to the other side, the Communists, and I know that I cannot change the Communists, I cannot change their mind as I know that they cannot change my mind. Now for the people who uh...
End roll.

Thieu in relation to the 1971 elections and the Paris Agreements

Clapstick
Interviewer:
I want to go on to the elections in Saigon in 1971. Why did you withdraw from the race?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, Because we knew for sure that would not have a clean election. That Thieu will rig the election. That’s all.
Interviewer:
That he will rig the election?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh yes.
Interviewer:
Why?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, the reason he won the election with 104% of the vote, ha, ha.
Interviewer:
So...
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, why, why because power corrupt. Once you stay there for four years you want four year mores and after that he want eight years more and you know.
Interviewer:
Now uh...so you didn't want to be part of this.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No, not at all...The American Ambassador Bunker wants very much that ah people like me or Big Minh, you know, participate in the election but uh we, we refused to play the game and even Bunker come to my house and offer financial aid if I accept to run against Mr. Thieu...but I didn't accept it.
Interviewer:
Why?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Because I am honest ha, ha, ha.
Interviewer:
Um...during '72 and '73 when peace negotiations were going on, did you think that the south could survive the terms of the proposed agreement, the cease fire in place, etc.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, I, uh...the south could survive with only one condition and that condition I mentioned it to ah Mr. Nixon and later on to Henry Kissinger and that only condition ah that we asked was the Communist North Vietnam will accept withdrawal all the North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam but at the end I don't think we got this agreement from ah the communist North Vietnam.
Interviewer:
No the cease fire in place and they stayed there.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeh.
Interviewer:
Did you feel that Nixon and Kissinger were abandoning you?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well...I feel that particularly for Henry Kissinger, see he is, I had the feeling that he made more concessions to the other side, to the Communist than he really trying to defend us as a friend.
Interviewer:
You sort of felt as if he was abandoning you.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah...Yeah, I think he made too much concession to the Communist. The the facts that you know, irony was that ah after the treaty was signed and both Kissinger and Communist Le Duc Tho both get the Nobel Prize for ha, ha, peace, so you can see that we, the non-communist Vietnamese are the victims.
Interviewer:
These are some questions for Elizabeth Deane. After the agreement there were immediate violations I guess on both sides. How did the Thieu government view the violations on both sides?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well y...y...you know that in any military military truce, you know, uh unless you have international force or the control, otherwise if you just leave it to the, you know, the so...two parties involved, of course uh, they they will violate it and the war, the fighting will continue. That's what I suggest to them you know before you know the treaty. I said you should have, once the treaty was signed, ah international forces you know for the control and the implementation of the agreement.
Interviewer:
But Washington could have been more helpful at, at that time if there hadn't been Watergate and Nixon's resignation, and so on. Were you keeping a close eye on on Washington, what was American politics? Do you think they affected the uh...
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah, yeah...I I didn't realize the, uh, that factors you know before my visit ‘70, 1970 to Washington but then after that visit I came back to Saigon and I told Thieu that ah we should do something you know concerning public opinion in America. Ah, but Thieu didn't listen to me.

Watergate and public opinion regarding the war

VIETNAM
T 885
SR #2635
NGUYEN CAO KY
This is Sound Roll #2635. Vietnam T 885. Date is 5/7/81.
Talking minus ten. Continuing interview with NGUYEN CAO KY
Interviewer:
What were the thoughts in Saigon at that time about Nixon's resignation and Watergate and all that?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, at first we thought that Watergate is, you know, the whole thing was was a ridiculous. i—iii, you know, it came as a big surprise for all of us that because Watergate, an American president had to resign because ah we don't think Nixon did something different than other, you know, American presidents and other American politicians.
Ah. The only thing wrong with him is, was yyy you know, his not coming out the firs—the very first minute and admit that, yes, I did it, like others did it before me. But, now if you people don't like it, okay. I, I apologize. Okay. I will not do it again. And, that's it. Finished.
Interviewer:
How did you feel all this would effect...
Nguyen Cao Ky:
But, then, after he resign, you know, and then we ah we, we saw the trouble coming because and now the Congress and the press, you know, have the, the control of everything, you know. The executive branch with the resignation of the president ah was so weak, weak at that time, you know. Couldn't do anything to help us.
Concerning the press a, an, and the Congress we knew before the resig—resignation their feeling. You know, their reaction about the program of Vietnam. So, we, were, you know, we know that we are in trouble, because no longer after Mr. Nixon resignation we had the support of the Congress or, or the public opinion, no more.

Fall of the South

Interviewer:
On the 1st of January in 1975 when the Communists attacked Phuoc Binh.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Ya.
Interviewer:
Did you think you were in trouble then? Did you think this was the beginning of a big final offensive or was this just one ordinary battle?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Personally, I, I, I, I, I knew that it was the beginning. But, as you know, ah in the past ah we have ah such kind of offensive, you know. Every three months, every four months, every five months. So, I believe ah that ah we could, you know, resist offensive and stop them.
But, then when it happened with Ban Me Thuot and seeing the the II Corps commanders and his staff, you know, retreat to the south and abandon ah Pleiku, I, I went to see General Cao Van Vien and asked him to give me the troops, uh tanks and then I will lead that column to reoccupy Ban Me Thuot.
And, Vien said it was, you can do it, but he had to ask the Thieu permission and that permission never, you know, reach us, so...so we lost the whole Two Corps area.
Interviewer:
The highlands were always very, traditionally have been very important, and they were very important to the French strategically why is that?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, because, when you see, ah, uh, uh, uh on the map, you know, ah, the figure of of Vietnam, the one who can occupy the highland can cut Vietnam in two easily. Second, because they have the Ho Chi Minh Trail and their troops, their sentries in Cambodia, you know. If they can occupy permanently the highland and then it's a link between you know, the highland and the North and the Cambodia and Laos. In the, in the long run we lost anyway. They will cut S—Vietnam in two.
Interviewer:
Ahm. In April, later on when, when the army was, North Vietnamese Army was sweeping down the country, you were trying to work out a, a, a coup against Thieu or to force him to resign?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yes.
Camera Roll 664 is up. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
If you had gained some political power then, how would you have coped with this massive assault?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I think the whole problem is the, a military leadership. When you look back in every battle from the beginning; Ban Me Thuot and...
Phone rings
Nguyen Cao Ky:
...Pleiku, The II Corps and then Nha Trang and then the I Corps you can see that the, ah, what happened was the corps commander, you know, choose to run first. So, I thought that if, the you know, the commanding choo—you know, choose to stay and fight the soldiers will stay and fight with them. And the whole problem for us at that time was the troops stay and fight.
That's what I told Martin when he come to my home. Am—American ambassador. Ah. When he discuss with me about, you know, having me taking over the government and ah what will be our military, you know, position, strategy, and political and so on. So, I told him that the first thing that we have to do is stop the enemy advance, you know, by having our troops stay and fight. And, I could do it, if I stood there and fight, they will, you know, stay and fight with me.
Interviewer:
Did he encourage you to take over?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeah. That's what he di—discussed with me when he come to my home.
Interviewer:
Why didn't you?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, beca...And then we wait, you know. Said something like, well give give him some day, you know, he will make arrangement for Mr. Thieu to go and something like that. But then what happened was well, the French ambassador you know, went to them and offer a solution, ah acceptable to the Communists. Which is, ah Mr. Thieu go, and ah, Big Minh replace him you know the, as the head of the government...So, they they accept the solution and what happen you can see. Well, uh...
Interviewer:
When you actually left the country, uh, when did you think it was all...over...when did you have to leave, and how did you do it?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, you know, I...I'm a soldier. So even in the last second, I still had some hopes that I could do something. So that morning of the 29, you know I I stay up on the air the whole night, directing air power to destroy the last ah missile ah position of the enemy.
So, the next morning, ah I went to the headquarters of the general staff. From there I tried to call the Marines, the paratroopers, the air force, you know, tried to call all the units, and ah maybe have the last meeting trying to do something. But then, all they left, the morning of 29, so I was by myself in a, in a big compound of the of headquarters.
So at noon time when American helicopters, you know, start their emigration flight, uh, my aide, he come he said to me, well General, I think it's too late now. And of course the Communists you know are coming ah all over, so he said to me, you couldn't do nothing it's too late now, it's better you fly out. So I decide to left, to you know, to fly out with my own helicopter to the Midway aircraft carrier.
Interviewer:
What was it like when you landed on the Midway?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, with the helicopter, you know, it’s easy landing.
Interviewer:
You flew it yourself?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Ya.
Interviewer:
Tell us, then you actually flew it, some people wouldn't think that you flew it there, thought you had a pilot.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Hmm, ha ha ha. And I think all I know, ah all I can, in the only thing can do well, is you know, flying the airplane. Ha, ha I'm not a good politicians, I'm not a good diplomat because I'm too honest.
Interviewer:
Did you feel that the Americans would somehow, hope that the Americans would come in during this April period, that the B-52s would come back, and were you waiting for us to do something?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
A lot of people, yeh, a lot of Vietnamese people, are you know, hoping, expecting that American government will, you know, but...personally now cause, ah, three days before the end, I'm had a meeting with that guy named Abbot he's Assistant Secretary of Defense of Material. He, he, he came South Vietnam to oversee, ah you know the, the evacuation of the material, all the destruction of the material.
So I met with him at headquarters of the, the Vietnamese air force. So I asked him ah if I decide ah to go ah south and re group the troops down the Mekong River, the Delta, and continue the fight, ah you think the American government will support the idea? And he look at me and he say, no. And he said ah when I go you better go with me.

The war in hindsight and contemporary Vietnam

Interviewer:
If you look back at the whole history of the war, when did you feel it was lost?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
As I said, you know, I...I until the last second, I am still hoping, I know, I can, I personally can do something. But as I said earlier that you know, sinks...right after the Paris Treaty was signed uh, I felt firmly that with Thieu in power and nothing chance, we're going going to lose the war to the Communists. I said it before it happened, and it happened as I said it.
Interviewer:
D-do you...was the problem Thieu or was the problem that the North Vietnamese were left in place?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well I think mainly the problem were Thieu the problem of military leadership for the South Vietnamese government. Because if we are strong enough, you know, we can deal with the 300 or 400 thousand North Vietnamese troops.
Interviewer:
Did you feel betrayed by the Americans in Paris?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
No. Because ah...in the whole affair I still think that we, you know, have to bear the responsibilities because it's our country. Because it's our government, our people, our armed forces. And because we were not capable to build a strong army, a strong regime. That's why we lost the war.
Interviewer:
Will you go back? Are you going back sometime?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
I'm going back. There's no doubt.
Interviewer:
Start one more time.
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh yeh, yeh, I'm going back, no doubt. Because you know when you look at the situation in Vietnam today, you know, millions of people are suffering, whether in the so called education camp, or living in, you know in misery. There's...not only no freedom, but no food, no medicine, nothing.
When you look at you know, thousands of so called boat people who are trying to, risking, risking their lives risking everything trying to escape South Vietnam every day now: wh—who they are? They, they're they're not imperialists, they are not the enemy of the regime, they are just a poor, you know, innocent peasant. Why those people, you know...
Interviewer:
Why...?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
...still today have to risk everything to escape the communist regime. And even today, they still use my name and look up at me as someone who can save them. Liberate them. So it it’s my duty and my responsibilities. I have to go back, there's no doubt.

Rational for an offensive in the North

Interviewer:
Twenty feet left.
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Why did you want to go north in '64?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Well, I wanted to go north because that's the only way to stop them. You know. Uh, also there are sentries in the south for them. So there is no way, no reason why we don't have our own sentries at North Vietnam. And not only we can use those sentries as a rallying point for the anti-communist people in North Vietnam, but also tying down their troops so that they will not have you know too much to send down south. It's very clear and simple. That's reason.
Interviewer:
Sentries. You wanted to establish outposts?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Yeh. Well, big sentries, big you know, ah, set zone for our military camp...And particularly at the time with the support we have from the air and sea, the American sea and air forces. You know. It's easy.
Interviewer:
And that continued to be your feeling all the way along?
Nguyen Cao Ky:
Oh yeah, all the time. And also I advocated a blockade of Hai Phong, mining Hai Phong. And that's what that's Nixon did, but they wait how many years to did it? They should you know do it right at the beginning.
Interviewer:
I think this is just right.
END T885 VIETNAM
SR 2635 Side 1
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