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Interview with Nguyen Khanh, 1981

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Summary
Nguyen Khanh is the former Chief of State and Prime Minister of South Vietnam. In this interview, Nguyen Khanh recalls the events of November 1960 when he helped save Ngo Dinh Diem. He explains that there had been an attack on Independence Palace and Nguyen Khanh had believed it was a coup. He also talks about the operations that took place against the north in 1964, and his feelings about bringing American combat troops into Vietnam.
Topics
Vietnam (Republic)--History--Coup d’état, 1960, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, United States--History, Military--20th century, Buddhism and politics, Cold War, Democracy--Developing countries, Escalation (Military science), Military assistance, American, Representative government and representation, Vietnam--Politics and government
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Transcript

Ngo Dinh Diem versus the drive to reform

VIETNAM
Nguyen Khanh
SR #2615
Tape 1, Side 1
Okay. This is sound roll #2615, Vietnam T885. Goes with Control 628. Today's the 29th of April, 1981. 7 1/2 by pf 60 cycles, 24 frames and here's the tone at minus 8.
Tone.
And uh this'll be an interview with uh Mr. KHANH. This is an interview with Nguyen Khanh, K-h-a-n-h. Camera Roll 629 is...
Mark it.
Tone.
Interviewer:
Could you tell me, uh tell us, what was your role in the, saving Diem in November 1960, when the paratroopers staged a coup against him?
Nguyen Khanh:
At that night, uh...there had been an attack on the, in the Independence Palace, you know, the...uh White House, Vietnamese White House, and uh I thought it was a Viet Cong attack so I went uh to the Independence Palace, I have to climb over a ladd—a ladder and to be in the palace and uh because I thought it was a Viet Cong attack I sent order to the troops come to help us and when I were in the palace le, at that time, I saw it was a coup uh you know, managed by the, some of the paratroopers, not all of them, but some of the the battalion.
And uh so um I also feel that we have to change you know, Diem uh...make change the government, become more effective in the uh struggle against the Communists. Um, and I have a pressure on Diem uh who agree at that time to change his government. But you know later on there are a countercoup and Diem come back in power, in full power, but in fact, Madame Nhu and...Mr. Nhu, Diem's brother, uh become more uh...powerful, if can say so beginning that night until later on.
Interviewer:
Did Diem make a promise to reform? Could you tell us about his promise to reform?
Nguyen Khanh:
Oh yes, uh, we, we had a tape, a tape, in that, in which Diem said that he dismisses civilian government and give the, another po—the power of the government to the general officers at that time in Saigon and then for us to make a change that we need.
And uh...but again, you know, in the morning, they, I cannot find any uh general officer around Saigon Alley. I’m, I was the only one in, present in Saigon at that time so uh...Madame Nhu, you know, with the uh political uh um action, you know, meeting, all the demonstration and give the power back to Diem.
Interviewer:
Did you feel very frustrated afterwards and feel that hum you would have to have another coup eventually or force Diem to reform again?
Nguyen Khanh:
Oh yes, of course, you know, uh...uh when we promise something, even it's not a...presidential campaign you know, we just keep it to the population, yes, I, I think uh...we lost everyday Vietnamese life in fighting the Communists, you know, and and no progress, we have to do something else, you can, we cannot have a more of the same, you know, every, every day, so we, we must change, yes.
Interviewer:
What did you think you should do?
Nguyen Khanh:
I think uh...
Interviewer:
Try it one more time, go ahead.
Nguyen Khanh:
I think he must uh...change the way uh to run the country. Uh...for example not uh to ent—to...in order to have the support of the majority of the population he must use more the South Vietnamese native, you know, uh...than he used to have people who worked for him for example must be uh...Catholic refugee from North Vietnam or they must be...born in, in the central part of Vietnam, you know, and the kind of thing that uh...you cannot uh...uh have the support of the population and we need that very badly in the fight against the communist uh subversion.

Evaluation of democracy and the American presence in the South

Interviewer:
Could you go back hm, tell you, tell us how did you feel when all the Americans began to come to Vietnam, to South Vietnam in uh, in a 1956, '57, '58 trying to export their ideas of democracy and help South Vietnam to become a nation. How did you view this whole operation by the Americans?
Nguyen Khanh:
Eh, you know tha—that's a...we, we respect very much what the American want to do uh...but, you know sometime the American way of life and the...uh American democracy maybe uh cannot work in a country like mine, you know, in South Vietnam. Uh...so, we, we can have the principle and adapt that in the country but we cannot adapt what you have here, you know, eh two houses, all that stuff, you know, and changing the president every four year.
You have many people here who can be leader of the country. We have a few in Vietnam, a few who can uh you know uh lead the country because education, because the training, because all that uh, background that we must have, you know. So, there a saying wa—in South Vietnam at that time is, The French Colonial, you know...did not export too much their ideal of d—of democracy outside of the French frontier. Now, with the American people, you export too much your democracy and your...freedom, you know, all that, your way of life and you want to impose that uh in the country like Vietnam, it doesn—it doesn’t, it cannot work. But, in some way, we better adapt and not adopt what you have.
Interviewer:
Did you have hm any problems in dealing with the Americans of this period, not later. Uh, uh American advisors telling you what to do or uh problems with the American Embassy where they felt that you were uh...um, you had to take orders from them.
Nguyen Khanh:
In the years of...
Interviewer:
50s.
Nguyen Khanh:
'50s, '56?
Interviewer:
Yeah.
Nguyen Khanh:
No, we do not have that such problem at that time. There are...uh advisor in my level, is a corps, corps commander and the division and the lowest was in the regiment and we get along very, very, very well and really, we need, the advice at that time because simp—it's very simple, we use the American weapons, you know, changing from the French uh...weapons and French ammunition and we have to use the American material so we need the, these advisors very badly. So, it's no problem at that time.

Nguyen Khanh stages the 1964 coup

Interviewer:
Let me go on and talk about the coup hm that, that you staged hm, hm in January, 1964. First question, is why did you stage that coup?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, first question is we feel...that the leaders in Saigon at that time, number one does not keep their word.
Interviewer:
Could you start off by saying, I staged the coup because...
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah, I staged the coup because uh...the leaders in Saigon at that time did not keep their word. Uh, you know, by example, not killing Diem. Uh, they killed Diem.
Uh...secondly, by example...to try to do something better in the fight, in fighting the Communists. But, you remember, I mean uh, at that time, everybody remember that they are a good time in Saigon, you know uh...uh, just enjoy the victory over Diem. And also, the main thing is leader at that time, we feel, was for the French solution of Indochina, for DeGaulle at that time, you know, he want to neutralize South Vietnam and to impose a French solution for the whole Indochina.
And leaders at that time were in Saigon, we feel, it was true later on, like by example, Duong Van Minh, you know, who surrender to the Communists at '75 and we know that now we tory we know that Minh was one of the men of the policemen in Saigon who took, took over. So, I think we were ah, ah right, we were right at that time to change the leadership in Saigon.
Interviewer:
Now, could you tell hm how you staged the coup, about you flew down in the air, uh, first of all, you sent your American advisor down to Saigon and how the Americans gave you the green light...to stage the coup hm and then how you flew down in the Air Vietnam plane and what happened. Could you tell that story?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, yes.
Interviewer:
Look, look at me as you tell...
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. My, we uh, I, I were in the, in the I Corps you know, in, in Da Nang, and uh, there word from Saigon that they will have a coup d—ah, that night. Uh...and they want me to go to Saigon and to take over the coup because the organization of the coup against Die, Diem in November uh, uh was a coup organized by me in Aug—in August so it's no change on the corps commander, the field commander at that time.
So uh, they come to see me 'n...that, I, invite me to go back to Saigon to take over. So...I send my friend and advisor, at that time was Jasper Wilson, uh Colonel Jasper Wilson, and uh he went to Saigon to check with the American authorities, the US Embassy and the MACV headed by General Harkins, at that time. And uh, to what, what they think about that. And he had to call me...
Interviewer:
Wait a second...we're just running out of film.
Okay we have take 2 and uh camera roll #630 coming up.
Everything up to this point should be...is for Elizabeth Deane and should be charged to her.
These are gonna be just word clarifications in case you have to replace a word.
Nguyen Khanh:
Neutralize. Neutralize.
Interviewer:
Neutralize.
Nguyen Khanh:
Neutralize. Neutralize. Neutralize.
Interviewer:
Okay. Now...uh, adapt. Adapt.
Nguyen Khanh:
A, adapt a and adopt, is it uh...adapt.
Interviewer:
Adapt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adapt.
Interviewer:
Adapt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adapt. Adapt.
Interviewer:
Adopt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adopt.
Interviewer:
Adopt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adopt.
Interviewer:
Adopt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adopt.
Interviewer:
Adopt.
Nguyen Khanh:
Adopt.
Interviewer:
Ready? Mark it.
Tone.
Interviewer:
Okay. So...start off when you say, you sent Jasper Wilson, you sent your military advisor, Jasper Wilson.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah, I sent uh Jasper Wil—Colonel Jasper Wilson, my advisor uh to Saigon to check with the American authorities, both in the US Embassy and the military people and the court was uh, um...both civilian and military um, uh of the US Embassy and in the military support under MACV at that time, uh support the plan to the Montagnard people, the, uh, so we get the green light from the American authorities to do so.
So, after that I flew to Saigon with an civilian airply—airplane with only one aide with me, you know, and we uh stayed in Saigon that, that night before they start the coup. But it was a, it wasn't a real coup, we just, you know, keep some of the, the...general what we want to arrested, you know, and umn, that's all. And, no...no fire, no blood, we'll just change the leadership in Saigon.
Interviewer:
When you, after you staged the coup, what did you look forward to? Did you think then...
Nguyen Khanh:
Let's get General Kim and the alarm clock.
Interviewer:
Oh, let's get General Kim not waking up in the morning because he wouldn't set his, do you want, he wants to come out, come on out. Uh...
Nguyen Khanh:
I...yeah, that's my youngest...boy.
Interviewer:
Can you tell the story about how General Kim didn't show up because he forgot to set his alarm clock?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, yes, uh, you know, coming in Saigon I do not have any troops on hand at all, and I have to stay in, in...friend, American compound with my aide, we were two, and...we...stay awake until 5:00 in the morning...the hour, the H hour that we start the coup.
And I uh took my jeep with my aide, we go to the general uh...staff...uh building to see what happened, but, you know...no troop, no nothing. So I have to go to the airborne unit, it's my boys, you know, I was a...paratrooper unit myself at that time, and I phoned to Kim...uh General Kim was chief staff at that time.
And I, I call him, what happened? No...no, nothing is moving, you know. So uh...uh he, he told me on the telephone that yeah...I um, I just forget to, to have the alarm, the clock alarm on. But don't worry, we have the situation in hand so, no, no problem. And, in fact, yeah, it's no problem at all.

Assumption of power and the prospect of a march north

Interviewer:
What did you look forward to now? Now you had the power. What were you going to do with that power?
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. Uh...to realize...uh, yeah, I...Now I had the power, I want to realize the goals of the Vietnamese revolution back in 1945. The goals were and still be right now is, they uh, independence, that means national sovereignty, the uh, freedom, and the happiness of the whole population.
It was the national aim, strategically, but when I had the power the country was divided in two parts on the 17th parallel, we had insurgency in South Vietnam and I want to uh, how to said it, integrate the Front of Liberation, the non-communist people and the Front of Liberation with me and then uh...to fight the North Vietnamese if at that time, the North Vietnamese do not uh, did not want to have a peaceful solution in North Vietnam, in South Vietnam. So, why at that time we have a kind of march North, you remember in July of '74 [sic], I am prepared...
Interviewer:
'64.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, eh '64, I mean.
Interviewer:
Start it again. We have a march North in...
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah, we, we uh, we had a march North, movement at that time, in July '64. I prepare at that time the psychology of the South Vietnamese people that maybe we need to go north to answer to the aggression from North Vietnam. You, you cannot defend yourself always to have a defensive plan, you know. Uh...what the...the...one of the uh military principle is you better defend yourself by having an offensive plan.
Interviewer:
What did the Americans, in particular, what did hm Ambassador Taylor think about your plan to mark your movement to march north.
Nguyen Khanh:
In fact we do not have eh any concrete plan, military plan on that. I told you a kind of psychology, psychology at that time we had to develop...Uh...I don't see they do not have any ob—objection because we do not have a, any plan.
Now after that we have an incident of Tonkin Gulf, you know, you remember that, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident? And then we start the air war at uh we go to North Vietnam to bomb North Vietnam.
It a kind of incident, we do not plan in my part of South Vietnam authorities to have that South Vietnamese psychology plan against the North and the incident, Gulf of Tonkin Incident, give Johnson at that time the power to go to bomb North Vietnam. It's no connection at that...say so.
Interviewer:
Did you think that it would have been possible to hm invade the North and fight in the North without American troops?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, a full scale...no. Yeah, uh...going to invade North Vietnam in full scale uh not. We do not have the men, you know, we do not have ship, we n—uh, ship, I mean boats, you know, uh, uh air power, navy, all that stuff you go to have bridgehead uh no. But we can have just...a bridgehead not so far from the 17th parallel.
And the population over there is looking for the, to liberate for, from South Vietnam. Believe it or not, you know, they are like now, they, they know what the Communists uh dictatorial is. So they want us to go over there. So we can have a kind of bridgehead, you know, and at exchange money later on if we want to have a negotiation with North Vietnam.
But really I do not feel that we can go and take over Hanoi, you know, and change the government from, from that point, no.
Interviewer:
When you started, starting the campaign about marching North, though, and the Americans didn't react at all, they didn't tell you to shut up, they didn't tell you to stop saying it, or, did they encourage you to say it?
Nguyen Khanh:
Eh...you know, at that time, uh...I uh feel free from the American advisor, American authority in Saigon. I still feel free right now in the United States. I can tell anything I like to do anything, I like, I do not care but what they think about.

The secret 34A operations of 1964

Interviewer:
I'd like to get into one particular hm uh aspect at this time was the 34A operations. In May the South Vietnamese...uh landings, commando raids, against the coast in the North. Could you tell about that, how did that start, what kind of American support did you get for those operations? What were you trying to do?
Nguyen Khanh:
You know, that's ve—a very secret operation. The...
Interviewer:
Would you repeat the subject? 34A operations.
Nguyen Khanh:
34?
Interviewer:
A.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah, yeah, the...
Interviewer:
You don't have to use the number. Just the commando raid.
Nguyen Khanh:
The, the, the that two, two, two kind of commando. One go in by sea and one go by air, you know, and we send by air, n—n—incidentally Ky was one of the pilot that we send, you know, to carry the uh commando what we send by air to the Montagnard, to the uh moun—mountain region in North Vietnam.
And also we send, you know, commando by sea going back to the by sea. These eh is these eh forces are very special one. Nobody knows about that. Only Diem and myself. Uh...for example, the ministry of defense do not know about that because they are so special that the boat was buil—built n uh the north town of Europe, I don't know, it Switzerland, or you know, I mean, not a Swita—Sued uh... Suerez?
Interviewer:
Sweden.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, yeah. Uh...and the crew was Vietnamese but the captain was a kind of mercernaire, you know...eh...
Interviewer:
Start again. It's a mercenary. An American?
Nguyen Khanh:
No. They are not American.
Interviewer:
Could you tell about it?
Nguyen Khanh:
They were uh...the man that I meet one time when I have an inspection in the island...
Interviewer:
Sorry, could you say, the captains of the boat.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. The, the, the captain of the boat was a uh, a foreigner, not, not, not, not American. It can be, you know, any uh, mercenary uh, from Europe. Uh...but the boat was the kind of PT boat, you know, and it go very fast. And uh we stationed this force outside of Da Nang.
So this force...always, all, all receive order to go from the president himself. Nobody else, or from the special organization, I mean, headed by the CIA at that time.
Interviewer:
Yeah. What was the American role in these operations?
Nguyen Khanh:
I think, they support us and uh...fi—fi—financially it's very...
Interviewer:
Sorry, could you say what the American...
Nguyen Khanh:
The—the—I think that the American uh support us uh fi—financially to buy the boats, to pay the captain, to pay the, the uh...
Interviewer:
Sorry, we've had to change the film.
Interviewer:
Sorry, would you go...I mean a lot of this is all on the film so...
VIETNAM
Nguyen Khanh
SR #2616
Tape 1, Side 2
This is uh sound roll uh, #2616, Vietnam T885, we have uh camera roll 631. Today's the 29th of April, 1981, 7 1/2 by pf 60 cycles, 24 frames. Continuing interview with uh Mr. Khanh...and uh...we'll have Take 3 coming up, Scene 8, Take 3. And here's a tone at minus 8.
Interviewer:
Okay? Uh...begin.
First tell us about the, these operations against the North...in uh 1964. Who commanded these operations?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, these special forces...
Interviewer:
Excuse me, just move a tiny bit over, uh yeah and the whole body, that's good, n—that's good, fine, now you can, good. Now don't look at me- these special forces.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. The, the, these special forces are when I was in a kind of uh joint command, a very special one, special people from the CIA and eh special people from uh Vietnamese forces. And uh we have a, a section of uh...the armed forces who take care of these oper—operation.
Interviewer:
Now could describe how the hm South Vietnamese PT boat drew uh North Vietnamese boat towards the Maddox, behind the Maddox.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, yes, eh, we um, I think the decision at that time who took it, I don't know, but uh, uh a kind of routine operation uh...to support the commando that we land in North Vietnam. But at that time we use these....Vietnamese special forces to Dong Hai port to draw the p—the uh Viet, the Communist PT boat to go after to after kind of pro—provocation, you know.
And, the PT boat, the Communist PT boat to go after the special PT, South Vietnamese PT boat and the PT boat go, you know, uh in the back of the Maddox at that time and the Communist PT boat still firing at the special force PT boat and the, the Maddox feel that they were firing, you know, in the international water by the Communist ship, boat, so they fire back, of course. That was the Incident of Tonkin at that time.
Interviewer:
But was this operation to draw the Communist PT boat towards the Maddox, was this a deliberate plan of the South Vietnamese?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh...you mean the South Vietnamese uh government? No.
Interviewer:
Was...uh, these, these forces.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, these...uh, I think that operation had been uh mounted for the purpose of...back here in, in Washington and uh, you know that the Tonkin, the so called Tonkin Resolution to give uh President Johnson full power to answer to this provocation at that time.
So the beginning of the commitment of uh American troop by this eh...resolution. Who did that, for what purpose, I don't really know exactly, but I feel that some people mounted that operation to support Johnson in the Congress at that time.

Confrontation with Maxwell Taylor in November 1964

Interviewer:
Now, you had a confrontation with Maxwell Taylor, the ambassador in November of 1964. Could you tell us what happened in this dispute between you and Ambassador Taylor?
Nguyen Khanh:
Yes, you know uh, uh, that this pers—discuss, dis...
Interviewer:
Start again.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. They uh...We had a...we uh...Ambassador Taylor and, and, and, and me, and I, we had a very bad moment together at that day in the general staff. Ambassador want to see me uh because he uh made what we called a young turk at that time, a young general officer, namely Nguyen Cao Ky, and Nguyen Van Thieu, and other general. And uh...
[Phone rings]
Nguyen Khanh:
...to kind of to insult them uh for, you know, being changing what we call the civilian government at that time.
[Phone rings]
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh...
Interviewer:
Wait a second.
Take four.
Interviewer:
No, we need more detail. Tell us about some of things you said to him.
Nguyen Khanh:
All right. All right.
Interviewer:
Tell us about this dispute...with general, uh, Ambassador Taylor.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yes. The dispute uh...the dispute that I had with Ambassador Taylor at that morning in August [sic] I think, something like that, was in the general staff...
Interviewer:
I'm sorry, it was in November so we have to do it again.
Nguyen Khanh:
It, it was in...
Interviewer:
Start again please.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, the dispute that I had with uh Taylor was that morning of November ‘64 at my office 't general staff. And uh, Taylor want to come to see me to ask me to punish the young general who just the day before uh make a kind of coup because I mean a coup and that but not a kind of coup, but just to dissolve the branch of the civilian uh government at that time but still keeping the...uh Premier Heh—Huong in office.
And eh, he said that you have to punish them. I said that uh...if I have to punish them I do so but I do not receive order from you to punish them, to punish my, my young general. Uh, you do not have to interfere...on the internal problem of South Vietnam.
Then, General Taylor told me that so, you had to leave the country, like that...I say that uh, no, you are not the, the person who tell me to leave the country. Uh...you were a good American general officer, you fought the WWII and Korea...I don't know if you understand well the kind of fight we have here against the Communists. But what you just tell me I know that you are a very bad ambassador.
That was my discussion, I, I tell him just uh...I don't uh have any contact with him anymore and I just take the door. And the, the quickness of that conversation conversation was in the American side, nobody on the Vietnamese side, I was only one.
But in, with Taylor at that time was Alexis Johnson, the deputy ambassador, he's a very nice man, but anyway he's...carries the relation better than, you know, but anyway, that was a, a...one of the incident, that, you know, affect the relation that I had with the...ambassador of the US, a, a, ambassador at that time in Saigon. It's a very bad one.
Interviewer:
Did you have any other later uh arguments and disputes with them?
Nguyen Khanh:
No, I told him that from now on you are ambassador of, of uh the United States in South Vietnam, you better have the direct rela—relation with the go—South Vietnamese government. I am the commander in chief, I do not have a direct contact with you, so anything you want to do go through the the South Vietnamese government, wo—to Mr. Huong then.
But uh later on I have a conversation on telephone with uh, with um, with Ambassador Taylor, Taylor and he confirm to me that I had to leave the country and I, I give to you, I mean, the transcript of that tape that I had uh with Taylor when Taylor told me that yeah, he still want me to quit uh the country. He did, he...uh...his game uh his goal had been success when I have to left the country in February 25th, '65.

American escalation and forcing out of Nguyen Khanh

Interviewer:
Now, how did you feel about later in 1964, the beginning of 1965, how did you feel about the idea of bringing American combat troops into Vietnam?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh, I was uh...bring, I was against the idea to commit the ground American troops in South Vietnam for the simple reason that we do not need that. We need the support, the technical support, the technology of the of the uh...American armed forces but we do not need the combat troops at that time...You know, uh...how can we justify with the population if the American come to fight for us? We just can't.
So, this error...is main, one of the main error that we made...in the year '65, to bring in the combat troops, American combat troop in South Vietnam. And, then the South Vietnamese armed forces become a kind of uh subletive, you know, the the second reign on the, and the, the national mission of these forces cannot be uh in the Vietnamese hand. Then it, 't...are under the American hand.
And latah, later on when we see the American withdrawal we changing government back in Washington 'n 'n policy, and then when the element of the American troops is getting out of the country, the disaster we saw later on in '75 is a result of the decision to send the...the troops, the American troop to fight for the Vietnamese troops. Et em...
Interviewer:
You said, could you comment on your sense that the American political system was not stable, that we changed administrations all the time. Could you say that?
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh...I think they, they um, American system, democracies is number one. Really, and I, and I tell you that because I'm here. But it's good for the American people here. But...to fight the Communist world domination you must have a kind of continue uh...continuating plan.
I mean uh...uh, you must have a, a plan, you know, not changing every four year when you have a new president, you know, coming with new plan, you know all that, so uh I think it not the kind of stability but strategically you do not have a plan, a continuation, yeah, a a continuation of the plan to fight the Communists.
Interviewer:
I'm sorry, we have to just...
Marking.
Okay, we're going to roll 632.
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh...
Interviewer:
Wait'll he starts the camera.
Tone.
Interviewer:
Wait a second. Go ahead.
Okay. Ready?
Yep.
How did they force you out in February of 1965 and how did you feel about it?
Nguyen Khanh:
I think with the support of uh...um General Moore and the air force's liaison officer with Nguyen Cao Ky at that time. And they go the...um military council... and they vote again me and they have, they want me to leave the country.
Interviewer:
Sorry, you have to start again, say who, who's they.
Nguyen Khanh:
They, the council, the, the, the military council, with a suggestion, if I can say so uh...some uh...American friends, advisor, namely, by example, General Moore of the air force to suggest that idea, to Ky, maybe, you know, but I, I know that it was true. Uh...And uh, then the, the council uh, forced me to leave the, the country. That was officially, but, in fact, you know, it's 'n...uh...there are many books writing of that, that, that uh incident and the American official in Saigon are very pleased at that time to see me uh out of the country.
Interviewer:
How did you feel about it?
Nguyen Khanh:
I feel very, very badly and uh I left Saigon...with some of my...soil of the you know Vietnam you know in my hand...I left uh seeing the soldier that I always command, you know, for two decades. Uh...behind. I feel that I missed to bring peace to my people. And I feel that uh maybe the only time that we can have that peace, you know, and have dignity of South Vietnam, the sovereignty, respected by every people and I feel very badly, of course.

Taylor's reprimand regarding the dissolve of the civilian government

Interviewer:
I wonder if we could go back and you could tell us the story again about the, the fight that you had with General, with Ambassador Taylor. If you could just repeat the story because we could do it a little sharper the next time.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah, I uh...
Interviewer:
In November, 1964...
Nguyen Khanh:
On that morning of November...1964, Ambas—Ambassador Taylor come to see me in my office. Now 'n...on Sunday he send me a telegram, I was in Da Lat, you know and my family was in Da Lat, uh...the mountain resort, and uh he send me the telegram that Ambassador Tl—Taylor want to see General Khanh in his off ice, uh, Monday morning.
I said to my aide send back to the, to Taylor, to General Taylor that General Khanh want to see General Taylor in my office 'n on Tuesday, a day, a day later. So I, I, he come to see me the day later...And that start to blame on the uh...young general, you know, who just make the de—decision to dissolve one of the branch of the civilian government, but still keeping Premier Huong in office.
Uh...some newsmen, press people called it a coup, it's not a coup, we can, just want to change it, but uh, Taylor want me to punish the young general. I told him that uh...if I had to punish the, the young general I will do it so, but the order will not come from you. So, we are very mad at that time and uh...uh maybe, I don't remember exactly, but uh, he say that just you have to leave the country then, if you do not punish them, you have to leave the country.
So I answer to him that um...maybe we are, you are a good general officer of the American armed forces to fight WWII and Korea but I'm not sure that you understand well how to fight the Communists in the revolutionary war. But also I understand that, I know that you are very bad ambassador because you just tell me to have to leave the country.
And uh...so I tell to Taylor...just take the door...if you, from now on, if you have to have contact with me, go through the Vietnamese government because you are...'n US ambassador, go through my government. I am not going to deal with you directly. I am the commander in chief, still the chain of command, you know, you have to go through the government. And Alexis Johnson, vice ambassador, was there that morning and he know what happened then.

Role of the Buddhists as political force in 1964-1965

Interviewer:
Let's go on to, go back to one, this is the last point you were talking about. There were Buddhist riots were taking place in Vietnam in the end of 1964 and the beginning of 1965. What was causing all this Buddhist...these Buddhist riots?
Nguyen Khanh:
It was '63. Be—before...
Interviewer:
No, it was later.
Nguyen Khanh:
...the Diem coup, oh no, ah...
Interviewer:
...the end of '64.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah. Later it, a kind, it, a kind of a, of a power struggle, you know uh...the Buddhists want to have more because they say this is a revolution against Diem who was a kind of Catholic government, you know, at that time.
Was a uh...they uh...with their support, they are the the main body, and they want more...A kind of a Khomeini in Iran with Thich Tri Quang you remember that bon, that Buddhist uh...priest? And he want to be a kind of, you know, leader like uh Khomeini in, in Iran. So, they always wa—you know, riot, to, to, to, to have a...you...to destroy what we want to, to build politically in South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
It's been, there's been, people have said that you were encouraging the Buddhists to riot and to...you were...
Nguyen Khanh:
To make me trouble? To make, yeah, I, I was in, in government at that time. Any time you have a riot, trouble come to me. You remember? I want, I had to go to see the, the people, the riot people one time in the front of my prime minister building. I have to, to pay myself, my all, I had to go to talk with them. I will not make trou—trouble for my own, that's not true. That's not true.
Interviewer:
Okay. Cut.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yes, it's a French, a French...political...
Tone.
Nguyen Khanh:
...games. No, that's a, that, that's not true. I...
Interviewer:
Vietnamese would not do anything so [inaudible]...
Nguyen Khanh:
Uh...you know uh, there a point, in fact, tha—that's something eh true in that. I, I was supporting the Buddhists. But the, the Buddhists in a a general uh strategy. You know, we have uh...India, Burma, Cambodia...uh Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. What we call that...it's a Yellow Bear. Yellow Bear to stop the red invasion. That's a kind of, of uh, uh...religion side of the fight again the Communists.
So I was for the organization of kind of international Buddhists. And if you remember, we had a headquarters, international Buddhists at that time, in Saigon to all, to buil—build its forces, to face Communists red, "vague" of red, you know, invasion from the China, Indochina or Russian.
Interviewer:
But, but...there's no truth to the fact that you... if you could convince the armed forces that you, that you were incapable of quieting the Buddhists, then, then you could take over the government and get rid of the civilian government.
Nguyen Khanh:
You know, uh, what, what is the...you, you uh...you feel, you think like an American. Of course, very established thing, all that stuff. But you remember, the power after the coup against Diem was under the military. And, I put Huong, I put Duong Van Minh like uh...chief of state.
I put Huong, I put Quat, Quat on the prime minister role. Anytime we feel that they do not answer, I mean, deal with the situation we change them. They are not a coup. Either Quat, either Huong, or Minh does not come in office with election with the power, with the population, you know.
The people give him the mandate to be prime minister, or to be, to be uh chief state. The mandate it coming from the armed forces at that time before we have any constitution, you know, uh set up later on. So, when we change a government it's not a coup. We just change somebody what we just want to put in. That's all.
Interviewer:
How much, excuse me, can we stop for a second? How much have we got left?
Nguyen Khanh:
Um...side of of the problem uh...is more, is very important. If the general officer just stay in office and thinking about power, about politics, who's going to fight the Communists in the field? So why I give back my own power like premier to Huong?
And I took, I keep the commander in chief and also I keep the president of the military council. That is something, a body, up of the government at that time. 'N that bu—body can decide a, a, a, anything you know, until we have a constitution. But at these organization at that time, so some time, you know...you uh make uh...uh raisonnement, comment dit ça?
Interviewer:
Uh, reasoning.
Nguyen Khanh:
Re, re, reasoning like he had to translate in the whole thing yeh and every time we change the, the government it's ah kind of coup. Uh...it, it's not...
Interviewer:
But, but, but you weren't stirring up the Buddhists deliberately?
Nguyen Khanh:
Eh...I, I, I, I don't, I don't think that—I support the Buddhists, I told you, a moment ago, uh to, because they are the majority of the, of, of South Vietnam. You know, we always have a minority in power in Saigon. 'T uh, during Bao Dai, later during Diem they are a minority in South Vietnam, they are minority Catholic, they are minority from Central Vietnam. They are not from South Vietnam. And they are not other religion then you know, so why uh...you do not have the support of the ma—majority of the population, and the majority is Buddhist, Confucius, you know, all that stuff. Not, not Catholic.
So, my ai, my, my, my view at that time was to organize a kind, I told you, a Yellow Bear. Yellow means the, the Buddhists uh color, you know...uh...from India to Burma, Cambodia, South Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. That bear is the yen, the push south from China and I support the Buddhists in that sense, yes. But I not support them, you know, to go to riot in the because it was against my government at that time, you remember, so I not foolish enough, hn, to do so, no. No, it's not true. Not true.
Interviewer:
Good. There, there're two words that I'd like to repeat.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yeah.
Interviewer:
Um...one is punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Um hum.
Interviewer:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Punish.
Interviewer:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Punish.
Interviewer:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Punish.
Interviewer:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Punish. Punish. Punish.
Interviewer:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Punish.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soil.
Interviewer:
Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soil.
Interviewer:
Oil Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Oil Soil. Oil Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soil. Once again.
Interviewer:
Soil. S o e e l.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soel, swel.
Interviewer:
S O I L.
Nguyen Khanh:
Oh, swel.
Interviewer:
Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Soil.
Interviewer:
Soy sauce.
Nguyen Khanh:
Swey sauce, swel. Ha, ha. Swoil.
Interviewer:
Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
So il.
Ha, ha. Swoil.
Interviewer:
Soil.
Nguyen Khanh:
Swoil. Swoil in my hand. A pack of swoil, a pack of swoil in my hand. A pack of swoil in my hand. Swoil, swoil. Swoil.
Interviewer:
Say dirt. Earth.
Nguyen Khanh:
Yea, erth, yeah, erth. A pack of erth. Erth, erth.
Interviewer:
Earth.
Nguyen Khanh:
Erth, erth, erth. Er erth.
Interviewer:
Earth.
Nguyen Khanh:
Erth. Erth, erth. Swoil, swoil, erth.
Interviewer:
Say oil and then come back.
Let's get room tone.
Nguyen Khanh:
You find the best one, I don't know, ha, ha, if you can find it.

Political resentment in contemporary Vietnam

Interviewer:
We have to be quiet for a second.
Tone
Nguyen Khanh:
The boat people, the boat people, in getting out what got in, getting out of South Vietnam, that so called communist paradise and that’s to show enough to the whole world that the communist regime doesn't work in South Vietnam. And maybe if we are in fight now inside in...in...South Vietnam, we will have certainly the support of the general, of the majority, of the population.
We never had that thing before. But now, if there is some, something, you know, moving over there, I am almost sure that we have I am sure that we have, the support, the majority of the population.
Interviewer:
Would you go back to South, to Vietnam?
Nguyen Khanh:
I an a political asylum situation here. Legally, I cannot tell that I am making any politics action here. But I always want to be with my people over there. I want to go back to Vietnam, of course, if possible.
Interviewer:
Good. Great.
Okay, End shooting day, April 29.
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