Early involvement in Vietnam and its plight
Okay. Go ahead.
That would be particularly interesting if you could ah, recollect a little bit the difference between British colonialism, French colonialism and maybe that would get us a little bit into what you might, what your...
I've forgotten, Stan...
Well, but, you know...
This happened in 1929.
Well, that's only fifty years ago.
But something along the line—even if you just would speculate...
I can just tell you what it was, what my assignment was. But I can't for the life of me give you a comparison of the Dutch and the British...
No. Well let's put it this way then. What about some recollections about what Saigon looked like, Vietnam looked like, what Saigon looked like. Uh, I remember you saying something how peaceful it was and so forth.
Yes, I can do that.
Did you get any feel for, uh...and that might take us into a little bit about...
Reminds me of an afternoon in the United States Senate at the time that I was a member. And one senator was talking, and he said to the presiding officer, Mr. President, I've seen a lot of changes and I've been against them all.
That was the kind of colorful, picturesque character we used to have in the United States Senate in those days.
That's a good one, you got one more?
Yes, I got one more, I got more than that. I remember the, reading about the visit of the British man of letters, Oscar Wilde, who came to this country. And in those days, when a distinguished foreigner would come, we always used to take him up to see Niagara Falls
. That was the routine.
And they took Oscar Wilde up to see Niagara Falls
, and he stood there with these huge torrents of water splashing down, and all the journalists watching carefully. And finally he turned to the journalists and he said in what we call an Oxford accent, he said, Frankly, it would be more impressive if it flowed the other way.
Well if I can make you fellas laugh, there's some hope.
She, she'll get up and walk through it any time.
Minnie, you're a big show-off, you know we're talking about you.
Oh yes, look how proud, oh yes.
[Laughter] She does.
Where are we having dinner tonight, Dick?
You notice the way she answers to her name.
Is it the name or is it the sound of your voice—Minnie? Hello. Hey Minnie, Minnie, yeah.
This is one of the differences between television and print journalism. You know, you're just not a, it's just not a notebook and a pencil, it's all paraphernalia.
And uh...I think the results are worth it, but there's a lot of preparation involved. And imagine what it's like when you make a real movie, you know, with all the takes and re-takes and so forth. Yeah, I'll just uh, this is just...Well it reminds me of my days in the United States Senate, uh...[Laughter].
No, it's really hard to get a feel for Washington these days, I'm living there now and it's uh, I mean it makes China-watching easy, you know, by comparison. It's, it's so diffuse and fragmented or confused. You know the polite word for confusion is pluralism. You can't really put your finger on quite who's, you know where the locus of authority is.
You got Andy Young says one thing, Brzezinski says something else, Vance says something else. Uh, and then, a lot of sort of other levels in the bureaucracy all talking and Congress coming in on the whole thing. It's uh, it's pretty hard to work, you know to figure out, and I sometimes I go to Europe a lot and uh, over there they have no idea what's going on in Washington
. They can't figure it out.
No, I don't think in Europe they ever have, ever understood Washington.
Well, they never understood separation of pow—...
There are the seagulls.
Okay, you ready, Mr. Ambassador?
Stan, go ahead.
Mr. Ambassador, you first visited Vietnam or Indochina
as it was called in those days back in the 1920s
. I wonder if you could you reminisce about that first trip and the impressions it made on you?
Well, I was a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and they wanted me to do a series of articles comparing the colonial system of the French in Indochina
with the British system in Malaysia
with the Dutch system in the Dutch East Indies
and with the American system in the Philippines
So I was making a tour of those, of those four countries. It was in 1929
by the way and we came up on the train from Bangkok
, then we drove across Cambodia
and across South Vietnam to uh Saigon
The thing that I remember cause it was a long time ago now, was the tremendous peace and quiet. There was no uproar, there were no problems for the police, there was nothing of that kind. The only act of violence that I witnessed was one which my party committed against an enormous black snake. It must have been twelve feet long who started across the road and we ran over it. So as far as he was concerned the presence of Americans in Vietnam was not something welcome.
Lodge's assistance in Vietnam under the Kennedy Administration
Let's go on now to the period in which you went to Saigon
as ambassador in 1963
. Now President Kennedy announced your appointment as ambassador in June of '63
Uh...You didn't actually go there until the following August. Could you describe the events that led to your appointment? Uh...How was the job arranged? How did you...how did President Kennedy know you were interested in the job.
I'll be glad to. I'll be glad to. sIn January, or December, I said to the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk that if events evolved in Vietnam so that young American military men were being fired at, then I would offer my services and would be very glad to do whatever I could.
And that was something I believed very deeply, that when young men are risking their lives, an older man, provided he's got the health, which thank God I did have, should make himself available in case his services are wanted.
So I said this to Dean Rusk and then I forgot all about it and then six months went by, seven months went by and the number...and the number of young men in uniform began to go up and some of them were being shot at and being killed and they took me...Dean Rusk and President Kennedy took me at my word.
And the President sent for me and I went into his office and he said I'd like to persuade you...this is the phrase he used, I'd like to persuade you to go to Vietnam. Well, I said, Mr. President, you're not going to have any trouble persuading me because I have already made it clear to Secretary Rusk that I am available. And that was how that happened.
Between the time that the appointment was announced and the time that you actually went out there, what did you do to prepare for this assignment? How did you spend those months?
Well, let's see...it was announced in June and I arrived there in August, so that really gave me a month and a half, and I went to this course that they gave in the government, training people for counter, what they called counter-insurgency, which I thought was a very unhappy phrase, but anyway, that's the phrase they used.
And then I had a tremendous succession of briefings in the, in the State Department and then I was given every kind of hypodermic injection known to man including one for the plague which produced a thing on my arm as big as an orange and very much the same color as an orange.
And all those things take up quite a bit of your time. And then I made some calls. I called on the Vietnamese ambassador
and I also had a talk with Mrs. Tran Van Chuong. And...so the time went by very quickly.
Okay, stop please...We're at the end of a roll of tape so we're going to have to...