In a cable to Secretary of State Christian A. Herter, U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, Elbridge Durbrow analyzes two separate but related threats to the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, danger from demonstration or coup, predominantly “non-Communist” in origin; and the danger of a gradual Viet Cong extension of control over the countryside.
Durbrow explained that any coup would be partly motivated by a “sincere desire to prevent Communist take-over in Vietnam.” He suggested methods Diem might use to mitigate both threats, including sending his brother Nhu (head of the hated secret police) abroad and improving relations with the peasantry, and ended by declaring, “If Diem’s position in country continues to deteriorate as result of a failure to adopt political, psychological, economic and security measures, it may become necessary for U.S. government to begin considerable alternative courses of action and leaders in order achieve our objective.” President Kennedy and his administration were faced with a difficult quandary; President Diem was staunchly anticommunist, but he resisted any reforms that might have won him more support among the South Vietnamese people. Ultimately, the Kennedy administration decided the Diem would never make the necessary changes and subsequently let a group of dissident South Vietnamese generals know that the United States would not oppose a coup to remove Diem from office. In the process of the coup that occurred on November 1, Diem and his brother were murdered. A period of political instability ensued during which there was a series of “revolving door” governments.