[Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, taught me that sometimes the truth is hidden in plain sight. In this case, all I had to do was open a book, and some of the truth spilled out. Bolded text is my emphasis.]


[Ton That Thien]


…on U.S. stakes in the coming elections in Vietnam and why our policy should change from Vietnam and why our policy should change from exclusive backing for military candidates, Ky or Nguyen Van Thieu, to encouraging, or simply permitting, their replacement by respected civilian leaders. As an outstanding Vietnamese journalist, Ton That Thien, had put it to me the leadership that the country needed had to have respect, and “for a government to be respected, it must be respectable.” Air Force General Ky, currently serving as premier (by support of the other generals and the Americans), could hardly be further from meeting that criterion. Vietnamese saw him as immature, lacking in strong nationalistic instincts, a playboy, promiscuous, narrowly educated, undignified, impulsive, only sporadically “serious.” And flamboyant (commonly visiting the countryside in a black nylon flying suit with a lavender scarf and a pearl-handled revolver, on which was engraved the name of his mistress). This in a Confucian culture giving highest values to age, dignity, maturity, education, and virtuous example. As Thien said, for America to favor or support a Ky – at the time I wrote this, the only choice of the mission for the presidency – as symbolic chief of state was seen by him and by a wide range of Vietnamese as an insult, a gesture of contempt.

But personality and appearance were the least of it. Ky was a northerner, a military man, a former French officer lacking any record of patriotic opposition to the French, widely believed to owe his position to American support.

As for General Thieu, Ky’s chief military rival for the candidacy, his liabilities were only marginally less than Ky’s. He wasn’t a northerner, but he was still from Central Vietnam, not the South, and he added to his list of liabilities by being a Catholic. He was more dignified, I acknowledged, more mature, more experienced and prudent than Ky, yet for other reasons these qualities didn’t assure him more public confidence. “Where Ky fails to gain the instinctive trust and respect of the Vietnamese because he is so ‘different’ in Vietnamese cultural terms, Thieu fails their trust because he is simply regarded as untrustworthy”: conspiratorial, sly, “too clever,” an impression strengthened by his role in the coups that had displaced a number of his predecessors. “Above all, as he himself admits, Thieu shares with Ky the political burden of being a military man; as he is reported to have remarked some weeks ago, “The Vietnamese people are weary of military rule.” I quoted a young Constituent Assembly member: “Give us anything. Young, old, I don’t care, Central, Southern, Northern: just as long as he’s not military.”