JFK on the Loss of Confidence in Ngo Dinh Diem

President John F. Kennedy expresses the loss of U.S. confidence in the Roman Catholic dominated Diem regime, in a September 2 1963 CBS News interview with Walter Cronkite.

Shortly after midnight on August 21, 1963, elite special forces and combat police under the direction of Ngo Dinh Nhu, the younger brother of President Ngo Dinh Diem, raided Buddhist pagodas throughout South Vietnam's major cities. Widespread damage resulted from the use of grenades, automatic firearms, explosives and battering rams by raiding forces. In Hue, people left their homes to defend the pagodas and violent street battles erupted. All-in-all, more than 1,400 Buddhists were arrested and the number of deaths and missing person ranged up to the hundreds.

In late September, Kennedy dispatched Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell D. Taylor on a 10-day fact-finding expedition to South Vietnam. The objectives of the McNamara–Taylor mission were to appraise prospects for the military success in defeating the Viet Cong insurgency, in the light of Buddhist unrest and the preoccupation of the Diem regime in suppressing it. As a result of their mission, a U.S. aid program specifically created for South Vietnam, called the Commodity Import Program, was suspended and support for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces was threatened to be cut off.

Back on Labor Day, in an interview at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts with CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite, President John F. Kennedy had made the following remarks about the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. JFK's comments demonstrated a loss of U.S. confidence in his ability to continue the fight against the communists, which so far as the U.S. was concerned was the essential reason for maintaining the existence of his regime.

I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis it's their war ... they're the ones who have to win it or lose it.

We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it ... the people of Vietnam against the Communists.

We're prepared to continue to assist them, but I don't think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort, and in my opinion in the last two months the government has gotten out of touch with the people.

The repressions against the Buddhists, we felt, were very unwise. All we can do is to make it very clear that we don't think that this is the way to win, it's my hope is that this will become increasingly obvious to the government, that they would take steps to try to bring back popular support for this very essential struggle.