Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981
Mr.. Q In 1964 you want to take one. Why did you do that.
Well because military speaking I think that's the only way we could stop them.
I mean you could stop the invasion. The communist.
Is fine with that.
There's no way I remember doing the WAHM conference with President Johnson. I struck Calvin Vian the chief religion on the staff of that time to go to the American delegation and a complete briefing. About our plan. You know. I mean that I was the everyman of American government. To. Support the idea. Having me as a volunteer to go not with two or three. Vietnamese division. All what we asked them is to provide us with air support or. You know. A naval supply.
But back in 64 when this came out. What was the reaction.
I remember many many conversations I had with the secretary in dress for example. I had the feeling that American go but I'm always. Afraid that if we go or not. And the Chinese Communists will you know. Come out to rescue the Vietnamese communist.
What did you think of that. Day.
Well I remember that time I told Mr. Dean Rusk that that thing will not happen. I don't think the Chinese will come out to rescue the Vietnamese communists. Why.
Well because I don't think first I don't think the Vietnamese Communists who will ask the Chinese to come out.
And second I think. Even at that time we knew that the Vietnamese communist leader are more or less side with the Russians.
And that's something that the Chinese don't like. And you see what happened today.
Proves that. I am right in my judgment. But.
Our. Goal was always. With us. I beg pardon. The goal was always for yes. Yes. Oh yes. Yes. You are.
Yes sure. Every Vietnamese wanted to see Vietnam unify. But. At. That time our first priority is to bring in a piece back to the whole Indochina.
In the works to stop the communist invasion first.
And then let the people above solve and not live in peace for a while. And then maybe later on let the people decide by themselves.
Not to destroy the enemy capabilities to sustain invasion war.
You've had a chance to go north in February. You really are that right. You tell us.
Yeah but again it's a very limited mission. You know using all the air.
But even for a limited kind of mission incursion into the knot. It provides us big excitement. At that time. I was commander of the Air Force at that time. And I remember that for the first mission. When we crossed the border. I had more you know pilot volunteer than what we need for the mission.
It was good. Morale. Yeah. They were arrested in 1964. Considering this. What was he doing.
Well why the rest because remember.
The bullies raised to power not only 64. But Mac and 63. Now.
After the coup you know against president GM.
The Buddhist become a political force a strong and well organized.
But then. I think the Buddhist leaders.
They thought that they they are the true the real power.
So they begin to ask. You know too much.
Hang. Trying to play smart politicians.
Who try to come or did. You know. Not only the Buddhist but all the other groups other factions also. And that's the cause of the downfall of a crank. Because.
There. Are so much Groups so much faction This is so much differences that you could.
Please everyone and get the support from everyone.
Well you and I arranged.
The departure of a colleague but I never one really wanted his departure. I Arends his departure only after. He shows that the he could not go back any more. Remember that time and COLU and.
Happen every two or three weeks every month. In South Vietnam.
Yeah I think that's the best ranchmen I can get.
For him. I like him but.
Because of his age typically you know political instability. So the feeling among the senior general officer that time was against him.
Your relationship with that about the incident I think it was that he got the other generals.
Well when Jim Taylor was ambassador in Saigon and I was the junior officer. One star general commanding of the Air Force. So actually I. Didn't have too much you know relations. Aw Come look session with Taylor.
We had met once and I had the impression that he looked down you and just like you know big brother. Looking down the young. Junior Officer.
Tell us what happened when you first.
Well I think that they are the armed forces had. Decide to abolish National High Council you know a civilian body. So I think Ambassador Taylor was very. Unhappy. So that morning we were all together at the headquarters the chief Gen on Chief stop. And. Then. General crying after talking with Ambassador Taylor in the telephone. He said to us he said that Taylor wanted to meet with me but I'm not going so why don't you. He asked me. And. June until.
An admiral can I take command of the Navy Navy.
And Jonti. So for us we went down them. American embassy to see Ambassador Taylor.
So when we first came in and you know in his office he was he looked very very.
He didn't even shake hands with us just say OK now. So we sit down and listen to him. And he said Well gentlemen remember a few days ago I gave a dinner. And I told you that. We want stability. We don't want any trouble any changes. And. Now see what happens. You know you abolish the National Council. So and So.
So. They said something like it's a waste you know. Either waste our time a waste of a food that he gave to us. But. Well I understood that. It was it was a waste of a food.
So I said to him I said listen you know I don't think it's a West.
Because I remember that the piece of a steak that you gave to me is the best piece of steak I never had in my whole life. This poor Vietnamese.
So I really appreciate the food. He's not the worst.
So he said why you did that why you did.
I said well why you did. Because we thought that. It's in our interest the interest of Vietnam. Well that's that's a whole know conversation because he didn't convince us that we are doing wrong either with convincing him that. He's wrong when we are right.
How do you feel. In 1965 when you finally became prime minister. I do feel optimistic. Frankly.
Remember is it. That day because the.
The fight between the civilian factus. You know. That time we had a chief of state and a prime minister a civilian but they belong to two different political parties you know. So at the end they couldn't govern. Because the chief of state is against the prime minister. So I remember that night about 11:00. Big goal. All of us. The armed forces Carlsson to the prime minister office and they decide both. You know resigned and handed the power back to the military.
And after that we had a long meeting at the headquarters of the Marine Corps.
To. Decide who will be the next prime minister.
And I remembered that we folks proposed to the general until two years he was the senior officer at that time. But fishing a. Difficult situation at that time.
Refuse. And then after that we proposed a few more.
And you were right.
Well not excited because I won that responsibility. I won that job. But as I mentioned earlier I have to you know almost two days meeting and I have to we proposed a few more senior our army generals like corn tea and all.
They declined. You know I refuse responsibility. So at the end they all come to me and said Well what about you. Because now the civilian handed the power to us you know we must have someone you know responsible for the government. So when we come back to the meeting and I ask all of them 60 or 70 of them you know in the room I said OK one more time.
Anyone want to be prime minister. Said no.
So I tell her that I proposed and all of them just stood up and.
Accept. The offer.
But then I didn't give them the show. I said I have to go back and. Talk with my wife for. Now. And I told her about that offer. You know she she. She was not excited. She said Oh no not that job not as a prime minister.
I said What can I do.
So I said I accepted the role and responsibilities were the only one goal in my mind which is to bring back stability to South Vietnam. To write a new constitution. And to establish a new regime a democratic regime in South Vietnam. I was not excited. You know I accept the role responsibilities as any other responsibilities to my country.
And when the American troops were building up I think it was necessary or we were.
I didn't think that they would take over the war. You know of the responsibilities of the Vietnamese.
But then 68 69.
They really took over the responsibility.
And. We know it was not necessary.
Well at the beginning when I was prime minister I think we need additional troops right at that time.
So the arriving of American troops were was welcome but instead of.
Strength and you know the Vietnamese armed forces to replace you know the American unit you see in the next years more American troops coming there they really build up a big massive armed forces air sea and ground forces. So after that they are so you know involving in the war that they took over everything. And that's bad because at the end we lost our own identity the communist become the true and nationalist and we become American puppet. And that's the American press help a lot to make it appear that we are.
You know pre-prep of America.
We'll get to that. I. Mean.
Because the majority of the Vietnamese are against communism because that's what I'm trying to tell everyone. You know for many years that basically we were against communism and not only the Saudi news but even the people many people in the north are against communism.
Their goal was by our general right. This was realistic.
That's what they thought. But the Tet Offensive were shown to them and to the whole world that the Vietnamese armed forces are capable to stop their offensive and also to show that the majority of the Vietnamese people are supporting a non communist regime in South Vietnam.
One that I wonder about.
I can say I wonder about that because I was by myself that night till I was out of town and I was by myself at two o'clock in the morning. The base commander he called me he said Well but you took a helicopter with your family and go somewhere because he's no longer safe their base.
They are inside the base and he said to me that.
He had many casualties. He had no. Reinforced men and he didn't think he could hold them longer.
I always said that if you stay and then I will stay. And then we stay and fight them and we stop them dancing.
So the next morning I took over the command direct to the troops. So security forces the police forces and I dispatched surgeon and town down to the four corps the delta and we actually cleaned them out of the city.
What thing. Two months. And they suffer a lot of big heavy casualties.
It was widely reported in the American press as a victory for.
Doing the wartime you know everything they did.
The American press make a big nose and big victory for them doing pression of all the all along the war the Western press siding with them.
You know you can you know you can see by yourself that.
The people who stay with us and the soldiers stay and fight.
And it was it was a victory for the non-communist was also get the picture that change night after night.
You know prostitution gardening and prostitution.
Tell me somewhere in these works that there is no prostitution.
Tell me some city some country where there is no prostitution. So there is prostitution in Vietnam in Saigon. Of course there's corruption of says black market. Yes but because we are living in war for a long time 30 years and what the vast presence of foreign troops in you know in Vietnam it created a lot of social problems.
But we've we recognized the problem and we faced them and tried to solve it.
But we lost the war not because prostitution not because of corruption but because from the beginning we we had a drop of strong strong wrong strategy.
That's all you can.
What did you feel personally doing.
You were well like like the black market you know the press of a time when I tried to blame it on my Vietnamese official Vietnamese people but you know that most of the good to come.
You know that's selling at the black market come from the various peaks.
So it's a war time man a lot of people both side American as well as the Vietnamese are evolving in the black market.
So it created a big. Upside down society.
Did you get your listening and then you're losing identity first because at that time all you heard about.
War is you know from from American side.
So people are paying more attention about what Mr. Jones said what General Westmoreland said what McNamara said.
Something what we said what we think the people just ignored. That's the big the biggest loss we suffer.
Even among the military.
The Vietnamese unit who fought alongside the American unit.
Had received more commodities you know or more facilities I icecream food. Cigarettes.
So at the end you know they are so Americanized that I remember one day I told the chill and when that if we continue like this. And someday when the American withdraw we're home.
The Vietnamese armed forces will will no longer have all the facilities and commodities that we have today.
And the fighting capacities that soldiers will diminish.
I think it's really you know changed the face of the society and in the works.
No. Not better.
The same way with reservists because well that's that's that's the reason they use it for their propaganda.
We are a puppet of America and we are walking you know for American. Received money from Americans die for America. Why they are the true liberal. You know they've fought for a national nationalist goes for the Vietnamese people.
So when you look just at the surface when you look at. What happened you know. To the society a lot people listen to their propaganda and believe that.
That's why I remember one day I told Mr. Jones. I said why don't you just stay. In a behind the scene like a Russian like the Chinese and. Let us make the show do the show.
He just smiled and we never get a good response from the American government. They. They want to do most of the time. They want to do it by themselves. Like a big cricket a tube officer of a big you know manufactures well.
I invest money SANJA. Equipment. I want to. Control. I want to direct.
I want to take decision. Tell me when you came to the United States in 1970.
What do you hear of the demonstrations.
Well I had a demonstration in New Zealand and Philippine. Occurs during my visit to the United States back in 1970. I can tell you an example when I. Stayed in Williams. Before I went into how the White House. We stayed one night at Williamsburg. With my wife. And it was very cold. And the next morning when I wake up there was a group of 30 of them young the so-called hippie long hair and Dudie. They stood outside shouting. So. We we were stopped by 21. Secret Asian time. So I asked the chief secret agent. To invite them you know. To come inside the hotel. And I would come down and and talk with them. So first he said oh no you can't let them you know come closer to you because they are. Dangerous people taking drugs and so on and so I said no just let them because it's cold outside you know I invite them to come inside warm. And I went to two to meet and talk with them. So finally they arranged for not all of them but about 15 of them to come inside the lobby.
So I come down and I stood there you know they all surrounded me so I asked them. What are you up against.
And I said I'm against the war. We are against the war. I said Me too. I'm against the war. The reason I'm against the war because in war I risk my life every minute. And you can see that I have a beautiful wife and beautiful family. And I want to live. Not to die in wartime. So I asked you. Was there any other people in the world I'm against the war. But when the war is imposed and.
And when you have to defend your own country. And then you have to accept war.
As I said we are against corruption. I said Me too. I am against corruption. Do you think I as a cheap government I am corrupt.
Is it not you. But you know. You are gullible.
I said it is true there was corruption in Vietnam. Was there corruption in any way. Can you tell me that in your own society. No. There is no the most advanced society in the world. Can you tell me today that there is no corruption. And the third set. Are you all right.
So you know I I talked with them and I explained to them everything you know with honesty with my heart.
And then when I left for the White House they all stood there and. You know. Clapped. And the guy. From the state department you know who. Who escort us you know. He said to me Well I think President Nixon need to stay here is his advice and you know for.
PR public relations.
So you know that sets. That kind of a meeting.
I had many in my life.
But in general. Were you discouraged by the way you were received.
No it was her you know not because.
I know that whether they are against me because of their ignorance. Or because they are. They belong to the other side.
The Communists. And I know that I cannot change the commoners. I cannot change their mind as I know that they cannot change my mind.
Now for the people who.
Only go to the election. And say well. Why did you withdraw.
Well because we knew for sure. That we will not. Have a clean election. That will break the election.
That's all. You really like. Oh yes.
But the reason he won the election with a 1 or 4 percent of the vote.
So. Why. Why. Because power corrupts.
Once you stay there for four years the one for you was and after that you won eight years more. No. No. No.
Not at all. Or the American ambassador mongerer one very much. People like me are becoming you know participate in. The election.
But. We we refuse to play the game.
And even bunko come to my house and offer financial aid if I accept to run against Mr. too. But I didn't accept it.
Because I'm honest.
Like Greece every two or three women. Do you think the South could survive a third world agreement.
Ceasefire. That the South could survive with only one condition and that condition. I mentioned it to. Mr. Nixon. And let on to Handey Kissinger.
And that only condition. That we lost was.
The communist Vietnam will accept to withdraw all of the North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam.
But at the end I don't think we got this. Agreement.
From. The communist North Vietnam. Cease fire place and they said yeah. Did you feel like you were at.
Well. I feel that particularly for Henry. This is.
I have the feeling that he made more concessions to the other side. To the communist. Than. He. Was really trying to defend us. As a friend.
You. Know I think he made too much concession to the Communists. By the fact that you know this irony. Was that after the treaty was signed and both Kissinger and.
The communist leader Paul off got the Nobel Prize for Peace.
So you know you can see that we had a little Communist Vietnamese the victim.
After the agreement. There were immediate violations. I guess on both sides. How did the government view the violations.
Well you know in any military military truths you know. Unless you have international forces you know. For the control. Or otherwise. If you'd just leave it to the. You know. The sold. To the two parties involved. Of course. They would. They will violate it and. The war the fight will continue. That's what I suggest to them before the treaty. Set. Said we should have once this treaty was signed international forces you know for the control. And the implementation of the agreement.
But. Washington could have been more helpful than Nixon's. So we're keeping a close watch. Yeah yeah.
I didn't realize. That fact. You know before my PC 7:02 took us in 1970 to Washington. But then after that visit I come back in Saigon and I told you.
That. We should do something you know because something of public opinion in America.
But still didn't listen to me.
What with the inside of that investigation.
Well first we thought it was Watergate.
You know the whole thing was ridiculous. It is you know it came as a big surprise for all of us because the Watergate saw an American president had to resign. Because. We don't think Nixon did something different than other American press and then all the American politicians. The only thing wrong with him is was you know he's. Not coming out of the first the very first minute and I admit that yes I did it.
Like all other did it before me. But now if your people don't like it OK I apologize. I will not do it again.
And that's it finished. How did you get all this.
Well but then after he resigned you know and then we.
Oh. We saw the trouble coming because and now the contrasts and the press. You know.
Had the control. Of everything. You. Know. The executive branch with the resignation of the president. Was so weak weak at that time you know couldn't do anything.
To help us. Because something the press.
And the Congress we knew before the race a resignation they're feeling you know their reaction about. The problem of Vietnam. We were you know we know that we are in trouble. Just. No longer. After. Mr. Nixon resignation we had the support.
Of the contrasts are all public opinion.
No more. Jan.. Do you think you have trouble with the ordinary.
Personally. I knew that it was the beginning.
But I was you know in the past.
We had. Such guy no offense to you know every three months every four months every five months.
So I believe that we could not resist the offensive and stopped up.
But then. When it happened with man me to him.
And saying that to core commanders and to staff. You. Know.
Retreat. To the south and I am going to. Play cool.
I. I went to see Jim non-carbon VM and I asked him.
To give me. A troops tanks. And then I will lead the. Column to. Real people made to. And when said it was you can do it. But he had to answer to that mission. And. That. Permission never. You know Rich just so.
So we lost the whole two core area. Which were always very traditionally have been very very loyal friends.
Around. Because you hate it when you see on the map. You know. The figure of Vietnam. The one who can occupy the high land can cut. Vietnam into easily.
Second. Because they have the whole teeming trail and their troops Central is in Cambodia. You know. If they can occupy permanently the high land. And then it's a link between you know the Highland and the north and the Cambodia and Laos or even that in the long range or will last anyway. They will cut Vietnam into.
April when the army was not armed who was willing to go. You were trying to work out a. Coup against you were forcing it to me.
I think the whole problem is still military leadership.
When you look back in every battle from the beginning Man made to. Play cool the second car. And then not. Trial. And then I car.
You. Can see that. What happened was the corps commander. You know choose to run first. So I thought that if the you know the commanding you know choose to stay and fight the soldiers to stay and fight with them and the whole problem for us at that time was the troops stay and fight. That's what I told Martin and he come to my home. American ambassador. Discussed with me about you know having me taking over the go bottom line what will be our military you know positioned strategy and political and so on. So I told him that the first thing we have to do is stop. The enemy weapons you know by having our troops stay and fight. And I could do it if I stood there and fight. They will stay and fight with me.
Did he take over.
Yeah. That's what he discussed with me when he come to my home. Why. Be. Good. And then we wait. You know you said something like Well Kim give him some day. You know he will make arrangements for Mr. Tito to go and something like that.
But then what happened was. Well with the French ambassador you know went to them and. Offer a solution. Acceptable to the commonness.
Which is. Mr. Teale goal and beginning to place him as the head of the government.
So. They accept the solution. And what happened you can see.
That. When she left the country why did you make it with you to leave.
Well you know I'm a SANJA. Even in the last second. I still had some hope that I could do something.
So that morning of the twenty nine. You know I stay up on the air. The whole night. Directing air power to destroy the last. Mission. So. Position of the enemy. So the next morning I went to the headquarters of that gene on the staff. From where I tried to call the Marines the paratroopers. Therefore you know tried to call all the units. And maybe have the last meeting trying to. Do Sunday. But then all they left. The morning you will die. So I was by myself. You know in a big compound with headquarters. So at noon time when the.
American helicopter you know stuck there Eva acquistion.
Fly. My dad to come he said to me you know in general I think you need to let them know. And of course. The commonest.
You know. Coming all over. So he said to me. You couldn't do nothing. Just to let It's better you fly out.
So I decided to learn to know. To fly with my own helicopter to the meet way.
What was it what was it like when he landed.
With the helicopter and you know it's easy landing. Is. Jealousy.
You actually thought of it.
And I think all I know. Oh.
I get. It. The only thing I can do well is you know flying the airplane. I'm not that good politicians. I'm not a good diplomat because I'm too honest.
You. Did you feel that.
The Americans were hoping the workers would come in during this period because you just would come back.
We would pay. A lot of people a lot of Vietnamese people or you know. I suspecting that the American government will you know. But personally no. Because. Three days before the end I had a meeting with that guy named. Abu. Something. His assistant secretary of defense of material. And he he came I saw Vietnam to oversee. You know the creation of the material all the destruction with the material. So I met with him at the headquarters of the Vietnamese air force.
So I asked him. If. I decide to go out and regroup the troops down the Meakem river. Delta. And continue the fight. Getting the American Go Buttman will support the idea. And he said no. And he said. No. When I go you better go with me.
If you. Why. Do you feel the loss.
As I said you know until the last second. I'm still hoping that you know. I can I personally can do something.
But as I said earlier you know sinks right after the Paris Treaty was signed. I felt firmly that I would feel empowered and nothing changed. We're going to lose the war to the communists.
I said it before it happened and it happened as I said with you or with me.
But I think mentally the problem with. The problem of military leadership was the South Vietnamese government. Because if we are strong enough you know. We can we can deal with the 300 to 400 thousand North Vietnamese troops.
Did you feel betrayed by the World.
The whole affair. I still think we know. Have two big responsibilities because it's our country. Because it's our government our people our armed forces and because we are not capable to build a strong army a strong regime.
That's why you lost the war. I'm going back. There's. No doubt. Oh yeah yeah. I'm going back no doubt. Because. You know. When you look at the situation of Vietnam today. You know. Millions of people are suffering. Are. They in the. So-called education come.
Or living in you know. Says not only you know freedom but no. No food no medicine nothing. When you look at you know. Cousens of so-called boat people who are trying to risking their lives risking everything trying to escape South Vietnam every day you know. Who they are. They're there. They're not imperialist. They are not the enemy of the regime.
They are just a poor. Innocent Paisan.
Why those people. You know. Who still today have to risk everything to escape the communist regime. And even today. They still used my name and look upon me as someone who can save them labor. So it it's my duty and my responsibility is I have to go back. It's.
Not. What you want or.
Where I want to go or not because that's the only way to stop them. You know.
And also there are centuries in the south. For there. So there's no. Way no reason why we don't have our own set up not be a pawn. And not only we can. Use those to centuries as a rallying point for the anti-communist people in Vietnam but also tying down dead troops so that they will not have you know too much to send down so it is very clear and simple.
That's the reason.
Yeah well big centers big you know safe zone for our military and particularly at a time with the support that we can have from the air and see American sea and air forces.
You know it's easy for you to.
Oh yeah all the time. And also I but I spoke at the top of a Haiphong mining folks and that's what that Nixon did you know but they they. How many years to do it why should you not do it right the beginning.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Raw Footage
- Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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- Nguyen Cao Ky served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 until 1967 and then Vice President unti 1971. Nguyen Cao Ky recalls wanting to move the war north as a way to stop the Communists from infilitrating South Vietnam. As much as Nguyen Cao Ky wanted to see a unified Vietnam, he knew that was not possible and that the higher priority was to stop the spread of communism. Nguyen Cao Ky also talks about the Buddhist unrest in 1964 and his arrangement for the departure of Nguyen Khnah.
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- Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese; Propaganda, Communist; Vietnam--Politics and government; Nationalism and communism; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976); Buddhism and politics; Military assistance, American; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Influence; War--Economic aspects; prostitution; Political psychology; Presidents--Election; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States; Capitulations, Military; Armed Forces--Officers; Ex-prime ministers
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Interviewee2: Nguyen, Cao Ky
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- Chicago: “Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981,” 1981-05-07, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 16, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-b853f4kv16.
- MLA: “Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981.” 1981-05-07. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-b853f4kv16>.
- APA: Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with Nguyen Cao Ky, 1981. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-b853f4kv16