Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: As pests. Troublesome, interfering. We didn't realize at first the enormity of the problem that they were to become. Both of them were seen as unhelpful influences. Diem himself was very difficult to deal with, for one thing he was so garrulous. He would talk and talk and talk; every American visitor who went there got a lecture of some kind. I know the Ambassador would go for long meetings with him and come back and try to piece out what it was that he had actually accomplished. I went to take notes once with a Senatorial delegation. I wrote pages and pages and pages of notes and when it came time to do the memcon I had to completely rearrange the meeting to make any sense out of it. I think everyone had that problem with him. Secondly, he was not honest with us. Whether he would lie, I don't know, but certainly he would conceal, not deliver, have his ministries hold back information. People in the government told us many things that were simply not true, knowing they were not true; it was much easier to tell us something good that was not true than something bad that was. And they didn't like us prying, trying to find out what was going on.
Q: What about corruption?
BARBOUR: Corruption certainly was endemic. We were perhaps less sensitive to it at the very beginning than we became later on. There were many, many rumors of corruption and so we were all convinced it was there, but it was more, at first at least, intellectual corruption, philosophical corruption. The Nhus were obviously getting money though I don't think we were able to identify how. By philosophical and intellectual corruption I mean l'�tat, c'est moi; whatever is good for the country me is good for me, whatever is good for me is good for the country; whatever I do is ipso facto beneficial. That is, of course, what led to awful corruption later on in all forms because it spread down to all levels of government. But that came later on.
Q: How about our view of events in North Vietnam?
BARBOUR: I think you could say that we had no illusions as to what was going on in North Vietnam, the only illusion we had was that they would respect the Geneva agreement. Illusion and hope; they said they would, they said they were. Of course we know they never had any intention of doing so. As far as what they were doing in Hanoi it was obvious. There was also the institution of the ICC, the International Control Commission, which was the treaty supervision body established by the Geneva accords with an Indian chairman, a Polish component and a Canadian component. They became my reporting responsibility later on so I spent a lot of time with them as well as with the Vietnamese who were in liaison with them. The Canadians would tell us, and some of the Indians, about what was happening in North Vietnam. There was no question of what they were doing.