Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: The Nhu problem became evident and acute before long before then. Ambassador Durbrow, Elbridge Durbrow, who left there while we were in Paris, about 1960 and 1961, in his last meeting with Diem told him, diplomatically, that he had to get rid of his brother if he expected to salvage things. Durbrow never saw Diem again. The problem emerged well before the trouble really started.
Q: Were we transmitting this, that Diem and the Nhus were the trouble?
BARBOUR: No, No. Certainly not at my level. It was obvious—Madame Nhu was called the “Dragon Lady.” He had his fuzzy, woolly-headed philosophy that he wanted everyone to live by, and the corruption both intellectual and pecuniary, were just destroying the basis of everything that we were trying to do.
Q: Was there a feeling that if you got rid of them that the situation would turn around? Or was it maybe that the system would recreate the same trouble?
BARBOUR: The first part of your question came later. As far as what we felt, at my level, was that you have to give the people a feeling that they had a stake in the country and its development, that they had a stake in its democratization, for that is the only way they had to find some economic fulfillment of their own. That is the way we felt and that was the sort of thing that both inspired us and caused us to be so frustrated because so much of what was happening in Saigon was the kind of thing that would take away the incentive.
Q: Were you looking to anyplace else—Korea, the Philippines—for a model as to what should be done?
BARBOUR: I am not sure that we did at that time. Earlier I mentioned General Lansdale and I think he was trying to emulate Magsaysay. I don't recall any at that time.
Q: Did you have much contact with the Vietnamese military, or was it sort of out of bounds for you?
BARBOUR: No, it was not out of bounds; I had a lot of contact with them during the course of these various civilian-military socio-economic programs that we had. My wife taught English to Lieutenants and Captains and we used to see them. So we had a fair amount of dealings with the military.