Nguyễn Khánh (8 November 1927 – 11 January 2013) was a South Vietnamese military officer and Army of the Republic of Vietnam general who served in various capacities as head of state and prime minister of South Vietnam while at the head of a military junta from January 1964 until February 1965. He was involved in or against many coup attempts, failed and successful, from 1960 until his defeat and exile from South Vietnam in 1965. Khanh lived out his later years with his family, in exile in the United States.
Interview with Nguyen Khanh (1981)
- I think uh...we lost everyday Vietnamese life in fighting the Communists, you know, and and no progress, we have to do something else, you can, we cannot have a more of the same, you know, every, every day, so we, we must change, yes.
- We, we respect very much what the American want to do uh...but, you know sometime the American way of life and the...uh American democracy maybe uh cannot work in a country like mine, you know, in South Vietnam. Uh...so, we, we can have the principle and adapt that in the country but we cannot adapt what you have here, you know, eh two houses, all that stuff, you know, and changing the president every four year. You have many people here who can be leader of the country. We have a few in Vietnam, a few who can uh you know uh lead the country because education, because the training, because all that uh, background that we must have, you know.
- The French Colonial, you know...did not export too much their ideal of d—of democracy outside of the French frontier. Now, with the American people, you export too much your democracy and your...freedom, you know, all that, your way of life and you want to impose that uh in the country like Vietnam, it doesn — it doesn’t, it cannot work. But, in some way, we better adapt and not adopt what you have.
- I staged the coup because uh...the leaders in Saigon at that time did not keep their word. Uh, you know, by example, not killing Diem. Uh, they killed Diem. Uh... secondly, by example... to try to do something better in the fight, in fighting the Communists. But, you remember, I mean uh, at that time, everybody remember that they are a good time in Saigon, you know uh...uh, just enjoy the victory over Diem. And also, the main thing is leader at that time, we feel, was for the French solution of Indochina, for DeGaulle at that time, you know, he want to neutralize South Vietnam and to impose a French solution for the whole Indochina. And leaders at that time were in Saigon, we feel, it was true later on, like by example, Duong Van Minh, you know, who surrender to the Communists at '75 and we know that now we tory we know that Minh was one of the men of the policemen in Saigon who took, took over. So, I think we were ah, ah right, we were right at that time to change the leadership in Saigon.
- On the 1964 South Vietnamese coup
- Now I had the power, I want to realize the goals of the Vietnamese revolution back in 1945. The goals were and still be right now is, they uh, independence, that means national sovereignty, the uh, freedom, and the happiness of the whole population. It was the national aim, strategically, but when I had the power the country was divided in two parts on the 17th parallel, we had insurgency in South Vietnam and I want to uh, how to said it, integrate the Front of Liberation, the non-communist people and the Front of Liberation with me and then uh...to fight the North Vietnamese if at that time, the North Vietnamese do not uh, did not want to have a peaceful solution in North Vietnam, in South Vietnam.
- Yeah, we, we uh, we had a march North, movement at that time, in July '64. I prepare at that time the psychology of the South Vietnamese people that maybe we need to go north to answer to the aggression from North Vietnam. You, you cannot defend yourself always to have a defensive plan, you know. Uh...what the...the...one of the uh military principle is you better defend yourself by having an offensive plan.
- Ambassador Taylor and, and, and, and me, and I, we had a very bad moment together at that day in the general staff. Ambassador want to see me uh because he uh made what we called a young turk at that time, a young general officer, namely Nguyen Cao Ky, and Nguyen Van Thieu, and other general. And uh... to kind of to insult them uh for, you know, being changing what we call the civilian government at that time.
- On conflict with Maxwell D. Taylor in November 1964
- I was against the idea to commit the ground American troops in South Vietnam for the simple reason that we do not need that. We need the support, the technical support, the technology of the of the uh...American armed forces but we do not need the combat troops at that time...You know, uh...how can we justify with the population if the American come to fight for us? We just can't. So, this error...is main, one of the main error that we made...in the year '65, to bring in the combat troops, American combat troop in South Vietnam. And, then the South Vietnamese armed forces become a kind of uh subletive, you know, the the second reign on the, and the, the national mission of these forces cannot be uh in the Vietnamese hand. Then it, 't...are under the American hand. And later, later on when we see the American withdrawal we changing government back in Washington 'n 'n policy, and then when the element of the American troops is getting out of the country, the disaster we saw later on in '75 is a result of the decision to send the...the troops, the American troop to fight for the Vietnamese troops.
- The council uh, forced me to leave the, the country. That was officially, but, in fact, you know, it's 'n...uh...there are many books writing of that, that, that uh incident and the American official in Saigon are very pleased at that time to see me uh out of the country.
- I feel very, very badly and uh I left Saigon...with some of my...soil of the you know Vietnam you know in my hand...I left uh seeing the soldier that I always command, you know, for two decades. Uh...behind. I feel that I missed to bring peace to my people. And I feel that uh maybe the only time that we can have that peace, you know, and have dignity of South Vietnam, the sovereignty, respected by every people and I feel very badly, of course.
- I was supporting the Buddhists. But the, the Buddhists in a a general uh strategy. You know, we have uh...India, Burma, Cambodia...uh Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. What we call that...it's a Yellow Bear. Yellow Bear to stop the red invasion. That's a kind of, of uh, uh...religion side of the fight again the Communists. So I was for the organization of kind of international Buddhists. And if you remember, we had a headquarters, international Buddhists at that time, in Saigon to all, to buil—build its forces, to face Communists red, "vague" of red, you know, invasion from the China, Indochina or Russian.
- I put Huong, I put Duong Van Minh like uh...chief of state. I put Huong, I put Quat, Quat on the prime minister role. Anytime we feel that they do not answer, I mean, deal with the situation we change them. They are not a coup. Either Quat, either Huong, or Minh does not come in office with election with the power, with the population, you know. The people give him the mandate to be prime minister, or to be, to be uh chief state. The mandate it coming from the armed forces at that time before we have any constitution, you know, uh set up later on. So, when we change a government it's not a coup. We just change somebody what we just want to put in. That's all.
- The boat people, the boat people, in getting out what got in, getting out of South Vietnam, that so called communist paradise and that’s to show enough to the whole world that the communist regime doesn't work in South Vietnam. And maybe if we are in fight now inside in...in...South Vietnam, we will have certainly the support of the general, of the majority, of the population. We never had that thing before. But now, if there is some, something, you know, moving over there, I am almost sure that we have I am sure that we have, the support, the majority of the population.
- I an a political asylum situation here. Legally, I cannot tell that I am making any politics action here. But I always want to be with my people over there. I want to go back to Vietnam, of course, if possible.
A Bag of Earth, A Promise To Keep (2005)
- I remember that day clearly when I left Saigon. I left my country in honor that day, not like Thieu who fled later. My cabinet, my troops, the whole diplomatic corps were there at the airport to bid me farewell.
- I have a promise to keep; to return to a free and democratic Vietnam.
- Very much! China presents Vietnam with a very big problem. China is taking over Vietnam, from Cholon, where there are rich Chinese, to Haiphong. They are everywhere now with their product. My wife is from the North, people there resent China more than the South feared the Viet Cong. The Chinese are invaders — like any other foreigners — to fight. We must stop the Chinese. You know the dikes built on the Red River? If they break, what happens? A flood!
- I took with me in my hand on the departing plane a bag of sand, a bag of earth from the soil of a free South Vietnam. My western hero had always been General Douglas MacArthur who made the famous promise "I shall return", after he lost a battle in the Philippines.
- Look. What happened, that was just business. Personal betrayal I can understand. But never betrayal of one’s people you serve, or your country.
- China believes it is the center of the universe? Look at its flag: one big star surrounded by satellite stars. Arrogant!