Cable 243

Cable 243

DEPTEL 243, also known as Department Telegram or Telegram 243 or the August 24 cable or most commonly as the Cable 243, was a high profile message sent on August 24, 1963, by the US Department of State to Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the US ambassador to South Vietnam. The cable came in the wake of the midnight raids on August 21 by the Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem against Buddhist pagodas across the country, in which hundreds were believed to have been killed. The raids were orchestrated by Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and precipitated a change in US policy. The cable declared that Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu remaining in a position of power and ordered Lodge to pressure Diem to remove his brother. It said that if Diem refused, the Americans would explore alternative leaders for South Vietnam. In effect, the cable authorized Lodge to give the green light to ARVN officers to launch a coup to replace Diem if he did not willingly remove Nhu from power. The cable marked a turning point in US-Diem relations and was described in the Pentagon Papers as "controversial". Historian John W. Newman described it as "the single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War." [Jacobs, p. 161.]

The cable also highlighted an internal split in the Kennedy administration, with anti-Diem officials in the State Department prevailing over generals and Defense Department officials who remained optimistic that the Vietnam War was proceeding well under Diem. This was underlined by the manner in which the cable was prepared before being transmitted to Lodge.


The cable came in the wake of the midnight raids of August 21 by the Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem against Buddhist pagodas across the country in which hundreds were believed to have been killed and more than a thousand monks and nuns were arrested. The pagodas were also extensively vandalised. Initially, the raids coincided with the declaration of martial law on the day before. A group of generals of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam had asked Diem to give them extra powers to fight the Vietcong but secretly wanted to manoeuvre for a coup. Diem agreed, so that Nhu's Special Forces could take advantage and attack the Buddhist pagoda while disguised as regular ARVN forces. The raids were instigated by Nhu's Special Forces and Secret Police.Jacobs, pp. 152–154.]

At first, there was confusion as to what had occurred. Nhu had ordered the phone lines into the US embassy and the US Information Service to be cut. A curfew was imposed on the streets, and it was initially believed that the regular army had orchestrated the attacks. The ‘’Voice of America’’ initially broadcast Nhu's version of the events, which held that the army was responsible. This infuriated the ARVN generals, since many Vietnamese listened to the program as their only source of non-government, non-propaganda news. Through CIA agent Lucien Conein, General Tran Van Don communicated to the Americans that Nhu had created the impression that the ARVN were responsible in order to increase dissent among the lower ranks and to weaken support for and discredit the generals in case they were planning a coup.Jacobs, p. 160.]

Preparation of the cable

On a Saturday afternoon, with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and CIA director John McCone on vacation, the message was drafted by a group of State Department officials. President John F. Kennedy was on vacation, and told the officials to get other officials to approve the message. Believing that Kennedy had already approved the cable, administration advisors subsequently approved it. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was the only cabinet member to sign the document, believing that Kennedy had already informally approved it. The cable signalled the start of more frenetic plotting by ARVN officers in the belief that the US would not interfere and would support a military junta. The plotting culminated in a November 1 coup lead by General Duong Van Minh, in which Diem and Nhu were overthrown and assassinated.Jacobs, p. 162.]


The opening paragraphs of the cable stated:quote|It is now clear that whether military proposed martial law or whether Nhu tricked them into it, Nhu took advantage of its imposition to smash pagodas with police and Tung's Special Forces loyal to him, thus placing onus on military in eyes of world and Vietnamese people. Also clear that Nhu has maneuvered himself into commanding position.US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in Nhu's hands. Diem must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie and replace them with best military and political personalities available.If, in spite of all your efforts, Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.cite web| title=The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 |work=The Pentagon Papers| year=1963| pages=pp. 201–276| url=]

The cable went on to instruct Lodge to inform Diem that the US could not accept the raids and to call for strong action to address the Buddhist crisis. Lodge was told to tell the military officers that:

The cable also informed Lodge of the need to exonerate the ARVN from responsibility of the pagoda raids. It asked Lodge to approve a broadcast by the Voice of America laying the responsibility at Nhu. Lodge was further requested to examine and search for alternative leadership to replace Diem.

Lodge's response

Lodge replied the next day and endorsed the strong position but proposed to refrain from approaching Diem to suggest that Nhu be removed. Lodge advocated only stating the US position to the generals and in effect to encourage the ARVN to stage a coup. Lodge's cable stated:



*cite book| first=Seth |last=Jacobs| year=2006| title=Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963| publisher=Rowman & Littlefield Publishers| isbn=0-7425-4447-8
*cite book| first=Howard |last=Jones| year=2003| title= Death of a Generation| publisher=Oxford University Press| isbn=0-19-505286-2

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