South Vietnam. Politics and Government:
The political situation was highly unstable throughout 1965. In December 1964 a group of young generals, popularly nicknamed the 'young Turks,' had taken effective control of the armed forces. Four members of this group (including Air Vice-Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and Major General Nguyen Van Thieu) entered the cabinet of Premier Tran Van Huong as part of the extensive government reorganization announced on Jan. 18, 1965. A few days later, on January 27, this group carried out a coup against Premier Huong, who had incurred the massive opposition of Buddhist groups. A new cabinet was formed on February 16 with Dr. Phan Huy Quat as premier and General Thieu as deputy premier and minister of defense. Quat, a Buddhist from central Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, was a respected physician and for many years an opponent of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
Troops loyal to Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao temporarily seized control of Saigon on February 19. Colonel Thao, previously the South Vietnamese press officer in Washington, was supported by a group of right-wing and Catholic officers, including a number of former supporters of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Air Marshal Ky, who was at the Bien Hoa military airbase, saved the day for the regime on the morning of February 20, when parachute troops occupied strategic points in Saigon.
General Nguyen Khanh, the military strong man of 1964, was formally ousted as commander in chief on February 21 and given a post as roving ambassador. His virtual exile completed the elimination of the triumvirate who had dominated the government after the fall of Ngo Dinh Diem.
The Quat government lasted until June 12. Quat understood more clearly than any other ruler of independent South Vietnam the many administrative and military reforms that were required to turn the tide against the Communists. However, he had difficulty winning the confidence of the military, and they sacked him when he ran afoul of Roman Catholic leaders and Southern politicians over the question of his powers to appoint and dismiss his own ministers. The U.S. embassy in Saigon was reported to have intervened in vain to save Quat's government.
Quat was succeeded by a military regime headed by Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and General Nguyen Van Thieu. The new government structure consisted of a ten-man national leadership committee, headed by General Thieu and including Marshal Ky, who was chief of executive affairs (in other words, premier).
The key to South Vietnam's future lay in the hands of this new generation of young military leaders. The new U.S. intervention in 1965 saved them from military defeat but could not guarantee them a political victory. That task was primarily a Vietnamese responsibility. It involved, above all else, an improvement of rural administration, initiation of social reforms, and winning over of Communist cadres in the villages.
Area and Population.
Area, 66,350 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1964), 15,500,000. Saigon (cap.), 1,500,000.
Republic, governed by a military junta. Executive head (premier), Marshall Nguyen Cao Ky.
Unit of currency, piaster; 35 piasters = U.S.$1.00 at the official rate; about 75 piasters = U.S. $1.00 at the tourist rate. U.S. economic aid provides the major budget support, at the current rate of $330 million per year. The total cost of U.S. operations (military and economic) in South Vietnam was estimated to be $1.5 billion for fiscal 1965. This included $800 million for U.S. armed forces. Major items of expenditure: defense and civil administration.
Chief exports: rubber, rice. Rice production was down in 1965, requiring large imports. Chief imports: machinery, metals, petroleum products. Major trading partners: United States, France, West Germany, Japan.
Agriculture and Industry.
A rich agricultural country, producing rice, rubber, fibers, tea, spices, fruit. Industries: textiles, cement, paper, cigarettes, beer. Mineral resources: phosphates, coal, kaolin.
School enrollment: primary, 1,300,000; secondary, 208,000; technical, 4,900; university, 15,600. Many government primary schools are closed because of insecurity; Communists run some schools in their zones.
Total, 690,000. Army, nearly 300,000 (up from low point of about 140,000 in April 1964). Air force, 14 000. Navy, 13,000. Regional forces (operating in specific provinces), 123,000. Popular forces (lightly-armed defense for villages, bridges, etc.), 136,000. Civil irregular defense force (mercenareis led by Vietnamese and U.S. Special Forces teams), 22,000-25,000. National police (including heavily-armed field police), about 50,000 and increasing. Armed combat youth (home guards, locally paid and equipped), 40,000.
Although the elderly revolutionary figure, Ho Chi Minh, remained nominal head of the government throughout 1965, effective political and military power fell into the hands of a younger generation of Communist leaders. Pham Van Dong remained as premier. However, in April, Xuan Thuy was relieved of his functions as foreign minister. He was succeeded by Nguyen Duy Trinh, who remained as vice-premier and chairman of the national planning commission.
The U.S. air attacks on military installations and communication links had severe repercussions on the economy. Children and the elderly were moved out of the most vulnerable areas. Prices were up, and inflation was not checked. Food was short, and there was everywhere the haunting thought that air strikes against the dikes in the Red River delta could bring acute shortages of rice and mass starvation within a year.
In foreign affairs, North Vietnam was a captive and a victim of the Sino-Soviet schism. Many leaders inclined toward the Chinese side but were held back by their heavy dependence on Soviet military and economic aid. Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin visited Hanoi during February 6-10 to discuss measures to safeguard North Vietnam's security and to strengthen its defense potential. On March 23 he threatened to send Soviet volunteers to North Vietnam to help that country defend itself against U.S. attacks. On April 16 an antiaircraft missile site supplied by the Soviet Union was reported to be in preparation near Hanoi. Later in the year this and other missile sites were subjected to bombing raids by U.S. and South Vietnamese planes.
Area and Population.
Area, 60,900 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1964), 18,000,000; (1960 census), 15,903,000. Principal cities: Hanoi (cap.), 638,000; Haiphong, 367,000.
Republic. Pres., Ho Chi Minh; prem., Pham Van Dong.
Finance and Trade.
Unit of currency, dong; 1 dong = about U.S.$0.28. Major trading partners: Soviet Union, China, followed by France, Japan, and Hong Kong. Main exports: coal, nonferrous ores, phosphates, cement. Main imports: rice, raw cotton, steel, petroleum, rubber, machinery.
Agriculture and Industry.
Rice is the primary crop; others: maize, sweet potatoes, manioc, cotton, jute, tea, coffee. Industries: light machinery, electric power equipment, textiles, farm implements. Minerals: coal (1962 production, 2.65 million tons), some tin, iron, chromium.