November 3, 2017

1967. South Vietnamese Prime Minister Kỳ Speaks to Reporters in Guam

Premier Kỳ Discusses the New South Vietnam Constitution
South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and President Lyndon Johnson confer at a conference in Hawaii, February 8, 1966 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 21, 1967

Much has been written about the impact of the United States presence in Vietnam, particularly about the Americanization of Saigon and the effect of chewing gum on the Oriental mores of Southeast Asia.

However, we shall be the first to write of the strange and mysterious influence of the Saigon generals on this national capital of Washington; notably Premier Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, the former South Vietnamese fighter pilot, who ended up his part of the international meeting on Guam with a news conference—a most extraordinary meeting with reporters during which General Kỳ munched locally-grown corn on the cob.

Reports of the Kỳ news conference now are getting close scrutiny here in official Washington. And already there is word that the homegrown white bantam corn kernel might replace the barbecued spare rib as the symbol of executive persuasion.

The Saigon premier lounged at the palatial villa provided for him at Guam while the US Navy orderly brought in steaming plates of Guamanian corn on the cob, an odds-on favorite with the South Vietnamese delegation.

"Yes," said General Kỳ, "the little-summit conference had been successful...because both President Johnson and himself now know where everyone stands..."

Reporters said the premier was relaxed and easy, and that he wielded the corn cobs like a royal scepter—a fascinating sight.

Then the reporters wanted to know about the new proposed constitution drawn up by the newly-elected constitutional convention after some five months of bitter debate and hard work.

Some of the correspondents were from Saigon, and there was something about that state document which long had bothered them.

The constitution as finally drawn contains 117 articles. And the assembly which wrote the final draft was composed of 117 delegates from throughout South Vietnam—right?

Premier Kỳ confirmed that was so.

Furthermore, the reporters pointed out, the preamble to the Saigon constitution contains exactly 117 words.

Correct, said the young general. And the number 117 was no coincidence. Also, he pointed out to the news conference that he had persuaded Saigon's National Council to approve the draft constitution on the 18th of March.

The premier smiled as he explained that if you add up the digits in 117—one and one plus seven—the sum is nine. Just as one plus eight also is nine.

It would be foolish for a South Vietnamese politician to ignore the portents, for the lucky number of the Buddhist New Year just beginning—the year of the Ram—is nine.

This news has shaken Washington society. Our scouts tell us that there has been a sudden interest here in the cabalistic science of numerology. And the fancy grocers have been getting early spring requests for corn on the cob.

Such is the long-distance influence of South Vietnam's Premier Kỳ on Washington's culture.

However, we've followed the story through. We counted the number of words in the Preamble to the US Constitution. There are exactly 52. You add five and two and you get seven.

Now, as every red-blooded American Parcheesi player knows, seven is just naturally a lucky number on the dice. Which maybe explains why this constitution has worked so well.

Nevertheless, Washington will have a new respect for the number nine—particularly since General Kỳ seemed to walk off with a major portion of the publicity from the Guam conference, corn on the cob and all.

This is Bill Downs for ABC News in Washington.