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JFK and Vietnam


John Geraghty
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This week I shall be giving an in-class presentation on the difference between the United States policy towards Vietnam immediately before and immediately after JFK's assassination. This is one of the major tell tale factors of a conspiracy at the highest level.

I must use primary sources for this presentation. So far I have decided to use NSAM 263 and 273 in comparison and also the example of the mothe of John Judge, who worked at the Pentagon and was responsible for tabulating the number of troops that the use would need in a combact situation and what the projected casualties would be. A few days after JFK's assassination she was instructed to begin making casualty estimates for a war in Vietnam.

I am looking for other primary sources and general impressions from members as to what the most concrete evidence of JFKs decision to pull out of Vietnam is.

Thank you,

John Geraghty

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John

A hot topic in view of the more recent premeditated, preempted and provoked invasion of Iraq...the seminal work imho was Peter Dale Scott's analysis of NSAMs in the companion volume to the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers. The last word - thou not strictly primary sourced - is James Kenneth Galraith's masterly article in Boston Review, circa 2003 which is on-line. Anything on changes in OpPlan 34A would seem relevant; also interagency wargaming participated in by eg Marshall Green of the State Department. Also perhaps Bertrand Russell-sponsored War Crimes Tribunal, Ellsberg's Papers on the War, and an IPS book America Plans an Aggressive War (these

last titles off the top of my head). Cheers and good luck

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I am looking for other primary sources and general impressions from members as to what the most concrete evidence of JFKs decision to pull out of Vietnam is.

Thank you,

John Geraghty

Here are some recommendations:

Books:

Death of a Generation, by Howard Jones

JFK & Vietnam, by John Newman

American Tragedy, by David Kaiser

In Retrospect, by Robert McNamara (esp. "letters" section in 2nd edition)

Essays:

Exit Strategy, by James Galbraith:

http://bostonreview.net/BR28.5/galbraith.html

The Kennedy Assassination and the Vietnam War, by Peter Dale Scott:

http://www.history-matters.com/essays/viet...Vietnam1971.htm

JFK, Vietnam, and Oliver Stone, by Gary Aguilar

http://www.history-matters.com/essays/viet...ver%20Stone.htm

Other web pages:

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/...ithdrawal_Plans

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/..._Vietnam_Policy

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/...am_in_Late_1963

Primary sources:

Proceedings of the May 1963 SecDef conference on Vietnam (includes timetable for full withdrawal);

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...oc.do?docId=122

Summary Record of 2 Oct 1963 meeting:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72785

Memo of 5 Oct 1963 conference:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72803

NSAM 263:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72830

10/31/63 memo about 1000 man withdrawal:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...oc.do?docId=112

NSAM 273:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=73072

Rex

Edited by Rex Bradford
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I am looking for other primary sources and general impressions from members as to what the most concrete evidence of JFKs decision to pull out of Vietnam is.

Thank you,

John Geraghty

Here are some recommendations:

Books:

Death of a Generation, by Howard Jones

JFK & Vietnam, by John Newman

American Tragedy, by David Kaiser

In Retrospect, by Robert McNamara (esp. "letters" section in 2nd edition)

Essays:

Exit Strategy, by James Galbraith:

http://bostonreview.net/BR28.5/galbraith.html

The Kennedy Assassination and the Vietnam War, by Peter Dale Scott:

http://www.history-matters.com/essays/viet...Vietnam1971.htm

JFK, Vietnam, and Oliver Stone, by Gary Aguilar

http://www.history-matters.com/essays/viet...ver%20Stone.htm

Other web pages:

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/...ithdrawal_Plans

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/..._Vietnam_Policy

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/...am_in_Late_1963

Primary sources:

Proceedings of the May 1963 SecDef conference on Vietnam (includes timetable for full withdrawal);

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...oc.do?docId=122

Summary Record of 2 Oct 1963 meeting:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72785

Memo of 5 Oct 1963 conference:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72803

NSAM 263:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=72830

10/31/63 memo about 1000 man withdrawal:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...oc.do?docId=112

NSAM 273:

http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/...absPageId=73072

Rex

Edited by Rex Bradford
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Rex and David,

Go raibh míle maith agaibh (Thanks in Irish). Those resources are excellent and what is more, most are available online. I will be posting the links to them in an internal class internat forum so that others can view them. I got 'Death of a Generation' from my local library, I have PDS's 'Deep Politics' and also have a few other sources.

This material is extremely helpful.

I just wish that I had more than 10 minutes to talk about this.

I have until Wednesday to prepare this talk.

All the best,

John

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This week I shall be giving an in-class presentation on the difference between the United States policy towards Vietnam immediately before and immediately after JFK's assassination. This is one of the major tell tale factors of a conspiracy at the highest level.

I must use primary sources for this presentation. So far I have decided to use NSAM 263 and 273 in comparison and also the example of the mothe of John Judge, who worked at the Pentagon and was responsible for tabulating the number of troops that the use would need in a combact situation and what the projected casualties would be. A few days after JFK's assassination she was instructed to begin making casualty estimates for a war in Vietnam.

I am looking for other primary sources and general impressions from members as to what the most concrete evidence of JFKs decision to pull out of Vietnam is.

Thank you,

John Geraghty

John,

You're probably aware of the fact that NSAM#263 referred to the McNamara-Taylor report that recommended the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963, and the complete withdrawal of ALL US "personnel" (carefully worded to include CIA thugs) by the end of 1965. So merely showing #263 without showing the report that gives the actual details of the withdrawal from Vietnam would be incomplete and confusing, i.e., I consider it a critical piece.

http://www.jfklancer.com/NSAM263.html

http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/FRUSno167.html

Merely googling "McNamara-Taylor report" will yield all sorts of info (along with the ubiquetous McAdams hit). The M-T report may be on one of the links presented by others in this thread. I didn't look at all the URLs.

Also, documentation of the Gulf of Tonkin lie, from the resolution through the exposure of the lie, shows very starkly the lengths LBJ and his goons went to to justify the escalation. Again there's a ton of info on the web.

And IMO showing events in timeline format makes it obvious that the President's murder was related to Vietnam, and that LBJ was on the warpath for his war-profiteer cronies Brown & Root (who then got very rich and became Halliburton) and Bell Helicopter. For example:

Oct 11, 1963

President Kennedy issues National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) #263, ordering (by referencing a fact-finding report he commissioned--the McNamara Taylor report)the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963, and the complete withdrawal of ALL US "personnel" (carefully worded to include CIA thugs) by the end of 1965.

Nov 22, 1963

President Kennedy is murdered

Nov 26, 1963

Lyndon Johnson issues NSAM #273 which reverses President Kennedy's orders from NSAM #263, and escalates the Vietnam War.

Aug 5, 1964

Lyndon Johnson lied about a "Gulf of Tonkin" incident to justify dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War. (The "Gulf of Tonkin" incident was complete fiction, a total lie from a deceitful replacement "president" to justify all out War with the objective of increasing war profits for companies such as Brown & Root (who then got very rich) and Bell Helicopter (another Johnson backer).)

Hell, I'd think you could find primary source documentation to show how incredibly wealthy Brown & Root and Bell got as a direct result of their toady's war escalation, whereas before the war I believe they were having serious financial problems. Perhaps you could find documentation proving the fact that Brown & Root and Bell paid LBJ's way as he was murdering his way up the political ladder and into the white house.

This is just a little rudimentary input, but I do think a timeline format is very illuminating, because the context is so conspicuous as to make the truth unavoidable.

I'd also look into what you can find on McGeorge Bundy, IMO a prime architect of the Vietnam War, and almost certainly working at odds with President Kennedy. Here's a site with some war documents including "McGeorge Bundy Memo to President Johnson, February 7, 1965: Excerpts from Bundy's memo to Johnson, advocating "sustained reprisal against North Vietnam" in response to the NLF attack on two U.S. army installations." Bundy...

Hm, good website here: http://www.history-matters.com/essays/viet...Vietnam1971.htm

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This week I shall be giving an in-class presentation on the difference between the United States policy towards Vietnam immediately before and immediately after JFK's assassination. This is one of the major tell tale factors of a conspiracy at the highest level.

You might find this section on my essay, Assassination, Terrorism and the Arms Trade: The Contracting Out of U.S. Foreign Policy: 1940-2006, useful:

Once in power, Kennedy appeared to support the foreign policy established by Dwight Eisenhower. The historian, David Kaiser, argues that Eisenhower’s policies “called for a military response to Communist aggression almost anywhere that it might occur”. Kaiser provides evidence that this strategy was “adopted by the State and Defence Departments in 1954-1956 and approved secretly by President Eisenhower.” (82)

This policy began with the overthrow by the CIA of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala in the summer of 1954. According to one historian: “The Agency had learned a lesson from the Guatemalan revolution in the early 1950s, when a nationalist government expropriated the land and the public service enterprises of U.S. monopolies to the benefit of the peasants and the population in general. This experience gave rise to a program of infiltrating agents into countries convulsed by communist ideas.” (83)

In the final months of his administration, Eisenhower was mainly concerned with trying to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. He was also worried about events in Laos and Vietnam. However, Kaiser convincingly argues that Kennedy subtly changed foreign policy after he gained office. “Ironically, while Eisenhower’s supposedly cautious approach in foreign policy had frequently been contrasted with his successors’ apparent aggressiveness, Kennedy actually spent much of his term resisting policies developed and approved under Eisenhower, both in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. He also had to deal with the legacy of the Eisenhower administration’s disastrous attempts to create a pro-Western rather than a neutral government in Laos – a policy he quickly reversed, thereby avoiding the need for American military intervention there.” (84)

Kaiser admits that he the Kennedy administration did increase the number of American military personnel in South Vietnam from 600 in 1960 to 17,500 in 1963. However, although he sincerely wanted to help the South Vietnamese government cope with the Viet Cong he rejected war as a way to do so. Kennedy’s view of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia was expressed clearly at his first ever press conference. When asked about Laos he expressed his intentions to help create “a peaceful country – an independent country not dominated by either side but concerned with the life of the people within the country.” (85) This was a marked departure from Eisenhower’s policy of supporting anti-communist military dictatorships in Southeast Asia and the Americas.

This analysis of Kennedy’s foreign policy is supported by two of his most important aides, Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers. In their book, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, they describe how on 19th January, 1960, Eisenhower briefed Kennedy on “various important items of unfinished business”. This included news about “the rebel force that was being trained by the CIA in Guatemala to invade Cuba.” O’Donnell and Powers claimed that: “Eisenhower urged him to keep on supporting this plan to overthrow Castro. But Eisenhower talked mostly about Laos, which he then regarded as the most dangerous trouble spot in Southeast Asia. He mentioned South Vietnam only as one of the nations that would fall into the hands of the Communists if the United States failed to maintain the anti-Communist regime in Laos.” Kennedy was shocked by what Eisenhower told him. He later told his two aides: “There he sat, telling me to get ready to put ground forces into Asia, the thing he himself had been carefully avoiding for the last eight years.” (86)

According to David Kaiser, it was not only the CIA and the Pentagon who wanted him to send troops to Laos and Vietnam. Members of his own administration, including Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, Alexis Johnson, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Roswell Gilpatric, were also strongly in favour of Eisenhower’s policy of “intervention in remote areas backed by nuclear weapons”. (87)

Kaiser suggests the reason for this was that “these civilians were all from the GI generation, and to varying degrees they saw themselves as continuing the struggle against aggression and tyranny that had dominated their youth.” However, it has to be remembered that Johnson, McNamara and Gilpatric had all played an important role in the ensuring that General Dynamics got the TFX contract. (88) Is it possible that they had other motives for involving the United States in a long-drawn out war?

Kennedy continued with his policy of trying to develop “independent” Third World countries. In September, 1962, Souvanna Phouma became head of a new coalition government in Laos. This included the appointment of the left-leaning Quinim Pholsema as Foreign Minister. However, Kennedy found it impossible to persuade Ngo Dinh Diem to broaden his government in South Vietnam.

Kennedy continued to resist all attempts to persuade him to send troops to Vietnam. His policy was reinforced by the Bay of Pigs operation. Kennedy told his assistant secretary of state, Roger Hilsman: “The Bay of Pigs has taught me a number of things. One is not to trust generals or the CIA, and the second is that if the American people do not want to use American troops to remove a Communist regime 90 miles away from our coast, how can I ask them to use troops to remove a Communist regime 9,000 miles away? (89)

In April, 1962, Kennedy told McGeorge Bundy to “seize upon any favourable moment to reduce our involvement” in Vietnam. (90) In September, 1963, Robert Kennedy expressed similar views at a meeting of the National Security Council: “The first question was whether a Communist takeover could be successfully resisted with any government. If it could not, now was the time to get out of Vietnam entirely, rather than waiting.” (91)

The decision by Kennedy to withdraw from Vietnam was confirmed by John McCone, the director of the CIA: “When Kennedy took office you will recall that he won the election because he claimed that the Eisenhower administration had been weak on communism and weak in the treatment of Castro and so forth. So the first thing Kennedy did was to send a couple of men to Vietnam to survey the situation. They came back with the recommendation that the military assistance group be increased from 800 to 25,000. That was the start of our involvement. Kennedy, I believe, realized he'd made a mistake because 25,000 US military in a country such as South Vietnam means that the responsibility for the war flows to (the US military) and out of the hands of the South Vietnamese. So Kennedy, in the weeks prior to his death, realized that we had gone overboard and actually was in the process of withdrawing when he was killed and Johnson took over.” (92)

On 1st April, 1963, the attempt by Kennedy to create an all-party coalition government in Laos suffered a terrible blow when Quinim Pholsema, the left-wing Foreign Minister, was assassinated. As David Kaiser has pointed out: “In light of subsequent revelations about CIA assassination plots, this episode inevitably arouses some suspicion.” (93)

It would seem that Laos was not the only country where Kennedy was trying to develop a coalition government. According to Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartman, in the early months of 1963, a plan was put into action that would result in a palace coup led by “one of Castro’s inner circle, himself a well-known revolutionary hero.” Waldron and Hartman argue that the “coup leader would be part of the new Provisional Government in Cuba, along with a select group of Cuban exiles – approved by the Kennedys – who ranged from conservative to progressive.” (94)

Kennedy told Mike Mansfield in the spring of 1963 that he now agreed with his thinking “on the need for a complete military withdrawal from Vietnam”. After the meeting with Mansfield, Kennedy told Kenneth O’Donnell that when he pulled out of Vietnam in 1965: “I’ll become one of the most unpopular Presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a communist appeaser. But I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected. So we had better make damned sure that I am re-elected.” (95)

In his book, Sons & Brothers, Richard D. Mahoney remarked: “Truman had lost his presidency over the “loss of China,” which in turn had touched off the anticommunist witch hunts by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Troubled as Kennedy was about slipping into the Asian land war, he temporized on the method of disengagement.” (96)

On 10th June, 1963, Kennedy made a commencement address at the American University. “In a speech written in the White House without Pentagon or State Department clearance, Kennedy called specifically, and for the first time, for a whole new attitude towards the Soviet Union and a greater effort for true peace.” (97)

Nine days later Kennedy discussed a new proposal by the State Department to take overt military action against North Vietnam. Kennedy was told that the Pentagon wanted to start bombing North Vietnam and the mining of North Vietnamese ports. (98)

As David Kaiser points out in American Tragedy, Kennedy refused to approve this plan: “Ever since assuming the Presidency, Kennedy had received a long series of proposals for war in Southeast Asia from the State and Defence Departments. Rejecting them all, he had established the goals of a neutral regime in Laos and an effort to assist the South Vietnamese against the Viet Cong.” (99)

Kennedy continued to have problems from the leaders of the military. On 9th July, 1963, General Maxwell Taylor explained to the National Security Council that individual Joint Chiefs did not believe that an atmospheric test ban would serve the nation well. Sixteen days later, Averell Harriman, Andrei Gromyko and Lord Hailsham signed the atmospheric test ban in Moscow.

On 14th August, Diem was informed that the U.S. government would be unable to continue their present relationship if Diem did not issue a statement reaffirming a conciliatory policy towards the Buddhists and other critics of his regime. Ten days later, Ted Szulc of the New York Times reported that “policy planners in Washington” had reached the stage where they would prefer a military junta in South Vietnam to a government ruled by Diem. (100)

Kennedy also gave the order for the withdrawal of 1,000 American personnel by the end of 1963. In order to achieve maximum press coverage, the plan involved taking the men out in four increments. General Maxwell Taylor spoke out against this policy and argued that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed no withdrawal of troops should take place “until the political and religious tensions now confronting the government of South Vietnam have eased.” (101)

In an interview with Walter Cronkite on 2nd September, Kennedy clearly stated his policy on Vietnam: “I don’t think that unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it.” Kennedy then went on to criticize Diem’s “repressions against the Buddhists”. (102)

On 9th September, Henry Cabot Lodge met with Diem and threatened him that aid would be cut-off unless Ngo Dinh Nhu left his government. Yet according to a New York Times story, the CIA continued to back Nhu. This included John Richardson, the Saigon CIA station chief disbursing a regular monthly payment of $250,000 to Nhu and his men. (103) Four days later, Lodge suggested that Richardson should be ordered back to Washington as “he symbolized long-standing American support for Nhu.” John McCone defended Richardson and objected to the idea that he should be replaced by someone like Edward Lansdale.

Kennedy met with Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor on 2nd October, 1963. Kennedy told McNamara to announce to the press the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers from Vietnam. Kennedy added that he would “probably withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965”. When McNamara was leaving the meeting to talk to the White House reporters, Kennedy called to him: “And tell them that means all of the helicopter pilots too.” In his statement to the press McNamara softened the President’s views by stating that in his judgment “the major part of the U.S. military task” in Vietnam could be “completed by the end of 1965.” (104)

Diem and Nhu were murdered on 1st November, 1963. The news reached Kennedy the following day. According to David Kaiser, Kennedy “left the room in shock”. (105) Despite this news, Kennedy made no move to change or cancel his troop reduction. As his aides, Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers pointed out: “The collapse of the Diem government and the deaths of its dictatorial leaders made the President only more sceptical of our military advice from Saigon and more determined to pull out of the Vietnam War.” (106)

It has been suggested by William Colby, Frederick Nolting, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon that Kennedy had ordered Diem’s assassination. There is no evidence for this view. In fact, the behaviour of Diem was giving Kennedy a good excuse to withdraw support for his government. Kennedy knew that Diem was incapable of providing a coalition government that would gain the support of the South Vietnamese people. Robert Kennedy argued against the assassination of Diem as it would leave the government in the “hands of one man that we don’t know very well.” (107) The Kennedy brothers were aware that the man who took control in South Vietnam would probably be no better than Diem at establishing a coalition government. The assassination of Diem was therefore not part of Kennedy’s policy to withdraw from Vietnam.

John Kennedy never disguised the fact that he held some responsibility for the death of Diem. On 4th November he dictated his thoughts on the assassination. He made it clear that he was against the assassination. He pointed out that others, including his brother, were against the idea. He blames Henry Cabot Lodge, Averell Harriman, George Ball, Roger Hilsman and Mike Forrestal for promoting the idea. However, he acknowledges that he should have made it clearer that the assassination of Diem was unacceptable.

Robert Kennedy gave an account of his brother’s views about Diem in an interview recorded in 1964: “He (John Kennedy) would have liked to have gotten rid of Diem if he could get rid of him and get somebody proper to replace him. He was against getting rid of him until you knew what was going to come along, whether the government that was going to replace it had any stability, whether it would, in fact, be a successful coup... We had the difficult problem that, in fact, people had been encouraged to have a coup and now to pull the rug out from under them meant their death. That complicated the problem. And then what really brought the coup on - I guess, from what I've read since then - is the fact that Diem planned a coup himself, a fake coup: He was going to pick up all these people and arrest them and say they were participating in a coup and then execute them. (108)

XXXXXXX

The main change that Johnson makes to Kennedy’s policies concerned his foreign policy. As David Kaiser points out in American Tragedy, Johnson returned to Eisenhower policy “which decided upon a militant response to any new Communist advances virtually anywhere on the globe.” (138)

One of Johnson’s first decisions was to move Kennedy’s Ambassador to Mexico, Thomas C. Mann, to the post of Under Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Mann, a fellow Texan, had held liberal views during the early 1950s, he had for example, argued against the CIA overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. However, by 1963, he shared the Eisenhower/Johnson view of international communism.

Johnson also called off the secret meetings that were taking place between Fidel Castro and people like Lisa Howard on behalf of the Kennedy administration. On 12th February, 1964, Howard took a message from Castro to Johnson asking for negotiations to be restarted. It included the following comment about the forthcoming presidential election campaign: “If the President feels it necessary during the campaign to make bellicose statements about Cuba or even to take some hostile action - if he will inform me, unofficially, that a specific action is required because of domestic political considerations, I shall understand and not take any serious retaliatory action.” (139)

When Johnson did not respond to this message she contacted Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations. On 26th June 1964, Stevenson sent a memo to Johnson saying that he felt that "all of our crises could be avoided if there was some way to communicate; that for want of anything better, he assumed that he could call (Lisa Howard) and she call me and I would advise you." (140) In a memorandum marked top secret, Gordon Chase wrote on 7th July that it was important "to remove Lisa from direct participation in the business of passing messages" from Cuba. (141)

It was at this point that negotiations between Johnson and Castro came to an end. Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at Washington's National Security Archives who has reviewed all the new evidence, recently told the Guardian newspaper: "It shows that the whole history of US-Cuban relations might have been quite different if Kennedy had not been assassinated." (142)

Lyndon Johnson showed little interest in either negotiating with, or removing, Fidel Castro. As he told Dean Rusk, Maxwell Taylor and John McCone on 2nd December, 1963, South Vietnam is “our most critical military area right now.” David Kaiser points out that Johnson “never seriously considered the alternatives of neutralization and withdrawal.” Kaiser adds: “Johnson, in short, accepted the premises of the policies that had been developed under Eisenhower – premises whose consequences Kennedy had consistently refused to accept for three years.” (143)

Johnson also opposed Prince Sihanouk’s new proposal for a conference on Cambodian neutrality. Johnson feared this would encourage Thailand and South Vietnam to follow the neutral policy that had been with Kennedy’s encouragement, achieved by the government in Laos. He also rejected suggestions by Mike Mansfield for a truce in Vietnam as he did not want “another China”. Mansfield replied, that the “United States did not want another Korea either”. (144)

Johnson told General Paul Harkins, commander of the U.S. military assistance in South Vietnam, that it was necessary to “make clear that the US will not accept a Communist victory in South Vietnam and that we will escalate the conflict to whatever level is required to insure their defeat.” (145) According to Stanley Karnow, Johnson told the joint chiefs at a White House reception on Christmas Eve 1963, "Just let me get elected, and then you can have your war." (146)

In February, 1964, Johnson removed Roger Hilsman as Assistant Secretary for the Far East. Hilsman, who had been in charge of Kennedy’s Vietnam policy, had been a loyal supporter of neutralization. Hilsman was replaced by William Bundy, who shared Johnson’s views on military involvement in Vietnam.

In an interview for the 1999 CNN Cold War documentary on the Vietnam War, Hilsman explained Kennedy’s policy during 1963: “First of all, from the beginning, he was determined that it not be an American war, that he would not bomb the North, he would not send troops. But then after …you remember the Buddhist crisis in the spring of '63, this convinced Kennedy that Ngu Dinh Diem had no chance of winning and that we best we get out. So, he used that as an excuse, beat on McNamara to beat on the JCS to develop a withdrawal plan. The plan was made, he approved the plan and the first one thousand of the sixteen thousand five hundred were withdrawn before Kennedy was killed. If he had lived, the other sixteen thousand would have been out of there within three or four months.”

Hilsman went onto explain how Johnson changed policy towards Vietnam: “Well, what Johnson did was, he did one thing before he expanded the war and that is he got rid of one way or another all the people who had opposed making it an American war. Averill Harriman, he was Under Secretary of State, he made him roving ambassador for Africa so he'd have nothing to do with Vietnam. Bobby Kennedy, he you know, he told Bobby Kennedy that he ought to run for governor of Massachusetts, you see. Bobby confounded him by running for the Senate… He wanted to get rid of me, Lyndon Johnson did. Well, Johnson's a very clever man. When he wanted to get rid of Grenowski, who was the Postmaster General, he offered him the chance of being the first American ambassador to Poland. he offered me... he found out that I'd spent part of my childhood in the Philippines, and he tried to persuade me to become ambassador to the Philippines, but that was just to keep me quiet, you see and so instead I went to Columbia University, where I could criticize the war from outside. Johnson was a very clever man, so the first thing he did was he nullified or got rid of all the people - and he knew as well, he knew who were the hawks and who were the doves… Johnson literally transferred, fired, drove out of government all the people that were really knew something about Vietnam and were opposed to the war. (147)

Robert Komer sent a memo to McGeorge Bundy showing concern about Johnson’s decision to reverse Kennedy’s foreign policy. He complained that this new “hard line” would “increase the chances that in addition to the Vietnam, Cuba, Cyprus, Panama and other current trials – will be added come summer Indonesia/Malaysia, Arab/Israeli, India/Pakistan crises which may be even more unmanageable.” (148)

On 2nd March, 1964, Johnson telephoned Robert McNamara, to prepare a statement on Vietnam. Two days later, McNamara issued a statement rejecting withdrawal, neutralization, or American ground troops. This was discussed with the five Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Maxwell Taylor argued for “the progressive and selective attack against targets in North Vietnam”. General Curtis LeMay advocated an immediate “hard blow”. Johnson replied he did “not want to start a war before November”. (149)

Johnson also became very interested in another area of foreign policy. This was brought to Johnson’s attention by John J. McCloy, who was at that time a member of the Warren Commission. He was also working for one of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy law firm’s most important clients, M. A. Hanna Mining Company. McCloy had several meetings with Hanna’s chief executive officer, George M. Humphrey. The two men had been close friends since Humphrey was Eisenhower’s Treasury Secretary. Humphrey was very concerned about the company’s investment in Brazil. Hanna Mining was the largest producer of iron ore in the country. However, after João Goulart had become president in 1961, he began to talk about nationalizing the iron ore industry.

Goulart was a wealthy landowner who was opposed to communism. However, he was in favour of the redistribution of wealth in Brazil. As minister of labour he had increased the minimum wage by 100%. Colonel Vernon Walters, the US military attaché in Brazil, described Goulart as “basically a good man with a guilty conscience for being rich.”

The CIA began to make plans for overthrowing Goulart. A psychological warfare program approved by Henry Kissinger, at the request of telecom giant ITT during his chair of the 40 Committee, sent U.S. PSYOPS disinformation teams to spread fabricated rumors concerning Goulart.

McCloy was asked to set up a channel of communication between the CIA and Jack W. Burford, one of the senior executives of the Hanna Mining Company. In February, 1964, McCloy went to Brazil to hold secret negotiations with Goulart. However, Goulart rejected the deal offered by Hanna Mining. (150)

The following month Lyndon B. Johnson gave the go-ahead for the overthrow of João Goulart (Operation Brother Sam). Colonel Vernon Walters arranged for General Castello Branco to lead the coup. A US naval-carrier task force was ordered to station itself off the Brazilian coast. As it happens, the Brazilian generals did not need the help of the task force. Goulart’s forces were unwilling to defend the democratically elected government and he was forced to go into exile. Later that month, a group of generals, with the approval of Johnson, overthrew Joao Goulart, the left-wing president of Brazil. This action ended democracy in Brazil for more than twenty years. Once again, Johnson showed that his policy was to support non-democratic but anti-communist, military dictatorships, and that he had fully abandoned Kennedy’s neutralization policy.

In June, 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge, resigned as ambassador of Saigon. McGeorge Bundy gave Johnson six recommendations for his successor: Robert Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Robert McNamara, Roswell Gilpatric, William Gaud and himself. Johnson rejected all the names on the list and instead selected General Maxwell Taylor. Bundy complained bitterly that Johnson had appointed a military man. However, Johnson, who was determined to have a war in Vietnam, replied that the ambassador of Saigon would soon be a “military job” and that Taylor was “our top military man”. (150)

Johnson always intended to wait until after the election in November, 1964, before beginning the war against North Vietnam. Public opinion polls showed that the American people were overwhelmingly against sending combat troops to South Vietnam. Most leading figures in the Democratic Party shared this view and had told Johnson this was a war he could not win as China was likely to send troops into Vietnam if the country was bombed or invaded.

Johnson’s strategy changed when Barry Goldwater won the Republican Party nomination in July. Goldwater had been arguing that Johnson had not been aggressive enough over Vietnam. When interviewed by Howard K. Smith on television, Goldwater argued that the United States should start bombing North Vietnam. Smith suggested that this “risked a fight with China”. “You might have to do that” Goldwater responded.” On other occasions, Goldwater had insisted that atomic weapons should be used in Vietnam. (151)

Johnson was now free to trigger a war with North Vietnam. He therefore gave permission for OPLAN 34A to be executed. This was a new operations plan for sabotage operations against North Vietnam. This included hit-and-run attacks along the North Vietnamese coast. On 30th July, the American destroyer, the Maddox, left Taiwan for the North Vietnamese coast. On 2nd August, the Maddox opened fire on three North Vietnamese boats, seriously damaging one boat but not sinking it. (152)

Later that day the incident was discussed by Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk, George Ball, General Earle Wheeler and Robert McNamara’s new deputy, Cyrus Vance. As a result of the meeting, Vance approved new attacks on North Vietnam beginning on the night of 3rd August.

Soon after entering North Vietnamese waters on 4th August, Captain Herrick of the Maddox reported that he was under attack. However, later he sent a message that raised doubts about this: "Review of action makes reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather reports and over-eager sonar men may have accounted for many reports. No actual sightings by "Maddox". Suggest complete evaluation before further action." David Kaiser argues that “exhaustive analysis of the evidence makes it impossible to believe that any attack occurred that night.” (153)

Despite this, President Johnson immediately ordered “a firm, swift retaliatory strike” against North Vietnamese naval bases. (154) He ordered the bombing of four North Vietnamese torpedo-boat bases and an oil-storage depot that had been planned three months previously.

President Johnson then went on television and told the American people that a total of nine torpedoes had been fired at American ships and as a result he had ordered a retaliatory strike. Warned by Johnson’s announcement, the North Vietnamese managed to bring down two American planes, killing one pilot and capturing the other. (155)

Congress approved Johnson's decision to bomb North Vietnam and passed what has become known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution by the Senate by 88 votes to 2 and in the House of Representatives by 416 to 0. This resolution authorized the President to take all necessary measures against Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (NLF).

As James Reston pointed out in the New York Times: “The Congress was free in theory only. In practice, despite the private reservations of many members, it had to go along… it had the choice of helping him or helping the enemy, which is no choice at all.” He then added, as a result of this resolution, who could be trusted with this enormous new power – Johnson or Goldwater?” (156)

As David Kaiser has argued convincingly in his book, ‘American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War’: “By initiating 34A attacks and simultaneously authorizing DeSoto patrols, the administration had brought about one brief military confrontation between North Vietnamese and American forces. The second spurious attack had then become the pretext for retaliation, a congressional resolution authorizing war, and the movement of additional U.S. air assets into South Vietnam.” (157)

82. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

83. Fabian Escalante, CIA Covert Operations 1959-62: The Cuba Project, 2004 (page 12)

84. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

85. Howard W. Chase and Allen H. Lerman, Kennedy and the Press: The News Conferences, 1965 (page 25)

86. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 281-282)

87. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 50)

88. I. F. Stone, The New York Review of Books, 1st January, 1969

89. Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, 1989 (pages 306-307)

90. Memorandum written by McGeorge Bundy’s aide, Michael Y. Forrestal, dated 26th April, 1962. It was first published in The New York Times, 5th December, 1998.

91. Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation, 1967 (page 501)

92. John McCone was interviewed by Harry Kreisler on 21st April, 1988.

93. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 198)

94. Lamar Waldron & Thom Hartmann, Ultimate Sacrifice, 2005 (page 4)

95. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 16)

96. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 279)

97. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 198)

98. William J. Rust, Kennedy and Vietnam, 1985 (page 119)

99. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 212)

100. Ted Szulc, The New York Times (24th August, 1963)

101. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 226)

102. Walter Cronkite, CBS News, 2nd September, 1963

103. The New York Times, 9th September, 1963

104. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 17)

105. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 275)

106. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 17)

107. John Kennedy, transcript, 4th November, 1963

108. Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffrey Shulman, (eds.) Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words, 1988 (page 40)

XXXXXXX

138. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

139. Message sent by Fidel Castro via Lisa Howard on 12th February, 1964.

140. Adlai Stevenson, memorandum sent to Lyndon Johnson on 26th June, 1964.

141. Gordon Chase, White House memorandum, 7th July, 1964

142. Julian Borger, The Guardian (23rd November, 2003)

143. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (pages 288-290)

144. Mike Mansfield, memorandum sent to Lyndon Johnson (6th January, 1964)

145. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 292)

146. Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, 1991 (page 342)

147. Roger Hilsman, The Vietnam War, CNN (broadcast on 6th December, 1998)

148. Robert Komer, memo to McGeorge Bundy (25th February, 1964)

149. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 304)

150. Kai Bird, The Chairman, Simon & Schuster, 1992 (550-553)

151. Michael R. Beschloss, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1997 (pages 407-411)

152. Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm, 2001 (pages 346-347)

153. Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, 1996 (pages 73-74)

154. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 334)

155. Michael R. Beschloss, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1997 (pages 503-504)

156. Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, 1996 (pages 214-231)

157. James Reston, New York Times (9th August, 1964)

158. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 338)

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I thought that I would give you all an update as to how my presentation went.

I gave it yesterday, and we discussed it today.

I focused primarily on NSAM's 263,273, the May 2nd meeting document and the account of the mother of John Judge. I argued that the two NSAM's showed clearly different policies towards Vietnam. The wording of the documents is paramount. NSAM 263 refers to removing 1,000 troops and replacing them with South Vietnam forces that are trained by the US. NSAM 273 makes no such reference to training. Indeed, it gives specific reccomendations and outlines the mandate for US involvement in Vietnam.

The May 2nd meeting clearly makes provisions to the full withdrawal of US forces by the start of 1965, leaving behind trainee Vietnamese troops, machinery and weaponery. They also made allowances for continued economic support of South Vietnam.

Robert MacNamara also references the withdrawal in his 1995 memoir.

This is a brief synopsis of my arguement, I will have to submit a written piece, including the relevant documents.

My lecturer, despite arguing previously that JFK was most likely pursuing an escalative policy, agreed with me that JFK's posturing in public was much different from his actions behind closed doors. Kennedy had to contend with the political and military factions within his administration. He had to keep both factions sweet and thus played a double game, much the same as he did with southern democrats on the issue of civil rights. Kennedy sent Bobby around the south promising not to enact civil rights legislation in return for crucial electoral college cotes during the presidential election.

As the case has always been, politicians may say one thing in public and act differently in private.

MAny thanks for everyones help. My main points of reference were peter Dale Scott's, 'Deep politics and the death of JFK' , the article by Galbraith in the Bostonian, John Simkins piece and my own interpretation of the documents.

Thanks to Rex for providing links to the documents.

All the best,

John

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John Kennedy never disguised the fact that he held some responsibility for the death of Diem. On 4th November he dictated his thoughts on the assassination. He made it clear that he was against the assassination. He pointed out that others, including his brother, were against the idea. He blames Henry Cabot Lodge, Averell Harriman, George Ball, Roger Hilsman and Mike Forrestal for promoting the idea. However, he acknowledges that he should have made it clearer that the assassination of Diem was unacceptable.

Listening to that 11/4/63 tape, I hear Kennedy emphatically indentifying

"Harriman at State" as the first of the pro-coup faction in his Administration.

In an interview for the 1999 CNN Cold War documentary on the Vietnam War, Hilsman explained Kennedy’s policy during 1963...Hilsman went onto explain how Johnson changed policy towards Vietnam: “Well, what Johnson did was, he did one thing before he expanded the war and that is he got rid of one way or another all the people who had opposed making it an American war. Averill Harriman, he was Under Secretary of State, he made him roving ambassador for Africa so he'd have nothing to do with Vietnam.
What nonsense!

http://www.historyhappens.net/archival/vietnam/vietnam.htm

As these documents show, Harriman was involved in the myriad details of US

policy in Vietnam throughout the Johnson Administration.

The fine hands of W. Averell Harriman and his Bush family retainers have

held a chokehold on American foreign policy at least since the overthrow of

Mossadegh in Iran in 1953.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, Joseph Trento, 2001, pp. 334-335:

Who changed the [11/1/63] coup into the murder of Diem, Nhu and a Catholic priest accompanying them? To this day, nothing has been found in government archives tying the killings to either John or Robert Kennedy. So how did the tools and talents developed by Bill Harvey for ZR/RIFLE and Operation MONGOOSE get exported to Vietnam? Kennedy immediately ordered (William R.) Corson to find out what had happened and who was responsible. The answer he came up with: “On instructions from Averell Harriman…. The orders that ended in the deaths of Diem and his brother originated with Harriman and were carried out by Henry Cabot Lodge’s own military assistant.”

Having served as ambassador to Moscow and governor of New York, W. Averell Harriman was in the middle of a long public career. In 1960, President-elect Kennedy appointed him ambassador-at-large, to operate “with the full confidence of the president and an intimate knowledge of all aspects of United States policy.” By 1963, according to Corson, Harriman was running “Vietnam without consulting the president or the attorney general.”

The president had begun to suspect that not everyone on his national security team was loyal. As Corson put it, “Kenny O’Donnell (JFK’s appointments secretary) was convinced that McGeorge Bundy, the national security advisor, was taking orders from Ambassador Averell Harriman and not the president. He was especially worried about Michael Forrestal, a young man on the White House staff who handled liaison on Vietnam with Harriman.”

At the heart of the murders was the sudden and strange recall of Saigon Station Chief Jocko Richardson and his replacement by a no-name team barely known to history. The key member was a Special Operations Army officer, John Michael Dunn, who took his orders, not from the normal CIA hierarchy but from Harriman and Forrestal.

According to Corson, “John Michael Dunn was known to be in touch with the coup plotters,” although Dunn’s role has never been made public. Corson believes that Richardson was removed so that Dunn, assigned to Ambassador Lodge for “special operations,” could act without hindrance.

In 1963, Averell Harriman dictated American foreign policy, not the Kennedys, which is why I

don't buy the argument that JFK was killed over his Vietnam policy.

JFK could make all the speeches he wanted, issue all the memorandums that filled

his heart with content -- and at the end of the day it was W. Averell Harriman who

got his way.

On 11/22/63 Harriman had no need for regime change in Washington -- he was already

calling the shots.

I'll argue it was Harriman who pushed for rapprochement with Fidel, with whom he

was prepared to make semi-exclusive smuggling deals using the drilling platforms

of Zapata Offshore as way stations in the Cuba-to-Florida smuggling pipeline.

The Texas boys (Murchison/Hunt) were going to get shut out of this very lucrative

smuggling business if Harriman got his way in Cuba. They plotted to kill Kennedy in

a manner that would clearly implicate Castro and pave the way for a US invasion of Cuba,

with the attendent installation of a wide-open-smuggling-friendly government in Havana,

as they had with the Batista regime.

Or so I'll continue to argue...

Edited by Cliff Varnell
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THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, Joseph Trento, 2001, pp. 334-335:

At the heart of the murders was the sudden and strange recall of Saigon Station Chief Jocko Richardson...

Cliff,

As you well know, the internal documentary record is not kind to Trento’s interpretation. On 26 August 1963, in the approach to the planned coup against Diem of 28/29 August, the then CIA chief of station in Saigon cabled Langley:

“Situation here has reached point of no return. Saigon is armed camp. Current indications are that Ngo family have dug in for last ditch battle. It is our considered estimate that General officers…understand that they have no alternative but to go forward…

Situation has changed drastically since 21 August. If the Ngo family wins now, they and Vietnam will stagger on to final defeat at the hands of their own people and the VC. Should a generals’ revolt occur and be put down, GVN will sharply reduce American presence in SVN…

It is obviously preferable that the generals conduct this effort without apparent American assistance. Otherwise, for a long time in the future, they will be vulnerable to charges of being American puppets, which they are not in any sense…”*

In short, when Lodge first demanded John H. Richardson’s dismissal in mid-September 1963, the latter was unquestionably pro-coup.

*Francis X. Winters. The Year of the Hare: America in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 – February 15, 1964 (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p.66.

A better title for any intended book concerning Cuba and the murder of JFK? "Someone Should Have Invaded." Perhaps Ashton will do the necessary.

Paul

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Paul,

I'll argue that wasn't enough for Richardson to be "pro-coup" -- Harriman didn't have

confidence that Richardson could help manage the coup according to Harriman's terms.

For instance, I doubt if Harriman cared if the SVN generals looked like American

puppets, or not. Within the circles of Diem's deposed regime -- according to my

sources -- Kennedy was blamed for the whole thing.

I have yet to see any compelling evidence that anyone but W. Averell Harriman

was at the helm of US foreign policy in 1963.

Have you actually read SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TALKED, or are you content

to flick spitballs at the conclusions one might readily draw from it?

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, Joseph Trento, 2001, pp. 334-335:

At the heart of the murders was the sudden and strange recall of Saigon Station Chief Jocko Richardson...

Cliff,

As you well know, the internal documentary record is not kind to Trento’s interpretation. On 26 August 1963, in the approach to the planned coup against Diem of 28/29 August, the then CIA chief of station in Saigon cabled Langley:

“Situation here has reached point of no return. Saigon is armed camp. Current indications are that Ngo family have dug in for last ditch battle. It is our considered estimate that General officers…understand that they have no alternative but to go forward…

Situation has changed drastically since 21 August. If the Ngo family wins now, they and Vietnam will stagger on to final defeat at the hands of their own people and the VC. Should a generals’ revolt occur and be put down, GVN will sharply reduce American presence in SVN…

It is obviously preferable that the generals conduct this effort without apparent American assistance. Otherwise, for a long time in the future, they will be vulnerable to charges of being American puppets, which they are not in any sense…”*

In short, when Lodge first demanded John H. Richardson’s dismissal in mid-September 1963, the latter was unquestionably pro-coup.

*Francis X. Winters. The Year of the Hare: America in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 – February 15, 1964 (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p.66.

A better title for any intended book concerning Cuba and the murder of JFK? "Someone Should Have Invaded." Perhaps Ashton will do the necessary.

Paul

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Robert MacNamara also references the withdrawal in his 1995 memoir.

This is a brief synopsis of my arguement, I will have to submit a written piece, including the relevant documents.

All the best,

John

John

McNamara appeared at the JFK Presidential Library on April 27, 1995.

I was one of about 1,000 guests in the big auditorium. During the Q and A

period, I had the opportunity to go to the microphone and ask former Defense

Secretary McNamara what JFK's plans were for Vietnam, had he lived. Without

hesitation, he said that JFK was going to pull out of Vietnam.

Bill C

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  • 3 months later...

Due to time constraints I was not able to write the type of presentation that I would have been proud of. This, unfortunately is a summary argument of the presentation that I gave some weeks ago. I received a 2.1 grade for my presentation, being 2% away from a first. I lost marks due to my presentation, which is usually a strong point for me. I was not working from a written product and was ad libbing throughout. Essentially I used my ow interpretation of primary documents.

Here is the finished product.

The primary documents that I have used for this presentation are National Security Action Memorandum No.263 of October 11th, 1963, National Security Action memorandum No.273 of November 26th, 1963 and the report of the CINCPAC meeting of May 8th, 1963. A compound analysis of these documents, along with the additional commentary from members of the Kennedy administration, provide an established argument that President Kennedy was in the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam before his assassination. In using NSAM 263 and NSAM 273, I intend to show the distinct difference in policy towards Vietnam between the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Until recently, discussion of Kennedy’s withdrawal from Vietnam has been branded wishful thinking by Kennedy apologists within his administration and admirers from without. However, following the publication of Dr. John Newman’s seminal work ‘JFK and Vietnam’, there has been increased discussion of the documentary record released under the JFK records act in the early nineties. Historians such as Professor Peter Dale Scott of the University of Berkeley, California, have argued that a combination of documentary and testimonial evidence points towards the conclusion that Kennedy was indeed poised to remove U.S. troops from Vietnam, starting with 1,000 by the end of 1963. James K.Galbraith, son of Kennedy advisor John Kenneth Galbraith, argued in an article in the Boston Review that he too believed Kennedy to have been making these plans. The three core documents, as I have mentioned above, clearly point to a marked shift in the policy towards an exit from Vietnam following the assassination of President Kennedy.

The CINCPAC meeting of May 8th 1963 was a communication between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, with an additional copy having been sent to the Central Intelligence agency. The topic of discussion was the proposal for the removal of 1,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of 1963, the continual removal of troops thereafter, and the tactical and monetary support to be left in Vietnam to support the South Vietnamese army. The CINCPAC document states

‘Ú.S., as we withdraw, should consider leaving behind for GVN use where latter can absorb, materials such as C-123’s, helicopters, AC&W equipment, and troposcatter communication equipment’.

Direct reference is made to the withdrawal of U.S. troop and the provisions to be made in their stead. The document goes on to list the monetary assistance that should be afforded to the South Vietnamese army. Only direct quotation from the document can describe the matter of fact manner in which this document was written, it’s purpose being clear and preordained.

‘Part IV. Withdrawal of U.S. forces. As a matter of urgency, a plan for the withdrawal of about 1,000 U.S. troops before the end of the year should be developed based upon the assumption that the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign would warrant such a move. Plans should be based upon withdrawal of US units (as opposed to individuals) by replacing them with selected and specially trained RVNAF units’.

This paragraph could be treated as simply the formulation of a contingency plan if it were not followed by the following paragraph,

‘PART V. Phase-out of US forces. SECDEF advised that the phase-out program presented during 6 May conference appeared too slow. In consonance with PART III request you develop a revised plan to accomplish more rapid phase-out of US forces.’ The haste with which the Secretary of Defence wishes this removal of troops to go through indicates that the plan was indeed to remove all U.S. forces from Vietnam by the start of 1965. This plan gives a clear guideline on how the withdrawal should be achieved, removing US forces, but replacing them with South Vietnamese trainees and equipping them with US armaments.

The clear preparations for the removal of U.S. troops should now be interjected into the differing proposals set out by NSAM No.263 and NSAM No.273. NSAM No.263 is a short document that simply confirms the Presidents authorisation of the implementation of the previously formulated plan. The memo includes the line that the President ‘directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.’ This line explains President Kennedy’s coy attitude towards the question of Vietnam. A differentiation must be made between the actual actions of the White House and the political doublespeak that is employed in order to give no definite answer on an escalation or de-escalation. In an interview with Walter Cronkite President Kennedy plays both sides of the argument, acknowledging that it was, ultimately, a Vietnamese war and it was up to them to fight it, but conceded that they would not abandon the Vietnamese people. At this point Kennedy has approved the withdrawal of U.S. troops and does not seem to want to announce his position, lest his credibility as a cold warrior president suffer. NSAM No.273 was circulated on the 26th of November, 4 days after the assassination of President Kennedy. The difference between the documents could not be starker, NSAM 273 promoting an increased presence in Vietnam. NSAM 273 makes no reference to NSAM 263 and basically ignores its premise, citing only a continuation of the policy outlined in a White House statement of October 2nd, which was 9 days before the drafting of NSAM 263. In describing the renewed military effort, the document reads

‘This concentration should include not only military but political, economic, social, educational and international effort. We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle but of belief…’.

Unlike NSAM 263, NSAM 273 has no document previous to it that set forth the military aims of the campaign. NSAM 263 was simply a Presidential confirmation of an existing plan, NSAM 273 was the formulation of a new plan, and was thus a much lengthier document. NSAM 273 makes more provisions for the inclusion of the Central Intelligence agencies involvement in Vietnam, several mentions being made to the winning of hearts and minds and the waging of an effective propaganda campaign.

The dichotomy of ideas expressed in the two opposing documents gives a clear indication that the policy towards Vietnam enacted on 26th November 1963 was not the one that was in place previous to Kennedy’s assassination.

Bibliography

Dale Scott, Peter, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, (California, 1996)

Newman, John, JFK and Vietnam: Decpetion, Intrigue and the Struggle for power, (1992, New York)

Galrbraith, James K., Exit Strategy, Boston Review, October, 2003

Edited by John Geraghty
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