JOHN F. KENNEDY AND SOUTH VIETNAM, 1963

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 444

An update to lớn EBB No. 302

Posted – November 1, 2013

Edited by John Prados

For more information contact: John Prados 202/994 7000 or nsarchiv

Books by John Prados

Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975 By John Prados

William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial SpymasterBy John Prados

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JFK và the Diem Coup JFK tape reveals high-cấp độ Vietphái mạnh coup plotting in 1963

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Washington, D.C., November 1, 2013 – Continued investigation of the presidency of John F. Kennedy further strengthens the view that the origins of U.S. support for the coup which overthrew South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinc Diem 50 years ago today traces directly khổng lồ President Kennedy, not khổng lồ a "cabal" of top officials in his administration. As the documents posted by the National Security Archive sầu in 2009 và new material posted today indicates, the often-told story that a "cabal" of senior officials, in combination with U.S. ambassador to Saigon Henry Cabot Lodge, were responsible for the coup is a myth.

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The 2009 posting (below) used the then-newly released audiotapes of President Kennedy"s discussions on South Vietphái nam in late August 1963, combined with the declassified documents on the same meetings, and the State Department cables lớn Saigon bearing instructions for Ambassador Lodge, to show that Washington officials acted in unison in determining the U.S. approach. Additional evidence presented here supports this conclusion.

The additional evidence combined with the 2009 evidence demonstrates:

When the NSC decided, on August 27, to hold off on U.S. action, it was in possession of new information from the CIA that the South Vietnamese generals themselves had decided to delay their maneuver. The Kennedy administration used the additional time lớn take measures designed khổng lồ ensure U.S. capability to lớn act in the Saigon political situation. All the U.S. measures taken subsequently-to lớn include preparation of an evacuation plan for U.S. personnel in South Vietnam giới, positioning of U.S. Marines offshore for possible emergency intervention, actions khổng lồ halternative text certain aid to Diem"s forces, preparation of lists of South Vietnamese who could potentially substitute for Diem, và the dispatch of senior U.S. officials on a mission lớn Saigon lớn induce Diem khổng lồ rid himself of Nhu-had been discussed in these initial NSC meetings.

The original cable of instructions to lớn Ambassador Lodge (Document 1) had not been the product of an end-run. Michael Forrestal, NSC staffer for Southeast Asia, one of the supposed cabal, had given President Kennedy two opportunities lớn stop action on the initiative sầu. He informed JFK that the cable was being drafted, even telling hyên ổn that Lodge và his predecessor, Frederick Nolting had both advised a go-slow approach, and asked if the president wished to lớn proceed. Forrestal then advised Kennedy when the draft had been completed, sent hyên ổn the text, and told the president of what was being done to lớn insize other U.S. agencies.

CIA officers were heavily involved in all the action. Had Director McCone opposed the "cabal," this degree of cooperation would not be expected. Roger Hilsman"s diary (Document 17) shows him meeting or in tương tác with CIA"s Far East operations chief, William E. Colby, more than twice as often in the days after the August 26 NSC session as in the preceding week. In fact immediately after returning from the White House that day, Hilsman met with Colby at the State Department. The following day Colby returned to lớn Hilsman"s office with other CIA officers. The pattern of this August 27 tương tác strongly suggests that Colby rehearsed for Hilsman the briefing with which the CIA would open a new Nhà Trắng meeting that afternoon.

The CIA also prepared a "Cast of Characters in South Vietphái mạnh," that was ready on August 28 & that it introduced during the briefing lớn the NSC that same day (Document 18). The Agency provided this report in direct response khổng lồ earlier conversations with President Kennedy, where one of the concerns had been that Washington did not know who was who in Saigon. National security adviser McGeorge Bundy annotated his copy of the paper & his notes should be viewed in conjunction with the audiotape and memos recording this meeting (Document 9, Document 10, Document 11).

President Kennedy resolved khổng lồ modify his instructions to Ambassador Lodge, not to over U.S. backing for the South Vietnamese generals, but rather khổng lồ ensure Washington lent the weight of its tư vấn lớn a coup that would succeed. The text below introduces this electronic briefing book in its original form, including notes on John F. Kennedy"s audiotape recording system, the context in which Kennedy made his decision on the coup against Diem, & the byplay of the Washington deliberations.

2009 POSTING

Washington, D.C., December 11, 2009 – At a critical moment in August 1963, President John F. Kennedy saw only negative sầu choices on Vietnam, according lớn new audio recordings & documentation posted today by the National Security Archive sầu. Recently declassified tapes of secret White House nhà trắng meetings on the possibility of U.S. support for a military coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem show that Kennedy believed that if Diem"s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu remained a major influence, the war might not succeed. Recognizing that Congress might get "mad" at him for supporting coup-minded Vietnamese generals, Kennedy said that it will "be madder if Vietnam giới goes down the drain." Thus, Kennedy did not disagree when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said that the U.S. needed khổng lồ "plan how we make this thing work." The tapes also show that McNamara, long held lớn have opposed the Diem coup, failed lớn express such a svào view at the moment of this decision.

The newly declassified tapes are authoritative evidence on U.S. policy toward the Vietnamese coup, và they shed fresh light on one of the most controversial episodes of the American war in Vietphái mạnh. In continuation of our previous coverage of this aspect of U.S. policy during the Vietphái mạnh war, the National Security Archive sầu is posting the Kennedy tapes & memoranda containing the written accounts of the same National Security Council (NSC) meetings, together with related documents concerning this affair. The episode is covered in considerable detail in William Colby & the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster, by National Security Archive fellow John Prados.

The new evidence shows that:

President Kennedy repeatedly pressed for better information regarding the balance of South Vietnamese forces for and against a coup. While President Kennedy expressed reluctance khổng lồ proceed with a coup that had no chance for success, he agreed with other senior U.S. officials that under the existing Saigon leadership there was no chance of success in the Vietnam war. On the tapes, Kennedy can be heard moderating NSC deliberations that aimed at forging a policy specifically aimed at the Saigon coup. Kennedy & other top U.S. officials agreed that, at a minimum, Saigon leader Diem had to be made to eject his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, và Nhu"s wife, Madame Nhu, from the South Vietnamese government. Whether this could be done by diplomatic approaches or required resort khổng lồ a coup became the focus of much of these NSC deliberations. Even officials opposed khổng lồ a coup agreed on the necessity khổng lồ eject Nhu. Defense secretary Robert S. McNamara, who, lượt thích President Kennedy, voiced tư vấn only for a coup that could succeed, also concurred on the Nhu problem. The range of consensus included U.S. officials who subsequently gained credit for opposing expansion of the Vietnam giới war, most prominently Undersecretary of State George W. Ball. Kennedy and his advisers saw proposals to lớn halt U.S. aid khổng lồ South Vietphái nam as measures to lớn weaken the Diem government in the face of the South Vietnamese generals or khổng lồ direct the aid lớn the Vietnamese military rather than Diem. Proposals to lớn evacuate Americans from South Vietnam were explicitly linked to the military coup. The tapes reveal that plans for an American withdrawal were created in the context of NSC deliberations on the coup; they became a feature of diplomatic maneuvers lớn induce Diem to oust Nhu. The specific U.S. policy choice that Kennedy made—lớn skết thúc Secretary McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor on a diplomatic mission to Saigon in September 1963—was prefigured in these NSC discussions. The tapes show that their mission, designed khổng lồ pressure Diem to get rid of Nhu, originated as a maneuver to achieve the U.S. goal by diplomacy while the South Vietnamese generals recruited more supporters for a coup move sầu.

All these points bear on important aspects of our understanding of the Vietnam giới war. For example, the tapes" discussion of the purposes for planning an American withdrawal from South Vietnam weakens claims by some that President Kennedy all along intended khổng lồ get out of the conflict. Though JFK expresses doubts—in the Oval Office on August 29 Kennedy tells his inner circle, "We"re up to our hips in mud out there"—the president never forthrightly rejects the Vietphái nam commitment. In fact Kennedy tells the same group shortly afterwards that while Congress might get "mad" at the U.S. sidling up lớn the Vietnamese generals, "they"ll be madder if Vietnam goes down the drain" (Item 12). President Kennedy"s emphasis indicates his determination to fight the war, not abandon it.

The Tapes

The Kennedy tapes concern a series of top màn chơi meetings the president held at the White House in late August 1963. The tapes khung part of a larger collection of audiotapes by President Kennedy, who had recording systems installed in the Cabinet Room and in his Oval Office respectively in the summer & fall of 1962. Kennedy himself controlled the taping system, using switches located underneath the conference table in the Cabinet Room và in his desk in the Oval Office. JFK recorded his first tape on July 30, 1962. Microphones were concealed in unused light fixture recesses in the Cabinet Room, and in Kennedy"s desk in the Oval Office. (Note1) Due lớn the state of technical development of recording equipment at that time, và to the fact that people recorded on the tapes were speaking from where they stood or sat, not directly inkhổng lồ the microphones, the audiotapes are not perfect recordings. Voices can be distant, other noises impinge, và ambient noise sometimes overwhelms the material. In spite of these drawbacks the Kennedy tapes constitute the most authoritative sầu material imaginable, for they record the actual words of President Kennedy & his closest advisers.

Tapes for roughly 248 hours of meetings and 12 hours of telephone calls were given to the Kennedy Library by the former president"s estate in 1976, và a last group of dictabelt recordings came to the Library in 1998. The present release is from the original bequest. It is the lakiểm tra in a series of releases from the Kennedy tapes that began in 1983, when the Library opened lớn the public segments of audiotape that concerned the Cuban Missile Crisis, beginning with a few conversations transcribed by McGeorge Bundy. Since then there have been periodic additions, and the Kennedy Library adopted a systematic program to process and open the tapes in order, with the goal of completing the work in 2011. Kennedy Library archivists affirm they are on schedule to meet that goal.

Despite the existence of the orderly program, however, the Kennedy Library has repeatedly released material out of sequence when it saw advantage in doing so. The full set of Cuban Missile Crisis tapes were opened between 1994 và 1997 (lưu ý 2), tapes bearing on civil rights were released a few years ago (Note 3), and the Kennedy tapes of meetings during the final period before và during the coup against Ngo Dinh Diem were opened as long ago as 1999. (cảnh báo 4) Considering the historical importance of Kennedy"s August Vietnam tapes, & given the existence of a procedure at the Library for requesting an early đánh giá of tapes, this analyst asked for such a reviews in 2000. The Kennedy Library took no action. The present release represents the result of the Library"s orderly program. The fact that the Kennedy Library chose to make a wide release of these tapes khổng lồ the public và to lớn post them on its Web site is an acknowledgement that it does, after all, recognize the historical importance of these audiotapes.

The cửa nhà descriptions below describe why the tapes are the most authoritative record, for they show many instances where the written memorandomain authority of the meetings differ from what was actually said. The lead written record of each meeting (normally from Bromley Smith of the NSC staff but in one instance from General Victor D. Krulak, an assistant to lớn Maxwell Taylor) is annotated by archivist Maura Porter of the Kennedy Library with minute:second times for passages of the meeting portrayed in the memorandum. This added value makes the audiotapes easier to follow.

Background & Context

Triggering these White House nhà trắng discussions were approaches by two South Vietnamese generals to lớn U.S. embassy officials in August 1963. They asked what position the United States would take if the South Vietnamese military launched a coup d"état against Saigon leader Ngo Dinch Diem. (Note 5) A few days earlier, President Diem, prodded by his brother và counselor, Ngo Dinc Nhu, had sent Vietnamese police và army forces khổng lồ seize the largest Buddhist pagodas in Saigon and Hue. In the political maneuvering preceding this operation, Nhu had manipulated the Vietnamese military inkhổng lồ taking apparent responsibility for what became known as the "pagoda raids," the lachạy thử episode in an increasingly hostile confrontation between South Vietnamese Buddhists & Catholics that had begun in Hue in May. The pagoda rsida, reported around the world, became a South Vietnamese political fiasco. American journalists, aao ước them David Halberstam of the Thành Phố New York Times, were highly critical of the rsida. The U.S. government was scandalized. Vietnamese generals rejected blame for carrying out the raids and -- with the exception of certain loyalists -- most determined at that time khổng lồ move sầu against the Saigon government.

News that the generals wanted some expression of U.S. policy toward a coup reached Washington on Saturday, August 24, 1963, a moment when many top officials happened khổng lồ be away. Impelled by the need for an immediate response, those subordinates who were available crafted a reply which strongly implied the U.S. would back a coup under certain circumstances. Undersecretary of State George Ball, the senior official on duty that day, was accosted on a golf course to obtain his approval of the draft reply (Item 1). The cable was written by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger A. Hilsman và Deputy Secretary of State W. Averell Harriman, cleared by acting chiefs at the Pentagon và CIA, và coordinated by telegram with President Kennedy by his NSC staff director for Vietphái mạnh, Michael V. Forrestal. (chú ý 6) This document became notorious as the "Hilsman Cable." It was regarded by some, led by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Maxwell D. Taylor (chú ý 7), as an "egregious kết thúc run" around established U.S. policy that took advantage of the heat of the moment. It is worth noting that Taylor had no approval authority for the cable, and that the senior Pentagon official who did, Secretary McNamara, later recalled, "I vì not share Max"s view that the cable represented an egregious kết thúc run." (cảnh báo 8) Action based on the cable was nevertheless halted when top officials, including McNamara, learned that it contemplated ending U.S. tư vấn for President Diem.

The White House nhà trắng meetings captured in these Kennedy tapes (Items 2, 6, 9, 12) began on Monday, August 26, when members of the president"s inner circle were baông xã in Washington. The issue at all the meetings was the position the United States should take with respect khổng lồ a coup by the Vietnamese military against Diem and/or Nhu. The tapes and written records of those same meetings, posted here (Items 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14) make it possible to read & listen lớn primary sources on those deliberations.

President Kennedy acted primarily as a moderator, eliciting the views of his advisers by posing questions và listening to the ensuing discussion. Kennedy makes occasional statements of opinion but for the most part his own views must be inferred from the direction of his questions. His interests indicate the president agreed with the assessments that the Diem government held primary responsibility for the pagoda raids, that Nhu and Madame Nhu had lớn be ejected from power in Saigon, and that he was prepared khổng lồ use the available means the United States possessed khổng lồ attain that goal.

What really happened at these meetings is far more complex—và significant—than is usually portrayed by historians, some participants, or for that matter by President Kennedy himself in a brief personal reflection he recorded on audiotape on November 4, 1963. Historians frequently portray the August decisions as the result of a cabal amuốn Hilsman, Harriman, & Forrestal; or as out-of-control activism on the part of newly-arrived American ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, who reached Saigon only as these events began to unfold. The view that a cabal was responsible was influenced by the president"s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who said that "a handful of men in the State Department và the White House nhà trắng had been awaiting an opportunity lớn encourage the Vietnamese army to move sầu against the government." Bobby Kennedy added, with respect to the White House nhà trắng meetings themselves, "The government was split in two. It was the only time, really in three years, the government was broken in two in a very disturbing way." (Note 9) In actuality, Bobby Kennedy spoke very little in these meetings và was absent at the crucial August 26 meeting, which should have sầu demonstrated the "split" of which he spoke. Many subsequent commentators took their cues from his opinion. Ellen Hammer (cited above) builds her account directly from the quoted material. William Prochnau, writing of the cabal getting approval for the first, incendiary cable, asserts that "each was easier to lớn convince after another had signed." (chú ý 10) In his recent account, historian Howard Jones speaks of "a triumvirate of hard-line advisers who . . . tied the administration khổng lồ coup." (lưu ý 11)

In John F. Kennedy"s taped reflection he simply places his officials on one side of the dispute or another: Robert McNamara, General Taylor, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, và CIA director John A. McCone as opposing the coup; Hilsman, Harriman, Ball, và Forrestal as favoring it. The president does not specify the side taken by Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

The audiotapes actually show President Kennedy"s advisers cooperatively helping him determine policy. The individuals cited bởi vì speak out against an immediate coup, but they are united in the judgment that Vietphái mạnh would be lost if Ngo Dinc Nhu remained in the Saigon government, & they waver one way or the other on the capathành phố of Diem himself. All favor supporting an eventual coup, once forces were aligned, if Nhu were not ousted. Moreover, the tone of the first of these meetings, on August 26 (Item 2), belies the clayên that top officials were furious with Hilsman, the supposed perpetrator of a "cabal." More to the point, the White House nhà trắng meeting did not discuss countermanding the Hilsman Cable but rather took it as a starting point around which khổng lồ build. In addition, officials whom President Kennedy later recorded as opposed lớn the coup are aý muốn the most active sầu participants in discussions of how the U.S. could utilize its aid & its own forces in Vietphái nam in tư vấn of the Vietnamese military plotters. Listeners can hear the tone of the key August 26 meeting and decide for themselves how angry the group was at the actions of the supposed "cabal." Much like the Cuban Missile Crisis meetings had ranged over a mix of alternatives và finally settled on a policy, the Vietnam giới deliberations of late August 1963 ended with general agreement that Washington would wait for the Vietnamese generals to assemble their forces and would tư vấn a coup once they had, provided that the Nhus had not been ousted in the interyên ổn. During that time the U.S. would make one final attempt to convince President Diem khổng lồ rid himself of his brother Nhu, và, as part of that maneuver, would suspkết thúc some U.S. aid while standing ready lớn evacuate Americans from South Vietnam giới.

A word should be said with regard lớn Ambassador Frederichồng C. Nolting, the outgoing U.S. ambassador lớn Saigon. Nolting was known as a friend khổng lồ Diem and his replacement by Cabot Lodge already showed U.S. displeasure with the Diem government. Nolting and Lodge exchanged notes in Honolulu as the former ambassador returned to lớn Washington và his successor headed for Saigon. In transit during the initial approach of the Vietnamese generals, Nolting arrived in Washington in time lớn influence the proceedings. At the first of the meetings which Kennedy taped, that of August 26 (Item 2), the president ended by asking that Nolting be brought into lớn the group. Participants explicitly recognized this meant bringing a champion for Diem into lớn the proceedings. Thereafter Nolting steadfastly defended Diem, và also Nhu to lớn a considerable degree, arguing he was not "anti-American" but "pro-Vietnamese" (Item 6). Yet by the end of the week, even Nolting was on board with the formula for making a final effort lớn induce Diem khổng lồ oust Nhu, in a context where officials clearly understood that, failing that, the United States would support a military coup in Saigon (Item 12). (lưu ý 12)

During the month of September, President Kennedy carried out the course he had agreed upon with advisers at the August White House meetings. Robert McNamara và Maxwell Taylor became JFK"s emissaries on the mission khổng lồ convince Diem to lớn fire Nhu. These Kennedy tapes also shed light on that mission: by selecting emissaries who had opposed an immediate coup, the proposal to oust Nhu was being made by those who had taken the most relaxed view of the Saigon leader. Kennedy was signaling khổng lồ Diem that even his closest friends in Washington had lost patience with hlặng. It was during the McNamara-Taylor mission that the U.S. terminated military aid khổng lồ the South Vietnamese Special Forces, the military unit most directly controlled by Nhu và Diem. This reinforced the signal, but it also weakened the loyadanh sách forces which Diem might rely upon khổng lồ defkết thúc against a coup. This formed an integral element of a U.S. policy supporting the South Vietnamese generals in the coup scenario. Thus while President Kennedy decided against an immediate coup, his stance in effect accepted that there would ultimately be such an sự kiện if Diem proved unresponsive sầu (Item 12).

Finally, the new Kennedy tapes further illuminate the debate as to lớn whether John F. Kennedy intended khổng lồ withdraw the United States from the Vietphái mạnh war. The record of the August meetings shows President Kennedy"s acute awareness of the political capital he would thua kém in Congress if the Vietphái mạnh war were lost (Item 12). In the meetings Kennedy & his advisers use the term "withdrawal" mostly to signify termination or suspension of aid to lớn the Diem government. They explicitly use "evacuation" in conversations about getting Americans out of South Vietnam giới in the context of a coup situation, và a plan for such an evacuation was discussed và refined during this period. Kennedy and his advisers were reaching for mechanisms lớn influence the Diem government, và they would, as noted, terminate aid to lớn some of Diem"s troops.

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South Vietnamese officials, specifically including Nhu, made public statements at this time that hinted at a future demand for the Americans to lớn leave sầu Vietphái mạnh. The minor withdrawal that President Kennedy approved and which Secretary McNamara ordered in October 1963 should be seen in this context: it was a measure that simultaneously suggested that Washington could be responsive to lớn demands by the Diem government, simplified U.S. problems in case an evacuation actually needed khổng lồ be carried out, and put Diem further on notice that the United States had the power to leave hyên in the lurch. (chú ý 13) Ahy vọng the earliest commentaries on what has been endlessly debated as the "Kennedy withdrawal" thesis is the oral history interview done with Roswell Gilpatric on August 12, 1970, while the Vietnam giới war still raged. Gilpatric had been McNamara"s deputy and was present at some of the Nhà Trắng meetings recorded here. Asked if the October withdrawal announcement was "a move sầu in the direction of the eventual or planned withdrawal" of American troops, Gilpatric answered, "I couldn"t put it in quite as specific terms as that." Gilpatric recalled President Kennedy as having been "restive" in the summer và fall of 1963, but that it was McNamara, not JFK who had indicated "that this was part of a plan the president had asked him to develop to lớn unwind the whole thing." (cảnh báo 14) Gilpatric opines that the idea was not part of a pressure play. In fact, McNamara had ordered the planning for this limited withdrawal finalized in May 1963, the very moment when the Buddhist crisis in South Vietphái mạnh began. The tapes of the October NSC meetings that discussed this specific matter, which are already available, show Kennedy"s tone of skepticism as he questioned McNamara, Taylor, & others about this project. (cảnh báo 15)

In the meantime there had been further development of the options for pressuring Diem, including scenarquả táo Roger Hilsman assembled in early và mid-September. These documents survived. The State Department"s executive sầu secretariat, on instructions from the White House nhà trắng, recalled from the "eyes only" recipients all copies of the original Hilsman Cable và similar communications sent between August 24 & August 29 and destroyed them in late September, with the exception of one phối retained by State for reference. (lưu ý 16)

According to John Phường. Robít, a political adviser to Lyndon B. Johnson, several years later President Johnson asked hlặng khổng lồ Đánh Giá the period leading up to lớn the coup against Diem. Following conversations with Secretary Rusk, the Hilsman scenarios appeared in the packet of material sent khổng lồ the White House nhà trắng for Rođậy to examine. He concluded that Kennedy had "half-ordered" the coup but had not specifically approved it. (Note 17) President Johnson, who had personally supported Diem from the beginning of the Kennedy administration, no doubt relied on this inquiry when he wrote in his own memoir that the Hilsman Cable had been "a hasty và ill-advised message" & that the decision "was a serious blunder which launched a period of deep political confusion in Saigon that lasted almost two years." (lưu ý 18) It is yet another indication of President Kennedy"s direction here that then-Vice President Johnson attended only one (plus part of another) of the August 1963 White House nhà trắng meetings on the coup project.

Documents & Audio Clips

After receiving four different cables from Saigon, most reporting the views of South Vietnamese generals and a cabinet minister that showed plans were afoot for a military move sầu against President Ngo Dinh Diem, with one cable a note from newly-arrived Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge concluding that the United States should tư vấn these maneuvers, the State Department crafted a response. With senior officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, out of town, the job went to Assistant Secretary for Far East Affairs Roger Hilsman. This message became notorious as the "Hilsman Cable," & ominously directed that "If, in spite of all your efforts, Diem remains obdurate và refuses , then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved." Ambassador Lodge was instructed khổng lồ manage this operation from the Saigon end & promised backing "to lớn the hilt" from Washington, including a radio broadcast the Vietnamese generals could interpret as a green light for a coup maneuver. The cable was coordinated informally with second-rank officials at the Departments of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, & by NSC staffer Michael V. Forrestal with President Kennedy. When seniors learned of the action, led by Rusk, McNamara, & Taylor, they contrived to lớn cancel the instructions. That left President Kennedy with a South Vietnamese coup plot on the table & the necessity of adopting a stance in this matter.

Item 2: Tape Recording of Presidential Meeting, August 26, 1963, Noon (32:16 minutes elapsed) SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library, NARA

(Clichồng here to lớn stream the clip if it does not load in the player above or here for a direct download.)

This meeting represented President Kennedy"s initial effort lớn hammer out a coherent response to lớn the South Vietnamese generals following the confusion of the "Hilsman Cable." Upon returning to Washington from his weekend at Hyannis Port, Kennedy convened his top advisers khổng lồ Review developments in Saigon. Assistant Secretary Hilsman led off, noting that "We are all in agreement that Nhu must go," và that suspicions were reciprocal—"Nhu has thought for months that we are out khổng lồ get him." Hilsman discusses South Vietnamese coup prospects, details of the Diem government"s raids on Buddhist pagodas, & a plan to evacuate Americans from South Vietphái nam, noting that the U.S. force there, the Military Assistance Command Vietphái mạnh (MACV) has little ability to lớn defover itself. President Kennedy cites coverage of South Vietphái nam in the U.S. press, particularly that of Newsweek & journamenu David Halberstam of the Thành Phố New York Times, commenting on a coup that "we just want lớn be sure," và that "we"re not going lớn vị it just because the Thành Phố New York Times is excited about it."

Roger Hilsman, who dominates much of the discussion at this meeting, reflects that the Vietnamese generals "wouldn"t bởi something unless we said something," but that two of the key plotters had both told U.S. officials that "you have sầu got lớn biến hóa your mind." A number of comments by Secretary of Defense McNamara elicited doubts about the adequacy of information on Saigon events, while Secretary of State Dean Rusk warned that in Vietnam "we"re on the road khổng lồ disaster." President Kennedy set a follow-up meeting, requested more information, & asked staff lớn arrange for former ambassador Frederichồng Nolting—a known supporter of Diem—khổng lồ attover. JFK wanted Nolting in the room precisely because of his pro-Diem views.

Item 3: Memorandum of Conversation, Nhà Trắng Meeting, August 26, 1963, Noon SOURCE: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietphái mạnh, Chapter XXIII.

Prepared by Taylor"s special assistant for counterinsurgency, Lieutenant General Victor Krulak, this meeting record supplies the written version of the audio tape in Item 1. Many points that President Kennedy"s group discusses in some detail are represented in only summary form in the memorandum. Some, lượt thích a discussion toward the end of the session of how the Diem government was dealing with American journalists, are absent altogether. The written record of this and subsequent meeting tapes have sầu been usefully annotated by Kennedy Library archivist Maura Porter with minute/second citations to lớn where the president and his advisers khuyễn mãi giảm giá with various subjects of concern.

This document is Roger Hilsman"s record of the same meeting. It supplements the account in Item 3 and contains significant nuances. Hilsman notes General Taylor"s doubts about ousting Diem, & refers lớn Taylor"s anger at Hilsman for bypassing the military chain of comm& in having a direct conversation with the Commander-in-Chief Pacific, Admiral Harry D. Felt—apparent on the audiotape simply as a question from Taylor to lớn Hilsman (c. 9:00). Hilsman also notes Rusk"s "road to disaster" remark near the end of the meeting as a reference to the possibility of a coup failure, with the alternatives in that eventuality being either committing U.S. combat forces or watching South Vietphái mạnh fall in defeat. Hilsman claims "there was no dissent from the Secretary"s analysis," but this analysis does not seem to lớn be present on the audiotape.

Item 5: Memorandum for the President, August 27, 1963 SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library, NARA: John Newman Papers, Notebook "August 24-31, 1963."

This document is the briefing memo prepared for President Kennedy by NSC staffer Michael V. Forrestal. In it the staff expert advises JFK khổng lồ kết thúc the meeting by observing the U.S. could not continue supporting a Saigon government dominated by Nhu, should leave Diem"s future in the hands of the Vietnamese military, & would continue khổng lồ tư vấn a Saigon government that showed itself capable of prosecuting the war against the insurgency.

Item 6: Tape Recording of Presidential Meeting, August 27, 1963, 4:00 PM (64:13 minutes elapsed) SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library, NARA

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William E. Colby, chief of the CIA"s Far East Division, presents a detailed briefing for President Kennedy and colleagues. Relying upon recent cables reporting the situation, Colby relates that the situation in Saigon was "fairly well-controlled." In terms of CIA contacts with two Vietnamese generals, Colby observed that one seemed solid and the other "jumpy," but that the Saigon officers were talking of the coup taking place within a week. Colby discussed reports that Ngo Dinc Nhu was actually in liên hệ with North Vietnamese adversaries of the Democratic Republic of Vietphái mạnh và also warned that Nhu might be preparing a coup of his own as a last-ditch move sầu, khổng lồ which Ambassador Frederick Nolting replies "that is speculation." The group went on to discuss the South Vietnamese military forces controlled by the plotters versus those loyal to lớn Nhu & Diem, as well as the qualities of the Vietnamese generals, concluding that by and large the Diem government controlled the preponderance of troops around Saigon.

Ambassador Nolting argues that Nhu is "a man of integrity," but concedes that though he had been a great asmix khổng lồ Diem he had become a liability, and rationalized his actions lớn the point of becoming indistinguishable from an opportunist. The ambassador, who had just been replaced in Saigon by Lodge, exhibits a certain laông xã of realism in calling Nhu"s pagodomain authority raids "a victory of sorts;" and a degree of credulity in maintaining that Nhu had not ordered brutality in the raids, that Diem and Nhu were sincerely committed in reconciliation with the Buddhists, và in reciting what was apparently a Diem-Nhu private argument to lớn Nolting that Cambodia was behind the Buddhist movement in South Vietnam giới. Credulity is also apparent in Nolting"s evident belief that the commissions Diem had approved to lớn investigate underlying Buddhist-Catholic hostilities were capable of defusing the crisis. Ambassador Nolting concedes he is "speculating" when he says that the South Vietnamese generals had themselves been the source of the demvà for martial law, which the Diem government had imposed—which some neo-orthodox historians take as a fact. In any case, throughout this series of meetings Nolting would mostly argue against supporting an anti-Diem coup. Yet even he admitted that Ngo Dinch Nhu had become a liability. Here, in answer to lớn a direct question from President Kennedy, Nolting favored waiting a few weeks to lớn see if Nhu"s anti-Buddhist strike had worked, và if it turned out not, the ambassador said, Washington could have CIA tell the generals to lớn "get cracking."

After more discussion on the Vietnamese generals" personalities, their potential as national leaders, và civilian alternatives, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy lamented that "if we had vigorous generals . . . we would have sầu been backing them a long time ago." The need for evaluation remained paramount. President Kennedy ended the session by indicating that Ambassador Nolting"s views had impressed him, expressing doubts about the chances an immediate military coup in Saigon might have sầu. Kennedy did not use the talking points NSC staffer Forrestal had prepared for hyên.

Roger Hilsman"s record of the August 27 encounter furnishes additional perspective on the same discussion. Hilsman"s recitation in this document of the Nolting discussion in which the former ambassador spoke of a pause with the option khổng lồ tell the Vietnamese generals khổng lồ "get cracking" takes a very different size on the audiotape. Hilsman also cites Dean Rusk in ways that vì chưng not seem quite accurate, and there is no mention of Nolting"s account of how the Australian ambassador had been asked to lớn invite Madame Nhu lớn his country to lớn get her out of South Vietphái nam. Hilsman does not record President Kennedy"s statement that there was no sense in going ahead with a coup unless it had a good chance of success, but he does note that both Kennedy & McNamara spoke of seeking additional information from Ambassador Lodge và MACV commander General Paul Harkins.

Item 9: Tape Recording of Presidential Meeting, August 28, 1963, Noon (59:36 minutes elapsed) SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library, NARA

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Another CIA briefing by William Colby summarized late-breaking developments, notes an imminent meeting with some of the South Vietnamese generals, và revealed that a telegram khổng lồ Ambassador Lodge from an American citizen (in Lagumãng cầu Beach, California) exhorting action against the Diem government had induced Ngo Dinc Diem to believe sầu the U.S. and CIA were behind coup plotting. Colby says the situation had reached a point of no return. General Taylor follows with an extended discussion regarding provisions for an American evacuation (withdrawal) from South Vietnam, including details of U.S. air & naval forces that could participate. Secretary McNamara breaks in lớn comment that a key element in any withdrawal would be the more than 200 U.S. helicopters with MACV forces—helicopters that would also become a focus of White House discussions on how the U.S. could help coup plotters assemble troop units superior to lớn those loyal khổng lồ Diem. The balance of forces, reviewed once again, remained unfavorable to the plotters, although General Taylor remarked that their troops could include some "tough" Airborne and Marine battalions. William Colby compared this situation to what had occurred during another coup against Diem in 1960, when the Saigon leader had defeated the coup by delaying its leaders long enough khổng lồ bring loyacác mục forces inkhổng lồ the đô thị. Some of the talk revolved around getting additional South Vietnamese officers lớn align themselves with the coup. Having Ambassador Lodge speak directly khổng lồ the military would convey U.S. tư vấn more directly than relying upon clandestine CIA contacts. Speaking of the array of forces Robert McNamara, in contrast lớn the usual portrayal of hlặng as opposed to lớn the coup, remarks that the U.S. needed to plan "how we make this thing work" (22:40). McGeorge Bundy, who agreed (see Document 10), recommended an immediate decision on whether to lớn further encourage the Vietnamese generals. Ambassador Nolting expressed "grave sầu reservations, based on personal commitments if you will, which were based on government instructions." The coup was a bad principle and a bad precedent. But President Kennedy observes that Lodge and Harkins both seemingly approve going ahead, and George Ball and Roger Hilsman joined in that conclusion. Hilsman & Bundy both agreed with Nolting that the United States had no operational control over the coup, but Hilsman added the generals had gone down the coup road so far they would continue no matter what Washington did. George Ball remarked that the United States could not baông chồng off, "We should mobilize all the resources that we have . . . khổng lồ make this thing work." Averell Harriman agreed. This tape is marred by multiple deletions of dialogue on national security grounds. What those might be, after 46 years, the disappearance of South Vietphái mạnh, & the deaths of every major character involved, is a mystery. At least five deletions remove more than two minutes of the White House discussion. One of them concerns George Ball remarks that in written size (Item 10) have been declassified since at least 1994. McGeorge Bundy"s handwritten notes scribbled on a CIA paper circulated at the meeting (not reproduced) indicate that Ball complained of Ngo Dinch Nhu"s control of the Saigon government: it was "intolerable" & had done "terrible damage," & that Rusk & Harriman concurred.

The written record of this meeting opens with an extremely sparse recounting of the CIA briefing, followed by detailed coverage of General Taylor"s description of U.S. evacuation plans. Discussion of Secretary McNamara"s comments on how lớn make the plan work is missing, except for noting Roger Hilsman"s remarks, which are partially deleted both here & in Hilsman"s own record of the meeting. The memo cites McNamara saying "if we decided to lớn baông chồng a coup we should go in to win" (on the tape McGeorge Bundy notes the "principle of action": "We should never encourage this và then let it fail"). President Kennedy still felt Washington could "unload" if the coup was not in the cards. Undersecretary of State George Ball và Hilsman discussed having senior U.S. military officers speak to lớn the plotters, but Ambassador Nolting doubted that General Paul Harkins actually did favor a coup. George Ball countered the ambassador"s entire analysis, arguing that Diem had broken promises made to the U.S. & that the war could not be won with Diem in power, that "we must decide now to go through to a successful overthrow of Diem." Averell Harriman agreed. Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon warned that a coup would be seen as a U.S. move sầu from the beginning & answered President Kennedy"s doubts regarding its prospects by saying, "Then don"t go."

Kennedy asks for options khổng lồ build the strength of coup forces. After discussion of some possibilities, Harriman took the floor lớn say "We have sầu lost Vietnam giới if the coup fails . . . We have lost the fight in Vietphái nam và must withdraw if a coup does not take place." President Kennedy directed that Ambassador Lodge và General Harkins be informed that in Washington"s view it was still Diem who "held the balance of power." He again sought more information from the officials on the scene, and McGeorge Bundy stipulated some aspects that should be covered in the embassy reporting. Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General & the president"s brother, advised that the U.S. needed to figure out how to offset moves Diem must undoubtedly take khổng lồ destroy his opposition. Hilsman weighed in on that, và expressed that Diem and Nhu would have lớn be "exiled," but Nolting came bachồng swinging, insisting that only Diem could hold South Vietphái nam together. Harriman again refuted Nolting, arguing that even with Diem "the political situation in Vietnam will blow up sometime." President Kennedy ended the session by calling for a follow-up meeting.

Assistant Secretary Roger Hilsman also compiled a written tài khoản of the August 28 White House nhà trắng session. Hilsman covers the CIA briefing in somewhat greater detail & also discusses Maxwell Taylor"s comments on the U.S. evacuation plan. McNamara"s "make it work" language is accurately reported, but Hilsman adds that the secretary of defense began by saying that the first thing was lớn decide whether lớn go ahead with the coup or Call it off. This is a cthua thảm but not an exact representation of McNamara as he is recorded on the audiotape. Hilsman is also cđại bại khổng lồ the mark in recounting Ambassador Nolting"s position, and in capturing George Ball"s views. He seems khổng lồ misrepresent Douglas Dillon, however, making the treasury secretary more receptive sầu of the coup option than appears elsewhere, và toward the over of the meeting Hilsman depicts Averell Harriman"s refutation of Nolting"s remarks more stinging than in the audiotape. Hilsman also cites himself saying things not heard on the tape.

Item 12: Tape Recording of Presidential Meeting, August 29, 1963, Noon (56:03 minutes elapsed) SOURCE: John F. Kennedy Library, NARA

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Secretary of State Rusk opens this meeting by informing the group of views expressed by Ambassador Lodge & General Harkins in their latest cables. Both agree that the Vietnam war would be lost if Diem remained in power. Assistant Secretary Hilsman interrupts at one point lớn add that State Department Southeast Asia expert Paul Kattenburg, who has known Diem for a decade, is visiting Saigon & holds the same view. The main difference amuốn the on-scene officials is that General Harkins advocates one last attempt lớn convince Diem khổng lồ rid himself of Ngo Dinh Nhu & Madame Nhu.

The White House group then takes up various nuts-and-bolts questions regarding Saigon developments. A continuing issue is whether to lớn instruct Lodge và Harkins to engage with the generals—though Lodge has already made known to lớn one general through a lower-ranking U.S. official that he was indeed involved. President Kennedy asks "vày we want to lớn continue, or vị we want to lớn withdraw?" (5:05). Defense secretary McNamara points out that capability for a coup is still "several days away anyway" and advocates a final attempt khổng lồ persuade Diem. His deputy agrees. Secretary Rusk wonders whether the persuasion attempt is not "something for the generals to lớn bởi vì, at the moment when they"re ready lớn move." McGeorge Bundy also comments on the prospects of "an ultimatum delivered by us" lớn Diem about his brother.

At that point President Kennedy raises the possibility of withdrawing American assistance to Diem as part of that maneuver, và though some feel that would be "an awkward signal," the group proceeds lớn mull over ways to shift U.S. aid to a government of the generals without appearing to lớn be "in cahoots" (c. 21:30). Assistant Secretary Hilsman wished to reassure the generals "that we want the same things as they want." Even Ambassador Nolting"s advice was to tell Diem that "we want a new giảm giá khuyến mãi, và if we don"t get it we will have sầu khổng lồ go another way." The president"s only doubt seems to lớn have sầu been whether cutting aid to lớn Diem might reveal Washington was siding with the Vietnamese generals. Some conversation revolved around whether to lớn have sầu Lodge & Harkins make these representations lớn Diem or to have a mission from Washington bởi vì so. McGeorge Bundy points out that the CIA"s Bill Colby is the American best known to Nhu, potentially the one lớn make the pitch for him lớn leave.

It is disturbing that a statement by the CIA"s Richard Helms on covert operations in South Vietphái mạnh is excised on this audiotape even though a written reference to it was declassified as long ago as 1992 (Item 13). President Kennedy and his inner circle then retire to the Oval Office, where they spover another ten minutes meeting privately to lớn work out the language that would be used on two cables sent to Saigon. Ambassador Lodge was instructed to learn what he could of the generals" plans without committing the United States. There was more talk of making U.S. helicopters and means available to lớn the plotters. This is when the president made the remarks quoted in the introduction, about America hip-deep in mud in Vietnam, and about Congress. Although he had resisted the coup path unless it would work, và decides in favor of the last approach khổng lồ Diem, Kennedy also says that he does not think the ultimatum gambit will work. In effect the president rejected an immediate coup but accepted that one would eventually take place.

Bromley Smith"s written record of this meeting condenses the early discussion involving Rusk, Hilsman và others regarding coup modalities, and by citing only Ambassador Nolting in connection with the question of the plotters" use of American helicopters, leaves the impression that deliberations on this point were much less extensive sầu than they were. The written record is positively misleading where President Kennedy (c. 16:45) discusses U.S. aid. Smith"s memo also makes Secretary McNamara"s advice khổng lồ disassociate from the coup seem more forceful than what McNamara actually said, which was khổng lồ try a diplomatic approach, but in the context of a coup capability that still had to be developed. McNamara is cited at several points here arguing there is no alternative to lớn Diem, yet other participants talked right around that point. The vital ten minutes spent discussing instructions to the U.S. embassy are represented in this record by a single sentence.

Again there are significant differences between Hilsman"s record of this encounter và that of the NSC notetaker. The State Department official"s tài khoản of Rusk"s initial presentation is fuller than Smith"s, & also captures remarks by the CIA"s Richard Helms that go entirely unrecorded in the NSC version. Hilsman is also more accurate than Smith in noting Secretary McNamara"s response to lớn the question posed by President Kennedy of whether khổng lồ continue or withdraw from the coup. In Hilsman"s version, "The Secretary of Defense said that on the first question he thought we should proceed with the operation. On the second question he agreed . . . that one last approach should be made khổng lồ Diem." On the other h&, Hilsman"s notation that Kennedy "asked whether we would really pull out of South Viet-Nam in any event" seems, in listening to the audiotape, false—that the president was referring to the "withdrawal" of aid not the termination of the U.S. commitment (throughout these tapes the use of the term "withdrawal" is confusing because it is clearly used in reference lớn the aid issue but can be interpreted—as Hilsman does in this written record—as about the commitment).

Hilsman recounts the subsequent discussion linking aid và the South Vietnamese generals, & he, too, notes the Helms briefing on CIA tư vấn possibilities for the plotters (in this instance declassified since 1987) which is deleted from the newly released audiotape. In some cases differences are a matter of nuance. Where Hilsman records Ambassador Nolting saying "The Generals may well want khổng lồ retain Diem," on the tape Nolting"s phản hồi is that "removal of the Nhus is what they"re after." As in the NSC record of this meeting, the private session that considered what cables to skết thúc the U.S. embassy is absent from Hilsman"s account.

Item 15: State Department Cable, Department-Saigon no 272, August 29, 1963 SOURCE: Lyndon B. Johnson Library: Johnson Papers: National Security File: Country File: Vietphái mạnh, temporary box 263, folder: "Hilsman, Roger (Diem)."

The first of two cables which President Kennedy approved after the noon meeting at the White House, this one instructed Ambassador Lodge that General Harkins was to tell the South Vietnamese generals that the indications of support for the plotters previously conveyed only by CIA officers represented the policy of the United States government. Before making "specific understandings," however, Harkins was to lớn seek more details of the plots, with the generals to be told that the U.S. "will tư vấn a coup which has good chance of succeeding but plans no direct involvement of U.S. Armed Forces." Ambassador Lodge himself was authorized khổng lồ announce a suspension of U.S. aid through the Diem government "at a time và under conditions of your choice," though attempting "to lớn minimize appearance of collusion with Generals."

NEW DOCUMENTS

Document 17: Roger Hilsman"s Daily Diary, August 21 - August 31, 1963

Source: John F. Kennedy Library: Roger A. Hilsman Papers, Diary Series, box 15, folder: "Daily Diary, 8/63."

Hilsman"s notes record his daily activities, including phone calls and office meetings, sessions with other officials in their offices along with the meeting times and the participants. The notes include occasional notations on discussion subjects. The Hilsman diary is very informative on the extent of his liên hệ with the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Document 18: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence, Report: "Cast of Characters in South Vietnam giới," OCI no. 2703/63, August 28, 1963.

This CIA report contains a "who"s who" of officials, military officers, & political figures in South Vietphái mạnh. Washington used the paper to underst& the political byplay in Saigon. This copy of the document bears national security adviser McGeorge Bundy"s notes of the NSC meeting of August 28, 1963.


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