Vietnam War: The Documents - 21

Kennedy's Letter to Ngo Dinh Diem

In this 1961 letter, Kennedy expressed his strong support for Diem, and his "embattled country" facing an insurrection "supported and directed from outside by the authorities at Hanoi." He further promised that "We shall promptly increase our assistance to your defense effort" — something JFK in fact did.

This letter is in ironic contrast to later documents which show the frustration of American officials with what they saw as the repressive policies of Diem. There is, for example, a telegram from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon, instructing him on how to deal with the South Vietnamese government, and another telegram from Rusk to Lodge lamenting Diem policies.

December 14, 1961

Dear Mr. President:

I have received your recent letter in which you described so cogently the dangerous conditions caused by North Vietnam's effort to take over your country. The situation in your embattled country is well known to me and to the American people. We have been deeply disturbed by the assault on your country. Our indignation has mounted as the deliberate savagery of the Communist programs of assassination, kidnapping, and wanton violence became clear.

Your letter underlines what our own information has convincingly shown - that the campaign of force and terror now being waged against your people and your Government is supported and directed from outside by the authorities at Hanoi. They have thus violated the provisions of the Geneva Accords designed to ensure peace in Vietnam and to which they bound themselves in 1954.

At that time, the United States, although not a party to the Accords, declared that it "would view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the Agreements with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security." We continue to maintain that view.

In accordance with that declaration, and in response to your request, we are prepared to help the Republic of Vietnam to protect its people and to preserve its independence. We shall promptly increase our assistance to your defense effort as well as help relieve the destruction of the floods which you describe. I have already given the orders to get these programs underway.

The United States, like the Republic of Vietnam, remains devoted to the cause of peace and our primary purpose is to help your people maintain their independence. If the Communist authorities in North Vietnam will stop their campaign to destroy the Republic of Vietnam, the measures we are taking to assist your defense efforts will no longer be necessary. We shall seek to persuade the Communists to give up their attempts to force and subversion. In any case, we are confident that the Vietnamese people will preserve their independence and gain the peace and prosperity for which they have sought so hard and so long.

SOURCE: Department of State Bulletin, January 1, 1962
Thanks to James Olmstead for supplying this document, and the photo at the top of the page, which he shot as a combat photographer in Vietnam.
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