Vietnam War: The Documents - 22

Kennedy And McNamara Prepare for War

As the Vietnam situation heats up, the National Security Council discusses how to fight a war in that country. It discusses diplomatic matters (contacts with the Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference and with Khrushchev). It also examines military considerations — some as specific as the performance of American assault rifles.

Note that Kennedy suggests "a group specially trained for guerrilla warfare."

Memorandum From the President [Kennedy] to the Secretary of State [Rusk] and the Secretary of Defense [McNamara]


Washington, 11-14-61 [NOTE: The source text bears the following handwritten notation by Bundy: "used by President as talking paper 11-14 before NSC. MGB"]

I think we should get our ducks in a row for tomorrow morning's meeting. I believe we should make more precise our requests for action. In the papers which I have seen our requests have been of a general nature.

1. I would like to have you consider the proposals made by Governor Harriman.(1) I am wondering if he should return, perhaps on Friday [11-17] to discuss the matter further with Pushkin.

2. In the meantime what action should be taken toward South Vietnam pending the arrival of Harriman.

3. I would like a letter to be written to the Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference to call a meeting of the conference to consider immediately South Viet Nam as a breach of the accord. As we will be breaching the Geneva accords ourselves it is important that we lay the groundwork. The Jorden report will do some of this. Has anyone examined the political implications in their efforts.

4. Should I address a statement today to Khrushchev concerning South Viet Nam stating how dangerous we thought the situation was.

5. If we are going to send a military man as a Commanding Officer at the 4-star level for South Viet Nam, perhaps we could name a younger general and give him a star or do you know someone who already has the stars who can handle the situation.

6. I gather you felt that we should have a general military command set up. We want to make sure that someone like George McGhee heads it, in fact, it might be well to send McGhee.

7. I would like to have someone look into what we did in Greece. How much money and men were involved. How much money was used for guerilla warfare? Should we have not done it at the company level rather than at the battalion level? It is proposed by the military that we should operate from the battalion level or even before this.

Are we prepared to send in hundreds and hundreds of men and dozens and dozens of ships? If we would just show up with 4 or 5 ships this will not do much good. Or am I misinformed?

I think there should be a group specially trained for guerrilla warfare. I understand that the guns that have been used have been too heavy. Would carbines be better? Wonder if someone could make sure we are moving ahead to improve this.(2)

Perhaps we should issue some sort of a statement on what we propose to do. Our actions should be positive rather than negative. As I said on Saturday concerning Laos - we took actions which made no difference at all. Our actions should be substantial otherwise we will give the wrong impression.

8. We should watch Laos very carefully for any fighting that might break out again even though we decide not to intervene.

(1) Apparently a reference to Harriman's draft memo which he transmitted to the President under cover of a letter of 11-12, 239 file.

(2) In a memo of 12-14 to Lemnitzer, the White House Defense Liaison Office, Major General CV Clifton, wrote that he briefed the President regarding the Armalite rifle using a briefing paper prepared by the Dept of the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics dated 12-5, which was attached. Clifton also reported that the President wanted to be informed of the Joint Chiefs' decision in response to CINCPAC's recommendation that additional Armalite rifles be sent to Vietnam. Clifton informed Lemnitzer:

"I also had the Army bring an M-1 rifle, an M-14 carbine, an Armalite 1 and a carbine to the President. In response to his question, the Army is trying to find out how many of the 1,327,310 unserviceable carbines can be made serviceable. Also the President expressed the opinion that we should be sending as many carbines to South Vietnam as they can use because this seems to be a good weapon."

SOURCE: Foreign Relations, 1961-63, Volume I, pp. 603-604.
Thanks to James Olmstead for supplying this document.
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