Vietnam War: The Documents - 24

White House Statement, October 2, 1963

Conspiracists have touted the fact that John Kennedy approved a 1,000 man troop withdrawal from Vietnam, and further that plans were in place at the time of his death to end U.S. involvement by the end of 1965. Thus his death supposedly brought on a radical change of policy that resulted in a half-million American troops in Vietnam, and a war that did not end for another decade.

Sometimes Kennedy's supposed dovishness is claimed to have been secret. Loyal aide Kenny O'Donnell, for example, reported that JFK (in O'Donnell's words) ". . . had made up his mind that after his reelection he would take the risk of unpopularity and make a complete withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam" (Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, Boston, 1972, p. 13). Letting Vietnam fall to the Communists before then would, supposedly, have had unfortunate political consequences. This seems an odd argument from Kennedy's friends and supporters, since it implies he was willing to squander many lives to avoid the political consequences of withdrawal, and that his hawkish rhetoric was intentionally misleading.

Given that all of Kennedy's key advisors remained in Washington and served the Johnson Administration, Kennedy has to be seen as rather the lone dove — a man with more restraint and better judgement than the advisors who surrounded him.

But in fact neither the "1,000 man withdrawal" nor the intention to be out of Vietnam by 1965 were secret Kennedy plans, nor did they pit Kennedy against his advisors. Both were announced in a White House statement on October 2, 1963. But there was a terribly important proviso attached: the South Vietnamese were expected to be able to defend themselves against Communist agression.

Secretary [of Defense Robert S.] McNamara and General [Maxwell D.] Taylor reported to the President this morning and to the National Security Council this afternoon. Their report included a number of classified findings and recommendations which will be the subject of further review and action. Their basic presentation was endorsed by all members of the Security Council and the following statement of United States policy was approved by the President on the basis of recommendations received from them and from Ambassador [Henry Cabot] Lodge.

1. The security of South Viet-Nam is a major interest of the United States as other free nations. We will adhere to our policy of working with the people and Government of South Viet-Nam to deny this country to communism and to suppress the externally stimulated and supported insurgency of the Viet Cong as promptly as possible. Effective performance in this undertaking is the central objective of our policy in South Viet-Nam.

2. The military program in South Viet-Nam has made progress and is sound in principle, though improvements are being energetically sought.

3. Major U.S. assistance in support of this military effort is needed only until the insurgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces of the Government of South Viet-Nam are capable of suppressing it.

Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Viet-Nam can be withdrawn.

4. The political situation in South Viet-Nam remains deeply serious. The United States has made clear its continuing opposition to any repressive actions in South Viet-Nam. While such actions have not yet significantly affected the military effort, they could do so in the future.

5. It remains the policy of the United States, in South Viet-Nam as in other parts of the world, to support the efforts of the people of that country to defeat aggression and to build a peaceful and free society.

SOURCE: Source: U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, 1st Session, Background Information Relating to Southeast Asia and Vietnam (3d Revised Edition) (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 1967), p. 115
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