Vietnam War: The Documents - 8

National Security Council meeing of October 2, 1963, discusses problems with the Diem government in Vietnam.

The repressive policies of the Diem government in Vietnam were a major concern of U.S. policy makers, who felt that these policies hindered the effort to fight off the Communist insurgency. Thus the coup that toppled Diem held out the hope of an effective South Vietnamese response to the Communists.
Summary Record of the 519th Meeting of the National Security Council White House, Washington, October 2, 1963 (1)

[Here follows an attendance list.]

The President opened the meeting by summarizing where we now stand on U.S. policy toward Vietnam. Most of the officials involved are in agreement. We are not papering over our differences. We are agreed to try to find effective means of changing the political atmosphere in Saigon. We are agreed that we should not cut off all U.S. aid to Vietnam, but are agreed on the necessity of trying to improve the situation in Vietnam by bringing about changes there. Reports of disagreements do not help the war effort in Vietnam and do no good to the government as a whole. We must all sign on and with a good heart set out to implement the actions decided upon. Here and in Saigon we must get ahead by carrying out the agreed policy. Because we are agreed, we should convey our agreement to our subordinates. There are no differences between Washington and Ambassador Lodge or among the State and Defense Departments and the CIA. Ambassador Lodge has full authority to pull into line all U.S. government representatives in Saigon.

The President then turned to consideration of the draft public statement (copy attached).(2) He said that attacks on the Diem regime in public statements are less effective than actions which we plan to take. He preferred to base our policy on the harm which Diem's political actions are causing to the effort against the Viet Cong rather than on our moral opposition to the kind of government Diem is running.

Mr. Ball said that he and Secretary Rusk felt that there should be a stress on the moral issues involved because of the beneficial effect which such emphasis produced in world public opinion, especially among UN delegates. The President replied that the major problem was with U.S. public opinion and he believed we should stress the harm Diem's policies are doing to the war effort against the Communists.

Mr. Bundy said Secretary McNamara and General Taylor wanted to emphasize the objective of winning the war. State Department officials wanted something more than an objective of merely winning the war. Mr. Harriman commented that he was prepared to accept the language as proposed.

The President objected to the phrase "by the end of this year" in the sentence "The U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Vietnam could be withdrawn." He believed that if we were not able to take this action by the end of this year, we would be accused of being over optimistic. Secretary McNamara said he saw great value in this sentence in order to meet the view of Senator Fulbright and others that we are bogged down forever in Vietnam. He said the sentence reveals that we have a withdrawal plan. Furthermore, it commits us to emphasize the training of Vietnamese, which is something we must do in order to replace U.S. personnel with Vietnamese.

The draft announcement was changed to make both of the time predictions included in paragraph 3 a part of the McNamara-Taylor report(3) rather than as predictions of the President.

Mr. Bundy raised the question as to Ambassador Lodge's view of the proposed draft policy statement. He said Ambassador Lodge could be told that because of the time pressure it had not been possible to clear the statement with him, but that it was felt here it would meet his requirements.

The President then asked about the measures which we would take to bring pressure on Diem. Secretary McNamara replied that a working group would propose recommendations for the President's decision at a later date.

The President directed that no one discuss with the press any measures which he may decide to undertake on the basis of the recommendations to be made to him. He said we should not talk about such measures until they are agreed. The selected cuts in U.S. assistance should be discussed only in the Cabinet Room until all of them were finally agreed upon.

Mr. Salinger said he would decline to answer any press questions about what measures the U.S. proposed to take.

In response to a question by Administrator Bell, the President said he should reply to inquiring Congressmen that we are continuing our present aid schedule. After a further exchange, the President made clear that what he thought we should tell the Congressmen should be limited to saying that aid which we are now extending would be continued. He recognized that aid we are now extending is not that [sic] we had been extending prior to the August disturbances.

Secretary McNamara felt that Mr. Bell should say nothing. The group would return to the President by Friday (3) with specific recommendations.

The President then asked what we should say about the news Story attacking CIA which appeared in today's Washington Daily News. He read a draft paragraph for inclusion in the public statement but rejected it as being too fluffy. He felt no one would believe a statement saying that there were no differences of view among the various US agencies represented in Saigon. He thought that we should say that now we had a positive policy endorsed by the National Security Council and that such policy would be carried out by all concerned.

Mr. Bundy suggested the President direct everyone present not to discuss the paper. Now that a policy decision had been made, we should be absolutely certain that no one continues to talk to the press about differences among U.S. agencies. The President said that as of tonight we have a policy and a report endorsed by all the members of the National Security Council.

The President asked again about the means we plan to use in hanging the political atmosphere in Saigon.

Secretary McNamara discussed the recommendations in Paragraph 4 of the report and said the group would be returning to the President with specific actions to be taken.

After the President left the meeting, there was a discussion as to how to put into final form the recommendations for the President. It was decided that a sub-group would make more precise the recommendations contained in Paragraph 4, and that the group of principals would meet the following day in the absence of the President in order to prepare a paper for him to consider on Friday. (5)

The only substantive point that came out in this discussion was Secretary McNamara's belief that economic Pressures against Diem should be undertaken over a longer period of time rather than a short period which would produce critical reactions in Saigon.

(1) Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meeting No. 519. Top Secret. This meeting took place in the Cabinet Room and lasted until 6:30 p.m., according to the President's Log.

(2) Not attached, but see infra. [text of Record of Action 2472, dtd October 2, 1963]

(3) Document 167.

(4) October 4.

(5) See footnote 3, document 174.

Thanks to David Fuhrmann for supplying this document.
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