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Reply #32: Excellent point. ''Orders'' from the President and ''Orders'' from CIA's founders are another thing. [View All]

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Octafish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Nov-06-09 10:35 AM
Response to Reply #11
32. Excellent point. ''Orders'' from the President and ''Orders'' from CIA's founders are another thing.
Thank you for putting it into words, blindpig. The orders seem to have emanated from the warmonger class "above," the Money trumps peace tradition, as they say.

In 2005, about 20 scholars attended a conference and discussed your question.

Virtual JFK:

Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived

Part Two of a review by James DiEugenio


This book (JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power by John M. Newman) takes a leap forward. Because at the end of the conference a vote was taken on whether, if he had lived, Kennedy would have Americanized the war. Half the respondents said he would not have and would have withdrawn. Thirty percent said he would have escalated as Johnson did. And twenty percent said it was too difficult to say. (p. 210)

Let me add here, the discussion of the issue is quite wide ranging. As the film did, the book takes in the other opportunities Kennedy had to get involved in wars, which he refused to do. The authors put great weight on Kennedy's acceptance of failure at the Bay of Pigs rather than sending in American forces, which Admiral Arleigh Burke wanted him to do. As many commentators do, including myself, they see this as a defining moment in President Kennedy's presidency. In the document section of the book, they print three memoranda that depict Kennedy's reaction to the disaster he was led into by the CIA. Clearly, Kennedy went through a definite pattern after the Bay of Pigs: shock and dismay at his advisers, feedback as to what exactly had gone wrong, and how the debacle had now placed America in the eyes of its trusted allies abroad. In other words, he grew from the experience. And the book also notes briefly, the two reports that were issued as a result of the Bay of Pigs: the presidentially commissioned Taylor Report, and the internal CIA report by Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick. Both of the reports concluded that the operation was poorly planned and weakly reviewed. As writers like Paul Fay have noted, Kennedy vowed that he would never again accept the advice of his CIA and Pentagon advisers without grilling them at length and in depth.

What is important about this episode is that it occurs just seven months prior to the first dramatic milestone in Kennedy's conduct of the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1961, Maxwell Taylor and assistant National Security Adviser Walt Rostow went to Vietnam. They then delivered a report to Kennedy in late October. The recommendation was that, since the Viet Cong were gaining strength and Ngo Dinh Diem's position was weakening, the time had come for the USA to commit combat troops to the conflict. The debate on this issue lasted for over two weeks. It appears that the only person resisting the siren song of direct military intervention was President Kennedy. One of the real valued documents included in the book is what is probably the only set of notes taken on this debate. They are by White House military aide Col. Howard Burris (pgs 282-283). They deserve to be summarized and paraphrased at length. Here is the gist of it:

Kennedy stated that Vietnam is not a clear-cut case of aggression as it was in Korea. He says that the conflict in Vietnam is "more obscure and less flagrant." Kennedy notes that in a situation such as Vietnam, allies are needed even more since the USA would be subject to intense criticism from abroad. He compared the record of the past, where the Vietnamese had resisted foreign forces who had spent millions against them with no success. He then compared the situation in Berlin with Vietnam, saying that in Berlin you had a well-defined conflict whereas the Vietnam situation was obscure. So obscure that you might soon even have Democrats in his own party bewildered by it. Especially since you would largely be fighting a guerilla force, and "sometimes in a phantom-like fashion." Kennedy said that because of this, the base of operations for American troops would be insecure. At the end of the discussion Kennedy turned the conversation to what would be done next in Vietnam, "rather than whether or not the US would become involved." I should add, during the talk, Kennedy turned aside attempts by Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy and Lyman Lemnitzer to derail his thought process. Kennedy had learned his lesson well.

One of the most important discoveries in the volume is that in the mid-nineties, National Security Advisor Bundy had decided to write a book about his experience with Kennedy and Johnson over Vietnam. His co-author on that endeavor was at the Musgrove Conference. His name is Gordon Goldstein. The two had worked on the book for two years. But Bundy unfortunately passed away in 1996 before it was finished. Goldstein says that one of the great surprises he had in working on the book was that Bundy had virtually no memory of the debate in November of 1961. (p. 76) In fact, Goldstein says that Bundy was actually surprised at 1.) How hawkish he was in the 1961 debate, and 2.) How resistant at all costs Kennedy was. At this time, Bundy actually wrote a memo to Kennedy in which he recommended a force of 25,000 troops be sent because South Vietnam actually wants to be part of the USA! (pgs 280-281) How resistant was Kennedy to all this? When General Max Taylor tried to sneak 8,000 combat troops in for "flood relief" purposes, Kennedy consulted with an agriculture expert to prove you didn't need them for that purpose. (p. 77) After two years of delving into the record, Bundy had come to the conclusion that Kennedy would not have committed combat troops to Vietnam. As he told Goldstein: "Kennedy very definitely was not going to Americanize the war in Vietnam; and Lyndon Johnson very definitely, from the moment he succeeded Kennedy was going to do whatever it took to win the war in Vietnam, including sending US combat forces in large numbers ... " (p. 53, emphasis added. The phrase in italics is a key point I will return to later.) This now makes it unanimous. The three men in closest proximity to Kennedy concerning military strategy are now on record as saying that Kennedy was not going to commit troops to Vietnam: McNamara in his book In Retrospect, Taylor (pgs. 357, 365), and now Bundy.

Another point the book makes is that it nails Walt Rostow. As I said, Rostow accompanied Taylor on the Vietnam trip of 1961. Rostow was one of the biggest hawks in the White House up until Kennedy's 11/61 decision to increase the advisors but not to send in combat troops. This decision was memorialized in NSAM 111, in late November of 1961. Right after this, Kennedy got so tired of Rostow's memoranda suggesting further American commitment to Vietnam-like invading the north with a million man US armythat he took him out of the White House and placed him in the Policy Planning Department of the State Department. (p. 182) Now, Rostow writes his myriad hawkish memos for Rusk to read. And they seem to have had an effect. Because when Johnson took over, Rusk now became a real hawk on the war. (p. 154) But further, when Bundy decided to resign as National Security Advisor, he suggested two men to replace him: Thomas Hughes or Moyers. Johnson rejected them both. He placed Walt Rostow in the job. Johnson had to have known what he was getting with Rostow. Because he was around for the debates of November of 1961. He knew that the Taylor-Rostow Report recommended American combat troops. He had to have known that Kennedy argued eloquently and soundly against the commitment of combat troops. After all, Howard Burris, the man who wrote the memo containing Kennedy's argumentswhich I quoted from abovewas working for Johnson. So when LBJ rescued Rostow from his figurative Siberia in the State Department, he knew what he was getting. And he would have recalled him only if he knew that Rostow's agenda coincided with his own. Which was to escalate the war. (p. 175) In fact, when Rostow was appointed National Security Advisor, he told Johnson about Kennedy's "deep commitment to the independence of Vietnam from which he would not have retreated." (p. 152) According to Chester Cooper, Rostow looked upon negotiations as tantamount to surrender. Rostow wanted a simple goal: an independent South Vietnam. By 1965-66, the actual goal of both Johnson and Rostow was this: "Bringing the Vietnamese communists to their knees via continuously escalating the level of punishment they received from US air and ground forces until the communists gave up." (p. 179) This was nothing but a delusional fantasy. And Kennedy understood this in 1961 from 1.) His visits to Vietnam during the French imperialist war there in the fifties, 2.) Through his talks with MacArthur, and 3.) His conversations with DeGaulle.

After this November 1961 decision and the reassignment of Rostow, Kennedy went to Seattle and made a speech. This is the day after NSAM 111 is signed. He talked about how America had to be cautious on the world stage because any crisis might escalate into a catastrophic nuclear war. He specifically mentioned how the massive amount of US firepower could be rendered useless by guerilla warfare and infiltration. He then added that although the US could ship arms abroad, it was up to those peoples to use them correctly and for the right ideals. We could not impose our will on others, and there could not be "an American solution to every problem." (pgs. 287-288) These were wise and prophetic words, which Rostow and Johnson did not understand or even wish to comprehend.


One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the discussion of the role of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in Kennedy's administration. When Kennedy sent Rostow and Taylor to Vietnam in the fall of 1961, he seems to have understood what they would come back with. After all, JFK fully comprehended what Rostow was about pretty quickly. What I will discuss next reveals just how wise Kennedy had become and how smart he was at maneuvering the people in his own Cabinet after the Bay of Pigs. Almost concurrently with the trip by Rostow and Taylor, he also sent John Kenneth Galbraith to Vietnam. (p.129) He realized that what Galbraith wrote up would counter the Rostow-Taylor recommendations. It did of course. But Kennedy did not throw this report out for open discussion. He told Galbraith to give it to McNamara only. This becomes crucial in any discussion of Vietnam in the JFK administration. Because as the book notes, after the issuance of NSAM 111, the only person in the Cabinet who seems to understand what Kennedy is headed for is McNamara. And in fact, Howard Jones discovered that Roswell Gilpatric, McNamara's Deputy Secretary, talked about the fact that Kennedy eventually entrusted his boss with putting together a withdrawal plan. He referred to it as "part of a plan the president asked him to develop to unwind this whole thing." (p. 371) This began in earnest in 1962 when McNamara went to the Joint Chiefs and told them to put together a plan for withdrawal. As Jim Douglass wrote in his fine book JFK and the Unspeakable, the Chiefs dragged their feet on this one for a year. Finally at the so-called SecDef conference of May 1963, they presented a plan to the Secretary. He criticized it as being too slow. (pgs 288-291) After telling them to hurry it along, he had a taped conversation with Kennedy and Bundy in October of 1963. He told Kennedy the military mission of the US would be completed by 1965, and if it were not, the South Vietnamese would be ready by then to take it over. Bundy then interjects, "What's the point of doing that?" McNamara replies, "We need a way to get out of Vietnam. This is a way of doing it. And to leave forces there when they're not needed, I think is wasteful and complicates both their problem and ours."

The above ARRB declassified tape was heard and shown on screen in the accompanying film to this book. When played at the conference its effect was startling. (pgs 100, 124) Why? Because mainstream writers like Karnow and Halberstam had always depicted Vietnam as McNamara's War. Plus much of the documentation showing this as false had been concealed from the public. In fact, Goldstein actually asked, "Who is the Robert McNamara on these tapes?" To me the comment by Bundy"What's the point of doing that?"is the key. As Gilpatric explained, and Galbraith elucidated, McNamara was appointed by JFK to be his point man on the withdrawal. He was going to drive it home with occasional encouragement from Kennedy. This "back channel" idea was endorsed by James Galbraith, who talked about it with his father. John Kenneth Galbraith told his son that JFK often operated like this. In James Galbraith's words about McNamara at the conference: "Kennedy and he were agreed in advance that this was the course of policy they were going to follow. That was a position they didn't share ... with virtually no one else. They then imposed this, with McNamara playing the role of giving the argument he already knows Kennedy is going to accept, because Kennedy told him to do it." (p. 129) This concept was posthumously endorsed through Bundy. When co-author Goldstein talked to Bundy about why McNamara switched so quickly from endorsing combat troops in November of 1961 to being so dovish a month later, Bundy said there was only one answer to explain the apparent paradox. Kennedy had asked him to do so. (p. 125) In fact, McNamara was so immersed in making the withdrawal plan work that he asked the State Department intelligence group (INR) to give him more optimistic scenarios of what was happening on the ground. (p. 117) According to Newman, this was probably done because once the CIA and Pentagon realized Kennedy was going to withdraw, they began to change their intelligence estimates from rosy to pessimistic. And further, they backdated the revisions to July of 1963. (Newman, JFK and Vietnam, p. 425, 441 Gardner and Gittinger, p. 172) Realizing Kennedy's plan to use the false and rosy estimates to hoist them on their own petardthat is, to withdraw US forces since they were not needed anymorethe CIA and Pentagon began to fight back.

What this all says of course is that, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy understood that his Cabinet and military advisers were not giving him what he wanted fast enough. In October of 1962, he worked secretly through his brother Robert Kennedy, and to a lesser extent with Rusk. This time around he worked with McNamara, and to a lesser extent with Galbraith. With McNamara running interference, NSAM 263, ordering the withdrawal of the first thousand advisers from Vietnam was signed in October of 1963. (It should be added here that the death of the Nhu brothers in November of 1963 had no effect on the withdrawal plan. See page 372) The press release that announced NSAM 263 also stated that this first thousand troop draw down was part of a phased withdrawal of the major part of all US forces. And that withdrawal would be completed by the end of 1965. (p. 300)

Finally, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Max Taylor wrote his memo on NSAM 263 to the service Chiefs, there was no mention about the withdrawal being contingent upon victory. (pgs 106, 110) This is a myth promulgated by anti-Kennedy polemicist Noam Chomsky. Virtually no one at this conference bought it.


As more information on this period is made public, the picture becomes clearer: JFK wanted out of Vietnam. The hidden powers-that-be didn't. Thanks for understanding, blindpig.

PS: As I live in metro Motown, I very much appreciate your moniker.
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