Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter One: From Terror to Aggression Segment 19/27
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The post-coup situation had positive and negative aspects from the point of view of the President and his advisers. On the positive side, they hoped that the ruling generals would now at last focus on victory as the President had demanded, gain popular support, and end the irritating calls for US withdrawal and moves towards a peaceful settlement. On the other hand, there was disarray at all levels, while at home, advocacy of diplomacy was not stilled. The dovish advisers stressed the need to counter these tendencies. Mendenhall warned Hilsman about the danger posed by suggestions in the New York Times (November 6, 10) "that the U.S. should undertake international negotiations for settlement of the Vietnam problem." He proposed a private meeting with the editors "to try to set them straight on the situation in Vietnam and on U.S. policy regarding Vietnam." On November 13, Forrestal informed Times editor Robert Kleiman that "it would be folly" to consider a negotiated settlement: "South Vietnam was still not strong enough to approach the bargaining table with any hope of coming away whole," and "responsible Vietnamese in Vietnam" would probably view such prospects as "a complete sellout by the U.S." He advised Bundy that we should prepare "to counter" further efforts "to peddle" this idea in the media.63

Meanwhile, evidence that undermined the optimistic assessments was becoming harder to ignore. A week after the coup, State Department Intelligence, with the concurrence of the CIA, reported that by late October the military situation had sharply deteriorated, predicting "unfavorable end-1963 values" for its statistical factors. The new government confirmed that the GVN "had been losing the war against the VC in the Delta for some time because it had been losing the population." A top-level meeting was held in Honolulu on November 20 to consider the next steps. The US mission in Vietnam recommended that the withdrawal plans be maintained, the new government being "warmly disposed toward the U.S." and offering "opportunities to exploit that we never had before." Kennedy's plans to escalate the assault against the southern resistance could now be implemented, with a stable regime finally in place. McNamara, ever cautious, stressed that "South Vietnam is under tremendous pressure from the VC," noting a sharp increase in VC incidents after the coup, and urged that "We must be prepared to devote enough resources to this job of winning the war to be certain of accomplishing it..." At an 8 AM White House meeting on November 22, Bundy was informed that "for the first time" military reporting was "realistic about the situation in the Delta."64

Before proceeding, let us have a look at what was publicly available in the press at once. The topic merits a brief review, in the light of later allegations about media suppression. That distortion and suppression by the media are common is not in doubt. But not in this case, it turns out. I will keep to the New York Times.

The October 2 McNamara-Taylor military recommendations that are (largely) authorized in NSAM 263 were outlined in the lead story in the New York Times the next day. The story correctly describes the National Security Council decisions, and is accompanied by the text of the White House statement. In conformity to the internal record, the withdrawal plans are attributed to McNamara and Taylor, not JFK.

In a news conference of October 31, published the next day, JFK maintained the caution he showed in internal discussion, distancing himself from the withdrawal plans:

As you know, when Secretary McNamara and General Taylor came back, they announced that we would expect to withdraw 1,000 men from South Vietnam before the end of the year... If we are able to do that, that will be our schedule. I think the first unit, the first contingent, would be 250 men who are not involved in what might be called frontline operations. It would be our hope to lessen the number of Americans there by 1,000 as the training intensified and is carried on in South Vietnam... As far as other units, we will have to make that judgment based on what the military correlation of forces may be.
He went on to laud his military build-up, which would soon permit the armed forces to deploy seven divisions quickly, a crucial factor in the "military correlation of forces."

On the same day, a front-page story reported JFK's hopes to withdraw 1000 men by the end of the year as the training of South Vietnamese is intensified. On November 13, Jack Raymond reported that Defense Officials say that the 1000-man withdrawal plans remain unchanged. Two days later, he reported that at a news conference, while keeping the "official objectives announced on October 2 to withdraw most of the troops by the end of 1965," Kennedy weakened the withdrawal plans, reducing the estimate for 1963 to "several hundred," pending the outcome of the Honolulu meeting. JFK again emphasized the need to "intensify the struggle." A front-page story the next day reported the announcement by Major-General Charles Timmes that "The withdrawal of 1,000 United States servicemen from South Vietnam will start December 3." On November 21, the official statement from the Honolulu meeting was reported, reaffirming the plan to withdraw 1000 men by January 1. A December 2 item reported General Harkins's announcement that 300 would leave the next day. On December 4, a front-page story announced the withdrawal of 220 GI's, the first step in withdrawal of 1000 troops by Christmas.65

In short, what was public at once accurately and prominently reflects the internal record that has now been revealed, including some indication of JFK's personal hesitations over the withdrawal plans recommended by his advisers.

Go to the next segment.

63 Ibid., 581ff., 592ff.

64 Ibid., 582f., 596, 608ff.

65 Tad Szulc, "Vietnam Victory by the End of '65 Envisaged by U.S.," NYT, Oct. 3; transcript of press conference, NYT, Nov. 1; Joseph Loftus, NYT, Nov. 1. Jack Raymond, NYT, Nov. 13; "G.I. Return Waits on Vietnam Talk," Nov. 15, with transcript of News Conference. AP, "1,000 U.S. Troops to Leave Vietnam," NYT, Nov. 16; David Halberstam, NYT, Nov. 21; AP, NYT, Dec. 2;Hedrick Smith, NYT, Dec. 4, 1963.