Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter One: From Terror to Aggression Segment 22/27
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After the assassination, Mansfield advised LBJ to seek a general truce "at a price commensurate with American interests." He recommended "an effort to strengthen the hold of the Saigon government on those parts of South Viet Nam which it now controls," instead of a hopeless "chase of the Viet Cong all over the land." Mansfield was particularly satisfied by Lyndon Johnson's continuation of Kennedy's policies. At a meeting of the National Security Council on April 3, 1964, LBJ rejected Senator Morse's proposal for "using SEATO and the UN to achieve a peaceful settlement," informing him that the Administration accepted McNamara's views that withdrawal or neutralization would lead to a Communist takeover and therefore remain unacceptable options. Mansfield approved, urging "that the President's policy toward Vietnam was the only one we could follow." He firmly rejected the withdrawal option and the diplomatic moves counselled by Morse.

Mansfield continued to have tactical reservations, however. In December 1964 he advised LBJ "that American and Western interests are best served by the frugal use of American resources to forestall Chinese political and military domination of the area," and opposed "a vast increase in the commitment." Commenting on Mansfield's position, McGeorge Bundy informed the President that there was only "a difference in emphasis between him and us, but certainly no difference in fundamental purpose." That seems accurate. A few weeks later (January 3, 1965), Mansfield publicly supported "the President's desire neither to withdraw nor carry the war to North Vietnam," the Pentagon Papers analyst observes. Once the bombing of the North began and a huge US expeditionary force was deployed, Mansfield demanded obedience. When the first major protest against the bombing of the North took place in October 1965, he condemned "the sense of utter irresponsibility" of those who dared question the violence of the state.74

Mansfield's reaction was hardly unusual. To cite another prominent example, House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O'Neil of Massachusetts, later portrayed as a strong opponent of the war, refused in April 1965 to allow a delegation of university professors from his constituency even to enter his office to raise questions about his leader's war policies.

JFK's top advisers (McNamara, Bundy, Rusk) advised LBJ in January 1964 to reject Mansfield's recommendations and to keep to Kennedy's more militant policies. McNamara held that any sign of hesitation by the US "would inevitably mean a new government in Saigon that would in short order become Communist-dominated," with consequences for the US position in Asia "and indeed in other key areas of the world" that "are extremely serious"; the stakes are "so high" that "we must go on bending every effort to win." Kennedy's close associate Theodore Sorenson, still on the White House staff, agreed "that the partition or neutralization of South Vietnam today, or even our proposing such partition or neutralization, would, under present conditions, lead to a Communist takeover in that country, a weakening of our prestige and security throughout Asia and an increase in the possibilities of a major military involvement in that area." The only merit Sorenson saw in a proposal for neutralization of all of Vietnam or a cease-fire would be that rejection by the Communists would facilitate the US war effort. He also urged that LBJ reiterate the standard theme that it is up to the South Vietnamese to win the war, so that the onus will be on them, not us, if things fall apart.75

In brief, Kennedy's top advisers, including the most dovish among them, sensed no change at the transition and lent their support to Johnson. Some praised his "wise caution," while others, as we see directly, called for more aggressive action. That reaction is natural, given their familiarity with the internal record, which shows no deviation on JFK's part from Harriman's judgment: "there are no quitters here."

Of course, in thousands of pages of documents one can find occasional variation in wording and nuance. Furthermore, this is history, not quantum physics: judgments must always be qualified. But such reservations aside, the internal record largely confirms what was made public in the fall of 1963 on the issue of withdrawal, and portrays JFK only as less willing than his top advisers to commit himself to withdrawal -- and surely not without victory. Furthermore, the consistency of the record in this regard, from every perspective, is quite striking.

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74 FRUSV, III 587-8, IV 691-2; FRUSV-64, 222f., 1010f. PP, III 263. APNW, 370-1.

75 Gibbons, US Government, 215f.; emphases in original.