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Mort Sahl On Significance Of Dallas - 1968 Interview
The complete
Argo interview
by Perry Adams with Mort Sahl

(This interview was conducted at the Hungry i in San Francisco on Monday, March 18th, 1968)

ARGO: Why is the truth behind the assassination of President Kennedy the last chance of America for its survival?

SAHL: Because the evidence developed by District Attorney Garrison indicates that certain people had to take President Kennedy's life in order to control ours. In other words, as Richard Starnes of the New York World-Telegram said, the shots in Dallas were the opening shots of World War III. There's been a great change in this country since Kennedy. I'm afraid a great deal of our hope was interred with his remains.

ARGO: What is the long, hard night that America must go through that you've spoken of?

SAHL: She has to hang on through a period of the military and the CIA with a blank check trying to sell fascism. If she can hang on long enough, Americans may yet live in the country in which they were born. And that is the country structured by Tom Paine and Tom Jefferson.

ARGO: What is the renaissance following this long, hard night, that you also spoke about?

SAHL: We'll start pursuing the American dream again.

I don't know if we'll ever realize it, but we're supposed to have the right to pursue it. And that's what this country is. It's an active exercise in man reaching his upper limit, as they used to say in the math department. And the renaissance will be that a ground swell of public opinion will flush out the rascals because the CIA has infiltrated every area of our national life. I'm afraid that the country they subverted best was the United States, be they in the various right-wing churches or be they in the Dallas Police Department. In fact, the CIA is the only organization I know that could penetrate the Birch Society and make them drift further to the right.

[continued below]

Fascism will come to America in the name of national security.

— Jim Garrison

There will come a time when testimony taken by the Commission will be made public. But it might not be in your lifetime. There may be some things that would involve security. This would be preserved but not made public.

— Earl Warren

Security classification is intended to protect the nation from an enemy, not one branch of government against another or the public, nor to protect the American people from knowledge of mistakes. I do not accept as valid the view of Mr. Arthur Sylvester, the former press officer of the Pentagon, that the Government has a right to lie to the people of this country.

— J. William Fulbright

I want to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.

— John F. Kennedy

I made it very clear to the CIA recruiter that the invitation to come on campus was still open and that the administration was not in any way trying to discourage the CIA from coming to UCSB.

— Stephen Goodspeed,
University of California,
Santa Barbara

ARGO: What is the extent of the conspiracy and why is the government so desperate to keep the truth from the American public?

SAHL: We have determined that elements of the Central Intelligence Agency planned the execution and killed the President. Lee Oswald attended those meetings planning it. He was the only non-CIA man at the meeting. And he worked for the FBI. We then find that an FBI code clerk has a message come through, a twx, through the southern regional offices of the FBI, warning five days ahead that the President will be assassinated and we still later find Oswald saying, "I was a patsy," in the Dallas Police Station. The "elements" are in the Central Intelligence Agency.

They don't want to lose their power. And they don't want to fall. It has become government by hoodlum. And I don't blame them. If I were them, I wouldn't want to fall either. I would pull out all the stops as well, as they have. On the other hand, while I know that neo-Nazis would want to kill a man like John Kennedy, I don't understand why liberals would want to protect them from prosecution.

ARGO: What would you say are the roots of this whole era?

SAHL: Fascism. It started with the death of Roosevelt.

They moved in and they negated every treaty we made with every world leader who didn't fit the fascist/militarist mold. We went back on our word. As David Schoenbrun says very well, "I am not a dissenter for saying this. Those who betrayed American policy are the dissenters." We've gone back on the dream of national independence and we were the model for the rest of the world. Then when they followed our model, we attacked them for it. Shameful. No one has a right to stain the American flag. And unfortunately, we have people in this country who did it. If America goes, it will surely be an inside job.

ARGO: What will make the American people face themselves and, to use your expression, rise up like an army?

SAHL: Well, they have very decent instincts. If they didn't, the government would not have to hide the facts from them. They could give them any facts and the people would be insensitive. But, they have a sense of decency because they come from better stock then that. And so, once the truth is revealed to them, they're no longer under a cloak of ignorance. Public opinion will change things. There will be a ground swell.

These people will resign or will be lost in the shuffle. But, you know, the country was structured so that we could have violent change without violent overthrow. I'm very optimistic in that sense. The principles of America may be better than the group currently practicing or ignoring them, as you will. But, the country has great relilience, and once they get the information, they my yet have time to save themselves.
Our job here is to give the young people time. We're just like the fellow in the movie The Seventh Cross. He works with the partisans. We've got to give the young people time to get here, to save America.

ARGO: Why is the trial that Mr. Garrison's pursuing really the trial of the American people?

SAHL: Because we have to decide. Once the neo-fascists became bold enough to slay the President on the street, they showed their hand. They showed how arrogant they had become. Now it's a question of symptom. That crime was a national symptom. If we can turn our back on that, we will pay a terrible price. That will be the end of this democracy. As a matter of fact, it's been dying since Kennedy's death. We have to cleanse our soul. It's much the same as the French when they regained their national honor, not by framing Dreyfus, but by admitting that they did.

ARGO: What does Garrison mean: "The key to the whole case is through the looking glass. Black is white; white is black"?

SAHL: He means that the first thing the government did when the President was killed was to ratify his death and to appoint a group of honorable men to initial a fraudulent report. To eventually say there is no fourth bullet, even though there's a fourth bullet hole. The man was shot at from three sides, but there was only one side. In other words, the government decrees it is so. And that eventually the government may be forced to form a Ministry of Truth which will rule there was no John Kennedy, if it becomes convenient.

That's what he means. When Lyndon Johnson says to us, as an example, "We have continually keep up brush fire wars to protect the peace." Well, that's Orwell. War is peace, and peace is war, and love is hate. And you finally sell it just that way; the contradiction. And you do it by making the American people mad because those are the mouthings of a madman. We can be driven mad; it's the same virus that bit the Germans.

ARGO: What is meant by "elements" of the CIA?

SAHL: I'm afraid we'll have to wait for the trial for that. But, elements within the CIA planned it and wanted the President dead and saw to it that he was.

ARGO: Is there a difference between "elements" of the CIA and "ex-employees" of the CIA?

SAHL: I'll tell you why that is, Perry. The evidence is developmental and as you get further into the case, you'll learn more. Jim always puts it on the basis of the elephant. He said an elephant had a trunk; now I find he has four legs, he's also grey, and he has a tail. That's where it is. In the beginning, Jim could not believe that people in the United States government would want to harm their president. He now believes that.

He's no longer an innocent. He's had a baptism of fire. And, of course, the lengths the agency's gone to, to see that nobody involved with this case is allowed to work in this country, and the wire taps, and the tails in the street, etc.; the great harrassment is phenomenal. The things that we've done to ourselves in the name of fighting communism. . .

When he said that the CIA had gone to such great lengths to protect the people charged in this case, and to keep witnesses from being extradited, and to smear Garrison, we didn't know how far they would go. But, it is evident now that if they will kill a President, they will go to any lengths not to be toppled. And they are so imbedded in the society that the Presidents are almost transients. The only President that ever went up against them was Kennedy. And we see what happened to him for his pains.

Ramsey Clark, on Face the Nation a couple of weeks ago, said that he saw nothing new in the Garrison investigation. I pointed that out to Garrison. He said to me, "Yes, there is nothing new as far as he's concerned. We found out the CIA killed the President and he knew it. So it's nothing new to him."

I know the pressure on those of us who have spoken up in this case. The minute I made a decision for America and decided to park everything else and go ahead, I suddenly was unemployable, and by an awful lot of people you'd call liberal.

I want to make it very clear. The people on the right are not large enough to be an army, but they have an army of indifferent men, men indifferent to terror. The road to fascism is paved with liberal bricks. While our job to give the young people time enough to become radicals, the job of the liberals is to castrate them before they can get to the radical side, before they can save America, in effect. It's wholly incredible to me. If I gave you the names of people in show business who are attempting to supress me, they all qualify as wild-eyed left-wing thinkers, in the popular mind.

ARGO: If the defense's request for a change of venue is denied, will the trial begin in April?

SAHL: Yes, it will. Shaw's latest gambit is to start challenging the first 89, but the judge is beginning to get bugged with it all. Also, Garrison is going to subpoena and charge more people. You'll begin to see some names you recognize, very soon.

ARGO: Was Dallas just an accident or could it have happened anywhere?

SAHL: No, there's strong opinion that some people in Dallas are very much involved in this. Very much so. That's what caused a lot of suspicion to reflect on the President. Although, it is not too well founded, at this point. Of course, the President, ironically, has nurtured that by suppressing evidence and looking the other way. He has incubated the doubt about him. As Garrison says, "No, I don't think he's involved, but wouldn't it be nice to know."

ARGO: What is the importance of the book that Garrison mentioned entitled Nazis and Fascists of Today, published in Paris, France?

SAHL: That book mentions several of our friends here in the United States, several people here who are probably very well respected pillars of the community. But, the book was seized and placed in the National Archives until 2039 A.D.
It's a sick society, and that's really the crux. That's why Garrison says this case is the crux of whether this country goes on or not. Is it an open society? Can the government tell you: "We know better what's good for you than you know for yourself"? And a lot of this has been incubated by the centralization of authority, which I'm sure the liberals will defend.

They think it's a welfare program for Negroes. Hardly. The Federal government hasn't done anything good for anybody in quite a long time. You know, we ridicule our Ronald Reagans, and all. Mr. Reagan has to give somethig for the taxes. He has to give you Highway 99, or Highway 33, or 101. The Federal government doesn't have to give you anything, except a brainwash. When you think of the CIA bribing your brothers to turn you in, and you say, "Well, they've got an awful lot of money." An awful lot of money; it's ours! What do you mean they've got a lot of money? They're rag pickers. You know, and the American dream happens to be sticking to their pants legs like bicycle clips.

ARGO: Who has approached Robert Kennedy on all of this?

SAHL: No one. As a matter of fact, one of the favorite cliches people are continually saying to me is: "Why doesn't Bobby Kennedy investigate this?" But, somehow, when they sit next to Bobby Kennedy on a television show, they never bring it up. They bring it up to me with great arrogance, but they have no courage in his presence. I would suggest that they ask him. I've heard nothing from him on that case.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
Peter Lemkin Wrote:The complete
Argo interview
by Perry Adams with Mort Sahl

(This interview was conducted at the Hungry i in San Francisco on Monday, March 18th, 1968)

ARGO: Why is the truth behind the assassination of President Kennedy the last chance of America for its survival?

SAHL: Because the evidence developed by District Attorney Garrison indicates that certain people had to take President Kennedy's life in order to control ours. In other words, as Richard Starnes of the New York World-Telegram said, the shots in Dallas were the opening shots of World War III.

The WWIII feared by Starnes - and many others - in this period was with China: The US "Strike North" clique nearly pulled it off, too.

Quote:The Washington Daily News, 8 April 1965, p.37

The Great Dilemma

By Richard Starnes

Lyndon Johnson, who is more dedicated to government by consensus than any President since Warren Harding, has fallen short of generating wide public support for his policy in Viet Nam.

Indeed, Administration brinksmanship in Southeast Asia finds more favor among Republicans than it does among the President’s own party. A Gallup Poll taken before the President made his Johns Hopkins speech found 41 per cent of Americans favored peace negotiations, 42 per cent favored sending more troops and planes, and 17 per cent expressed no opinion.

But when replies were broken down by party affiliation, they showed that most of the Democrats who held an opinion favoured peace talks. Of Democrats polled, 43 per cent backed negotiations, 40 per cent favored increased armed intervention, and 17 per cent were undecided. Republicans showed 45 per cent in favor of greater troop commitment, only 38 per cent in favor of negotiations, and 17 per cent undecided.

Abroad, of course, American policy in Southeast Asia is almost universally mistrusted. An extraordinary Japanese mission to Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos conducted by Shunichi Matsumoto, a respected diplomat and former envoy to Britain, concluded that it was doubtful the U.S. could prevail in Viet Nam by force of arms.

Mr. Matsumoto questioned the basic American assumption that the Viet Cong was the creature of North Viet Nam and communist China, or event that it was largely communist character.

“Even the people of Saigon,” he reported, calculate communist strength in the Viet Cong is “at most 30 per cent.”

The Japanese diplomat, who is an influential adviser to the staunchly pro-American government in Tokyo, went so far as to suggest the Viet Cong guerilla forces “could possibly be called a movement somewhat similar to the resistance of the French underground during World War II.
“It can be said that the Viet Cong is not directly connected to Communist China or the Soviet Union.

“Consequently it is not certain that the Viet Cong will give up fighting because of the bombing of North Viet Nam.”

This same opinion is shared by many of the people who took the trouble to study the U.S. State Department’s “white paper” on Viet Nam. The document purported to show that the civil war in South Viet Nam was sponsored, directed, equipped and manned largely from North Viet Nam. But scrutiny of the white paper revealed that it demonstrated the reverse of what it undertook to show. Documented instances of help from North Viet Nam to the guerillas in the south just could not be reconciled with the magnitude of the Viet Cong war effort.

The inescapable truth is that the war in South Viet Nam is largely a self-supporting civil war that is being supplied almost wholly by captured U.S. weapons.

This leads to the vital question of what would happen even should Hanoi succumb to the pressure bombing and withdraw support from the Viet Cong. If, as Mr. Matsumoto and others have concluded, the guerilla war contains large elements of indigenous nationalism, it is at least possible that the Viet Cong will continue to fight.

If that happens, it will leave President Johnson beset by a dilemma even more cruel than the one that faced him when his advisers from the Department of Defense and CIA reluctantly informed him that the pretense of organized resistance from Saigon was not long for this world, and that other harsh alternatives had to be considered.

Like all Presidents, Mr, Johnson is concerned with the ultimate judgment which history will pass on him and his Administration. Further miscalculation in Southeast Asia could lead it to the grim conclusion that the first shot of World War III was the one that killed John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
Peter Lemkin Wrote:The complete
Argo interview
by Perry Adams with Mort Sahl

(This interview was conducted at the Hungry i in San Francisco on Monday, March 18th, 1968)

For those unfamiliar with the name, and his greatest contribution to the case, there follows chapter 8, "The War," from the seminal manuscript Perry Adams co-authored with Fred T. Newcomb, Murder From Within (Santa Barbara, Calif: Probe, 1974). While I profoundly disagree with key points of the book - though not its central thesis, to wit, JFK was murdered by his own bodyguard - it nevertheless remains a landmark work, and richly deserving of proper, formal publication:

Quote:Chapter 8: The War

During his term in office, President Kennedy and the military were continually at odds. The depth of that situation was expressed by reporter Sander Vanocur:

“A military take over in this country is a possibility we might as well discuss. It is true that we like to think that God protects drunks, babies and the United States of America, but we could not be more wrong.
…Why should we consider ourselves immune from this danger? The Soviet Union is not. France is not. Lesser powers in Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East are not. Why then should we consider ourselves so absolutely secure from this danger?”

In spite of the military, President Kennedy “…guided the United States government through three tense years when it was being challenged by a belligerent Khrushchev in Berlin, Cuba and Asia, without sending a single U.S. military combat unit into action.”

Specifically, President Kennedy opposed the introduction of combat troops into Vietnam. In mid-1962, he directed that all American units – 16,000 noncombatant forces – be withdrawn by December 1965. After his death, the war had to be fabricated.

The Military

President Kennedy was concerned about the military’s power. When he took office, he was “…convinced that the military establishment had obtained greater power than was desirable.” Further, he believed that the military had “…been meddling too much in areas of primary civilian concern, especially foreign affairs.”

In a special message to Congress on March 28, 1961, he stated, “The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.” He felt the U.S. must not “…become dependent upon the permanent maintenance of a large military establishment.” He stressed, “Our arms must be subject to ultimate civilian control and command at all times…”

Military animosity toward President Kennedy was evident following the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. The President “…chose the embarrassment of withdrawal rather than try to cover his mistake with air strikes and Marine Corps reinforcement. He “…felt that he now knew certain soft spots in his administration, especially the CIA and the Joint Chiefs.” He therefore ordered extensive changes of personnel in both areas.

Within a year of the Bay of Pigs, four of the five officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff were replaced. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor was named the President’s military representative in June 1961 , and in July 1962, because Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Though he denied it, Taylor’s appointment as Presidential military representative suggested a cut in the authority of the Joint Chiefs. The President said the appointment resulted from discussions McNamara had with the Chiefs. Given the military outlook, “…he [Kennedy] had to have a McNamara at Defense in order to have a foreign policy at all.”

The President “…was determined to take the hysteria out of the cold war…” Therefore, “…admirals and…generals were instructed to tone their speeches down…”

Criticism of the President by the military extended to troop indoctrinations and cold war seminars for civilians held by general officers. An outstanding example occurred when the Army in 1961 “…admonished and disciplined Major General Edwin A. Walker …for ‘taking injudicious action’ and for making derogatory public statements about prominent Americans.”

The CIA also felt the President’s displeasure after the Bay of Pigs. He said, “…I have learned one thing from this business, that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA.” He is reported as saying he would have liked “…to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” As it happened, “It was…perfectly obvious to everyone that…Allen Dulles…would have to leave as soon as the storm died down a bit [over the Bay of Pigs].”

Within a year, three top men of the CIA were replaced: the director, Allen Dulles; his second-in-command, and the deputy director for plans.

Kennedy’s efforts to curb the powers of the CIA also included two Presidential directives in 1961. The Pentagon liaison officer with the CIA said, “For some strange reason, although they were issued and signed by the President, there was no implementation of them.” The officer, who handled the directives, stated “…Kennedy incurred the hatred of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because of his attempts to harness its power after the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion.”

The evening following his election, President Kennedy was warned by a dinner guest that Dulles “…would be trying to carry on his dead brother’s policies in your Administration.” The guest recommended, “…get Allen Dulles out of the CIA immediately.” Dulles was later appointed by Lyndon Johnson as a member of the Warren Commission.

The President was determined that a misadventure like the Bay of Pigs would not occur again. “One more will sink me,” he stated . Kennedy “…cut the CIA budget in 1962 and again in 1963, aiming at a 20 per cent reduction by 1966.”

A Third Bay of Pigs

To what extent was the President aware of the possibility of a military take-over of the country?
In September 1962, the novel Seven Days in May was published. The book, which described the tension between the Joint Chiefs and the President over a nuclear test ban treaty, was about an attempted military seizure of the U.S. Government. The President and his military aide “…had long discussions about it…”

According to a close friend and Navy Under-Secretary, the President responded to the book, in the summer of 1962, in this way:

“It’s possible. It could happen in this country, but the conditions would have to be just right. If, for example, the country had a young President, and he had a Bay of Pigs, there would be a certain uneasiness. Maybe the military would do a little criticizing behind his back, but this would be written off as the usual military dissatisfaction with civilian control. Then if there were another Bay of Pigs, the reaction of the country would be, ‘Is he too young and inexperienced?’ The military would almost feel it was their patriotic obligation to stand ready to preserve the integrity of the nation, and only God knows just what segment of democracy they would be defending if they overthrew the elected establishment…Then, if there were a third Bay of Pigs, it could happen…”

A source close to the President recorded Kennedy’s reaction to the novel. The President remarked, “I know a couple who might wish they could.”

The President, as noted, established three Bay of Pigs as necessary for a probable military take-over.

A second Bay of Pigs, in military terms, may have been the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962.

The Joint Chiefs did not want a blockade. Instead, they wanted “…an air strike…followed shortly afterward by an invasion.” One general felt “…that a military attack was essential.” One of the Chiefs advocated use of nuclear weapons. And when the Russians did withdraw their missiles, “…it was suggested by one high military adviser that we attack…in any case. Another felt that we had in some way been betrayed.” The President commented, “…an invasion would have been a mistake – a wrong use of our power. But the military are mad. They wanted to do this.”

During this period, the Attorney General made an unofficial call upon the Russian Ambassador, Anatoli Dobrynin. Dobrynin’s report quoted Robert Kennedy as saying, “…the President is in a grave situation…We are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba…If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American Army could get out of control.”

Robert Kennedy was later to write, “…this experience pointed out for us all the importance of civilian direction and control…” The military assumed “…that a war was in our national interest,” and gave “…little consideration to the implications of steps they suggested.” If their position was wrong, its advantage was “…that no one could be around at the end to know.”

At the end of 1962, the President was asked, during a television and radio interview, if he had felt threatened by the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower had warned. He replied, “Well, it seems to me there is probably more in that feeling perhaps some months ago than I would say today.”

On Jan. 6, 1963, in his State of the Union address, the President asked for a $10 billion tax cut over the next three years. His basis was: “…when no military crisis strains our resources – now is the time to act.” But 1963 may also have been the third and final Bay of Pigs – with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

As it happened, “…the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared themselves opposed to a comprehensive ban under almost any terms…” Their eventual support for the partial ban was conditional.

Seven Days in May

If the President was unable to bring his concern about the military directly to the public, an indirect route was available if a movie were made of Seven Days in May. According to John Frankenheimer, the director, “President Kennedy wanted Seven Days in May made. Pierre Salinger conveyed this to us. The Pentagon didn’t want it done. Kennedy said that when we wanted to shoot at the White House, he would conveniently go to Hyannis Port that weekend.”

The Pentagon suggested that the script would have to be reviewed before film-makers could enter the offices of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was rejected by the film company as censorship. Instead, they filmed some scenes outside the Pentagon without military approval.

The Secret Service was also concerned. “The Secret Service,” according to an article, “was alarmed at a spurious report that the movie involved a President’s assassination.” In the book, the Secret Service supported the President, preventing the coup.

After the President’s assassination and during the life of the Warren Commission, pressure on Paramount pictures reportedly kept the movie from being shown. According to a full page ad in the New York Times of Nov. 22, 1963, the movie was scheduled for release in late November 1963.

Perhaps the most important part of the novel is its source: John Connally, who was shot with the President in Dallas. At the time Connally talked with the authors in the summer of 1961, he was Secretary for the Navy for President Kennedy. Connally told them, “…democracy is in danger – a dictator could take over.”


John Kennedy, who went to Indochina in 1951, “…was one of the few officials…who both knew the French experience [in Vietnam] and could perceive it as a warning even to Americans.”

In mid-1956, Kennedy spoke of the type of progress the U.S. should have toward the Vietnamese. “What we must offer them,” he said, “is a revolution – a political, economic, and social revolution far superior to anything the Communists can offer – far more peaceful…democratic, and…locally controlled.” Such a progress would include capital, technicians, guidance in government, attention to refugees, and “…military assistance to rebuild the new Vietnamese army…”

In 1961, President Kennedy expressed doubts about the U.S. military in Vietnam. On March 20, 1961, he “…remarked that the United States was overcommitted in Southeast Asia…” These doubts were reinforced by warnings from Douglas MacArthur. After the Bay of Pigs, the President and MacArthur met. MacArthur urged him “…to avoid a U.S. military build-up in Vietnam.”

MacArthur was also highly critical of the military advice given the President by the Pentagon. This may have been typified by the Joint Chiefs’ proposal on March 20, 1961, regarding Laos. At that time, “Their recommendation was all or nothing: either go in on a large scale, with 60,000 soldiers, air cover and even nuclear weapons, or else stay out.” In May, the Joint Chiefs called for sending U.S. combat forces to Vietnam. At the same time, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson returned from his Asian trip and concluded: “The battle against Communism must be joined in Southeast Asia…or the United States…must surrender the Pacific and take up our defense on our own shores.”

In May 1961, President Kennedy was asked at a news conference about “…new nonmilitary ways to assist and support our foreign policy…in meeting the Communist threat in Southeast Asia…” He replied, “We can protect these countries by our guarantees against outright military invasion…through economic assistance…strengthening their armed forces…” He added, “…in the final analysis they have to – and we cannot do it for them – they have to organize the political and social life of the country in such a way that they maintain the support of their people. There is a limit beyond which our efforts cannot go.”

In the autumn of 1961, the President sent Gen. Taylor on a mission to Vietnam. By October, the Joint Chiefs, among others, were exerting pressure “…to send combat forces to Vietnam.” A press leak to the effect that the Pentagon and Taylor were “…reluctant to send organized U.S. combat troops into Southeast Asia” may have been used to counter that pressure.

On his return, Gen. Taylor advised the President to increase the U.S. commitment with 10,000 combat troops and retaliation against the north. The Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsed these proposals: the President rejected them. The President disliked “…the proposal of a direct American military commitment.” Furthermore, he noted, “The war in Vietnam…could be won only so long as it was their war. If it were ever converted into a white man’s war, we would lose as the French had lost a decade earlier.”

Though the President felt the United States was “over-committed” in Vietnam, “…he could not refuse to give more of the same kind of assistance…” Two of Taylor’s three recommendations involved the same kind of assistance as given under Eisenhower: military advisers, technicians, and equipment. The third – the sending of combat forces – did not.

The thrust of President Kennedy’s policy decisions for 1961 reflected his willingness to provide equipment and training to South Vietnam. He made no commitment for the U.S. to save South Vietnam. In short, “help to South Vietnam was so hedged as to prevent the guerilla was there from escalating into another Indo-China war, another Korea.”


In 1962, the Kennedy Administration sought “…to extricate the U.S. from direct military involvement in the war…”

On July 23, 1962, Secretary of Defense McNamara ordered the development of a plan to build-up the South Vietnamese military and end the American role in three years. Three days later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff passed it on to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific: on August 14, 1962, he sent it to Commander, United States Assistance Command, Vietnam. The goal of the plan was to strengthen South Vietnamese forces so that U.S. military help would not be needed by the end of 1965.

On Dec. 26, 1962, Sen. Mike Mansfield reported to President Kennedy after a trip to Vietnam, made at the President’s request. After their meeting, the President was reported as saying that he agreed with Mansfield’s advice of withdrawing from Vietnam.

Beginning in January 1963, a conflict developed between McNamara and both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Saigon military mission. McNamara sought “…both a more rapid U.S. withdrawal of personnel, and a faster reduction in U.S. military/economic support” than the military.

In the spring of 1963, President Kennedy informed Sen. Mansfield that “…he planned a complete withdrawal from Vietnam in 1965.” In April 1963, Gen. Harkins, who headed the U.S. military command in Vietnam, “…thought he could say that by Christmas it would be all over.”

On May 6, 1963, McNamara felt the rate of withdrawal in the plan for Vietnam was not fast enough. He ordered the plan revised so “…that 1,000 military personnel should be withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of CY [calendar year] 63.” Three days later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific: “As a matter of urgency, a plan for the withdrawal of about 1,000 U.S. troops before the end of the year should be developed…” The Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, responded on May 11, scheduling 1,003 to leave Vietnam by December 1963. On May 22, 1963, the President commented, “…we are hopeful that the situation in South Vietnam would permit some withdrawal …by the end of the year…”

On Sep. 21, 1963, the President sent McNamara and Gen. Taylor to Vietnam. Based on their report, the President made an announcement, on Oct. 2, 1963,: 1,000 U.S. troops would leave Vietnam by December 1963, and, of the 15,000 remaining, the bulk would be withdrawn by the end of 1965 (Fig. 8-1). Kennedy asked McNamara to tell the press “…that means all of the helicopter pilots, too.”

In mid-November, the plan to withdraw 1,000 Americans remained firm. On Nov. 12, Sen. Wayne Morse met with the President. The President noted “…the Senator’s critical speeches on the Senate floor and remarked that he ‘wasn’t but sure that I [Morse] was right.’” The President told Morse that he had Vietnam under “intensive study.”

On Nov. 20, 1963, a “full-scale review” of conditions in Vietnam concluded, “All plans for the U.S. phasing out were to go ahead as scheduled.”

How important was Vietnam on Nov. 22, 1963?

The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, “…first decided to pursue President Kennedy’s policy of defending South Vietnam’s sovereignty while flying back to Washington only a few hours after Kennedy was assassinated…”

Furthermore, two days later, Johnson’s first foreign policy statement was on Vietnam. He pledged “…the United States anew to winning the war against the Communist guerillas in South Vietnam.” Two days later, he “…issued a National Security Memo, NSAM 273…ordering plans for ‘possible increased activity’ in secret raids on North Vietnam.”

Johnson told Ambassador Lodge, “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.”

Immediately after President Kennedy was assassinated, there “…was a desire to avoid change of any kind…” during the period of takeover. Indeed, “…Johnson simply refused to accept immediate resignations from close Kennedy associates.” Thereby, “Both the President and the governmental establishment strove for continuity, with respect to Vietnam no less than in other areas.”
On the day of Kennedy’s funeral, Johnson reassured the U.S. military “…that the policies and purposes of your country are unchanged…”

Although Johnson claimed to support Kennedy’s policies, he had a review of Vietnam begun in early December. He “…wanted ‘a fresh new look taken’ at the whole problem.” He “…had been pressing hard for quick results to Vietnam. One of his first instructions had been for everyone in the administration to ask himself each day what he had done toward victory there and to remind everyone that Vietnam was ‘the only war we’ve got.’”

The Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, stated, in December 1963, that U.S. forces would remain in Vietnam. Further, U.S. officials came to regard the 1965 date of withdrawal as “unrealistic.”

The New York Times reported, on Dec. 21, 1963, that, within a month of the assassination, Johnson’s assurances to the junta, in effect, abandoned the goal of withdrawing all forces by 1965.

Progress in Vietnam

During the Kennedy Administration, reports on Vietnam were phrased in terms of both optimism and progress.

In March 1962, McNamara told Congress he was “encouraged at the progress the South Vietnamese were making.” In the spring of 1963, “Assessments of continuing favorable developments in the improving Vietnam situation…seemed to warrant more than ever going ahead with the planned phase out.”

McNamara had established statistical standards to evaluate conditions in Vietnam. Roger Hilsman of the State Dept. noted, “By the late summer of 1962, all these statistical indicators had significantly improved.”

The President’s State of the Union Address, on Jan. 14, 1963, reflected the conditions. He stated, “The spearpoint of aggression had been blunted in Vietnam.”

The McNamara-Taylor report declared in the autumn of 1963: “The military campaign has made great progress and continue to progress.”

On Nov. 20, 1963, in spite of the death of President Diem of South Vietnam, “Ambassador Lodge assessed the prospects of Vietnam as hopeful. Furthermore, he felt “…the announced withdrawal of 1,000 troops by the end of 1963 was already having a salutary affect.”

An evaluation of Vietnam by the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Joint Staff) for 1960-1963 “…presented nothing less than a glowing account of steady progress across the board in the military situation.” Infiltration was down to 7,400 in 1963, as compared with 12,400 in 1962.


Only after the death of President Kennedy did changes occur in progress reports, personnel, and policy. As Lyndon Johnson remarked, “In the next few months we sent [Ambassador] Lodge a new deputy, a new CIA chief, a new director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) operation, and replacements for other key posts in the U.S. Embassy. By midyear General William C. Westmoreland had replaced General Paul Harkins as head of our Military Assistance Command.”

Following his December trip to Vietnam, McNamara “…was laden with gloom.” After meeting with McNamara on Dec. 21, 1963, President Johnson said, “We expanded our advisory effort, setting up a separate channel for our own military evaluations and reports. The CIA improved its reporting methods. The U.S. Embassy refined and expanded province reporting.”

On Jan. 1, 1964, President Johnson restated U.S. policy. He told the military junta in Vietnam that the U.S. would “…maintain…American personnel and material as needed to assist you in achieving victory.”

Early in February, a special CIA group was sent to Vietnam to make its evaluation. On Feb. 18, 1964, instead of progress, they found “…a serious and steadily deteriorating situation…”

McNamara, after another visit to Vietnam in March, stated that conditions were worse. Then on March 27, 1964, President Kennedy’s policy of withdrawal “…finally received the coup de grace. Sacrificed to the U.S. desire ‘to make it clear that we fully support’ the GVN [Government of South Vietnam]…”

President Kennedy’s policy had been: “…it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam, against the Communists. We are prepared to continue to assist them, but I don’t think the war can be won unless the people support the effort…” In short, his actions made no U.S. commitment to save South Vietnam.

In contrast, Lyndon Johnson announced on March 16, 1964, “It will remain [sic] the policy of the United States to furnish assistance and support to South Vietnam for as long as it is required to bring Communist aggression and terrorism under control.”

In the spring of 1964, the “…direction of U.S. military commitment began to change…the magnitude rose…”

On June 2, 1964, Commander, United States Assistance Command, Vietnam, proposed an extended and intensified U.S. role. The next month, Gen. Taylor, who replaced Ambassador Lodge on July 7, 1964, supported an increase in the U.S. effort. Taylor claimed that VC capability was greater than previously estimated. This increase in enemy strength, he explained, “…had been suspected for the past two or three years, though confirmatory evidence had become available only in the last few months.”

Toward the end of July, “…the Johnson administration…leaked its intention of increasing the 16,000-troop contingent in South Vietnam by 5,000 more men.” Secretary of State Rusk tried “…to minimise the 30 per cent buildup …He termed it ‘perfectly normal’ that the announcement came from Saigon – although this had never been done before.” The next week, U.S. vessels were allegedly attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam.

The incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin occurred in August 1964. According to one reporter, Johnson had carried the resolution “…around in his pocket for weeks waiting for the moment.” The congressional resolution, coupled with a landslide election victory in November 1964, seemed to be enough to use as a mandate to widen the war.

A policy review was undertaken by Johnson in November 1964. Bombing began on March 2, 1965. Only after the bombing started did Hanoi begin to send regular units to the south.

The, on March 8th, “…after a request from Generals Taylor and Westmoreland which was debated little if at all, two battalion landing teams of Marines went ashore at Da Nang…U.S. ground combat troops were in an active theatre on the mainland of Asia for the first time since the Korean war.”

JFK vs. the Generals

The take-off point into Vietnam followed President Kennedy’s assassination. According to former Marine Commandant David M. Shoup:

“For years up to 1964 the chiefs of the armed forces…deemed it necessary and unwise for U.S. forces to become involved in any ground war in Southeast Asia. In 1964 there were changes in the composition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in a matter of a few months the Johnson Administration, encouraged by the aggressive military, hastened into…Vietnam.”

Roger Hilsman, who headed the State Dept.’s Intelligence and Research Office under President Kennedy, contended “…the top-ranking military people pressed continuously for measures that would escalate the war…” As in 1961, there was “…growing pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other U.S. Government officials to send combat forces to Vietnam.”

Some of those on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in the Pentagon ruled out a ground war in Asia – unless all-out force was used. Further, other high military officials believed that the war was “…going well.”

Under President Kennedy, “A strategic concept…for meeting guerilla warfare was developed…[its]…central principle…was the need to subordinate military measures to political and social progress.” The acceptability of that notion by the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Taylor, and McNamara was another question. In fact, “…an important segment of the military did not accept the emphasis on political warfare.” Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a speech on Nov. 7, 1962, noted, “The essence of the problem in Vietnam is military.”

A military approach to the problem of Vietnam would have obstructed efforts toward détente with Russia and a new policy toward Communist China.

Kennedy’s approach created problems within his administration. In 1961, the President approved of Gen. Lansdale’s “…extra-bureaucratic, uninhibited advisory system consciously built on shared U.S.-Vietnamese goals (validated by shared experience) and based on mutual trust and admiration.” Yet, “…objections to it were raised in the highest levels of the Kennedy administration: in fact, there were threats of resignation.”

As it was, “the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military ‘brass’ did not like the policy of keeping the struggle in Vietnam limited or the attempt to emphasize the importance of the political aspects of the struggle.” As long as McNamara was satisfied with the President’s policy, he was able to keep the military in line. The problem was “if the JCS and the higher-ranking generals did move into open opposition…they could muster powerful support in the Congress and the split inside the American government might develop into the kind of nationwide political civil war that had paralyzed America during the McCarthy era.”

The key to the situation seems to have been the 1964 election. The McNamara-Taylor report of October 1963 on withdrawal contained this note: “No further reductions should be made until the requirements of the 1964 campaign become firm.”

In spring 1963, though Kennedy wanted “…a complete military withdrawal from Vietnam,” he told Sen. Mansfield, “…I can’t do it until 1965 – after I’m re-elected.”

The President believed, and Sen. Mansfield concurred, that a move for total withdrawal prior to November 1964 could result in a conservative reaction that might deny his re-election. The President told his assistant Kenneth O’Donnell, “In 1965, I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser…If I tried to pull out completely now, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected.”

Hilsman noted, “So long as the military struggle in Vietnam remained essentially Vietnamese, United States prestige in Asia would not have been seriously affected by a negotiated settlement along the lines of the Geneva agreement on Laos, which actually increased our prestige in Asia…”

At the level at which President Kennedy held down the U.S. role in Vietnam, withdrawal was feasible. Upon total withdrawal in 1965, even under conditions of failure, “…the U.S. role, which after all was advisory, had been honorably fulfilled.”

In summary, “President Kennedy’s policy…was to meet the guerilla aggression within a counterguerilla framework, with the implied corollary that if the Viet Cong could not be defeated within a counterguerilla framework and the allegiance of the people of Vietnam could not be won, then the United States would accept the resulting situation and would be free to enter negotiations without fatal consequences to our position in the rest of Asia.”

Gen. James M. Garvin observed:

“There has been much speculation about what President Kennedy would or would not have done in Vietnam had he lived. Having discussed military affairs with him often and in detail for 15 years, I know he was totally opposed to the introduction of combat troops in Southeast Asia. His public statements just before his murder support this view. Let us not lay on the dead the blame for our own failures.”

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