White House Recordings of President Kennedy Debating Vietnam Coup

Updated: Monday, 02 Nov 2009, 10:52 PM EST
Published : Monday, 02 Nov 2009, 10:52 PM EST

BOSTON (FOX25, myfoxboston.com) - From the JFK Presidential Library

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum announced today
that it has declassified and made available for research presidential
recordings of four meetings between President Kennedy and his highest
level Vietnam advisors during the days after the highly controversial
“Cable 243” was sent. The cable, which was dispatched on August 24,
1963 when President Kennedy and three of his top officials were away
from Washington, set a course for the eventual coup in Vietnam on
November 1, 1963, leading to the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diem
and his assassination the following day on November 2, 1963 – 46 years
ago this week.

The tapes offer unprecedented insight into President Kennedy’s
thoughts on the unfolding conflict in Vietnam and reveal his
reservations about U.S. support for a military coup in South Vietnam.
During a meeting on August 28, President Kennedy states:

“I don’t think we’re in that deep. I am not sure the [Vietnamese]
Generals are - they’ve been probably bellyaching for months. So I
don’t know whether they’re - how many of them are really up to here. I
don’t see any reason to go ahead unless we think we have a good chance
of success.” [See attached transcript.]

“These recordings provide a fascinating snapshot of a key event in the
history of Vietnam,” said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. “The
August meetings highlight the uncertainty that existed in the White
House over what steps to take toward the government of South Vietnam.
Of particular interest are the numerous conflicting views presented
from the President's top Vietnam advisors.”

These meetings are the first ones to take place after the sending of
Cable 243, which has been described by historian John W. Newman as the
“single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War.” The telegram was
drafted on Saturday August 24, 1963 when President Kennedy, Secretary
of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and CIA
Director John McCone were all out of town. Without direct approval
from President Kennedy’s senior advisors and despite mixed feelings in
the administration over the effectiveness of Diem’s regime, the cable
called for Diem to remove his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu from a position of
power and threatened U.S. support of a military coup in South Vietnam
if he refused.

After the cable was sent and during the course of four days of
meetings, President Kennedy met with his advisors to discuss the
evolving situation in Vietnam and what steps should be taken in the
wake of the cable’s policy-changing message. There was considerable
disagreement between the State Department advisors who had drafted
Cable 243 and the President’s military and intelligence advisors on
whether the coup was advisable and what support it would have in
Vietnam with the Vietnamese military. In his book Robert Kennedy and
His Times, White House Historian Arthur Schlesinger quoted Robert
Kennedy’s recollections of the cable: “[President Kennedy] always said
that it was a major mistake on his part. The result is we started down
a road that we never really recovered from.”

The President asked several times for straight assessments from his
two top advisors in Vietnam, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and General
Paul Harkins. At the August 27, 1963 meeting the President inquired
about whether General Harkins agreed with the present plan:

President Kennedy: What about - in the wire that went Saturday, what’s
the degree of -- My impression was that based on the wire that went
out Saturday, asked General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge recommending
a course of action unless they disagreed. (General Taylor then states
that Harkins concurred). That’s right, so I think we ought to find out
whether Harkins doesn’t agree with this - then I think we ought to get
off this pretty quick.

During the on-going discussions, State Department officials claimed
that they felt it was too late to step back from the coup support, an
opinion not accepted by the President. The President comments:

President Kennedy: I don’t think we ought to take the view here that
this has gone beyond our control ‘cause I think that would be the
worst reason to do it. …

Well I don’t think we ought to just do it because we feel we have to
now do it. I think we want to make it our best (sitting) judgment (is
to date) because I don’t think we do have to do it. At least I’d be
prepared to take up the argument with lawyers, well let’s not do it.
So I think we ought to try to make it without feeling that it’s forced
on us.

The President goes on to state:

President Kennedy: I don’t think we ought to let the coup…maybe they
know about it, maybe the Generals are going to have to run out of the
country, maybe we’re going to have to help them get out. But still
it’s not a good enough reason to go ahead if we don’t think the
prospects are good enough. I don’t think we’re in that deep.

I am not sure the Generals are - they’ve been probably bellyaching for
months. So I don’t know whether they’re - how many of them are really
up to here. I don’t see any reason to go ahead unless we think we have
a good chance of success.

Ambassador Nolting, who had been recently relieved of his duties in
Saigon and replaced by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, was asked by the
President to be present at these meetings. Nolting’s advice and
opinions were pointed, candid and very often at odds with State
Department officials in the room, especially Roger Hilsman and Averell
Harriman. At the August 28th meeting, Ambassador Nolting and the
President began a discussion on a post-coup Vietnam:

President Kennedy: What about Diem - Diem and Nhu would be
( unclear )? Exile them, is that it? That’s what we would favor of
course, but.

Roger Hilsman: We know, we know no information.

President Kennedy: But I think it would be important that nothing
happen to them if we, if we have any voice in it. Is that your view

Frederick Nolting: With all the humility again, Mr. President, my view
is that there is no one that I know of who can - who has a reasonably
good prospect of holding this fragmented, divided country together
except Diem.

Audio files of these discussions are available to the media in .wma
and .mp3 format on request. They, and other historical resources
related to the Vietnam Coup, may also be accessed on the Kennedy
Library website at the following links:

· Cable 243 (pdf)

· Excerpts from White House Tapes 104-108, August 26-28, 1963

· Excerpts from Nolting’s discussion on Vietnam, White House Tape 108,
August 28, 1963

· Audio of President Kennedy dictating his thoughts on the coup in
Vietnam, November 4, 1963

· Excerpt of Frederick Nolting’s Oral History

· Archival documents relating to the coup in Vietnam

Today’s complete release incorporates tape numbers 104, 106, 107, 108
and includes other White House meetings on the Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Civil Rights, USSR, Portuguese
Africa and the Economy. This release totals 13 hours, 11 minutes of
recordings of which 37 minutes remain classified. Approximately 50
hours of meeting tapes remain to be reviewed for declassification
prior to release. Processing of the presidential recordings will
continue to be conducted in the chronological order of the tapes.

The first items from the presidential recordings were opened to public
research in June of 1983. Over the past 20 years, the Library staff
has reviewed and opened all of the telephone conversations and a large
portion of the meeting tapes. The latter are predominantly meetings
with President Kennedy in either the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room.
While the recordings were deliberate in the sense that it required
manual operation to start and stop the recording, it was not, based on
the material recorded, used with daily regularity nor was there a set
pattern for its operation. The tapes represent raw historical
material. The sound quality of the recordings varies widely. Although
most of the recorded conversation is understandable, the tapes include
passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background
noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.
Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter is available to answer
questions from the media concerning this newly released tape or the
Kennedy Library Presidential tapes in general. She can be reached
through Rachel Day, Director of Communications.

Today’s release of White House meetings is available for research use
in the Library’s Research Room. The hours of operation are Monday –
Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm and appointments may be made by calling
(617) 514-1629. The recordings and finding guide are available for
purchase at the John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA
02125, or by calling the Audiovisual Department (617) 514-1617.
Members of the media are cautioned against making historical
conclusions based on the sound clips and transcript alone. They are
provided as a professional courtesy to facilitate the reporting of the
release of these presidential recordings.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential
library administered by the National Archives and Records
Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library
Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential
Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through
educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and
understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process
of governing and the importance of public service. More information is
available at www.jfklibrary.org.


Best Regards in Research,


Don Roberdeau
U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, CV-67, "Big John," Plank Walker
Sooner, or later, The Truth emerges Clearly
email: DRoberdeau@aol.com ...Please type "JFK" in your email
subject line so your email is not accidentally deleted as spam

For your considerations....

Homepage: President KENNEDY "Men of Courage" speech, and
Assassination Evidence + Outstanding Researchers Discoveries and


Visual Report: "The First JFK Impact: while JFK Hidden Under the
'magic-limbed-ricochet-tree' : Z-188, then, Z-203 to 206"


Discovery: "Very Close JFK Assassination Witness ROSEMARY WILLIS
Zapruder Film Documented 2nd Headsnap:
West, Ultrafast, and Directly Towards the Grassy Knoll"


Dealey Plaza Map Detailing 11-22-63 Victims precise
locations, Witnesses, Films & Photos, Evidence, Suspected bullet
trajectories, Important
information & Considerations, in One Convenient Resource


File: President KENNEDY Assassination Research, Maps, & Discoveries
for Your Considerations


T ogether
E veryone
A chieves
M ore

for the United States: