Following the Battle of Ap Bac in early January 1963, in which South Vietnamese troops and U.S. military advisers came under heavy attack, Army Chief of Staff General Earle G. Wheeler led a fact-finding mission to Vietnam to assess the situation. Three days after he returned to the United States, Wheeler briefed the president on the state of the U.S. advisory mission in Vietnam. In the process, he gave President Kennedy a series of recommendations for improving South Vietnam's military capabilities in its war against the Communist-dominated National Liberation Front, or Vietcong.
While discussing a new set of instructions for Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge∇ to help manage a deteriorating situation in South Vietnam, President Kennedy continues to ruminate on the public relations dimension of an American troop withdrawal. As he does in the meetings of October 2, Kennedy considers the prospects for troop reduction against the backdrop of the war effort.
Following a morning briefing by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor on their trip to Vietnam, the National Security Council meets to review their recommendations and to draft a statement on their report for public consumption. As in the earlier meeting, President Kennedy questions the wisdom of committing his administration publicly to an American troop withdrawal.
Having returned to Washington earlier that morning from their fact-finding mission to South Vietnam, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor brief President Kennedy on the status of the U.S. military advisory effort. On the table is a recommendation to begin the process of withdrawing American troops from Vietnam, some of which are to leave by the end of the year, with the bulk of U.S. forces to return home by the end of 1965.
Over the course of several meetings, from October 2 through October 5, 1963, Kennedy and his advisers debated the merits of a plan to withdraw the bulk of U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of 1965. Segments from two of those meetings, from the morning and evening of October 2, reveal Kennedy's concerns about that plan and the language with which it was to be explained to the American public.
Over the course of several meetings, from October 2 through October 5, 1963, President Kennedy and his advisers debated the merits of a plan to withdraw the bulk of U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of 1965. Segments from two of those meetings, from the morning and evening of October 2, reveal Kennedy's concerns about that plan and the language with which it was to be explained to the American public.
Upon his return from a conference of key military and civilian officials in Honolulu, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara briefs President Kennedy on a timetable for ending the insurgency in Vietnam--an uprising he understands to be largely indigenous--and bringing American troops home. During the course of the conversation, McNamara displays frustration with the Joint Chiefs' plan for continued military assistance to Vietnam. He also lays out the context within which he believes that a U.S. troop withdrawal should occur. The Secretary and the President agree that the possible withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. advisers should take place only in an atmosphere of military success.
See also Marc Selverstone's op-ed in the Boston Globe on March 9, 2006, available here.