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.
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 press and 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.
President Kennedy met with his senior military advisors immediatly preceding their departure on a fact-finding trip to Vietnam. The Wheeler Mission, named for Army Chief of Staff Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, had been proposed by the Joint Chiefs the previous week following the Battle of Ap Bac, the first major confrontation between South Vietnamese and Vietcong forces. The ensuing Wheeler Report would be the third such review that Kennedy would receive in the span of a month. In late December, Sen. Mike Mansfield∇ (D-MT) had toured Indochina and provided Kennedy with a pessimistic account of progress in the war. The State Department's Roger Hilsman and White House aide Michael Forrestal had also visited South Vietnam and had criticized the military's preference for engaging the Vietcong with conventional tactics.
Nixon and Kissinger∇ on South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu
In this conversation, Bob Haldeman∇ updates the President on recent press coverage of pro-administration veterans countering the anti-Vietnam War protests of John F. Kerry.
In April 1971, as John Kerry led a demonstration of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Washington, DC, the Nixon White House sought to discredit him. In this conversation, Nixon aide Chuck Colson∇ told the president that in his opinion Kerry had turned against the war out of political opportunism after he returned to the United States.
In this Oval Office discussion, Nixon and his advisers discuss recent press coverage of the anti-war group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They were particularly impressed by the performance of John F. Kerry before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the previous day.
Kerry's testimony had included sharp accusations of what he said were war crimes being committed on a daily basis by U.S. troops with full awareness of officers at all levels of command.
The extent of the Kennedy administration's advance knowledge or even participation in the November 1, 1963, coup in South Vietnam and assassination of president Ngo Dinh Diem∇ has been a hotly debated political and historical issue for many years. In this conversation, Presidnet Johnson offers his own interpretation of events to Senator Eugene McCarthy
In the days prior to this telephone call, McCarthy had been widely quoted in the press for his criticism of the recent resumption of bombing. In this call, Johnson tried to convince McCarthy to tone down his criticism and had offered a special briefing from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor, reason that, "I thought that if you had the information I had, that you might be assuaged somewhat, and relieved somewhat, and at least, maybe you could suggest a better alternative or something else."
President Johnson, like Kennedy before him, demonstrated impressive political savvy by including Eisenhower’s advice in determining policy. Johnson forged a strong bi-partisan relationship with his predecessor, appealing to Eisenhower both as a friend and a sage. Receptive to the Republican General’s counsel on foreign policy, Johnson often communicated with Eisenhower in person at the White House or over the telephone. While the two Presidents differed in war strategy, Johnson still sought Eisenhower’s opinions and benefited from the General’s reservoir of experience and wisdom. And with the Vietnam War becoming more and more difficult, Johnson could use all the good advice he could get.
In this recording, made on the evening of Monday, November 4, 1963, less than three weeks before he himself would eventually be assassinated, Kennedy reflected upon the tumultuous events that had transpired in Saigon over the previous weekend, the overthrow and murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem∇ and his brother Ngo Ding Nhu.
While Kennedy was recording, his young children, John John (aged 3) and Caroline (aged 6), joined their father for a few moments.
On January 2, 1963, South Vietnamese troops and their U.S. military advisers engaged Vietcong forces in what became known as the Battle of Ap Bac. Three U.S. soldiers died in the skirmish, which received extensive coverage in the American press. Several of those accounts were critical of the South Vietnamese performance, generating searching editorials on the status of the U.S. military advisory effort. Less than a week after the engagement in South Vietnam, President Kennedy invited legislative leaders to the White House to hear a briefing on the campaign from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara∇. During the course of his report, McNamara would propose that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Earle G. Wheeler tour South Vietnam to conduct a more intensive study of the war.
President Johnson and his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, discuss the problems in South Vietnam.
Just prior to 11 a.m., the President placed a call to his friend, mentor, and sometime antagonist, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. In this conversation, Johnson reveals his deeply conflicted thinking on Vietnam, a profound sense of anxiety absent from his public remarks on the subject. The exchange offers an intimate and revealing portrait of Johnson weighing perhaps the most difficult decision he ever had to make.
In this discussion with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara∇, President Johnson seemed to backtrack from both his public and private statements on Vietnam and to reconsider the wisdom of escalation. In the process, he displayed a level of assertiveness on an issue where heretofore he had deferred to his advisers or avoided discussing the broad outlines of policy. The major issue here was Johnson's criticism of the announced withdrawal of 1,000 troops from South Vietnam, a move that many commentators cite as evidence that President Kennedy would not have escalated the war in Southeast Asia.