Published on National Security Archive NSA, December 11, 2009.
Newly Declassified Audio Tapes Reveal JFK Saw Only Negative Choices, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 302, For more information contact John Prados – 202/994-7000.
Washington, D.C., December 11, 2009 – At a critical moment in August 1963, President John F. Kennedy saw only negative choices on Vietnam, according to new audio recordings and documentation posted today by the National Security Archive. Recently declassified tapes of secret White House meetings on the possibility of U.S. support for a military coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem show that Kennedy believed that if Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu remained a major influence, the war might not succeed.
Recognizing that Congress might get “mad” at him for supporting coup-minded Vietnamese generals, Kennedy said that it will “be madder if Vietnam goes down the drain.” Thus, Kennedy did not disagree when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said that the U.S. needed to “plan how we make this thing work.” The tapes also show that McNamara, long held to have opposed the Diem coup, failed to express such a strong view at the moment of this decision.
The newly declassified tapes are authoritative evidence on U.S. policy toward the Vietnamese coup, and they shed fresh light on one of the most controversial episodes of the American war in Vietnam. In continuation of our previous coverage of this aspect of U.S. policy during the Vietnam war, the National Security Archive is posting the Kennedy tapes and memoranda containing the written accounts of the same National Security Council (NSC) meetings, together with related documents concerning this affair. The episode is covered in considerable detail in William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster, by National Security Archive fellow John Prados.