Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Evidence of JFK's Vietnam Withdrawal Plans

Due to an appeal by researcher Michael Ravnitzky, the National Security Agency (in cooperation with other agencies) has declassified some previously redacted passages from a document originally released in December 2007. That document was called "Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War 1945-1975" and covered the results of signal intelligence gathered in Vietnam during the time period specified. "Sigint" is of course an abbreviation or acronym if you prefer for signal intelligence, which simply means intelligence gathered by intercepting radio transmissions between people or between machines. While much of the material released today seems of little importance one particular passage will catch the interest of those who study John F. Kennedy's Vietnam policy. The release of previous documents have outlined Kennedy's withdrawal plans, leaving little doubt he was seeking a way out. Today's release spells out in unmistakable terms that this was indeed the case and that his assassination effectively terminated those plans. The passage :
With the deaths of Kennedy and Diem, the struggle in the South entered a period of enormous flux and instability. A plan developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under guidance from the Kennedy administration, to reduce American forces in Vietnam by the end of 1965 to one-quarter the 1963 level (25,000), was quietly scrapped.” (p. 171).
On November 24, 1963 new president Lyndon Johnson stated his intention to "win the war" in a meeting with his advisors. Johnson stated: " the battle against communism… must be joined… with strength and determination. We should stop playing cops and robbers [a reference to Diem's failed leadership] and get back to... winning the war... tell the generals in Saigon that Lyndon Johnson intends to stand by our word...[to] win the contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy." (p.339 Stanley Karnow's "Vietnam") Almost immediately upon assuming the presidency Johnson commits the USA to war in Vietnam.
As McGeorge Bundy would comment later in life "Johnson held stronger views on the war than Kennedy did". The figure of 25,000 is a little curious as in fact the USA had about 16,000 troops acting as military advisers in Vietnam in 1963 at Kennedy's death. I think it must include other Americans as well, such as CIA personnel and others, so that it was Kennedy's intention that there be no more than approximately 6000 Americans in Vietnam by the end of 1965.
One has to wonder just why this passage was redacted in the first place. What this means is that as recently as December 2007 the release of such a passage was considered a threat to the national security of the United States! Those of us who are reading it now have to be more than skeptical of such a claim. Congratulations are due to Mr. Ravnitzky in pursuing his appeal. Mr. Ravnitzky is one of the most indefatigible researchers in filing FOIA requests and has succeeded now in over 2000 of them. He has compiled an index of FBI documents which is unique. It gathers together thousands of FBI documents and provides researchers with a powerful tool to read and obtain significant documents. It is not a comprehensive index of FBI documents but rather collects ones that Mr. Ravnitzky considers the most significant. He also provides practical advice for any researcher pursuing FOIA requests. Interested readers will find more information here: http://www.newstrench.com/01secret/01secret.htm#mikerav
While "Spartans in Darkness" provides a useful historical perspective, it seems in error on some points. For example it describes Kennedy's withdrawal plan as an attempt to pressure President Diem into making reforms. In fact, JFK himself made it quite clear that his withdrawal plan was just that, a withdrawal plan. General Maxwell Taylor suggested using the threat of withdrawal as a device to pressure Diem, but it was made to clear to Taylor and all concerned that the president's intention to withdraw was serious. See "JFK and Vietnam" by John M. Newman, pp. 400-417.

T.

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