Friday, July 10, 2009

JFK and Vietnam: what I didn't know

I found this letter to the Times (of London) fascinating, so I'm reprinting it in its entirety. It taught me something very important about JFK (and possibly why he was assassinated). It also raises interesting comparisons between Robert McNamara (who recently died) and Vietnm and Colin Powell and Iraq (although it does not mention Powell). And the seduction of being near power (you know: Working from the inside to bring about change v. working on the outside). But most of all it may revise my estimate of JFK. Anyway here it is:
From The Times
July 10, 2009

McNamara and the fog of war
Why Vietnam was President Lyndon Johnson's war

Sir, It would be more accurate to describe the Vietnam War as President Lyndon Johnson’s War (“From the fog of war came three hard truths”, Opinion, July 8).

I suspect that LBJ was responsible for pinning the “McNamara’s War” label on to Robert McNamara (obituary, July 7). He tried a similar thing with Senator William Fulbright, as evidenced by the acrimonious exchange in 1970 between former President Johnson and Fulbright. Johnson believed that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, proposed by LBJ, and guided to passage by Senator Fulbright, in August 1964, and which committed US Armed Forces to military action against North Vietnam, was “misnamed” and should have been called the “Fulbright Resolution” because Fulbright, acccording to Johnson, “introduced it with his knowledge, with his approval, his consent”.

LBJ asked Congress for a resolution of intent based on false reports of “renewed hostile actions against US ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin” as a pretext for stepping up the war in Vietnam. Fulbright said in 1970 that he supported the resolution only because he believed the lies he had been told about the so-called attacks on US ships in Auguust 1964, which he descibed as “a phoney and a false”. LBJ sold the idea to Fulbright and others that if the resolution was passed quickly and unanimously it would be a warning to the North Vietnamese and that they would cease to infilitrate South Vietnam. Events proved otherwise.

President Kennedy, fully supported by Robert McNamara, intended to withdraw all US involvement from South Vietnam as indicated in the National Security Action Memorandum No 263 dated October 11, 1963. Kennedy’s intervention in this level of military jurisdiction would hardly have endeared him to those factions who wanted the war in Vietnam to continue and increase. President Kennedy was assassinated only weeks later.

President Johnson almost immediately reversed Kennedy’s plan to withdraw from Vietnam in National Security Action Memorandum No 273 dated November 26, 1963. It is inconceivable that Secretary of Defence McNamara had changed his mind about US policy in Vietnam by then. I do not think he ever did, but allowed President Johnson to prevail upon him, against his better judgment, to prosecute a war that was immoral and unwinnable. As McNamara confessed: “We were wrong, terribly wrong.” I believe that McNamara was of this opinion in 1963, and it is to his eternal shame that he did not resign his postion in the Johnson Administration on this issue.

Peter Henrick
Northfield, Birmingham

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