Roger Hilsman Jr.
Hilsman during the early 1960s
|8th Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs|
May 9, 1963 –March 15, 1964
|President|| John F. Kennedy |
Lyndon B. Johnson
|Preceded by||W. Averell Harriman|
|Succeeded by||William Bundy|
|2nd Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research|
February 19, 1961 –April 25, 1963
|President||John F. Kennedy|
|Preceded by||Hugh S. Cumming Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Lowe Hughes|
|Born||November 23, 1919|
|Died||February 23, 2014 94) (aged|
Ithaca, New York
|Spouse(s)||Eleanor Hoyt Hilsman|
|Children||4, including Hoyt Hilsman|
|Residence|| Manhattan, New York |
|Education|| United States Military Academy |
|Profession||Soldier, statesman, scholar, author|
Roger Hilsman Jr. (November 23, 1919 – February 23, 2014) was an American soldier, government official, political scientist, and author. He served in Merrill's Marauders, and then with the Office of Strategic Services as a guerrilla leader, in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II. He later was an aide and adviser to President John F. Kennedy and, briefly, to President Lyndon B. Johnson, in the U.S. State Department while serving as Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research during 1961–63 and Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs during 1963–64. There Hilsman was a key and controversial figure in the development of U.S. policies in South Vietnam during the early stages of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.He left government in 1964 to teach at Columbia University, retiring in 1990. He was a Democratic Party nominee for election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972 but lost in the general election. He was the author of many books about American foreign policy and international relations.
Hilsman was born on November 23, 1919, in Waco, Texasthe son of Roger Hilsman, Sr., a career officer with the United States Army, and Emma Prendergast Hilsman. He lived in Waco only briefly, growing up on a series of military posts. He attended public schools for a while in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hilsman spent part of his childhood in the Philippines where his father was a company commander and later commandant of cadets at Ateneo de Manila, a Jesuit college. His father was a distant figure whom the young Hilsman endeavored to gain the approval of, such as by choosing a military career. Back in the United States, Hilsman attended Sacramento High School in Sacramento, California, where he was a leader in a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program and graduated in 1937.
After spending a year at Millard's Preparatory School in Washington, D.C.,and another traveling around Europe, including a visit to Nazi Germany, Hilsman attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1943 with a B.S. degree and as a second lieutenant. Meanwhile, with the outbreak of U.S. involvement in World War II, his father, a colonel, fought under General Douglas MacArthur during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Two weeks into the conflict, newspaper reports described Colonel Hilsman as still holding Davao on the island of Mindanao. Later reports reflected his retreat to Malaybalay after facing overwhelming Japanese forces, followed by another move onto the island of Negros after which he was captured by the Japanese once all the islands were surrendered during 1942.
After leaving West Point the younger Hilsman was immediately posted to the South-East Asian theatre of World War II and joined the Merrill's Marauders long-range penetration jungle warfare unit, fighting the Japanese during the Burma Campaign.There he found morale to be poor due to typhus outbreaks and unhappiness with the generals leading the unit. He participated in infantry operations during the battle for Myitkyina in May 1944 and suffered multiple stomach wounds from a Japanese machine gun while on a reconnaissance patrol.
After recovering in army field hospitals, Hilsman joined the Office of Strategic Services.By now a lieutenant, he at first served as a liaison officer to the British Army in Burma. He then volunteered to be put in command of a guerrilla warfare battalion, organized and supplied by OSS Detachment 101, of some three hundred local partisans, mercenaries, and irregulars of varying ethnicities, operating behind the lines of the Japanese in Burma. There he developed an interest in guerrilla tactics and found them personally preferable to being part of infantry assaults. By early 1945 Hilsman was considered, as Detachment 101 commander William R. Peers later stated, to be one of a number of the guerillas' "good ... junior officers, every one outstanding and experienced." Hilsman's group made hit-and-run attacks on Japanese forces and kept a Japanese regiment ten times its size occupied far from the front lines, all the while staging their own battle with ever-present leeches and other insects and various diseases. In one particular engagement in May 1945, Hilsman led mixed company of Kachins, Burmese, and Karens in staging successful raids in the area between Lawksawk and Taunggyi, culminating in a carefully orchestrated ambush that caused a hundred casualties among the Japanese at no cost to the guerillas. Hilsman wanted to deploy his unit further south into the Inle Lake area but was constrained by orders to help hold the road between Taunggyi and Kengtung.
Soon after the Japanese surrender in 1945, Hilsman was part of an OSS group that staged a parachute mission into Manchuria to liberate American prisoners held in a Japanese POW camp near Mukden.There he found his father, who became one of the first prisoners to be freed. His father asked as they hugged, "What took you so long?" At some point, Hilsman was promoted to captain. (Decades later, Hilsman related his wartime experiences in his 1990 memoir American Guerrilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines. )
Returning from the war, Hilsman served in the OSS as assistant chief of Far East intelligence operations during 1945–46, and then once the Central Intelligence Agency had been created, served in it in the role of special assistant to executive officer during 1946–47(he belonged to the Central Intelligence Group during the interim period between the two organizations).
Hilsman married the former Eleanor Willis Hoyt in 1946.They raised four children together. Sponsored by the Army, Hilsman attended Yale University, earning a master's degree in 1950 and a Ph.D. in 1951 in political science. For both degrees he specialized in international relations and he studied under noted professors Arnold Wolfers and William T. R. Fox.
By 1951 Hilsman had risen to the rank of major.He worked on planning for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe with the Joint American Military Advance Group in London during 1950–52 and as part of the International Policies Division of the United States European Command in Frankfurt, Germany during 1952–53. Waiting for the end of hostilities in the Korean War, he resigned from the United States Army in 1953 but kept reserve status.
Hilsman turned to academia, becoming a research associate and lecturer in international politics at the Center of International Studies at Princeton University from 1953–56 and a part-time lecturer and research associate at the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research, affiliated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, from 1957–61.In 1956 he published the book Strategic Intelligence and National Decisions. Based upon an expanded version of his dissertation, it subsequently became well thought of in government circles and entered the permanent White House collection. He was also a Rockefeller fellow and a lecturer on international relations at Columbia University during 1958.
He was the chief of the foreign affairs division of the Congressional Research Service within the Library of Congress during 1956–58 and then deputy director for research for them from 1958–61.There he met Senator John F. Kennedy and other members of Congress who were interested in foreign affairs.
During staffing of the incoming Kennedy administration, Under Secretary of State-nominee Chester Bowles aggressively sought people from the ranks of academia and the press who would be committed to the ideals of the New Frontier.As part of this, Hilsman was selected to be the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the U.S. Department of State, assuming the position in February 1961. There his duty was to analyze foreign events and trends as part of the department's long-range planning. Hilsman soon became a key planner within the administration's foreign policy circles. Like many of the "New Frontiersmen", he had fought with distinction as a junior officer in World War II, and Hilsman was particularly effective at talking to members of the U.S. Congress because that military background and war record appealed to hard-liners while his academic history and intellectual leanings appealed to those more of that bent.
Due to his background in guerrilla warfare, during 1961, Hilsman, together with Walt Rostow, pushed for the U.S. armed forces and the State Department to emphasize counterguerrilla training.Hilsman was involved for more than two months in the U.S. responses to Soviet actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, including developing informal communications with Soviet officials and the briefing of congressional leaders. He was also involved in the State Department's analysis of the Sino-Soviet split and the possible conditions for future warming in Sino-American relations.
Hilsman became one of the main architects of U.S. policy in Vietnam during the early 1960s and, in January 1962, he presented the plan "A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam".It stated that the war was primarily a political struggle, and proposed policies that emphasized that the Vietnamese in rural areas were the key to victory. It also recommended that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam start using guerrilla tactics. Out of the report came Kennedy's approval of U.S. participation in the Strategic Hamlet Program, the relocation of rural peasants into villages consolidated and reshaped to create a defensible, networked perimeter, with the goal of removing population from contact and influence with the Viet Cong. Implementation of the program by the South Vietnamese government became problematic, however, and Hilsman himself later stated that their execution of it constituted a "total misunderstanding of what the [Strategic Hamlet] program should try to do."
During 1962, reports from American journalists in South Vietnam about the progress of the conflict of the Viet Cong, and the characteristics of the South Vietnamese government under President Ngô Đình Diệm differed from the picture the U.S. military was portraying.President Kennedy became alarmed, and in December 1962, Hilsman, together with Michael Forrestal of the National Security Council staff, were sent by Kennedy on a fact-finding mission to South Vietnam. The resultant Hilsman–Forrestal Report was delivered to President Kennedy on January 25, 1963. It described weaknesses in the South Vietnamese government; the corruption of Diệm and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu and their cohorts; and the increasing isolation of, and lack of support for, the Diệm regime from the South Vietnamese people. Overall, however, the report came to some optimistic conclusions: "Our overall judgment, in sum, is that we are probably winning, but certainly more slowly than we had hoped. At the rate it is now going the war will last longer than we would like, cost more in terms of both lives and money than we anticipated ..." It thus contributed to the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and to growing doubts in U.S. government circles about the usefulness of the Diệm regime.
In March 1963, the White House announced that Hilsman would become Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, replacing Averell Harriman, who was promoted to an undersecretary position.Hilsman had risen quickly in the government bureaucracy, partly because Kennedy liked his willingness to challenge the military. A New York Times profile that year described Hilsman as "a restless, bouncy, aggressive but deeply reflective man". Hilsman assumed the new position in May 1963. That same month, the Buddhist crisis began in South Vietnam, which featured a series of repressive acts by the South Vietnamese government and a campaign of civil resistance led mainly by Buddhist monks. Doubts grew further about Diệm, and within the administration, Hilsman became the most outspoken proponent of a coup against that government.
On August 24, 1963, in the wake of raids against Buddhist pagodas across the country by Nhu's special forces, Hilsman, along with Forrestal and Harriman, drafted and sent Cable 243, an important message from the State Department to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. It declared that Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu remaining in a position of power and ordered Lodge to pressure Diệm to remove his brother, and that if Diệm refused, the Americans would explore the possibility for alternative leadership in South Vietnam. The cable had the overall effect of giving tacit U.S. approval for a coup against the Diệm regime.Hilsman was the point man for the cable – some contemporaries referred to it as the "Roger Hilsman cable" – as it was approved and sent while many higher-ranking officials were out of town, with each of those officials who were called to approve it doing so because he thought some other official had approved it. The events surrounding the sending of the cable led to Kennedy's becoming quite upset over the disorganization within his government. They have also long been critiqued as at best an example of a bizarrely poor decision-making process and at worst a case where a small group of secondary, anti-Diệm figures was able to circumvent normal procedures with a consequent harmful effect on the situation in Vietnam.
On November 1, the 1963 South Vietnamese coup came; although conducted by South Vietnamese generals, they had been encouraged by the U.S., which thus shared responsibility.U.S. decision-makers did not want the coup to involve assassination of the current leaders, but by the next day, the arrest and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm and his brother had taken place. The coup set off a period of political instability in South Vietnam that opened the door to a greater U.S. involvement.
Hilsman was one of the academics and intellectuals in the Kennedy administration whom author David Halberstam later grouped together in his book as The Best and the Brightest , for the erroneous foreign policy they crafted and the disastrous consequences of those policies in Vietnam. Hilsman's role has been variously interpreted. Mark Moyar's 2006 book Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 paints Hilsman as one of the key Americans who short-sightedly and arrogantly pushed out Diệm when, Moyar says, the struggle against the Communists was being won.Guenter Lewy portrays Hilsman as being "farsighted and correct" in his 1964-going-on perspective, while scholar Howard Jones views the coup against Diệm that Hilsman acted in favor of as "a tragically misguided move".
Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Hilsman stayed in his position under the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson. But Johnson sought a narrower range of opinion on foreign policy matters than Kennedy had and Hilsman, along with a number of other formerly influential State Department figures, was now not being listened to.Furthermore, by this time, in the words of Halberstam, "[Hilsman] had probably made more enemies than anyone else in the upper levels of government." Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff disliked Hilsman for his constant questioning of military estimates and forthrightness, Secretary of State Dean Rusk had been angered by Hilsman's tendency to go circumvent proper channels and by the friction Hilsman caused with the military, and as vice president, Johnson had not liked Hilsman's brashness or his policies. Kennedy as Hilsman's protector was gone, and Johnson determined that he wanted Hilsman out.
At the same time, Hilsman disagreed with Johnson's approach to the Vietnam War, viewing the new president as primarily seeking a military solution there rather than a political one.Not liking anyone to quit outright, the president offered the position of U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, but Hilsman declined. And while Hilsman would later say that he had initiated the resignation, Secretary of State Rusk later presented a different picture: "I fired him".
In any case, on February 25, 1964, the White House announced that Hilsman had resigned; the statement was front-page news in The New York Times with Hilsman claiming he had no policy quarrels with the current administration.As his tenure ended, Hilsman argued in favor of continued perseverance in the conflict using a pacification-based counter-insurgency strategy, but against increased military action against North Vietnam, saying that until the counter-insurgency efforts had demonstrated improvement in the South, action against the North would have no effect on the Communists. His stance lost out within the administration to those who advocated the virtues of air power. Hilsman's last day in office was March 15, 1964. He was replaced at the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs by William Bundy.
In his resignation letter, Hilsman had said that he considered university teaching his "basic profession".Hilsman became a professor at Columbia University in 1964, joining the Department of Public Law and Government within its School of International Affairs. The course he gave on foreign policy decision-making became known for the anecdotes he told about the famous figures in the Kennedy administration and for the political theory he introduced in explanation. Indeed, Hilsman became known as one of the expansive "Kennedy network", and his office at Columbia was adorned with Kennedy-era momentos.
He also became part of the university's Institute of War and Peace Studies,where his former professor William T. R. Fox was director. Hilsman became one of the longest-serving professors in the institute. He also regularly lectured at the various U.S. war colleges. Hilsman lived in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, but he and his family also became longtime residents of the Hamburg Cove area of Lyme, Connecticut, for weekends and summers. He and his wife later became full-time residents there.
Hilsman was one of the institute's most prolific book authors.Of particular note was his 1967 work To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy, which combined a theoretical political science approach with a personal memoir. It was the first book by a U.S. maker of policy to dissent on the course of the Vietnam War. The New York Times Book Review called it a "highly informative study of the internal and external forces that shaped much of American foreign policy" and said that "Hilsman makes many wise and perceptive comments on the politics of policy-making." To Move a Nation became a National Book Award finalist and has been viewed as influential. His 1971 volume, Politics of Policy Making in Defense and Foreign Affairs: Conceptual Models and Bureaucratic Politics, was used as the textbook for his class and went through three editions.
Hilsman continued to speak publicly, in print and on television, regarding what he thought should be done in Vietnam, such as in August 1964, when he warned against over-militarizing the conflict,and in mid-1967, when he said the war was not politically "winnable" and that the U.S. should scale down its military involvement and stop the ongoing bombing campaign against the North. He consistently maintained that had Kennedy lived, he would not have escalated the war the way Johnson did. Hilsman was an ardent supporter of Robert F. Kennedy and his 1968 presidential campaign, serving as one of the experts advising the younger brother. He was part of a large "brain trust" of advisers to Kennedy during the crucial Democratic California primary in June 1968; that eventual campaign victory ended with another assassination.
Hilsman then tried his own hand at electoral politics: In the 1972 Congressional elections, he ran for election to the United States House of Representatives as the Democratic Party nominee for Connecticut's 2nd congressional district.He secured the Democratic nomination in a race where few Democrats wanted to run or thought the party had much of a chance of winning. He campaigned on domestic issues as well as those of foreign policy, presenting a five-point plan for increasing employment in eastern Connecticut. He predicted his chances of winning were directly linked to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern's performance in the state against Richard Nixon, the incumbent whom Hilsman termed a threat to civil liberties. McGovern lost in a landslide, and Hilsman lost the congressional general election to the Republican Party incumbent, Robert H. Steele, by a wide margin (66 to 34 percent).
Hilsman retired from Columbia in 1990 upon reaching the then-mandatory retirement age of 70.Reflecting upon his life, he said, "I've been doing the same thing in the military, on Capital Hill, and at Columbia. The content is the same. ... Of all my careers, I think university teaching is the most satisfying." He and his course, "The Politics of Policy Making", were not directly replaced. The variety of careers Hilsman had once led U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell to compare him to Lawrence of Arabia.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton named Hilsman to the National Security Education Board,where he served until his term expired in 1999.
Hilsman remained active in local politics, where he was a member of the Democratic Town Committee in Lyme for over two decades.During the 1990s he led a letter-writing campaign to the Connecticut State Police on behalf of safer street speeds in Lyme. He continued to publish books on a variety of subjects into his eighties. He and his wife later lived in Chester, Connecticut, and Ithaca, New York. Through 2014, Hilsman was still listed as a professor emeritus at Columbia.
Hilsman died at the age of 94 on February 23, 2014,at his home in Ithaca due to complications from several strokes. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on August 28, 2014, with full honors.
Hilsman wrote a number books about 20th century American foreign policy as well as a few on other topics. His works include:
Ngô Đình Diệm was a Vietnamese politician. He was the final prime minister of the State of Vietnam (1954–55), and then served as President of South Vietnam from 1955 until he was deposed and assassinated during the 1963 military coup.
Maxwell Davenport Taylor was a senior United States Army officer and diplomat of the mid-20th century. He served with distinction in World War II, most notably as commander of the 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed "The Screaming Eagles."
William Averell Harriman, better known as Averell Harriman, was an American Democratic politician, businessman, and diplomat. The son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman, he served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman, and later as the 48th Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, as well as a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men".
The Strategic Hamlet Program was a plan by the governments of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War to combat the communist insurgency by pacifying the countryside and reducing the influence of the communists among the rural population.
Hearts and Minds (Vietnam) or winning hearts and minds refers to the strategy and programs used by the governments of Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War to win the popular support of the Vietnamese people and to help defeat the Viet Cong insurgency. Pacification is the more formal term for winning hearts and minds. In this case, however, it was also defined as the process of countering the insurgency. Military, political, economic, and social means were used to attempt to establish or reestablish South Vietnamese government control over rural areas and people under the influence of the Viet Cong. Some progress was made in the 1967–1971 period by the joint military-civilian organization called CORDS, but the character of the war changed from an insurgency to a conventional war between the armies of South and North Vietnam. North Vietnam won in 1975.
The role of the United States in the Vietnam War began after World War II and escalated into full commitment during the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1973. The U.S. involvement in South Vietnam stemmed from a combination of factors: France's long colonial history in French Indochina, the US War with Japan in the Pacific, and both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong's pledge in 1950 to support Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh's guerrilla forces. Related to this, the U.S. was adamantly against providing any aid to France that would in any way prop up France's struggle to maintain its pre WWII colonial empire. However, Stalin and Mao's offering their support to the Viet Minh in 1950, changed the battlefield dynamic and geopolitical character of the struggle to one of a global conflict against Maoist and Stalinist expansionism. It was at the time, in September 1950, that French forces began to be moderately backed by America. Beginning with $10M USD worth of military supplies, President Harry S. Truman from that initial support provided progressively increasing amounts of financial and military assistance to French forces fighting in what was still in the minds of the Western powers French Indochina. Beginning in 1950, US involvement increased from just assisting French collision forces to providing direct military assistance to the associated states. Eventually, U.S. missions were carried out at a more consistent rate by sending out increasing amounts of military assistance from the United States. Their main intent was to restrict Communist expansion in Indochina as they thought it would soon lead to Communist takeovers in Thailand, Laos, Malaya, and all of what later became Vietnam. This would have resulted in a change in balance of power throughout Asia. The U.S. foreign policy establishment saw national security US and Western Europe's interests being marginalized due to the rise of this Communist expansion, and thus it strived to take measures to restrict it. Under Truman the support went from $10M in September 1950 to $150M by the end of 1951. The struggle passed from Truman to Eisenhower who saw the fall of French Indochina, and in 1961 the Eisenhower administration passed the conflict to Kennedy. In May 1961 Kennedy sent 500 more military advisers, bringing American forces there to 1,400. With the budget increased and with American boot on the ground in Vietnam by at least 1961, these actions came to be questioned by other segments of the US government and among the people of the United States.
The Buddhist crisis was a period of political and religious tension in South Vietnam between May and November 1963, characterized by a series of repressive acts by the South Vietnamese government and a campaign of civil resistance, led mainly by Buddhist monks.
DEPTEL 243, also known as Telegram 243, the August 24 cable or most commonly Cable 243, was a high-profile message sent on August 24, 1963, by the United States Department of State to Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the US ambassador to South Vietnam. The cable came in the wake of the midnight raids on August 21 by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem against Buddhist pagodas across the country, in which hundreds were believed to have been killed. The raids were orchestrated by Diem's brother Ngô Đình Nhu and precipitated a change in US policy. The cable declared that Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu remaining in a position of power and ordered Lodge to pressure Diem to remove his brother. It said that if Diem refused, the Americans would explore the possibility for alternative leadership in South Vietnam. In effect, the cable authorized Lodge to give the green light to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) officers to launch a coup against Diem if he did not willingly remove Nhu from power. The cable marked a turning point in US-Diem relations and was described in the Pentagon Papers as "controversial." The historian John M. Newman described it as "the single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War."
Michael Vincent Forrestal was one of the leading aides to McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Advisor of President John F. Kennedy. He was seen as a pivotal figure in the changing of U.S. foreign policy, including recommending support for the coup d'état that deposed the first president of South Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm.
The Krulak–Mendenhall mission was a fact-finding expedition dispatched by the Kennedy administration to South Vietnam in early September 1963. The stated purpose of the expedition was to investigate the progress of the war by the South Vietnamese regime and its US military advisers against the Viet Cong insurgency. The mission was led by Victor Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall. Krulak was a major general in the United States Marine Corps, while Mendenhall was a senior Foreign Service Officer experienced in dealing with Vietnamese affairs.
The McNamara–Taylor mission was a 10-day fact-finding expedition to South Vietnam in September 1963 by the Kennedy administration to review progress in the battle by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and its American advisers against the communist insurgency of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. The mission was led by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The reaction to the 1963 South Vietnamese coup that saw the arrest and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm was mixed.
Ngô Đình Diệm, the President of South Vietnam, made a state visit to the United States, the main ally of his government, in 1957. Diệm received a glowing welcome and was heaped with praise as a leader of a "free country" in the midst of the Cold War. The receptions during the visit were in large part organized by the American Friends of Vietnam (AFV), a lobby group dedicated to resolute US support of South Vietnam and which included many politicians from both major parties. The visit was mainly celebratory and ceremonial, rather than being a policy or planning mission. It was part of a year of travelling for Diệm, as he made a visit to Australia in September, as well as to fellow anti-communist countries South Korea and Thailand.
The year 1961 saw a new American president, John F. Kennedy, attempt to cope with a deteriorating military and political situation in South Vietnam. The Viet Cong (VC) with assistance from North Vietnam made substantial gains in controlling much of the rural population of South Vietnam. Kennedy expanded military aid to the government of President Ngô Đình Diệm, increased the number of U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam, and reduced the pressure that had been exerted on Diệm during the Eisenhower Administration to reform his government and broaden his political base.
The defeat of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in a battle in January set off a furious debate in the United States on the progress being made in the war against the Viet Cong (VC) in South Vietnam. Assessments of the war flowing into the higher levels of the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. were wildly inconsistent, some citing an early victory over the VC, others a rapidly deteriorating military situation. Some senior U.S. military officers and White House officials were optimistic; civilians of the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), junior military officers, and the media were decidedly less so. Near the end of the year, U.S. leaders became more pessimistic about progress in the war.
The Viet Cong (VC) insurgency expanded in South Vietnam in 1962. U.S. military personnel flew combat missions and accompanied South Vietnamese soldiers in ground operations to find and defeat the insurgents. Secrecy was the official U.S. policy concerning the extent of U.S. military involvement in South Vietnam. The commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), General Paul D. Harkins, projected optimism that progress was being made in the war, but that optimism was refuted by the concerns expressed by a large number of more junior officers and civilians. Several prominent magazines, newspapers and politicians in the U.S. questioned the military strategy the U.S. was pursuing in support of the South Vietnamese government of President Ngô Đình Diệm. Diệm created the Strategic Hamlet Program as his top priority to defeat the VC. The program intended to cluster South Vietnam's rural dwellers into defended villages where they would be provided with government social services.
In 1960, the oft-expressed optimism of the United States and the Government of South Vietnam that the Viet Cong (VC) were nearly defeated proved mistaken. Instead the VC became a growing threat and security forces attempted to cope with VC attacks, assassinations of local officials, and efforts to control villages and rural areas. Throughout the year, the U.S. struggled with the reality that much of the training it had provided to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during the previous five years had not been relevant to combating an insurgency. The U.S. changed its policy to allow the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to begin providing anti-guerrilla training to ARVN and the paramilitary Civil Guard.
The foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration was the foreign policy of the United States from 1961 to 1963 while John F. Kennedy was president. Interactions with foreign nations during this period included diplomatic and military initiatives in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, all conducted amid considerable Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Kennedy deployed a new generation of foreign policy experts, dubbed "the best and the brightest". In his inaugural address Kennedy encapsulated his Cold War stance: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate".
National Security Action Memorandum Number 263 (NSAM-263) was a national security directive approved on 11 October 1963 by United States President John F. Kennedy. The NSAM approved recommendations by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor. McNamara and Taylor's recommendations included an appraisal that "great progress" was being made in the Vietnam War against Viet Cong insurgents, that 1,000 military personnel could be withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of 1963, and that a "major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965." The U.S. at this time had more than 16,000 military personnel in South Vietnam.
National Security Action Memorandum 273 (NSAM-273) was approved by new United States President Lyndon Johnson on November 26, 1963, one day after former President John F. Kennedy's funeral. NSAM-273 resulted from the need to reassess U.S. policy toward the Vietnam War following the overthrow and assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem. The first draft of NSAM-273, completed before Kennedy's death, was approved with minor changes by President Johnson.
Hugh S. Cumming Jr.
| Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research |
February 19, 1961 – April 25, 1963
Thomas L. Hughes
W. Averell Harriman
| Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs |
May 9, 1963 – March 15, 1964