September 10

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Sep 10, 1963:

President Kennedy gets mixed signals

Maj. Gen. Victor Krulak, USMC, Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Joseph Mendenhall of the State Department report to President John F. Kennedy on their fact-finding mission to Vietnam.

The president had sent them to make a firsthand assessment of the situation in Vietnam with regard to the viability of the government there and the progress of the war. Having just returned from a whirlwind four-day visit, their perceptions differed greatly. Krulak concluded that progress was being made in the war against the Viet Cong, but Mendenhall perceived from talks with bureaucrats and politicians that the Diem regime in Saigon was near collapse and lacking popular support among the South Vietnamese people. A frustrated Kennedy responded, "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?" This was emblematic of the problem that faced the American president as he tried to determine what to do about the situation in Vietnam. Two months later, the Kennedy administration decided that the Diem government was too far gone to save and told opposition South Vietnamese generals that they would not oppose a coup. The coup began on November 1, 1963, and Diem and his brother were murdered in the early morning hours of the following day.

President Kennedy was assassinated shortly thereafter on November 22. His successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, oversaw a steady escalation of the war that ultimately involved the commitment of more than half a million U.S. troops.

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