274. Editorial Note

On November 2, 1963, the President held an off-the-record meeting at the White House with his principal advisers on Vietnam from 9:35 to 10:05 a.m. The participants at the conference with the President were Rusk, McNamara, McCone, Robert Kennedy, Taylor, Harriman, Hilsman, Henry L. T. Koren, Donald Wilson, and John S. Gleason. (Kennedy Library, President’s Log Book) Taylor recounts that the meeting began with the fate of Diem and Nhu still unknown, but Michael Forrestal brought in a copy of a telegram stating that Diem and Nhu were dead and supposedly had committed suicide. Taylor was apparently referring to a White House copy of CAS Saigon Critic telegram 22, November 2, or telegram 888, Document 273. Regarding Critic 22, see footnote 2, Document 271.

Taylor described the President’s reaction as follows:

Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before. He had always insisted that Diem must never suffer more than exile and had been led to believe or had persuaded himself that a change in government could be carried out without bloodshed.” (Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, page 301)

Arthur Schlesinger related that he saw the President “soon after he heard that Diem and Nhu were dead.” Schlesinger confirmed Taylor’s impression that the President was “somber and shaken” and looking more depressed than he had been since the Bay of Pigs invasion. According to Schlesinger, Kennedy doubted that the Ngo brothers, as practicing Catholics, would have committed suicide and he felt that, after 20 years of service to South Vietnam, Diem’s life should not have ended as it did. (Schlesinger, Thousand Days, pages 997-998)

Later in the day, the President held another off-the-record meeting on Vietnam with most of the same people. The meeting lasted from 4:30 to 5:35 p.m. and no record has been found of the discussion. (Kennedy Library, President’s Log Book)