50. Interview With the President1

[Here follows discussion of unrelated subjects.]

Mr. Cronkite: Mr. President, the only hot war we’ve got running at the moment is of course the one in Viet-Nam, and we have our difficulties there, quite obviously.

The President. I don’t think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Viet-Nam, against the Communists.

We are prepared to continue to assist them, but I don’t think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort and, in my opinion, in the last 2 months, the government has gotten out of touch with the people.

The repressions against the Buddhists, we felt, were very unwise. Now all we can do is to make it very clear that we don’t think this is the way to win. It is my hope that this will become increasingly obvious to the government, that they will take steps to try to bring back popular support for this very essential struggle.

Mr. Cronkite. Do you think this government still has time to regain the support of the people?

The President. I do. With changes in policy and perhaps with personnel I think it can. If it doesn’t make those changes, I would think that the chances of winning it would not be very good.

Mr. Cronkite. Hasn’t every indication from Saigon been that President Diem has no intention of changing his pattern?

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The President. If he does not change it, of course, that is his decision. He has been there 10 years and, as I say, he has carried this burden when he has been counted out on a number of occasions.

Our best judgment is that he can’t be successful on this basis. We hope that he comes to see that, but in the final analysis it is the people and the government itself who have to win or lose this struggle. All we can do is help, and we are making it very clear, but I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.

We took all this—made this effort to defend Europe. Now Europe is quite secure. We also have to participate—we may not like it—in the defense of Asia.

Mr. Cronkite. Mr. President, have you made an assessment as to what President De Gaulle was up to in his statement on Viet-Nam last week?2

The President. No. I guess it was an expression of his general view, but he doesn’t have any forces there or any program of economic assistance, so that while these expressions are welcome, the burden is carried, as it usually is, by the United States and the people there. But I think anything General de Gaulle says should be listened to, and we listened.

What, of course, makes Americans somewhat impatient is that after carrying this load for 18 years, we are glad to get counsel, but we would like a little more assistance, real assistance. But we are going to meet our responsibility anyway.

It doesn’t do us any good to say, “Well, why don’t we all just go home and leave the world to those who are our enemies.”

General De Gaulle is not our enemy. He is our friend and candid friend—and, there, sometimes difficulty—but he is not the object of our hostility.

Mr. Cronkite. Mr. President, the sending of Henry Cabot Lodge, who after all has been a political enemy of yours over the years at one point or another in your career, and his—sending him out to Saigon might raise some speculation that perhaps you are trying to keep this from being a political issue in 1964.

The President. No. Ambassador Lodge wanted to go out to Saigon. If he were as careful as some politicians are, of course, he would not have wanted to go there. He would have maybe liked to have some safe job. But he is energetic and he has strong feelings about the United States and, surprisingly as it seems, he put this ahead of his political career. Sometimes politicians do those things, Walter.

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Mr. Cronkite. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. And we are fortunate to have him.

Mr. Cronkite. Thank you, sir.

  1. Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John E Kennedy, 1963, pp. 650-653. This interview was videotaped at Hyannis Port on the morning of September 2 and broadcast that evening on the CBS television network.
  2. See footnote 7, Document 26.