6. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Viet-Nam


  • White House
    • The President
    • McGeorge Bundy
    • Mr. Forrestal
  • State Department
    • Secretary of State
    • Governor Harriman
    • Assistant Secretary Hilsman
    • Ambassador Nolting
  • Defense Department
    • Secretary of Defense McNamara
    • Deputy Secretary Gilpatric
    • Gen. Maxwell Taylor
    • Major Gen. Victor Krulak
  • CIA
    • General Carter, Deputy Director
    • Richard Helms, Deputy Director for Plans
  • Justice
    • Attorney General Kennedy
  • Treasury
    • Secretary Dillon
  • USIA
    • Mr. Edward Murrow
  • The Vice President

The meeting was delayed because of the preceding civil rights meeting. The President asked the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, Mac Bundy and General Taylor to meet with him privately in another room.

Upon their return the President announced that three messages would be sent to Saigon—one from General Taylor to General Harkins asking him for his personal assessment of the situation and the plans of the generals.2 The second is a personal message from the President to Lodge 3 saying that the President wanted to be assured that there was full coordination between Saigon and Washington; that he wanted Ambassador Lodge’s personal and frank assessment; that he wanted to avoid any situation in which the field was going ahead on a plan that was against their better judgment because they thought it was orders from Washington and that Washington was issuing instructions on the false assumption that the field agreed; the third cable4 is the general cable drafted by McNamara, Harriman, Bundy, Forrestal and Hilsman following this morning’s meeting.5

Smith’s memorandum continued:

“The President concluded the meeting by saying we wanted to get (General Harkins’ views as to what we should do, not his reaction to what he thought was the decision here. The President repeated that General Harkins’ message was not clear on this point.”

The meeting broke up with Mr. Harriman’s saying “Mr. President, I was very puzzled by the cable from General Harkins until I read the outgoing from General Taylor.”6 (The President had some difficulty containing himself until everyone had left the room, whereupon he [Page 14] burst into laughter and said, “Averell Harriman is one sharp cookie.”)7

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State memcons. Top Secret; Eyes Only; No Distribution. Drafted by Hilsman. The meeting was held at the White House. There are two other records of this meeting: a memorandum of conference by Bromley Smith, August 28 (ibid., National Security File, Meetings and Memoranda, Meetings on Vietnam) and a memorandum for the record by Krulak, August 28 (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Vietnam, chap. XXIII).
  2. Infra . According to Smith’s memorandum of this meeting, the President made the following remarks about the message to Harkins: “We were in doubt about General Harkins’ views. We thought he was for the coup plan, but General Harkins apparently thought that a decision had been made in Washington to back a coup and that his task was to carry out a decision communicated to him.”
  3. Document 9.
  4. Document 8.
  5. Bromley Smith’s memorandum included the following account of revisions of telegram 268: “The group went over the draft message to Ambassador Lodge sentence by sentence. Mr. Bundy suggested that the second paragraph be revised so that Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins would not feel that they had to go ahead with the plan to support a coup. Mr. Bundy also suggested revising paragraph 4 to show that removing the Nhus is the most important objective.”
  6. General Harkins’ cable is Document 4. General Taylor’s cable is JCS 3368-63, vol. III, p. 675.
  7. According to Krulak’s account of this meeting, Harriman and the President had the following exchange near the end of the meeting: “Governor Harriman stated that he hoped we are not giving any idea of wobbling on our course. The President stated that the important thing is that we have to make sense; we must not let the field feel that we are in any way heavy-handed, or obliging them to take actions which are not, in their good judgement, sound.”