12. Memorandum of Conference With President Kennedy 0


  • General Lemnitzer
  • General Decker
  • Admiral Burke
  • General White
  • General Shoup
  • General Clifton
  • General Goodpaster

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

The President next read to the Chiefs a cable from Ambassador Thompson in Moscow pertaining to the Laos situation,1 and questioning the apparent thinking of the U.S. government involving considerable reliance on a military solution in the area. He said he hoped to have Thompson back here shortly for consultations. General Lemnitzer said he did not see how Thompson had reached the view that we regard a military solution as the primary element in handling the Laotian situation. The Joint Chiefs have certainly not advanced the idea of a military [Page 43] solution alone. The fact is, however, that if we do not assist a legitimate government of Laos when the Pathet Lao are pushing in, we will have a very great problem. What concerns him most is that somehow we are not able to win public opinion to our side in these matters. We have meticulously honored the Geneva accords, for example. Admiral Burke added that we, who are not a signatory to the Geneva accords, have honored them, while the Soviets, who are a signatory to the Geneva accords,2 have been violating them with impunity and with no worldwide protest. The President said he is all for doing what we can in Laos. He does not want to start any form of action where the other side can easily top us in anything we do, however.

Admiral Burke went on to say that the Communists are always trying to give our Ambassadors the impression that they will go all the way if we resist them in any degree. If we once start accepting this point of view, they will have disarmed us. The President said he thought the important thing is to try to get the British and French to go along with us. General Lemnitzer suggested that this be done in SEATO. The other countries are very much in accord with us—particularly the Asian members—and are deeply concerned over their own safety. The President said he regarded the step of committing American troops as the last step to be employed. However, he is determined to try by all means to sustain the government. He said he is not too optimistic in this regard. Admiral Burke said that he thinks we can save the government through a combination of military and political action. He said that other governments in the area know that their own safety is involved and will support us if we show that the U.S. supports freedom. The situation is not lost by any means.

General Lemnitzer commented that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have not been advocating the establishment of major U.S. forces in Laos, but rather the support of indigenous forces. He said that wherever the U.S. takes action to oppose Communist aggression, charges that the U.S. is “trigger happy” seem to dominate the press of the world, including the press or our allies, such as the British. General White advanced for consideration the possibility of making more use of Australia in this situation. General Lemnitzer said the Australians have been quite luke-warm, but are getting much more concerned. The President asked as to the possibility of using the Pakistanis, and inquired further whether we would have to move them. General Lemnitzer said the Pakistanis are willing to come in, and added that we would have to move them. We have the capacity, although it would take some time to assemble it. The President asked how many jet troop transports we now [Page 44] have, and General White said that we have none. In response to a question by the President, he said it is just a matter of program decisions not having included this aircraft. General Lemnitzer said that we have great capacity in C–124s, C–130s and DC–6s. He recalled that we had moved 18,000 troops and 20,000 tons of equipment to Puerto Rico and back in a space of two weeks recently. The President commented that the Secretary of Defense is considering the acquisition of some jet transports, and General White confirmed this.

General Lemnitzer then said that we have some Marine forces in the Far East entirely ready to go on a moment’s notice. Admiral Burke said that if the President thinks the situation is tightening, there would be reason to move some ships forward to the Western Pacific.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

The President said he would like to have a memorandum bringing out what, if we were to decide to commit American troops in Laos, we could do in the way of a buildup in 30 days. He asked that it cover how fast the Viet Minh could come into the situation. General Lemnitzer said they could come in fast, but we could cut their supply lines and limit what they could do.

General Lemnitzer said that if we took units out of our ready forces, we would want to replace them quickly with units from the reserves. General Decker said there are three divisions ready to go in STRAC. Also, the 25th Division, less one RCT, is in Hawaii, with the RCT in Okinawa. There are seven national guard divisions that have been designated to be called in to replace any units committed.

The President asked what efforts have been made to prevent the experience we had with our prisoners of war in Korea. General Decker reported that a code of conduct has been prepared and that there are programs of indoctrination. It is recognized that there would be brainwashing, but the men know much better what to do. General Lemnitzer confirmed that training has been intensive—on occasion involving the acting out of what can be done to maintain order and morale in a prison camp. Admiral Burke observed that those who believe in something can and will stand up in such a situation. General Lemnitzer said he thought the situation was infinitely better than in 1950, when the armed forces were at a very low ebb. The units committed in Korea from Japan were at a low state of training and readiness.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]


Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Chester V. Clifton Series, JCS Conferences with the President, Vol. I. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on January 27.
  2. Telegram 1721 from Moscow, January 23. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–2361)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 9.