Ten years after my articles on JFK's October 1963 decision to withdraw US forces from Vietnam, Rick Perlstein attempts a rebuttal. His technique is to concede the point, but then to misstate the context, deny the importance and spatter the mess with scornful phrases.
My essays in Boston Review and Salon established that the plan to withdraw US forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965 existed. And that President Kennedy had decided to implement that plan. In 2003, this was controversial. Many historians had denied it. Peter Dale Scott, John Newman, and Arthur Schlesinger were exceptions. They were right, and documents and tapes released under the JFK Records Act proved them right. The issue was resolved by early 2008 when Francis Bator, who had been President Johnson's Deputy National Security Adviser, opened his reply to my letter in the New York Review of Books with these words:
Professor Galbraith is correct [Letters, NYR, December 6, 2007] that “there was a plan to withdraw US forces from Vietnam, beginning with the first thousand by December 1963, and almost all of the rest by the end of 1965…. President Kennedy had approved that plan. It was the actual policy of the United States on the day Kennedy died.
Bator followed with a qualification, which Perlstein repeats:
But… that plan was explicitly conditioned on Secretary McNamara’s and General Taylor’s 'judgment that the major part of the US military task can be completed by the end of 1965…,' that 'the long term program to replace US personnel with trained Vietnamese [could go forward]without impairment of the war effort [emphasis added].
We disagree on this point, specifically on what the phrase “the major part of the US military task” meant. On the White House tapes of October 2, Robert McNamara differs with General Taylor on whether the war can be won by 1965. Instead he says: “ But I am sure that if we don’t meet those dates in the sense of ending the major military campaigns, we nonetheless can withdraw the bulk of our US forces according to the schedule we’ve laid out, worked out, because we can train the Vietnamese to do the job.” [emphasis added]. Taylor's memorandum to the Joint Chiefs on October 4, 1963, which conveys the decision, contains no contingency. The troops were to be withdrawn. “All planning” would be based on that decision.