JFK's October 1963 order to
withdraw from Viet Nam

related pages:


Discussion of Viet Nam withdrawal at JFK's final press conference


November 14, 1963

QUESTION: Mr. President, in view of the changed situation in South Viet Nam, do you still expect to bring back 1,000 troops before the end of the year, or has that figure been raised or lowered?

THE PRESIDENT: No, we are going to bring back several hundred before the end of the year, but I think on the question of the exact number I thought we would wait until the meeting of November 20th.

One of JFK's last acts was to order the withdrawal of forces from Viet Nam, which LBJ blocked after the coup.

I recommend reading James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, an excellent summary of the 1963 policy shifts.

Also recommended is Jim DiEugenio's recent "Destiny Betrayed" which discusses JFK's 1951 trip to South Viet Nam (and his realization the war against the French was anti-colonial more than pro-communist) and his record in the Senate as the leading champion for decolonialization (read the 1957 speech about Algeria and his support for Congo independence -- a reason Lumumba was killed before JFK became President, and by interesting coincidence it was on the same day as Eisenhower's farewell speech warning of the military industrial complex).

An even better JFK speech, less known, is his September 20, 1963 speech at the UN calling off the nuclear arms race and the moon race, offering instead to convert it to a cooperative effort with the Soviet Union. That got reversed after Dallas, too. If the rocket programs had been merged it would have been harder to plan a war with rockets.

I am grateful that JFK refused to take the advice of the generals in October 1962. He did some evil things getting us into the Missile Crisis but he also did the right thing getting us out of it, and his refusal to bomb Cuba prevented nuclear war. Krushchev deserves some credit, too, for both making an enormous mistake but then realizing that we were all in Noah's Ark together (from his secret correspondence with JFK) and the important thing was to ensure the boat stayed afloat.

He declined multiple opportunities to bomb Cuba, especially in October 1962. When he was removed from office, Castro was meeting with an envoy from the White House (French journalist Jean Daniel) to discuss reopening diplomatic relations, and when they heard the news from Dallas, Castro said this changed everything, as in, there would be no change in US policy now. Castro's speech the next day correctly pointed out that Oswald looked more like an intelligence operative than a left wing communist.

What would America have become if the war on Viet Nam had ended in 1965, the Cold War had also ended in 1965 and the resources wasted on endless conflicts had been directed toward peaceful purposes?


National Security Action Memorandum 263: the withdrawal order


NSAM #263 though very brief, was critical in setting down exactly what President Kennedy had begun to implement with regard to getting the U.S. out of the conflict in Vietnam. Although this Memorandum is short, it directly refers to and builds from the Taylor/McNamara report of October 2, 1963 (document 167 which follows this post) as well as document numbers 179 and 181 (following 167).

NSAM #263 was signed by McGeorge Bundy, JFK's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs. Bundy's role was very heavy in the Kennedy administration in ways JFK, apparently, was not aware of. His signature is also the only one at the bottom of NSAM #273, approved by LBJ just 4 days after JFK was murdered. NSAM #273 was the first evidence of changes in the policies President Kennedy had been putting into place. It did not take long for the new administration to begin to alter JFK's policies, even though LBJ's favorite and most commonly use catch-phrase in the days and months after the assassination--as well as during his own 1964 campaign--was "let us continue," the implication being that Johnson's only interest was in continuing the policies and agendas set forth by his predecessor.



194. National Security Action Memorandum No. 263 [1]
Washington, October 11, 1963.

Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff


South Vietnam

At a meeting on October 5, 1963,[2] the President considered the recommendations contained in the report of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on their mission to South Vietnam.
The President approved the military recommendations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the report, but directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.
After discussion of the remaining recommendations of the report, the President approved an instruction to Ambassador Lodge which is set forth in State Department telegram No. 534 to Saigon.[3]

McGeorge Bundy


from JFK and the Unspeakable: Why he died and why it matters by James Douglass
about the Kennedy - Morse meeting of November 12, 1963:

Senator Wayne Morse came to the White House to see the president about his education bills. Kennedy wanted to talk instead about Vietnam -- to his most vehement war critic. Morse had been making two to five speeches a week in the Senate against Kennedy on Vietnam. JFK took Morse out into the White House Rose Garden to avoid being overheard or bugged by the CIA.
The president the startled Morse by saying: "Wayne, I want you to know you're absolutely right in your criticism of my VIetnam policy. Keep this in mind. I'm in the midst of an intensive study which substantiates your position on Vietnam. When I'm finished, I want you to give me half a day and come over and analyze it point by point."
Taken aback, Morse asked the president if he understood his objections.
Kennedy said, "If I don't understand your objections by now, I never will."
JFK made sure Morse understood what he was saying. He added, "Wayne, I've decided to get out. Definitely!"
Yet a mind needs hands to carry out its intentions. A president's hands are his staff and extended government bureaucracy. As Kennedy knew, when it came down to the nitty-gritty of carrying out his decision to end the Vietnam War, his administrative hands were resistant to doing what he wanted them to do, especially his Pentagon hands. He also knew that to withdraw from Vietnam "after I win the election" in the fall of 1964, he now had to inspire his aides to continue moving the machinery for withdrawal that he activated on October 11 with National Security Action Memorandum 263."



"After the American University address, John Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev began to act like competitors in peace. They were both turning. However, Kennedy's rejection of Cold War politics was considered treasonous by forces in his own government. In that context, which Kennedy knew well, the American University address was a profile in courage with lethal consequences. President Kennedy's June 10, 1963 call for an end to the Cold War, five and one-half months before his assassination, anticipates Dr. King's courage in his April 4, 1967, Riverside Church address calling for an end to the Vietnam War, exactly one year before his assassination. Each of those transforming speeches was a prophetic statement provoking the reward a prophet traditionally receives. John Kennedy's American University address was to his death in Dallas as Martin Luther King's Riverside Church address was to his death in Memphis."
-- James Douglass "JFK and the Unspeakable: why he died and why it matters"
reviews at:


Jim Douglass – Confronting the Unspeakable
This section is devoted to the works and words of James W. Douglass

The Hope in Confronting the Unspeakable
in the Assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Keynote Address at The Coalition on Political Assassinations Conference
20 November 2009, Dallas, Texas

Jim Douglass, author of JFK and The Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
Delivers the Keynote Address at the Coalition on Political Assassinations Conference
See the video or download (right-click) local copies of: video (mp4) (98 MB), audio (mp3) (63 MB).

General Giap (Vietnamese general fighting the Americans)

his son confirms that the North Vietnam side knew Kennedy was pulling out


General Giap Knew

By Mani S. Kang



Exit Strategy

In 1963, JFK ordered a complete withdrawal from Vietnam

James K. Galbraith

Forty years have passed since November 22, 1963, yet painful mysteries remain. What, at the moment of his death, was John F. Kennedy's policy toward Vietnam?

It's one of the big questions, alternately evaded and disputed over four decades of historical writing. It bears on Kennedy's reputation, of course, though not in an unambiguous way.

And today, larger issues are at stake as the United States faces another indefinite military commitment that might have been avoided and that, perhaps, also cannot be won. The story of Vietnam in 1963 illustrates for us the struggle with policy failure. More deeply, appreciating those distant events tests our capacity as a country to look the reality of our own history in the eye.