Response to a Question on American Involvement in South Vietnam, President Kennedy's News Conference, February 14, 1962

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 807-809

President Kennedy's News Conference, February 14, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents, Kennedy, 1962, p. 136:

Q. "Mr. President, the Republican National Committee publication has said that you have been less than candid with the American people as to how deeply we are involved in Vietnam. Could you throw any more light on that?"

THE PRESIDENT: "Yes, as you know, the United States for more than a decade has been assisting the government, the people of Vietnam, to maintain their independence. Way back on Dec. 23, 1950, we signed a military assistance agreement with France and with Indo-China which at that time included Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We also signed in December of 1951 an agreement directly with Vietnam.

"Now, in 1954, the Geneva agreements were signed, and while we did not sign those agreements, nevertheless Under Secretary Bedell Smith stated that he would view any renewal of aggression in Vietnam in violation of the aforesaid agreements with grave concern, and as seriously threatening international peace and security. At the time that the SEATO Pact was signed in 1954, Sept. 8, Vietnam was not a signatory, it was a protocol state, and, therefore, this pact which was approved by the Senate with only, I think, two against it, under Article 4, stated that the United States recognized that aggression by means of armed attack against Vietnam would threaten our own peace and security. So since that time the United States has been assisting the government of Vietnam to maintain its independence. It has had a military training mission there and extensive economic assistance.

"As you know, in the last two years the war has increased. The Vice President visited there last spring. The war became more intense every month; in fact, every week. The attack on the government by the Communist forces with assistance from the north became of greater and greater concern to the government of Vietnam and the Government of the United States.

"We sent--I sent General Taylor there to make a review of the situation. The President of Vietnam asked us for additional assistance. We issued, as you remember, a white paper which detailed the support which the Viet Minh in the north were giving to this Communist insurgent movement and we have increased our assistance there. And we are supplying logistic assistance, transportation assistance, training, and we have a number of Americans who are taking part in that effort.

"We have discussed this matter--we discussed it with the leadership of the Republicans and Democrats when we met in early January and informed them of what we were doing in Vietnam. We--Mr. Rusk has discussed it with the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. McNamara has discussed it with the Armed Services Committee. The leadership on both sides, Republicans and Democrats--we have explained to them our concern about what is happening there, and they have been responsive, I think, to evidence their concern. So that there is a long history of our efforts to prevent Vietnam from falling under control of the Communists. That is what we are now attempting to do. And as the war has increased in scope, our assistance has increased as a result of the request of the government. So that I think we should--as it is a matter of great importance, a matter of great sensitivity--my view has always been that the headquarters of both of our parties should really attempt to leave these matters to be discussed by responsible leaders on both sides. In my opinion, we have had a very strong bi-partisan consensus up to now, and I am hopeful that it will continue in regard to the action that we are taking."

Q. "Mr. President, do you feel that you have told the American people as much as can be told, because of the sensitivity of the subject? Is that right?"

THE PRESIDENT: "I think I have just indicated what our role is. We have increased our assistance to the government, its logistics, and we have not sent combat troops there, although the training missions that we have there have been instructed that if they are fired upon they are, of course, to fire back, to
protect themselves, but we have not sent combat troops, in the generally understood sense of the word. We have increased our training mission, and we have increased our logistics support, and we are attempting to prevent a Communist take-over of Vietnam, which is in accordance with a policy which our Government has followed for the last--certainly since 1954, and even before then as I have indicated. We are attempting to make all of the information available that we can, consistent with our security needs in the area. So I feel that we are being as frank as we can be, and I think what I have said to you is a description of our activity there."

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