On page 371 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about President Richard Nixon’s belief that the U.S. Government under President John F. Kennedy was complicit in the overthrow of President Diem of South Vietnam, and that this deepened American involvement in Vietnam. President Nixon in a press conference said that this was why he would not use any leverage to get rid of President Thieu of South Vietnam, stating that the overthrow of Thieu would result in coup after coup (and, based on what Nixon says in No More Vietnams, this is because Nixon feared that Thieu would be replaced by weaker leaders, as Diem was after his assassination). Reeves goes on to narrate:
“The President thought he had raised the question and could sit back and let the press do the investigating. But nothing happened outside the White House. Inside, Hunt, on orders from Colson, had collected 240 cables between Washington and Saigon in October and November of 1963—-Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were killed by officers of their own army on November 1, 1963—-but was unable to find one showing any kind of direct order from Kennedy. So, using a razor blade to cut out words, and some paste, then photocopying his handiwork, he fabricated a cable, dated October 29, 1963, to the American embassy in Saigon. The phony cable read: ‘At highest level meeting today, decision reluctantly made that neither you nor Harkin should intervene in behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum.”
In his 1980 book, The Real War, Nixon stated on page 113, when discussing the coup that ended Diem’s life, that “Charges that the U.S. government was directly involved may be untrue and unfair.” Nixon goes on to say, however, that the Kennedy Administration “greased the skids for Diem’s downfall and did nothing to prevent his murder.”
In his 1985 book, No More Vietnams, however, Nixon manifests a stronger belief that the evidence shows U.S. Government complicity in the overthrow of Diem (though Nixon says that Kennedy was surprised that Diem was murdered, as if a coup would not lead to a murder). Nixon makes this argument on pages 175-179. Here are some documents that Nixon quotes:
August 24, 1983 telegram (approved by President Kennedy) from Averell Harriman, Roger Hillsman, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Undersecretary of State George Ball to U.S. ambassador in South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge (who, in the 1960 Presidential election, was Richard Nixon’s running mate): “We wish [to] give Diem reasonable opportunity to remove [his brother] Nhu, but if he remains obdurate, then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer support Diem. You may tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown [of the] central government mechanism.” The telegram recommended that Lodge “urgently examine all possible alternative leadership and make detailed plans as to how we might bring about Diem’s replacement if this should become necessary.”
Nixon quotes a cable from Lodge to Rusk saying: “We are launched on a course from which there is no turning back: the overthrow of the Diem government…The chance of bringing off a Generals’ coup depends on them to some extent; but it depends at least as much on us.” Nixon goes on to say that Rusk told Lodge to cut off aid to Diem when Lodge chose and to do what he could to “enhance the chances of a successful coup” (Rusk’s alleged words), and that Rusk instructed the leader of the American military mission in Saigon to form a liaison with leaders of the coup.
Nixon quotes Nguyen Huu Tho of the National Liberation Front saying about the coup, “The Americans have managed to do what we couldn’t do for nine years.”
Nixon also talks about snubs that the Kennedy Administration made against Diem, the CIA cutting off support for special forces in South Vietnam, and Kennedy’s statement in a televised interview that South Vietnam “needed changes in policy and ‘perhaps’ in personnel” (Nixon’s words).
Unfortunately, Nixon does not provide footnotes—-he just narrates. Moreover, a question that I have is why Hunt felt a need to fabricate a document linking elements of the Kennedy Administration with the coup that overthrew Diem, when Nixon claims to be referring to a telegram and a cable demonstrating that such was the case. Did Hunt miss that documentation when he was accessing and looking at the 240 cables that Reeves talks about? Perhaps one could argue that Hunt did not find anything linking Kennedy personally with the coup, and, yes, the stuff Nixon quotes largely appears to be from high-ranking people in Kennedy’s Administration, rather than Kennedy himself. But, if what Nixon says is correct, Kennedy approved the telegram to Lodge and implied his desire for a change in South Vietnamese leadership in a television interview.