Introduction to National Security Action Memorandum # 263
by Greg Burnham
Prior to the declassification of various formerly TOP SECRET
documents there was a widely held misconception that JFK was
responsible for having involved the United States in the Vietnam
war—not responsible so much for beginning the war, but responsible
for having escalated it. One document that clearly refutes such
a claim, NSAM 263, appears below. However, there is considerable
“built in” mystery surrounding this document, as well. The document
is itself more “cover letter” than
anything else because it does not delineate the contents of the
reference contained therein, namely, the McNamara-Taylor
Report (Section I B [1-3])*. That section of the McNamara-Taylor
Report, to which NSAM 263 refers and therefore incorporates by
reference, [particularly items 2 and 3] goes to the heart JFK’s
policy to withdraw from Vietnam and is crucial to appreciating
its significance. Note that there is nothing ambiguous in the
wording: JFK was withdrawing from Vietnam by adopting a policy
and implementing a strategy to transfer the US military’s mission
in Vietnam to the Government of South Vietnam by the end of 1965.
conversation between author and the late Colonel L Fletcher
NATIONAL SECURITY ACTION MEMORANDUM NO. 263
Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
SUBJECT: South Vietnam
At a meeting on October 5, 1963, 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 the instruction to Ambassador Lodge which
is set forth in State Department telegram No. 534 to Saigon.
Director of Central Intelligence
Administrator, Agency for International Development
cc: Mr. Bundy
[SECTION] 1: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We recommend that:
1. General Harkins review
with Diem the military changes necessary to complete the military
campaign in the Northern and Central areas (I, II, and III
Corps) by the end of 1964, and in the Delta (IV Corps) by the
end of 1965. This review would consider the need for such changes
a. A further shift of military
emphasis and strength to the Delta (IV Corps).
b. An increase in the military
tempo in all corps areas, so that all combat troops are in
the field an average of 20 days out of 30 and static missions
c. Emphasis on "clear and hold operations" instead
of terrain sweeps which have little permanent value.
d. The expansion of personnel in
combat units to full authorized strength.
e. The training and arming of hamlet
militia to an accelerated rate, especially in the Delta.
f. A consolidation of the strategic
hamlet program, especially in the Delta, and action to insure
that future strategic hamlets are not built until they can
be protected, and until civic action programs can be introduced.
2. A program be established to train
Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed
by U.S. military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese
by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the
bulk of U.S. personnel by that time.
3. In accordance with the program
to train progressively Vietnamese to take over
military functions, the Defense Department should
announce in the very near future presently prepared plans
to withdraw 1000 U.S. military personnel by the end of
1963. This action should be explained in low key as an
initial step in a long-term program to replace U.S. personnel
with trained Vietnamese without impairment of the war effort.