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Rusk NN, Dean Rusk interviewed by Richard Rusk, Thomas Schoenbaum, and William Bundy, Part 2, 1985 February

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:13 - 1961: limited aid to Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Can we perhaps move on to Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Rusk discusses Vice President Lyndon Johnson's visit to Vietnam in May of 1961. He talks about President Kennedy's decision to send military advisors and economic aid to Vietnam rather than disguising troops as a flood relief corps.

Keywords: General Harkins; General McGarr; McNamara; Pentagon Papers; Taylor-Rostow; advisors; misinformation

00:06:03 - The failure of gradualism in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: One can question whether our own policy of gradualism always left it open for the authorities in Hanoi to say to themselves...

Segment Synopsis: Rusk discusses U.S. gradualism in Vietnam, proposing that taking a hard-line in the beginning may have signaled stronger U.S. resolve; however, he explains that this was not possible because the United States had an array of other foreign commitments. Rusk talks about escalation of force by both the United States and North Vietnam.

Keywords: George Marshall; Gulf of Tonkin; Johnson; Kennedy; Taylor-Rostow; credible threats; escalation; hard and fast; signalling

00:11:38 - Kennedy's first term: foreign escalation and domestic politics

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Partial Transcript: Dean, we went through November '61 and the introduction of the advisors.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk refutes claims that President Kennedy kept troops in Vietnam longer than necessary in order to get more votes in the 1964 election. He talks about General Taylor and Secretary McNamara's plans for withdrawal in 1963.

Keywords: Mansfield; O'Donnell; Strategic Hamlet Program; misinformation; uncertainty

00:16:18 - Fall 1963: Telegram 243 and Diem's overthrow

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Partial Transcript: Let me turn to the Buddhist crisis and the decisions concerning Diem.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk talks about Diem's domestic policies, which alienated Buddhists and caused America to withdraw support. He acknowledges a telegram to ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in which an unknown State Department official supported the overthrow of Diem, but he maintains that the United States was never involved in the coup. Rusk discusses Diem's death in Cholon, a Chinese suburb of Saigon.

Keywords: August 24th cable; DEPTEL 243; Ngo Dinh Nhu; aid; bureaucratic politics; cable 243; domestic politics; organizational politics; popular support

00:22:05 - September 1963: rejecting withdrawal from Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: There was one meeting in early September at which Paul Katzenberg of the State Department was present.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk responds to accusations that he personally tabled talk of withdrawal from Vietnam in September of 1963. Rusk shares that in light of previous foreign engagements which had appeared bleak but ultimately ended in U.S. success, he would not have been ready to give up on Vietnam at that time, but the decision was up to President Kennedy.

Keywords: Kattenburg; Kennedy; McNamara; chain of command

00:26:16 - August 1963: The de Gaulle proposal / The domino theory

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Partial Transcript: What about--This is the time of the de Gaulle neutralization proposal.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk discusses foreign involvement in the countries of Southeast Asia and explains why SEATO was ineffective. He mentions that although several states were divided after WWII, half-states were still subject to international law. Rusk talks about the de Gaulle proposal, which suggested that foreign states stop intervening in Vietnam, and similarly, that Vietnam end its alliances with foreign governments. The de Gaulle proposal also called for the reunification of Vietnam, which likely would have led to communist control of the entire state. Rusk also critiques the domino theory, which President Kennedy embraced.

Keywords: Britain; China; France; India; Laos Accords; Pakistan; Southeast Asia Treaty; intervention; isolationism; nationalism

00:34:57 - Alleged U.S. support for Diem's assassination / The aftermath of regime change

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Partial Transcript: Let's just wind up to the Kennedy assassination because Diem was overthrown in the way you described by a military coup.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk further contemplates American involvement in Diem's assassination. Bundy talks about correspondence between Henry Cabot Lodge and the CIA. Rusk and Bundy refute claims that Lodge worked to keep President Diem busy while Vietnamese generals carried out an attack. Rusk explains that successor governments were weak and disorganized because they excluded experienced officials associated with Diem.

Keywords: Duong Van Minh; Lucien Connie; McNamara-Taylor; Pentagon Papers; State Department; agents provocateurs; bureaucracy; cables; conspiracy; coup; organizational politics; overthrow; power; transitional government

00:42:11 - Analyzing rural South Vietnam's support for the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: ...we had all sorts of programs for South Vietnam: agriculture, public health, education, and all sorts of things.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk mentions U.S.-backed social programs in South Vietnam and explains that the civilian population and Vietcong accepted the aid. He discusses the proposed peace between Duong Van Minh and North Vietnam and talks about Vietnam's transitional governments.

Keywords: Khanh; neutralism; politics; social programs; weak government

00:47:35 - President Johnson stays the course in Vietnam / The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

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Partial Transcript: When Lyndon Johnson became President in the tragic circumstances of November 1963...

Segment Synopsis: Rusk explains that despite criticism, President Johnson followed Kennedy's plan for Vietnam and kept Kennedy's officials in order to maintain stability in the U.S. He talks about containment in the face of North Vietnam's escalation and discusses the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Keywords: Congress; Southeast Asia Treaty; checks and balances; separation of powers

00:54:18 - The Second Gulf of Tonkin incident

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Partial Transcript: The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, though, is one of the things that is puzzling to many people, particularly the second incident.

Segment Synopsis: Rusk contemplates the validity of the second Gulf of Tonkin incident, and he criticizes the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose investigation failed include ship captains with access to confidential information. He talks about intercepts and defends the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Keywords: Admiral Sharp; Captain Herrick; DeSoto patrols; Maddox; all-sources; black boxes

01:00:05 - Provocation v. defense / Covert operations

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Partial Transcript: Can I ask a follow-up on the Tonkin Gulf?

Segment Synopsis: Rusk comments on covert operations and sea disputes between the U.S. and North Vietnam, saying that the U.S. presence in South Vietnam was lawful and requested defense, while the North Vietnamese presence constituted an act of aggression.

Keywords: 34-A; DeSoto; Fulbright; Morse; classified; escalation