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National Security Memorandum No. 263, 11 October 1963
Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 769-770
TO: 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 an 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
NSAM 273 November 26, 1963
It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported communist conspiracy. The test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contribution to this purpose.
Kennedy-Johnson Transition in Vietnam Policy
Vietnam historians have for years maintained that the transition between Kennedy’s Vietnam policies and that of President Johnson were one of continuity, not change. But is this really true? Recently some historians have begun to argue that the illusion of continuity was just that, an illusion.
Some experts, such as Peter Dale Scott, have long argued that subtle policy changes in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s death laid the groundwork for later escalation in Vietnam. In particular, the first National Security Action Memorandum on Vietnam under Johnson, NSAM 273, authorized open-ended covert operations against North Vietnam. These in turn led to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which President Johnson used to obtain Congressional authorization for a drastic escalation of the war.
The counter-argument is that NSAM 273 was drafted while Kennedy was still alive. However, Kennedy never saw that draft, and the draft does not match the final version, particularly in the key area of covert operations. Is this difference a molehill in what was essentially a continuity of policy, or are authors like Scott correct that the change was in fact a profound one?