LBJ's Reversal of JFK's Vietnam Policy
The key paragraph in this NSAM was the seventh, as it addressed actions against North Vietnam. Knowing well the president’s aversion to direct American intervention in the Vietnam War, Bundy considerably watered down the military’s agenda proposed at the Honolulu conference—OPLAN 34-63. That plan included a large number of actions against North Vietnam, including U.S. airstrike and naval raids against the coastline. To bring an intensification of the war in line with the president’s views, Bundy constrained any new actions against the North to be carried out only “with additional government of Vietnam resources.”
(Above: JFK and McGeorge Bundy) JFK might have approved this language but he never had a chance to see it. Two days later, while Kennedy’s body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, President Johnson ordered Bundy to completely strike paragraph seven and rewrite it to allow direct American military attacks against North Vietnam. The first American navy “Desoto” patrols along the North Vietnamese coast began a few weeks later. By the summer, these actions provoked the Tonkin Gulf Crisis and the passage of a congressional resolution permitting LBJ to do whatever was necessary to defeat North Vietnam.