JFK Approved Diem's Assassination?
In the course of the show the narrator, speaking with Olympian self-confidence, flatly implicated JFK in the death of Diem, the leader of South Vietnam.:
Late in his first term [sic], as trouble brewed in Southeast Asia, he hoped to strengthen South Vietnam by overthrowing its tyrannical regime. On November 1st, 1963, Kennedy approved the assassination of the president of South Vietnam.
This statement was immediately followed by a brief soundbite from Richard Reeves:"And from that day on we owned Vietnam."
It is generally agreed that Kennedy did approve the coup, although even some historians dispute this interpretation of the facts as JFK had expressed some ambivalence about the coup in the days preceding it. If the coup failed the war against the communists would be harder to sustain and Kennedy was worried that the balance of forces was evenly divided between Diem and the coup plotters led by General Minh. But there is no evidence that JFK approved of Diem's assassination. As Richard Reeves explains in President Kennedy, his own account of the coup, when JFK was informed by a cable from the American embassy in Saigon that Diem had died, he"looked at it, stood up, and rushed from the room without a word, looking pale and shaken." Reeves adds:"The others [in the room] looked at each other. None of them had ever seen anything like it. Under his breath, [General Maxcwell] Taylor said, 'What did he expect?'"
Where did the series producers get the idea that JFK backed the assassination of Diem? This is unclear. The series was based on the book, "To the Best of My Ability", edited by James McPherson. The chapter on Kennedy, written by Reeves, says merely that JFK"signed off on a generals' plot to overthrow President Ngo Dinh Diem."
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