"The only thing that really surprised us when we got into office
was that things were just as bad as we had been saying they were."
JFK, JACKIE & DEGAULLE
"I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris'"
To Orwell Today,
To Jackie Jura,
I am writing in regard to your article MACARTHUR, JFK, KOREA & VIETNAM. It was fascinating. I am interested in this part:
"President Kennedy first began to have doubts about our military effort in Vietnam in 1961 when both General Douglas MacArthur and General Charles de Gaulle warned him that the Asian mainland was no place to be fighting a non-nuclear land war. There was no end to Asian manpower, MacArthur told the President, and even if we poured a million American infantry soldiers into that continent, we would still find ourselves outnumbered on every side. De Gaulle said the same thing in Paris that spring, pointing out that the French had shown us the hopelessness of trying to fight in that country."
Do you know where I could find some documentation of what De Gaulle warned the Americans? He said that France showed hopelessness. I am doing some research and wondering if you knew where I could find some concrete evidence of these warnings....
Ned, College Student
References to de Gaulle warning JFK not to get involved in Indochina (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia) other than the one quoted above from JOHNNY WE HARDLY KNEW YE by O'Donnell/Powers, can be found in the authoritative biographies, KENNEDY by Sorenson and A THOUSAND DAYS by Schlesinger (required reading for all students of JFK's presidency).
But JFK didn't need de Gaulle to tell him that Vietnam (or the rest of Indochina) were not wars for America to get involved in. By the time of his state visit to de Gaulle - May 31 to June 2, 1961 - he'd already been through the first Cuba crisis and the Laos crisis.
In the April 17-21, 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion JFK went against the advice of the Ministry of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department, Pentagon and CIA when they advised him to send American soldiers to fight against Castro in Cuba. Then, no sooner was that crisis over, than these same advisers were urging him to send hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to Laos.
It was after the Bay of Pigs crisis, and during the Laos crisis, that General MacArthur made his famous: "Eisenhower's chickens are coming home to roost and you're in the chicken coop" comment to JFK. See the letter JFK wrote describing it:
JFK realized that if it hadn't been for the learning experience of the Bay of Pigs fiasco he might have listened to those advisors (leftovers from the Eisenhower/Nixon administration) when they recommended he send American soldiers to Laos, and if it hadn't been for Laos, he might have followed their same advice to send American soldiers to Vietnam.
Here's what Schlesinger says in A THOUSANDA DAYS, excerpt starting at page 336:
"...On April 20, Kennedy, determined not to permit restraint in Cuba to be construed as irresolution everywhere, transformed the corps of American military advisers in Laos, who up to this point had wandered about in civilian clothes, into a Military Assistance and Advisory Group, authorizing them to put on uniforms and accompany the Laotian troops. Later that day, when Nixon saw the President and urged an invasion of Cuba, he also urged 'a commitment of American air power' to Laos. According to Nixon's recollection, Kennedy replied, 'I just don't think we ought to get involved in Laos, particularly where we might find ourselves fighting millions of Chinese troops in the jungles. In any event, I don't see how we can make any move in Laos, which is 5000 miles away if we don't make a move in Cuba, which is only 90 miles away'...
"When I [Scheslinger] returned from my post-Bay of Pigs trip to Europe on May 3, the President said, 'If it hadn't been for Cuba, we might be about to intervene in Laos.' Waving a sheaf of cables from Lemnitzer he added, 'I might have taken this advice seriously.'..."
It was after enduring the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Laos crisis (which resulted in a ceasefire agreement by the warring parties) that JFK made one of his many famous quips. During a Democratic Party dinner in honour of his 44th birthday on May 29, 1961, just four months into his presidency, he said: "The only thing that really surprised us when we got into office was that things were just as bad as we had been saying they were; otherwise we have been enjoying it very much".
It was in this happy frame of mind (other than that in mid-May he'd reinjured his back muscles planting a tree in Canada) that JFK made his State Visit to France and had several meetings with de Gaulle (in between soaks in a gold-plated bathtub to ease his backpain), discussing the Communist threat - from Russia and China - to Europe, America and Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).
President de Gaulle was in a position to know what he was talking about in regard to Indochina because France had lost that territory to the Communists back in 1954 and had pulled out the French Foreign Legion. Since that time, Vietnam had been divided into North and South.
President Kennedy was well-informed on the history of France in Indochina because he had read de Gaulle's memoirs which Jackie had translated from French into English for him, and when they met in Paris, JFK was able to quote from de Gaulle's own book (which impressed de Gaulle very much).
Also, from personal experience, JFK was evolving his own opinions on Indochina. He had travelled to Indochina in 1951 (when he was a Representative in Congress) and had formed the opinion that their wars of independence were not western wars.
When JFK and Jackie arrived in Paris on May 31, 1961 they were met at Orly airport by President de Gaulle and thousands of people lining the streets of their motorcade. The French people fell instantly in love with JFK and especially Jackie because of her elegance, charm and perfect French accent. Over the next couple of days she completely won the heart of de Gaulle who was amazed at her knowledge of French culture and history. While Jackie toured art galleries and museums JFK attended meetings with de Gaulle in his presidential office at the Elysee Palace, as described by Schlesinger in A THOUSAND DAYS, beginning on page 350:
"...On arrival Kennedy took a steaming bath to ease the pain of his back. Then he was almost immediately on his way again for his opening talk with the General. They had not talked together before. When Jacqueline met de Gaulle at the embassy in Washington during his visit in 1960, Kennedy had been campaigning in Oregon. Now the two men sat alone with their interpreters in the splendid presidential office in the Elysee Palace....
"Wasting little time in preliminaries, Kennedy cited Khruschev's warnings about Berlin....De Gaulle commented that Khrushchev had been threatening action on Berlin and laying down six-month deadlines for two and a half years. Surely if he planned to go to war over Berlin, he would have done so already....
"But now it was time for luncheon. Jacqueline sat by the General and engaged him in an animated conversation in French about French history -- Louis XVI, and the Duc d'Angouleme and the dynastic complexities of the later Bourbons -- until de Gaulle leaned across the table and told Kennedy that his wife knew more French history than most French women. (Kennedy, delighted, later said that it was as if Mme. de Gaulle had sat next to him and asked him all about Henry Clay.) It was a gay occasion....
"After luncheon the two Presidents resumed their talk. Kennedy returned to the problem of how to convince the Russians that the west was in earnest....
"Kennedy turned the conversation to Laos. De Gaulle observed that the countries of Southeast Asia did not offer a good terrain for western troops, nor indeed for western politics. Unlike India and Japan, which were 'real' nations, these were 'fictitious' nations, and neutralization was the best solution. The French experience had been that exerting influence in Southeast Asia and taking military action there were almsot incompatible. As for Laos, de Gaulle strongly supported the idea of a neutral coalition under Souvanna Phoma. In no case would the French dream of military intervention; but when Kennedy argued that the threat of western intervention might be necessary to bring the communists to an agreement, de Gaulle said that he would not oppose the United States publicly. They talked for a moment about the tension between Peking and Moscow. Kennedy expressed doubts that the split would become acute until the west was forced out of the area; the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey, he recalled, came into the open only after they subdued their common enemies...
"The next morning the talks resumed....
"That evening de Gaulle threw a dazzling dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Jacqueline glittered in a Givenchy gown...
"On Friday morning, June 2, Kennedy and de Gaulle, still alone with their interpreters, held their fifth meeting...
"Later in the morning de Gaulle and Kennedy joined their advisers in a larger meeting. De Gaulle summed up the talks with customary elegance....
"President Kennedy then went off to a luncheon for the press, introducing himself: 'I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.' He gave a frank appraisal of the changing shape of the problems in Europe....He affirmed 'strong hopes' for a test ban agreement in Geneva and a cease-fire in Laos...."
The following article from the American Presidency Project further documents JFK and de Gaulle's Indochina discussions:
Joint Statement Following Discussions With President de Gaulle, June 2, 1961:
"The President of the United States of America paid a state visit to Paris from May 31 to June 2, 1961....The two presidents discussed the principal issues in the present international situation with regard both to relations between the United States and France, and to their policies in all parts of the world. In the course of these discussions, which were both direct and searching, they examined the position of the two countries with regard to the Soviet Union and the communist world; and the activities of these two countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including aid to under-developed countries..."
There is no document or transcript of the talks between de Gaulle and JFK because their discussions were private, with only the translators present. But, as evidenced in the above excerpts, the reporters, aides and historians have passed on what JFK said they discussed.
It's an historical fact that France completely withdrew from Vietnam and it is also an historical fact that JFK was planning to completely withdraw the United States from Vietnam. It is also an historical fact that within days of JFK's assassination on November 22nd, 1963, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, reversed JFK's order to remove all American soldiers from Vietnam. This set the stage for American's entry, nine months later, into the 'Vietnam Fiasco' which resulted in the deaths (for Communist benefit) of thousands upon thousands of American soldiers, something that JFK, MacArthur and de Gaulle warned would happen.
All the best,
JFK & BAY OF PIGS and JFK ICH BIN FREE HAVANA and COMMUNISM CUBAN STYLE
JFK ICH BIN BERLINER and BRANDENBERG GATE TO ZIPPER GATE
THE MILITARY ARE MAD and JFK & VIETNAM and BAY OF TONKIN LIE
JFK'S COLD WAR and MACARTHUR ON CHINA, LAOS, CUBA and MACARTHUR, JFK, KOREA & VIETNAM and INDIA, ORWELL, JFK & CHINA and VIETNAM, KOREA & IRAQ WARS
JFK TRUTHS & UNTRUTHS and JFK/RFK ASSASSINATION PIECES
To Orwell Today,
Your response was an enormous help to me. I really appreciate your taking the time to help me out -- which you did, your answer was perfect.
Reader Jakob is wondering which of deGaulle's memoirs Jackie Kennedy translated from french for JFK
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