1963 Honolulu Briefing Books
On November 20 1963, two days before President Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, his advisors held the last meeting on Vietnam policy that would take place during his presidency. The briefing books prepared for that meeting are now available online: see Part I and Part II.
These briefing books take on extra significance given that just weeks earlier the Kennedy administration had approved plans for withdrawing 1,000 men from Vietnam (out of roughly 16,000), and had earlier in May 1963 set a timetable for full withdrawal of U.S. forces by 1965. In these briefing books, which occurred after the assassination of South Vietnam's leader Ngo Dinh Diem, these policies remained unchanged. The 1,000 man withdrawal would be essentially scuttled after JFK's death, reduced to simply troop rotation, and by 1965 instead of full withdrawal instead there were the first waves of combat troops which eventually numbered a half million U.S. soldiers.
In the briefing books, the 1,000-man withdrawal commitment is reiterated, as is plans for a full phase-out of forces by 1965. The briefing books also contain information about OPLAN 34-63. This was the program of covert military operations in North Vietnam. These operations would in August 1964 lead to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which was the trigger for expansion of the war. Precisely what Kennedy knew of or approved regarding OPLAN 34-63 is not known.
These documents reside at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts, and were kindly provided by Joe Backes.
See these related pages for more information:
1963 Vietnam Withdrawal Plans. Discussion, essays, multimedia, and documents related to 1963 Vietnam policy.
Exit Strategy. This essay by James Galbraith, son of JFK's Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, lays out the case that Kennedy would not have done as Johnson did in Vietnam.
Walkthrough - Vietnam in Late 1963. This document walkthrough covers the most important records from the spring of 1963 until shortly after Kennedy's death.