Interview with Roger Hilsman, 1981

Please log in or sign up to request this item

Roger Hilsman worked in the Kennedy Administration, first as director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then as the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. He was criticized for drafting a cable on behalf of President Kennedy to the American Ambassador to South Vietnam instructing the Ambassador to give direct support to the opponents of President Ngo Dinh Diem. He describes the Kennedy White House as youthful and confident but shaken when Soviet Premier Khrushchev announced his support for insurgencies around the world. He says this announcement paved the way for the US counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam. Hilsman says he tried to convince Kennedy that the way to fight guerillas was with guerillas themselves. He also recounts Kennedy’s distaste for sending American troops into Vietnam. He describes meeting with South Vietnamese leadership in the early 1960’s, the mixed signals they received, and a lack of political support for their policies. He says Kennedy was desperate to get America out of Vietnam.