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The Pentagon Papers (Volume V-B1 The Roosevelt Administration 1940-1945) reveals a surprising Roosevelt letter to Emperor Hirohito on December 6th just one day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Indeed our interests in Vietnam began even before World War II.
This memorandum really makes you consider a deeper look at diplomatic communications leading up to the surprise attack.
The U.S. supported French colonial rule in Indochina and moved against Japanese invasion and subsequent surrender of French forces after Japan’s Imperial army marched on Saigon.
Based upon early recollections of history it can be surprising to discover President Roosevelt’s letter to Emperor Hirohito on December 6th. FDR loosely suggested U.S. soldiers could be deployed to Vietnam and confront Japanese forces. By December 6th the Japanese army and navy had successfully confronted French colonial troops on Vietnam’s coastline and were in control of Saigon.
Saber-rattling? Perhaps. Clearly U.S. interests in Indochina came into greater focus after Roosevelt stopped petroleum sales to Japan following their invasions of China and Indochina. Japan acting to secure territory-rich petroleum to support their war efforts targeted the oil rich Dutch East Indies.
Roosevelt expressed that Japan’s invasion of Indochina was “unthinkable” and hinted at sending US troops to Vietnam unless Japan abandoned Indochina. Cannot help but read this saber-rattling with the existing strenuous relations between Japan and the United States:
President Roosevelt to Emperor Hirohito of Japan
Washington December 6, 1941
More than a year ago Your Majesty’s Government concluded an agreement with the Vichy Government by which five or six thousand Japanese troops were permitted to enter into Northern French Indo-China for the protection of Japanese troops which were operating against China further north. And this Spring and Summer the Vichy Government permitted further. Japanese military forces to enter into Southern French Indo-China for the common defense of French Indo-China. I think I am correct in saying that no attack has been made upon Indo-China, nor that any has been contemplated.
During the past few weeks it has become clear to the world that Japanese military, naval and air forces have been sent to Southern Indo-China in such large numbers as to create a reasonable doubt on the part of other nations that this continuing concentration in Indo-China is not defensive in its character.
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The Pentagon Papers reveal President Kennedy’s planned withdrawal from Vietnam in August 1961. The Papers [Part V. B-4] Justification of the War. Internal Documents. The Kennedy Administration. Book II reveal (page 544) a clear frustration with South Vietnamese President Diem.
The frustration with Diem appears to have actually reached a point of abandoning the US commitment. Diem’s totalitarian rule against all dissent, especially with the backdrop of the Buddhist crisis had driven a wedge between Washington and Saigon.
Diem and his brother Nhu (who ran the South Vietnamese secret police) used the crisis as a way to arrest all suspected threats to their rule. Torture was widely used to force confessions.
This included arresting members of military who were just on the outside of Diem’s inner circle of generals. Subsequent files reveal the US had to interject to secure the release of some senior military advisors who were supporting Washington who were among those students arrested and tortured during the Buddhist crisis.
The President initiated a series of meeting which outcome reporting from Saigon showed a shift in US views towards fighting communism in Asia:7b. The second basic factor, as outlined by Hilsman, was what effect will be felt on our programs elsewhere in Asia if we acquiesce to a strong Nhu-dominated government. In this connection, he reported that there is a Korean study now under-way on just how much repression the United states will tolerate before pulling out her aid. Mr. McNamara stated that he had not seen this study and would be anxious to have it.
7c. The third basic factor is Mr. Nhu, his personality and his policy. Hilsman recalled that NQu has once already launched an ef~ort aimed at withdrawal of our province advisors and stated that he is sure he is in conversation with the French. He gave, as supporting evidence, the content of an intercepted message, which Mr. Bundy asked to see. Ambassador Nolting expressed the opinion that Diem will not make a deal with Ho Chi Minh on Ho’s terms.
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