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With reported leaks of ‘back channels’ and secret negotiations with Russia in the news recently (as well as the ongoing furor over the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey), I thumbed through Richard Reeves’ excellent bio, President Nixon: Alone in the White House to bring myself up to speed on the master secret negotiator and power broker himself.
After World War II, the transition from war and conflict to peace and stability was the main problem in which most U.S. presidents grappled. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and also U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1963-1964 during the Kennedy Administration, which viewed South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem as an ineffective leader, tacitly supported the coup d’etat that overthrew his presidency. In reviewing the conditions that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Lodge said in an interview in 1979:
Well, there was a big to do in the Eisenhower administration. Vice President Nixon took part and Admiral Radford took part, about uh sending US forces into…into Vietnam. And Eisenhower let them all talk and the upshot was he was against it and we didn’t do it. It was just as simple as that.
The interviewer pressed:
Interviewer: Do you think perhaps the attack on the pagodas was calculated to impress you as you were on your way out to Saigon? In other words, do you think the attack was staged to coincide with your appointment and your imminent arrival in Saigon?
Lodge: That might have been. I’ve often thought of that but you can’t tell. You don’t know.
Interviewer: Now, just the day, about the day after your arrival, two South Vietnamese generals, Le Van Kim and Tran Van Don, made contact with two CIA representatives in Saigon, Rufus Phillips and Lucien Conein and the generals wanted to know whether the United States would support the army in a coup against Diem.
Lodge: I [had] discussed it with uh, um, with Tran Van Don.
Recognizing that this was not going to be a relaxing, nostalgic interview about the good ‘ol Kennedy years, Lodge quickly lost interest in answering any further questions. As Ken Burns and Lynn Novick revisit the Vietnam War this summer with their new PBS documentary, I recommend also the seminal Vietnam: A Television History as well.