The Kennedy administration, propelled by events toward an early reckoning in Vietnam, was racked by confusion and division. In the summer of 1963, Bobby Kennedy began privately to express grave doubts about the whole enterprise. He peppered presidential assistant for Far Eastern affairs Mike Forrestal with the hard, pragmatic questions no one wanted to ask:
Was the United States capable of achieving even the limited objectives that we then had in Vietnam? Did the United States have the resources, the men and the philosophy and the thinking to have anything useful to contribute or say in a country as politically unstable as South Vietnam? Was it not possible that we had overestimated our own resources and underestimated the problem in South Vietnam?
Bobby himself bristled at these questions, at least when posed by others. On August 31, Paul Kattenburg, staff director of the Interdepartmental Task Force on Vietnam, returned from Saigon to brief the NSC. Kattenburg called Vietnam policy "a garden path to tragedy" and recommended that the United States "get out honorably." The attorney general fixed him with an icy glare. But Bobby did not, as Secretary McNamara did, blurt out in self-defense, "We are winning this war!" Of that Bobby was less sure.
In the next seven years, from 1964 to 1970, the U. S. would suffer over 50,000 deaths.