In 1940, when seventeen-year-old Paul Maurice Kattenburg fled his native Belgium just prior to the Nazi invasion of Brussels, it is unlikely he could have envisioned a future that would include World War II service in the United States Military Office of Strategic Services, American political fame, close friendships with Southeast Asian heads of state, and an honored, thirty-year academic career.
In 1949, after earning his doctorate in international relations from Yale University, Kattenburg began twenty-three years with the United States Foreign Service, holding posts in Washington, Saigon, Manila, Frankfurt, and Guyana. On 31 August 1963 Kattenburg, then chairman of the Vietnam Working Group, attended a National Security Council meeting which would dramatically alter his foreign service career. During this NSC meeting, Kattenburg was the lone dissenter in a plot to assassinate South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem. Further, Kattenburg advocated a total American withdrawal from Vietnam— “[I]t would be better for us to make the decision to get out honorably.” Several high-level Kennedy cabinet and administration officials castigated Kattenburg, yet he would not budge on his position. Within three months, both President John F. Kennedy and President Ngo Dinh Diem were assassinated. By the end of the year, Kattenburg was removed as the chairman of the Vietnam Working Group. Within two more years, he was “exiled” to Guyana to serve as Embassy Counselor.
In 1971 Kattenburg found himself the subject of media attention with the publication by the New York Times of the Pentagon Papers, a classified Defense Department report concerning American involvement in Vietnam and the government’s decision-making in the war effort. In light of the report, numerous news agencies began investigative probes into the early history of the Vietnam War. In the papers and the analysis of them which followed, Kattenburg emerged, according to the Times, as “the first official on record in a high-level Vietnam policy meeting to pursue to its logical conclusion the analysis that the war effort was irretrievable.”
In the 1960s, Kattenburg began corresponding with University of South Carolina professor Richard L. “Dixie” Walker, founder of the Walker Institute of International Area Studies. Walker invited Kattenburg to become a visiting professor in USC’s Department of Government and International Studies in 1970. Three years later, Kattenburg was hired by USC as a full-time professor, a position he retained until his retirement in 1986.
The Paul Kattenburg papers total nearly eleven linear feet and consist of five series: foreign service, academic career, writings, personal, and audiovisual.
The foreign service series covers Kattenburg’s foreign service work from 1946 to 2004. Twelve subseries distinguish chronologically the significant positions Kattenburg held, from Research Specialist to Consul to United States Embassy Counselor, in posts both in Washington and abroad. The series contains materials about the Vietnam War and United States foreign policy and military intervention in Southeast Asia. These include Kattenburg’s own reports and memos on various trips to the region.
The academic career series includes materials relating to Kattenburg’s career as a university professor of political science, 1947-2000, at seven different institutions of higher learning. Kattenburg kept detailed files on every class he taught, including handwritten lecture notes, assignments, exams, and correspondence with various students, colleagues, and administrators.
The writings series includes Kattenburg’s published and unpublished political writings. Kattenburg wrote hundreds of articles and chapters for various publications, many of which are found in the collection. Included is his 1980 volume, The Vietnam Trauma in American Foreign Policy, 1945-1975, which he considered his most important work, as well as relevant research and correspondence. Also of significance is a letter to noted historian Barbara Tuchman in which Kattenburg acknowledges being mentioned in her book The March of Folly and inquires why his book The Vietnam Trauma was left out of her bibliography. In the letter, he considers the possibility that he is being “blackballed by revisionists or others who are trying to rehabilitate the war.”
The personal series relates to Kattenburg’s family, education, and military service. Also present is personal correspondence with numerous American and foreign academicians, diplomats, and politicians, as well as with Philippine president Corazon Aquino and her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, whose friendship with Kattenburg began in the 1950s.
The audiovisual series includes The Discovery Channel’s 1999 documentary The Vietnam War: A Descent into Hell, for which Kattenburg was a major contributor, as interviewee and donor of visual items.
(The Kattenburg papers are temporarily closed to researchers.)