Skip to main content

Paul M. Kattenburg Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-PMK

The Paul Kattenburg Papers consist of 6 series: Foreign Service, Academic Career, Writings, Personal, Audiovisual, and Clippings.

The Foreign Service series documents Kattenburg’s Foreign Service work from 1946 to 2004. His formal Foreign Service career spanned the 23-year period between 1950 and 1973. Within the series, twelve subseries distinguish chronologically the significant positions Kattenburg held, from Research Specialist to Consul to U.S. Embassy Counselor, in posts such as Washington, Frankfurt, Manila, and Guyana. This series contains materials about the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy and military intervention in Southeast Asia. These include Kattenburg’s reports and memos on various official (and unofficial) trips to Southeast Asia. Information on European politics is also present; the papers contain material on Kattenburg’s 1963 paper for the State Department’s Fifth Senior Seminar in Foreign Policy entitled De Gaulle and the Future of Europe. Other items include his original application for the Foreign Service, various Foreign Service commissions, and State Department performance reports.

The Foreign Service series also contains hundreds of letters to and from colleagues within the diplomatic community. Of special note is an October 1956 interdepartmental letter commending Kattenburg for his assistance to then-Vice President Richard Nixon, who had traveled to Saigon. On the lighter side, there is a comical two-page poem Kattenburg wrote for his Frankfurt colleagues in June 1962, upon his return to Washington.

The Academic Career series is arranged alphabetically by university and includes materials from Kattenburg’s career as a professor of political science and international studies. Kattenburg’s teaching career covered more than a half-century, from 1947 to 2000, at seven different colleges and universities. Kattenburg kept detailed files on every class he taught, including handwritten lecture notes, assignments, exams, and syllabi. This series is a true reservoir of Kattenburg’s in-depth knowledge of foreign affairs and the inner workings of political institutions and governments. Correspondence with various students, colleagues, and administrators illustrates Kattenburg’s research interests and academic work. Hundreds of letters from former students and professors at other institutions testify to Kattenburg’s success as a university professor. Student information sheets and class rosters including Social Security numbers and grades have been removed.

The third series, Writings, includes Kattenburg’s published and unpublished writings, including numerous articles and chapters for various publications. Many of these are found in the collection, and of particular interest is the aforementioned July 24, 1974, New York Times editorial in which he lambasted the Marcos regime and criticized the U.S. government’s political indifference to Ninoy Aquino’s imprisonment. Also present in the Writings series is Kattenburg’s personal copy of The Vietnam Trauma in American Foreign Policy, 1945-1975, as well as several folders of related research and correspondence. Of particular significance is a letter from Kattenburg to noted historian Barbara Tuchman: Kattenburg acknowledges being mentioned in her book The March of Folly, but inquires why his book The Vietnam Trauma was left out of her bibliography, and he considers the possibility that he is being “blackballed by revisionists or others who are trying to rehabilitate the war.” Tuchman replied by apologizing for leaving Kattenburg’s book out of the bibliography of The March of Folly, referring to Kattenburg as a “true hero of the Vietnam War.”

One significant unpublished document is an essay entitled “The Day After MLK was Killed in Georgetown, Guyana.” This piece records the political challenges Kattenburg faced as a European, and a U.S. diplomat, in Guyana, amidst the international turmoil caused by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

The Personal series includes subseries relating to Kattenburg’s Family, Education, and Military Service.

The Education subseries includes Kattenburg’s certificate from the École Nouvelle in Brussels, as well as transcripts and letters of reference from various professors. Also included is material related to Kattenburg’s post-doctoral fellowship in Indonesia for the Social Science Research Council.

The Personal series also contains a significant folder regarding Kattenburg’s relationship with Ninoy and Corazon Aquino, which began in the late 1950s and lasted the rest of Kattenburg’s life. Included is Corazon Aquino’s April 1975 handwritten plea for help for Ninoy, who had been imprisoned by Marcos. Both Ninoy and Corazon visited Kattenburg’s students and universities over the years. This friendship is well-documented through dozens of letters and clippings.

Numerous letters are contained in the Personal series. One letter of May 2001 is Kattenburg’s self-pronounced introduction to the Information Age—his first solo computer-composed letter. Kattenburg wrote a more sober letter to Anthony C.E. Quainton, the Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service, in June 1997. In it, he confesses his disappointment regarding the derailment of his Foreign Service career, and requests some form of acknowledgement from the U.S. government for his years of service. Other significant correspondents include former U.S. Ambassador Richard L. “Dixie” Walker.

The Audiovisual series contains numerous photographs documenting Kattenburg’s Foreign Service and academic career. Included are photographs of Kattenburg with Filipino President Aquino and a photograph of former Filipino President Diosdado Macapagal, as well as videotapes of The Discovery Channel’s 1999 documentary The Vietnam War: A Descent into Hell, to which Kattenburg was a major contributor as an interviewee and donor of visual items.

The Clippings series includes a file of newspaper and periodical clippings from 1971 regarding the Pentagon Papers, many mentioning Kattenburg and his position on the war. These include an edition of the Washington Post from June 24, 1971, which carried the Los Angeles Times story “Study Details Diem’s Loss of U.S Faith,” by Stuart H. Loory, which described and quoted Kattenburg, and various Kennedy Cabinet members, in the famous August 1963 NSC meeting.

*Note to Researchers*

Portions of the Kattenburg papers were removed and reviewed by the U.S. State Department in 2005 to determine if any classified information remained in the collection. All documents were determined to be declassified. The original documents were kept by State and have been replaced with copies bearing information on their declassification.


  • 1938 - 2004



Library Use Only


13.75 Linear Feet


Paul Kattenburg, a native of Belgium, served in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1950-1973, with postings to Washington, Saigon, Manila, Frankfurt, and Guyana. In 1973, Kattenburg took up a full-time professorship at the University of South Carolina. He was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 1986, but continued to teach at USC as well as in several visiting professorships. He also served periodically as an instructor for the University of Pittsburgh's Semester-At-Sea program.

Biographical Note

In 1940, when 17-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, 30-year academic career.

In 1949, after earning a doctorate in International Relations from Yale University, Kattenburg began 23 years with the U.S. Foreign Service, with postings to Washington, Saigon, Manila, Frankfurt, and Guyana. In 1963, Kattenburg attended a National Security Council meeting at which he opposed the U.S. military presence in Vietnam, much to the scorn of several high-ranking members of the Kennedy Administration. This opposition led to Kattenburg’s political fame through the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, but it also meant the sacrifice of his diplomatic career.

Paul Kattenburg was born in Brussels on December 16, 1922. He was enrolled at Brussels’ École Nouvelle at the age of seven. In 1940, with the Nazis on the verge of invading Brussels, Kattenburg left his homeland, just before his graduation. Kattenburg immigrated to the United States by way of Great Britain, and soon found an academic refuge at the University of North Carolina, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Commerce in 1943.

Kattenburg thereafter joined the U.S. Army. His linguistic skills in Dutch, French, English, German, ancient Greek, and Latin made him a prime candidate for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and he became a research analyst for the Southeast Asia Branch, Division of the Philippines. Simultaneously, Kattenburg earned a certificate in the Army Specialized Training Chinese Language Study Program at Harvard University in 1944.

Kattenburg’s active military stint ended in 1945. He immediately enrolled in the Department of Government graduate program at George Washington University. His 1946 master’s thesis was entitled "Indonesian Nationalism: Its Political Evolution and Development." Kattenburg had chosen a career path oriented toward the Far East. While pursuing his master’s degree, Kattenburg married Mary Louise Clark of Escanaba, Michigan, on March 16, 1945. The Kattenburgs had five children.

In 1946, Kattenburg was accepted as a doctoral candidate in International Relations at Yale University. While pursuing his doctorate, Kattenburg’s academic career began with a brief teaching stint as an assistant professor of Government at the College of William & Mary in 1947; he also taught at Yale as an instructing assistant, then instructor, of Political Science from 1947 to 1949. During this time he was also a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves during the Korean War, serving from 1948 to 1953 on non-active duty. Kattenburg’s 1949 dissertation, The Indonesian Question in World Politics, August 1945-January 1948, plus his year-long post-doctoral fellowship in Indonesia with the Social Science Research Council, affirmed his commitment to the Far East as his field of study.

Upon the completion of his doctorate, Kattenburg was heavily recruited for university teaching posts. However, the federal government was even more desirous of his skills. Kattenburg’s Dutch-language background, and Far Eastern military and education concentration, made him particularly qualified for Indonesian analysis work. As a 1950 State Department memorandum states: “Mr. Kattenburg is one of a very few individuals who have had the training and experience required for this position.”

Kattenburg’s career as a U.S. Foreign Serviceman began in 1950. From 1950 to 1962, the family lived in Washington, Manila, and Frankfurt, as Kattenburg found himself promoted from Research Specialist, to Second Secretary of the American Embassy, to Consul. In 1963, he again moved his family back to Washington, when he was promoted to International Relations Officer for the State Department’s Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, as well as Chairman of the Vietnam Working Group.

On August 31, 1963, Kattenburg attended a National Security Council meeting which would dramatically alter his Foreign Service career, and, in years to come, would turn him into a national political celebrity. During this NSC meeting, Kattenburg advocated a total U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. As revealed at the time of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Kattenburg stated that “it 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. By the end of the year, Kattenburg was removed as the Chairman of the Vietnam Working Group. Within two more years, he was moved to a post in Guyana, where he became Embassy Counselor.

In 1969, Kattenburg was recruited as Deputy Coordinator of Political Studies at the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Professional Studies (State Department, Washington). For his final three years of diplomatic service, Kattenburg taught incoming U.S. Foreign Service workers the tools of the trade. Though he officially retired from diplomatic and government service in 1973, he performed contract work for the U.S. government for the rest of his life.

In 1971, Kattenburg found himself the subject of media attention with the publication by the New York Times of the Pentagon Papers, a classified Department of Defense report concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam and the government’s rationale and decision-making on behalf of the war effort. Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg famously leaked the 7,000-page document to the New York Times, and on June 13, 1971, the Times began publishing segments of the report. When the Nixon administration succeeded in obtaining a restraining order against the Times, the Washington Post began publishing where the Times had left off. On June 30, the Supreme Court upheld both newspapers’ rights to publish the materials. As a result, numerous news agencies began investigative probes into the early history of the Vietnam War in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In the papers and the analysis of them which followed, Kattenburg emerged as, according to the Times, “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.” [“Shock for Washington,” 1 July 1971]

In the 1950s, Kattenburg began corresponding with Richard L. “Dixie” Walker, professor at the University of South Carolina and 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.

Kattenburg’s academic career spanned more than thirty years. He was named the Charles L. Jacobsen Professor of Public Affairs in 1980. That same year he published what he considered his most important work, The Vietnam Trauma in American Foreign Policy, 1947-1975, an analysis of U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia within the broader scope of worldwide U.S. foreign policy from the end of World War II until the mid-1970s. The book received excellent reviews, many of which are in the collection, including the following from the Washington Post: “The Vietnam Trauma…is an excellent account of our involvement in Vietnam as ‘an intrinsic and inseparable part of our whole approach’ to the post-World War II world….There is plenty in this book to chew on at senior seminars for both civilians and military.”

In 1986, Kattenburg was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus, but continued to teach at USC as well as in several visiting professorships. In addition, Kattenburg served periodically as an instructor for the University of Pittsburgh’s Semester-at-Sea program, an annual, semester-long “floating university” that tours the world with over 500 students. He taught on voyages in 1984, 1988, 1991, and 1997.

Though Kattenburg is most widely remembered as the lone dissenter of Vietnam War policy at the 1963 meeting of the National Security Council, another major claim to fame is his mission to free Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino from the shackles of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Kattenburg had met Benigno and Corazon Aquino in 1957 on a Foreign Service trip to the Philippines. In 1972, when Marcos took power and declared martial law, he had his main political rival, Ninoy Aquino, imprisoned. In April 1975, Kattenburg received a handwritten plea from Corazon: “Please write about the injustices being perpetrated against Ninoy.”

Kattenburg worked aggressively to aid his friend. His efforts included a scathing July 24, 1974, New York Times editorial as well as a February 1975 letter to Senators John Tunney (D-CA) and Charles Percy (R-IL), Kissinger aide and career diplomat Winston Lord, and the State Department Bureau of East Asian Affairs: “I swear, I’m personally going to set out to blast any further U.S. aid to [the Philippines] if we don’t at last act in this matter!” Aquino was allowed finally to leave the Philippines in 1980. Upon returning to the Philippines in 1983 to try to establish an organized opposition to Marcos, he was assassinated. Following Marcos’ downfall in 1986, Corazon Aquino became the new Filipino President. She remained grateful to Kattenburg for his efforts and visited his Semester-at-Sea students in 1988.

Paul Kattenburg traveled extensively throughout his life, and died during a vacation in Moscow on June 12, 2004.


Donated by Dr. Paul M. Kattenburg.


Copyright of the Paul Kattenburg papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.

Processing Information

Processed by Arik Berglund and Dorothy Hazelrigg, 2005.


Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description