Into the Crucible: JFK and Vietnam

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Curtis H Allen III (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
Web Site:
Elizabeth L. Normandy

Abstract: John F. Kennedy had a gift, so rare among politicians, for inspiring his countrymen. Few elected officials have captured, to the degree Kennedy did, the imaginations of the masses and the elite alike. Kennedy was eloquent. He radiated confidence. He challenged his countrymen to soar to new heights. And he was cut down in his prime. It is a truism that assassination coats political careers with an otherwise unattainable luster. The tumultuous 60's further enhanced the Kennedy legend. Might he have been able to steer America safely through the problems that wracked that decade? Many are inclined to believe so. "The heart of the Kennedy legend,' James Reston has noted, 'is what might have been"' (Paterson 6).In particular, some Kennedy myth-makers argue that Kennedy would have avoided the slaughter in Vietnam that took place under Lyndon Johnson. (Some have intimated that the US military had Kennedy assassinated because of this alleged plans to withdraw US forces from Vietnam.) They assert that Kennedy would have quickly surmised that the Vietnam was unwinnable and, consequently, would have withdrawn US forces from South Vietnam. Their arguments are based on Kennedy's supposed sagacity and on questionable interpretations of certain historical incidents.My own view, reached after a dispassionate inspection of the evidence, fails to accommodate such interpretations. Kennedy appears to have been a president who neve questioned the fundamental foreign policy assumptions of Truman and Eisenhower. Kennedy thought the preservation of a free South Vietnam important to the global balance of power, and was willing to go to great lengths to insure the defeat of the Vietcong. There is no good reason to believe that Kennedy would have pulled US forces out of Vietnam without first defeating the insurrectionists. Four categories of historical evidence need to be considered in any quest to determine what Kennedy would have actually done in Vietnam. The first (and by far the largest and most important) consists of the orders Kennedy actually gave concerning Vietnam and pertinent internal administration documents. From these some trends in administration activity and thinking become salient. Kennedy's world view is another weighty factor in this historical guessing game, inasmuch as it affected his approach to the Vietnam problem. The president's public statements about Vietnam can reasonably be assumed (despite the supposed disingenuousness of politicians) to paint an albeit imperfect picture of Kennedy's intended course in Vietnam. Finally, the recollections of former Kennedy aides are worth sifting through, the idea being that the men closest to the president out to know what he planned to do.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1997
John F. Kennedy, America, Assassination, Truism, Vietnam, Myth-makers

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