- Vietnam minor sideshow in Cold War - became important during Kennedy admin
- obsession under Johnson
- Kennedy presidency saw increased commitment to S.V
- commitment increased after Kennedy death
- Johnson admin criticised for lack of understanding of Vietnam+reliance on military solutions to solve problems - Kennedy admin policies showed similar failures of perception
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Kennedy ideas about Vietnam
- his Catholic family loathed communism
- McArthy was a good friend of Kennedy's father
- January 1961 became President - ideas about Vietnam already shaped+demonstrated - agreed with Truman that U.S must 'contain' Communism
- attacked Truman for 'losing' China
- believed in Domino Theory
- believed third world to be the new Cold War battleground
- after 1954 Geneva accords, believed that Democracy could thrive in S.V
- rejected idea of nationwide elections knew HCM would win
- criticised Eisenhower for losing initiative in foreign policy
- 1960 Pres. election campaign: U.S needed pres to "get America moving again"
- campaign military anti-comm.
- described Comm. as "uneasing in its drive for world domination"
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summary of Kennedy's early ideas about S.V
- Opposed French Colonialism
- Domino Theory
- Thir World was new Cold War battleground
- Truman 'lostl China
- Vietnam was important
- Containment of Communism
- McCarthyism - McCarthy friend of Kennedy's father
- Catholicism(hated Communism as it was Atheist)
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Kennedy and his advisers - campaign rhetoric
- inaugural address was entirely devoted to foreign policy:
- "let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foes to assure the survival and the success of liberty"
- prisoner of his own Cold War campaing rhetoric - he made a huge fuss over the 'missile gap' in 1960 and the need for more dynamic foreign policy - duty bound to increase defense spending and foreign involvement once elected.
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Kennedy and his advisers - youth and inexperience
- Kennedy sensitive to references about his youth and inexperience
- well aware the nation would rally around a narrowly elected President in time of national crisis
- campaign slogan "a time for greatness" - knew that great presidents not made in tranquil times. "great crises make great men"
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Kennedy and his advisers - Third World insurgency
- convinced the third world was likely to be future arena of struggle between US and S.U
- Krushchev rhetoric confirmed Kennedy's beliefs and fears
- Eisenhower had warned Kennedy that the Republican Party would attack "any retreat in SouthEast Asia" - if he were to make a stand in the third world it would therefore be somewhere in S.E Asia, also likely to be shaped by Kennedy's fascination with counter-insurgency - Kennedy's specially trained American counter-insurgency force wore and became known as 'Green Berets'
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Kennedy and his advisers - Advisers
- eagerness to 'get things moving' made him impatient with the state department
- when he sought advise on foreign affairs he looked to those in his circle, such a Sec. of Defense Robert MacNamara
- was thus influenced by the Defence Department rather than State Department
- Defense Department naturally inclined to see problems in terms of military solutions
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Secretary Of Defence Robert Mcnamara - Background
- taught accountancy at Hardvard Business School - always solution in terms of numbers
- Kennedy offered him the Defence Department
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Secretary Of Defence Robert Mcnamara - personality
- only cabinet member to join the charmed social circle around Kennedy
- Enormous influence and judgemental lapses on the part of McNamara proved unfortunate with regard to Vietnam
- was a great believer in US commitment to Vietnam
- his solutions to problems were always military - extremely unhelpful
- greatly encouraged Kennedy then Johnson to send US ground troops to Vietnam, advocated large scale bombing - then changed his mind, and declared that the US had got it all wrong.
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Secretary Of Defence Robert Mcnamara - Beliefs
- A New York Times reported commended his efficiency but found cause for concern in his total conviction that he was always right, his lack of historical knowledge and his tendency to try to reduce problems to statistics by eliminating the human factor.
- trained in the importance of statistics, McNamara tended to look at numbers of weapons and men, while forgetting that poorly armed people will sometimes fight to the death for their independence.
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Secretary Of State, Dean Rusk - background
- believed appeasement of aggressors led to outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and in the Pacific in 1941.
- determination to oppose Communist aggression made him a hard-line Cold Warrior
- considerable influence on America's Vietnam policy since late 1940's
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Sec of State Dean Rusk - Relationship with Kennedy
- when deciding choices for Sec of State, Kennedy confessed he wanted to dominate foreign policy personally, so the modest Rusk seemed a perfect choice.
- after their first meeting, Rusk said "Kennedy and I simply found it impossible to communicate. He didn't understand me and I didn't understand him" - an accurate summary of their working relationship.
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Sec of State Dean Rusk - Style and Beliefs
- irritated by the theatricality and amateurism of his boss, who listened to brother Bobby rather than the State Department experts
- believed in US involvement in Vietnam, but felt it was the role of the Defence Department rather than the State Department
- Kennedy therefore listened to those more likely to put the emphasis upon the military battles than upon the battles for the hearts and mins of the people. Easy to see how this lead to increasing US military involvement in Vietnam.
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Kennedy actions in 3rd world - Cuba - early failur
- first week in office Kennedy privately declared that the major problem areas of Third World were the congo, cuba, laos and vietnam
- US sponsored an unsuccessful anti-Comm invasion at the bay of pigs in Cuba, 1961
- there was dissent within Kennedy admin over Cuba as over Vietnam
- 'group think' proved triumphant.
- in both Cuba and Vietnam the Kennedy admin's policy and actions were neither systematically thought out nor exhaustively discussed by all who might have contributed valuable ideas.
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Kennedy actions in 3rd world - Laos
Laos - niether winning nor losing
Laos occupied Kennedy the most in early days of his presidency
- he feared a Soviet-backed Communist triumph there
- March 1961 - news conference Kennedy implied military intervention, but reality was he was held back by the bay of pigs failure. Also too few soldiers and aircraft available, and Congress feared intervention may lead to war with China.
- Kennedy still sent US military advisers to help Loatian leader whom he describes as "total ****"
- Septermber 1961 - Summer 1962 Kennedy's representatives managed to neutralise Laos - superpowers agreed it would be governed by a coalition. Laotian Communists proved uncooperative - HCM VC continued to use Laotian trails to get to S.V - confirmed Kennedy belief Comms. must be stopped somewhere in S.E Asia
- Events in laos thus contributed to increased commitment to Vietnam
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How Cuba and Laos helped lead to Vietnam
- failure of the bay of pigs and 'draw' consequent upon the neutralisation of Laos meant that outright vitcories had to be won elsewhere.
- because of the bay of pigs failure Kennedy rejected the option of an early privately negotiated solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis, preferring a confrontational stance
- backing down in Laos was countered by a firm commitment to Diem and South Vietnam
- Vietnam was more suitable for US intervention than Laos in several ways
- long coastline - US warships
- Diem seemed to have SV under control, democracy seemed to have a good chance of working there
- US departure would result in a loss of face and would 'undermine the credibility of American commitments everywhere'
- Kennedy did not want to be accused of 'losing' Vietnam in the same way that Truman had 'lost' China.
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Kennedy and Diem
- not really until the summer of 1963 that Kennedy paid much attention to Vietnam
- Dean Rusk and his State Department were more interested in the Soviet Threat in Germany and seemed content to leave Vietnam to McNamara's Defence Department.
- meant that Kennedy tended to see the Vietnam problem in terms of a military solution
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military solutions - 1961
- Kennedy's accession - 800 US military advisers in S.V
- within days of becoming pres, Kennedy stepped up the financial aid to Diem to enable him to increase his army
- Diem's 250,000 men couldn't wipe out 12,000 VC - should have rung warning bells?
- JCS and National Security Council suggested putting US ground troops in - Kennedy preferred to increase advisers
- Kennedy admin emphasised counter-insurgency. Green Berets co-operated with ARVN
- October 1961 Kennedy sent General Maxwell Taylor to evaluate military situation in S.V - Taylor felt counter-insurgency would be effective against guerillas
- by this point, already over 2000 US military 'advisers' in Vietnam. Taylor recommended sending 8,000-10,000 US ground troops. McNamara wanted to send 40,000 and further 20,000 in N.V and China intervened.
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Increased military involvement
- first 2 years Kennedy presidency, number of US military advisers rose alarmingly(3000 December 1961 - 12,000 1962)
- quantities of US weaponry flooded into S.V
- Information about increased involvement kept from the US public
- The US not only provided helicopters, but also 'pilot advisers' - actively involved in the war
- despite the vast increase in US involvement, the ARVN weakness was exposed in the battle of Ap Bac in January 1963
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The Battle of Ap Bac
- January 1963
- 2000 ARVN troops, 133 US personell carriers, US helicopters and bombers surrounded Ap Bac
- ARVN troops refused to attack the VC at Ap Bac
- 5 US helicopters and 3 pilots lost and ARVN troops refused to mount a rescue mission
results/significance of the Battle of Ap Bac
- drew unprecedented attention in the US
- showed that Diem was probably militarily incapable of winning the war
- by early 1963 it was clear that, despite ever-increasing US military aid, Diem was not winning the war against Communists
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The Reform Option - vice pres Johnson & Diem
- May 1961 Kennedy sent Johnson to try to persuade Diem that one of the best ways to defeat the Communists was to introduce greater political, social and economic equality to S.V
- Johnson proclaimed Diem to be anothr Churchill
- Johnson believed that it was a question of national honour to continue supporting 'friends' like Diem
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Reform option - strategic hamlets
- early 1962 Diem adopted policy of strategic hamlets
- Vietcong frequently joined the other residents...
- strategic hamlets program was run by Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, who ignored US advice when establishing them - within a year VC captured thousands of US weapons from hamlets foolishly set up too far from Saigon
- concerned only with increasing his power, Nhu ignored the scoial, economic and political reforms that the US suggested he introduce in the hamlets. Led to increased opposition to the Diem/US regime.
- years later it was revealed that Nhu's deputy in this business was a Communist who did his best to sabotage the scheme
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- spring 1963 relations between Diem and US werre very tense
- increasingly clear Diem was incapable of working with anyone
- Diem resented US advice and seemed to be considering a settlement with Hanoi which would get the US out. However, Kennedy told a journalist - "I can't give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and then get the American people to re-elect me."
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Catholics vs. Buddhists
- mutual Catholicism had played a part in Kennedy's support of Diem
- Diem regime allowed the flying of Catholic flags in honour of Diem's brother, but banned flags for celebration Buddha's birthday
- 10,000 Buddhists protested, Diem sent in soldiers. Seven Buddhists killed.
- June - 73 year old Buddhist monk self immolated - made headlines in US
- by August Diem appeared to be waging religious war on Buddhist majority - administration felt it was time for a new US ambassador.
- Ambassador Frederick Nolting replaced by Henry Cabot Lodge II
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the right man?
- Lodge was a patriot, WW2 hero, and experienced and ambitious Republican party politician with an interest in foreign affairs
- Lodge's main task was to improve relations with US press - his relations with the press were already good
the wrong man?
- Lodge was simply "a piece of Republican asbestos to keep the heat off Kennedy"
- Lodge was not ideal for the co-ordination role envisaged by the State Department. He lacked practice in teamwork and administration.
- like Kennedy - preferred his own sources of info
- Rusk told Lodge in June 1963 that Vietnam had become a great burden to the president. Taking up more of the president's time than any other issue.
- Rusk - "we need an ambassador out there who is tough" - "can act as a catalyst; who will take responsibility and make decisions"
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Washington, Lodge and overthrow of Diem
- Lodge believed victory was impossible if Diem remained in power.
- Lodge arrived in Vietnam 22nd August 1963 - happy to learn of an ARVN plot against Nhu
- anti-Diem group in Kennedy admin agreed Diem must be got rid of unless he instituted dramatic changes, especially Nhu and his wife - no real discussion about this
- Kennedy had been relaxing on Cape Cod and absorbed by the foorthcoming civil rights march on Washington - "never do business on the weekend" and admin. grew ever more divided over Diem issue.
- Kennedy - "My God", "my government's coming apart"
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Washington, Lodge and overthrow of Diem
Lodge vs. Diem
- in absence of firm leadership from Washington, Lodge acquired an unusual amount of control of US policy in Vietnam
- first meeting with Diem, Lodge took the initiative and began to criticise Madame Nhu
- Lodge proceeded to turn to Congress and US public opinion against Diem and Nhu, through press 'leaks' by establishing highly publicised shelters for persecuted Buddhists in the US embassy.
- meanwhile ARVN plotters were unconvinced of total US support and began to falter.
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Washington, Lodge and overthrow of Diem
- Kennedy's disunited admin rejected both the option of using US combat troops and the idea of a total withdrawal
- he acknowledged that Diem needed to change his policies and personnel. Said it would be a mistake for the US to get out of Vietnam
- Kennedy reiterated the domino theory and warned of the influence of expansionist China in Vietnam
- Kennedy sent McNamara and chairman of JCS, General Taylor, to report of Vietnam situation
- McNamara and Taylor were critical of Diem
- their itinerary was dictated by the military in Vietnam, coupled with their own unwillingness to admit that their earlier optimism had been unjustified, led them to say that all was going well militarily and that the 16,000 US forces could be withdrawn by 1965.
- Kennedy publicly announced that 1000 would leave in late 1963
- by this point Nhu was negotiating with hanoi, confirming the US conviction that he and Diem had to go.
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Washington, Lodge and overthrow of Diem
- ARVN plotters now knew that they would have US support in their coup. The White House said it did not wish to 'stimulate' a coup but that it would not stop one and would help any new regime.
- 2nd November 1963 - coup occured. Lodge publicly denied any US involvement
- Diem and Nhu fled the government buildings, Found dead the next day.
- never know for certain whether Kennedy approved the idea of assassinating his Cuban enemy Batista or his Vietnamese friend Diem, seems possible that he did.
- Ironically kennedy would meet the same fate as Diem within 3 weeks
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Washington, Lodge and overthrow of Diem
situation at Kennedy's death
- moment of Kennedy's death - 17,000 US advisers in Vietnam
- increase in number of advisers was most convincing arguement that Kennedy would not have got the US out of Vietnam
- Kennedy told one senator friend - "I can't [get out] until 1965 - after I'm re-elected"
- However, Rusk, Bobby Kennedy said Kennedy had no plans to get out.
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Kennedy's reign - Conclusions
- Early setbacks in presidency(bay of pigs and Vienna Summit with Krushchev) caused Kennedy to confide to a NY Times reporter, "Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place"
- Particular events confirmed and shaped Kennedy's Cold War mentality, leading him into increased commitment to Vietnam
- having decided that "Vietnam is the place" and having continued the commitment to Diem, it was then difficult for Kennedy to admit that this was all a mistake. Getting rid of Diem did not improve the situation and Kennedy continued believing increased force would somehow sort the issue
- Westmoreland claimed the demise of Diem "morally locked us in Vietnam". By encouraging a change of gov. in S.V, Kennedy greatly increased commitment to subsequent Saign governments.
- Kennedy interpreted events in Vietnam within a Cold War context which didn't apply. HCM was neither a Moscow nor a Beijing puppet - could be argued Kennedy had invested Vietnam with a Cold War importance that it didn't merit.
- Kennedy admin claimed to be promoting democracy in SV but had supported a dictator and then a military clique.
- Kennedy had passed a posioned chalice to his successor.
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Key Debate - why Kennedy increased involvement
- Orthodox historians argue Moscow/Beijing support of Hanoi gave Kennedy little choice - he simply had to resist Communism.
- Revisionists McCormick(1989) and Hearden(1991) claimed he was sustaining America's overseas empire.
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Key Debate - The Commitment Trap
- Truman and Eisenhower had committed the US to involvement in Vietnam and Kennedy was caught in a 'commitment trap'
- Kennedy told General de Gaulle he had inherited the possibly unwisely created SEATO from Eisenhower - it would looked bad if US abandoned SEATO
- It was not so much the territorial loss as the psychological loss that would be vital if Vietnam fell
- the world would see that the United States lacked the determination to prevail
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Key Debate - what if Kennedy had lived?
- Bassett and Pelz doubt that Kennedy intended to withdraw.
- Anderson(2005) - "There had been no official American reassessment of the strategic value of Vietnam. The commitment, in fact, was stronger than ever".
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