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John F Kennedy in Vietnam
JOHN F. KENNEDY IN VIETNAM
There are many critical questions surrounding United States involvement in Vietnam. American entry to Vietnam was a series of many choices made by five successive presidents during these years of 1945-1975. The policies of John F. Kennedy during the years of 1961-1963 were ones of military action, diplomacy, and liberalism. Each of his decision was on its merits at the time the decision was made. The belief that Vietnam was a test of the Americas ability to defeat communists in Vietnam lay at the center of Kennedy’s policy. Kennedy promised in his inaugural address, "Let every nation know...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."
From the 1880s until World War II, France governed Vietnam as part of French Indochina, which also included Cambodia and Laos. The country was under the formal control of an emperor, Bao Dai. From 1946 until 1954, the Vietnamese struggled for their independence from France during the first Indochina War. At the end of this war, the country was temporarily divided into North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam came under the control of the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France and aimed for a unified Vietnam under Communist rule. Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French controlled the South.
For this reason the United States became involved in Vietnam because it believed that if all of the country fell under a Communist government, Communism would spread throughout Southeast Asia and further. This belief was known as the "domino theory." The decision to enter Vietnam reflected America’s idea of its global role-U.S. could not recoil from world leadership. The U.S. government supported the South Vietnamese government. The U.S. government wanted to establish the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), which extended protection to South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in case of Communist "subversion." SEATO, which came into force in 1955, became the way which Washington justified its support for South Vietnam; this support eventually became direct involvement of U.S. troops. In 1955, the United States picked Ngo Dinh Diem to replace Bao Dai as head of the anti-Communist regime in South Vietnam. Eisenhower chose to support Ngo Dinh Diem.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 29, 1917. Kennedy graduated from Harvard University in 1940 and joined the Navy the next year. After recovering from a war-aggravated spinal injury, Kennedy entered politics in 1946 and was elected to Congress. After a hard primary battle, Kennedy won the Democratic presidential nomination on the first ballot at the 1960 Los Angeles convention. With a majority of 118,574 votes, he won the election over Vice President Richard M. Nixon and became the first Roman Catholic president. Kennedy was inaugurated January 20, 1961.
January 19, 1961 was President Eisenhower last full day in office. He met with President elect Kennedy to lay out pressing national issues he would have to face. Tensions between the United States and the USSR had mounted after World War II, resulting in the Cold War. JFK would have to deal with that problem. There was an intense discussion about Laos and Vietnam between Kennedy and Eisenhower. Another problem JFK had inherited was Diem from Eisenhower.
Kennedy’s cabinet members were made up of many different thinkers. Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State believed that there was a communist plot to take over the world and it must be stopped. Walt Rostow, the presidential advisor believes that we should use military force to cut off supplies to the Vietcong, have large scale bombings of North Vietnam and accelerate modernization in South Vietnam. General Maxwell Taylor criticized Eisenhower’s conventional training efforts. McGeorge Bundy, the NSC advisor wanted to attack the Vietcong and North Vietnam if necessary. George Ball believed that Diem regime was corrupt and to create democracy in Vietnam was impossible.
Kennedy first role as president was to focus on issue involving the dangerous crisis over Berlin, on Cuba, and on the future of Laos. JFK first sends advisors to Vietnam to recommend a course of action during May 1961. Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President, visits South Vietnam and recommends strong commitment. In June 1961, the State Department report had three objectives:
provide military protection to peasants
convince Diem to implement social and economic reforms
create a self-sustaining economy in South Vietnam
That same year in December, the State Department claims in a public report that Vietnam is threatened by a “clear and present danger,” of communist aggression.
Kennedy also during that year sent a cable to Robert McNamera and General Maxwell Taylor for a proposed visit to talk to Diem in about Vietnam and Laos. Taylor and McNamara were sent on a series of trips during 1961-1963 to Vietnam. The Taylor- McNamara report recommended
the use of 8,000 US combat troops
a 5,000 man combat engineering group
JFK was personally convinced that ground troops shouldn't go in but his experts said otherwise. The Laotian Crisis occurred during 1961. People saw this as a direct link to the expansion of US activism in Vietnam.
JFK's first decision about Vietnam was a counterinsurgency plan. On January 28, 1961 JFK approves the plan. In April of 1961 the first of 16,000 Green Beret advisors was sent to Vietnam. Kennedy sends 500 military advisors, a total of 1,400. A problem of this plan was the military was unable to stop communism.
By the end of 1961 Kennedy was devoting a lot of resources to the Vietnam problem as well as the entire Southeast Asian region. Kennedy and administration believed that losing Laos would probably mean the loss of all South East Asia. It was also apparent to Kennedy that a communist victory in Laos would pose a threat to the United States. Dec. 1961 JFK implemented the Strategic Hamlet Program. Which was rural pacification. W
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