John F Kennedy and Vietnam

John F Kennedy and Vietnam

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In order to describe the things that John F. Kennedy contributed to the Vietnam War, it is crucial to give a slight background to his character. First of all, he was the youngest president, the first Catholic president, and the youngest to be assassinated while in office. JFK served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, commanding the patrol boat PT-109 and leading his crew to rescue after the boat was sunk by the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. He was also a Democrat and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts' 11th district in 1946. In 1952 he moved up to the U.S. Senate, defeating Henry Cabot Lodge. He went on to marry Jackie Bouvier on 12 September 1953; they had two children, Caroline and John Jr. (A third child, Patrick, was born on August 7th, 1963 and died two days later) (http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK+Library+and+Museum/News+and+Press/Vietnam+and+the+Presidency.htm).
JFK was elected to replace President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 (narrowly defeating Eisenhower's vice-president, Richard Nixon); he swept into office with a reputation for youthful charm, impatience, wit and vigor. Kennedy's term was sometimes called the New Frontier, a phrase he coined in his acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic convention (Answers.com).
President Kennedy came into office with a belief that America could and should shape the destiny of the world's developing countries. (Imperialism) Vietnam, however, was not largely what he had in mind. President Kennedy believed that the unsteadiness of developing countries demanded new approaches. Kennedy was taken aback when Walt W. Rostow, who believed that all nations followed the same general path of economic and social development, argued that nations became unstable as the reached the phase he called "modernization." The Kennedy administration was guided in part by this modernization model as it considered a way to protect South Vietnam while help it throughout the stages of economic growth. Most of Kennedy's advisers believed that South Vietnam was not in danger. As Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense said once, "North Vietnam will never beat us. They can't even make ice cubes." (http://www.vietnamwar.com/johnkennedyrole.htm)
Basically, the U.S. entered the Vietnam War in order to hold the line against the spread of world Communism. America paid for the war the French fought against Communist Vietnam as a part of the Truman Doctrine (1947) "to protect free peoples…" and then by the 1950's became involved when the war flared up again. By the late 1950's the Americans developed the "Domino Theory" as a justification for the involvement.

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This theory stated, "If South Vietnam falls to the Communist, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India and Pakistan would also fall like dominos. The Pacific Islands and even Australia could be at risk". After the French were defeated in 1954, Vietnam was split in two - the north was Communist, led by Ho Chi Minh, and the south was Capitalist under Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem's regime received billions of dollars from the US but remained deeply unpopular with most Vietnamese people. The US prevented the elections that were promised under the Geneva conference because it knew that the Communists would win. Vietnamese Buddhist monks protested against American involvement by self-immolation. Operation Phoenix was organized by the CIA. This led to the arrest and murder of thousands of Communists in the south. First the US sent in military advisers, and then President Johnson sent in troops in huge numbers (http://www.learnhistory.org.uk/vietnam/reasons.htm).
Fearing a communist takeover of the regions of Vietnam, the United States grew mistrustful of the improvement of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong. Communism had become the evil threat in the United States and with expansion of Soviet rule into Eastern Europe, Korea and Cuba; the Americans were bent on stopping communism from spreading any further (http://www.vietnampix.com/intro.htm).
However, while a U.S. Senator, Kennedy argues for caution and restraint in sending advisory troops to Vietnam. In this speech given to the U.S. Senate in 1954, Kennedy says, "The time has come for the American people to be told the blunt truth about Indochina. I am reluctant to make any statement which may be misinterpreted as unappreciative to the gallant French struggle at Dien Bien Phu and elsewhere; or as partisan criticism of our Secretary of State just prior to his participation in the delicate deliberations in Geneva. Nor, as one who is not a member of those committees in Congress, which have been briefed- if not consulted on this matter, I wish to appear impetuous or an alarmist in my evaluation of the situation. But the speeches of President Eisenhower, Secretary Dulles, and others have left too much unsaid in my opinion, and what has been left unsaid, is the heart of the problem that should concern every citizen. For if the American people are, for the fourth time in this century, to travel the long and tortuous road of war- particularly a war which we now realize would threaten the survival of civilization- then I believe we have a right to inquire in detail into the nature of the struggle which we may become engaged, and the alternative to such struggle. Without such clarification the general support and success of our policy is endangered. "
JFK goes onto propose two basic alternatives. "The first is negotiated peace, bases either upon partition of the area, or based upon a coalition government in which HO Chi Minh is represented. The second alternative is for the United States to persuade the French to continue their valiant and costly struggle, an alternative which, considering the current state of opinion in France, will be adopted only if the US pledges increasing support. Certainly I, for one, favor a policy of a "united action" by many nations whenever necessary to achieve a military and political victory for the free world in that area, realizing full well that it may eventually require some commitment of our man power." (Opposing ViewPoints)
In May 1961, President Kennedy sent 500 American advisers to Vietnam, bringing American forces to 1,400 men. The military wanted more men saying that with 13,000 troops they could wipe out the Vietcong. Kennedy didn't know what to do; as men he trusted argued both sides of the issue. Kennedy was not deciding the fate of Vietnam with a worry free head because Cuba, Berlin, Laos, and the Soviet Union all weighed on the President. Kennedy believed that the real issue in Vietnam was the effectiveness of the South Vietnamese government; but should the US allow Communist aggression to stand in Vietnam? Slowly, over the next year, Kennedy escalated American involvement in the war. By the end of 1962, the military had received what they wanted. The US had 11,300 officers operating in South Vietnam. Kennedy was told in early 1963 that the war was fast being won and that he could begin withdrawing troops by the end of the year, however the war was far from being won. (http://www.vietnamwar.com/johnkennedyrole.htm)
Kennedy still did not know what policy to pursue in Vietnam. He had already begun to speak to his advisers about pulling out. He had announced that he was pulling out 1,000 men from Vietnam at the end of the year. Kennedy, however, left no doubt that he will see the war through until he won reelection in 1964. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The only thing certain about Kennedy's role in Vietnam before he died was that he had escalated America's military, political, and maybe psychological commitment to Vietnam (http://www.vietnamwar.com/johnkennedyrole.htm).
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