"Truth is the first casualty of war."
JFK/RFK VIETNAM CASUALTIES
Truthspeakers are the second casualty of war.
To Orwell Today,
re: JFK PULLING OUT OF NAM
Dear Mrs Jura,
I just stumbled upon your most interesting web site. Impressive.
Concerning JFK's ultimate intentions concerning Vietnam: I concur that he certainly was having second thoughts about sending in more advisers (in 1962), and he never did send in combat troops. The fact is, however, that if he was prepared to risk nuclear war over Cuba (and Berlin), one can be fairly certain that he would have "held the line" in Vietnam.
This is not to say he would have sent in as many troops as LBJ eventually did. It is one thing to withdraw advisers, and quite another to limit both their numbers and mission.
I feel that Kennedy would have said (by early 1964 which was, of course, a Presidential election year), "Thus far and no more" i.e. we would help the South Vietnamese conduct their war, but in the end it was just that, their war. (As you know he did indeed say something similar in Sept. 1963).
Kennedy was too much the politician to say anything else in an election year, especially when one's likely opponent would be Barry Goldwater.
In a taped interview from 1964, his brother Bobby made clear that John had no intention of quitting Vietnam.
Perhaps had Kennedy been President in 1965, he would have refused to send in combat troops. But even then, to withdraw from Vietnam would not have been out-of-the-question, but rather unlikely.
Few things are more fun then "what-ifs".
I'd be interested to have your views on this matter.
The two instances you refer to where JFK would have taken the USA into war - Cuba and Berlin - were crisis situations where Communists (the Soviet Union) were militarily threatening aggression into areas of strategic, moral and legal interest to America. In both instances, the USSR backed down in the face of USA's willingness and ability to defend itself and its sphere of influence. In both instances, when the threat was removed, JFK resumed diplomatic and peaceful attempts to find solutions to prevent future confrontations.
When it came to Vietnam - which the CIA and Eisenhower had militarily involved the USA in before JFK came to power (as they had also covertly done in Laos, Cuba, Central America, Africa etc) - JFK was not willing to risk American lives because it was a war of independence the Vietnamese had to fight themselves. But JFK had a tough time getting the figurative warship turned around once the steering wheel was in his hands, partly because there was intrique in the engine room.
However, as you say (and as I have said in previous articles) JFK never did send in any combat troops to Vietnam, nor did he have any intention of doing so.
The adage that "truth is the first casualty of war" should have the addition "truthspeakers are the second casualty of war" because in America's history - and many other nations - people who speak out against war become casualties by either character or physical assassination - depending on how big a threat to war they are.
In JFK's case, he was a very big threat to entities pushing and planning USA involvement in war in Vietnam - something begun by his predecessor, Eisenhower and fulfilled by his successor, Johnson.
Here are two pages of chronology from John Newman's 1992 book JFK AND VIETNAM where I've bolded and underlined passages proving JFK's withdrawal plans and LBJ's reversal of those plans:
October 11, 1963 - NSAM-263 [National Security Action Memorandum) issued, directing implementation of 1,000-man withdrawal, with no formal announcement made, by the end of 1963
October 31, 1963 - Kennedy says at press conference that "if" the U.S. could withdraw 1,000 men by the end of the year, "that would be our schedule"
November 14, 1963 - Kennedy press conference lists first American objective in Vietnam policy is "to bring Americans home"
November 16, 1963 - General Timmes, CHMAAG [Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group] in South Vietnam, announces 1,000-man withdrawal by the end of 1963, following Kennedy's lifting of secrecy of timetable
November 21, 1963 - NSAM-273 drafted - Kennedy tells Forrestal that upon Forrestal's return from his trip to Cambodia, "I want to start a complete and very profound review of how we got into this country [Vietnam]; what we thought we were doing; and what we now think we can do. . . . I even want to think about whether or not we should be there."
November 22, 1963 - President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas
November 24, 1963 - At White House meeting, President Johnson expresses his dissatisfaction with operations in Vietnam up to this point, and says, "I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went"
November 26, 1963 - NSAM-273 signed by Johnson; final NSAM is changed from November 21 draft - change is escalatory
December 1963 - Hilsman memo to Johnson details actions taken pursuant to NSAM-273; including a joint CIA-Defense plan for "intensified actions against North Vietnam"
December 20 - At SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] conference, McNamara approves plan of covert actions against North Vietnam [end quoting from JFK & VIETNAM by Newman]
You don't mention the source of the taped interview with Bobby Kennedy you refer to - where he said JFK had no intention of quitting Vietnam - but it was probably from the 1988 book ROBERT KENNEDY IN HIS OWN WORDS which is a transcript of interviews done in 1964, 1965 and 1967:
At one point - on page 395 - Bobby does say that JFK wouldn't quit Vietnam. But that was under the condition that the Vietnamese do their own fighting, not Americans fighting for them. The conversation then continued with Bobby agreeing to the interviewer's comment that "JFK had no disposition to go in in an all out way, as we went into Korea" and Bobby answered:
"Yes, because everybody, including General MacArthur, felt that land conflict between our troops - white troops and Asian - would only end in disaster. So we went in as advisers to try to get the Vietnamese to fight, themselves, because we couldn't win the war for them. They had to win the war for themselves."
So, as you can see, Bobby is repeating what JFK said in his November 14, 1963 televised interview, ie that "in the final analysis it is the people and the Government of South Vietnam itself who have to win or lose this struggle."
In 1968 Bobby Kennedy himself put his political career (and his life) on the line when he challenged Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination based on a platform of getting the USA out of Vietnam. But LBJ quit instead of fighting (and losing) against Bobby and then Nixon became president only because Bobby was assassinated, otherwise he'd have lost the election (just as he had against JFK eight years previously).
The war in Vietnam then dragged on another five years and thousands more American boys died fighting "millions of Chinese troops in the jungles" (as JFK had feared) before finally "pulling out" in an airlift out of Saigon - then in the hands of the victorious Communist Viet Cong. The defeat cost 58,000 American lives and thousands of prisoners of war still missing there somewhere.
And since JFK and RFK died - and we've all been playing the "what if" game - the powers-that-be that profit from war have involved the USA in conflicts all over the world - mostly under a foreign flag - the United Nations - where thousands of American boys (and girls) are dying and continue to die - along with the people of the nations comprising the battleground - most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I believe, without a doubt, that if JFK had lived to complete two terms, and then perhaps Bobby got two terms (like Bush Sr and son Jr) and the economic and foreign policies they would have entrenched ran their course, the USA would not have entered the wars it got involved in, nor would it have handed over control of ports in the Panama Canal and the Bahamas to the Communist Chinese whose soldiers American soldiers fought and died against in nine years bogged down in the Vietnam quagmire.
What if? If only.
All the best,
PS - While JFK was being deceived by some of his advisors on Vietnam, the Western Press was also being deceived by Time Magazine's reporter in Saigon who was actually a colonel in the North Viet Cong army. See TIME MAN-IN-SAIGON SPY
'Big John' heading up Delaware River (Retiring JFK aircraft carrier expected to be seen by thousands). Delaware News, Mar 22, 2008
Big John, The Kennedy, JFK, Super K, The Can Opener. She earned a string of nicknames during her 39 years among the Navy's fleet of carriers, but all are headed for mothballs today as the deactivated USS John F. Kennedy is towed up the Delaware River past Wilmington en route to an uncertain future in Philadelphia. Doomed by the need for costly oil and a costlier overhaul, the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier built in America will remain in Philadelphia in a "state of preservation," pending completion of the nuclear-powered USS Gerald Ford, CV-77. Navy officials plan to keep the ship tied up at Pier 4 at the Navy Yard near the Philadelphia Cruise Ship Terminal as a hedge against a national emergency, while deciding on its longer-term duty as a museum or artificial reef.... Thousands were expected to turn out for a glimpse of the big ship, christened in 1967 by Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the country's 35th president....
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