The Kennedy Years 1960-1963
• What legacy in Vietnam did Kennedy inherit
from Eisenhower?
• In what ways and why did the Kennedy
administration increase involvement in
South East Asia? Why?
• Why was Diem removed in 1963?
What intervention had
Eisenhower left in Vietnam?
• Propped up Diem’s regime
• 1500 US advisors to Vietnam
• Not Combat troops – he had learnt lessons
from Korea
1. How effective a ruler was Diem in South
Vietnam in the years 1955-1960?
• 1960: Containment under serious challenge in SE
• Laos – North Vietnamese never really withdrawn
from there – another ‘domino’ about to fall?
• South Vietnam also looking unstable – Politburo
in Hanoi ( Northern government) had decided to
step up aid to supporters in South who were
under pressure from Diem
• North Vietnamese govt re-activated the Ho Chi
Minh Trail along the Laos and Cambodian border
to supply arms to fighters in S. Vietnam
• Dec 1960: Anti-Diem coalition formed in S.
Vietnam called the NLF.
• Growing unpopularity of Diem regime –
• Seen as a US stooge but in reality was stubborn,
arrogant and distrustful of all but his family.
• Failed to take advice from American representatives in
• Nepotism – power to his family.
• Sister in Law: ‘Power is lovely. Absolute power is
absolutely lovely’
• Reforms under Diem too little too late
• ‘Agrovilles’ not popular among peasants – had to leave
their villages and graves of ancestors
• Buddhist majority treated with contempt
• 1960 (1 month before JFK election) 2 colonels attacked
palace of president Diem with ARVN. Diem survived
but the revolt made him more distrustful and only
listened to closet associates
This was the legacy that
Kennedy had inherited in
Diem and his sister in law Madame Nhu
Who wasWho
6 facts you probably already know
He was the youngest president to be elected at 43 and youngest to
die in office 46. Also the only president to die before both of his
He was the first Roman Catholic to be elected as President.
'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for
your country', this was the famous quote that shot JFK to popularity.
His 1961 inaugural speech which was entirely devoted to foreign policy
He was a charming, handsome and well educated man from the
upper class of US society in New England.
JFK was an effective public speaker and writer winning the
Pullitzer prize in 1954 for Profiles in Courage
He was a fervent anti communist. Believed in the world wide
communist conspiracy and the domino theory. Had a keen interest
in American history culture and American achievement.
And 6 interesting facts you may not know..
He always gave the impression of being fit and healthy but throughout his
adult life he was badly affected by back pain. In 1935 he underwent two life
threatening operations to deal with this problem. He also suffered from
Addisons disease.
Though Kennedy was never religious, he attended confessions regularly. But he
was constantly worried that some priest may recognize his voice and reveal to
the world the things he confessed. He used to go to church with a group of
Catholic Secret Service Men, so that he would not be recognized.
Kennedy never carried cash with him and he used to constantly borrow money
from his friends to pay cab fares, restaurant checks, etc. Though Kennedy was
wealthy he never made it a point to pay his friends back, leaving them
Kennedy kept a green beret on his oval office desk
He was decorated for heroism in the Second World War
Wrote While England Slept in 1940 which became a best seller.
The Kennedy Crusade
Kennedy was a Cold War warrior - a fervent and militant
anti communist
This was at the heart of his rhetoric:
“The enemy is the Communist system itself- implacable,
insatiable, unceasing in its drive for world domination.. This is
not a struggle for supremacy of arms alone. It is also a struggle
for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies : freedom
under God versus ruthless godless tyranny.”
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.
Task: Who were the key players in
the Kennedy administration?
Introduce yourself to the others on your table
• Who are you?
• What is your role?
• What is your attitude to
Communism and Vietnam?
Views on Vietnam
Views on Vietnam
Views on Vietnam
Was the Kennedy administration
going to signal a change of policy?
Perhaps the combination of the three men would
mean greater action would be taken by the
Rhetoric + Third World + Youth and Inexperience
+ Dominance of Defence dept and McNamara +
Hesitancy of Rusk
Kennedys early ideas about Vietnam
Kennedys background suggests he might be even more interested in and
committed to Vietnam than his predecessors....
(hatred of
because it was
McCarthy was
a family friend
ideas –
what were
they what
shaped them
of communism
Third World
was the new
Cold War
Truman ‘lost’
Vietnam was
In what ways and why did the Kennedy administration
increase involvement in South East Asia?
Why did they increase their involvement in
There was
shared belief that
Communism had to be contained!
1. Cold War Context meant Ho Chi Minh’s regime in N.
Vietnam could not be seen as separate from the
Communist conspiracy to subvert Western values
2. Curse of Appeasement – stand up to Dictators!
US Self-confidence in economic and military power:
‘Can do’ mentality
4. Public anti-Communist sentiment – could make and
break a politician – Crusade against Communism. Ho
Chi Minh portrayed as Communist Devil rather than
sincere Vietnamese Nationalist who happened to be
Cuba has a role too....
• Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 – failure for
US to stop Communism
• Total failure
• Makes Kennedy administration more
And Laos....
Partial US failure there
Threat of Ho Chi Minh using the Communist
Compromise in 1962 established a neutral Laos
but Communist DRV forces still there...
How did Escalation take place? Did Kennedy
have any success at Containment?
• 800 Military ‘advisors’ in Vietnam at start of his
• Surreptitious intervention (concealing military
presence) stepped up in 1961 – US planes
ordered to shoot down any hostile planes over
• May 1961 Blue Print for escalation created –
NSAM 52. Memorandum outlining intervention
to ‘prevent communist domination’
• Aid stepped up from $220 million to $262 Million
• Kennedy under pressure from advisors to deploy US troops – Vice
President Johnson already visited Saigon in 1961 and returned
saying Diem was their key to containment and needed support
• Bundy (special assistant for national security affairs) and deputy
Rostow wanted a tougher line
• Kennedy sends out fact finding missions
• Oct 1961: Sends General Maxwell Taylor – recommends massive
increase in aid and troop deployment
• Differing advice from his advisors – Kennedy cautious also
• Agrees to step up involvement but not ground troops
• Increases numbers of US advisors hugely – Oct 1961 2,000, 1962
• Firepower also in form of helicopters and pilot ‘advisors’
• Authorised use of ‘defoliants’
• Feb 1962 MACV created in place of MAAG
• Increasingly looking like a US-led conflict advisors were in control of
1962-63: Downfall of Diem
• REFORM was another way in which Kennedy tried
to help Diem defeat the Communists – bring
social, economic and political equality and you
won’t have rebellion
• But Diem did not listen to the US and ignored
their advice
• Incompetent in leading the ARVN
• Over-anxious to minimise troop loss at the
expense of effective action
• Hyper-sensitive, expelled US journalists in 1962
1962-63: Downfall of Diem
• Many were critical of Diem’s ‘strategic
hamlet’s programme: built like the agrovilles
to deprive the Vietcong of rural support by
putting peasants into fortified and protected
villages where they could be protected
• Run badly by Diem’s brother- did not bring
• Vietcong nicked 1000.s of US weapons from
the Hamlets
1962-63: Downfall of Diem
• Jan 1963 Battle of Ap Bac – AVRN hopelessly defeated –
Vietcong were outnumbered 4 to one but won
• US accused AVRN of cowardice
• Convinced the US that Diem would not be strong enough to
stop Viet Cong
• Final straw was Diem’s treatment of Buddhist majority
• May 1963 prohibited use of Buddhist flags
• 10,000 Buddhists protested. 9 people killed
• Senior Buddhist monk set himself on fire in protest –
further suicides followed
• Madame Nhu referred to him as a ‘barbecue monk’ –
World Press horrified
• Kennedy expresses chock (although surely he knew
1962-63: Downfall of Diem
AVRN begin to plan a Coup
US aware and supportive - CIA did not warn Diem
although they knew about it
Henry Cabot Lodge – appointed as ‘strong’
ambassador to Vietnam. Good relations with the
Kennedy distracted with March on Washington
Lodge quite free to make decision to support Diem’s
assassination – held a lot of power and
orchestrated press leaks on Diem
At the end of Kennedy’s
17,000 advisors
Increased expenditure
Tottering South Vietnamese government
Would be now more difficult to withdraw
Approval of the Coup further committed the
US to help South Vietnam
• Did Kennedy have plans to get out of
Conclusions on Kennedy and
• How can we support the idea that he had
passed a ‘poisoned chalice’ to his successor
• Do you agree?
• How far were Kennedy’s policies similar to
• Did Kennedy leave the US committed to
• How consistent was his policy towards
• Do you think Kennedy was going to get out?

Kennedy and escalation