As the 1964 election season begins to heat up, the Kennedy administration’s “limited” involvement in propping up the repressive government of Vietnam becomes increasingly unglued, undermined by coups within the Vietnamese military and pressure by North Vietnam and its Communist allies, Russia and China. Kennedy dithers on a decision to begin involving American forces directly, but finally acts in response to domestic political concerns. Whether his actions will backfire very much remains to be seen.
This episode of Age of Confusion tracks pretty directly from what we know about John F. Kennedy’s thinking on Vietnam: he really didn’t want to intervene with direct military action, but on the other hand the idea of South Vietnam “going Communist” was ultimately intolerable to him, as to most U.S. policymakers. There has been much speculation about what Kennedy might have done in Vietnam if he hadn’t been assassinated in 1963. This show necessarily has to grapple with that scenario. There’s no way we can know for sure, but I think we can make some educated guesses based on what Kennedy did in Southeast Asia before his death.
This episode includes two direct quotes by Kennedy. Both are accurate. One is something he actually said to CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in early September 1963; the other is from the text of the speech he would have given at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963, had he not been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald en route. Some people are surprised at the content of the quotes. The Cronkite one, for example, is frequently taken out of context, especially in assassination-related lore.
Vietnam will, obviously, come up again in future episodes.
Next Episode: March 28, 2021