Coming to the end of his term, President John F. Kennedy finally moves to bring an end to American involvement in the now-unpopular war in Vietnam. Even as negotiations with the North Vietnamese lead nowhere and the U.S. military begins harboring resentment about JFK’s handling of the conflict, Kennedy, with an eye toward securing his historical legacy, and battered by the doctors’ scandal, begins troop withdrawals. But to secure his legacy politically and to help his likely successor Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy proposes a “Saigon Declaration” which, though politically expedient, may eventually result in unintended consequences.
This is the first episode in which we’re really beginning to stray far from the true course of real-life history. If one accepts that Kennedy would probably have committed U.S. forces to direct combat in Vietnam, as seems likely from what we know about his thinking before his 1963 assassination, it’s at least arguable that, unlike his real-life successor LBJ, the shape of the conflict under Kennedy might have resembled what we could call “Vietnam Lite”: a war, still bloody, destructive and divisive, but lasting far less and costing fewer casualties than the 58,000 Americans and 1+ million Vietnamese that the real war claimed. It still would have been a tragedy, but it might not have been as tragic as the real war.
That’s the departure point for this episode. Also you may notice that we’re setting up the 1968 Presidential election, which probably would have been pivotal and dramatic even in this alternate timeline. My rule of writing the story is that assassinations, although they did occur in real life, are something of a deus ex machina that should be disfavored in realistic historical fiction. Even without the shock of premature deaths of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, as we’ll see in the next episode there was plenty of controversy roiling around in America and the world to make 1968 a highly pivotal Presidential election.
This episode is the first appearance of the character of Larry McEnery, who will play a pivotal role later on in our timeline. He is a fictional character, but the John Birch Society and the various conspiracy theories its members believed, as described in the teaser for this episode, are accurate to history.
Next Episode: June 20, 2021