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Kennedy and Vietnam

President Kennedy started withdrawing US forces from Vietnam in October 1963, little more than a month before his death. Why did the withdrawal stop after his murder? What would have happened had he lived?

Recent books like American Tragedy and Death of a Generation have revisited the issue of Kennedy's Vietnam policy, reaching the conclusion that Kennedy would NOT have escalated the Vietnam conflict the way his successor Lyndon Johnson did. Author Peter Dale Scott has long argued that the Kennedy-LBJ transition was not one of continuity. But John Newman's controversial 1992 JFK & Vietnam ignited the debate which has been building since. Even former Secretary of Defense McNamara has written that Kennedy would have withdrawn from Vietnam had he lived. See James K. Galbraith's essay Exit Strategy for a forceful presentation of this view.

Are they right, and historians like Stanley Karnow, Leslie Gelb, and Noam Chomsky wrong? Or are these historians right in dismissing the late 1963 withdrawal plans as based on a false optimism, sure to be shelved when battlefield assessments worsened, as they did after Kennedy's death? Lurking in the background is the ominous question of whether there is a connection between Kennedy's Vietnam policy and his murder.

Phase-out of US forces. SECDEF advised that the phase-out program presented during May 6 conference appeared too slow.... more »
- Proceedings of 8th SecDef Conference on Vietnam, pg. 7.

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