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Vietnam. What if Kennedy Lived??

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  • Vietnam. What if Kennedy Lived??

    Today is November 22nd. The 45th anniversary of JFK's assassination.

    The question for discussion and for opinion is: how would the Vietnam Conflict has progressed had JFK remained in office and was reelected, and Lyndon Johnson faded into oblivion as Vice President?
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  • #2
    My personal opinion, despite his bellicose talk, is that JFK after re-election would not have pursued the same extreme escalation, and would not have lied and lied, or fomented such phony incidents as Tonkin Gulf, as Johnson did.

    LBJ's motivation in some ways seemed more a manifestation of personal neuroses than calculated geopolitics.

    Opinions are welcome.
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    • #3
      I cant speak for LBJs personal motivations for excalating US involvment. It does seem he was ill advised by the Secretary of Defense, several individuals in the NSC, and possiblly the CIA. If I am recalling any of this correctly these were the same people whom had been in place during Kennedys Presidency. There was also some pressure from outside the executive branch to increase aid to the South Vietnamese. Those on the inside had reasons to respond to that pressure.

      This is not to say Johnsons staff were uniformly in favor of escalating military aid. Many saw it as a mistake. Gen Shoup, Commandant of the USMC, resigned from active service when he saw his arguments against commititng the Marines to the defense of Da Nang were not accepted.

      How Kennedy would have acted is difficult to predict. He did not follow the many arguments for taking the hardline in the Cuban Missle crisis and took the radical step of contacting the senior Soviet leaders directly. He had also learned something from the Bay of Pigs fiasco about the accuracy of information from certain groups within the CIA and other sources. I suspect he was also having second thoughts about Robert MacNamarra and the rest of the "Best & The Brightest" like the the Bundy brothers. So perhaps he may have take a more balanced and prudent view towards Viet Nam.

      There was of course a lot of fear about the consequences from the collapse of the SV government. By 1966 the ARVN was losing the equivalent of a battalion a week in combat strength, its offensive operations were routinely failing, and the VC were fielding regiment or brigade size conventional combat units and steping up to divsion size operations. The guerilla war phase was ending and it was feared that the South Vietnamese government would not last thru 1967.

      If Kennedy were to accept the need for increasing intervention it is likely he would have done so differently from LBJ. Possibly rationalizing the command structure and possibly adopting a firmer and more direct stratigic plan, rather than the weak and indecisive strategy LBJ accepted from his civilian national security and State Department advisors.
      Last edited by Carl Schwamberg; 24 Nov 08, 00:27.

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      • #4
        JFK and Vietnam

        An article on this very subject from last saturday's LA Times:

        The assassination of John F. Kennedy 45 years ago today brought an abrupt end to what his admirers called Camelot, a presidential era of glamour, intelligence, wit and possibility. But the murder had an even more profound consequence: Nov. 22, 1963, was the single most significant day in the history of the Vietnam War.

        It's not possible to know for certain how Kennedy would have managed the crisis in Vietnam had he lived. But it's clear that he was determined to prevent Vietnam from becoming an American war and that he expected to withdraw fully during a second term.
        [...]
        FULL ARTICLE - LOS ANGELES TIMES

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        • #5
          I doubt it would have lasted as long and/or cost as many lives, I think he would have avoided the escalation that Johnson did
          "The people never have the power, only the illusion of it. And here is the real secret: they don't want it. The responsibility is too great to bear. It's why they are so quick to fall in line as soon as someone else takes charge."
          "

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          • #6
            LBJ was a particularly indecisive person.

            Whatever you think of JFK, he was more able to make decisions and then do what is necessary to get through whatever he decided.

            It is likely that he would have handled Vietnam by making an earlier decision to either bail out or escalate. If he had escalated he wouldn't have tolerated restrictions that essentially ensure that North Vietnam wouldn't get defeated. LBJ did exactly that. It's like trying to stop a river by hacking away at a waterfall with an axe. Very satisfying for a while but won't get the job done.

            The big question is whether the top military leadership was also supporting the fluffy attitude. The buildup sure served their short-term interests, which is a big military and lots of action for individuals to prove themselves in. Either president would have to get rid of this kind of military leader. I think JFK would have been better at doing so. As the LA times articles linked points out, some of the highest long-serving officers had a fairly realistic view.

            An earlier (by 8 years or so) bailout also made sense. As we know today, North Vietnam was actually more interested in their own nationalistic goals than promoting communism as such. A sharper American president might have realized that in time to let things play out naturally with less overall harm to U.S. interests.

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            • #7
              >> As we know today, North Vietnam was actually more interested in their own nationalistic goals than promoting communism as such. A sharper American president might have realized that in time to let things play out naturally with less overall harm to U.S. interests. <<

              I think we would and should have known that back then with a better understanding of Vietnamese history.

              I do not see JFK lying us into the war with such as the phony Tonkin Gulf incidents, or if he did escalate not doing such as failing to mine Haiphong early on.

              From the LA Times article:
              >> it's clear that he was determined to prevent Vietnam from becoming an American war and that he expected to withdraw fully during a second term. <<

              >> Long before becoming president, he had spoken out in Congress against the disastrous French experience in Vietnam, citing it as a reason the U.S. should never fight a ground war there. In the summer of 1961, he said he had accepted the conclusion of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who counseled against a land war in Asia, <<

              >> But McNamara and Bundy both came to believe that Kennedy would not have Americanized the war -- even if the price was communism in South Vietnam. <<

              >> Kennedy was so dubious he declared to White House aide Michael Forrestal that the odds against defeating the Viet Cong were 100 to 1. <<

              >> In early 1963, Kennedy told Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who opposed increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam, that he would begin withdrawing advisors from South Vietnam at the beginning of his second term in 1965. Kennedy disclosed the same plan to Roswell Gilpatric, his deputy secretary of Defense. <<

              Great stuff. Thanks for the article.
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              • #8
                Of course if the US had withdrawn odds are the VC would have prevailed by 1968, perhaps even in 1966. In that case Kennedy would have been villified forever by the anti Communists for 'losing' Viet Nam. Nothing would ever convince the Hawks <1960s term) the VC or NVA could have stood up to a modern army & US technology. MacNamarra would have wrtitten a book in the 1980s describing how he resigned after Kennedys decision firmly beliving the US could have won a war in SE Asia.

                Without several million draftees rotating through Viet Nam drug use would have grown slower, we'd not have the image of the psychologically broken Viet Nam Vet, the cultural rebellion of the 1960s would have taken a different course, the US Military would not have collapsed into the Hollow Years of the early-mid 1970s.

                Worst case is a new President elected in 1968 bumbles the US into a similar war somewhere in the 1970s. Perhaps in Cambodia or Burma, or vs China over Taiwan.

                Best case is the USSR bankrupts itself trying to prosecute Marxsist revolution & peoples wars.
                Last edited by Carl Schwamberg; 24 Nov 08, 21:30.

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                • #9
                  The Viet Cong would have prevailed in 1965 if not for the U.S. buildup starting in February of that year. ARVN was getting its butt kicked all over Nam in '64.

                  I used to know Col. Robert Doughty, former head of the USMA History Dept. and a former adviser to the ARVN 1st Division which he compared to the best U.S. Divisions. They collapsed rather quickly also in '75.

                  It was a puppet force and a puppet government of an ersatz 'state" that had no right to exist based in the 1954 agreements.
                  It could never have lasted without the U.S.

                  Vietnam reunited? In 1966? So what? All the dire predictions of the Pacific becoming a "Red Sea" (LBJ said it) and the whole load of dominoes nonsense would have been seen as false. There were no dominoes, no great Communist master plan; only Vietnamese nationalism.

                  BTW, Cambodia fell before Vietnam, and the creation of the Khmer Rouge was in large part Nixon's doing, him and Henry the K. No one in the Sixties ever talked about Cambodia as a justification for war.

                  By 1970, no one would have cared about Vietnam, and there would have been no imaginary Soviet fleets ranging far and wide out of Danang.
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Kirasjeri View Post
                    By 1970, no one would have cared about Vietnam, and there would have been no imaginary Soviet fleets ranging far and wide out of Danang.
                    One light crusier & a couple auxillarys does to make a fleet! The CIA said so

                    Actually a lot of hawkish anti communists would have kept the 'Loss of Viet Nam' in the public debate for years. Arguing that we needed to intervene in a dozen ither places. South America, Africa, or elsewhere in Asia. Exactly how that would have played out I dont know.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Carl Schwamberg View Post
                      One light crusier & a couple auxillarys does to make a fleet! The CIA said so

                      Actually a lot of hawkish anti communists would have kept the 'Loss of Viet Nam' in the public debate for years. . .
                      So? Not worth the cost anyway. When people could see that there were no dominoes and that Vietnam would have no problem establishing some economic relations with the U.S. (as they have long wanted) especially as they perceive China rightly as an enemy not a friend (historically true), such opinions about "losing" Nam would be marginalized.

                      Castro establishing revolution in nearby Central America is a whole other deal.
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                      • #12
                        Although I agree Vietnam was a mess (Putting it lightly), the communist (Chine, USSR, Cuba) may have seen our withdrawal and weakness/unwillingness and gone for other areas in Africa/Asia/South America. Taiwan or Korea for example. China did take Tibet and we nothing. If we had not taken back Kuwait, Iraq would have keep going also.????

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Sir Brian View Post
                          Although I agree Vietnam was a mess (Putting it lightly), the communist (Chine, USSR, Cuba) may have seen our withdrawal and weakness/unwillingness and gone for other areas in Africa/Asia/South America. Taiwan or Korea for example. China did take Tibet and we nothing. If we had not taken back Kuwait, Iraq would have keep going also.????
                          Same thing was in the back of my mind. It in part led to my remark:

                          "Worst case is a new President elected in 1968 bumbles the US into a similar war somewhere in the 1970s. Perhaps in Cambodia or Burma, or vs China over Taiwan."

                          While I cant predict 'Worst case' would have occured I'd think it likely a sucessor to Kennedy would have opted for a war, and the usual number of mistakes would have been made. The US had reached the edge of large scale 'intervention' several times between 1954 & 1966. Dodging one more opportunity does not automaticly preclude crossing the line at the next opportunity. One might suspose that as the Communits push harder the odds of US intervention will increase.

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                          • #14
                            We had a shot at winning Taiwan as the Taiwanese were quite fortified and we could sink the chinese fleet and destroy there air-force in about a second.

                            Do you think we could of won

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                            • #15
                              If victory were simply preventing Chinese armys from conquoring Taiwan, then yes. China could choose a 'broad' straegy where they also send some sort of substantial force to support the small Communist inssrugencys in Thailand, Laos, & Burma, and cause North Korea to attack South Korea. If nuclear weapons are used then it gets really ugly.

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