- John F. Kennedy (22-Nov-1963)
- Martin Luther King (4-Apr-1968)
- Robert F. Kennedy (6-Jun-1968)
Los Angeles Times that this day, 45 years ago, was
"was the single most significant day in the history of the Vietnam War."
In 1961, JFK had inherited from the Eisenhower administration an insignificant commitment in Indo China, limited to military supplies and advisors. A steady military supply of equipment from Hanoi coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail was designed to overthrow the Saigon regime and unify Vietnam and complete its national transition from a French colony.
During his first years in office, Kennedy's advisors pressured him to send in American ground troops. Civilian 'hawks', Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy steadily argued for American military intervention in the Vietnam civil war. According to Goldstein, they estimated that to prevent the national unification of Vietnam under the Communist regim in the north, it would take more than 200,000 pairs of American boots on the ground.
Goldstein weighs in on a controversial issue for historians. He believes that, had he lived, Jack Kennedy would have withdrawn from Vietnam early after winning re-election to a second term. To his advisors,
Kennedy was not receptive. 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, insisting that even a million American infantry soldiers would not be sufficient to prevail. He would offer military aid and training to Saigon, but he would not authorize the dispatch of ground forces.
Over the three years of his presidency, Kennedy sometimes invoked hawkish rhetoric about Vietnam. He also increased the military advisors and training personnel there to roughly 16,000. 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 realized that the inability of the United States to shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail -- the lines of infiltration and resupply from North Vietnam -- would make it impossible to defeat the insurgency. "Those trails are a built-in excuse for failure," Kennedy told an aide in the spring of 1962, "and a built-in argument for escalation." 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. But the tragedy in Dallas in November 1963 changed everything.
. . . . . If Kennedy had lived, he would have enjoyed enormous advantages in 1965. In a second term, Kennedy would have been invulnerable to the electorate. . . . He had established a firm practice of overruling his advisors when necessary. And he would have entered his final four years as the champion of the Cuban missile crisis, a national security accomplishment that would have dramatically strengthened his hand. Bundy retrospectively argued.
So he does not have to prove himself in Vietnam. He can cut the country's losses then. He can do it by refusing to make it an American war.That Kennedy as commander in chief was not provided the opportunity to determine a different fate for the United States in Vietnam deepens the tragedy of his loss and also underscores his profound legacy, still richly relevant 45 years later. . . . .
Besides a profound sense of historical tragedy, what lessons can we draw from remembrance of how this trail of tears started 45 years ago today?