JFK and Peace: Would He Have Kept Us Out of War in Viet Nam?

JFK and Peace: Would He Have Kept Us Out of War in Viet Nam? November 22, 2013


Would John Kennedy have kept us out of war in Viet Nam?

Any reply is conjecture. However, he had actually been to war. That is a far different perspective from the one we find in the long string of draft dodgers and never-serveds we’ve had in recent years.

My friends who’ve seen war are far less eager to commit American troops than my other friends who view combat from an armchair perspective. There was a time when the sons of presidents and men of great wealth and power, such as a vastly wealthy former American ambassador to England, fought and died in defense of this country.

Kennedy was of that time. He had experienced combat and nearly died as a result of it. His older brother had been killed in combat.

He knew the price.

How those life experiences would have influenced his decisions concerning Viet Nam, no one can say. But they would have been an enormous factor. Of that much, I am sure.

I lost people I care about in Viet Nam. I think their lives were wasted by incompetent military commanders and bad presidents of both political parties.

Here is a long speech from President Kennedy, talking about peace. I wish we had presidents today who felt the same regard for peace as this man.

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26 responses to “JFK and Peace: Would He Have Kept Us Out of War in Viet Nam?”

  1. I think the events that led LBJ to escalate Vietnam would have (my opinion of course) led JFK to pursue the same policy. Remember in his inaugural address he said he was committed to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty” The logic of the time held that Vietnam was the dominoe that would cause all of southern asia to go communist. Everyone held to that thinking. Now I would have hoped that JFK would have prosecuted the war in better fashion than the shameful, inept, lying way that LBJ prosecuted it. If so, we might have won it.

  2. I had a great uncle that served in Patton’s Third, and was wounded during the drive to Bastogne. He would sometimes talk about how he would still on occasion catch the smell of cooking bodies in the air. As the gunner on a half rack he had more than enough opportunities to drive past a Sherman tank that had been turned into a coffin/ oven. He told me repeatedly and with all soberness and seriousness that anyone veteran that was a reflexive hawk when it came to war must have served behind a desk. There’s a reason i loved that man so much.

  3. It’s the same with combat veterans I know, except they are very reluctant to talk about it at all. I’ve always been touched that so many of my constituents feel free to confide in me about these things that they don’t share with anyone else. It’s one of the highest honors anyone has ever paid me and a confidence which I will never violate.

  4. Was there really any chance we would have “won” in Vietnam? The speed that the North came in as we were rapidly leaving was amazing. It was such a waste of many, many men and women. What is/was worse is the treatment of the vets who came back from that conflict—inexcusable.

  5. Hard to say. We were able to create a dividing line between north and south in Korea. I don’t see why we couldn’t in Vietnam. But perhaps the population even in the south was enough pro-communist that we had no chance. But I can tell you that LBJ did an absolutely horrendous job of interfering with the military. I don’t see how anyone could have done worse. I completely agree on how the vets were treated. One of the most disgraceful periods in the US history.

  6. The issue about Vietnam, to my mind, is not whether it would have been fought, but how it was to have been fought (http://fpb.livejournal.com/397818.html). What should have happened was that someone ought to have hit the table with his fist (I am assuming that there would not have been a woman President just yet) and said, we are wasting men, money and morale, and we are getting nowhere: we need a different strategy.” Insisting on doubling down – an expression that was not yet in use, but that was needed – on a failing strategy only meant that the disaster would be compounded; and, as I say in my essay, the actual loss of Vietnam itself was by far the least of the bad effects the war, as it was managed, had. Whether Jack Kennedy was the man to leap so far out of habit-thinking I don’t know, and I honestly doubt it, but the tragedy is that in real life nobody did.

  7. I think there was; and even if there wasn’t, the war was fought in the worst possible way and the way it was fought caused disastrous consequences – far beyond the minor countries that were lost to the enemy, and even beyond the millions that the Communists butchered there (we must remember there was a reason why America wanted to keep the Communists out, and there was a reason why the seas started swarming with “boat people” the moment they triumphed). I gave my thoughts here: http://fpb.livejournal.com/397818.html

  8. I wish I could agree. I have to remind you that Hitler and Mussolini both fought the whole of their shares of World War One on the front line. Unpleasant sensory experiences don’t lead to moral decisions; they reinforce the moral decisions already made, whichever they are.

  9. Vietnam is kind of a difficult one because the North-Vietnamese regime, and the current Vietnamese regime, have a strong vein of anti-Christian and even ethnic oppression. The South Vietnamese regime had a strong vein of oppressing Buddhists and some minorities. But there might have been a reasonable hope we could influence South Vietnam in a way we maybe still can’t influence today’s Vietnam. (Although I think they’ve lightened up a little on Mennonites and a few other groups and do value trading with us. And for all her faults Joan Baez, ultimately, proved pretty good at maintaining outspoken opposition to the Vietnam-War and to the Vietnamese Communist abuses.)

    But seeing as JFK was a fairly “Cold Warrior” Anti-Communist I kind of doubt he would have withdrawn or anything. I don’t know if he would have escalated as much as LBJ, but it doesn’t seem implausible to me.

  10. Another good point Fabio. The strategy of attrition is antithetical to any democracy. There was no strategy for winning in Viet Nam. We had appalling leadership in both the military and the White House.

  11. I think the reason we succeeded in doing this in Korea was due to a great extent to Eisenhower’s credibility as a warrior. Truman couldn’t do this, but when Eisenhower said you will either do this or I will use the bomb, they believed him. (Wise choice.) That is interesting, since the only head of state who has ever used nuclear weapons in war is Truman.

  12. Look up the “Bonus Army” and what Douglas MacArthur did under President Hoover’s orders for disgraceful treatment of US vets.

  13. But JFK had a credible military record. He was supposed to have that warrior experience. As to Truman and the atomic bomb, I wonder if anyone back when he used it really understood how terrible it actually was.

  14. I work with a man who was one of those boat people. He was a teenager when they escaped with the boat and he describes it as a hell ship. His father was incarcerated and tortured by the communists. I believe he died in jail. My co-worker refused to ever step foot in Vietnam again.

  15. I think Truman had military experience (not sure about combat) in World War I. Does anyone know if he saw combat?

    I agree that Kennedy’s combat credentials were credible. I think opponents would have taken him seriously in this regard.

  16. I know about the illegal tents that were set up on the White House lawn. What in heavens name does that have to do with the discussion on hand? Are you saying that the hippies that spit on returning vietnam vets were justified?

  17. Truman not only saw combat but successfully led a division in France, their last battle at Verdun. He was a well liked and respected leader.

    I’ve read some credible accounts that JFK had indeed turned toward peace and against war in Vietnam. The visit with the Quakers as well as his understanding of the French experience and the missile crisis all had a profound effect on him. Norman Cousins and Pope John were helpng him broker peace with Kruschev who also had seen the futility of the brink the nations reached with Cuba. Cousins hand delivered the Pope’s papal document on peace to Kruschev who was moved that a dying pope was concerned with the future. Sadly, like the middle east today, there are forces on both sides working against the peace. Thank God there is a prince of peace to help us.

  18. Although far from universal, I have noticed a general trend that those who have seen war are those that hate it most. But perhaps these people hated Sarto begin with, and fought out of necessity or duy.

  19. Well, what it has to do with the discussion at hand is that vets have been getting treated badly for a long time, even by their fellow soldiers.

    As to your second question, which hippies were those? The ‘hippies spitting on returning vets’ story has never been documented and may well be an urban legend


  20. That might be true actually. One would have needed to get close to actually spit on a veteran and the Liberal hippie would have gotten his teeth smashed in. The spitting is most likely a metaphor for the rejection and verbal abuse they actually got.

    Again what does veteran abuse have to do with the subject of this post? You are way off topic. I didn’t bring up anything about Vietnam veterans being abused. I was talking about the incompetant prosecution of the war by LBJ.

  21. Gosh, Manny, I didn’t realize you were the topic-patrolman here, but to clarify – you claimed that Vietnam was one of the most shameful period of treating veterans badly (” I completely agree on how the vets were treated. One of the most disgraceful periods in the US history.”) and I referenced another historical period in which veterans were treated badly.

  22. Don’t snark at one another. Leads to silly fighting over nothing, which turns the blog into a pie-throwing contest.

  23. Manny, the scientists and military observers who watched the first test of the atomic bomb had a pretty good idea of its destructive force. The director of the test site, upon seeing the fireball, said: Now we are all SOBs.”

    The scientists and military men who were at the Trinity site when the detonation occurred were staggered by what they saw….

    The blast, which sent a mushroom cloud boiling 38,000 feet into the sky, was both visible and audible for hundreds of miles around. The heat generated at the blast point was described as being 10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Even at 10 miles removed from ground zero, witnesses said the resulting heat wave was like standing directly in front of a roaring fireplace.

    A letter, signed by many (but not all) of the scientists who had worked on the project, was sent to President Truman. The letter urged that Japan be warned of this weapon before its use. Whether Truman or his immediate advisers fully understood the magnitude of the weapon is open to question, but they must have had a sense of it.

    Hiroshima was bombed three weeks after that first test.

  24. OK, I lost sight of that side bar. Sometimes when these back and forth comments go on over the course of days, I lose stream of thought. My apologies. You right, I did mention how vets were treated.