The publication of JFK and Vietnam in 1992 did more than create controversy and ignite a media firestorm. Its basic thesis that President Kennedy was opposed to sending U.S. combat forces to Vietnam and would have averted the terrible war and its consequences was denounced by some and applauded by others. The book was given sufficient thoughtful attention by a few which to change the nature and scope of the argument over what would he have done if he had lived. While being attacked (and defended) during the initial period following publication, it was singled-out and praised by former DCI William Colby and former special assistant to President Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., adding credibility to the idea that up until that time the story had never been presented with such detail, authority, or documentation. In 1992, JFK and Vietnam received high praise from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. It was featured and recommended on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. The book garnered nation-wide attention. For a time.
That time was cut short by the demonstrable suppression of the book by its publisher, Warner Books. After first surviving a very serious threat of intervention to block publication by a federal agency, within five months JFK and Vietnam was pulled from the shelves, found to be unavailable for purchase anywhere, and left its author unable to communicate with the publisher’s representatives. They stopped returning his calls. Not since the Pentagon Papers had there been such an attempt to deny the American public access to a book about Vietnam. Without a serendipitous encounter between the author and a distinguished member of a distinguished American family, the story of the book itself might well have ended as abruptly as it began. It is our very good fortune that the story did not end there: the publisher returned the legal rights of the book to its author, and 25 years later we have JFK and Vietnam, second edition.
JFK and Vietnam, second edition, should be publicized and promoted so that every student, every teacher, every citizen who volunteers for military service, and every aspiring politician will know the many false calculations, mistakes, manipulations, deceptions and intrigue which led to the Vietnam War. This essential work examines in detail the Shakespearean machinations of deception and counter-deception that took shape in the hidden maneuverings of a president who was determined to avoid being trapped and determined to never again repeat the mistakes of the Bay of Pigs. Dr. Newman documents President Kennedy’s navigation of a dangerous course through Cold War hot spots and a very divided administration. What eventually emerges is an astonishingly dishonorable deception: a deliberate attempt to manipulate the President of the United States to authorize a war policy to which he was fundamentally opposed.
This is more than JFK and Vietnam. It is JFK and Laos; JFK and the Pentagon; JFK and the CIA; JFK and the National Security establishment as it evolved during the years preceding his election. The president recognized and responded to a clever adversary during the two years, ten months and two days of his administration, which acted—within 48 hours of his violent death in Dallas—to reverse his policy on Vietnam and throw America headlong into the tragic war that ensued.
JFK and Vietnam—Deception, Intrigue and the Struggle for Power
Bold and authoritative revisionist analysis of Kennedy's Vietnam policy, by a US Army major who teaches history at the Univ. of Maryland. What was JFK's real agenda regarding Vietnam? Newman claims that the young President planned to withdraw American forces from that war-torn country--and his case is strong. The author pictures an isolated Kennedy battling both cold war jingoism and a military- industrial lobby avid for a war that would make tens of billions of dollars. Conventional wisdom generally sees JFK's early attacks on Eisenhower's covert liaison with France regarding Vietnam as simple political expediency, and Kennedy as another adherent to the domino theory. JFK's speeches buttress that position, but Newman, working with newly declassified material, argues that these speeches were simply requisite political twistings and turnings--and that Kennedy planned to get the US out of Vietnam despite a hawkish palace clique (led by Lyndon Johnson) that fed him disinformation on this most crucial foreign-policy issue. Document by document, incident by incident, the author reveals Kennedy as stranded within his own Administration, alienated by his desire to avoid this ultimate wrong-time, wrong-place war. Newman's research culminates in two crucial National Security Action Memos. In one, authored several weeks before Kennedy's death, the President formally endorsed withdrawal from Vietnam of a thousand advisors by the end of 1963 (to be followed by complete withdrawal by the end of 1965). In the second, written six days after the assassination, LBJ reversed the withdrawal policy and planned in some detail the escalation to follow. Crucial to any reevaluation of JFK as President and statesman, this electrifying report portrays a wily, stubborn, conflicted leader who grasped realities that eluded virtually everyone else in the US establishment.
Had he lived, would President Kennedy have committed U.S. troops to Vietnam? According to the evidence marshalled here, the answer is a resounding no. Newman, who teaches international politics at the University of Maryland, argues that when JFK went to Dallas he already intended to withdraw U.S. advisers from Vietnam, but held off to ensure his reelection in 1964. The book traces the president's pullout plan back to April '62, when he stated that the U.S. should seize every opportunity to reduce its commitment to Vietnam. A month later Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara asked U.S. generals in Saigon how soon the South Vietnamese would be ready to take over the war effort. This well-documented study shows that JFK was for a time deceived by Gen. Maxwell Taylor, head of the joint chiefs, and others in a blizzard of briefings that claimed unadulterated progress and success. Newman maintains that although the president paid public lip service to a continued commitment to appease the right, his goal was to abandon a venture that he early recognized as a lost cause. No other study has revealed so clearly how the tragedy in Dallas affected the course of the war in Vietnam, since two days after the assassination Lyndon Johnson signed a National Security Action Memo that opened the way for the fateful escalation of the war.
KENNEDY made concessions about advisers, but he held the line against troops. The commitment of combat units, he observed in March 1962 with a deference to the Constitution not notable among his successors, "calls for a constitutional decision, [ and ] of course I would go to the Congress." In July 1962 he directed the Pentagon to come up with a plan for the withdrawal of the advisers by the end of 1965. The plan was approved in May 1963, with the first 1,000 men to be returned at the end of that year.But the military clamor persisted; the situation in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate; the number of advisers sent to Vietnam increased; their participation in combat, especially in the air, increased too. The first American fatalities, Mr. Newman tells us, created a new problem. Kennedy wanted to play down American involvement, and the military collaborated enthusiastically in the production of cover stories, false claims of battlefield success and other forms of press control. But what started as deception of the press the military soon extended to deception of its civilian masters -- the Secretary of Defense and the President. "Deception within the deception," Mr. Newman calls it, and he impressively documents the effort by top commanders -- not by officers in the field -- to persuade Kennedy and McNamara through phony estimates of enemy strength, body counts and other manipulated statistics that South Vietnam was winning the war.In the end, of course, facts were more powerful than cooked top-secret reports, and Saigon's troubles could not forever be disguised, especially from the alert American press corps. Buddhist protests in the summer of 1963 compelled the Administration to confront the problem of Ngo Dinh Diem, the increasingly unpopular and repressive President of South Vietnam. The Kennedy Administration divided angrily, some wishing to encourage Vietnamese generals planning a coup against Diem, others favoring (in a phrase of the day) "sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem."MR. NEWMAN explains Kennedy's disapproval of American participation in an anti-Diem coup on the ground that success would have forced the United States into greater responsibility for the fate of Vietnam. "JFK and Vietnam" makes it clear that, despite anti-Kennedy mythology, the Administration ultimately accepted the coup but did not order or contemplate the assassination of Diem."JFK and Vietnam" is by no means, however, an apologia for Kennedy. Beyond demonstrating that Kennedy was opposed at every point to the dispatch of combat units, Mr. Newman is continually critical of him for his lack of "clear understanding of the nature of the Vietnamese society," for his failure to undertake a systematic examination of fundamental questions, for the consequent corruption of policy by competing bureaucracies in Washington and Saigon, and for a policy he describes as haphazard, nearsighted, incoherent, "more of a reaction against using combat troops than a well-coordinated political, economic and social response to the problems in Vietnam."In extenuation, Mr. Newman observes that the situation was "well out of hand" by the time Kennedy became President and that "the hope, enthusiasm and vigor he symbolized only helped to forestall serious consideration of the true nature of the problem and the long odds America faced." He might have added that Kennedy had other things on his mind. Vietnam in the early 1960's was a marginal issue compared with problems regarding Berlin, Cuba, Mississippi, the nuclear test ban treaty and Capitol Hill. Even Lyndon Johnson hardly mentioned Vietnam in his 1964 State of the Union Message and gave it little more than a hundred words a year later.Mr. Newman is most critical of the disconcerting gap between Kennedy's private doubts and his public statements in support of the domino theory and in opposition to withdrawal from Vietnam. In this "public duplicity," he writes, Kennedy "besmirched his own reputation and that of the office he held."It seemed more complicated at the time. Kennedy wanted to give the Saigon Government a chance to succeed. Little would have more quickly undermined that Government than going public about withdrawal. Moreover, the American mood in 1963 was overwhelmingly hawkish, as expressed in such influential organs of opinion as The New York Times and The Washington Post. According to a Louis Harris poll that summer, Americans by a 2-to-1 margin favored sending in troops "on a large scale" if the Communist threat grew worse. Americans still believed, in those faraway days, that they could work their will around the planet.Eleven years before, the Republicans had made "Who lost China?" a powerful issue in a Presidential election. No Democrat wanted to run in 1964 against "Who lost Indochina?" Kennedy told Kenneth O'Donnell, "If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy scare on our hands, but I can do it after I'm re-elected."This course, Mr. Newman properly observes, raises basic questions about American democracy. "When is it permissible for the President to mislead the public about his intentions with respect to war? With respect to anything? Is there a higher end that justifies these means? If one President may deceive to stay out of a war, cannot another do likewise to go into one?" Kennedy, he argues, would have done better to take his case forthrightly to the people. That is an understandable retrospective judgment, perhaps a correct one. Still, Mr. Newman's course might have resulted in the election in 1964 of a Presidential candidate who agreed with Gen. Curtis LeMay of the Air Force that North Vietnam should be bombed back to the Stone Age. Unfortunately, Kennedy's contradictory legacy on Vietnam permitted Lyndon Johnson to plunge into the escalation and Americanization of the war honestly believing that he was doing what Kennedy would have done. --Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Special Assistant to President Kennedy