(COLD WAR: the KENNEDY YEARS – continued)
In 1961, France's Charles de Gaulle told President John F. Kennedy that in Vietnam the U.S. would sink "step by step into a bottomless quagmire," however much it spent "in men and money." President Kennedy had begun sending more advisors to Vietnam to help the Diem regime, increasing their number to 800 in 1961. Kennedy refused his military advisors advice to send combat divisions to Vietnam, but he increased the number of so-called advisors and aid to the Saigon regime. He used Truman's aid to Greece as a model. Truman had sent aid but no U.S. combat troops and the Leftist rebels in Greece had been halted. But it was a bad analogy: South Vietnam was not Greece. Greece was a nation. Vietnam was a nation. South Vietnam was not.
Kennedy allowed U.S. pilots to fly combat missions while pretending to be instructors, and he supported counter-insurgency to overthrow the Communist s in the North.
Kennedy saw hearts and minds as part of the struggle in Vietnam, and in the face of failures in Vietnam he described the battle in Vietnam as needing to be won by the Vietnamese themselves, not by Americans.
According to Peter Beinart in his book The Icarus Syndome, Kennedy put politics above doing what was best regarding Vietnam. He told Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield:
If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I'm reelected. (Beinart, p. 160)
To a friend, Charlie Bartlett, over drinks he said:
Those people hate us. They are going to throw our asses out of there at almost any point. But I can't give up a piece of terriory like that to the Communists and then get the American people to reelect me. (Beinart, p. 160)
Kennedy watched as Diem's reign become more hated by people in the southern half of Vietnam. The Diem family was Roman Catholic and had come into conflict with Buddhists – a large segment of the South's population. In the city of Hué, Catholics had been permitted to fly the papal banner, but the Buddhists had been prohibited from raising their flag. In May 1963 thousands of Buddhists in Hué staged a protest demonstration. The Diem regime sent troops in armored vehicles against them, and nine of the Buddhists were killed. Diem accused the Buddhists of being Communist sympathizers, and in the weeks to come clashes took place between Diem's troops and anti-Diem Buddhists. Buddhist monks began setting themselves afire, creating a sensation around the world, while Diem's sister-in-law, Madame Nhu, described the burnings as a Buddhist barbecue. Then, in August, Diem ordered troops loyal to him to attack Buddhist temples in Hué, Saigon and other cities in the south.
The Kennedy administration was aware of Diem's lack of popularity. He saw that Diem would remain unable to rally the South in the fight against the Communist s. The Kennedy administration hoped to find an alternative to Diem, and, with U.S. connivance, the Diem regime was overthrown by his generals. Diem was assassinated, and in the South people erupted in joy, people in Saigon bedecking army tanks with flowers and parading joyously through the streets.
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.