This Day In History: President Kennedy Pledges Military Support For South Vietnam (1961)

http://www.nydailynews.com/

On this day in history n a letter, President Kennedy stated to the South Vietnamese President that he  had agreed to expand  the American military presence in the country. Kennedy pledged American support to South Vietnam as it struggled to contain a growing communist insurgency in South Vietnam.

Kennedy had been advised by his chief military advisor and a National Security Advisor that South Vietnam needed more military support. He was urged to provide Saigon with even more military support as there was the real possibility that South Vietnam would be seized by communists. The military advisor General Taylor urged a massive expansion in the number of troops stationed in the country. However, Kennedy believed that any direct American involvement in the war would have been deeply unpopular in Washington. Kennedy  accepted the recommendations but he ordered that any soldiers sent to South Vietnam would only be used as military advisors or trainers. The President did not want to drag America into a war.

ST-A26-25-62 29 October 1962 Executive Committee of the National Security Council meeting. Clockwise from President Kennedy: President Kennedy; Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara; Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Maxwell Taylor; Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze; Deputy USIA Director Donald Wilson; Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen; Special Assistant McGeorge Bundy; Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (hidden); Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson; Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director William C. Foster; CIA Director John McCone (hidden); Under Secretary of State George Ball; Secretary of State Dean Rusk. White House, Cabinet Room. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for the image.
29 October 1962 Executive Committee of the National Security Council meeting.

Kennedy made his support conditional on the South Vietnamese regime liberalizing its government and policies. Diem the South Vietnamese President was widely seen as authoritarian and his regime was considered corrupt. Diem agreed to reform his government in return for military aid but he did not make any meaningful reforms.  The American support did not manage to halt the communist insurgency and despite their efforts the Viet Cong seized large areas of rural South Vietnam. In November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and his Vice President, Lyndon Johnson became President. He was to adopt a more aggressive policy against the North Vietnamese and their communist allies in the south, the Viet Cong. In 1963 there were just under 15,000 American service personnel in South Vietnam. Johnson was to greatly expand the American military presence in the country. He also ordered American forces to directly participate in the war. Under Johnson, tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines and air force personnel were stationed in South Vietnam. Jonson also ordered the bombing of North Vietnam and this helped to escalate the war. By 1965 American was involved in an all-out war in South Vietnam.

Many have blamed Kennedy for sending American troops to Vietnam even though they were only military advisors designed to support the South Vietnamese. However, there are those who believe that if he had not died that he would not have escalated the war, the way that Johnson did. The American involvement in South Vietnam did not prevent it falling to communist forces eventually and in 1975 Saigon was captured by the North Vietnamese army.

Advertisement