The Kennedy Administration’s Approach to Vietnam

Like Eisenhower, Kennedy was a firm believer in the monolithic communism concept and its corollary, the Domino Theory. Kennedy’s acceptance of monolithic communism led him to believe that Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnam were the puppets of the Moscow communists. Thus, Kennedy escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam by increasing the number of advisors and the amount of firepower provided to the Diem government. There were 23,000 American advisors in Vietnam during the Kennedy administration. (Reader’s Digest, p. 458; TFC, vol. 7, pp. 202-205.) Nevertheless, the Viet Cong continued to make advances.

The Diem regime was repressive and corrupt and was very unpopular with the South Vietnamese populace. Buddhist monks demonstrated against Diem by setting themselves on fire. Other demonstrations against Diem by his own people were growing. American leaders became convinced that the conflict with the Viet Cong could not be won with Diem as the head of state. The U.S. solution to the Diem problem was to establish a new government that was more popular with the people and more effective in dealing with the Viet Cong. Since Diem would not voluntarily step down, the CIA arranged a coups d’état conducted by the South Vietnamese military. Diem was assassinated on November 2, 1963 and was replaced with leaders who were expected to compromise with the Viet Cong and establish a coalition government that included the communists. That never happened. Ironically, 20 days after the Diem assassination, Kennedy was killed, and he never had the opportunity to reconsider the American role in Vietnam. (Tuchman, The March of Folly, pp. 300-309.)

“Talking Vietnam, written and sung by Phil Ochs (1964), ( refers to many aspects about the American experience in Vietnam: American troops’ role as trainers of the natives to be soldiers, the difficulty of knowing who were the Viet Cong, burning villages, problems caused by the Diem/Nhu regime, and the “replacement” of Diem:

Sailing over to Vietnam
Southeast Asian Birmingham
Well, training is the word we use
Nice word to have in case we lose
Training a million Vietnamese
To fight for the wrong government and the American way

Well, they put me in a barracks house
Just across the way from Laos
They said, “You’re pretty safe when the troops deploy
But don’t turn your back on your house boy”
When they ring the gong
Watch out for the Viet Cong

Well, the sergeant said, “It’s time to train”
So I climbed aboard my helicopter plane
We flew above the battle ground
A sniper tried to shoot us down
He must have forgotten, we’re only trainees
Them Commies never fight fair

Friends the very next day we trained some more
We burned some villages down to the floor
Yes we burned out the jungles far and wide
Made sure those red apes had no place left to hide
Threw all the people in relocation camps
Under lock and key, made damn sure they’re free

Well, I walked through the jungle and around the bend
Who should I meet but the ghost of President Diem
Said you’re fighting to keep Vietnam free
For good old democracy
That means rule by one family
And 15,000 American troops, give or take a few


He said, “I was a fine old Christian man
Ruling this backward Buddhist land
Well, it ain’t much but what the heck
It sure beats hell out of Chiang Kai-shek
I’m the power elite
Me and the 7th fleet”

He said, “Meet my sister, Madam Nhu
The sweetheart of Dien Bien Phu”
He said, “Meet my brothers, meet my aunts
With the government that doesn’t take a chance
Families that slay together
Stay together”

Said, “If you want to stay you’ll have to pay
Over a million dollars a day, but it’s worth it all, don’t you see?
If you lose the country you’ll still have me
Me and Syngman Rhee, Chiang Kai-shek, Madam Nhu
Like I said on ‘Meet the Press’
I regret that I have but one country to give for my life”

Well, now old Diem is gone and dead
All the new leaders are anti-Red
Yes they’re pro-American, freedom sensations
Against Red China, the United Nations
Now all the news commentators and the CIA
Are saying, “Thank God for coincidence”thece