Haunting questions remain about our involvement in Vietnam. Perhaps the most persistent of these is whether President Kennedy would have ended American involvement in Vietnam if he had lived.
For many Americans, Oliver Stone's film JFK left no doubt that before his assassination Kennedy had determined to quit Vietnam. Yet the historical record offers a more complex answer. In this fresh look at the archival evidence, noted scholars take up the challenge to provide us with their conclusions about the early decisions that put the United States on the path to the greatest American tragedy since the Civil War. The tensions and turmoil that accompanied those decisions reveal the American presidency at the center of a storm of conflicting advice.
The book is divided into four sections. Parts one and two delve into the political and military contexts of the early decisions. Part three raises the intriguing questions of Kennedy's and Johnson's roles in the conflict, particularly the thorny issue of whether Kennedy did, in fact, intend to withdraw from Vietnam and whether Johnson reversed that policy. Part four reveals an uncanny parallel between early Soviet policy toward Hanoi and U.S. policy toward Saigon.
Introduction (Lloyd C. Gardner)
Part I. The Political Context
Vietnam: An Episode in the Cold War (Robert A. Divine)
A Way of Thinking: The Kennedy Administration’s Initial Assumptions about Vietnam and Their Consequences (Brian VanDeMark)
From the Colorado to the Mekong (Lloyd C. Gardner)
Hanoi’s Response to American Policy, 1961–1965: Crossed Signals? (William J. Duiker)
Part II. The Military Context
The Zen of Escalation: Containment and Commitment in Southeast Asia (John Prados)
Conspiracy of Silence: LBJ, the Joint Chiefs, and Escalation of the War in Vietnam (George C. Herring)
Part III. Kennedy and Johnson
Lyndon Johnson and the Legacy of Vietnam (William Conrad Gibbons)
The Kennedy-Johnson Transition: The Case for Policy Reversal (John M. Newman)
NSAM 263 and NSAM 273: Manipulating History (Larry Berman)
Part IV. The Soviet Dimension
Turnabout? The Soviet Policy Dilemma in the Vietnamese Conflict (Ilya V. Gaiduk)
Lloyd C. Gardner is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers University. Ted Gittinger is the former Director of Special Projects at the LBJ Presidential Library.
"This book will be a very significant contribution to research on Vietnam. The authors are several of the most knowledgeable people, and they deal with important questions. . . . The book will be cited by most future authors on the subject."
—H.W. Brands, author of The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power