The Vietnam War (1945–1975)

History
Summary

Kennedy and the First U.S. Involvement: 1961–1963

Summary Kennedy and the First U.S. Involvement: 1961–1963

Kennedy’s Assassination

On November 22, 1963, just three weeks after Diem’s assassination in Saigon, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office, kept Kennedy’s key Vietnam advisors in place, and pledged, “Let us continue.” The United States would soon be well past the point of no return in Vietnam.

The Results of Kennedy’s Policies

Despite Kennedy’s talented advisors, his administration made policy mistakes in Vietnam that led the United States into deeper involvement. The strategic hamlet program was an utter failure: it not only failed to root out Viet Cong influence but actually made it stronger, as Nhu’s mismanagement turned many of the 4.3 million peasants forced into the hamlets against the Diem regime and toward the Communist side. The U.S. decision to allow Diem’s overthrow after years of support, though likely necessary, revealed the United States as the true power operating behind the scenes and robbed the South Vietnamese government of whatever shreds of authority it still maintained.

Moreover, the American media’s quick exposure of these bungled U.S. actions marked the first time that journalists had ever played such an immediate “fact-checking” role in a U.S. conflict. Until 1963, Americans had received news only of Diem’s popularity and successes. But after the Battle of Ap Bac and the Buddhist monk’s self-immolation, the American media began to present an increasingly critical view of U.S. policy in Vietnam. This shift had a profound impact on public opinion: the American people slowly turned against the war, and protest movements grew in strength (see The U.S. Antiwar Movement, p. 49). On a larger level, the media’s role in Vietnam prompted an evolution toward more cynical media coverage of the U.S. government in general—a trend of increased media scrutiny that has continued up to the present day.

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