August 15, 2016 12 Comments
This is rather fascinating. In it, JFK comes across as more of a smart realist than anything else. Getting caught in a situation where all choices are bad, like the Congo, he appears to have his head on pretty straight, I doubt many of us would have done better.
By Sheldon Stern, who is “the author of numerous articles and “’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings” (2003), “The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Averting ‘the Final FailureSecret Cuban Missile Crisis” (2005), and “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths vs. Reality” (2012), all in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series. He was Historian at the Kennedy Library from 1977 to 2000.”
For five decades, historians have debated one of the most intriguing “what ifs” about the presidency of John F. Kennedy: would he, like Lyndon Johnson, have committed hundreds of thousands of American military forces in Vietnam? My view, rooted in the documents and tape recordings at the JFK Library, does not support the conclusions of either Kennedy advocates or critics. The former insist that he had already decided to withdraw American troops, no later than after the 1964 election; the latter point to the fact that he was a committed cold warrior and that the principal architects of escalation—Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Dean Rusk—were all Kennedy appointees. However, the primary sources often suggest that JFK had not made up his mind about Vietnam and was pursuing parallel paths which would enable him to make a decision when and if necessary. If he had been asked about Vietnam in Fort Worth on the last morning of his life, he would likely have responded by essentially saying, “I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do in Vietnam.”
My books on the Cuban missile crisis tape recordings plainly document Kennedy’s profound skepticism about military solutions to political problems in the nuclear age. But, it is likely misleading to jump to conclusions about JFK and Vietnam based on decisions made during an unprecedented global crisis shaped by 13 days of around-the-clock dread of an imminent nuclear holocaust. The missile crisis was unique and, as Barton Bernstein argues, too concentrated and intense for reliable generalizations that “would fit more normal times and situations.” The remaining Kennedy recordings, particularly those dealing with ‘more normal’ crises, may actually be more instructive for thinking about JFK’s possible course in Vietnam.
In 1960, the former Belgian Congo gained its independence and was promptly torn apart by civil, political, and tribal violence. By late 1962, a UN peacekeeping force was struggling to save the government of Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula, especially after Katanga province, led by Moise Tshombe, declared its own independence and sought Soviet military and technical aid. President Kennedy convened his advisers to consider American options. …
See what I mean, pretty interesting, both in whatKennedy thought and how wary of getting our people involved he was. I have little insight here, I was in grade school at the time, and haven’t really studied the period, but unless Stern is spinning the information out of all recognition, and I strongly doubt that he is, JFK comes across as a pretty solid guy, not much given to posturing, grounded in reality type of guy.
We could use another JFK, in either party about now, I think.