John F. Kennedy and Vietnam War


The Vietnam War is regarded as one of the longest and most controversial conflicts in American history. The spread of Communism was mainly caused during the cold war. John Kennedy, who was the 35th president of the US and a Democrat, was among the top participants of the war. Under his leadership, the US reinforced the military government in South Vietnam and supported Ngo Diem’s decision to prevent free elections in the country. Such aspects resulted in the country’s confederacy being under the control of the Communists. As a result, the guerilla forces, which the North Vietnamese communist government supported, began a series of attacks on South Vietnam. Before his assassination, Kennedy played a significant role in Vietnam War by advocating for the Domino theory and providing financial and military support to South Vietnamese troops.

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Kennedy and His Commitment to Domino Theory

Kennedy was a strong advocate for Communism and supported the policy of Dwight Eisenhower in the Diem government. After his inauguration, he made it clear that he supported the Domino Theory since he was convinced that if South Vietnam became a supporter of Communism, they would influence other states in the region to be communists (O’Connor & HQ, 2019). Moreover, US foreign policy after the Second World War was founded on stopping the spread of Communism and supporting the expectations of the Domino Theory. In response to the communist threat, President Kennedy supported South Vietnam’s army to prevent the further expansion of communists. Conversely, he did not withdraw from the war because of his faithfulness to his convictions, making him a significant figure in the Vietnam War era (Stobbart & Gregory-Fox, 2019).

In addition, despite supporting Diem’s policy, he proceeded to overthrow Eisenhower after he discovered the position of the members of his government towards the mass suicide of Buddhist monks. During his term in office, Kennedy was convinced that the policy was against what he believed, especially since his government seemed to have officials who disregarded individual lives. In 1963, various Buddhist monks began committing mass suicide by burning themselves, with the Diem government commenting on the issue sarcastically and making statements like, “Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands” (O’Connor & HQ, 2019). According to Kennedy, such a position would not unite South Vietnam, which was enough reason for him to overthrow the government.

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Kennedy’s Support of South Vietnamese Troops

Kennedy financed the South Vietnamese army and provided support to them. In 1961, he added 20 000 individuals to the army and sent 1000 advisors to South Vietnam. He did this to ensure they had sufficient levels of training. The military support consisted of thorough training of the local defense troops by military consultants (Ho et al., 2019). Moreover, personalities like Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow advocated for more support personnel and military airplanes. In a secret addition to their report, they approved the deployment of some 8,000 American professional soldiers to aid the South Vietnamese army in its fight against the rebels. The two men said that the forces would be known as “the flood control team” to overcome further Diem’s reluctance to foreign soldiers (Ho et al., 2019). Kennedy, who advocated for a stop to the spread of Communism and was also cautious of his involvement in the war, ended up agreeing with most recommendations from Taylor and Rostow.

Additionally, in return for the support provided to the South Vietnamese, Kennedy wanted Diem to liberalize his rule and make land reforms and other actions that could attain his population’s support. Although Diem originally disregarded Kennedy’s demands, he agreed to them after being threatened with decreased US support. However, Diem’s reforms could have been more productive as the increased US help proved inadequate concerning the insurgency (Nelson, 2018). As a result, he was assassinated in 1963 during a coup that his generals planned. More than 16 000 US advisors were present in South Vietnam at his death. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, worsened the crisis, prompting the US to commit ground forces and send more than 500 000 American soldiers to Vietnam.


During his first year in office, President Kennedy prolonged his pledge to South Vietnam in various ways. These included making promises that the US would suppress the insurgency in South Vietnam, increasing the number of advisors, sending regular support to the Vietnamese army, and helping South Vietnam launch an attack against North Vietnam, mainly advocates of Communism. He did this because he believed that he had to stand up against the communist wars of national liberty, and the national security establishment misinformed him about his accomplishments in the war. In 1963, Diem’s government was overthrown after he refused the US offer of a safety contingent when he resigned and was assassinated. During his last year before he was assassinated, it was clear that Kennedy was battling with the need to decide on the future of the US commitment to Vietnam. Whether or not he would increase military involvement in the country or proceed to negotiate the withdrawal of the military troops in Vietnam remains an issue of debate.

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  1. Ho, M., Crow, T., Levin, E., Nixon, M., Rosler, M., & Museum, S. A. (2019). Artists respond to American art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975. Princeton University Press.
  2. Nelson, M. (2018). The historical presidency: Lost confidence: The Democratic Party, the Vietnam War, and the 1968 election. Presidential Studies Quarterly48(3), 570–585.
  3. O’Connor, J., & HQ, W. (2019). What was the Vietnam War? Penguin.
  4. Stobbart, D., & Gregory-Fox, A. (2019). The survival of a President: Alternate history and the spectre of Vietnam in Stephen King’s 11/22/63. European Journal of American Culture38(2), 155–168.
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