Galbraith and Vietnam: Kennedy, Unlike Bush, Had One Adviser Who Told Him What He Needed to Hear

By Parker, Richard | The Nation, March 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Galbraith and Vietnam: Kennedy, Unlike Bush, Had One Adviser Who Told Him What He Needed to Hear


Parker, Richard, The Nation


In the fall of 1961, unknown to the American public, John F. Kennedy was weighing a crucial decision about Vietnam not unlike that which George W. Bush faced about Iraq in early 2002--whether to go to war. It was the height of the cold war, when Communism was the "terrorist threat," and Ho Chi Minh the era's Saddam Hussein to many in Washington. But the new President was a liberal Massachusetts Democrat (and a decorated war veteran), not a conservative Sunbelt Republican who claimed God's hand guided his foreign policy. JFK's tough-minded instincts about war were thus very different. Contrary to what many have come to believe about the Vietnam War's origins, new research shows that Kennedy wanted no war in Asia and had clear criteria for conditions under which he'd send Americans abroad to fight and die for their country--criteria quite relevant today.

But thanks also in part to recently declassified records, we now know that Kennedy's top aides--whatever his own views--were offering him counsel not all that different from what Bush was told forty years later. Early that November, his personal military adviser, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, and his deputy National Security Adviser, Walt Rostow, were on their way back from Saigon with a draft of the "Taylor report," their bold plan to "save" Vietnam, beginning with the commitment of at least 8,000 US troops--a down payment, they hoped, on thousands more to follow. But they knew JFK had no interest in their idea because six months earlier in a top-secret meeting, he had forcefully vetoed his aides' proposed dispatch of 60,000 troops to neighboring Laos--and they were worried about how to maneuver his assent.

Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, then Ambassador to India, got wind of their plan--and rushed to block their efforts. He was not an expert on Vietnam, but India chaired the International Control Commission, which had been set up following French withdrawal from Indochina to oversee a shaky peace accord meant to stabilize the region, and so from State Department cables he knew about the Taylor mission--and thus had a clear sense of what was at stake. For Galbraith, a trusted adviser with unique back-channel access to the President, a potential US war in Vietnam represented more than a disastrous misadventure in foreign policy--it risked derailing the New Frontier's domestic plans for Keynesian-led full employment, and for massive new spending on education, the environment and what would become the War on Poverty. Worse, he feared, it might ultimately tear not only the Democratic Party but the nation apart--and usher in a new conservative era in American politics.

Early that November, just as Taylor and his team arrived back in Washington, Galbraith arrived from New Delhi for the state visit of Prime Minister Nehru. Hoping to gain a quick upper hand over Taylor and his mission, he arranged a private luncheon for Kennedy and Nehru at the Newport estate of Jacqueline Kennedy's mother and stepfather. No one from the State Department--to Secretary of State Dean Rusk's great consternation--was invited, save Galbraith. Ten days earlier, Galbraith, in one of his back-channel messages, had shared with Kennedy his growing concerns about Vietnam. From India, he'd played a role in defusing the Laos situation that spring, but over the summer, the Berlin crisis had sent a sharp chill through relations with the Soviets, with the risks of nuclear confrontation for a time all too real. About this, Galbraith now told the President:

   Although at times I have been rather troubled by Berlin, I have
   always had the feeling that it would be worked out. I have
   continued to worry far, far more about South Viet Nam. This is more
   complex, far less controllable, far more varied in the factors
   involved, far more susceptible to misunderstanding. And to make
   matters worse, I have no real confidence in the sophistication and
   political judgment of our people there. 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Galbraith and Vietnam: Kennedy, Unlike Bush, Had One Adviser Who Told Him What He Needed to Hear
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.