Becoming JFK: A Profile in Communication

By Vito N. Silvestri | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Three Key Speeches from Kennedy's
Senatorial Career: Vietnam, Algeria,
Harvard Commencement Address

INDOCHINA-VIETNAM, 1953-1954

After his election to the Senate in November, 1952, Kennedy continued to speak publicly about Indochina, in particular Vietnam, because of the continual warfare in that region. Though he spent much time on measures that would encourage economic growth for Massachusetts and New England, he also monitored developments in Vietnam.


BACKGROUND

After nine centuries of independence, the French had completely conquered Vietnam by 1883. While the French developed the economy and commercial interests of the nation, they did little to improve living conditions for the Vietnamese people. During the nineteen-twenties and thirties, anticolonial sentiment surfaced, but was inhibited by World War II. In 1945, however, as the Japanese military occupied North Vietnam, a coalition of communist nationalist forces, the Vietminh, gained power over the North. In 1946, war broke out between the French and the Vietminh. During Kennedy's early years as senator, the war continued to rage, with the French trying to maintain their strength in the NATO Alliance in Europe as well as in Vietnam. The United States provided support to the French sending supplies, arms, and advisors. The French had conceded to giving independence to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos; but popular assemblies and voting, the key foundations of democracy and independence, were not established practices. The Indochinese governments were advisory at best to the French, and their attempts to operate were inhibited by intermittent guerrilla and formal warfare. Infusing all French attempts to establish independence while fighting to thwart the Communist threat was the ambiguous loyalty of the Vietnamese themselves. A number of local Communists were committed to exploiting any

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