Kennedy and Vietnam: Public and
During Kennedy's tenure as president, he never delivered a major address about Vietnam, nor did the national press become alert to Vietnam as a major issue until 1963, his final year in office. Much of the open conflict with the Diem regime erupted during that summer, when Kennedy was beleaguered by intense civil rights demonstrations, facing a filibuster by Southern Democrats, and trying to persuade the Senate to ratify a nuclear test ban treaty. The summer ended on a sad note for him and his wife with the premature birth of their son, Patrick, and his death two days later.
Buddhist protests over religious restrictions imposed by the Diem government signaled the internal dissension in South Vietnam, exposing an autocratic government that was losing internal support. Diem, a staunch Roman Catholic, had maintained the nation with U.S. aid and advisors, but had not come close to the U.S. vision of a showcase for democracy, economic growth, and stability after eight years in office.
Kennedy had not wavered from Truman's "policy of containment" or Eisenhower's "domino theory," both hallmarks of U.S. policy against the spread of communism. "Containment," the guiding principle of Truman's administration, known as the Truman Doctrine, was the policy that any nation fighting totalitarianism to maintain its independence would receive economic and military aid from the United States. The aid Truman sent to Greece and Turkey in 1944 and 1945 proved to be decisive in keeping these nations from succumbing to communist rule.
Eisenhower applied this principle in Southeast Asia. After the French withdrawal, the Geneva accords had partitioned Vietnam into North Vietnam above the Seventeenth Parallel and South Vietnam below. Not only did Eisenhower wish to contain the Communists in North Vietnam, but he also espoused a "domino theory" that if the Communists succeeded in controlling Vietnam, they would move to control all of Southeast Asia. 1 Lost in the equation of Vietnam during this period was the figure