Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

By Lawrence Freedman | Go to book overview

37

The Influence of Laos

IT HAS BEEN CLAIMED that when confronting the various options for Vietnam presented to him in November 1961 Kennedy "turned his back on the route toward a negotiated settlement." 1 Given what we know about Kennedy's readiness to enter into negotiations on Berlin, Laos, and even Cuba, such a posture in this case would have been surprising. In fact Kennedy demonstrated the same interest in a negotiated outcome over Vietnam. It is important, however, to clarify what he saw to be the role of negotiations in such conflicts.

His starting point was the cold war. His large project was to consolidate what Khrushchev called peaceful coexistence in such a way that it would be acceptable to the American people and his allies. He did not expect to be able to roll back communism, but neither did he intend to preside over its expansion. It was one thing to envisage two great alliances-cum-ideological blocs coexisting, but agreements at the top had to work their way down to every spot where a serious ideological confrontation had developed. Ideological civil wars, fought in the name of the cold war, often drew upon a range of social, economic, and religious cleavages as well as personal rivalries. This meant that not only did the superpowers have to show restraint themselves but they also might well have to impose restraint on their local clients.

The lesson that might be drawn from the experience of Germany, China, and Korea was that the most stable solution to these civil wars was partition. In Germany his readiness to accept the de facto existence of two separate states, as well as a divided Berlin, was the starting point for his diplomacy, even though this went against the aspirations of his German allies. With China as well he understood that it was politically impossible to recognize the legitimacy of the communist regime in Beijing, but he could deny the Nationalists support for realizing their dream

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Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface: Kennedy's Wars ix
  • Dramatis Personae xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • I - The Cold War and How to Fight It 11
  • 1 - Liberal Anticommunism 13
  • 2 - Beyond Massive Retaliation 18
  • 3 - The Third World Alternative 27
  • 4 - Policies and People 32
  • II - Berlin and Nuclear Strategy 43
  • 5 - The New Strategy 45
  • 6 - To Vienna and Back 51
  • 7 - The Berlin Anomaly 58
  • 8 - A Contest of Resolve 66
  • 9 - The Wall 72
  • 10 - Tests and Tension 79
  • 11 - Flexible Response 92
  • 12 - Berlin to Cuba 112
  • III - Cuba 121
  • 13 - Removing Castro 123
  • 14 - A Deniable Plan 129
  • 15 - An Undeniable Fiasco 139
  • 16 - Still Castro 147
  • 17 - Mongoose 153
  • 18 - Searching for Missiles 161
  • 19 - The Options Debated 170
  • 20 - Blockade 182
  • 21 - Military Steps 193
  • 22 - Political Steps 203
  • 23 - The Denouement 208
  • 24 - A Crisis Managed 218
  • 25 - Aftermath 225
  • 26 - Back to Square One 238
  • IV - Alliances and Detente 247
  • 27 - The Sino-Soviet Split 249
  • 28 - Toward a Test Ban 261
  • 29 - The Test Ban Treaty 270
  • 30 - Alleasured Response 276
  • V - Vietnam 285
  • 31 - Counterinsurgency 287
  • 32 - Laos 293
  • 33 - Commitment without Combat 305
  • 34 - Deciding Not to Decide 313
  • 35 - The Taylor Report 322
  • 36 - Decisions 330
  • 37 - The Influence of Laos 340
  • 38 - In the Dark 356
  • 39 - Coercion and Clients 367
  • 40 - Diem's Assassination 382
  • 41 - Kennedy to Johnson 398
  • Conclusion 415
  • Acknowledgments 421
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 489
  • Index 507
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