Back To CourseHistory 108: History of the Vietnam War
8 chapters | 46 lessons | 7 flashcard sets
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Adam has a master's degree in history.
When President John F. Kennedy assumed office in 1961, he was tasked with the responsibility of building a trustworthy security team that would help him design and implement foreign policy strategies that could be applied to the Cold War world. The Vietnam War was a point of priority for Kennedy. He enlisted the help of academicians and businessmen - the nation's 'best and the brightest' - to craft a policy that would yield success for the United States in Vietnam. Unfortunately, many of these men failed to realize the difficulties of fighting in Southeast Asia. This led to a disastrous strategy in Vietnam that translated to a deepening involvement of American personnel in an unwinnable war.
The focus of this lesson will be on six important members of Kennedy's security team: Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Chairman of the Policy Planning Commission Walt Rostow, Undersecretary of State George Ball, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John McCone. While there was an abundance of advisors and strategists during the Kennedy era, the aforementioned individuals also played a prominent role in formulating President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam policy.
Robert McNamara was an incredibly intelligent individual. He received degrees in economics and philosophy from the University of California-Berkeley, as well as a master's degree in business administration from Harvard. McNamara believed that all information could be quantified and used to make decisions. He successfully applied this theory to specific bombing strategies during the Second World War as a member of the United States Army Air Force. His application of quantification is important to remember, as it will be his main tool for creating a strategy in the Vietnam War.
Following the Second World War, McNamara was appointed president of the Ford Motor Company. He only served briefly, because Kennedy recognized his talents as a creative and forward thinker. Kennedy appointed McNamara as Secretary of Defense on January 21, 1961. From 1961 to 1965, McNamara applied his quantitative approach to the war in Vietnam. He believed that additional soldiers, coupled with an enlarged military budget, were the solution to winning the war. Furthermore, statistical models such as 'body count', that is counting the number of dead enemy Vietnamese, could be used to determine the success of the United States in Vietnam. However, he failed to account for the sociological, cultural and historical reasons for which the Vietnamese were fighting. As the war continued to drain American resources without an end in sight, McNamara shied away from supporting the war effort and its continued escalation. He began opposing the war by the end of 1966; his tenure as Secretary of Defense came to an end in 1968. McNamara became president of the World Bank, while continuing to be an opponent of the war.
McGeorge Bundy was another brilliant individual with academic degrees from the Groton School and Yale University. He served in the United States Army during the Second World War, participated in study groups on the Marshall Plan and became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Bundy was also a faculty member at Harvard University specializing in international relations. He was appointed National Security Advisor by Kennedy on January 20, 1961. Bundy was a prominent supporter of escalation in Vietnam. He urged both Kennedy and Johnson to increase the American presence in Southeast Asia; he was an avid supporter of the introduction of American combat troops to Vietnam in 1965. Bundy, along with McNamara, both pushed for a large-scale bombing campaign to force the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. This tactic of offering peace while sustaining a bombing campaign became known as the carrot-and-the-stick diplomacy. Like McNamara, Bundy became disillusioned with the failure of escalation by 1966. Unfortunately, his change in opinion came too late as the United States had lost thousands of soldiers. Bundy resigned in February 1966 and became the president of the Ford Foundation.
Dean Rusk was educated at Davidson College and Oxford University, and then became a professor prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Rusk served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war. He then served in the War Department and as assistant secretary of state for far eastern affairs in the Department of State following the war. Rusk was an avid proponent of the policy of containment, which caught the attention of Kennedy. Rusk was appointed Secretary of State on January 21, 1961. He immediately recommended applying containment to Southeast Asia no matter the cost. Additionally, Rusk believed that it was the United States' responsibility to ensure the protection and survival of South Vietnam. He supported escalation as well as an expansive bombing campaign within Vietnam. Rusk continued to support the United States' efforts in Vietnam until he left office in 1969 to enter academia.
Walt Rostow received degrees from Yale University, Oxford University and Columbia University. He served the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War, and then taught economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the 1950s. During his time in academia, Rostow published an important manifesto which argued that the United States could defeat communism in Southeast Asia by economically infusing the region. Kennedy brought Rostow on as a special assistant to McGeorge Bundy; in 1961, he became chairman of the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State.
Rostow championed escalation in 1961, especially following his trip to Vietnam in October. Upon his return, Rostow, along with General Maxwell Taylor, issued the Taylor-Rostow Report which urged Kennedy to increase the American presence in South Vietnam or lose the nation to the communists. Rostow continued to advocate for escalation throughout his tenure as chairman of the Policy Planning Commission. He became the National Security Advisor to Johnson in 1966, where he continued to push for an increased Americanization to the war. Rostow returned to academia following the 1968 elections, but never wavered from his support of the war in Vietnam.
George Ball was the wildcard within the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Another educated man, he was appointed Under Secretary of State on December 4, 1961. Unlike his colleagues, Ball was adamantly opposed to a war in Southeast Asia. Ball stressed that Europe presented a far more important interest to the United States than Vietnam. He urged Kennedy to pursue containment in Europe, assist with the rebuilding phase and take action against the erection of the Berlin Wall.
Ball rejected Kennedy's escalation of American advisors to Vietnam. He would eventually oppose Johnson's introduction of ground troops and his decision to escalate American forces. Ball presented Johnson with a memorandum titled, 'A Compromise Solution for South Vietnam', which argued that the North Vietnamese could not be defeated. Instead, Ball recommended the pursuit of a negotiated settlement while training the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. Unfortunately, his plea was rejected. Following the Johnson years, Ball served as a delegate to the United Nations and continued to oppose the war in Vietnam.
John McCone started as an engineer in California before being appointed to serve in the Air Policy Commission by President Harry Truman. He accepted assignments within the Defense Department in 1948, the United States Air Force in 1950 and the Atomic Energy Commission in 1958. Kennedy appointed McCone Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on November 29, 1961. McCone encouraged Kennedy to adopt intelligence strategies over overt military engagements in Vietnam. He also supported Ngo Dinh Diem, president of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and opposed the American-led coup d'état against the embattled leader in 1963. McCone rejected Johnson's war strategy, especially escalation. He maintained that the United States needed a clear definition of victory, which the Johnson policy lacked. He refused to support a policy that continued to introduce American troops into a hopeless conflict. McCone resigned in 1965 out of opposition to the strategy in Vietnam.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Chairman of the Policy Planning Commission Walt Rostow, Under Secretary of State George Ball and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John McCone helped shape the United States policy in the Vietnam War. Each had a differing opinion on how the conflict should be handled, and, as you saw, provided both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson with varying options. While these men were some of the brightest individuals the nation had to offer, they were unable to craft a successful war policy, which resulted in the United States being trapped in an unwinnable war and a significant loss of American life.
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Back To CourseHistory 108: History of the Vietnam War
8 chapters | 46 lessons | 7 flashcard sets