John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War: Learning Objectives & Activities

Instructor: Jessica Lyons
This chapter will explain some of the measures President John F. Kennedy took to address the situation in Vietnam. After watching the lessons, use key questions and related learning activities to put what you've learned to use.

What's This Chapter About?

This chapter guides you through the key people who helped develop policies before and during the Vietnam War. The lessons will take you through John F. Kennedy's leadership from the beginning of the Vietnam War until his assassination in 1963.

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you'll be able to:

  • Identify major people who influenced John F. Kennedy's policies
  • Explain how the United States' strategy in Vietnam changed over time
  • Compare the various positions on the Vietnam War
  • Explain some of the major policies set forth during the Vietnam War

People to Know

  • President John F. Kennedy - 35th President of the United States. He signed many policies that pushed the United States into the Vietnam War.
  • Robert McNamara - As Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy, he initially believed in a quantitative (more soldiers, money & body count) approach to win the Vietnam War, but later changed his mind due to dwindling American resources.
  • McGeorge Bundy - National Security Advisor under the Kennedy administration, initially supported the introduction of American combat troops in Vietnam. He began to oppose the war after seeing its failure in 1966, at which time he stepped down as National Security Advisor.
  • Dean Rusk - Secretary of State during the Kennedy administration. He supported the containment of Southeast Asia and believed that the survival of South Vietnam was the United States' responsibility.
  • Walt Rostow - As Chairman of the Policy Planning Commission under President Kennedy, he issued the Taylor-Rostow Report, which supported increased American presence in South Vietnam.
  • George Ball - Under Secretary of State during the Kennedy Administration. He opposed the Vietnam War and thought that the United States should pursue containment of Europe.
  • John McCone - Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Kennedy. He supported South Vietnam & resigned after he refused to support policy for American Troops in Vietnam.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson - Succeeded President Kennedy after his assassination and continued the policies set forth by President Kennedy's advisors.
  • Ngo Dinh Diem - Leader of the Republic of Vietnam who was promised support from the United States and was later assassinated, leaving Vietnam without stable leadership.
  • Thich Quang Duc - A Buddhist Monk who committed suicide in protest of the leadership of Diem.

Vocabulary to Know

  • Body count - Count of the number of dead Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
  • Carrot-and-the-Stick Diplomacy - The act of offering peace while still carrying out a bombing campaign.
  • Project Jungle Jim - Signed in April 1961, sent United States Air Force advisors to train the Army & Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam.
  • National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 52 - Signed in May 1961, the United States officially committed to help prevent the communists from taking over Vietnam.
  • Operation Farm Gate - Signed in October 1961, ensured that the United States supplied Vietnam with American war planes & personnel.
  • Battle of Ap Bac - The first large-scale battle of the Vietnam War that started on January 2, 1963.

Key Questions

Once you've completed the lessons in this chapter, answer the questions below to apply your new knowledge.

  • How did the United States support Vietnam at the start of the Vietnam War?
  • How did the United States' stand on the Vietnam War change over time?
  • How did John F. Kennedy's assassination affect the War?
  • Who in Kennedy's cabinet supported the War? Who did not?
  • How did Project Jungle Jim affect the Vietnam War?
  • How did Ngo Dinh Diem's assassination affect the Vietnam War?

Build on Your Learning

After completing the lessons in the John F. Kennedy & the Vietnam War chapter, use the below activities to apply what you've learned.


If President John F. Kennedy wasn't assassinated, how would it have affected the policies of the United States on the Vietnam War?


Do you think the policies Kennedy signed during the Vietnam War were reasonable? Why or why not?

Do you think that the United States had too much or too little involvement in the Vietnam War?


Imagine yourself as a leader in Kennedy's cabinet. Which cabinet member would you support? What policies would you propose and what evidence would you use to support these policies?

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