Cover image for Death of a generation : how the assassinations of Diem and JFK prolonged the Vietnam War
Death of a generation : how the assassinations of Diem and JFK prolonged the Vietnam War
Jones, Howard, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
x, 562 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1380 Lexile.
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DS557.7 .J67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When John F. Kennedy was shot, millions were left to wonder how America, and the world, would have been different had he lived to fulfill the enormous promise of his presidency. For many historians and political observers, what Kennedy would and would not have done in Vietnam has been a sourceof enduring controversy. Now, based on convincing new evidence--including a startling revelation about the Kennedy administration's involvement in the assassination of Premier Diem--Howard Jones argues that Kennedy intended to withdraw the great bulk of American soldiers and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisisin Vietnam. Drawing upon recently declassified hearings by the Church Committee on the U.S. role in assassinations, newly released tapes of Kennedy White House discussions, and interviews with John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and others from the president's inner circle, Jones showsthat Kennedy firmly believed that the outcome of the war depended on the South Vietnamese. In the spring of 1962, he instructed Secretary of Defense McNamara to draft a withdrawal plan aimed at having all special military forces home by the end of 1965. The "Comprehensive Plan for South Vietnam" wasready for approval in early May 1963, but then the Buddhist revolt erupted and postponed the program. Convinced that the war was not winnable under Diem's leadership, President Kennedy made his most critical mistake--promoting a coup as a means for facilitating a U.S. withdrawal. In the cruelest ofironies, the coup resulted in Diem's death followed by a state of turmoil in Vietnam that further obstructed disengagement. Still, these events only confirmed Kennedy's view about South Vietnam's inability to win the war and therefore did not lessen his resolve to reduce the U.S. commitment. By theend of November, however, the president was dead and Lyndon Johnson began his campaign of escalation. Jones argues forcefully that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, his withdrawal plan would have spared the lives of 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese. Written with vivid immediacy, supported with authoritative research, Death of a Generation answers one of the most profoundly important questions left hanging in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy's death.

Author Notes

Howard Jones is University Research Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Mutiny on the Amistad (OUP 1997), Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom, and Crucible of Power. He lives in Northport, Alabama.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Jones (Mutiny on the Amistad) delivers an informative narrative documenting in rather elaborate detail a popular theory of JFK and Vietnam advanced previously by such writers as Richard Mahoney and Richard Reeves: that had Kennedy lived, U.S. involvement in Vietnam would not have escalated as it did. There were 685 U.S. advisers in Vietnam on the day Kennedy was inaugurated president in early 1961. Less than three years later, in October 1963, the U.S. had 16,732 American troops in place. Despite this escalation, Kennedy was never wholly convinced of the wisdom of American involvement in Vietnam. Minutes of the September 6, 1963, National Security Council meeting, two weeks after Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the overthrow of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, show Robert Kennedy openly questioning whether Communist takeover of the South could be successfully resisted, regardless of whether Diem remained in place or not. The president himself is on record even earlier, in April 1962, as telling his aides to "seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our involvement." Hawks such as Dean Rusk in Kennedy's cabinet (shortly inherited by LBJ) did not agree. Jones, like most scholars in recent memory, argues that the instability of Diem's government, followed by the assassinations of Diem and JFK, combined to create an environment where escalation of American involvement in Vietnam became inevitable, thus triggering what Jones terms "the death of a generation." Although not advancing an original thesis, Jones, a historian at the University of Alabama, goes deeper into the existing evidence supporting this thesis than have most other writers, and does so in a highly readable manner. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The assassination of John Kennedy in 1963 created one of the great might-have-been debates in US history. Although Lyndon Johnson clearly bears the primary responsibility for US involvement in Vietnam, most historians have also emphasized Kennedy's role in laying the foundation for Johnson's decisions. For many years, however, some individuals (most famously, Oliver Stone in his movie JFK) have argued that before he was killed, Kennedy was preparing to deescalate US involvement in Vietnam. In the past decade, several scholars have begun to argue this position more insistently. This exhaustively detailed book is the culmination of that trend. Jones (Univ. of Alabama) argues that Kennedy would indeed have withdrawn from Vietnam, but that he also supported a coup against South Vietnam's leader, Diem, to facilitate the process, a move that tragically backfired. It is foolish to call any work about the Vietnam War definitive, but Jones does effect a shift in the balance of the argument and leaves the ball now squarely in the court of those on the other side of the debate. This is an important, persuasive book about a significant topic. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All levels and collections. K. Blaser Wayne State College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
List of Abbreviationsp. xi
Introduction: Toward a Tragedyp. 1
1 Counterinsurgency in South Vietnam: Averting a Quagmirep. 13
2 Democracy at Bay: Diem as Mandarinp. 29
3 Counteraction to Counterinsurgency: The Military Solutionp. 49
4 Waging a Secret Warp. 70
5 Subterfuge in the Deltap. 93
6 The Strange Seduction of Vietnamp. 114
7 A Decent Veil of Hypocrisyp. 143
8 De-Americanizing the Secret Warp. 170
9 From Escalation to Disengagementp. 200
10 End of the Tunnel? A Comprehensive Plan for South Vietnamp. 221
11 Mandate from Heaven? The Buddhist Crisis and the Demise of De-escalationp. 247
12 The Fire This Timep. 268
13 The Road to a Coupp. 297
14 At the Brink of a Coup--Againp. 322
15 Toward a Partial Withdrawalp. 348
16 President Kennedy's Decision to Withdrawp. 377
17 Fall of the House of Ngop. 407
Conclusion: The Tragedy of JFKp. 443
Notesp. 457
Bibliographyp. 537
Indexp. 547