Tuesday, 08 May 2018 17:49

Edmund Gullion, JFK, and the Shaping of a Foreign Policy in Vietnam

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The history of the Vietnam War is invariably delineated by historians as a continuum of escalating involvement from the administrations of Eisenhower through Nixon. This essay by Prof. Norwood challenges that notion by demonstrating how the vision of John F. Kennedy was consistently and vehemently opposed to conventional warfare there.

In the 1951 photograph above, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny is leading a contingent through the streets of Saigon at a time when France was engaged in a losing cause during the First Indochina War. In the back of the pack, a young congressman from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, is observing the conditions on the ground in a war effort that was at the time receiving substantial American aid. Kennedy’s younger brother Robert accompanied him on the trip. RFK later ran on an anti-war platform at the height of the Vietnam War, shortly before his assassination in 1968. This study explores the impact of the 1951 trip to Vietnam on John F. Kennedy, his association with the diplomat Edmund Gullion, and the evolving vision of JFK for American foreign policy in Vietnam, which was articulated in a major address given in 1954.

Edmund Gullion (1913-98) enjoyed a distinguished career as a diplomat followed by a second life in academia as Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he trained a generation of foreign officers. As a Southeast Asian specialist, he held senior positions at the American Embassy in Saigon from 1949-52 during the First Indochina War. At a time when the Truman administration was ramping up aid for France in an effort to salvage its colonial outpost in Southeast Asia, Gullion was an advocate of Vietnamese independence. Later, at a critical juncture in America’s involvement in Vietnam in 1963, Gullion asked a colleague, “Do you really think there is such a thing as a military solution for Vietnam?”1

Gullion was also a confidant of the young Congressman and World War II hero John F. Kennedy, who visited Saigon in 1951. Congressman Kennedy was there to observe up close the conditions of a foreign colonial war in progress, in preparation for his run for the Senate the next year against Henry Cabot Lodge. Later, he used Gullion as a sounding-board as he was shaping his own views on America’s role in Southeast Asia and the Third World. During his presidency, JFK appointed Gullion as ambassador to the Congo.2 Gullion’s oral interviews and the words of JFK himself help to shed light on the congressman’s formation as a statesman in the period before he acceded to the presidency. The year 1954 is an especially important crossroads in the history of Vietnam and a turning point for JFK in articulating a foreign policy for Southeast Asia.

Young John F. Kennedy was an inveterate traveler. When he was a Harvard student, he took time out to travel to Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East in 1939, witnessing first-hand the ominous signs of the coming war. During the war itself, he survived an attack on his PT boat in the Solomon Islands, heroically rescuing a badly burned crew member and guiding his men to safety until they were rescued. At the close of the war in 1945, he worked as a journalist, attending the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco and the Potsdam Conference. As a congressman from Massachusetts, Kennedy embarked on a seven-week, 25,000-mile trip in 1951. Accompanied by his brother Robert and his sister Patricia, Kennedy visited Israel, Pakistan, Iran, India, Singapore, Thailand, French Indochina (Vietnam), Korea, and Japan. Upon his return home, he conveyed to the press that his goal for the trip was to learn “how those peoples regarded us and our policies, and what you and I might do in our respective capacities to further the cause of peace.”3

At the time, he described in a radio interview what he believed should be the primary goal of combatting communism in the Third World, which was “not the export of arms or the show of armed might but the export of ideas, of techniques, and the rebirth of our traditional sympathy for and understanding of the desires of men to be free.”4 When Kennedy met with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he asked Nehru for his view on the current war in French Indochina. Nehru replied that the military and financial assistance provided to the French by the United States was a “bottomless hole” because the war was an example of doomed colonialism.5 Upon arriving in Vietnam, the Kennedy entourage observed Charles de Gaulle and the top brass of the French military as the war was in progress. But, more significantly, the young Congressman was to have a fateful meeting with an American consular officer named Edmund Gullion.


While the French were optimistic about retaining their colonial empire with American support, Gullion had recognized in 1951 that they would not prevail. Kennedy had known Gullion since 1947 when they had conferred about a speech the congressman was to give on foreign policy. Now, they met privately on the top of the Hotel Majestic in Saigon. Earlier in the day, Kennedy had been told by the French commander, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, that with 250,000 troops, it would be impossible for the French to lose.6 But as JFK listened to the twilight mortar shells exploding in the distance from the artillery of the Viet Minh, Gullion informed him that

In twenty years there will be no more colonies. We’re going nowhere out here. The French have lost. If we come in here and do the same thing, we will lose, too, for the same reason. There’s no will or support for this kind of war back in Paris. The homefront is lost. The same thing would happen to us.7

Congressman Kennedy would never forget the prophetic words of Gullion. A decade later, in the now famous debates in the White House in November of 1961, he recalled them to his cabinet members. As John Newman and James Blight have described, these men were pressing him as commander-in-chief to augment military advisors in Vietnam with American combat troops, a request that JFK adamantly rejected.8

When Kennedy returned from his 1951 trip, it was clear that he was deeply affected by the words of Gullion. Robert Kennedy later recalled that the experience had been “very very major” [sic] in shaping his older brother’s vision for American foreign policy in the countries he had visited.9 In describing this period in Kennedy’s life, historian Herbert S. Parmet writes that,

… at a time of containment as the sine qua non of meeting the spread of the ‘international Communist conspiracy,’ Jack Kennedy was evolving into a spokesman for a more sophisticated view. He was beginning to call attention to the soft spot of the Western cause, to the frustration of a region that had long contended with colonial domination.10

In March of 1952, Kennedy spoke to an audience in Everett, Massachusetts, voicing his opposition to sending American troops to assist the French in Indochina. In April, he addressed a Knights of Columbus chapter in nearby Lynn, stating that “we should not commit our ground troops to fight in French Indochina.”11 In an editorial in The Traveler,the Congressman received praise for taking a stand against the status quo: “Mr. Kennedy is doing a service in prodding our conscience.”12 It was clear in 1952 that Kennedy was as outspoken of American aid to the French as he was against the French colonial war itself.

Gullion returned to Washington in 1953, at which time he renewed his association with Kennedy, who had recently been elected to the Senate. They had many conversations and bonded in their minority opinion about the policy of pouring aid into the French war effort in Indochina. The State Department even suspected Gullion of contributing to Kennedy’s speeches on foreign policy. But Gullion recalls an independently minded Kennedy, who not only did not require Guillon’s assistance as a speechwriter, but was shaping a vision entirely on his own. In reflecting on his meetings with Kennedy in an oral history interview in 1964, Gullion modestly recalled that from the very first speech in which Kennedy had sought Gullion’s aid in 1947, the young politician was thinking for himself:

Actually, it was a very realistic and an advanced kind of perspective that he had, and it was his own. My own contributions to it were factual, and I volunteered some opinions and some sentences, but I was somewhat surprised and, I suppose, my own very youthful egoisms somewhat checked when I saw the finished product and realized how much of this was Kennedy and how little of it was mine. It was quite an interesting product.13

Gullion also recalled that after his 1951 trip, Kennedy’s “stance on Indochina certainly went against the prevailing opinion …. Now when he came back he prepared an address in the Senate which was one of his most important.”14 In his work on this major address, Kennedy conferred with Gullion, and, once again, his views were “entirely his own,” according to Gullion.15

JFK’s speech in the Senate came at a turning point in the modern history of Vietnam in the year 1954. After a brutal, fifty-seven day standoff in northwestern Vietnam, Dien Bien Phu fell to the forces of Ho Chi Minh on May 7. With aid from the Chinese and Russians, the Viet Minh commander Võ Nguyen Giáp had amassed troops and, most importantly, heavy artillery that negated the formidable French airpower. The collapse and surrender of the French that followed were the result of Giáp’s brilliant tactical campaign at Dien Bien Phu. In July, French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France put his signature to the Geneva Accords that effectively marked the end of French control of Indochina. The Geneva agreement stipulated that in the nation’s transition to independence, there would be a temporary partition of the country pending a national election to be held in the summer of 1956.

But the United States never signed the Geneva agreements, and almost immediately, the CIA aggressively began to transform Vietnam with the same zeal that had just effected regime changes in Iran and Guatemala. Now, to counter Ho Chi Minh in the north, the search was on for a United States backed leader in the south, whose rise to power would be facilitated by the CIA specialist in black operations, Edward Lansdale. In early 1954 and prior to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Ngo Dinh Diem was made prime minister of Vietnam by France’s longstanding puppet ruler Bao Dai. Within the next two years, Diem would take control of South Vietnam through the sophisticated psychological warfare and propaganda campaigns of Lansdale.16 With Diem in place, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was able to boast that, “We have a clean base there now, without a taint of colonialism. Dien Bien Phu was a blessing in disguise.”17 The elections that were to unify Vietnam never occurred in 1956, because the United States knew that Ho Chi Minh would be elected in a landslide. Instead, the partition between North and South Vietnam was no longer “temporary,” the North Vietnamese were identified as the “communists,” and, propped up by American economic and military support, the “free” nation of South Vietnam under Diem came into existence.18


As the turbulent events of 1954 were unfolding in Vietnam, and a month before Dien Bien Phu collapsed, John F. Kennedy rose to deliver an address in the Senate on April 6, 1954. The structure of the speech was a detailed, year-by-year recapitulation of the massive American support given to the struggling French mercenary army through administrations of both a Democrat (Truman) and a Republican (Eisenhower). Kennedy had done his homework for the speech. This included sending a list of forty-seven detailed questions to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles about the purpose of American involvement in Vietnam.19 But Kennedy was not aware that the United States national security network had already recognized the futility of American intervention in Vietnam by 1954. In 1971, the release of the secret Pentagon Papers revealed that in 1954,

… unless the Vietnamese themselves show an inclination to make individual and collective sacrifices required to resist Communism, which they have not done to date, no amount of external pressure and resistance can long delay complete Communist victory in Vietnam.20

With that knowledge, the Eisenhower administration continued its unalloyed engagement in Vietnam.

On the floor of the Senate, Kennedy prefaced his chronological survey by demanding the government’s accountability to the American people for adventurism and potential war in Vietnam:

If the American people are, for the fourth time in this century, to travel the long and tortuous road of war—particularly a war which we now realize would threaten the survival of civilization—then I believe we have a right—a right which we should have hitherto exercised—to inquire in detail into the nature of the struggle in which we may become engaged, and the alternative to such struggle. Without such clarification the general support and success of our policy is endangered.21

Kennedy was most likely expressing to Eisenhower his personal outrage when he had learned that secret discussions had occurred about deploying atomic warfare in Vietnam to support the fading French prospects of victory. In his speech, Kennedy’s concerns for disclosure were being raised prior to the outcome of the battle of Dien Bien Phu and months before the American subversion of the Geneva Accords that resulted in the artificial division of Vietnam against the will of the Vietnamese people. As he was speaking in the Senate, there was as yet no design for a portion of Vietnam to become an American client state led by a puppet ruler like Diem. It was precisely such a scenario that Kennedy feared.

Kennedy then went on to warn of the dangers of an American military commitment to Vietnam in the wake of the French struggle he had observed in 1951, based on his first-hand experience and the perspectives he had gleaned from Edmund Gullion:

But to pour money, materiel, and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory would be dangerously futile and self-destructive. I am frankly of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere, “an enemy of the people” which has the sympathy and covert support of the people.22

In hindsight, the prophetic nature of Kennedy’s 1954 address underscores a set of lessons that would eventually be learned the hard way by the policymakers after the horrific number of American and Vietnamese casualties during the war that unfolded between 1965-75. Kennedy closed his address by issuing a warning about the potential consequences of military adventurism in Vietnam, including a nod to Thomas Jefferson’s prudence and caution, prior to leaping into the unknown with a military entanglement abroad:

The time to study, to doubt, to review, and revise is now, for upon our decisions now may well rest the peace and security of the world, and, indeed, the very continued existence of mankind. And if we cannot entrust this decision to the people, then, as Thomas Jefferson once said: “If we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”23

This coda to Kennedy’s speech could have been a road map to the future to avoid what became the tragedy of the Vietnam War.


JFK’s tour-de-force Senate address of 1954 was not political grandstanding. Rather, it was a carefully formulated examination of the question of American intervention in Vietnam at a pivotal moment for both nations. Prior to the Senate speech, Kennedy had spoken to the Cathedral Club in Brooklyn, New York, stressing that the French could not withstand the united forces of Ho Chi Minh, who “has influence penetrating all groups of society because of his years of battle against French colonialism.”24 As he would say again in late 1961 to his advisors, the situation was far different from the recent Korean conflict, wherein an independent government in the south was threatened by the invading communists from the north. Even before the Geneva Accords had mandated free elections to unify Vietnam and before Eisenhower began to use the expression “domino theory,” Kennedy had identified the unique circumstances of Vietnam’s long struggle for independence, as distinct from a nation that America could potentially “lose” to communism.

After the Senate speech, Kennedy followed up with a television appearance, indicating that the French could not possibly retain Indochina and that again, as he would say seven years later, “American intervention with combat troops would not succeed.”25 In another 1954 speech in Los Angeles, Kennedy asserted that the American people “have been deceived for political reasons on the life and death matters of war and peace.”26 He reiterated this theme before the Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University and the Executives Club in Chicago, stressing above all the importance of recognizing independent movements for nationhood in the Third World and distinguishing them from the global expansion of communism. In response to Vice President Richard Nixon’s call to send American ground troops into Vietnam, Kennedy responded that if we were to do that, “We are about to enter the jungle to do battle with the tiger.”27 By the end of 1954, an imaginary line would be drawn across Vietnam as a result of the Geneva Accords. But a very different line was being drawn in the sand by John F. Kennedy: one that proscribed American military intervention. The 1954 Senate speech, which was addressed to President Eisenhower, was a prescient warning about repeating the mistakes of the French. Ultimately, it was advice that was ignored after the death of President Kennedy by his successors, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

In Adlai Stevenson’s bid to unseat Eisenhower as president, Kennedy delivered speeches in support of Stevenson in the run-up to the 1956 presidential election. But when he discussed foreign policy, Kennedy refused to engage in partisan politics. In describing American interference in the developing nations of Africa and Southeast Asia, Kennedy observed that

… the tragic failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations since World War II to comprehend the nature of this revolution, and its potentialities for good and evil, has reaped a bitter harvest today. And it is by rights and by necessity a major foreign policy campaign issue that has nothing to do with anti-communism.28

After such speeches, the Stevenson election team asked Kennedy to refrain from making further foreign policy remarks in the course of the campaign. Senator Kennedy was unsuccessful in his quest for the nomination of Vice President on the Stevenson ticket. Which was probably a blessing in disguise.

During the late 1950s, the focus of Southeast Asian foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration was on preventing the nation of Laos from becoming the first fallen domino. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy stressed that we would never succeed in Laos against “guerrilla forces or in peripheral wars … We have been driving ourselves into a corner where the choice is all or nothing.”29 As a senator, Kennedy had recognized that “public thinking is still being bullied by slogans which are either false in context or irrelevant to the new phase of competitive coexistence in which we live.”30 By the time he was elected President in 1960, Kennedy had the wisdom to see beyond the Cold War slogans of “the domino theory,” “godless communism,” and “Soviet master plan.” In his first year in office as President, Kennedy traveled to Vienna for a summit with Khrushchev. While en route, he was warmly received in Paris by President Charles de Gaulle. After Kennedy presented de Gaulle with a gift of an original letter written from George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, de Gaulle proffered advice to Kennedy on Vietnam, telling him that intervention in Southeast Asia would be “a bottomless military and political quagmire.”31

This counsel reflected the lessons learned by de Gaulle himself from Dien Bien Phu and Algeria. But John F. Kennedy hardly needed this advice from de Gaulle, as his thinking about the emerging nations of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia had been formed after a decade of close study and hands-on experience during his travels. His 1954 address in the Senate could be a blueprint even today for correcting the misguided American attempts at “nation building” abroad.32 From the time he traveled to Vietnam until his death, Kennedy had the clarity of thinking to understand that the struggle in Vietnam was the story of nationalism, not a Cold War intrigue. And the thinking that informed his vision was guided at the outset by the words he had heard in 1951 from Edmund Gullion.


The history of the Vietnam War is invariably delineated by historians as a continuum of escalating involvement from the administrations of Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon in the form of an incremental progression.33 This essay challenges that notion as apparent in the vision of John F. Kennedy, one that vehemently opposed conventional warfare in Vietnam. According to JFK’s speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, Vietnam was

… not central to the foreign policy of the Kennedy presidency. Berlin was, Cuba, the Soviet Union, but not Vietnam. Vietnam was a low-level insurrection at that point.34

While there were sixteen thousand military advisors in Vietnam at the time of his assassination on November 22, 1963, Kennedy had resisted the pressure to send in combat forces. According to Sorensen, Kennedy listened to his hawkish advisors, “but he never did what they wanted.”35 Similarly, Võ Hong Nam, the son of the North Vietnamese general Võ Nguyên Giáp, informed researcher Mani Kang, in an interview in 2011, that “President Kennedy was finally changing his foreign policy in regards to Vietnam in 1963” and “he was withdrawing.”36

The military historian John M. Newman observes that “at 12:30 P.M., on Friday, November 22, the rifle shots rang out in Dealey Plaza that took the president’s life. His Vietnam policy died with him.”37 Lyndon Johnson’s decision to use the Gulf of Tonkin affair as the pretext to send combat troops into Vietnam, escalate the war, prop up a string of South Vietnamese dictators in a client state, and, finally admit failure, when choosing not to run for reelection as President in 1968, has tended to erase the memory of JFK’s goal of withdrawing all military advisors no later than 1965.

Speaking before a large gathering at the LBJ Library on May 1, 1995, Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defense and, later, one of the principal policymakers of the Vietnam War under LBJ, recalled the strategic meetings of the National Security Council (NSC) on October 2 and October 5, 1963, wherein, against the will of the majority of the NSC committee members, President Kennedy had made the determination for complete withdrawal of United States military advisors from Vietnam by December 31, 1965. Historian James DiEugenio has effectively summarized the psychology that JFK was using against a powerful national security network that opposed his plan for withdrawal from Vietnam:

Kennedy had based his withdrawal plan on taking advantage of the differences between what the real battlefield conditions were and what the Pentagon said they were. Knowing that the American-backed South Vietnam effort there was failing, the Pentagon was disguising this with a whitewash of how bad things really were. Therefore, Kennedy was going to hoist the generals on their own petard: If things were going so well, then we were not needed anymore.38

In Kennedy’s plan, the initial phase-out of one thousand advisors would be accomplished by the end of 1963. A public announcement would be made to set these decisions “in concrete.”39 McNamara’s recall of the NSC meeting was corroborated when, in the late 1990s, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) released tape recordings of key meetings during the Kennedy presidency, including those of the National Security Council sessions of October 2 and October 5, 1963, wherein all of McNamara’s points were confirmed. McNamara’s voice appears on the tape, stating, “We need to get out of Vietnam, and this is a way of doing it.”40 Shortly after the NSC meetings, JFK approved the Top Secret National Security Action Memo 263. Declassified in the early 1990s, the document identifies the first phase of the withdrawal of one thousand U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963. The combination of contemporary eyewitness testimony, oral history, recollections of statesmen, tape recordings of meetings, documentary evidence, and, above all, President Kennedy in his own words, points to his capacity as commander-in-chief to steer the United States away from what became the tragedy of the Vietnam War following his assassination.


1 Wolfgang Saxon, “Edmund Asbury Gullion, 85, Wide-Ranging Career Envoy,” obituary, The New York Times, March 31, 1998. (https://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/31/world/edmund-asbury-gullion-85-wide-ranging-career-envoy.html)

2 At a critical stage in the crisis of the Diem regime in Vietnam in the summer of 1963, JFK wanted to appoint Gullion as ambassador in Saigon. But Secretary of State Dean Rusk opposed the nomination of Gullion in favor of an opposition party member, the Republican Henry Cabot Lodge. In an effort to show bipartisan unity, JFK went along with Rusk. But the appointment of Lodge was a grave mistake that eventually JFK would regret. Robert Kennedy had also preferred the selection of Gullion, warning his brother that Lodge would create “a lot of difficulties in six months.” RFK’s words were prophetic, especially at the time of the CIA-backed assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem that occurred six months later and unbeknownst to the President. James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), 151.

3 Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy—1917-1963 (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2003), 165.

4 Dallek, 167.

5 Dallek, 168.

6 Douglass, 93.

7 Douglass, 93.

8 Kennedy’s advisors included Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy and his brother William, and Eugene Rostow and his brother Walt. These were the men identified by journalist David Halberstam as “the best and the brightest” of the intellectuals in JFK’s administration. After the president’s assassination, these civilian policy makers would be complicit with Lyndon Johnson as the chief architects of the disastrous war in Vietnam.

9 Herbert S. Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York: The Dial Press, 1980), 228.

10 Parmet, 228.

11 Parmet, 228.

12 Parmet, 228.

13 Oral History with Edmund A. Gullion, July 17, 1964.

14 Oral History with Edmund A. Gullion, July 17, 1964.

15 Oral History with Edmund A. Gullion, July 17, 1964.

16 The clandestine operation of Lansdale has been documented with great thoroughness by Talbot and Douglass, as per bibliography.

17 Richard Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 139. Quoted in James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed—JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, second edition (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), 24.

18 The 1958 bestselling novel The Ugly American, written by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer, exposed the smooth tactics of counterintelligence, propaganda, and force exerted by American operatives to win “hearts and minds” in a fictitious Southeast Asian nation. The thinly veiled portrait of Lansdale was apparent in the wily character of Colonel Edwin Hillendale, whose psychological ploys sought to convert the nation to the American way. Senator John F. Kennedy loved the novel and purchased one hundred copies for distribution to the entire United States Senate. He also paid for a large advertisement of the book in The New York Times.

19 Mahoney, 15.

20 The Complete Pentagon Papers, The New York Timesonline, 1945-67 (http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/205509-pentagon-papers-part-iv-a-4.html)

21 John F. Kennedy, Senate Address on Indochina, April 6, 1954 (https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/United-States-Senate-Indochina_19540406.aspx)

22 John F. Kennedy, Senate Address on Indochina, April 6, 1954. Shortly after the period in which Edmund Gullion was stationed in Vietnam, Charlton Ogburn became an intelligence officer in Southeast Asia, writing memos to the State Department and warning of the dangers of military involvement in Vietnam. His voice was completely ignored by the overconfident civilian leaders in Washington. Ogburn believed that the reach of the authorities was “totalitarian” in nature, a reality that was grasped by Plato, who may have been the first to identify the amorphous power of the “State” in the example of ancient Athens. For Ogburn, Vietnam was a “laboratory” for understanding how dogma is wielded by authority figures. He later recalled that “we lost over fifty thousand lives in Vietnam because the authorities could not be budged. Their appraisal of themselves was based on their being right …. They had to be right.” 
The passage of time would prove Ogburn to be correct in his assessment of Vietnam. Writing in 1989, Andrew Jon Rotter in The Path to Vietnam—Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989) refers to Ogburn’s dispatches to State Department officials as “startling and prophetic” in his early critique of the false assumptions guiding U.S. policy. Ogburn concluded one of his memos to Dean Rusk with a statement that spoke for the rights of Third World nations caught up in the Cold War. Referring to the people of Southeast Asia, Ogburn wrote, “Darn it, they are the ones who are threatened with a fate worse than death—not we.” Around the same time, John F. Kennedy was making virtually the same argument in his Senate speech of April 4, 1954.

23 John F. Kennedy, Senate Address on Indochina, April 6, 1954.

24 Parmet, 281.

25 Parmet, 286.

26 Parmet, 285.

27 Parmet, 285.

28 Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel on September 21, 1956. (https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/Los-Angeles-CA-World-Affairs-Council_19560921.aspx)

29 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days—John F. Kennedy in the White House (New York: Fawcett, 1965), 310-11.

30 Quoted in James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed—JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, second edition (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), 25.

31 Dallek, 397. Prior to acceding to the presidency, Kennedy paid a visit to General Douglas MacArthur who, like de Gaulle, advised him to “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” (https://www.cnn.com/2016/09/08/politics/caroline-kennedy-axe-files)

32 As observed by biographer David Talbot, “Kennedy’s thinking about the historical imperative of Third World liberation was remarkably advanced. Even today, no nationally prominent leader in the United States would dare question the imperialistic policies that have led our country into one military nightmare after another. Kennedy understood that Washington’s militant opposition to the world’s revolutionary forces would only reap ‘a bitter harvest.’” Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard—Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 362.

33 In the popular Steven Spielberg film The Post, the screenwriters lump together on multiple occasions the American Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon, suggesting that each President was on board with military intervention in Vietnam, as the American commitment grew exponentially from one administration to the next. But the historical record suggests that this was not the case during Kennedy’s thousand-day presidency.

34 David Talbot, Brothers—The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (New York: Free Press, 2007), 215.

35 Talbot, Brothers, 215.

36 Mani Kang, “General Giap Knew,” Kennedys and King, August 30, 2013. (https://kennedysandking.com/john-f-kennedy-articles/general-giap-knew)

37 John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam—Deception, Intrigue, and The Struggle for Power (self-published, 2016), 458.

38 James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland—Tom Hanks, Vincent Bugliosi, and the JFK Assassination in the New Hollywood (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), 188.

39 James K. Galbraith, “Exit Strategy: In 1963, JFK Ordered a Complete Withdrawal From Vietnam,” Boston Review (September 1, 2003).

40 Galbraith.

Works Cited Bibliography

The Personal Papers of Edmund A. Gullion. The John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (https://archive2.jfklibrary.org/EAGPP/EAGPP-FA.xml )

Historic Speeches of John F. Kennedy. The John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Historic-Speeches.aspx )

The Complete Pentagon Papers, The New York Timesonline, 1945-67 (http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/205509-pentagon-papers-part-iv-a-4.html )

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy—1917-1963. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2003.

DiEugenio, James. Destiny Betrayed—JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, Second Edition. New York, Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

DiEugenio, James. Reclaiming Parkland—Tom Hanks, Vincent Bugliosi, and the JFK Assassination in the New Hollywood. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.

Douglass, James W. JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008.

Galbraith, James K. “Exit Strategy: In 1963, JFK Ordered a Complete Withdrawal From Vietnam,” Boston Review, September 1, 2003.

Mahoney, Richard. JFK: Ordeal in Africa. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Newman, John M. JFK and Vietnam—Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, second edition. Self-published, 2016.

Parmet, Herbert S. Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy. New York: The Dial Press, 1980.

Rotter, Andrew Jon. The Path to Vietnam—Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Saxon, Wolfgang. “Edmund Asbury Gullion, 85, Wide-Ranging Career Envoy. “ Obituary, The New York Times, March 31, 1998.

Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. A Thousand Days—John F. Kennedy in the White House. New York: Fawcett, 1965.

Talbot, David. Brothers—The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Talbot, David. The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016.

Last modified on Saturday, 19 May 2018 16:27
James Norwood

James Norwood, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley) taught in the humanities at the University of Minnesota for twenty-six years and offered a semester course on the JFK assassination. He is the author of “Lee Harvey Oswald: The Legend and the Truth” and “Oswald’s Proficiency in the Russian Language” that appear on harveyandlee.net. At the time of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, he offered a lecture series at the University of Minnesota entitled “The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: An Event That Changed History.”

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