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OPINION: What if JFK had lived? Vietnam outcome might’ve been different

Travis Kelly
Free Press Opinion Columnist

My previous column on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination briefly covered the now overwhelming evidence for conspiracy, suppressed for five decades by the vast majority of the nation’s major news organizations..

Ultimately, the big secret is the full truth about responsibility for the Vietnam war, and Orwell’s maxim — “Those who control the past, control the present. Those who control the present, control the future.” — applies here. We’ve been systematically lied to about our past, by the same militant forces that hijacked the nation in 1963 and have led us into more costly and futile quagmires in this century. There is more to it than “romanticizing” Kennedy because of his and Jackie’s youth and charm.

JFK’s nephew, Robert Kennedy, Jr., lays out this whole largely secret history in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine (“John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace”), in both print and online editions. Former Army intelligence officer and history professor John Newman has also exposed this history in greater documentary detail in his book “JFK and Vietnam.”



The war hawks, including a majority of both Republican and Democratic leaders, wanted to launch a full-scale invasion of Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, send U.S. military forces to Laos, and escalate the conflict in Vietnam with regular combat troops. Some fanatical generals in the Pentagon even seriously proposed a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union to JFK.

When he came into office, there were 685 American military advisors in Vietnam; he eventually authorized 16,500 advisors, forbidden from engaging in combat missions themselves. For three years he held this line, against increasingly vociferous demands for combat troops. General Maxwell Taylor, a JFK confidante, has stated: “The last thing he wanted was to put in ground forces. I don’t recall anyone who was strongly against (sending combat troops to Vietnam) except one man, and that was the president.”



In 1951, Congressman JFK and his brother, RFK, had visited Vietnam and witnessed the futility of the French forces fighting a neo-colonial war that ended with the disaster of Dien Bien Phu and French withdrawal. In 1954, JFK dissented against his own party’s push for intervention, stating: “No amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy that is everywhere and at the same time nowhere… which has the covert support of the people.” He understood that despite Ho Chi Minh’s communism, it was primarily a native people struggling for independence against foreign domination. The corrupt Diem government — a Catholic in a nation of Buddhists — had almost no popular support. If we had honored our best traditions and backed an indigenous non-communist independence movement immediately after WWII, instead of propping up our fellow Caucasians’ atavistic colony, Ho Chi Minh might have had powerful competition.

JFK also consulted America’s most hallowed war general — Douglas MacArthur — who told him: “Anyone wanting to commit American ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined.”

On May 8, 1962, JFK ordered McNamara and a shocked Gen. Paul Harkins to devise a withdrawal plan. By the summer of 1963, he was quietly telling his most trusted allies that he was planning to get completely out of Vietnam, but he couldn’t safely do it until after re-election. He confided this decision to aide Kenny O’Donnell, Tip O’Neill, McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Sens. Mike Mansfield and Wayne Morse, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, Gen. Taylor, and Marine Gen. David Shoup. In September ‘63, JFK told a national TV audience: “In the final analysis, it is their war… We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors, but they have to win it…”

In October ‘63, he issued National Security Action Memorandum 263 — ordering withdrawal of the bulk of American forces by 1965, beginning with 1,000 personnel by the end of the year. Once in power, LBJ wasted no time in effectively rescinding NSAM 263 and planning full-scale escalation on Nov. 24.

Fifty years later, we must make an honest historical judgment about this troubled past: The Castros still rule Cuba. Vietnam has been communist for almost 40 years. The Asian dominoes did not fall, and the harm to our national security was approximately — zilch. The war hawks were wrong and JFK was right. How would it have been different if he had not been cut down?

We would have exactly the same world we have today, minus 58,000 dead American soldiers, about 400,000 dead Vietnamese, all their suffering relatives, and thousands of physically and psychologically maimed veterans in the most insanely managed war in our history.

There is another lesson that many of us pretend to have learned from 21 centuries ago: The true peacemakers are always crucified first.

Travis Kelly is a web/graphic designer, writer and cartoonist in Grand Junction. See his work or contact him at http://www.traviskelly.com.


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