cover image Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK

Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK

James G. Blight, Janet M. Lang, David A. Welch. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, $34.95 (421pp) ISBN 978-0-7425-5699-7

The historical ""what if"" that won't go away, John F. Kennedy's unrealized Vietnam strategy gets a comprehensive workout in this volume by political science professor Welch and international relations professors Blight and Lang. Using first-hand documents, audio recordings and a conference-based research technique they call ""critical oral history,"" the authors assimilate a ""virtual"" JFK to decide the course of the war. The 2005 Musgrove Conference brought together scholars and former White House officials for three days of discussion; the evidence quickly split into two camps. Skeptics conclude that, after the1963 assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem, JFK would done just what Lyndon did in 1965: send in tens of thousands more American troops. The opposing side points to Kennedy's 1963 plan to withdraw a thousand men, as well as the lessons of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to suggest he would have resisted the hawkish voices around him. The authors go ahead and determine a winner, the war-ending JFK who would have withdrawn the troops and taken the political beating that came with it. Though the book offers other new insights (PBS broadcaster and former LBJ advisor Bill Moyers, a possible Kennedy-McNamara ""back-channel""), it plods through much heavily trafficked territory.