The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Kennedy - if not Vietnam, then Laos

One of the prominent memes about the first JFK (as he'll be known unless Kerry strikes out) is that, despite flirting with deepening the Eisenhower commitment to Ngo Dinh Diem (clipped on Kennedy's orders) and his successors (who meld into one indistinct globule, rather like Democratic presidential primary candidates), he would somehow not have committed US combat troops.

Saving the mobster's boy from post mortem opprobrium seems to be something of a cottage industry; since his martyrdom (if not Shake n' Bake canonisation) by Lee Harvey Oswald (with or (probably) without friends), one gets the impression (I've yet to read a historiography) that the zeal of his supporters has outweighed that of his detractors (Lyndon Johnson - pencilled in by some [1] as the guy who ordered the hit - makes a far more satisfying villain).

Anyhoo, in looking at William O'Neill's Coming Apart: An Informal History Of America In The 1960's [2], I read, on p66/72 [3], in a passage on JFK's policy on Laos (emphasis mine),
President Kennedy's first thought on taking office was to retrieve the CIA's blunders [in Laos] by force. Secretary McNamara was obliged to inform him there were no troops available for an invasion of Laos. Some in the Pentagon favored using nuclear weapons instead. But the Bay of Pigs had undermined presidential confidence in their advice. (A few months later Kennedy told an aide that "if it hadn't been for Cuba we would be fighting in Laos today.")

For the unsophisticated amongst us who didn't realise there was an upside for the US in the outcome of the Bay of Pigs adventure! Scarcely a surprise, though, that Mr Pay Any Price should have been willing to embrace a wider war in Indo-China. (Always assuming the anecdote is true, of course: the Times was as addicted to anonymous sourcing thirty years ago as today.)

  1. Such as Joachim Festen (July 27).

  2. Published by the New York Times in 1971, and available from the Million Book Project at a bargain 60 megs.

    Quite why the NYTCo decided to put out the tome. I'm not sure. (This was the year of the Pentagon Papers, of course, but that scarcely explains it.) Unlike, say, Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday or The Aspirin Age (which, for the first time, I register was edited by one Isabel Leighton) it adopts a chronological, rather than a topical, structure. The merit of any instant history is specificity of perspective and lack of revision. Authoritative, it ain't. But - having read two or three chapters - the general tone in the writing about Kennedy is critical. The censer-swinging Theodore Sorensen era is well and truly over, apparently. Vietnam oblige, no doubt - at least, in substantial part.

  3. There should be some uniform system for page numbering for Acrobat and DjVu files, and the like. Usually, there are title pages and Roman numeralled introductions that mean that the pagination of the main text does not coincide with the pagination of the online reader. (With, for example, Rolls Series volumes from the Gallica site, of which there are many, the difference may be a hundred pages and more.)

    I've seen, and have followed here, generally, the convention of number the Acrobat reader page only as p76a. The meaning of the a is not obvious, though. And it's scarcely appropriate for other formats, like DjVu. Giving both page numbers is an alternative way to go - though wasteful in characters to type.

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