Shrewsbury School

Bastille Society Lecture: JFK and the Vietnam War - the unending debate

Monday 6 November 2017

Professor Kevin Ruane, a specialist in 20th century international history, returned to Shrewsbury School on 3rd November to deliver a refreshing perspective on the much-contested issue of ‘JFK and the Vietnam War’. - Report by Glory Chan (MSH UVI)

Despite the widely popular perception that the war in Vietnam would not have been so disastrous if President Kennedy had lived, Professor Ruane debunked this idea by highlighting Kennedy’s flawed policies in Vietnam, suggesting the commonly mythologised portrayal of Kennedy is deceptive and erroneous.

Professor Ruane argued that Kennedy’s main initiative in Vietnam – the Strategic Hamlet Programme – proved unsuccessful as it was fundamentally founded on a false premise. Assuming that people were coerced into supporting the Viet Cong, the programme sought to isolate South Vietnamese from the influence of the Communists. However, it failed to provide adequate protection and alienated the people, unable to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ that were crucial in achieving victory.

Kennedy’s decision to approve the overthrowing of Diem was also highly criticised by Professor Ruane, ‘morally locking’ America into supporting subsequent South Vietnamese governments. Interestingly, Professor Ruane contended that perhaps if Diem had not been overthrown, the negotiations between North and South Vietnam that were underway might have come to fruition, thereby paving the way for American withdrawal without intensifying the conflict.

Captivating the audience with his unparalleled analysis of JFK and the Vietnam War, we would once again like to extend our thanks to Professor Ruane for a memorable and highly educational Friday night.

back to top