On this day, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.
Kennedy took office on January 20, 1961. From the start of his term, he was faced with a deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia, in which both Laos and South Vietnam were threatened by communist insurgencies. In July 1962, Kennedy’s roving ambassador, W. Averell Harriman, negotiated an international agreement that arranged for a neutral coalition government in Laos. Kennedy was less successful in South Vietnam, where U.S. military advisers had been training the South Vietnamese Army since 1954. The government of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was threatened by a communist-dominated guerrilla movement called the National Liberation Front. In 1961, Kennedy demonstrated America’s commitment to Diem’s government by increasing the number of military advisers from 500 to 15,000 and ordering them into combat. By late 1963, Kennedy realized that Diem was more interested in maintaining his own power than in defeating the communists, so Kennedy did nothing to stop d!
issident South Vietnamese generals from planning a coup against Diem. The coup began on November 1 and was successful; Diem was killed in the process. President Kennedy himself was assassinated only three weeks later.
There has been much conjecture about what Kennedy ultimately would have done about the worsening situation in Vietnam–many have asserted that he would not have escalated the war as did his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. There were more than 16,000 advisers and other U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam when Kennedy was assassinated. Under Johnson, who said he was continuing Kennedy’s policies on Southeast Asia, that number grew to over 500,000 by 1969.