On this day, South Vietnam requests a bilateral defense treaty with the United States. President John F. Kennedy was faced with a serious dilemma in Vietnam. The government of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon was increasingly unpopular with the South Vietnamese people because of his refusal to institute political reform and the suppression of opposing political and religious factions. However, Diem was staunchly anticommunist, which made him attractive to the American president, who was concerned about the growing strength of the Communists in Southeast Asia.
The United States had taken over the fight against the Communists in Vietnam from the French, who had been defeated by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The United States had been providing military aid to the South Vietnamese through the French since 1951. In 1955, this aid, which included American military advisers, was provided directly to the Diem government in Saigon. With the formal request for a bilateral defense treaty, the number of U.S. personnel in South Vietnam grew to more than 3,000 by the end of 1961, and the American commitment to Saigon grew steadily over the next two years. When President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, there were over 16,000 American personnel in Vietnam. Under Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, this number would grow to more than 500,000.