Hawk or Dove? JFK on the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War

Part 2 “Riding the Tiger”

Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (2017)

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed Part 2 of The Vietnam War series, entitled “Riding the Tiger”. In my view it provides the most honest analysis of President Kennedy’s role in escalating the Vietnam War. Its only drawback – which is major – is its failure to acknowledge the CIA role in the coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Following his assassination, many historians have been inclined to portray JFK as a dove on Vietnam. In my view, the facts exposed in this documentary suggest otherwise. In 1962 JFK

  • authorized US special forces (16,000 by November 1963) to accompany the South Vietnamese army into battle. This was a clear violation of the 1954 peace treaty signed in Geneva see What You Never Learned in School About Vietnam
  • authorized delivery of dozens of helicopters and armored personnel carries, as well as napalm and toxic defoliants (eg Agent Orange) to the South Vietnamese army. He deliberately concealed this escalation from the American public.
  • supported a massive “pacification” program by the South Vietnamese army that forcibly removed South Vietnamese farmers from their lands and forced them to live in fortified villages. The anger this generated in rural South Vietnam significantly aided recruitment by the South Vietnamese Liberation Front (aka the Vietcong) that was fighting to overthrow the US-installed dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.

By the time of Diem’s assassination in November 1963, Kennedy realized the US was losing the Vietnam War. At the same time he feared withdrawing US forces. He believed allowing South Vietnam to fall would cost him the 1964 election. At the time of his assassination in November 1963, he had ordered a gradual withdrawal of US forces to finish at the end of 1965.

J Edgar Hoover: A Textbook Case in Corruption

This is an intriguing documentary about J Edgar Hoover, founding director of the FBI. It’s largely based on an official federal investigation that occurred shortly after Hoover’s death in 1972 and Anthony Summer’s 2013 book Official and Confidential: the Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover.

The film explores Hoover’s long track record of both low level and high level corruption. The former involved his routine use of FBI employees to drive him to private functions and to remodel and redecorate his home, as well as the routine use of taxpayer funds to pay for private vacations. The high level corruption involved his close association with Mob figures to fuel his (illegal) offtrack betting habit.

Hoover was notorious for his refusal to investigate or arrest organized crime bosses during his tenure of office. He consistently maintained the US had no national organized crime problem. This was the major cause of his three year battle with John and Bobby Kennedy – which ended in the JFK assassination.

The documentary also reveals how Hoover forced Kennedy to accept Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, by threatening to release surveillance tapes the FBI had made of JFK’s extramarital affairs.

Hoover undertook this type of illegal surveillance on most, if not, all major Washington political figures. He also routinely made it known to lawmakers when he had compromising files on them. These files made him virtually untouchable despite fairly wide knowledge of his own corrupt activities.

Hoover, in turn, was held in check by senior Mob figures who had photos of Hoover engaged in sexual relations with his lover and lifetime partner Clyde Tolson. Officially Hoover condemned homosexuality as a sexual perversion and banned gays from serving as FBI agents.