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Did John F. Kennedy start the Vietnam War?

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This is a difficult question to answer. Eisenhower did not start the war (in many ways he inherited it from the French). Eisenhower and the US Congress committed the USA by providing aid in the form of military equipment, advisers and capital to the French first, and then to the South Vietnamese government.

At the end of 1959, there were 760 US Troops training the South Vietnamese Army with no formal active combat involvement. Under Eisenhower, the USA suffered its first casualty in 1959. We were not at war at this point, but the framework was put in place for increased American involvement, unless a pullout was ordered by either Eisenhower or the incoming President, John F. Kennedy.

JFK was the first president to send a large number of troops (between 15,000 to 20,000) to Vietnam, and it was only under his presidency that America started suffering a large number of war casualties. Still, one could say JFK inherited the war, yet he also could have pulled out before it became a war. This is where the answer to the question is a matter of opinion. From the perspective of foreign commitments to the French and Europe, as well as to the war-hawks in the US Congress, JFK was sucked into the war by momentum to a certain degree.

On Oct 6 1963 Kennedy signed an executive (NSAM 263) National Security Action Memorandum) report that provided for the removal of 1,000 troops in December 1963 and the vast majority of troops were promised to be out by 1965.

After JFK was killed, Lyndon Baines Johnson, his successor, countermanded that order with NSAM 273, and increased the number of troops dramatically to 550,000 within 2-3 years, resulting in the deaths of 58,000 American soldiers.

The president who ended the unpopular war was Richard Nixon.

To sum it all up: The French, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ were all responsible to some degree or another. However it was Lyndon Baines Johnson who really escalated matters due to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which prompted Congress to formally authorize military involvement in Vietnam under LBJ's leadership. At no point did LBJ consider using his veto power to stop such authorization.

Verdict: Possibly JFK, and most definitely LBJ and the US Congress.
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