Soon after Kennedy was inaugurated as President in 1961, one of the first things he did was to quietly increase the number of American military “advisors” that would be helping the South Vietnamese. Often these were combat soldiers in everything but name. He did not want Americans to know what was going on. Within 2 years of taking office the number of advisors increased to 11,300. Such numbers allowed them to give a lot of “advice.” These advisors were officially allowed to teach the South Vietnamese forces and even accompany them into battle. Most now agree that this was a violation of the Geneva Accords that had been negotiated in 1954. This was not the first nor the last time that the United States chose to ignore international law. Obedience to international is what they expect of others. It is not what they demand of themselves.
Of course, Kennedy was not entirely truthful with the American public about what he was doing in Vietnam. This started what became a long-standing tradition among American Presidents. If the truth would hurt policy, ignore it, conceal it or lie about it. Kennedy was fearful that Americans would not be support a more active role in Vietnam. So President Kennedy did what all his successors in office did—he lied. He said there were no American combat troops in Vietnam, when there really were.
Lying to the American public and then asking them to put themselves or their children in harm’s way is about the worst thing a President can do. And they all did it. All the Presidents involved in the war did it from Kennedy to Nixon. It is like going to a doctor who recommends dangerous surgery. You are entitled to the know the truth so that you can freely make an informed decision. This is what the American Presidents did not allow Americans to do. This was a major crime.
In the spring of 1962 President Kennedy told a friend “we don’t have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. These people hate us, but I can’t give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and then get the people to re-elect me.” These were amazing words, but they were never told to the public. In fact they were highly similar to words that Richard Nixon would late use to describe his predicament. Kennedy may have been more attractive than Nixon, but was he morally better? Over and over again American Presidents continued fighting a losing war for fear of being defeated at the next election. They did that despite misgivings (or worse) about the chances of success. They did that despite giving no hint of their true feelings to the young men and women or their parents or loved ones, who were being asked to put their lives at risk in a cause that was dubious at best. In the case of each of those Presidents who were less than truthful they have earned our scorn and forfeited our respect.