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The Vietnam War: Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy Leadership Roles Essay

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Updated: Sep 6th, 2021

During the mid-twentieth century, the United States became increasingly involved in the world affairs. As there were problems in different parts of the world, the United States, as the emerging world power, took its responsibility and sought for ways of tackling the problems.

Notable among these is the Vietnam War (1955-1975) that the U.S. involvement was largely felt. Initially, the conflict was internal between South Vietnam and North Vietnam, but it soon shot up into a limited international conflict in which the U.S. supported the government forces of the South. During the war, the roles of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy were pronounced.

President Dwight Eisenhower was the thirty-fourth president of the U.S. who served two terms in office from 1963 to 1961.Under his administration, the U.S. became increasingly involved in global affairs so as to counter the increasing threat to dominance of the Soviet Union.

In particular, he used the emerging role of the United States to assist in establishing a non-Conformist state in South Vietnam. His action resulted in catastrophic long-term outcomes that largely increased his effectiveness as the President of the U.S. Eisenhower inherited the foreign policy of his predecessor, Harry S. Truman, in providing financial and military assistance to the South Vietnamese (Solheim, 2008).

On November 1, 1995, Eisenhower’s action to give military training to the government of South Vietnam marked the official start of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. On this day, he sanctioned the deployment of the Military Assistance Advisory Group to South Vietnam.

Eisenhower’s dynamic leadership style made the Vietnam War to become America’s war. In addition to the military training, he provided the CIA’s (Central Intelligence Agency) Air America services and intelligence assets to assist in the war. Consequently, France, which had tried to re-establish its presence in Vietnam after the Second World War, left the country by April 1956. As much as these actions were effective in defining the role of the U.S. in world affairs, some of his actions inhibited his role as the president.

For example, in 1958, he did not take a strong stand when North Vietnam conquered Laos and controlled some sections of the nation. Most Americans believed that he used behind-the-scenes leadership style to exert America’s influence in the world. Eisenhower’s indirect tactics, both at home and abroad, were effective in increasing the engagement of the U.S. in the Vietnam War.

Under President John Kennedy, the United States became increasingly engaged in global affairs, particularly in the Vietnam War. On assuming office, he continued with the policy of his predecessor, Eisenhower, in providing more military as well as financial assistance to South Vietnam (Peake, 2008).

He was determined not to see the rise of communism in South Vietnam. Therefore, he actively participated in the affairs of the country. Kennedy believed that America should be able to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend…to assure the survival and success of liberty” (Trueman, 2010, para. 3). This is what defined his resolute leadership style in increasing the engagement of the U.S. in global affairs.

However, the introduction of the ‘Strategic Hamlet” program to resettle the peasants into fortified camps under his administration resulted in major failures that inhibited his effectiveness. Because of this program, many South Vietnamese peasants started giving assistance to the North Vietnamese communists; consequently, it provided the critics of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War with the ground to oppose Kennedy’s actions.

Kennedy, with the intention of advocating for democratic ideals across the world, saw that North Vietnam’s communist principles were an impediment to achieving this objective. Therefore, the Kennedy administration strived to uphold the Truman Doctrine that allowed the United States to provide support for countries that wanted to be democratic.

He sanctioned the coup on November 1, 1963 that ended up in the overthrow and unfortunate murder of the South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem when he perceived that Diem was an obstacle to winning the war. However, the assassination of Diem inhibited his effectiveness because he was accused of the crime since he had authorized the coup. Prior to his death, Kennedy had added the number of America’s military personnel from nine hundred that were present in Vietnam before he assumed presidency to sixteen thousand.

In the United States, the direct leadership of the sitting President is very important in the running of the affairs of the country. The U.S. president, as the head of the state and the head of the government, is endowed with the responsibility of addressing various issues affecting the country.

Since the U.S. has emerged as a major world power in this century, the decisions that the President makes are also significant in tackling various international issues. During times of crisis when the country is at war or facing another major crisis, as exemplified by the Vietnam War, the intervention of the President is crucial.

Reference List

Peake, L. A. (2008). The United States in the Vietnam War, 1954-1975: a selected, annotated. New York: Routledge.

Solheim, B. O. (2008). The Vietnam War era: a personal journey. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Trueman, C. (2010). John F Kennedy and Vietnam. The History Learning Site. Retrieved from

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Vietnam War: Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy Leadership Roles'. 6 September.

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