By the middle of 1960, the South Vietnamese army and security forces could not cope with the new threat. Two thousand five hundred government functionaries and other real and imagined enemies of the Viet Cong were assassinated. After four VC companies had attacked an ARVN regimental headquarters northeast of Saigon, Americans in Vietnam started to plan for increased U.S. aid to Diem. When the new administration of the U.S. took office in 1961, Vietnam represented both a challenge and an opportunity. Kennedy believed that Vietnam presented a chance to test the United States’ ability to operate a “counterinsurgency” against communist subversion and guerrilla warfare.
Kennedy’s involvement in the Vietnam War
A successful effort in Vietnam—in Kennedy’s words, represented the cornerstone of the free world in Southeast Asia. Many of the South’s problems were caused by continuing rigidity, incompetence, and corruption of the Diem regime. Still, the South Vietnamese President had several American critics in Saigon or Washington.
Interests of the U.S. in the Vietnam War
The U.S. administration made significant efforts to reassure Diem of its support and boosted economic and military aid. Kennedy sent two critical advisers to Vietnam in the fall of 1961 to assess conditions. The two determined that the South Vietnamese government was losing and was not capable of turning the tide on its own. They recommended an expanded program of military assistance and the introduction of a limited number of U.S. combat troops as a measure the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been urging as well. Well aware of the potential domestic political consequences of “losing” another nation to the communists, Kennedy had to commit combat troops to a war in Southeast Asia.