20 January 1961: John F. Kennedy Inaugurated as President of the United States

On 20 January 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States. In his inauguration speech, President Kennedy declared:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the survival and the success of liberty.”

President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, published by CBS, 16 January 2011 (3:36)

Privately, outgoing President Eisenhower told Kennedy, “I think you’re going to have to send troops…” to Southeast Asia.

President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, published by CBS, 16 January 2011.

President Kennedy’s youthful administration was inexperienced in matters regarding Southeast Asia. Forty-four-year-old Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, along with civilian planners recruited from the academic community, would play a crucial role in deciding the White House strategy for Vietnam over the next several years. Under their leadership, the US would wage a limited war with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to force a political settlement.

The “limited” war would turn into a protracted “quagmire” of a war against an enemy described by Hồ Chí Minh himself as totally committed to victory “…whatever the sacrifices, however long the struggle…until Vietnam is fully independent and reunified.”

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