Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 34%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $3.42
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 88%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (21) from $3.42   
  • New (8) from $7.16   
  • Used (13) from $3.42   


When John F. Kennedy was shot, millions were left to wonder how America, and the world, would have been different had he lived to fulfill the enormous promise of his presidency. For many historians and political observers, what Kennedy would and would not have done in Vietnam has been a source of enduring controversy.
Now, based on convincing new evidence—including a startling revelation about the Kennedy administration's involvement in the assassination of Premier Diem—Howard Jones argues that Kennedy intended to withdraw the great bulk of American soldiers and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Vietnam.
Drawing upon recently declassified hearings by the Church Committee on the U.S. role in assassinations, newly released tapes of Kennedy White House discussions, and interviews with John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and others from the president's inner circle, Jones shows that Kennedy firmly believed that the outcome of the war depended on the South Vietnamese. In the spring of 1962, he instructed Secretary of Defense McNamara to draft a withdrawal plan aimed at having all special military forces home by the end of 1965. The "Comprehensive Plan for South Vietnam" was ready for approval in early May 1963, but then the Buddhist revolt erupted and postponed the program. Convinced that the war was not winnable under Diem's leadership, President Kennedy made his most critical mistake—promoting a coup as a means for facilitating a U.S. withdrawal. In the cruelest of ironies, the coup resulted in Diem's death followed by a state of turmoil in Vietnam that further obstructed disengagement. Still, these events only confirmed Kennedy's view about South Vietnam's inability to win the war and therefore did not lessen his resolve to reduce the U.S. commitment. By the end of November, however, the president was dead and Lyndon Johnson began his campaign of escalation. Jones argues forcefully that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, his withdrawal plan would have spared the lives of 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese.
Written with vivid immediacy, supported with authoritative research, Death of a Generation answers one of the most profoundly important questions left hanging in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy's death.

Death of a Generation was a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2003.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Superb analysis of the 1963 Buddhist crisis."—Reviews in American History

"The account of the events leading up to the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is particularly good, and the assessment of its dire effect on the nature of the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam, convincing."—Foreign Affairs

"Jones...argues that the instability of Diem's government, followed by the assassinations of Diem and JFK, combined to create an environment where escalation of American involvement in Vietnam became inevitable, thus triggering what Jones terms 'the death of a generation."....Jones goes deeper into the existing evidence supporting this thesis than have most other writers, and does so in a highly readable manner."—Publishers Weekly

"This is a 'what if' book, and lay historians may wonder whether such a book has a place in history. The answer in this case is a strong affirmative."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

Publishers Weekly
Jones (Mutiny on the Amistad) delivers an informative narrative documenting in rather elaborate detail a popular theory of JFK and Vietnam advanced previously by such writers as Richard Mahoney and Richard Reeves: that had Kennedy lived, U.S. involvement in Vietnam would not have escalated as it did. There were 685 U.S. advisers in Vietnam on the day Kennedy was inaugurated president in early 1961. Less than three years later, in October 1963, the U.S. had 16,732 American troops in place. Despite this escalation, Kennedy was never wholly convinced of the wisdom of American involvement in Vietnam. Minutes of the September 6, 1963, National Security Council meeting, two weeks after Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the overthrow of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, show Robert Kennedy openly questioning whether Communist takeover of the South could be successfully resisted, regardless of whether Diem remained in place or not. The president himself is on record even earlier, in April 1962, as telling his aides to "seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our involvement." Hawks such as Dean Rusk in Kennedy's cabinet (shortly inherited by LBJ) did not agree. Jones, like most scholars in recent memory, argues that the instability of Diem's government, followed by the assassinations of Diem and JFK, combined to create an environment where escalation of American involvement in Vietnam became inevitable, thus triggering what Jones terms "the death of a generation." Although not advancing an original thesis, Jones, a historian at the University of Alabama, goes deeper into the existing evidence supporting this thesis than have most other writers, and does so in a highly readable manner. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Was JFK a hawk or a dove? Was the tragedy of Vietnam inevitable? Jones (History/Univ. of Alabama) provides a cord or two of fresh wood to fuel the ongoing debate. The main focus here is the Kennedy administration’s dealings with the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, a man of extraordinary failings in a time that demanded flawless guidance. A Catholic in a Buddhist country, a keeper of secrets and secret bank accounts, a wily survivor of intrigues, ever quick to undo US reform efforts toward democratization, Diem proved to be a nightmare of a puppet. Kennedy, increasingly mistrustful of the American military that had steered him so badly wrong at the Bay of Pigs and was now apparently in the habit of lying to him at every turn, sought to extricate himself from the faltering alliance with Diem. Though he was warned away each time by dire predictions of Communist takeover, JFK eventually formulated and approved a plan that would have provided for the complete withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam by 1965. That plan came a cropper for several reasons, Jones writes. When world attention was drawn to Vietnam in the wake of the Buddhist self-immolations and subsequent revolt (all of which infuriated Kennedy), the CIA and other elements of the American government encouraged a military coup that ended in Diem’s murder and the installation of a regime that may have been even worse. Kennedy himself was assassinated only three weeks later. Jones’s long, detailed what-if scenario raises intriguing questions, and he argues quite convincingly that had the coup not been bungled and Johnson not propelled to leadership, Vietnam may have ended quite differently—almost certainly not in the deaths of 58,000Americans and untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Solid history marked by memorable moments (including a glimpse of David Halberstam looting Saigon’s presidential palace) and the highly effective use of hitherto classified documents.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195176056
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 805,718
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Howard Jones is University Research Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Mutiny on the Amistad (OUP 1997), Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom, and Crucible of Power.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)