Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK

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The Virtual JFK DVD is now available! For more information on the film companion to the book, visit It Matters Who Is President—Then and Now At the heart of this provocative book lies the fundamental question: Does it matter who is president on issues of war and peace? The Vietnam War was one of the most catastrophic and bloody in living memory, and its lessons take on resonance in light of America's current devastating involvement in Iraq. Tackling head-on the most controversial and debated "what if" in U.S. foreign policy, this unique work explores what President John F. Kennedy would have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated in 1963. Drawing on a wealth of recently declassified documents, frank oral testimony of White House officials from both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and the analysis of top historians, this book presents compelling evidence that JFK was ready to end U.S. involvement well before the conflict escalated. With vivid immediacy, readers will feel they are in the president's war room as the debates raged that forever changed the course of American history—and continue to affect us profoundly today as the shadows of Vietnam stretch into Iraq.

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Editorial Reviews

Bruce Riedel
A fascinating and important book that uses innovative research to explain how America got into the Vietnam quagmire. It is deeply relevant to today's debates about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the danger of war with Iran with timely lessons on presidential leadership.
Robert K. Brigham
As an exercise in virtual history, this book is impeccable. The authors have brought together the relevant policy makers, scholars, and newly released documents to examine the major question of the Vietnam War. Their conclusion—that Kennedy would not have Americanized the war—is reasonable and significant, as is their methodology. This is must reading for any student of American foreign relations.
Wayne S. Smith
The authors deftly analyze all sides in the debate. They also draw lessons from the Kennedy presidency that can now be useful as the nation moves to rescue U.S. foreign policy from the morass into which it has fallen during the presidency of George W. Bush. JFK has never looked more persuasive or more relevant than he does here.
Robert S. McNamara
I urge everyone interested in Kennedy, Johnson, and Vietnam, and everyone concerned about the kind of leadership we need to keep our nation out of war, to read this book. It is far and away the best book on these subjects I have ever read—lucid, rich, and balanced, with all sides getting a fair, but critical, hearing.
Joseph S. Nye
In this carefully documented but very readable account, Blight, Lang, and Welch provide a ringside seat on an important debate that is more than a historical curiosity. They show how a change of leaders can make a profound difference in the unfolding of historical events—then and now. Anyone interested in America's role in the world should read this absorbing book.
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
In this carefully documented but very readable account, Blight, Lang, and Welch provide a ringside seat on an important debate that is more than a historical curiosity. They show how a change of leaders can make a profound difference in the unfolding of historical events—then and now. Anyone interested in America's role in the world should read this absorbing book.
The New York Review Of Books
On the two most treacherous issues Kennedy left unresolved, the jury will always be out. Mindful of the southern segregationists in his own party, he moved timidly in advancing civil rights for African-Americans. We'll never know whether his powerful Oval Office addresses, promoted by the National Guard-enforced admission of black students into the University of Alabama in June 1963, was the harbinger of a greater commitment to civil rights activism or not. Nor, of course, will we ever know whether Kennedy would have followed Johnson's disastrous course in Vietnam. The closest we have to an answer can be found in Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived.
Foreign Affairs
The authors . . . make a fair case that . . . 'virtual history' is a much more serious exercise than counterfactual history. . . . The liveliness of the exchanges and the enthusiasm of the participants do illuminate this critical period in U.S. history.
Library Journal

Virtual history, according to the authors, is historical projection based on scrupulous analysis of actual historical documents to determine the likely path a leader would have taken had he or she remained in power. Blight and Janet Lang (coauthors, The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara) and David A. Welch (coauthor, The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History) are political scientists who have long studied JFK's policies. This book is the result of a 2005 conference they led at which scholars and presidential officials of the Vietnam era, among them Frances FitzGerald, James Galbraith, and Bill Moyers, rigorously debated recently declassified documents, some of which are included in the appendix. The authors provide introductions to each chapter, but the panelists' conversations make up the lion's share of the text, with the resulting if not unanimous consensus being that JFK would not have taken the country into the Vietnam War. Why? Because, in part, he was confident about his views although he encouraged dissent from his hawkish advisers, and he recognized the possible nuclear outcome that could have resulted from escalating the conflict. The participants conclude that it does make a difference whom we elect President. Diplomatic historians and Vietnam War specialists will find this work informative and at times exhilarating; recommended for academic collections.
—Karl Helicher

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742556997
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 456
  • Sales rank: 1,345,522
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

James G. Blight is CIGI Chair of Foreign Policy Development, Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. janet M. Lang is research professor, Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. David A. Welch is CIGI Chair of Global Security, Balsillie School of International Affairs, and professor of political science, University of Waterloo.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Whither Vietnam, If Kennedy Had Lived?
Chapter 1: Why Kennedy, Johnson, and Vietnam? Why Now?
Chapter 2: Who's Who at the Musgrove Conference
Chapter 3: What JFK Decided: November 1961
Chapter 4: What JFK Decided: October–November 1963
Chapter 5: What LBJ Decided: The "Long 1964"
Chapter 6: Virtual JFK, Not Counterfactual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived
Epilogue: Does it Matter Who Is President in Matters of War and Peace?: A Tale of Three Choices
Appendix A: Excerpts From Declassified Documents and Secret Audio Tapes
Appendix B: JFK What If Questionnaire for Musgrove Participants

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