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John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War: The Withdrawal Thesis

Hosted by the Department of International History

32 LIF B.07 , United Kingdom


Professor Marc Selverstone

Professor Marc Selverstone

Miller Center for Presidential Recordings, University of Virginia


Professor Matthew Jones

Professor Matthew Jones

Department of International History, LSE

On the day before his assassination, on 21 November 1963, in Fort Worth, Texas, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech which highlighted the importance of the US commitment to Vietnam, where there were then 16,000 US military personnel supporting the South Vietnamese Army in its struggle against a Communist insurgency. 

Yet some historians have argued that over the previous few months, Kennedy and his Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, disillusioned with American prospects, were quietly making preparations for the gradual withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam.  However, after Kennedy’s death, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson acted to escalate US involvement in the war, leading some to speculate over what might have happened had Kennedy lived.  This talk, based on Professor Selverstone’s forthcoming book on the subject, uses new evidence from declassified US archives and presidential tape recordings to examine the debates over the ‘Kennedy withdrawal thesis’ and to tackle the issue of whether America’s long war in Vietnam could have been avoided.

Professor Marc Selverstone is an Associate Professor in Presidential Studies at the Miller Center and chair of the Center’s Presidential Recordings Program. He earned a BA degree in philosophy from Trinity College (CT), a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, and a PhD in history from Ohio University. A historian of the Cold War, he is the author of Constructing the Monolith: The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945-1950 (Harvard), which won the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Selverstone’s broader scholarship focuses on presidents and presidential decision-making, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. He has written for journals and edited volumes on the Kennedy presidency, the Cold War, and the American war in Vietnam. He also edits the Miller Center’s “Studies on the Presidency” series (Virginia), and is the editor of A Companion to John F. Kennedy (Wiley-Blackwell). His most recent book is The Kennedy Withdrawal: Camelot and the American Commitment to Vietnam (Harvard University Press).

What can I expect from the event?

This will be a talk by Professor Selverstone followed by a Q and A. 

How can I attend?

This public event is free and open to all but registration is required.   

Registration is open and available through EventBrite

For any queries email ih.socialnetworks@lse.ac.uk.

From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend that if you plan to attend this event you check back on this listing on the day of the event. 


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