Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War by Howard Jones is a compelling well written topic that focuses on the critical years of the Kennedy Administration and the evolving US war in Vietnam. Jones has painstakingly researched how Diem was a key part of the increase of Vietcong success in and around Saigon from 1960.
Jones brings the opening eight chapters into focus on Diem’s inability to reform the political and social process in the south, locking his family into full control of the country’s wealth. The role of the US ambassadors were to move the Diem family towards democracy. We never succeeded.
At the same time the coming crisis is revealed with behind the scenes accounts of the multiple clashes within the Kennedy Administration. This contributed to Kennedy’s lack of trust with the Joint Chiefs of Staff following their Bay of Pigs fiasco. Jones has done well to bring the European and Cuban conflicts into the scope of how the US was approaching Vietnam, and ultimately China and the Soviet Union.
The Battle of Ap Bac in 1963 proved to be a perfect sign of how bad the South would fight in their first major battle. John Paul Vann‘s role in Ap Bac is now legendary. Coupled with the June Buddhist crisis and the worldwide attention to the self-immolation of Quang Duc which forever turned the south against Diem and his family. It was the fallout of this event that the Kennedy administration began exploring how to engineer a coup de tat.
Jones begins the long road to the coup against Diem in the middle chapters. Interesting how even his brother Nhu was exploring a coup against his own brother. The US could not confirm was a solid lead. Madame Nhu proved an interesting sideshow that somehow gained international attention through the coup. The main thrust was Nhu’s attempts to secretly negotiate with the NVA to secure the south, remove the Americans and possibly push himself into the role of President.
Death of a Generation documents interesting views from the Eisenhower Administration the repeated failures by our politicians and military advisors proved to be a telling sign of the disaster to come under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.
Jones’ chapter on the final coup is very well written. It serves as a primer for understanding how Diem and Ngo collapsed under pressure and fled the Palace. They were found and assassinated. JFK would meet his fate less than a month later.