Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Brock Millman
Dr. Frank Schumacher
This dissertation examines the Kennedy administration’s rejection of French President Charles de Gaulle’s critique of American intervention in Vietnam in the early 1960s. In discussions on Vietnam de Gaulle consistently touched on four major themes
from his first meeting with Kennedy in May 1961 until Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963: recognition of the principle of Vietnamese self-determination, the withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam, acceptance of controlled neutrality for Southeast Asia, and the necessity of dealing with mainland China directly. Kennedy rejectedallelementsofthisplatform. Hewashighlyscepticalofneutrality,whichhe viewed as a stalking horse for communism, and felt that the United States needed to show resolve in Southeast Asia or risk jeopardizing its prestige with allies across the globe. Franco-American relations in the 1960s were characterized by mutual mistrust due to fundamental disagreements over most major bilateral issues ranging from joint decision making within NATO, terms for negotiating with the Soviet Union, nuclear proliferation, United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa, Britain’s role in the European Economic Community, and Vietnam. Had each president not initially approached the other with high hopes, it would be easy to dismiss their disagreement over Vietnam as typical of what had long been a very troubled relationship.
Part of Kennedy’s rejection of de Gaulle’s proposals for Vietnam can be explained in American domestic politics during the 1950s and the social science academic backgrounds of the “Best and the Brightest” in his administration. Nevertheless, the way Kennedy’s New Frontiersmen framed their rejection of de Gaulle’s position on Vietnam reflected long-standing American cultural antipathy towards Europe,
France in particular. After taking the White House, Kennedy was initially drawn in by de Gaulle, but when policy disputes did occur, he and men of his administration reached to traditional American stereotypes of France to explain French positions rather than debate de Gaulle’s ideas on their merits. They used feminizing language to varying degrees to dismiss French initiatives as the by-product of serious national character flaws, such as irrationality, jealousy, and selfishness. At no point did the Kennedy administration recognize the Gaullist position on Vietnam as a legitimate expression of relevant French experience, nor did they believe that France was capable of acting as an honest broker and negotiating a real truce between North and South. As a result, the Kennedy administration missed out on a perfect opportunity to disengage from a grim and distant conflict in late summer 1963, when de Gaulle had the resources and the will to broker peace. Much of the bloodshed of the next decade could have been avoided if not for the francophobic prejudices that led the Kennedy administration to mistakenly view a genuine French offer to help the United States avoid a long costly war as an attempt to undermine American aims for the region
McLaughlin, Sean J., "IGNORING ‘NOSEY CHARLIE’: THE KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION’S REPONSE TO THE GAULLIST CRITIQUE OF AMERICAN POLICY IN VIETNAM (1961-1963" (2009). Digitized Theses. 3810.