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More Hawk Than Huck

August 05, 1990

Dean Rusk and his son ("As I Saw It," reviewed by Michael R. Beschloss, June 24) portray the former Kennedy-Johnson secretary of state as a kind of amiable Huck Finn from Oxford ("wearing hand-me-down, hand-sewn, flour-sack drawers" as a boy, as the reviewer puts it), but Beschloss fails to point out the distortion of such a self-serving self-portrait of Rusk as a gentlemanly near-Dove.

Beschloss seems to have Rusk saying that Kennedy and Johnson betrayed the "honor" of the U.S. by declaring that "You are not going to take over South Vietnam by force," but then the reviewer suggests that Rusk was not the hawk on Vietnam he has been painted as being. In any case, I was under the impression that Johnson, with Rusk's help, did do his level best to "take over South Vietnam by force."

But Beschloss is entirely in error when he suggests that Kennedy and Johnson were of the same ilk in prosecuting the Vietnam War: "Whatever future historians conclude about American decision-making on Vietnam . . . (they are) unlikely to favor Rusk or the two Presidents he served."

Johnson aside, Kennedy's last decision on Vietnam--made less than two months before he was assassinated--was to begin the withdrawal of the American military from that nation, a process which was to be completed by the end of 1965. Kennedy had started to do precisely what Nixon would be forced to do over a decade later--declare the war won and get the hell out.

RICHARD MARTIN

LOS ANGELES

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