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Authors Explore the Vietnam War If Kennedy Had lived

James Blight and janet Lang, professors at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, will give a talk about their new book, Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived, on Monday, March 23, at 3:30 p.m. in Room 345 of Washington and Lee University’s Elrod Commons. There will be a book signing after the lecture.

On Tuesday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Marshall Hall, the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics, there will be a showing of a film by Koji Masutani called Virtual JFK. There will be an opportunity to ask the authors further questions after the showing of the film.

Both the talk and the film showing, which are sponsored by the W&L Johnson Lecture Series and the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics, are free and open to the public.

Both the book and film raise a fascinating issue. Would John F. Kennedy have made the same decisions that Lyndon Johnson made in 1964 and 1965, decisions that resulted in the escalation of American military involvement in the Vietnam War?

This is one of the great “counterfactual” questions in recent American history. When Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, he promised to follow the same foreign policy priorities as his fallen predecessor. He kept most of Kennedy’s team of foreign policy advisers. Democrats kept their majorities in the House and Senate. This is the rare presidential transition where the only major change was the person sitting at the head of the table. What difference did that change make? What is the evidence that Kennedy would have acted differently than Johnson on one of the most important challenges facing the United States in the 1960s.

Lang and Blight are trained psychologists who have written extensively about international relations and recent American foreign policy decisions, including the Cuban missile crisis, the collapse of détente, the end of the Cold War and Vietnam. They collaborated with filmmakers on the Academy Award-winning documentary Fog of War: Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara.