Many people are familiar with the famous quotation by President John F. Kennedy, “Life is unfair.”
But nowadays few people remember or know the context of this quote.
It was something he said, in part, with respect to what would become the Vietnam War.
In 1961, newly-elected President Kennedy decided to send more than a thousand American “military advisors” to South Vietnam, where the pro-Western regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem faced mounting threats from Communist insurgents and the North Vietnamese army.
In 1962, Kennedy increased the American presence in Vietnam to nearly 10,000 troops.
When Army reservists began being called up to serve there, as well as in another Cold War front in Berlin, some felt that they had “done their time” and publicly expressed their resentment by holding demonstrations. One reservist even began a hunger strike.
President Kennedy was asked about this during a press conference held on March 21, 1962.
He responded by saying that calling up the reservists “strengthened the foreign policy of the United States.”
After making this political point, Kennedy waxed philosophical.
“There is always inequity in life,” he mused. “Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It’s very hard in military or in personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.”
Since then, those last three words have often been quoted, generally without any context.
When put into the original context, this quote might not fit the liberal image of J.F.K. that some people hold.
But, in fact, Kennedy was a committed Cold Warrior and the president who first got the U.S. entangled in Vietnam in a significant way.
By the time of his assassination in November 1963, Kennedy had sent a total of more 16,000 American “military advisers” to South Vietnam and more than 100 Americans had been killed.
Ultimately, more than 58,000 American men and women were killed in the Vietnam War.
Two million or more Vietnamese were killed.
Ultimately, America’s involvement in the war did not prevent the Communists from taking over South Vietnam.
Life, as Kennedy noted, is unfair.
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Further reading: books of quotations about war...