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In 1962, the Soviet Union was desperately behind the United States in the arms race. Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched against Europe but U.S. missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet Union. In late April 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba. A deployment in Cuba would double the Soviet strategic arsenal and provide a real deterrent to a potential U.S. attack against the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castro was looking for a way to defend his island nation from an attack by the U.S. Ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Castro felt a second attack was inevitable. Consequently, he approved of Khrushchev's plan to place missiles on the island. In the summer of 1962 the Soviet Union worked quickly and secretly to build its missile installations in Cuba.
In 1961, President Kennedy sent a team to Vietnam to report on conditions in South Vietnam and to assess future American aid requirements. The report, now known as the "December 1961 White Paper," argued for an increase in military, technical, and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American advisers to help stabilize Diem's government and crush the NLF. As Kennedy weighed the merits of these recommendations, some of his other advisers urged the president to withdraw from Vietnam altogether, claiming that it was a "dead-end alley."
In typical Kennedy fashion, the president chose a middle route. Instead of a large-scale military buildup as the white paper had called for or an immediate withdrawal, Kennedy sought a limited partnership with Diem. The United States would increase the level of its military involvement in South Vietnam through more machinery and advisers, but would not intervene whole-scale with troops. This arrangement was problematic from the start, and soon reports from Vietnam indicated that the NLF was increasing its control in the countryside. To counteract the NLF's success , Washington and Saigon launched an ambitious and deadly military effort in the rural areas. Called the Strategic Hamlet Program, the new counterinsurgency plan rounded up villagers and placed them in hamlets constructed by South Vietnamese soldiers. The idea was to isolate the NLF from villagers, its base of support. This plan was based on the British experience in Malaya, but conditions in South Vietnam were distinct, and the strategic hamlet concept produced limited results. According to interviews conducted by U. S. advisers in the field, the strategic hamlet program had a negative impact on relations between peasants and the Saigon government. In the past, many rural Vietnamese viewed Diem as a distant annoyance, but the strategic hamlet program brought government policies to the countryside. Many villagers resented being forced off of their ancestral farm land, and some have suggested that the failure of the strategic hamlet concept actually increased cadre ranks in the NLF.