Yes. He had a plan to do just that, as University of Texas professor Jamie Galbraith demonstrates in this recent piece for The Nation.
The question was hotly contested in late 1963. As with Cuba, most of JFK’s military advisers, as well as the Pentagon and the CIA, favored escalation, while President Kennedy resisted and sought to chart a different course.
The question is still debated today because it goes to the heart of larger questions about Kennedy’s presidency and the impact of his assassination on American history.
In this piece for The Nation, Rick Perlstein suggests that JFK would have inevitably reversed course out of a fear of being accused of being a communist appeaser. But JFK proved at the Bay of Pigs and again in the Cuban missile crisis that he was willing to risk that charge in order to keep the U.S. out of a land war. And in both of those instances, he found his decision was politically popular.
The argument that JFK’s “machismo” would have driven him to escalation in Vietnam strikes me as glib. Yes, JFK was a masculine guy with an insatiable appetite for women but that doesn’t mean he was prone to violent policy solutions. Quite the contrary. If the issue is psychological, it seems JFK’s brushes with death in World War II imbued him with the confidence both to seduce women and stand up to the generals again and again.