At the Water's Edge: American Politics and the Vietnam War / Edition 1

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Overview

More than most wars in American history, the long and contentious Vietnam War had a profound effect on the home front, during the war and especially after. In At the Water's Edge, Melvin Small delivers the first study of the war's domestic politics. Most of the military and diplomatic decisions made by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, Mr. Small shows, were heavily influenced by election cycles, relations with Congress, the state of the economy, and the polls. Although all three presidents and their advisers claimed that these decisions were taken exclusively for national security concerns, much evidence suggests otherwise. In turn, the war had a transforming impact on American society. Popular perceptions of the "war at home" produced a dramatic and longstanding realignment in political allegiances, an assault on the media that still colors political debate today, and an economic crisis that weakened the nation for a decade after the last U.S. troops left Vietnam. Domestic conflict over the war led to the abolition of the draft, the curtailment of the intelligence agencies' unconstitutional practices, formal congressional restraints upon the imperial presidency, and epochal Supreme Court rulings that preserved First Amendment rights. The war ultimately destroyed the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and indirectly forced the resignation of Richard Nixon. Those presidents who followed through the remainder of the twentieth century constructed their foreign policies mindful that they would not survive politically if they were to lead the nation into another protracted limited war in the Third World.

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Editorial Reviews

The Historian
Concise and energetic.
Vietnam
Small does a first-rate job.
— Peter Brush
Choice
This is an excellent introduction to the politics of the 1960s and early 1970s. . . . Highly recommended.
— D. R. Turner, Davis and Elkins College
Journal Of Southern History
An engaging account . . . ideal as a teaching text.
H-Net Reviews
Succinctly describes and clearly connects Watergate to the war in Southeast Asia. . . . A compelling narrative style.
— James Eichsteadt
Vva Veteran
A well-written book.
Library Bookwatch
Melvin Small's survey provides an important focus on the domestic front of the war.
CHOICE
This is an excellent introduction to the politics of the 1960s and early 1970s. . . . Highly recommended.
— D. R. Turner, Davis and Elkins College
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
Succinctly describes and clearly connects Watergate to the war in Southeast Asia. . . . A compelling narrative style.
— James Eichsteadt
The VVA Veteran
A well-written book.
The Journal of Southern History
An engaging account . . . ideal as a teaching text.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
Succinctly describes and clearly connects Watergate to the war in Southeast Asia. . . . A compelling narrative style.
— James Eichsteadt
Jeffrey Kimball
A masterful survey of the interrelationships between U.S. domestic politics and the Vietnam War by the most knowledgeable historian on the subject.
David L. Anderson
The Vietnam War lives on in American domestic politics, and in this book, Melvin Small explains masterfully why America’s longest war has had such a seminal and enduring internal impact on the United States. Small is one of the most respected scholars of the war at home. . . . This book is an important contribution to understanding why the Vietnam War still matters to all Americans.
Robert A. Divine
Melvin Small explores an often overlooked aspect of the Vietnam War by focusing on the role played by domestic politics. This concise, balanced account reveals how partisan considerations influenced the policies of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in regard to Vietnam. The result is a welcome addition to the Vietnam literature.
Walter LaFeber
Melvin Small is one of our best historians of the Vietnam War and widely known and admired for his analyses of how U.S. foreign policy has historically been shaped by domestic events and beliefs. Here he combines these talents to give us a superb account—not least, its Legacies chapter that succinctly links these events of the 1960s and early 1970s to the 2004 presidential campaign.
CHOICE - D. R. Turner
This is an excellent introduction to the politics of the 1960s and early 1970s. . . . Highly recommended.
The Journal Of Southern History
An engaging account . . . ideal as a teaching text.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online - James Eichsteadt
Succinctly describes and clearly connects Watergate to the war in Southeast Asia. . . . A compelling narrative style.
Vietnam - Peter Brush
Small does a first-rate job.
Kirkus Reviews
Merge the Great Society with the war in Vietnam, and you get the War on Society. So this slender historical essay demonstrates, making provocative connections with the '60s and our own time. The Vietnam War changed the tenor of American politics: thanks to lies spun out of the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, a sizable number of Americans came to mistrust the government-and to stop voting. Even William Fulbright, that exemplar of enlightened government, said, "The biggest lesson I learned from Vietnam is not to trust government statements." But just as the war changed domestic politics, writes Small (History/Wayne State Univ.; The Presidency of Richard Nixon, 1999), domestic politics governed the conduct of the Vietnam War. The conflict became a political issue, if a minor one, as early as the 1956 election, when, amazingly, Adlai Stevenson accused Dwight Eisenhower of being soft on communism by allowing the partition of Vietnam. The charge didn't sway voters. Small suggests that one reason Lyndon Johnson tried to keep the escalation of the war hush-hush was that he knew his political enemies would try to force a choice between his Great Society programs and American military involvement abroad, just as they had forced tax cuts that, in the end, made the costs of both economically disastrous. Johnson (and, in his turn, Richard Nixon) found himself beset by unexpected political dilemmas at every juncture: call up the reserves, where the children of the well-to-do were waiting out the war, and he risked creating a powerful army of antiwar elders; spend more on weapons, and he risked the rise of ruinous inflation. Yet the strangest of the outcomes may have been therightward drift of American labor, the rise of a Republican South, the alienation of the Silent Majority, and the vilification of all things liberal-the very things, in other words, that make the world safe for today's neoconservatives. Pernicious effects all. A valuable account of the impact of international politics on domestic policy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566636476
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 9/25/2006
  • Series: American Ways Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.36 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Melvin Small is Distinguished Professor of History at Wayne State University and the author of Antiwarriors, The Presidency of Richard Nixon, Democracy and Diplomacy, Covering Dissent, and other books on American history. Born in New York City, he studied at Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan.

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Table of Contents

1 Saving South Vietnam, 1945-1963 3
2 Winning an election while losing a war, 1963-1964 23
3 Escalation, 1965 43
4 Democrats fall out, 1966 63
5 The opposition grows, 1967 82
6 Campaign '68 101
7 The politics of polarization, 1969 125
8 A war at home, 1969-1971 147
9 Four more years, 1971-1972 173
10 Legacies, 1973- 193
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