Why did the US make a commitment to an independent South Vietnam? Could a major war have been averted? Fredrik Logevall provides a concise, comprehensive and accessible introduction to the origins of the Vietnam War from the end of the Indochina War in 1954 to the eruption of full-scale war in 1965, and places events against their full international background.
Because, at the time of writing this review, I am a full time student and I am not only unable to catch up on Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson books but I am also unable to read any larger books on the Vietnam War which have become of interest thanks to Robert Caro.
I personally was interested in a foundational read of the subject that would not take too much time to read. Although the book is small, it is very dense and it took an extra couple of days for me to get through.
What I like about this book is that first of all, it has a couple of maps, a chronology record, and, in the back of the book, documents that were discussed by both allies and enemies, along with an introduction to the characters involved (this should have been placed in the front of the book).
The core portion of the book explains very well the how and why of the Vietnam War starting with the French and transitioning over to how the United States became involved even though several warnings were issued by France, England, Canada, etc. regarding why the United States would not win the war and should not have become involved.
The author contends that initially, the United States went to war, especially during the Eisenhower Administration, because, although the country of Vietnam has no significant impact on the overall function of the United States (except for exploiting the country for resources [mentioned in the documents section]), they were concerned with the fact that communism would be systemic (domino theory) if tolerated throughout the region and that the United States has a duty to suppress/eliminate communism.
It transitions over to the Kennedy Administration and we see how Kennedy was very reluctant to send more soldiers into Vietnam because of pressure of the thought that communist cold war allies (Russia and China) would intervene if the situation were to get out of hand. But he eventually increased the amount of aid and sent more 'advisors' to Vietnam. At the same time, he also could not necessarily withdraw troops/advisors because of the fear of political damage to his administrations reputation.
From there it switches over to the Johnson Administration which is the majority of the book. Johnson ramped up the solider count, increased aid to the region, because in a basic sense, it was the politically feasible thing to do. And additionally, the United States could not back out of the war because of the fear of damaging the United States 'prestige.'
It should be noted that the book stops at 1965 but it, in my opinion, describes the overall situation very well.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for an overall view of the Vietnam War.
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