A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975

A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975

by Robert D. Schulzinger
     
 

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Even after two decades, the memory of the Vietnam War seems to haunt our culture. From Forrest Gump to Miss Saigon, from Tim O'Brien's Pulitzer Prize-winning Going After Cacciato to Robert McNamara's controversial memoir In Retrospect, Americans are drawn again and again to ponder our long, tragic involvement in Southeast Asia. Now

Overview

Even after two decades, the memory of the Vietnam War seems to haunt our culture. From Forrest Gump to Miss Saigon, from Tim O'Brien's Pulitzer Prize-winning Going After Cacciato to Robert McNamara's controversial memoir In Retrospect, Americans are drawn again and again to ponder our long, tragic involvement in Southeast Asia. Now eminent historian Robert D. Schulzinger has combed the newly available documentary evidence, both in public and private archives, to produce an ambitious, masterful account of three decades of war in Vietnam--the first major full-length history of the conflict to be based on primary sources. In A Time for War, Schulzinger paints a vast yet intricate canvas of more than three decades of conflict in Vietnam, from the first rumblings of rebellion against the French colonialists to the American intervention and eventual withdrawal. His comprehensive narrative incorporates every aspect of the war--from the military (as seen in his brisk account of the French failure at Dienbienphu) to the economic (such as the wage increase sparked by the draft in the United States) to the political. Drawing on massive research, he offers a vivid and insightful portrait of the changes in Vietnamese politics and society, from the rise of Ho Chi Minh, to the division of the country, to the struggles between South Vietnamese president Diem and heavily armed religious sects, to the infighting and corruption that plagued Saigon. Schulzinger reveals precisely how outside powers--first the French, then the Americans--committed themselves to war in Indochina, even against their own better judgment. Roosevelt, for example, derided the French efforts to reassert their colonial control after World War II, yet Truman, Eisenhower, and their advisers gradually came to believe that Vietnam was central to American interests. The author's account of Johnson is particularly telling and tragic, describing how president would voice clear headed, even prescient warnings about the dangers of intervention--then change his mind, committing America's prestige and military might to supporting a corrupt, unpopular regime. Schulzinger offers sharp criticism of the American military effort, and offers a fascinating look inside the Nixon White House, showing how the Republican president dragged out the war long past the point when he realized that the United States could not win. Finally, Schulzinger paints a brilliant political and social portrait of the times, illuminating the impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Americans and Vietnamese. Schulzinger shows what it was like to participate in the war--as a common soldier, an American nurse, a navy flyer, a conscript in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, a Vietcong fighter, or an antiwar protester. In a field crowded with fiction, memoirs, and popular tracts, A Time for War will stand as the landmark history of America's longest war. Based on extensive archival research, it will be the first place readers will turn in an effort to understand this tragic, divisive conflict.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Schunzinger (history and international affairs, U. of Colorado- Boulder), draws on primary sources in private and public archives to recount the three decades of US involvement in southeast Asia. He describes military factors such as the French defeat at Dienvienphu, economic factors such as the rise in US wages because of the draft, and political factors such as president Nixon pursuing the war long after he knew the US could not win it. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A sober, objective, detailed recounting and analysis of the American war in Vietnam, told almost exclusively from the American perspective.

Schulzinger (History/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) offers no new theory on why the US fought in Vietnam nor why this country came out on the losing end. But he has a different objective: offering a "compendium of the current state of scholarship on the Vietnam War." Leaning heavily on State Department cables, White House memoranda, and other primary sources, Schulzinger offers a strongly researched, cleanly written, chronological look at Vietnam and an analysis of why the war effort failed. In the main, he agrees with the assessment of former secretary of state Dean Rusk, who believed that the Vietnamese communists prevailed because American policymakers underestimated the will of the North Vietnamese and overestimated the patience of the American people. Schulzinger also believes that, given the tenacity of the enemy and the severe political and military shortcomings of our South Vietnamese ally, the war was unwinnable for America. Schulzinger asks rhetorically what the US could have done to win, given the realities of the time. The answer: "Nothing." Among the book's many strong points is Schulzinger's dispassionate analysis of the antiwar movement, in which he addresses the still hotly debated question of whether the protests helped end the war or prolonged it by comforting the enemy. The antiwar movement "did not end the war in Vietnam, but it did alter, almost irrevocably, the perceptions of ordinary citizens of their society and their government; it also altered the perceptions of leaders toward the public."

The first of a projected two-volume set; volume II will cover the Vietnam War's political, economic, social, and cultural legacies.

From the Publisher
"Schulzinger succeeds in recapitulating the political and social atmosphere of the 1960s in the United States, as its leaders and people coped with an increasingly frustrating conflict. Particularly useful is the author's examination, based on much new information, of the often acrimonious debates with the government. But the tone of the volume is not argumentative or strident; on the contrary, Schulzinger, a noted historian of twentieth-century U.S. foreign relations, shows empathy with all the actors in the drama. There are no particular heroes or villians in his story; they are all, in this book, ordinary human beings trying to do what is best but ending up with an increasing sense of helplessness. Thus the book offers a wonderfully crafted saga of the Vietnam war era."—Akira Iriye, Professor of History, Harvard University

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199879366
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/01/1997
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

Robert D. Schulzinger is Professor of History and Director of the International Affairs Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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