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Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990

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The first book to give equal weight to the Vietnamese and American sides of the Vietnam war.

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Vietnam Wars 1945-1990

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The first book to give equal weight to the Vietnamese and American sides of the Vietnam war.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this dark account of the political and diplomatic sides of the Vietnam wars and the psychic aftermath, the author contends that the Indochina experience refuted (temporarily) the simplistic assumptions that in foreign policy America always ``meant well'' and that communism was always ``bad.'' The epithets popularly employed to characterize the enemy in Vietnam--``indifferent to human life,'' ``dishonest,'' ``ruthless''--came to characterize our own actions as well. From counterinsurgency expert Edward Lansdale's ``cheerful brutalization of democratic values'' to President Nixon's attempt to ``make war look like peace,'' the moral breakdown is assessed here in disturbing detail. Young goes on to argue that more recent U.S. intervention in Lebanon, Libya, Grenada and Panama suggests that few lessons were learned in Vietnam--indeed, that the past decade has seen a dangerous resurgence of native faith in the benevolence of American foreign meddling. This, she maintains, goes hand in hand with a renewed commitment to use force in a global crusade against Third World revolutions and governments. Young, a history professor at New York University, paints a grim picture of our part in the Indochina war and its excoriating effects on the nation. Photos. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Two new books join the many which try to summarize and analyze the Vietnam War, its precedents, and its epilog, with differing approaches and results. Young (history, NYU) coauthored, along with William G. Rosenberg, Transforming Russia & China ( LJ 1/1/82). Her current study focuses on the American experience, while touching on the periods before and after direct American involvement. She provides some useful insights, and details debates among American leaders, but she draws predominantly on published sources and offers little new information. More significantly, her arguments are heavily biased (she seems to think that only the American and South Vietnamese military and governments demonstrated cruelty, corruption, deception, and destruction), leading to some troubling conclusions (e.g., that U.S. bombing of Cambodia may have been responsible for the later horrors of the Khmer Rouge), and leaving the reader unable to place events in any kind of valid historical perspective. In stark contrast to Young's black-and-white picture, Olson and Roberts (history, Sam Houston State Univ. and Purdue Univ., respectively) paint a picture of many colors. This successful popular history of the war is less scholarly, less detailed than The Vietnam Wars , but the better-balanced coverage throughout yields a more insightful, instructive history. At times the authors' emotionalism (e.g., the account of the My Lai massacre) clouds their presentation, and the otherwise fascinating discussion of the postwar media's depiction of the war is not up to date, but general readers will find their book to be a helpful and accessible introduction to the complexities of the Vietnam experience.-- Kenneth W. Berger, Duke Univ. Lib., Durham, N.C.
A history of the war the US fought in Indochina, beginning with the aid the Americans gave to the French to recover control of their former colony, and also a history of the war of resistance the Vietnamese fought, which was by turns, and sometimes simultaneously, a struggle against foreign aggression and for a socialist revolution. Includes two 16-page photo inserts. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060921071
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1991
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 151,505
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Fate of OSS Agent 19

Perhaps naively, and without consideration of the conflicting postwar interests of the "Big" nations themselves, the new government believed that by complying with the conditions of the wartime United Nations conferences it could invoke the benefits of those conferences in favor of its own independence.

In August 1945, most Americans believed their country victorious over the unjust imperialist ambitions of two oppressive nations: Germany and Japan. Peace was lovingly embraced, joyously celebrated, as if it were the natural state in which people had always, and would always, live. Soldiers sailed slowly home, confident of welcome, looking forward to the world promised by the resounding victory over fascism: a world free of want, fear, and war, a world their sacrifices had made safe for democracy.

Two months later, twelve of the U.S. Merchant Marine ships engaged in the pleasant duty of ferrying American troops home were given new orders: they were to transport some thirteen thousand French combat troops halfway around the world to Saigon, capital of what the French called Cochin China. To the people who lived there, it was Nam Bo, the southernmost region of Vietnam. Not our war, the American sailors thought, and then wondered what they were doing in the South China Sea. Many objected, as best they could, in letters to Congress and newspaper editors. In November, seamen on the S.S. Winchester Victory sent a cable to PresidentTruman in which they "vigorously protest[ed]" the use of "this and other American vessels for carrying foreign combat troops to foreign soil for the purpose of engaging in hostilities to further the imperialist policies of foreign governments when there are American soldiers waiting to come home."1

In August 1945, most Vietnamese believed their country was at last independent of all foreign rule and at peace. For over eighty years, the French had effaced the very name Vietnam, ruling it as three separate districts: Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. For that entire period, Vietnamese had struggled against French rule in sporadic uprisings that sometimes achieved the intensity of full-scale guerrilla warfare. Resistance to French rule in turn drew upon centuries of struggle against Vietnam's most persistent threat, China. Twentieth-century Vietnamese patriots often quoted, with understandable pride, the fifteenth-century poet Nguyen Trai's boast that Vietnam had "at no time lacked heroes." The corollary was that Vietnam had at no time lacked enemies.

French surrender to Germany in June 1940 had doubled the number of Vietnam's colonial overlords. The new Vichy government acquiesced to the demands of Germany's ally Japan, which seized control of Vietnam's economic resources while leaving daily administration in the hands of the French. In their five-year tenure in Vietnam, Japanese policies devastated the economy, creating a famine in the North that killed between 1.5 and 2 million people.

By 1944, as the war against Germany in Europe merged with the war in the Pacific against Japan, Vietnamese nationalists became, in a formal sense, allies of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in a joint struggle against the Axis powers and such collaborationist regimes as Vichy France. The most effective nationalist group, by all accounts, was the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi), Viet Minh for short, established in May 1941 and led by Ho Chi Minh.* A founding member of both the French and the Indochinese Communist parties, Ho had lived most of his life outside Vietnam, organizing, mobilizing, agitating, his steady goal the independence of Vietnam. In 1919, wearing a borrowed suit and using the pseudonym Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot), he had appealed to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles to fulfill the promise of American war aims: self-determination for all peoples. But the conference at Versailles merely dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without unduly disturbing European colonial arrangements; like hundreds of disappointed nationalists, Nguyen Ai Quoc turned to the writings of Lenin and the history of Russian Bolshevism and there discovered what he called a "path" for his compatriots. A friend had given him the French translation of Lenin's "Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions," Ho recalled many years later.

There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness, and confidence it instilled in me! . . . Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted aloud as if addressing large crowds: "Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need, this is what we need, this is the path of our liberation."2

Lenin's theses, presented to the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, were both a call for national revolution in the colonial world and an offer of help. The establishment of the Communist International (Comintern) gave revolutionaries a headquarters, a network, a source of advice and funds. The advice was not always very good and the funds were limited, but hundreds of colonial subjects concluded, with Ho, that "only Socialism and Communism can liberate the oppressed nations . . . "

What Ho and those who answered his call to join the Communist Party of Vietnam meant by socialism and communism is reflected in the first Party platform, adopted at a meeting held beyond the reach of the French police in Hong Kong on February 18, 1930. Ten "slogans" summarized the program:

  1. To overthrow French imperialism, feudalism, and the reactionary Vietnamese capitalist class.
  2. To make Indochina completely independent.
  3. To establish a worker-peasant and soldier government.
  4. To confiscate the banks and other enterprises belonging to the imperialists and put them under the control of the worker-peasant government.
  5. To confiscate all of the plantations and the property belonging to the imperialists and the Vietnamese reactionary capitalist class and distribute them to poor peasants.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

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    Highly Recommended

    Some reviewers of this work complain about the perspective of the author. The book does have a liberal, progressive, or even radical outlook but historian Marilyn Young backs up her arguments with facts, clean analysis, and a critical reading of this important history. This is fine introduction to the topic and an excellent review for those well read on this history. I highly recommend this work.

    There are other conflicting accounts of this conflict but few as pointed and intelligent for a clear overview of this long interval.This radical more in the sense of dealing with basic facts than politics.

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