American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War
Fought as fiercely by politicians and the public as by troops in Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War--its origins, its conduct, its consequences--is still being contested. In what will become the classic account, based on newly opened archival sources, David Kaiser rewrites what we know about this conflict. Reviving and expanding a venerable tradition of political, diplomatic, and military history, he shows not only why we entered the war, but also why our efforts were doomed to fail.
American Tragedy is the first book to draw on complete official documentation to tell the full story of how we became involved in Vietnam--and the story it tells decisively challenges widely held assumptions about the roles of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Using an enormous range of source materials from these administrations, Kaiser shows how the policies that led to the war were developed during Eisenhower's tenure and nearly implemented in the closing days of his administration in response to a crisis in Laos; how Kennedy immediately reversed course on Laos and refused for three years to follow recommendations for military action in Southeast Asia; and how Eisenhower's policies reemerged in the military intervention mounted by the Johnson administration. As he places these findings in the context of the Cold War and broader American objectives, Kaiser offers the best analysis to date of the actual beginnings of the war in Vietnam, the impact of the American advisory mission from 1962 through 1965, and the initial strategy of General Westmoreland.
A deft re-creation of the deliberations, actions, and deceptions that brought two decades of post-World War II confidence to an ignominious end, American Tragedy offers unparalleled insight into the Vietnam War at home and abroad--and into American foreign policy in the 1960s.
1. The Eisenhower Administration and Indochina: 1954-1960
2. No War in Laos: January-June 1961
3. A New Effort in Vietnam: January-August 1961
4. War or Peace? September-November 1961
5. Limiting the Commitment: November 1961-November 1962
6. The War in Vietnam: 1962
7. A Gathering Storm: January-July 1963
8. The Buddhist Crisis and the Cable of August 24: 1963
9. The Coup: August-November 1963
10. A Decision for War: November 1963-April 1964
11. To the Tonkin Gulf: April-August 1964
12. Planning for War: September-December 1964
13. Over the Edge: December 1964-March 1965
14. War in Secret: March-June 1965
15. War in Public: June-July 1965
16. Bad History, Wrong War
Epilogue: Tragedy and History
What People are Saying About This
David Kaiser's book on the origins of the American tragedy in Vietnam is now the finest study on this much discussed subject. Kaiser's prodigious research and keen analysis gives us persuasive answers to the many questions journalists and historians have been asking for years about the roots of our involvement in the conflict. Kaiser's book will stand as the principal work on this compelling subject for years to come. Every one interested in the recent history of the United States will want to read this book.
American Tragedy is a splendid reinterpretation of U. S. Involvement in Vietnam. David Kaiser has unearthed fascinating new archival material which helps us better understand why this remote Asian peninsula was such a contested Cold War prize. You cannot properly comprehend the Vietnam War without reading this first-rate book. Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center, University of New Orleans
David Kaiser's book on the origins of the American tragedy in Vietnam is now the finest study on this much discussed subject. Kaiser's prodigious research and keen analysis gives us persuasive answers to the many questions journalists and historians have been asking for years about the roots of our involvement in the conflict. Kaiser's book will stand as the principal work on this compelling subject for years to come. Every one interested in the recent history of the United States will want to read this book. Robert Dallek, author of Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times
American Tragedy is a superb analysis of the debate within the United States government thirty-five years ago over what we should do about South Vietnam. David Kaiser shows in impressive and meticulous detail how we stumbled into an unnecessary war. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
John Kenneth Galbraith
With newly declassified cables and high-level memoranda and policy instructions, good supporting research and clear prose, David Kaiser has written a very important book on Vietnam and the movement to disaster. Not before has there been such a compelling account of the pressures to which Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were subject from the military and its civilian acolytes, whose terrifying irresponsibility extended on to the proposed use of nuclear weapons. To repeat: a most important book, still relevant as to warriors advising on war.
In the vast literature on American intervention in Vietnam, David Kaiser has added an indispensable and revelatory new book. Based on exhaustive research and profound scholarly insight, Kaiser makes clear that the nation's tragic involvement in Vietnam was neither arbitrary nor inevitable. No other study presents a fuller or more persuasive picture of this critical moment in our nation's history. Alan Brinkley, author of Liberalism and Its Discontents (Harvard)
Ernest R. May
David Kaiser has written a remarkably thorough, detached, yet sensitive book about the U.S. war in Vietnam. His previous scholarship has ranted over the whole history of modern warfare, and he sets the Vietnam War in that context. Ernest R. May, co-author of The Kennedy Tapes (Harvard)
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