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Vietnam: The Necessary War

Vietnam: The Necessary War

4.7 3
by Michael Lind

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A quarter century after its end, the Vietnam War still divides Americans. Some, mostly on the left, claim that Indochina was of no strategic value to the United States and was not worth an American war. Others, mostly on the right, argue that timid civilian leaders and defeatists within the media fatally undermined the war effort. These "lessons of Vietnam" have


A quarter century after its end, the Vietnam War still divides Americans. Some, mostly on the left, claim that Indochina was of no strategic value to the United States and was not worth an American war. Others, mostly on the right, argue that timid civilian leaders and defeatists within the media fatally undermined the war effort. These "lessons of Vietnam" have become ingrained in the American consciousness, at the expense of an accurate understanding of the war itself.

In this groundbreaking reinterpretation of America's most disastrous and controversial war, Michael Lind demolishes the stale orthodoxies of the left and the right and puts the Vietnam War in its proper context -- as part of the global conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Cold War, he argues, was actually the third world war of the twentieth century, and the proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan were its major campaigns. Unwilling to engage each other in the heart of Europe, the superpowers played out their contest on the Asian front, while the rest of the world watched to see which side would retreat. As Lind shows, the Soviet Union and Communist China recognized the importance of Vietnam in this struggle and actively supported the North Vietnamese regime from its earliest days, a fact that was not lost on the strategic planners within the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.

Lind offers a provocative reassessment of why the United States failed in Vietnam despite the high stakes. The ultimate responsibility for defeat lies not with the civilian policy elite nor with the press but with the military establishment, which failed to adapt to the demands of what before 1968 had been largely a guerrilla war. The high costs of the military's misguided approach in American and Vietnamese lives sapped the support of the American people for the U.S. commitment to Indochina. Even worse, the costs of the war undermined American public support for the Cold War on all fronts. Lind masterfully lays bare the deep cultural divisions within the United States that made the Cold War consensus so fragile and shows why it broke apart so easily. The consequence of U.S. military failure was thus the forfeiture of Indochina, a resurgence of American isolationism, and a wave of Soviet imperial expansion checked only by the Second Cold War of the 1980s.

The New York Times has written of Michael Lind that he "defies the usual political categories of left and right, liberal and conservative." And in an era when the United States so often finds itself embroiled in prolonged and difficult conflicts -- in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq -- Lind offers a sobering cautionary tale to Americans of all political viewpoints.

Editorial Reviews

Sam Tanenhaus
...a substantial, challenging, even visionary work...
NY Times Book Review
Robert G. Kaiser
Michael Lind is a bright, articulate and argumentative writer.
Washington Post Book World
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a very opinionated and sharply reasoned attempt to debunk three decades of conventional wisdom about Vietnam, Lind (The Next American Nation), the Washington, D.C., editor of Harper's, attacks both the right-wing contention that the U.S. could have won the war if only the politicians hadn't interfered with the military and the leftist orthodoxy that maintains the U.S. should never have become involved in the first place. Lind treats Vietnam as simply another battle in the Cold War, no different in principle from Korea or Afghanistan or any other Cold War confrontation. As such, it was both necessary and proper to intervene in Vietnam; a failure to do so, he asserts, would have permitted the Soviet Union and China to tighten their grip on the Third World. But once the U.S. committed itself, Lind argues, presidents Johnson and Nixon were obliged to fight a limited war in order to avoid the very real possibility of China entering the fray (just as it had done in Korea). If anything, Lind says, "the Vietnam War was not limited enough." Johnson allowed the U.S. military commanders to wage an expensive war of attrition that killed too many U.S. soldiers too fast and eroded public support for both the conflict in Vietnam and for the Cold War in general. The principal culprits in Lind's analysis are Johnson, General Westmoreland and other U.S. military commanders for their misguided tactics; Nixon, for his quixotic attempt to salvage "peace with honor," during which an additional 24,000 soldiers died needlessly; and the antiwar left, which swallowed much of Ho Chi Minh's propaganda. Lind's arguments, if not always persuasive, are always provocative. His book, with its intelligent analysis of U.S. intervention in Kosovo and other current foreign policy quandaries, is likely to shift the debate on Vietnam and to color future debates about U.S. military intervention abroad. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A single-minded interpretation of the Vietnam War based on the author's conviction that the conflict's overriding issue was a Moscow-directed international communist conspiracy. Retro cold warrior Lind (author of the novel Powertown, 1996, as well as works of nonfiction), resembling an intellectual Rambo, verbally machine-guns Vietnamese, Russian, and Chinese communists, along with Americans who had any sympathies with them—everyone, in short, who disagrees with his proposition that the Vietnam War boiled down to a contest of American-led Western good versus communist evil. One purpose of this impassioned book is "to set the historical record straight," Lind says. But he only occasionally practices the historian's craft in this often shrill tome. Some sections—such as an examination of regional and ethnic influences in the antiwar movement—are well researched, backed up with solid sources, and convincingly argued. But too much here is made up of conjecture and opinion and venomous attacks, not only on Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin, and Ho Chi Minh, but on Western journalists, historians, government officials, and members of Congress who had anything positive to say about communists. He further weakens his case by calling for censoring the media in future US wars and for "prosecuting American citizens whose actions bring them under the constitutional prohibition of providing `aid and comfort to the enemy.'Ê" The latter is a thinly veiled smear against the radical left of the Vietnam War peace movement. On the other hand, Lind convincingly undermines the right-wing "stab in the back" theory that holds that the US military could have defeated the North Vietnamese ifpoliticians hadn't tied the military's hands. Lind also correctly pegs Richard Nixon's Vietnam War policymaking as "a resounding failure in every way." But the author subverts his cause by presenting too many complex issues in oversimplified, good-versus-evil, terms. Much sound and fury signifying little more than a reprise of John Foster Dulles-like Cold War thinking.

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Free Press
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Meet the Author

Michael Lind is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine. He is also the author of five previous books, including The Next American Nation and Up from Conservatism. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and other publications. He holds a master's degree in international relations from Yale University and a law degree from the University of Texas. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Vietnam: The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
julola More than 1 year ago
For anyone curious about the Vietnam War, this book offers a great deal of new information for the reader to digest. It seems to be an objective account of the failures and successes of this war and offers opinions of what could have been done differently in order to bring about a more successful conclusion. It is well written, easy to read and I highly recommend it to those who wish to expand their knowledge of this regretful period of American history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very well-researched, thought-provoking book that re-examines the current collected 'wisdom' of what happened in VN and why. Mr. Lind spares neither Democrats nor Republicans but instead concentrates on demonstrating what actually happened (as opposed to what the pundits on both the left and the right would have us believe) and then fitting that into the over-arching framework of the decades-long Cold War. Perhaps most importantly, he demonstrates that the lessons the U.S. military thinks it learned in that war were probably the wrong ones.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent book! Probably the most important book yet written on the subject. It presents an enormous amount og facts, and the logic with which to process the facts. Most important, it puts the Vietnam war into a global perspective, in which it becomes a battle only in the Cold War. That is where it belongs, but that perspective, of course, did not open up until the Cold War was over. The book's opening postulate, its title, 'Vienam: The Necessary War', is amply confirmed by the author's geopolitical analyses. So is his final conclusion in the last paragraph of the book: 'The Vietnam war was neither a mistake nor a betrayal nor a crime. It was a military defeat.' The defeat was a catastrophe at the time, temporarily, as the US lost credibility and diplomatic and military initiative all over the world for a decade. However, in the perspective of the Cold War this defeat had no lasting effect. It was one lost battle in a long war, and it turned out not to be a decisive battle. Still, it was necessary because the reaction of the rest of the Western world would have been unpredictable if the US had shied away without trying. The book also describes very interestingly how demography rules the attitudes to radicalism and conservatism in the US, and how ethnicity and religion influence recruitment to military and academic vocations. Some readers may disagree to the way the author apportions resposibility for the defeat to military and political leaders, and to other opinion leaders. Nevertheless, his arguments and conclusions form a valid platform for further considerations. Some readers may miss an assessment of the lack of censorship of news and television. The Vietnam War has been the only war in which the press and the media had unbridled access to the war theater, with undoubtedly strong effects on home front morale. Why did the political leaders let that happen? Still, the book is indispensable to all who wish to understand the Cold War. It is excellently written, and an unqualified pleasure to read.