NY Times Book Review
Vietnam: The Necessary Warby Michael Lind
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.
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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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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.
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.
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.