American Tragedy: Vietnam in the Cold War Context
Uploaded by JarJarBinks on Jun 19, 2005
As the Vietnam War recedes into history, debate over its causes and conduct continues. In this massive, authoritative study of the war's origins, David Kaiser asserts that Dwight Eisenhower initiated policies calling for military responses to Communist aggression in Southeast Asia, and John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, although they may have questioned these policies, never changed them. Kennedy was reluctant to commit American ground forces in Vietnam. In contrast, Johnson was determined to confront North Vietnam, and the war began in earnest early in 1965, when the bombing campaign commenced and ground forces were introduced.
Kaiser offers the provocative thesis that the war was the work of the "GI generation," a term he borrows from William Strauss and Neil Howe's 1991 book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, for men born between 1901 and 1924 who lived through the Great Depression and then did most of the fighting during World War II. According to Kaiser, the "strengths" of the GI generation included a "willingness to tackle tough and costly tasks, a faith in the institutions of the government of the United States, a great capacity for teamwork and consensus, and a relentless optimism," and its weaknesses included "an unwillingness to question basic assumptions, or even to admit the possibility of failure, or to understand that the rest of the American population was less inclined to favor struggle and sacrifice for their own stake." Kennedy and Johnson, most of their senior civilian advisers, and all of the Joint Chiefs, belonged to the GI generation, and they "almost unquestionably accepted the need to resist Communist expansion wherever it took place." Nevertheless, the Kennedy administration never agreed about policy in Vietnam. According to Kaiser, throughout most of 1961, Kennedy "resisted the bureaucracy's repeated calls for full-scale American military intervention in Southeast Asia." Events in1962 made intervention more certain, and the Pentagon began planning "to defeat the Viet Cong...with conventional military operations." But, by that time, President Kennedy was increasingly reliant on State Department official Roger Hillsman, who believed that "[c]onventional military tactics were ineffective against guerrillas." Ngo Dinh Diem's government in South Vietnam also posed serious problems. The regime received significant American aid, and its army was wholly financed by the United States, but "Diem never showed the slightest tendency to follow American advice." To the contrary, Diem relied upon his widely-hated brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. In late 1961, when...