Even after two decades, the memory of the Vietnam War seems to haunt our culture. From Forrest Gump to Miss Saigon, from Tim O'Brien's Pulitzer Prize-winning Going After Cacciato to Robert McNamara's controversial memoir In Retrospect, Americans are drawn again and again to ponder our long, tragic involvement in Southeast Asia. Now eminent historian Robert D. Schulzinger has combed the newly available documentary evidence, both in public and private archives, to produce an ambitious, masterful account of three decades of war in Vietnamthe first major full-length history of the conflict to be based on primary sources.
In A Time for War, Schulzinger paints a vast yet intricate canvas of more than three decades of conflict in Vietnam, from the first rumblings of rebellion against the French colonialists to the American intervention and eventual withdrawal. His comprehensive narrative incorporates every aspect of the warfrom the military (as seen in his brisk account of the French failure at Dienbienphu) to the economic (such as the wage increase sparked by the draft in the United States) to the political. Drawing on massive research, he offers a vivid and insightful portrait of the changes in Vietnamese politics and society, from the rise of Ho Chi Minh, to the division of the country, to the struggles between South Vietnamese president Diem and heavily armed religious sects, to the infighting and corruption that plagued Saigon. Schulzinger reveals precisely how outside powersfirst the French, then the Americanscommitted themselves to war in Indochina, even against their own better judgment. Roosevelt, for example, derided the French efforts to reassert their colonial control after World War II, yet Truman, Eisenhower, and their advisers gradually came to believe that Vietnam was central to American interests. The author's account of Johnson is particularly telling and tragic, describing how president would voice clear headed, even prescient warnings about the dangers of interventionthen change his mind, committing America's prestige and military might to supporting a corrupt, unpopular regime. Schulzinger offers sharp criticism of the American military effort, and offers a fascinating look inside the Nixon White House, showing how the Republican president dragged out the war long past the point when he realized that the United States could not win. Finally, Schulzinger paints a brilliant political and social portrait of the times, illuminating the impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Americans and Vietnamese. Schulzinger shows what it was like to participate in the waras a common soldier, an American nurse, a navy flyer, a conscript in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, a Vietcong fighter, or an antiwar protester.
In a field crowded with fiction, memoirs, and popular tracts, A Time for War will stand as the landmark history of America's longest war. Based on extensive archival research, it will be the first place readers will turn in an effort to understand this tragic, divisive conflict.
A sober, objective, detailed recounting and analysis of the American war in Vietnam, told almost exclusively from the American perspective.
Schulzinger (History/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) offers no new theory on why the US fought in Vietnam nor why this country came out on the losing end. But he has a different objective: offering a "compendium of the current state of scholarship on the Vietnam War." Leaning heavily on State Department cables, White House memoranda, and other primary sources, Schulzinger offers a strongly researched, cleanly written, chronological look at Vietnam and an analysis of why the war effort failed. In the main, he agrees with the assessment of former secretary of state Dean Rusk, who believed that the Vietnamese communists prevailed because American policymakers underestimated the will of the North Vietnamese and overestimated the patience of the American people. Schulzinger also believes that, given the tenacity of the enemy and the severe political and military shortcomings of our South Vietnamese ally, the war was unwinnable for America. Schulzinger asks rhetorically what the US could have done to win, given the realities of the time. The answer: "Nothing." Among the book's many strong points is Schulzinger's dispassionate analysis of the antiwar movement, in which he addresses the still hotly debated question of whether the protests helped end the war or prolonged it by comforting the enemy. The antiwar movement "did not end the war in Vietnam, but it did alter, almost irrevocably, the perceptions of ordinary citizens of their society and their government; it also altered the perceptions of leaders toward the public."
The first of a projected two-volume set; volume II will cover the Vietnam War's political, economic, social, and cultural legacies.