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A discussion on the vietnam war and the reasons that lead to it

The narrative unfolds seamlessly, cutting from the war zone to the home front theirs and ours and back again. The period footage—a surprising amount of it North Vietnamese—is vivid and compelling. GIs wade through rice paddies, trudge up mountainsides, and stumble into ambushes set up by the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. At night, fleets of Russian-built trucks lumber down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, trying to conceal themselves from the ordnance-laden American jets prowling overhead.

Flying low and slow over the jungles of South Vietnam, Air Force C-123s dump tons of chemical defoliants, with nary a thought about the second-order a discussion on the vietnam war and the reasons that lead to it. Cruising at altitude over North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, B-52s disgorge their bomb loads onto whatever lies below. And always there are helicopters, mostly Hueys, Cobras, and Chinooks, touching down to unload assault troops, provide suppressive fire, or evacuate casualties.

The cumulative effect is both mesmerizing and obscene.

Why Did the U.S. Lose the Vietnam War?

With few exceptions, the recordings have a political edge, however oblique—no show tunes, no doo-wop, no lovey-dovey mush. But it is also off the mark.

The fate of Vietnam was an issue of negligible relevance to US national security. Had the United States allowed the Vietnamese to settle their differences on their own terms, everyone would have been better off.

Almost certainly, far, far fewer people would have died. Yet Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently proved so difficult to get out.

‘The Vietnam War’: Past All Reason

Their lack of interest in this central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965. Despite his reservations, Johnson—ostensibly the most powerful man in the world—somehow felt compelled to go ahead anyway.

Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.

Our present situation makes the question all the more salient. The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer.

When running for the presidency, Donald Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. In a very real sense, Trump did not so much decide as capitulate. Much the same can be said about LBJ a half-century earlier when he signed off on committing US combat troops to Vietnam. As Trump has affirmed, even or perhaps especially presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.

Those who fought in the war and those who fought against it will certainly want to watch this series. Yet to find the answers that many are still searching for, they will have to look elsewhere.

Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. To a discussion on the vietnam war and the reasons that lead to it a correction for our consideration, click here. For Reprints and Permissions, click here.