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An introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam

University Press of Kansas, 2009665 pp. Naval Institute Press, 2008398 pp. This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, by James S. Encounter Books, 2010364 pp. Reviewed by Clayton Laurie On hearing different and opposing assessments regarding US progress in Vietnam by two members of the same fact-finding team in the fall of 1963, President John F.

A large study, with a comprehensive bibliographic essay citing a wide range of archival and published sources, Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War is a recipient of the Henry Adams Prize from the Society an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam Historians in the Federal Government and has received numerous accolades from academic reviewers.

Prados tends to view the CIA as an organization whose activities in Southeast Asia and at home generally contributed more to the problems of the day than to their solutions. Such critical assessments emerge throughout this work when CIA is mentioned, starting with the Saigon Military Mission SMM in 1954 and extending through passing treatments of covert operations, the order-of-battle controversy, Agency activities in Laos, the Phoenix program and rural pacification, and involvement with South Vietnamese leaders.

Prados has chosen to give little or no attention to publicly available CIA-commissioned histories of the period, and unfortunately his book went to press before the release in 2009 of several in-depth, formerly classified, CIA-sponsored histories written by Thomas L. But Prados dismisses those other scholars and the debate they have initiated. I came to that view early, but extensive research and deep analysis confirm that impression. An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned, by Rufus Phillips, certainly ranks as an account that all intelligence officers should read and consider.

The discursive endnotes and biographical sketches bring the reader up to date on the an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam who played key roles many decades ago, and an extensive bibliographical essay suggests further reading. The legendary Edward G.

An introduction to the history of illegal war in vietnam

In the fall of 1954, he set out to do in South Vietnam what he had done in the Philippines—stabilize, boost, and strengthen the government, while removing communist-inspired threats to the new regime. Perhaps most important, Phillips, like Lansdale—and unlike most American military and political leaders—recognized that the war against Ho Chi Minh represented first and foremost a political and ideological war and not a contest of arms.

Victory or defeat hinged on gaining or losing adherents to the cause in both Southeast Asia and the United States. Bullets, bombs, and troops could not triumph alone, in any amount or over any length of time. Only by providing peasants with rural security, lifting them from poverty, and educating them on the merits of democracy and the evils of communism, could South Vietnam survive and the US obtain its goals.

While Lansdale worked with the new regime on higher-level state stabilization matters in Saigon, Phillips worked with the peasants in an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam Mekong Delta, central coast, and central highlands.

It is here though that Phillips saw the first indications of things going seriously wrong.

The SMM closed in November 1956, its mission accomplished. US efforts then went big, years before US efforts went even bigger during 1964—65. As Phillips writes, bureaucracy took over.

The ultimate US—South Vietnamese defeat, Phillips claims, really occurred then, although he still held out hope as late as 1972 that the overall situation could be saved. Yet the cooperative connection to the South Vietnamese, both within their government and among the peasantry, was lost, an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam to return. Fed up with bureaucracy, especially after experiencing the independence of field work, an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam resigned from the Agency.

When he returned to Vietnam with USAID in the early 1960s and became involved in the Strategic Hamlet Program, he noted with growing alarm the strained and distant relationship between most Americans assigned to rural areas and the South Vietnamese. These White House meetings were contentious, as military and civilian advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert S. Although Phillips stayed involved for several more years, the Americanization of the war after 1965 pushed rural development into the background with dire results.

With rural pacification and security, nation building, and anti-Viet Cong activities all under one program, progress came swiftly.

So was most of central Vietnam. Foremost, Phillips stresses that Americans must know who they are as a people, and leaders must know and be realistic about what they are trying to attain abroad. US leaders must also know their allies and adversaries. We need to communicate with an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam on a human level, understand what motivates them, and view the conflict through their history, society, and culture.

We need to know our enemies, their capabilities and motivations, as well as the level of their willingness to continue their resistance and up to what level of cost. Decisionmakers must be able to explain and connect policies and events abroad to the American public. These would include, of course, knowledgeable intelligence officers and military personnel willing to work long, hard years at the grassroots level.

Revisiting the Tet Offensive clearly fits into the revisionist school of Vietnam War history that Prados dismisses. Robbins positively portrays CIA activities in a way not usually seen in most published histories. Focusing on public, political, and media perceptions of the Tet Offensive during its initial phase in January and February 1968, Robbins claims that most Americans saw the event negatively and today remember Tet for all the wrong reasons.

The perception of loss, he argues, became a self-fulfilling prophecy, even though history shows that what happened in the offensive was a military defeat for the North. In short, the United States lost in Vietnam not because of any military defeats but because US leaders, in effect, chose to lose and repeatedly avoided opportunities for victory. At the same time, historians accept that the communists scored a major political and psychological victory as American public opinion turned against the war their leaders had consistently said they were winning.

Using a wide variety of government records, published histories, an introduction to the history of the illegal war in vietnam, and television, and print news accounts, Robbins shows that Tet may have shocked the public, but it came as no surprise to US intelligence officials, soldiers, or politicians in the Johnson administration.

All had anticipated a last-ditch offensive in South Vietnam months in advance, prepared for it militarily, and rapidly defeated it once it occurred, inflicting a clear military defeat on the communists, who failed to achieve any of their goals.

President Johnson failed to explain what had happened; what the administration knew and what it had been doing beforehand; and how Tet affected or did not affect long-term US goals. This lackluster response, reinforced by media reports focusing on the spectacular, gave Tet the appearance of a major setback and served as proof that US policies had failed. Tet proved that a small, weak force could defeat the most powerful nation in human history by creating a big splash and the perception of power where none existed.

They are less effective in their pointed analogies and comparisons of that war to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

History is rarely so neat as to provide direct and applicable comparisons—as if times, actors, policies, and circumstances do not change. Three Episodes 1962—1968 Washington, DC: This publication is available online at https: A scanned copy of this publication is available online at http: If you don't already have Adobe Reader installed, you may download the current version at www.

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