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The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War: A Study in the Making of American Policy

MICHAEL P. SULLIVAN
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130htqk
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  • Book Info
    The Vietnam War
    Book Description:

    The war in Vietnam achieved almost none of the goals the American decision-makers formulated, and it cost more than 56,000 American lives. Yet, until recently, Americans have preferred to ignore the causes and consequences of this disaster by treating the war as an aberration in United States foreign policy, an unfortunate but unique mistake.

    What are the "lessons" of Vietnam? Many previous discussions have focused on narrow or misleading questions, rehashing military decisions, for example, or offering blow-by-blow accounts of Washington infighting, or castigating foreign-policy decision-makers. Michael Sullivan undertakes instead a broad and systematic treatment of the American experience in Vietnam, using a variety of theoretical perspectives to study several aspects of that experience, including the decision-making process and decision-makers' perceptions of the war; public opinion and "mood" before, during, and after the war; and the Vietnam War in relation to the Cold War and to power structures and patterns of violence in the international system.

    The major goal ofThe Vietnam War: A Study in the Making of American Policyis to show that the American experience, not only in Vietnam but elsewhere in the world, must be understood as an integral part of the processes of both American foreign policy and international politics. Sullivan demonstrates the importance of using a variety of empirical and quantitative evidence to study foreign policy and of relating a specific historical situation like the Vietnam War to broader theories of international relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6471-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1. Vietnam: Competing Perspectives
    (pp. 1-11)

    On 30 April1975, as American diplomats and Marines were being hastily lifted off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon into helicopters under heavy enemy fire, an era in American foreign policy was ignominiously coming to an end. The United States was exiting South Vietnam in the most undignified manner possible—short of military defeat in 1973. And yet, almost immediately, as someone later remarked, Americans turned off the Vietnam War as easily as they turn off their television sets. A curious feeling of noncaring followed the war.

    In the winter of 1982,Washington Post columnistPhilip Geyelin commented...

  5. 2. Vietnam as Vital: Myth or Reality
    (pp. 12-50)

    One of the most elementary principles in the understanding of any nation’s foreign policy is that policy flows from the ideologies of the individual leaders of the moment and their perceptions of the situations they find themselves in. Involved also are the values they bring to the situation, and perhaps their own personal idiosyncracies. In terms of the Vietnam case, it has been argued widely that American involvement in that war grew out of American decision makers’ perception that in Vietnam they faced the implacable foe of international Communism, that the onslaught must be stopped there, and if it were...

  6. 3. Decision-Making Models: Rational Policy or Quagmire?
    (pp. 51-86)

    A central question for policymakers, those studying the policy process, and the public alike revolves around how foreign policy elites make their decisions. How do nations manage to get involved in disputes? How are policies formulated? What goals prompt policymakers to make what decisions?

    Perhaps nowhere has the centrality of these questions been brought to bear more urgently than with the Vietnam War, given the fact that it has generally been considered a failure and a mistake, and given the grave costs incurred. The titles of some works about the war reflect disillusionment and distrust:The Quicksand War(Bodard 1967),...

  7. 4. Moods and Public Opinion: Background for Decisions
    (pp. 87-121)

    This chapter broadens the scope of our investigation of decision making by looking at larger dynamic processes that serve as background factors within which the decision process takes place. In the case of Vietnam it is the frame within which the various perceptions of Vietnam and the definition of the Vietnam situation emerged. It is a truism that individuals make decisions and they are ultimately responsible for them; still we cannot disregard the fact that decision makers do not operate in vacuums.

    We have isolated two closely related background characteristics that are often viewed as important factors in the making...

  8. 5. The Vietnam War, the Cold War, and Long-Term Trends
    (pp. 122-150)

    One goal of this work has been to broaden our view of the American involvement in the Vietnam War, and, ultimately, American foreign policy in general. The progression to this point has moved from the narrow to the broader perspective, and in so doing we have become more and more removed from the specifics of the individuals involved and of the Vietnam War itself. In this chapter we move even farther from specifics and consider several short-and long-term fluctuations in large-scale behavior of the international system, and their possible relevance to the Vietnam War. Because we are more removed from...

  9. 6. The Lessons of Vietnam
    (pp. 151-186)

    What are the “lessons” of the tragedy of Vietnam? Narrow questions yield narrow lessons and our focus thus far has been purposely broad. We are certainly not in a position at this point to pinpoint lessons on the conflict or the American involvement in it. But we are capable of reflecting on what might perhaps be called some of the “myths” surrounding the war.

    At a conference at the University of Southern California held in February 1982, one of the many questions addressed was whether the war had not unfolded simply from a “collective deception” by American leaders about our...

  10. References
    (pp. 187-193)
  11. Index
    (pp. 194-198)