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The War That Never Ends

The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War

David L. Anderson
John Ernst
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The War That Never Ends
    Book Description:

    More than three decades after the final withdrawal of American troops from Southeast Asia, the legacy of the Vietnam War continues to influence political, military, and cultural discourse. Journalists, politicians, scholars, pundits, and others have used the conflict to analyze each of America's subsequent military engagements. Many Americans have observed that Vietnam-era terms such as "cut and run," "quagmire," and "hearts and minds" are ubiquitous once again as comparisons between U.S. involvement in Iraq and in Vietnam seem increasingly appropriate. Because of its persistent significance, the Vietnam War era continues to inspire vibrant historical inquiry.

    The eminent scholars featured in The War That Never Ends offer fresh and insightful perspectives on the continuing relevance of the Vietnam War, from the homefront to "humping in the boonies," and from the great halls of political authority to the gritty hotbeds of oppositional activism. The contributors assert that the Vietnam War is central to understanding the politics of the Cold War, the social movements of the late twentieth century, the lasting effects of colonialism, the current direction of American foreign policy, and the ongoing economic development in Southeast Asia.

    The seventeen essays break new ground on questions relating to gender, religion, ideology, strategy, and public opinion, and the book gives equal emphasis to Vietnamese and American perspectives on the grueling conflict. The contributors examine such phenomena as the role of women in revolutionary organizations, the peace movements inspired by Buddhism, and Ho Chi Minh's successful adaptation of Marxism to local cultures. The War That Never Ends explores both the antiwar movement and the experiences of infantrymen on the front lines of battle, as well as the media's controversial coverage of America's involvement in the war. The War That Never Ends sheds new light on the evolving historical meanings of the Vietnam War, its enduring influence, and its potential to influence future political and military decision-making, in times of peace as well as war.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4561-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Dedications
    (pp. vii-viii)
    David L. Anderson and John Ernst
  4. Introduction: Why Vietnam Still Matters
    (pp. 1-12)
    Marilyn Young

    In 1965, the Pentagon released a documentary entitledWhy Vietnam,a sequel to the World War II seriesWhy We Fight.¹ James C. Thomson Jr., then on the staff of the National Security Council, wrote the script. “As I recall”, Thomson told an interviewer many years later, “Mac Bundy told me the President wanted to put out something in the next couple of weeks that would put together what he had said, what Rusk had said, what McNamara had said on three aspects of the war: the diplomatic, the military and the sort of peace-making or international development aspect.” Thomson,...

  5. 1 No More Vietnams: Historians Debate the Policy Lessons of the Vietnam War
    (pp. 13-34)
    David L. Anderson

    It has been thirty years since the end of the Vietnam War, and historians of American foreign relations are still vigorously debating the historical questions of why the United States chose to persist in a major military campaign in Vietnam for so long and why, ultimately, that costly and controversial intervention failed to achieve Washington’s stated objectives. Thousands of books and articles have been published on the American war in Vietnam, advancing knowledge and understanding of the conflict, yet the lessons learned and the meaning of the war for American diplomatic and military doctrine are still contested. What makes resolution...

  6. 2 The United States and Vietnam: The Enemies
    (pp. 35-54)
    Walter LaFeber

    In U.S. foreign relations, future deadly enemies have often initially appeared as people hoping to be friends. Japan was a valued informal American ally during the 1890s, but a half century later the two nations fought a bloody four-year war. At the end of World War II, the defeated Japanese withdrew from the empire they had seized by force in Southeast Asia. In 1944 and early 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt briefly believed that it was important to make friends with, and provide at least a modified independence for, Indochina—the French colonial possession in Southeast Asia that included Vietnam,...

  7. 3 With Friends Like These: Waging War and Seeking “More Flags”
    (pp. 55-74)
    Gary R. Hess

    In fighting regional wars since 1950, the United States has sought the support of other nations. Besides providing troops and other material benefits, allies are also significant diplomatically in that they lend international legitimacy to the war effort. That in turn helps sustain popular backing at home. In both the Korean War and the Persian Gulf War, presidents Harry S. Truman and George H. W. Bush gained the backing of the UN Security Council to oppose the aggression of North Korea and Iraq, respectively; Security Council resolutions of 1950 and 1990 provided the basis for substantial contributions of troops and...

  8. 4 The Perspective of a Vietnamese Witness
    (pp. 75-104)
    Luu Doan Huynh

    I have often agonized over why Vietnam has, in the years since World War II, been perceived as a pariah state and, hence, the sufferings inflicted on it by both the West and the East. As far as relations with the United States in particular are concerned, many Vietnamese initially held out hope for friendship, but that hope turned first to disappointment, then to despair, and finally to anger. In hindsight, it is easy for us, the Vietnamese, to condemn you, the Americans. What is more difficult, and more necessary, is to understand the motives behind U.S. foreign policy in...

  9. 5 Ho Chi Minh, Confucianism, and Marxism
    (pp. 105-120)
    Robert K. Brigham

    The Vietnam War ended thirty years ago, yet a number of important questions remain unanswered. Not the least of these is how Vietnam’s Communist Party won peasants to its cause. To many Western observers, the war was all about winning the hearts and minds of Vietnam’s rural poor.¹ These same scholars and journalists claim that Vietnamese traditions dictated that whoever had the mandate of heaven—legitimacy in the eyes of the people—would win the contest for political control of Vietnam. This mandate could not be demanded; leaders earned it through practice of the great Confucian virtues—honesty, simplicity, obedience,...

  10. 6 Vietnam during the Rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, 1954–63
    (pp. 121-142)
    Ronald B. Frankum Jr.

    There is little that escapes historical controversy or intrigue during the American experience in Vietnam. This should not be surprising, as America’s longest war pushed the boundaries of political discourse, military strategy and tactics, cultural norms, and the fabric of American society, which appeared to unravel as the war progressed. It should also not be a surprise that the first ally of the United States in the struggle for Vietnam and the containment of communism in Southeast Asia is at the center of this lingering debate. Ngo Dinh Diem led the government of the Republic of Vietnam, first as the...

  11. 7 The Buddhist Antiwar Movement
    (pp. 143-166)
    Robert Topmiller

    In May 1963, a group of students marched through Vietnam’s old capital, Hue, carrying Buddhist flags in defiance of a recent order by South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. Security forces fired on the demonstrators and killed eight young people, leading Buddhists throughout the nation to take to the streets in protest.¹ As antigovernment demonstrations grew larger and more unwieldy throughout the summer, the government of South Vietnam (GVN) responded with increased repression. By August, the Buddhist rebellion had exposed widespread dissatisfaction with Diem, leading to the fateful American decision to back his overthrow. Finally, rebellious South Vietnamese troops toppled...

  12. 8 The Long-Haired Warriors: Women and Revolution in Vietnam
    (pp. 167-190)
    Sandra C. Taylor

    “When the invaders come, even women have to fight.” This traditional Vietnamese aphorism is repeated by Communist women while at the same time they stress their love of peace. Yet, as inhabitants of a small country adjacent to a large and powerful neighbor, the Vietnamese have been warriors many times.¹ Since 1930 they have scarcely known peace, fighting French colonialists, the Japanese, then the Americans, then Pol Pot’s Cambodian Khmer Rouge and their supporters, and then the People’s Republic of China. Vietnamese women have been deeply involved in the struggles, particularly during the wars against France and the United States....

  13. 9 Military Dissent and the Legacy of the Vietnam War
    (pp. 191-218)
    Robert Buzzanco

    The U.S. war in Vietnam that George Herring and others have described so well is being rewritten in politically motivated and disturbing ways, with a number of scholars now claiming that the American intervention was justified and appropriate; that the southern state that the United States created in Vietnam was legitimate and its early leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, was making progress toward building a viable government; and that the Americans abandoned the South because of political constraints at home even though they were winning the war.

    This work is suspect on many levels, not the least of which being that...

  14. 10 Unpopular Messengers: Student Opposition to the Vietnam War
    (pp. 219-244)
    Joseph A. Fry

    President Lyndon B. Johnson assured Undersecretary of State George Ball, “I don’t give a damn about those little pinkos on the campuses; they’re just waving their diapers and bellyaching because they don’t want to fight.” Johnson’s successor, Richard M. Nixon, agreed that student protesters opposed the Vietnam War not out of “moral conviction” but, rather, “to keep from getting their asses shot off.” Nixon further vowed that “under no circumstances will I be affected whatever” by campus dissent. Despite their contentions to the contrary, the two American presidents who presided over America’s longest and most unpopular war monitored student protests...

  15. 11 Vietnam Is Here: The Antiwar Movement
    (pp. 245-264)
    Terry H. Anderson

    In October 1967, during the events of Stop the Draft Week in Washington, DC, the activist Dave McReynolds declared, “Vietnam is here.” He was right; opinion polls at that time demonstrated that Vietnam had eclipsed civil rights as the nation’s top problem. The war in Southeast Asia was overwhelming America.

    The antiwar movement, however, had developed slowly during the first part of the 1960s. That was because the United States was involved in a cold war with the forces of communism—the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies, and China and its Asian neighbors North Korea and North Vietnam....

  16. 12 The Media and the Vietnam War
    (pp. 265-288)
    Clarence R. Wyatt

    The role of the news media remains one of the most controversial aspects of American involvement in Vietnam. Understanding what the press did (and did not do) and why is, of course, important to achieving a clearer sense of how and why American society approached the conflict in Vietnam, and the parallel conflict at home, as it did.

    This issue of the press and the Vietnam War also has implications for today. First, the issue of government information policy, especially regarding national security information, is still very much with us. From the Grenada operation in 1983 through the Gulf War...

  17. 13 Congress and the Vietnam War: Senate Doves and Their Impact on the War
    (pp. 289-310)
    Kyle Longley

    “In our differences over Vietnam, we have let ourselves become hypnotized into self delusion,” Senator Albert A. Gore of Tennessee wrote in 1970. “We have gradually accepted the unholy, autistic reality that war creates. We have let Vietnam become a matter of partisan politics; and frequently we have devalued our moral currency to compound political nostrums and cater to prejudices, resorting to crude face-saving devices which counterfeit our highest traditional values and violate our pride in being the world’s greatest democracy.” “We must de-mesmerize ourselves,” he concluded, “break through the shell of public relation formulae and jingoist slogans, and dispassionately...

  18. 14 In the Valley: The Combat Infantryman and the Vietnam War
    (pp. 311-334)
    Yvonne Honeycutt Baldwin and John Ernst

    The American combat soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War was, according to some, different from that in any other war in the nation’s history.¹ Chosen by a draft that selected the nation’s poor and working-class youths, shaped by a troop-rotation system that focused on individuals rather than units or regiments, confronted by an enemy who was at once everywhere and nowhere, disillusioned and frustrated by divisions on the home front, and ultimately blamed by an angry public for failing to win an unwinnable war, Vietnam veterans share a long list of stereotypes. Myths abound. Only those who experienced combat know...

  19. 15 The War That Never Seems to Go Away
    (pp. 335-350)
    George C. Herring

    In March 1991, at the end of the First Persian Gulf War, President George H. W Bush exulted that the “ghosts of Vietnam had been laid to rest beneath the sands of the Arabian desert.” What he was saying, of course, was that America’s smashing military success in the Gulf had finally overcome popular fears, left over from the war in Vietnam, of using military force abroad. “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all,” he proclaimed on another occasion.

    Like the rumors Mark Twain jokingly reported of his own death, President Bush’s eulogy for the so-called...

  20. 16 A Speech for LBJ with Comments on George W. Bush
    (pp. 351-356)
    Howard Zinn

    In early 1967, two years after the escalation of the war in Vietnam by the United States, some of us in the movement against the war were calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. But no major political figure and none of the major media were willing to support that idea. I wrote a book at that time,Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal,published by Beacon Press in 1967. The last chapter in the book, “A Speech for LBJ,” was an imaginary speech for President Lyndon Johnson, explaining to the American people why he had decided to withdraw...

  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 357-360)
  22. Index
    (pp. 361-369)