76 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Herring focuses on diplomacy
Unlike most Vitenam books, America's Longest War chooses to examine the diplomacy element of the war instead of the typical military aspects of the conflict. I was assigned this as a textbook in my Vietnam War class in college and was surprised by the lack of military coverage in it. About two chapters into ALW, I realized that Herring was concentrating on what happened...
Published on January 26, 2001 by Pete Agren
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very imformative.
This book was assigned reading for my "International Conflict" class. I started this book only because I had to, but I enjoyed it. I would recomend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about the causes of the Vietnam war and why we fought for so long.
Published on December 5, 1998
Most Helpful First | Newest First
76 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Herring focuses on diplomacy,
Herring also informs the reader that contrary to the current popular opinion, JFK was NOT going to get out of Vietnam because he chose to let the aggressive Henry Cabot Lodge make key decisions in escalating the United States' involvement in South Vietnam. The reader begins to understand that the US lost the war in the diplomatic and political theaters and not on the battlefield. After all, the US military's job was to keep communists from taking over South Vietnam and while US troops were deployed in the country, that objective never happened.
I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Vietnam conflict. Although there is no coverage on military engagements, troop life, or popular battles like Khe Sanh and Dienbienphu, this book will give the reader answers on why we were there and who was making the decisions on what we did in Southeast Asia.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the First Edition. Good, but needed North POV,
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Account of American Grand Strategy in Vietnam,
This review is from: America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition) (Paperback)Like many people here, I read this book for a college class concerned with providing an explanation of the numerous questions that arise whenever one ponders America in Vietnam, like why it was there, and why it lost. Any student or curious reader should find this work a great tool for this task.
The book is fairly short, numbering less than 400 pages. By that restraint alone, no reader should expect a thorough, voluminous exposition on every aspect of the war akin to Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, or a textbook for that matter. It's a piece on political history with a general thesis, numerous recurring themes, and plenty of information to back everything up.
The thesis is that the containment strategy America adopted around the Korean War, and its perceiving Vietnam as a strategic door to all of Southeast Asia, prevented each successive president from leaving Vietnam to the wolves and forced each one to progressively raise American stakes n the region. Numerous other variables--some consistent to all presidencies, like fear of facing the same political bloodletting as Truman got over "losing" China in 1949; some specific to the president, like JFK's need to take a stand somewhere after negotiating on Laos, and after the Berlin wall was erected--accompanied this grand one, but the central theme of this book draws a vivid picture of proud Cold Warriors refusing to back down and unwilling to commit entirely, hoping to bluff out an enemy who had already gone all in.
Of course, because it is a work with a point to prove rather than a huge collection of unfiltered facts, the reader must be wary of buying into Herring's perspective without private review of his logic. That's true for every book of this sort, however, and for what it's worth, Herring makes a very convincing case.
On the technical side of things, this book could have done more to centralize its presentation of thematic events. Since the author shifts between historical narrative and analysis, the latter could have summaries and reminders of recurring concepts on the margins. As it is, the reader has to discover themes like "US arrogance" or "governmental deception" by himself and note their recurrence without any assistance from Herring. Doing this isn't the standard for most books, though (the only one I can think off that does this is Landmark Thucydides), I can't criticize the book for not following up on these suggestions.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the best introduction to the Vietnam War.,
By A Customer
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise, Systematic, Written Well; 4.5 stars,
This review is from: America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition) (Paperback)This is a concise but systematic overview and narrative of the Vietnam war. Evenhanded and drawing on a remarkably rich secondary literature, America's Longest War covers American involvement in Vietnam from the immediate post-WWII period up to the Clinton administration. This is mainly the story of American policy making and the American experience. While Herring does deal with the South Vietnamese experience, there is relatively little analysis of North Vietnamese experience and decision making. This is unavoidable due to the lack of material from North Vietnam.
Herring presents our involvment in Vietnam as the logical, though not inevitable, result of the basic containment strategy of the Cold War. He describes very well the gradual entanglement in Vietnam across multiple Presidential administrations, culminating in Johnson's decision to commit major numbers of American ground troops. Herring does very well also in describing the diplomatic history and its interaction with domestic American politics. He does quite well at the basic political history of South Vietnam and provides a nice overview of the basic military history.
Herring's basic point is that the containment logic formed the lens through information about Vietnam was seen. The containment logic was essentially universally accepted in the USA and even became a crucial part of domestic politics. There were very few efforts, made usually by a small number of people and generally rebuffed, to critically examine the idea that deterring a Communist takeover in South Vietnam was really essential to American security. In Herring's presentation, our involvement in Vietnam takes on a tragic dimension.
Its impossible to read this book today and avoid comparisons with the Iraq morass. Indeed, its striking how often the Vietnam experience resonates with our contemporary problems. For example, here is Herring discussing American efforts at pacification in the mid-1960s, "The fundamental problem was the absence of security.' Or how about, "Members of Congress found it impossible to vote against fund for American forces in the field and hesitated to challenge the President directly, but many who has firmly backed him at first came out openly against him." I was surprised at how often aspects of the Vietnam experience have emerged in Iraq.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not complete, but an interesting read,
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Vietnam War History in a Small Size,
By A Customer
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Limits of A Cold War Empire,
This review is from: America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition) (Paperback)The Vietnam War was an unconventional war that lasted, as many believe, for ten years. The case can be made that the war started much earlier than that and for the American government it was a slow increase in military activity and military spending over decades rather than a explosive beginning to a long war. How could America have such heavy involvement in a war that took decades to develop? Would American leaders have not seen the coming problems that would entrap them? In the second edition of America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam 1950-1975 by George C. Herring it is these questions that are directly addressed.
George C. Herring is an Alumni Professor at the University of Kentucky. The bulk of his academic career has focused on political history with America's foreign policies and relations with other states during the Cold War era being the focus. In between 1982 and 1986 he served as the editor of the scholarly publication of Diplomatic History as well as the President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in 1990. His other works include The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers (1983) and Aid to Russia, 1941-1946: Strategy, Diplomacy, the Origins of the Cold War (1973).
The scope of this text is quite large, one might think overwhelming. Herring covers twenty-five years, with six different Presidential administrations, of history between America and Vietnam in roughly under three hundred pages. However, out of those six the focus rests on the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. The recognition of the administration in question is important for Herring deals directly with the policies of these administrations. For example, Herring spends a good amount of text on the Eisenhower administration and the policies developed during it's run under the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. This includes the acceptance of the 'domino' theory and the aid giving to the French in their attempts to hold on to Vietnam as a colony or a member of their Union. Herring looks directly at the effectiveness of Johnson's decisions to escalate the war effort and how they play out on the ground in Vietnam as well as the congress floor. Herring of course deals with Nixon's and Henry Kissinger's plans to bring about an 'honorable peace' and the backdoor talks with North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to achieve this goal. All in all quite a bit to stuff into three hundred pages.
The thesis of Herring's text can be found in three main threads of thought. First, America's extended involvement in Vietnam stemmed from the fear of America's place in the balance of power during the Cold War. This is about the 'domino theory' which suggested that when a non-Communist country got a Communist next door neighbor they would soon become Communist themselves. In the case of Vietnam this also suggests that the American government believed that Third World states were incapable of resisting this ideology. A second thread is the political and military decisions made during this period that were based on incomplete, misunderstood or exaggerated information and views, which led to deepen America's involvement in Vietnam, or in the later years escalating the war effort, all to contain Communism or to keep American foreign policy promises. The last thread is how the distinct personalities involved guided these decisions. In short, one bad choice after another kept digging the hole that the United States government was standing in deeper and deeper.
Even though Herring is covering twenty-five years of history in a small volume he is focused on the political decisions that led directly to America's involvement in Vietnam. He covers the policy formed during the Eisenhower administration by Dulles to help the French retain their claim in the name of containment. Herring covers the aid given, the military advisers helping the French and how the failure of the French to achieve their goals leads to America's increasing nervousness over the Communists in North Vietnam. This leads to the coverage of the escalation of violence during the Johnson administration. Herring makes a clear case of how much politics in America went into the decisions concerning Vietnam. For example Johnson's decision increasing the number of bombing targets in North Vietnam to appease the pro-war faction in Washington. Herring also follows the twisted path of the Machiavellian peace efforts made during the Nixon administration and how they continued the war longer than necessary to gain political advantages in Washington. Herring clearly discusses what the decisions were, why they were made, who was involved and how that decision played out. Herring stresses the importance of not just the policy itself but the people, like Kissinger and Dulles as well as leaders in South Vietnam who had a hand in how the policy effected all concerned.
Herring's work is pure political history. This is all about the elite political players, with the focus being the Americans, and their world views. This text is an over view of the Vietnam War and not an in depth look into any one aspect. Essentially, this text is to help answer why America was involved in the war and what should be taken away as the lesson for being involved in the war. He addresses America's leaders and their world view of American exceptionalism and their own individual quirks and concern for their careers as the driving force behind the mistakes made during the twenty-five years of America involvement with Vietnam. As Herring points out at the end of this edition American politicians were taking in the view from the 'city on the hill' and were not seeing an accurate picture of the reality of the world they were operating in and how America really fit in to that reality. Herring says, 'the United States must recognize it's vulnerability, accept the limits to its power, and accommodate itself to many situations it does not like. Americans must understand that they will not be able to dictate solutions to world problems or to achieve all of their goals.' Herring's text is about the pitfalls of over extending a states power for unrealistic goals based on overly simplistic ideologies and world views.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nixon-phobia Derails Otherwise Exemplary Work,
Where this work falls apart in when the author begins to examine America's involvement of Vietnam under Nixon, with Kissinger advising him. Nixon had to grapple with all the same contradictions, but Herring, like a long list of "intellectuals" and scholars before and since, seeks to dump the whole responsibility for the Vietnam mess on Nixon and Kissinger, excusing this outrage by alleging Nixon was, to paraphrase Herring, psychotic, paranoid and power-crazed. According to Herring, everything Nixon did was motivated by evil intent - no motivation was pure, every move a political calculation and yet the honest observer can see that Nixon pretty much carried on as several Presidents before him had, with variations dictated by different times and circumstances. Herring is particularly harsh on Nixon for authorizing the 1972 Christmas bombing North Vietnam 1972, which though it did not target civilians killed between 1 or 2 thousand. Yet not one word of condemnation is found in this work for the years-long rocketing of South Vietnam's cities by the North, or the years-long terrorism of civilians in the South by the Vietcong. Now, in fairness, this work is about America's role in the war, but to condemn Nixon for killing some civilians while not putting that in context of deliberate North Vietnamese targeting of civilians is beyond the pale.
Another glaring deficiency of this work is the spotlight Herring focuses on the weakness, corruption and other failures of the South Vietnamese republics while shedding almost no light on what was wrong with the North, as if north of the 17th parallel it was a paradise of efficiency and joy under Hồ Chí Minh and the communists. Herring cites many opinion polls but none that explain the relative happiness of the populations of South verses North Vietnam. This reminds me of the "scholars" who decry life in free Cuba before Castro, but fail to point out the realities of life under Castro; as if freedom is a commodity of questionable value. In fact, I found this entire work to be colored by a subtle sympathy for North Vietnam, in it's contest against the South Vietnam and America, by the author's repeated description of the North as essentially "nationalists" accustomed to fighting foreign domination for "1000 years". Under this argument, Hitler, who was a nationalist, is due sympathy for his steps to recover territory lost to Germany before WWII and place it under Nazi rule. I personally would not care what person labeled a "nationalist" wanted to "liberate" me to communist totalitarianism, and no matter how long they persisted; I'd prefer freedom. Another way to look at this is the American prison population - prison life is life under authority, but at the same time everyone is equal (same haircuts, clothing style) and everything is provided for (food, shelter, medical, etc.). Yet how many prisoners would forgo the relative chaos of freedom for prison? Herring supplies no proof that, while living in a dysfunctional republic, the majority of South Vietnamese were not happier than the majority of North Vietnamese abiding in the "security" of communism.
In sum, I learned a great deal from this book, and the scholarship - excepting on Nixon - was outstanding, but I also gained perspective on people like Herring, who would apparently approve the loss of personal freedom in exchange for a perceived collective good imposed by higher authority, even to the point of winking at authoritarianism, and I also gained perspective on how otherwise rational people can lose objectivity when it comes to evaluating Republicans and conservatives in power.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence Again,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I highly recommend it.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition) by George C. Herring (Paperback - November 15, 2001)