Political biographer Robert Mann minces no words when he characterizes America's "ill-advised military foray into Vietnam" as a sequence of delusions. America's citizens and lower-echelon political leadership, he writes, were deluded about the nature of the communist threat to Southeast Asia, which was less an expression of some grand design on the part of Moscow and Beijing than one of nationalist resistance to colonialism. Several presidents were deluded about the effects of their policies in Vietnam and the prospects for military success. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon deluded voters into believing that peace was close at hand, while the death toll mounted under their management of the war.
Vietnam, Mann suggests, was never vital to U.S. national security, as five presidents once insisted. Political from the outset, the war resisted the military solution those leaders promised. And it nearly resulted in a civil war at home, which, Mann writes, yielded a pervasive distrust of the government at all levels of society. "The Vietnam War," he concludes, "should be remembered as the kind of tragedy that can result when presidents--captivated by their grand delusions--enforce their foreign and military policies without the informed support of Congress and the American people."
Mann's book, a useful adjunct to such standard texts as Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History and A.J. Langguth's recent Our Vietnam, joins the history of the war in Vietnam to the conduct of the cold war at large. Controversial and provocative, it promises to find many readers. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Mann, a former Senate aide, puts Senate-president politics at the center of this masterful political history of America's involvement in Vietnam, which began with Truman's commitment to support the French in the wake of charges of "losing" China to the Communists. Many of the senators who attacked the Truman administration were isolationists who voted against the realistic anti-Communist institutions such as NATO and the Marshall Plan. Yet such contradictions mattered little, as the Democrats' disastrous political defeat in 1950 and 1952 convinced them to never let another "loss" be blamed on them. The twin strands of ideological surrealism and political realism interweave throughout Mann's account in various forms, illuminating the persistent patterns and underlying motivational logic of presidential lies and congressional acquiescence. Eisenhower promised to end Truman's containment policy, but he delivered the Korean armistice and refused to fight in Vietnam. Two major congressional resolutions authorizing use of force led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson promised "no wider war" while escalating for fear of "losing" Vietnam. Mike Mansfield - the Senate's foremost Asia authority, as well as majority leader - opposed America's deepening involvement, but his concept of his institutional role made him publicly loyal to Johnson's policies, which in private he strove mightily to change. Each participant responded distinctively to fundamental contradictions, brilliantly elucidated by Mann's highly nuanced account of presidential policy and the tortured evolution of Senate opposition. This book's unique perspective in illuminating Congress's role in the Vietnam War should permanently alter and deepen our understanding of that conflict.
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