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A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into Vietnam Paperback – January 4, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465043704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465043705
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 2.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,068,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A journalist and historian, Robert Mann has written critically acclaimed political histories of the Vietnam War and the U.S. civil rights movement.

Mann holds the Manship Chair in Mass Communication at Louisiana State University's Manship School of Mass Communication.

Mann spent more than 20 years working in national and Louisiana state politics. Prior to joining the Manship School in 2006, he served as communications director to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. He joined the governor's staff in 2004 after serving 17 years as state director and press secretary to U.S. Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. He was also press secretary to U.S. Senator Russell Long of Louisiana and press secretary for the 1990 re-election campaign of U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana.

In the early 1980s, he covered Louisiana politics as a reporter for the Shreveport Journal and the Monroe News-Star. His essays and book reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

He is a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and publishes the Louisiana political blog, "Something Like the Truth."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Let me start by saying that this is a long book, a very long book. As it should be. Starting with the "roots" of the war, specifically the fallout over Truman's so-called "loss" of China, Mann takes us through every twist and turn of political thought and action behind the war, covering the period from the late 1940s to April 29, 1975. The great value of the book and its length is that Mann frequently makes wonderful connections between events of different times. This is the best pure political history of the war, and as such should be a must-read for anyone wishing to understand why it unfolded as it did.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The domestic American politics of the Vietnam War has been largely ignored by so many myopic historians who have devoted most of their time to diplomatic and military histories of the war. Many of those histories are also ideologically tainted and repetitive.
Thanks to political historian Robert Mann, we now have a truly fresh, non-ideological pespective on the war. His very readable, well-written political history will undoubtedly change the way we look at this tragic episode. Mann's masterful account helps the reader understand the whys and hows of one of our nation's most politically charged military conflicts. He does a wonderful job of explaining how presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were haunted by the political ghosts of the political turmoil over encroaching communism in Asia in the early 1950s. The political damage suffered by Harry Truman and his Democratic Party in the 1950 and 1952 elections remained strong memories for future presidents who were determined not to let the same fate befall them.
This book will likely challenge the well-worn and politically motivated views about Vietnam that have been peddled by diplomatic and military historians who have ignored this important aspect of the war for much too long. Mann's provocative and controversial views will likely offend some and challenge the long-held views of others, many of whom are still captured by the "grand delusions" of Vietnam. In many ways, he is as critical of the war's opponents, as its mindless advocates.
This excellent and groundbreaking work is a very welcome addition to the historiography of the Vietnam War and is a must for any Vietnam War collection.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on August 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Sure the book is lengthy, but so was American involvement in Vietnam. The value of Mann's work is as a single volume history that focuses laser-like on the backdoor political story, an aspect of the conflict that usually gets much less attention than headline-grabbing military or protest developments. All in all, the book sheds much needed light on 30 years of deceitful shenanigans in Washington that left 3,000,000 Vietnamese dead, 50,000 Americans dead, and generations of wounds, emotional and physical, that will probably never heal. As the book shows, Americans are correct in not trusting their government, especially as it behaves abroad.

Mann walks us through a revealing series of presidential administrations and policies, starting with Truman's, and ending with Ford's. Each has a role in gearing up the meat grinder, some more honorably than others, but none comes off looking good as the country spirals ever downward toward disillusion and defeat. Ditto for the senators who opposed the war (Fulbright, Mc Govern, Mansfield, et. al.), lawmakers who, despite hours of pious rhetoric, could never get their legislative act together. Scarce mention is made of military or protest developments except when either influences major political decisions. As a much needed political chronicle of that 30 year span, the book succeeds admirably.

Mann's perspective is primarily a liberal one (which probably explains one particularly misleading review), but favors no individuals, liberal, conservative, or radical. He emphasizes the extent to which official hands were tied by red-baiting rhetoric of the cold war, in which every communist, be he nationalist or internationalist, was seen as taking his marching orders from Moscow.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James Ferguson VINE VOICE on July 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Mann offers a well-researched account of the Vietnam War, beginning with its Cold War roots. He meticulously charts the progress of the war from the French attempt to re-annex Indochina after World War II to its conclusion in 1975 when the Americans finally pulled out of this quagmire. It was a 25 year ordeal that left over 3 million Vietnamese dead. But, it was the continual loss of French and American soldiers that wore down the resolve of these two nations.
Mann begins by noting the early protest to the war in the Senate chamber in the mid 60's. He shows how this dissent was ignored for the most part by the various presidential administrations over the years, as the US found itself locked into a battle with communism and was bound and determined not to lose Vietnam, as it had China and North Korea. Even those who had their reservations early on, such as Mike Mansfield, chose to defer to the president, assuming he had information Congress was not privy to. If all this sounds like the Iraq War, then take note because Mann states that the lessons have yet to be learned from America's most humiliating war.
Yet, Mann avoids making too much commentary, relying instead on a wealth of material to present one of the best overall pictures of the war. If there is one shortfall to the book it is that Mann divorces Vietnam from all the other events going on at the time. The Civil Rights movement gets scarcely any mention, which was Johnson's main concern. Yet, it was Johnson who made the plunge into Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Mann uncovers information that casts sufficient doubt if any attack on American vessels ever took place in the Gulf of Tonkin, yet is careful to note that Johnson was acting on what he believed to be good authority.
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