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Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era First edition. Edition

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521480468
ISBN-10: 0521480469
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This comprehensively researched monograph, based on the author's Ph.D. dissertation, depicts U.S. political leaders as the consistent driving force behind America's Vietnam commitment. Military leaders were wary of intervention from 1945 onward and deeply divided over U.S. prospects to the point that they frequently offered bleak evaluations of the situation. Dissenters in the armed forces, however, were stifled by a command structure that shifted the burden of decision-making onto political authority by demanding levels of escalation that were politically impossible to implement. The military thus dodged its share of responsibility for "losing" an unwinnable war. Buzzanco exaggerates the armed forces' appropriate role in policy-making; at times he virtually implies that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have said "Enough" on their own authority, defying the political leadership if necessary. That overstated argument makes this a book to be used with caution, despite its valuable analysis of the military's negative perspective on the Vietnam War.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"The author has written an interesting and thought-provoking account of the relationship between civilian policy makers and their counterparts in the military during the Vietnam War." Pacific Affairs

"Buzzanco has written a bold, provocative book that challenges many assumptions. Based on judicious research in primary and secondary sources, Masters of War is a mandatory read for anyone interested in the military history of the Vietnam War." Houston Chronicle

"Buzzanco is particularly interesting on the views of military dissenters, including senior generals, who opposed either the war itself or the way the United States chose to wage it....there is much to be learned here." Foreign Affairs

"This is a brilliantly argued account that tells us who was responsible for what in Vietnam. It challenges some of our basic assumptions." Seymour Hersh, author of My Lai Four: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath

"A diligently researched and thought-provoking contribution to the literature of Vietnam." Kirkus Reviews

"This ambitious book sweeps across the American military's relationship to the wars in Indochina and Vietnam. Drawing on an impressive range of primary sources, Buzzanco analyzes the military's view of the war, differences among the sevices, and civil-military relations." Journal of Military History

"No serious student of the Vietnam War can afford to miss this challenging and superbly researched book....Presents the most complete and nuanced account of the U.S. military's attitudes and actions toward Vietnam during the years 1950-1968...." Political Science Quarterly

"This work provides new insight on dissent within the ranks of the American military concerning policy and strategy during the warin Southeast Asia....should be examined by students and scholars...." History

"Masters of War will be most useful to those who already know a good dea about U.S. policy in Vietnam; they will find much that is new and significant....." Edwin E. Moise, Journal of Asian Studies

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First edition. edition (February 23, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521480469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521480468
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,904,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Eskridge on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
How many Americans know that the most revered leaders of our modern military (among them Ridgway, Eisenhower and Marshall) advised against intervening in Vietnam?
How many know that in 1949 the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a policy paper stating that military involvement in Indochina would be "an anti-historical act likely in the long run to create more problems than it solves and cause more damage than benefit"?
How many know that in 1967 the Joint Chiefs of Staff threatened to walk out on the president if he didn't call off military involvement?
My guess is that most Americans still believe that the majority of military leaders favored intervention and "were not allowed to win."
As Buzzanco makes clear, if that belief prevails in spite of the facts, Americans will have learned nothing from the tragedy that we call the Vietnam War. And given the current political and military situation, what we have, or haven't, learned has never mattered more.
In a masterfully concise and thorough way, Buzzanco assembles the most important but previously scattered findings about America's involvement in Vietnam. He is among the rarest of authors -- a readable scholar, one who can write for the masses. And the fact that he's a scholar is important. Journalists, who usually write the readable stuff, have lost too much credibility with the American public.
Upon finishing this relatively short but remarkably full account, all I could say was, "Finally!" The research and documentation to support Buzzanco's findings have been accumulating for years. As someone with a history degree who has tried to keep up, I applaud his ability to exhume, organize and present the essential and long buried information.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Eric Frith on April 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Buzzanco's carefully researched and seamlessly written examination of military dissent in pre-Tet Vietnam rocks the boat tactfully--but thoroughly. Buzzanco conclusively lays to rest a great many myths about civil-military relations in the Vietnam era, and about the nature of the military conflict itself. This is not a book about guerilla tactics, comaraderie, or the horrors of war. Buzzanco tacitly accepts the profound emotional impact of Vietnam. His focus is on the high politics of waging a costly and highly unpopular "proxy" war. Many senior officers in Vietnam, including Matthew Ridgeway, John Paul Vann, and others, were tenaciously and vociferously critical of the war. Others were "true believers." Still others cynically hedged their bets in an effort to promote service and personal ambitions.
Following the 1968 Tet offensive, Buzzanco reveals, most civilian and military leaders recognized the futility of the conflict and wanted to get out of Vietnam. Unable to do so, however, they participated in mutual recrimination and propagandizing. The result was a web of myth that pervades U.S. civil-military relations even after Desert Storm; which was, perhaps, reinforced by Desert Storm.
Buzzanco's brilliant scholarship is a compact, unsettling, enlightening exploration of the defining Cold War conflict, and its enduring legacies.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By on April 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"Although two decades have passed since US combat soldiers left Indochina, Americans are still telling lies about Vietnam." So begins Robert Buzzanco's invaluable book on the military opposition to the Vietnam war. As Buzzanco points out in his introductory chapter, it is not necessarily true that the military is more hawkish and militarist than its civilian leaders. In fact they were often more open to compromise and negotiation in the early days of the cold war than many American diplomats, and actually suggested non-involvement in the opening days of the Korean war. Some of the officers Buzzanco discusses, such as General Ridgway and Shoup rejected intervention in Vietnam altogether. Most often however a large number of officers realized that plans were flawed and that victory was unlikely, but by playing bureaucratic politics they could foist the blame on the civilians and on their service rivals in the army.
The result was that over and over again officers raised the same unalterable points. You cannot bomb the North into submission, and you cannot defeat the NLF in the South with the corrupt and incompetent Southern regime we possess. Of course, much of this was the army, the navy and the air forces criticizing the other services plans. But as it turned out they were right and Buzzanco shows that the army was not stabbed in the back. A review of America's long involvement should help demonstrate this. In 1947, General George Marshall said that the French "have no prospect" of success in Vietnam. Five years later the Joint Chief of Staff were unanimously opposed to committing any American troops into Vietnam. General Matthew Ridgeway's opposition to assisting the French after Dien Bien Phu was crucial to the Geneva Accords.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott Steele on January 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
One problem I've noticed in these types of authors is the inability to separate the intangible, philosophical, morality of the war from the tangible, non-philosophical, events of the war. This lack of discipline results in the presentation of facts outside of the relevant context. If you take the factual information from this book and put it into it's relevant context you would get a very different conclusion than Mr. Buzzcano's.

The basic context is as follows:

After WWII, containing communism in Europe was the main US concern. The French capitalized on this US concern, with the threat of noncooperation in Europe, to facilitate their return to French Indochina (the former colony they lost to the Japanese). The subsequent events of China going communist in 1949 and Korea in 1950 (including China's reaction there)created the foundation for the Domino Theory in Asia. Vietnam became the domino that could not be allowed to fall to the Chinese (and international communism).

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese saw the post WWII situation as their chance to finally gain independence from France after 158 years of interference and domination. The key here is that there were many different Vietnamese independence groups struggling for independence.

So you have the following players and their motivations:

US - Stopping the spread of communism
France - Regaining French Indochina
Vietnam - Gaining it's independence from France

This is where the pro-war and antiwar "scholars" diverge into a myriad of conclusions based on cherry picking additional facts, ignorance of additional facts, and rationalization of their own inappropriate behavior during the war.
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