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Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam Hardcover – June 13, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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Decisive military superiority, not fear of a communist planet, steered the United States into the Southeast Asian debacle, argues Vietnam historian Porter in this provocative but scholarly work. This revisionist premise-which suggests that, in the '60s, the U.S. acted as the world's lone superpower in much the same fashion as it does today-upends traditional thinking on the war's major cause. Porter also contends that successive national security advisors were determined to press these advantages despite the reluctance of their commanders-in-chiefs. These fascinating assessments are intertwined with familiar themes, such as Eisenhower's determination to avoid sending troops to aid France in its last ditch attempt at Dien Bien Phu. Johnson's advisors' use of the domino theory, the belief that the fall of South Vietnam would unleash communism throughout the region, as a political tool to convince the president and the public to press forward with escalation is one of the book's more engrossing arguments. But Porter's belief that Johnson "was never held in thrall by any Cold War doctrine... to save South Vietnam" is curious in light of the above. It also ignores strong influences shaping his subsequent actions in Vietnam: the 1949 "loss of China" to communism and the resulting McCarthyite hysteria. Nevertheless, Porter's intriguing reinterpretation of Vietnam politics is certain to stoke debate among academics.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"This will be the most important contribution to our understanding of the war in Vietnam since the Pentagon Papers. I am not exaggerating or speaking for effect. Porter challenges - by and large successfully - most of the accepted views, especially on the importance of the domino theory, the belief that U. S. policy was driven by a perception of its weakness on the world scene, and the belligerence of Johnson and, to a lesser extent Kennedy." - Robert Jervis, author of American Foreign Policy in a New Era"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 421 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (June 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520239482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520239487
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,025,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Butler on October 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Gareth Porter has written a unique, insightful and marvelous structural analysis of the Vietnam War quagmire. He convincingly posits that unfettered, naked American power is the primary causal force on events of the time, thus disputing the now conventional "Domino Theory" and related ideological theories. US power so far superseded Soviet military and economic strength by the 1950's that total world strategic dominance had been attained. Porter argues that the US didn't stumble into the quagmire of Vietnam. We were propelled there by the belief that we couldn't lose and had much to gain by inserting ourselves, first by being the paymaster for the French and then by our own military intervention. The book fits nicely into an analytical tradition begun more recently by C Wright Mills in "The Power Elite." Porter's book is carefully crafted and well documented so he doesn't attempt to draw out a historical tradition of power abuse in America. One would hope for a Porter follow-on book about this sordid American tradition, probably beginning just after the American Civil War and accounting for more than 200 military interventions up to and including present day Iraq.

Review by Phillip Butler, PhD
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Eddie Kasica on April 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Vietnam is the red flag of modern American history and it has been done to death, usually by ax-grinders, memoirists, Restorationists, and Halberstams. There are exceptions: David Kaiser's "American Tragedy", Howard Jones's "Death of a Generation", John Newman's "JFK and Vietnam", Frederik Logevall's "Choosing War". Still, what can one possibly bring to this subject new in terms of information or interpretation? Gareth Porter has the answer.

"Perils of Dominance" takes a topic of mind-boggling complexity, weaves a clear and consistent narrative from all the elements, and presents a picture staggering in its basic indictment of back-stabbing, endless lying, high crimes and misdemeanors, and outright treason. The traitors were the Hawk extremists who did all they could to drag John F. Kennedy(who successfully resisted until his execution) and Lyndon Johnson(whose resistance weakened under his huge domestic goals) into the war that killed 60,000 American soldiers and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians. Perhaps the most surprising and moving part of "Perils" is the picture of Lyndon Johnson, a strong opponent of expansion from Dallas through his defeat of Goldwater. We know of Tonkin Gulf, of course. And LBJ has been crucified for 40 years because of the deceptions involved. Porter shows us that it was Johnson himself who was most skeptical of the torpedo lies. And it was Johnson himself who trashed the attempts of the Hawks following the initial incident to fabricate more Tonkin Gulf-type phony attacks to justify the bombing of the North and takeover of the war by the U.S. military. Once elected, of course, LBJ gave up the ghost and the rest is genocidal history.

The real hero of the book is John F. Kennedy.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By S. Murtaugh on May 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In the first place, Gareth Porter was 'on the ground' as an independent scholar, un-armed and un-protected in Vietnam's I Corp in '68. It was already notorious as scene of the heaviest fighting, and it was later infamous as the locale of the My Lai massacre. His courage and commitment cannot be matched by the plethora of chicken hawks who attempt to obfuscate the causes of the debacle and justify the taking of 3 million lives.

How could the disastrous consequences of the exercise of power be taken on so blindly? I think of another folly now openly admitted, which was exposed by the same methods of investigation. "I did it just because I could" is the simple reason President Bill Clinton gave Larry King as to why he went at it with Monica - and he called his rationale the worst of all reasons humans can use for immoral conduct.

Thanks to Kenneth Starr, we even know which senator Clinton was on the phone with during one of his assignations, because mundane documents were meticulously interrelated until no one could hide much of anything.

To a much higher purpose, Gareth Porter has sifted through day by day logs of the Kennedy & Johnson era White House and examined relevant notes, memoirs and meeting transcripts kept by the players and staff. His investigation is no less meticulous, and we see how both JFK and LBJ tried to be more in tune with larger political issues and more worthwhile national agendas as they sought viable alternatives. But Perils also reveals how `the Whiz Kids' were able to throw in more and more firepower and destruction through a series of short term, dispassionate maneuverings of their `Commander in Chief.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Chad David Anderson on August 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Does not present any new eveidence, but looks at everything

that has been known for some time in a very different light,

casting doubts not only as to how we have viewed the conflicts

in Southeast Asia, but the entire Cold War as well, right up to

the "perils" of the present American dominance
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