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The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (Military History Series) Paperback – February 2, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gibson, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., believes that much of the blame for the debacle in Vietnam is attributable to the introduction of "managerial science" into the war effort. He attempts to show that by the fall of 1967, the war managers had constructed an Orwellian double-think of "multiple systematic falsifications" in which credit, debit and progress were gauged by a body-count index. (The author's personal outrage occasionally spills over into questionable generalizations: "Management did not care whether labor lived or died, only about producing a high body-count.") The study includes quotes from participants and close observers of the war, illustrating in a shockingly concentrated manner how demoralizing to the troops were the ruthless and impersonal management techniques of business accounting imposed on them. Gibson warns that this managerial mind-set is still very much in evidence at the Pentagon and that "the redeployment of Technowar can only result in another massive defeat."
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

According to Gibson, Vietnam was a "technowar," conceived and waged by U.S. war managers as "a high technology, capital-intensive production process." It was neither a mistake nor a problem of ailing national will. It was rather the perfect expression of the American logic of making war on invented enemies through highly rationalized industrial management. Gibson's argument is not altogether new; and he introduces no new evidence in support of his position. He does, however, argue his case with great energy and inventiveness, exploring the dimensions of this "technowar" from Vietnamese cities and countryside to the U.S. air war over Indochina. His analysis should be of interest to anyone seriously interested in the social and intellectual sources of Washington's war effort. Charles DeBenedetti, History Dept., Univ. of Toledo, Ohio
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Military History Series
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (February 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137999
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #777,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steven S. Berizzi on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
In preparation for and during the era of the Vietnam War, according to sociologist James William Gibson, the United States developed what he calls "Technowar," a series of concepts in which war was waged "as a kind of high-technology, capital-intensive production process." But Gibson argues that even overwhelming military force could not produce solutions to political problems. Summaring the experience of Vietnam, Gibson writes: "It should be amply clear that Technowar has the capacity to destroy, but it cannot persuade political leaders and entire societies to simply give up and submit to American will." This was a disastrous, perhaps fatal, flaw in the United States' approach to this conflict and largely explains why the U.S. lost the Vietnam War without being beaten on the battlefield.
Gibson writes that the United States should have learned from France's defeat in its Indochina War in the early 1950s, in spite of massive infusions of American aid, that "[w]hat the Vietminh had lacked in techno-capital they made up for by mobilizing people." However, Gibson quotes Henry Kissinger that,"since 1945, American foreign policy has been based `on the assumption that technology plus managerial skill gave us the ability to reshape the international system." According to Gibson, Kissinger devised a strategic doctrine in which, "[b]y virtue of its technological production system, the United States [could] achieve its foreign-policy objectives by limited wars fought as wars of attrition."
John Kennedy, the first president born in the 20th-century, and his advisors naturally embraced the ideas that became Technowar: "With the appointment of Robert S.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Eslinger on September 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book looks at the Vietnam War in a perspective that can be deeply appreciated by someone who had a four year involvement in it. I couldn't put the book down. Having spent two tours
in-country, being non-military, but supporting the US Army, in both combat and non-combat situations, this book cleared up a lot of "why in the world is this or that happening"? Also, there were several situations that Gibson mentioned that I was a participant in and his writing gives me the notion that he does have some idea of what he speaks.
I do not believe he was leaning to the communist efforts, this writing was about our side. I also know that everyone there was not a dope smoking idiot, but the way MANAGEMENT handled most situations, made a sane person wonder what in the heck were THEY thinking and whos side were THEY on? I have never seen such waste of assets and personnel!
I believe everyone who was there would have a better understanding of all of the goofyness that went on, and there was plenty of it, if they would read this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By F on May 27, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I was a Marine Amtrac crewman in Nam until wounded and evacuated, spent the next year on a casualty ward at Bethesda Nacal Hospitl, spent 1974.75 as a stringer for Army times between Viet Nam and Cambodia, and for the next thirty years covered the miitary for Universal Press Syndicate, the Washington Times, and so on. I wass in the war, saw the war, and know the military. The Perfect War is exactly right.

A review is not the place to recapitulae the sutpidity, ignorance of the country and language, the self-serving behavior of the officer corps in sacrificing the troops for their own careers, the corruption, waste, and all the rest. The book does this well.

And you could go through and change "Viet Nam" to "Afghanist" and have a book not much less accurate. The military has learned nothing about fighting wars, though much about controlling unrest at home.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By bobby nyc on February 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
One of the enduring themes in the literature about the Vietnam war has been "why did the us do X?" In books, novels and movies you get there is a sense that the US simply failed about in Vietnam trying one thing and then another with no real plan, no ideas, just trying anything that came to mind or in the end simply indulging in mindless destruction out of sheer spite with a bit of maddness tossed in "we destroyed the village in order to save it."

What this book does - and I think does well, postulates a shared mind set among the policy makers of the country be they democrat or republican and when viewed through the prism of that mind set: everything the United States did in Viet Nam makes complete and perfect sense at least viewed within the context of that Mind set. No other book I have ever read about Viet Nam has done that for me. All them at some point in time have just tossed up their hands and surrender to the mystery.

It's a depressing read in many ways - and far too relevent today as we struggle to extracate ourselves from Iraq and Afganistain with many of the same arguments being heard again and everybody feeling they have no real choice since the midset is so narrow.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By flux1968 on July 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gibson does a great job of providing a framework to understand Us policy during the Vietnam War. Many other reviewers have focused on how Gibson discussed the "incomptence" of the military, but they missed the point completely. Gibson's main concern was to show how policy was, and is, guided by an imperial ideology which can be stated as: "The United States has the most desirable social system in the world and it is our right, in fact our duty, to 'encourage' others to adopt it." In Vietnam, as in various other countries, encouragement came at the other end of a bomb.
US policies weren't "incompetent" as much as they were the logical outcome of the imperial premise. From here, you can see how the corporate managerial perspective viewed the war as an assembly line geared towards producing a commodity: body counts.
It would be wrong to view this as an overview of the war however as he spends less time discussing the NLF side of things than the US side. For something more general, I would recommend Marilyn Young's "The Vietnam Wars."
As for those who criticize Gibson for bias, these accusations stem from a pro-US viewpoint, so how are you not biased? In fact by implying that supporting the United States is "normal" and that any other opinion is biased [and wrong], you only prove Gibson's point about the ideological blinkers that help produce horrific wars, like the most recent ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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