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Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591146747
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591146742
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beginning in 1954, Phillips spent almost 10 years doing undercover and pacification work for the CIA and the U.S. Agency for International Development in South Vietnam. In the high-level power struggle over America's Vietnam policy. Phillips, then a government adviser, was a strong proponent of helping build a stable democratic government that the South Vietnamese would willingly fight to preserve from the Communist North—and a vocal opponent of sending in American combat troops. In this sober and informed memoir, Phillips provides a fascinating look at the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' refusal to give more than lip service to pacification, with revealing portraits of such figures as the singular Maj. Gen. Edward Lansdale, South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem, President Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and other prominent officials. Phillips states firmly that those best and brightest, especially McNamara, exhibited poor judgment, bureaucratic prejudice, and personal hubris as they steered Vietnam War policy on a disastrous course. Phillips's short chapter on lessons the U.S. should have learned from the Vietnam War should be mandatory reading in Washington, D.C. Maps. (Oct. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Rufus Phillips became a member of the Saigon Military Mission in 1954 and the following year served as the sole adviser to two Vietnamese army pacification operations, earning the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work. He later worked as a CIA civilian case officer in Vietnam and Laos, then joined the U.S. Agency for International Development's Saigon Mission to lead its counterinsurgency efforts. In 1964 he became a consultant for USAID and the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He lives in Arlington, VA.

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Customer Reviews

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I've lost count of the number of books I've read on Viet Nam - and this book has to be one of the best.
Patrick J. Wilkie
This book should be read by everyone who hopes that US military power can be used in a more thoughtful way as we try to navigate our way through dangerous times.
Stanley A. Zuckerman
The pity is, they're missing a mighty fine book and the many useful insights that it offers, in the case of Rufus Phillips' new work.
Bruce Kinsey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ted Marks on November 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the Vietnam War recedes into the fog of history, many people have the perception that it was a bad war waged by a group of American ne'er do wells who had little understanding of Vietnam, its people and its culture. To many Americans, the war in Vietnam is best forgotten, consigned to the ash bed of history.

In a new book, WHY VIETNAM MATTERS: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF LESSONS NOT LEARNED, Rufus Phillips gives us a different perspective. Phillips tells us that the American war in Vietnam was an honorable one, in intent, that was mismanaged by senior U.S. officials in Washington and Saigon. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there were plenty of Americans on the ground, according to Phillips, who knew the country intimately and offered Washington valuable insights into the dynamics of contemporary Vietnam. The problem, Phillips concludes, was that they were ignored.

This is a fascinating book that tells the story of American civilians that were sent into the trenches of Saigon politics and provincial governments to figure out who the Vietnamese were and how was the best way to help them. Alas, their efforts were for naught as Lyndon Johnson and the generals in the Pentagon brushed aside recommendations by Phillips and his colleagues -- and simply ran the war as they saw fit, irregardless of the conditions on the ground.

And therein lies the real message of this book: the power brokers in Washington have assumed total control of American foreign policy, to the exclusion of any external influences.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kinsey on November 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Phillips, who was one of the first team members chosen by the legendary Ed Lansdale, spins a detailed and fascinating account of the first years of America's attempts to "pacify" South Vietnam.

It is a tale of woe, full of misunderstandings, political intrigue, and bureaucratic backbiting, but also of courage, innovation, good humor, and the best in American idealism. Through it all, Phillips and Lansdale tried mightily to do the right thing, recognizing more than nearly any other major American or Vietnamese players, that the key to success in Vietnem lay in convincing a hapless, inexperienced and badly frightened South Vietnamese government to provide effective security and government services to its citizens, partucularly in rural areas.

Phillips' involvement in Vietnam, and thus his book, end in early 1968. Ironically, it was only a few months thereafter, with a change of American command and philosophy, and a redetermined effort on the part of the South Vietnamese government, that many of the elusive goals which Phillips and Lansdale had been pursuing since the late 1950s were finally - though, unfortunately, temporaily - attained.

When it comes to examining the Vietnam war, and drawing useful conclusions from it, the vast majority of Americans have been cowed into stuffing their heads deeply into the sand. The pity is, they're missing a mighty fine book and the many useful insights that it offers, in the case of Rufus Phillips' new work. They oughta start reading.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Henry T. Gallagher on March 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Rural Hearts and Minds

At first blush one can understand why the publishers hesitated and said, "No, not another book about Vietnam!" But when you start turning the pages of Why Vietnam Matters, you know why it is relevant today with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That relevance was underscored by Richard Holbrooke, the president's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who wrote the forward to the book. Holbrooke (whom Phillips first hired as a young Foreign Service officer in Vietnam) wrote that the book "contains important lessons for the wars America is currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." It's no surprise, then, that the author has been called in to meet with current administration foreign policy makers and to offer his thoughts on counterinsurgency warfare.

I followed Rufus' first generation of young American civilian rural affairs workers into Vietnam in 1966. We were energetic and enthusiastic as we worked alongside Vietnamese rural officials in trying to encourage the central government to make a footprint in the countryside with a suspecting and mistrusting civilian population in order to counter the efforts of the Viet Cong. Our Vietnamese counterparts were just as patriotic as were their northern cousins.

Phillips is right on target when he says that counterinsurgency is simply a mission that seeks to protect the people. We cannot and should not do it all with bombs. One wonders what the outcome would have been in Vietnam had General Creighton ("Protect the People") Abrams been sent out to Vietnam in 1964 by President Johnson rather than General William ("Search and Destroy") Westmorland.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Coate on December 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A phenomenal read. Rufus works through facts, observations and experiences in such personal detail you understand the lessons of Viet Nam without the partisan takes, media spin and "dumbing down". Rather than sweep it under the rug, the author gives a cultural perspective that easily translates into our Western viewpoints.
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