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Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War Paperback – February 11, 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
Personally, I found this book is an incredibly involving recount and analysis of the Vietnam War. I thought I had a fairly in-depth understanding of the Vietnam War beforehand, but quickly discovered that there was so much I was never aware of. Because Kissinger was part of the inner circle of powers that shaped the Vietnam conflict, he writes from a vantage point only an insider can lay claim to. The competing egos, opposing political agendas, infighting, confusion, hope and desperation-all these factors played a part in the conflict and Kissinger does a wonderful job of presenting how each influenced the Vietnam War.
I picked up this book one weekend and could not put it down. If you're looking for an engaging reading on the Vietnam War, you cannot go wrong with this selection.
Henry Kissinger has written a new book, "Ending the VietnamWar; a History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War", (Simon and Schuster) that documents his version of the events leading up to American withdrawal from Indochina. And while a large part of the book is drawn from his previously published memoirs, this new book on Vietnam provides fresh information and historical material that make it must reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of war in Vietnam.
As usual, Kissinger writes cogently about his perspective of history. He's as feisty as ever, too. While he acknowledges that the Nixon and Ford administrations (in which he played crucial roles) made their shares of mistakes, he doesn't hesitate to take on his legion of critics. In fact, Kissinger cedes nothing to his enemies in the government and the media who continue to lambast him as some sinister, Dr. Strangelove-like manipulator of American foreign policy. And he laments the fact that the war in Vietnam has become a scar, as it were, on his record as a statesman:
"A balanced judgment on Vietnam continues to elude us--and therefore the ability to draw lessons from a national tragedy which America inflicted on itself," Kissinger writes in the Foreword to his new book. "As a result, Vietnam has become the black hole of American historical memory."
Kissinger then sets forth his version of the Vietnam experience in considerable detail drawn from his perspective--and buttressed by his access to State Department records. It is a familiar story, spun out masterfully in Kissinger's readable style. In a fascinating narrative, he weaves in such key developments as the French colonial experience, the performance of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, the opening to China, Watergate, and the Vietnam peace negotiations in Paris (for which Kissinger and Le Duc Tho won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973), and finally the collapse of the American position in Indochina--with the United States watching "as an impotent spectator."
Most of the book focuses on the Nixon-Ford years when Kissinger was the linchpin in the evolution of American foreign policy in general, and the tragic developments in Indochina, in particular. Kissinger clearly wants to go on the record to defend and clarify, as necessary, the existing historical record of the debacle in Vietnam.
Kissinger uses "Ending the War in Vietnam" to takes stock, and tries to lay down some lessons learned. In the process, he settles some old scores. Here's his take on the liberals and what he perceives to be their aversion to foreign policy that has led to Republican control of the White House for 16 of the last 28 years:
"The liberal wing of the generation whose formative experience had been during the (Vietnam) war recoiled from the use of American power. It focused its efforts on the so-called 'soft issues,' such as the environment that did not imply reliance on military force.... On the whole, this group distrusted the concept of national interest unless it could be presented as in the service of some 'unselfish' cause--hence the devotion to multilateralism.... As a result, strategy became largely the provenance of American conservatives and neoconservatives."
The domino theory still exists, according to Kissinger, except the dominos that were to ultimately fall weren't those that were in fashion in the 1960's when the domino theory was first advanced. Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines still have their independence, but in more distant places, other dominos were to topple in the aftermath of Vietnam. The United States was weakened by its defeat in Vietnam, with the result that some of its stronger allies, such as the Shah of Iran, fell from power. Cubans destabilized parts of Africa. Even the Soviet Union fell when it overextended itself in places like Afghanistan.
According to Kissinger, lessons learned from the Vietnam experience are important ones: "One clear lesson...is the importance of absolute honesty and objectivity in all reporting, within and from the government as well as from the press."
At times, this book can be heart-breaking, particularly the chapters on Cambodia. This writer spent three years covering the war in Cambodia and indeed was one of the 82 Americans who left in U.S. helicopters in the final evacuation of Phnom Penh just before the Cambodian capital fell to the Khmer Rouge. Prime Minister Long Boret was a friend, and it was painful to read once again about his brutal demise (he was shot to death by the Khmer Rouge within hours of their takeover of the city).
Kissinger provides interesting and personal insights on Cambodia. He tells how he and his ambassador to Cambodia, John Gunther Dean, and the rest of the State Department tried desperately through diplomatic channels to salvage Cambodia. But the U.S. Congress would have none of it, and made the tragic mistake of thinking that the suffering could only end in Cambodia if the United States withdrew. Consequently, on March 13, Congress voted to immediately end all aid to Cambodia and Vietnam.
Cambodians revered Prince Norodom Sihanouk, in exile in Beijing, and he was a last resort to salvage a peace before the country entered into its own holocaust at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. But, Kissinger says, even Sihanouk and his patrons, the Chinese government, had lost control of the situation. The Khmer Rouge had achieved unstoppable momentum, and the vote in Congress was the signal that the Khmer Rouge (and the North Vietnamese) needed to mount the final siege that was to come within weeks.
From the Cambodian perspective, one final, appropriate comment came from Sirik Matak, a former prime minister, who had been close to the Americans. When Dean gave the order to evacuate Phnom Penh, he offered to evacuate Sirik Matak on one of the U.S. Marine choppers. But Sirik Matak refused. Instead, he penned the following handwritten note to Dean:
"I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.
"You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you (the Americans)."
Five days later, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. Their retribution was swift, and Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach. He received no medical aid, and he died a painful death three days later. His demise was to be followed over the next four years by at least a million of his countrymen as the Khmer Rouge instituted their horrendous campaign of genocide.
Note: The reviewer was a foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia and Japan for United Press International from 1970-1980. He lives in Phippsburg, Maine, and is president of Marks & Frederick Associates LLC, a strategic marketing firm in the news and information industries.
Regardless of one's opinions of Dr. Kissinger, his contribution to the field of political science: diplomacy, foreign policy and international relations, is unquestionable. During his long and often tumultuous career, Dr. K has met with the most notable global powers and has been at the fore of many of the most pressing political issues of the last forty years. Perhaps the most important and certainly most noted were his negotiations to end the Vietnam War.
In this one volume, taken from his memoirs and supplemented with new information, Kissinger examines not only the Nixon administrations attempts at finding a resolution to the conflict, but also discusses the long history of American entanglement in the conflict.
Once the historical basis is firmly in place, Kissinger delves into the negotiations between himself and high-level North Vietnamese cadre, namly Le Duc Tho.
Dr. K's discussion and analysis of the negotiations not only well illustrates the steps of American foreign policy (interesting in their own right) but allows the reader to see deeper into the Vietnam Conflict and why it took so long to conclude.
Kissinger also discusses his controversial role in the bombing of Cambodia and Laos. Much has been written to condemn Dr. K, and although his analysis of the bombing is enlightening, the work does little in the way of vindication.
All in all, Kissinger provides a very good source documenting his participation in the Vietnam War and the subsequent de-escalation, as well as illustrating the process of high-level negotiations in global diplomacy.
I can't say it was a bad book. I learned a lot. I finished it with a new appreciation for the difficult situation we were in. It changed some of my opinions about this war and reinforced others. But, a history of America's involvement in the war it was not. There is anectotal information on the broader military and political context at best. Most of the book is a meticulous account of the negotiations between Kissinger and the N. Vietnamese.