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Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama Hardcover – May 26, 2011
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A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"What a terrific book! Scrupulously researched and beautifully told, Haunting Legacy proves that try as they might, our past seven presidents have—one after the next— failed to exorcize the ghost of Vietnam. From Ford to Obama each one has seen the Vietnam War intrude on his campaigns (think draft dodging and swift boating) and his decisionmaking (think military action). It's a fresh look at late 20th/early 21stcentury American history."—Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes
"The ghost of the Vietnam War has influenced and haunted two generations of American policymakers. Now, a brilliant two-generation team looks at that legacy in an insightful and fascinating way. This is great narrative history and biography combined to create informative case studies."—Walter Isaacson
, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute
"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome,' crowed President George H. W. Bush when he repelled Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991. He was wrong. The Vietnam debacle continues to haunt America's political leaders, military men, and population. Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb's account of this phenomenon is studiously researched, vividly narrated, and, above all, highly readable. It will stand as a major contribution to the subject."—Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"More than three decades after its end, the Vietnam War continues to influence American attitudes toward sending troops abroad. In readable prose, the Kalbs's book skillfully and perceptively analyzes this haunting legacy from the administration of Gerald Ford to that of Barack Obama."—George C. Herring, author, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975
"Vietnam continues to be an albatross, circling the White House. In a compelling and totally accessible book, the Kalbs (father and daughter) show how profoundly America's defeat in Vietnam has affected one U.S. administration after another, over the course of the past thirty-six years. If you wonder whether Vietnam still matters, it does. Read this book and discover why and how."—Ted Koppel, anchor of ABC's Nightline for twenty-five years
" Haunting Legacy is a gripping, fascinating account of how the Vietnam War has lived on in the psyches of our national leaders and put its stamp on our foreign policy ever since. This powerful and insightful book shows us how that long and painful war has never really ended in Washington."—Elizabeth Drew, political journalist
"In this masterful work of historical reflection combined with good old-fashioned reporting and research, the Kalbs remind us how the shadow of losing a war influenced a president's choices on subsequent interventions. The chapters on Obama and Afghanistan poignantly remind us that perhaps the most dangerous form of human error is forgetting what one is trying to achieve. Haunting Legacy should be required reading for all occupants of the White House and every presidential aspirant."—Larry Berman, author of Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam and No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam
About the Author
Marvin Kalb is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice (Emeritus) at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and founding director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. His distinguished journalism career covers thirty years of award-winning reporting and commentary for CBS and NBC News, including stints as bureau chief in Moscow and host of Meet the Press. His eleven previous books include The Nixon Memo (University of Chicago) and Kissinger (Little Brown). He hosts the Kalb Report at the National Press Club.
Deborah Kalb, a freelance writer and editor, worked as a journalist in Washington for two decades, including writing for Gannett News Service, Congressional Quarterly, U.S. News & World Report, and The Hill. Both authors live in the Washington, D.C. area.
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While interesting to read the timeline of Presidents' experience with Vietman and subsequent "fallout" through the years from Ford to Obama while they dealt with the so called "legacy" that Kalb and his wife cover in this book, I was surprised to find that Kalb often strayed from "objective journalism" and offered a fair amount of unsubstantiated personal opinion and remarks on decisions made by current and past Presidents without really "fleshing out" the motives, facts involved on "all sides" within the context of the actual time in history that the decisions and events took place. I also found Kalb's personal bias expressed at numerous junctures in this book to lack sufficient research to support the opinions and claims he and his wife have made. Frankly, I expected better from a man whom I previously respected as one of the few journalists that remain in this fast moving, "tabloid news" world we live in. If this book is to be considered part of Kalb's journalistic "legacy"...it is sadly lacking.
The problem with this book is that the authors don't carry the thesis far enough. Why limit the analysis to the conduct of foreign policy? In fact, the age of Vietnam changed the American society and its experiment with the democratic process. The real issue is whether the change made the country better - or worse.
Marvin Kalb had a distinguished career as a CBS television correspondent that stretches back to before Vietnam. He and his daughter, Deborah Kalb, provide us with a good account of American foreign policy over the last half-century. Clearly, the U.S. defeat in Vietnam has - and continues to have - an enormous impact on how presidents direct our international affairs.
Not surprisingly, though, there is the expected political bias in their account. For the most part Democrat administrations come off far more favorably in the conduct of foreign affairs than Republican administrations. That bias, in this reviewer's opinion, is typical of the mainstream media that has a decidedly liberal outlook on foreign affairs. For that reason, this reviewer also recommends the book, PRESIDENTIAL COMMAND, by Peter W. Rodman, published in 2009. Rodman covers much of the same material that the Kalbs do, but with a more authoritative perspective.
But the Kalbs' book, Haunting Legacy, is a good summary of the foreign affairs in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Their chapter on the administration of Barack Obama is particularly good, in this reviewer's opinion.
But HAUNTING LEGACY could have been an even better book if the Kalbs had expanded their horizon to domestic affairs, as well as foreign affairs. After all, much of the traditional strength of American society was broken down by the contentiousness of the war in Vietnam. In the wake of the Vietnam War, national unity was shattered, partisan politics became the norm, and both the left and the right became less tolerant of the issues facing the United States.
Even as the anti-war protestors broke the laws of our land, they left a legacy where there is much less respect for our societal standards and customs. LBJ's "Great Society" transformed our culture even as Johnson waged his war in Vietnam. The "War on Poverty" created a system of institutionalized entitlement programs that drained the national budget and destroyed the family structure at many levels; Martin Luther King's triumphant civil rights campaign has degenerated into a perverse form of reverse discrimination driven by such programs as long outdated affirmative action; our nation is occupied by millions of illegal immigrants; and free love and drug use has restructured our society (not to mention the Mexican society). The inside-the-beltway mentality in Washington, DC is now driven by political correctness where fiscal discipline is a fading memory.
Timidity in foreign affairs is one obvious influence of Vietnam. A breakdown in our society is another legacy that deserves a thoughtful analysis that the Kalbs could have provided us - if they broadened their thesis behind this book.