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Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195152432
ISBN-10: 0195152433
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John Kennedy's presidency has taken a beating in the historical literature of the past few years, in what Lawrence Freedman wryly calls "the drive to replace history as celebration by history as indictment." Kennedy's performance was, Freedman holds, mixed at best, but it reveals a complex personality and an equally complex set of viewpoints over how the United States could best maintain its role as world leader and contain communism.

Drawing on a wealth of new material--including a 25-volume official documentary history of U.S. foreign relations under Kennedy and declassified transcripts of Cabinet meetings held during the Cuban missile crisis--Freedman examines the intellectual and political contexts of the Kennedy administration, giving attention to largely overlooked actors such as Dean Acheson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Theodore Sorensen, and Walt Rostow, all of whom influenced the conduct of the administration as it confronted military and political foes around the world. Freedman scrutinizes Kennedy's efforts to stabilize fledgling democracies and thwart communist designs in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Some of those efforts led to disaster, including Kennedy's misguided actions in Vietnam (which, the author argues, "compounded the folly of the Eisenhower administration"). Still, by the time of Kennedy's death, in November 1963, some of the administration's efforts had paid off. As Freedman notes, in October 1963, Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy to propose not only a program of arms control, but also a relaxation of tensions over the Soviet encirclement of Berlin, opening the way to the détente that would come only much later. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Freedman, a professor of war studies at Kings' College, London, studies the evolution of JFK's foreign-policy strategy. Freedman opens with several chapters on the cold war within a section that describes key New Frontiersmen, the worldview they brought to Washington, and the major issues they faced. Eight chapters are devoted to Berlin and nuclear strategy, 14 to Cuba, 4 to JFK's work on a test-ban treaty and on taking advantage of the Sino-Soviet split, and 11 to Laos and Vietnam. Freedman seeks a middle course between hagiographers and revisionists; he argues Kennedy had a thoughtful, consistent strategy "dominated by a determination to avoid . . . nuclear cataclysm . . . without giving ground in the cold war." A gracefully written, thoroughly documented analysis of a pivotal period in U.S. history. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195152433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195152432
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 1.2 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book about John F. Kennedy's foreign policy focuses on the United States' confrontation with the Soviet Union over Berlin 1961, the nearly cataclysmic events in Cuba, and the deepening U.S. involvement in Indochina, which culminated in the overthrow and murder of the prime minister of South Vietnam just weeks before President Kennedy, himself, was assassinated. Is it appropriate to emphasize "wars" in a book about foreign policy? The answer, of course, is: Yes. Author Lawrence Freedman, one of Britain's leading authorities on the Cold War, does not expressly invoke Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means, but every reader knows that diplomacy and military power often are inextricably linked. On few occasions in American history has this been more true than during the "High" Cold War, the dangerous period between the first Berlin crisis in 1948 and the Cuba missile crisis in 1962. Freedman's fascinating, if occasionally frustrating book, examines the relationship between foreign and military policy at a time when U.S. and the Soviet Union confronted each other, directly or through surrogates, in venues throughout the world, several of which could have, by a single miscalculation, led to nuclear Armageddon.
If John Kennedy genuinely deserves of the judgment of history as great, it is because of the remarkably cool judgment during the missile crisis. According to Freedman, Kennedy followed this advice in a book written by British military historian and strategist Basil Liddell Hart, which Kennedy reviewed shortly before his election: "Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save his face.
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Format: Paperback
Sir Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, since 1982 and is an outstanding researcher and writer. This book is a very scholarly look at President Kennedy's performance in four hot spots of the Cold War: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. It's must reading for anyone who wants to understand Kennedy's approach to crisis management, also for those who think that Kennedy would have kept the Vietnam War from being an American war--that is, with Lyndon Johnson's later deployment of large numbers of American ground troops. Unlike the recent book Death of a Generation, by Howard Jones, which argues that Kennedy would never have turned Vietnam into an American war, Freedman's view is that we can't know what Kennedy would have done in 1965 when the government of Vietnam was on the brink of being defeated by a stepped-up Viet Cong insurgency. The situation in Vietnam during the years 1961 to 1963, covered by this book, was very different from that in 1965, when U.S. choices were very limited: basically either insert significant numbers of U.S. troops, or see South Vietnam fall to the communists, an unacceptable outcome for any American president at that time. The South Vietnames army was weak, and U.S. air power alone, used both in North and South Vietnam, could not alone have turned the tide (airpower never does, though today it has become an increasingly significant key to victory). Sir Lawrence has researched thousands of documents, summaries of administration meetings, and state department cables. His views are both documented and balanced. No one studying this period in U.S. and world history, and conflicts in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam, can do without reading this first-rate book.
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Format: Paperback
In "Kennedy's Wars," British historian Lawrence Freedman provides a detached, clear-eyed review of the foreign policy of the Kennedy Administration from 1961 to 1963. Freedman discusses in depth the Administration's responses to ongoing and somewhat overlapping crises in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Freedman provides vital context in terms both of the intermal dynamics of Kennedy's foreign policy and of the ongoing Cold War competition with the Soviet Union and its attendant shadow of potential nuclear war. Few modern readers, for example, remember the keen edge of the struggle over the status of Berlin in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Visible throughout is the education of a young John F. Kennedy as President, learning from the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs operation to become progressively more skeptical of his own advisors and more pragmatic about what could realistically be accomplished in foreign affairs and made palatable to the American public. Kennedy's insistence on keeping options open over foreclosing them through quick decisions was both a strength and a weakness, in that flexibility was seemingly preserved, at the price of a sometimes chaotic foreign policy process.

Freedman's research appears thorough and his presentation is consistently even-handed. His understanding of the dynamics and challenges of nuclear deterrence is worth savoring for its remarkable clarity. The concluding chapters on the long descent of America into involvement in Vietnam is especially poignant, as the reader knows the tragic outcome, but these chapters may also offer the most compelling lessons of the book.
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