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The Lotus Unleashed: The Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam, 1964-1966 Hardcover – December 27, 2002
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"Tells the story of how the Buddhist-inspired Struggle Movement sought to challenge the legitimacy of the Government of South Vietnam in the middle years of the 1960s."―Contemporary Buddhism
"A meticulously detailed and eminently readable account of the Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam."―Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"A major contribution to the study of the Vietnam War, The Lotus Unleashed explores the Buddhist Uprisings in the Republic of Vietnam and details their important political consequences."―Spencer C. Tucker
"Serves to remind us of the challenges and pitfalls of American involvement in far-flung conflicts."―Tacoma News-Tribune
"Argues that the United States failed to prevent a Socialist victory because it never concerned itself with Vietnamese public opinion. . . . Topmiller's compelling argument makes his book useful in many settings."―Transformations
"Presents more evidence of the force of Vietnamese nationalism . . . well-researched and clearly written."―VVA Veteran
About the Author
Robert J. Topmiller is assistant professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University.
Top customer reviews
The Lotus Unleashed makes sense of the chaos occurring within South Vietnam in the mid-1960's, as seen not only in the bitter dissension between, and within, South Vietnam's political, religious and military organizations, but also between the U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces stationed there.
Lessons, seemingly relevant to our current foreign policy, leap from the pages. Perhaps the most important of these derives from a consistent misinterpretation and mistrust by U.S. policymakers with regard to the motives of the Buddhist protesters, and other non-communist nationalist factions, who opposed the government in Saigon. This lesson, in its simplest form, might read: Because a faction does not support us, it does not necessarily mean it supports our enemy.
Topmiller sheds much new light on this crucial point in our history and presents a compelling argument that the Buddhist Peace Movement, far from being an inconsequential player in the larger struggle between the United States and Soviet Union for hegemony in the region, may well have been the last practical opportunity to avoid the ensuing tragedy that eventually cost the lives of over 58,000 Americans and nearly 3 million Vietnamese. As I finished this extraordinary book, the words of the American poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier came to mind:
"For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: It might have been!"
This is a brilliantly conceived and very badly executed book. First, the good news. Maybe I read too many "establishment" writers on the subject, but how did I go so long and not find a reference to this book? Man! It's like the Missing Link. I went to add what I learned to my existing notes--that was easy because on what Topmiller reveals, I had zero information before. This book totally refutes the diligent but misguided Marguerite Higgins and her pro-Diem raving about how the Buddhists were all Commies, and it gives frank and helpful insight into what was going on "behind the front lines," between the Saigon government under Khanh and Ky and the "Struggle Forces." Eye-opening, vital, and all those rave words.
Now the bad news. If the Kentucky Historical Society thinks this book is "eminently readable," they've been nipping too much white lightning.
Mr. Topmiller has two main themes: the culture and ideology of Buddhism, and then the "narrative history" of what happened between Diem and the election of Thieu and Ky--that sort of 'Smutnoye Vremya' of RVN history that many writers sum up as "Khanh was terrible." That makes his wonderful content all the more helpful, but had I written this book, I would have laid out the Buddhists' hopes and dreams in chapter one, so that Macauley's Every Schoolboy was clear on what they were about, and then I would have gone into the narrative of events. Mr. Topmiller chose to weave them together, in a frustratingly Melvillian manner. (Starbuck is about to harpoon a whale in Moby Dick when Melville interjects a section which should have been called, "Everything you wanted to know about whales but were afraid to ask.") Topmiller has Air Vice-Marshal Ky poised to attack Da Nang, and then chooses to regress into more Buddhist material, which hopefully the reader already gets, or got the first time around, back in chapter one. I find that frustrating. Even as narrative, the narrative part gets a little fuzzy; I read the intro twice and I'm still not sure when Khanh did what. Last negative--and this will brand me as a total dinosaur, but so be it--Mr. Topmiller, with all due respect, would not know a dependent clause if it came up to him on the street and introduced itself. OK, many contemporary writers are like that, but sometimes I don't even follow his logic through sequential simple declarative sentences. Oh well, blame the editor and move on. But the nagging question, IMO, is, "How can you communicate an interpretation of events if you have such a marginal understanding of how your own language is supposed to work?"
The review by Transformations is a cliche and a joke in my opinion; they did not see Mr. Topmiller's depth. (I saw his depth, and credit it; I just think his depth was a bit murky.) This did not strike me as a pin-the-tail-on-X-for-losing-Viet-Nam book; it's good cultural history.
The guys who nailed it were my brothers in the V.V.A.--now we're back to the good new--because Mr. Topmiller presented the Vietnamese people as three-dimensional human beings with hopes and dreams of their own. Another thing he's good for is the "hearts and mind" versus "firepower, firepower, firepower" debate. IMO, the whole war--the whole series of wars, 1945 to 1975--was about nationalism first and foremost.
Bottom line: Well worth reading, despite its faults.