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Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam Paperback – September 20, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Decisive military superiority, not fear of a communist planet, steered the United States into the Southeast Asian debacle, argues Vietnam historian Porter in this provocative but scholarly work. This revisionist premise-which suggests that, in the '60s, the U.S. acted as the world's lone superpower in much the same fashion as it does today-upends traditional thinking on the war's major cause. Porter also contends that successive national security advisors were determined to press these advantages despite the reluctance of their commanders-in-chiefs. These fascinating assessments are intertwined with familiar themes, such as Eisenhower's determination to avoid sending troops to aid France in its last ditch attempt at Dien Bien Phu. Johnson's advisors' use of the domino theory, the belief that the fall of South Vietnam would unleash communism throughout the region, as a political tool to convince the president and the public to press forward with escalation is one of the book's more engrossing arguments. But Porter's belief that Johnson "was never held in thrall by any Cold War doctrine... to save South Vietnam" is curious in light of the above. It also ignores strong influences shaping his subsequent actions in Vietnam: the 1949 "loss of China" to communism and the resulting McCarthyite hysteria. Nevertheless, Porter's intriguing reinterpretation of Vietnam politics is certain to stoke debate among academics.
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"This will be the most important contribution to our understanding of the war in Vietnam since the Pentagon Papers. I am not exaggerating or speaking for effect. Porter challenges--by and large successfully--most of the accepted views, especially on the importance of the domino theory, the belief that U.S. policy was driven by a perception of its weakness on the world scene, and the belligerence of Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Kennedy."
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Top Customer Reviews
"Perils of Dominance" takes a topic of mind-boggling complexity, weaves a clear and consistent narrative from all the elements, and presents a picture staggering in its basic indictment of back-stabbing, endless lying, high crimes and misdemeanors, and outright treason. The traitors were the Hawk extremists who did all they could to drag John F. Kennedy(who successfully resisted until his execution) and Lyndon Johnson(whose resistance weakened under his huge domestic goals) into the war that killed 60,000 American soldiers and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians. Perhaps the most surprising and moving part of "Perils" is the picture of Lyndon Johnson, a strong opponent of expansion from Dallas through his defeat of Goldwater. We know of Tonkin Gulf, of course. And LBJ has been crucified for 40 years because of the deceptions involved. Porter shows us that it was Johnson himself who was most skeptical of the torpedo lies. And it was Johnson himself who trashed the attempts of the Hawks following the initial incident to fabricate more Tonkin Gulf-type phony attacks to justify the bombing of the North and takeover of the war by the U.S. military. Once elected, of course, LBJ gave up the ghost and the rest is genocidal history.
The real hero of the book is John F. Kennedy. Kaiser, Jones and Newman had gone pretty far in making the case that if not for Dallas, there would have been no wider war. And the horrors of the 60s and 70s for Southeast Asia would have been avoided. (At least the U.S. generated part of it.) Gareth Porter clinches it. Kennedy here is a true Machiavellian, outflanking and trumping opponents of his anti-war policy, playing things very close to the vest. Until Diem. The murders of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother shocked Kennedy. And -- perhaps for the first time -- he understood exactly what he was up against. In the weeks that followed, he spoke often of his own death and possible assassination. Including the morning of November 22, 1963.
One hopes for a sequel from Porter, taking us through the anguish of Johnson's second term, and into the intentional genocide of the Whittier Vampire and his Nobel Peace Prize-winning lapdog.
that has been known for some time in a very different light,
casting doubts not only as to how we have viewed the conflicts
in Southeast Asia, but the entire Cold War as well, right up to
the "perils" of the present American dominance
Interesting to this reader was how our real or perceived power dominance was applied to our Cold War Viet Nam decision making. It's generally assumed the stronger our military the safer and better off we'll be. But Porter shows how the perception of having the upper hand led us into danger, loss and defeat while dismissing an early option for a peaceful resolution we'd have been thrilled to accept later.
Another notable message here is that although our leaders' repeatedly claimed the domino theory meant a defeat in South Viet Nam would lead to a path of losses worldwide eventually threatening us at our borders, even our leaders didn't accept this theory. The more genuine reasons were much more political and involved "motivational bias" in which things are perceived as threats not because they actually are but because it serves interests to regard them as threats. Probably neither LBJ, McNamera and most of the NSC then believed South Viet Nam itself had value to us. What they believed was that the loss of South Viet Nam would reduce our world influence and credibility in our dominance, and have profoundly adverse domestic political consequences.