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The War Within: America's Battle over Vietnam Hardcover – April 13, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
Wells's comprehensive examination of domestic opposition to the war in Vietnam chronicles the successes of the anti-war movement. Despite an intensive effort by the U.S. government to disrupt and divide it, the movement of 1964-1973 played a major role in restricting, deescalating and then ending our involvement in Indochina. Wells, a freelance writer, explores the acrimonious debates among high-level hawks and doves in Washington. He analyzes the effect of the movement on war policy, showing how it hindered air and ground operations during the Johnson administration, exerted a substantial impact on Nixon's Indochina policy, had a direct bearing on the deterioration of troop morale and discipline (which provided additional impetus for troop withdrawal), and ultimately led to the Watergate scandal which, as Wells tells it, played a pivotal role in ending the war. This absorbing drama filled with vivid characterizations is an impressive work of scholarship. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This history of protest activities in the United States during the Vietnam War is an important addition to the field. It complements such recent titles as Charles DeBenedetti and Charles Chatfield's An American Ordeal ( LJ 4/1/90), Charles Chatfield's The American Peace Movement (Twayne, 1992), and Melvin Small's Give Peace a Chance (Syracuse Univ. Pr, 1992). Wells concludes that activists failed to recognize their enormous impact on Congress, the White House, and U.S. public opinion and that factional squabbling within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and similar groups was self-destructive. While the hundreds of interviews with leading antiwar activists and former government officials help show the anguish of both groups, Wells's study ultimately provides a comprehensive look at the peace movement between the years 1965 and 1975. Appendixes include a chronology of events, a list of abbreviations from the period, a list of those interviewed, and a select bibliography. Highly recommended for most libraries.
- Gary D. Barber, SUNY at Fredonia Lib.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The main weakness of the book, in my opinion, is its analysis, which is weak at best and wrong at worst. After you finish the book, there is no clear explanation as to why the war ended and to what extent the movement was crucial in accomplishing its own goals. Also, in many areas of the book, one of the main radical anti-war organizations, the Socialist Workers Party, is depicted as a dogmatic Marxist sect that repeatedly undermined the movement's unity by fighting liberal or pacifist forces some of whom sought to channel the movement into the Democratic Party. While there is certainly room for criticism of the SWP's role at the time (and I have plenty), the fact of the matter is that without the SWP many, and maybe even most, of the national demonstrations against the war would not have happened at all, or if they did happen, would have been much smaller and less well organized.
People who liked this book should look into getting a few more to round out their understanding of the Vietnam war: a People's History of the Vietnam War by Jonathan Neale is an excellent analysis of the class forces in the U.S. and Vietnam from the end of WWII to the present, it covers the nature of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam and the U.S. anti-war movement, and also talks about the war's impact on Laos, Cambodia, and the U.S. after the war; grab Christian Appy's Working-Class War, which is an analysis and oral history of the working-class kids who became Vietnam GIs; and last but not least, see the new movie Sir! No Sir! which is about GI resistance to the Vietnam war, which has been written out of history because it was THE key element that brought the war to an end.
First, it was the cold war. The anti-nuclear peace movement already had deep and global roots. The anti-Vietnam war movement grew naturally out of its committed network. Such a movement is deemed - wrongly, in my view - as passe in the New World Order. Domestically, there was the civil rights movement. Many of the grassroots anti-war activists came directly out of CORE, SNCC, and even the SCLC, and saw a direct correlation between redneck headbashers in the Deep South and the same behavior (and persons) gutting Indochina. There is today no parallel home movement in the US capable of mobilizing public social consciousness in such a critical direction: if anything, this has been usurped by the right. 'Twould seem the John Birch Society, not SDS, has inherited the era's mantle.
This book was written in the mid-nineties, long before Nixon's heirs crafted the "War on Terror." Yet its concluding sentence - "But the times do suggest that those opposed to aggressive U.S. military interventions should keep their marching shoes ready" - remains clearly prescient. The real tragedy of this era was not its extremism or the polarization, but rather its shallowness and the disengaging "maturity" of its veterans. When the Bushes launched their Persian "Tonkin" Gulfs, those who survived this era - and knew better - kept their mouths shut and their eyes elsewhere. It's the John Kerrys, not the McNamaras, who have the most soul-searching yet before them.
Wells provides an almost encyclopedic chronological narrative replete with interviews. Its appearance a few years after the 1991 Gulf War also provides some perspective on how American attitudes have evolved. Wells contends that the American movement against the Vietnam war was perhaps the most successful antiwar movement in history. Nonethelss, America's surprisingly quick victory with minimal casualties in the 19912 Gulf may have reshaped the view of the military option which had haunted American foreign policy since the 1970s.
Wells concludes QUOTE So, while the public remains opposed to the spilling of American blood overseas, it seems prepared to accept - even cheer - the swift, continued use of American force. The Vietnam syndrome continues to give Washington pause. But whether it will prevent other unnecessary conflicts is, sadly, open to doubt UNQUOTE