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  • George C. * Herring. America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. 4th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2002.
  • Robert D. Schulzinger. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975. New York : Oxford University Press, 1997.

Background to the conflict

(to come)

America's involvement and escalation

The most prominent work on this phase of the war is David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest. In the early 1960s, Halberstam reportage from Vietnam won a Pulitzer Prize. His book, focusing on the years 1961-1965, is based largely on interviews with key members of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The 20th anniversary edition, published in 1993, includes Halberstam's account of how he came to write the book.

Tom Demharter finds in the book "a near exhaustive overview of those Kennedy sought out to assist him in foreign policy decision making." Jim Daniels agrees, noting particularly Halberstam's portrayal of the distortions of facts by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and top generals. But Demharter notes that "the Vietnam conflict did not begin with the election of John Kennedy in 1960. Instead, Vietnam was a problem that had been developing throughout the presidencies of both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman." And he laments Halberstam's reliance on interviews with people who remain anonymous, three decades after publication.

  • McMaster, H. R. Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, 1997.

Decision-making and the War

With forty plus years of hindsight, it is easy to declare that military involvement in Vietnam was a bad bet, but it also raises the question of what led the Johnson Adminstration to undertake it? Was it part of the Cold War's strategic scope or was it something far more human? These books attempt to find the answers to those questions.

In Gary Hess's book Presidential Decisions for War, we find a book wich attempt to find a common thread of decision-making logic between Korea, Vietnam, and the Dessert Storm. The work raises some interesting points about how the various executive administrations functioned and the how the individuals in them interacted, but it struggles due to dissimiliar comparisons. Hess argues that the three concerns which have shaped American military interventions in the Post-WWII world are: One What does the US have to gain from the intervention? Two, How does success or failure on the battlefield shape American committment? An three, What variations on the conflict's end-

   game can be acceptable, and what causes 
   these changes?

Far more insightful is Yuen Foong Khong book Analogies at War in which the author aruges that the use of analogies by policmakers effected decisions that led American to war. Khong's book is half psychology text and half historical analysis. Using this approach, Khong argues that Johnson's acceptance of Vietnam being analogous to the Korean conflict was at the root of his decision to commit troops.

The American experience in Vietnam


In Working Class War, Christain Appy provides the reader with a convincing argument that those who bore the personal costs of the war in Vietnam were mostly those Americans who came from modest, working-class backgrounds. Appy accomplishes this by giving the reader both statistical information, but also numer0us first-hand accounts of Vietnam Veterans who experienced the conflict.

  • Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
  • Alain C. Enthovan & K. Wayne Smith. How Much Is Enough: Shaping the Defense Program 1961-1969. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. reprinted 2005 by The RAND Corporation. 337p.
  • Michael S Foley. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 385p.
  • Lyndon Johnson confronts the world: American foreign policy 1963-1968, by Nancy Bernkoph Tucker.
  • Nixon’s Vietnam War, by Jeffrey Kimball.

The international perspective

Tom Demharter writes that George Herring's book, America's Longest War"looks at the war from every side, including America, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Europe, the Soviet Union and China. This is an important idea to understand. By providing these various points of view, the reader truly gets a feel for just how complex this topic is. This was not just an American war; the United States and the policy that it developed towards the war was being influenced by many factors both inside and outside of America."


Jeffrey Kimball's Nixon's Vietnam War reminds us that the war did not end with the Tet Offensive of 1968. Rather, it dragged on for four years while Nixon tried various strategies not to win the war but to achieve some kind of honorable peace. These strategies ranged from "clever negotiating ploys" to the consideration of the use of nuclear weapons.

Jim Daniels writes that both The Best and the Brightest and Nixon's Vietnam Warargue that "American policy makers consistently underestimated North Vietnam's strength and resolve in the face of America's military might." By focusing on the rivalry with the Soviet Union, Americans lost sight of the particularities of Vietnam. Daniels finds Kimball's pyschological analysis of Nixon distracting.

Other books to consider:

  • James H. Willbanks, Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War


  • Leslie H. Gelb and Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked. Washington: Brookings, 1978.
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