The Columbia History of the Vietnam War

Article excerpt

The Columbia History of the Vietnam War

edited by David L. Anderson

New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2010

488 pages

$65.00

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In the preface of this book, David L. Anderson states that his aim is "to provide a reliable historical perspective on the Vietnam War to advance accurate scholarship and sound policymaking," while demonstrating that the war has striking relevance to contemporary issues and challenges. In pursuit of this goal, the editor provides a collection of essays on the Vietnam War by fourteen of the most recognized and acclaimed scholars of the war; the essays focus on the political, historical, military, and social issues that defined this controversial conflict and its continuing impact on the United States and Vietnam.

Anderson, professor of history at California State University, Monterey Bay, and former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations is eminently qualified to preside over this retrospective; his ten earlier books include Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War, and Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre.

Anderson opens the book with a short and concise overview of the Vietnam War that addresses the war's major moments and explores some of its major themes. He begins with a discussion of early Vietnamese history, French colonialism, the First Indochina War, and a focus on the American war in Vietnam. The author presents the historical antecedents of American involvement in Southeast Asia and continues through the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Anderson closes the introductory essay with a discussion of "The War That Will Not Go Away," addressing a number of topics, such as American Vietnam veterans, the war in film and literature, and American foreign policy in the aftermath of the war. This brief introduction sets the stage for the essays that follow.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section takes a chronological approach to discussing the war. Mark Philip Bradley provides a reexamination of Vietnamese revolutionary nationalism and the Vietminh-led war against the French. Richard H. Immerman looks at nation-building efforts and relations with the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. Gary R. Hess examines America's military commitment under Kennedy and Johnson, enumerating eight steps made during these administrations that deepened the American commitment. Lloyd C. Gardner discusses the motivations behind Johnson's escalation of force. Robert J. …