The American War in Vietnam: Lessons, Legacies, and Implications for Future Conflicts

By Lawrence E.Grinter; Peter M.Dunn | Go to book overview

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Joe P. Dunn


On Legacies and Lessons: The Literature and the Debate

The search for lessons dominates the historiography of the Vietnam War. No part of the vast extant literature is more important than that which deals with how the war was fought and what can be learned from the experience. Defining and digesting the lessons of any war is an enterprise that should be approached with proper caution, and certainly this truth applies to Vietnam. During this long war, the United States applied too many lessons from previous conflicts in situations that were not analogous. But the quest for legacies and lessons is imperative.

Many scholarly conferences in recent years have debated the relevant lessons of the Vietnam experience. The edited collections of the papers and discussions of four conferences devoted exclusively to the war are particularly interesting: Peter Braestrup's Vietnam As History: Ten Years After the Paris Peace Accords (1984), from a Woodrow Wilson International Center conference; Harrison E. Salisbury's Vietnam Reconsidered: Lessons from a War (1984), from a heralded four-day conference at the University of Southern California; Harry A. Wilmer and James F. Veninga's Vietnam in Remission (1985), from a conference in Texas; and John Schlight's The Second Indochina War Symposium (1986), from a conference sponsored by the U.S. Army Center on Military History. The following chapters in this book come from panels devoted to strategies, lessons, and legacies of the war at the Southeast Conference Association for Asian Studies held in Raleigh, North Carolina, January 16-18, 1986. These essays demonstrate a diversity of views on the military and political lessons of the war and on the implications for future low-intensity conflicts.

The debate over American strategy in Vietnam has a long history. During the early advisory years, American reporters in Vietnam, military advisors like the legendary John Paul Vann, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all criticized aspects of our policy and operations. As the United States assumed the major

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