A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975

A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975

A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975

A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975


"...Schultzinger takes a fresh look at the Vietnam War by drawing on newly-opened archival materials and utilizing the already extensive bibliography on the war. His narrative is free from the passions of the day which continue to influence the works of many scholars."--BookReviews Even after two decades, the memory of the Vietnam War seems to haunt our culture. From Forrest Gump to Miss Saigon, from Tim O'Brien's Pulitzer Prize-winning Going After Cacciato to Robert McNamara's controversial memoir In Retrospect, Americans are drawn again and again to ponder our long, tragic involvement in Southeast Asia. Now eminent historian Robert D. Schulzinger has combed the newly available documentary evidence, both in public and private archives, to produce an ambitious, masterful account of three decades of war in Vietnam--the first major full-length history of the conflict to be based on primary sources. In A Time for War, Schulzinger paints a vast yet intricate canvas of more than three decades of conflict in Vietnam, from the first rumblings of rebellion against the French colonialists to the American intervention and eventual withdrawal. His comprehensive narrative incorporates every aspect of the war--from the military (as seen in his brisk account of the French failure at Dienbienphu) to the economic (such as the wage increase sparked by the draft in the United States) to the political. Drawing on massive research, he offers a vivid and insightful portrait of the changes in Vietnamese politics and society, from the rise of Ho Chi Minh, to the division of the country, to the struggles between South Vietnamese president Diem and heavily armed religious sects, to the infighting and corruption that plagued Saigon. Schulzinger reveals precisely how outside powers--first the French, then the Americans--committed themselves to war in Indochina, even against their own better judgment. Roosevelt, for example, derided the French efforts to reassert their colonial control after World War II, yet Truman, Eisenhower, and their advisers gradually came to believe that Vietnam was central to American interests. The author's account of Johnson is particularly telling and tragic, describing how president would voice clear headed, even prescient warnings about the dangers of intervention--then change his mind, committing America's prestige and military might to supporting a corrupt, unpopular regime. Schulzinger offers sharp criticism of the American military effort, and offers a fascinating look inside the Nixon White House, showing how the Republican president dragged out the war long past the point when he realized that the United States could not win. Finally, Schulzinger paints a brilliant political and social portrait of the times, illuminating the impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Americans and Vietnamese. Schulzinger shows what it was like to participate in the war--as a common soldier, an American nurse, a navy flyer, a conscript in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, a Vietcong fighter, or an antiwar protester. In a field crowded with fiction, memoirs, and popular tracts, A Time for War will stand as the landmark history of America's longest war. Based on extensive archival research, it will be the first place readers will turn in an effort to understand this tragic, divisive conflict.


The war in Vietnam is always with us. From the 1988 and 1992 controversies swirling around Dan Quayle's and Bill Clinton's draft status, to the emotions stirred by the movie Forrest Gump in 1994, to the sulphurous reception in 1995 ofRobert McNamara Vietnam apology, In Retrospect; The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, memories of the Vietnam war continue to divide and sadden Americans. So deep were the feelings that it took twenty years, until 1995, for the United States and Vietnam to resume full diplomatic relations, an action that subdued but did not put to rest the arguments over Vietnam. Indeed, the lingering animosities, regrets, second thoughts, and bitterness of the Vietnam era may die only when the last public official involved in setting Vietnam policy and every Vietnam veteran and antiwar protester have left the scene. The Vietnam War stands as the sort of watershed event for American politics, foreign policy, culture, values, and economy in the 1960s that the Civil War was in the 1860s and the Great Depression was in the 1930s.

U.S. participation in the war originated from ignorance and excessive optimism and escalated even though officials became dubious of eventual success. The war's aftermath created self doubt and social fragmentation. The war became the dominant issue of foreign affairs by 1965 and acted as the catalyst for vast domestic social upheavals. In the aftermath of Vietnam, Americans changed the way in which they conducted their politics, foreign and military affairs, economic life, and culture.

The war had similarly wide ranging effects in Southeast Asia. For a while--until the collapse of the Soviet Union--it altered the geopolitical balance of power in the region. The triumph of North Vietnam and the NLF in the spring of 1975 appeared at the time to have represented the culmination of decades of Vietnamese nationalism against outside powers. Yet the ensuing poverty of Vietnam, the muderous regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of boat people made postwar Southeast Asia a tragic place.

The war devastated Vietnam, exposed the limits of U.S. military power, altered the role of the United States in Asia, and destroyed the consensus over post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. By 1968 military stalemate made it . . .

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