Academic journal article Military Review

WAR WITHOUT FRONTS: The USA in Vietnam

Academic journal article Military Review

WAR WITHOUT FRONTS: The USA in Vietnam

Article excerpt

WAR WITHOUT FRONTS: The USA in Vietnam, Bernd Greiner, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2009, 544 pages, $35.00.

Bernd Greiner's position in War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam is that the My Lai massacre was not an aberration but merely an extreme example of the targeting of civilians. Given the ambiguities of a war with unclear objectives at all levels, frustration was inevitable, and conditions were ripe for frustration to break loose in atrocities such as My Lai and comparable episodes. Because the crimes were systemic rather than individual, the blame for My Lai lay not solely with Lieutenant William Calley but also with those who created the necessary preconditions for war crimes. Indicted as part of a broken system are the military chain of command, the civilians overseeing the war, and the American people. A cultural milieu made American involvement in Vietnam highly likely if not inevitable and success in that involvement highly unlikely.

My Lai is not central to the argument although it receives a detailed examination. Because he believes the killings were representative rather than aberrational, Greiner emphasizes their context: the Cold War, politicians afraid of failure, careerist offi cers and NCOs, and an overextended military scraping for offi cers and GIs. All this made Vietnam an aimless war fought by drugged or terrifi ed GIs on search-and-destroy missions that took no territory but added to the body count sought by careerist offi cers on six-month tours and generals and politicians who used body counts to measure success. …

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