Nguyen Manh Hung
The Vietnam War directly affected the lives of over three million Americans who went through the war and many more millions of Vietnamese on both sides of the conflict. It has left a deep impression on over one million Vietnamese refugees scattered around the world. In the United States, the “Vietnam syndrome” has affected both American veterans and Vietnamese refugees, and it has haunted the American public and leadership for years. 1 In policy debates, one often heard allusions to the “lessons of Vietnam.” It is difficult, however, to draw lessons of Vietnam without a clear understanding of the nature of the Vietnam War. During the war years (1959-75), discussion over the nature of the Vietnam War and its policy implications was often driven by emotion and ideological bias rather than by reason and insight. The immediacy of the war and the lack of hindsight propelled many people into hasty conclusions and faulty judgments. Twelve years have now passed since the fall of Saigon, and fourteen years since the last American troops left South Vietnam. With the benefit of historical hindsight and new evidence that has come out since the end of the war, it seems the right time to review the most prominent theories about the war's nature and see what lessons might be drawn. Those theories were critical because they influenced millions of people's ideas about the war's nature and character, and they also affected the choice of competing strategies and responses, for better or worse.
In the 1960s, George Kahin and John Lewis advanced a theory that was widely accepted within U.S. antiwar circles. These authors maintained that the Vietnam