A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Genuine Lessons of the
Vietnam War

Michael Lind

In his “reinterpretation” of the Vietnam War, Michael Lind rejects what he sees as the dominant interpretations of the war—left, liberal, and conservative— and returns to the Cold War vision of the men who committed America to the course that proved so disastrous. In the context of the Cold War, he argues, the Vietnam War was not a “tragic error” or an “inexplicable mistake.” It was failure, but it was a just and necessary war.

Lind, who has written both for the left-progressive Nation and for the rightconservative National Review, is difficult to pigeonhole ideologically, but his book has been highly controversial among historians of the Vietnam War. It is useful to contrast the “lessons” Lind draws from America’s experience in Vietnam with those outlined by McNamara in the previous selection. What are the implications of Lind’s “lessons” for American foreign policy in the post–Cold War world?

In the mid-1960s, the sound and ultimately successful Cold War grand strategy of global military containment of the communist bloc required Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to escalate the U.S. involvement in Vietnam rather than withdraw without a major effort. Any president in office at the time probably would have done so. On February 17, 1965, former president Dwight Eisenhower told President Johnson that “the U.S. has put its prestige onto the proposition of keeping SE Asia free…. We cannot let the Indo-Chinese peninsula go. [Eisenhower] hoped it would not be necessary to use the six to eight divisions mentioned, but if it should be necessary then so be

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