The Vietnam War literature is vast and continues to grow, with the opening of new sources, the reexamination of existing ones, and the writing of memoirs, oral histories, and a range of texts based upon primary and secondary sources. This book is an examination of the origins of the American ground in Vietnam in the 1960s. In doing so, it attempts to put not only the Vietnam War but U.S. Cold War foreign policy in a new historical perspective. The monograph focuses on die management of the intervention process from the beginning of the Kennedy administration to the famous July 1965 decision by Lyndon Johnson, committing significant American combat forces to South Vietnam. By examining the structure of the foreign policy process and its relationship to both American culture and civil society, as well as to the overarching context of the international system, this work suggests a concept of international history based upon what I have termed the “technocratic” state. In the American context, the “liberal technocratic internationalism” of modern U.S. foreign relations has sought to manage, through institutions and institutionally grounded belief systems, the international system in ways consistent with societal and institutional interests.
In Indochina, of course, that managerial or technocratic organization of policy failed. The purpose of this treatment of the subject is not to retell the existing paradigms on American intervention. Those narratives, based upon varying combinations of political, economic, cultural, and strategic causalities, have described the series of events and personalities involved well enough. What this study hopes to add to the literature is an historical understanding of the intervention as a systemic process of American internationalism. In this view, the Vietnam War was more than a bilateral or regional conflict; but in fact, it was a global one. How the American state, its institutions, and its leadership developed the policy as a multilevel response to the Cold War will be the basic analytical framework for this interpretation.