Perspectives on 20th Century America: Readings and Commentary

By Otis L. Graham Jr. | Go to book overview

culations leading gradually and almost imperceptibly to the point of no return in 1965. The final decision, they said, was the result of miscalculations based upon assumptions about the nature of the Cold War which were out of date, upon misinformation and lack of information about Vietnam. In this analysis, Vietnam was an aberration, a blunder that crept upon overworked men who did not perceive in time that they were dealing with novel conditions. The decision to intervene had been a bad choice among several real options, and the educational effect of having made the error makes such a line of policy highly unlikely in the future.

The second broad position is held by those who might be called the Structuralists, who see intervention as the inevitable result of American economic organization and/or the nature of her policy-making apparatus. In this view, the emphasis in explaining our foreign policy falls sometimes upon the alleged imperialistic, counterrevolutionary pressures exerted by capitalistic interests, sometimes upon the aggressive instincts of a warrior caste of high ranking officers, sometimes upon the narrowly conservative outlook of the elite of "national security managers" who work out of the State and Defense Departments. Whatever the stress, the sources of the Vietnam intervention are seen by the Structuralist school as having been rooted in American society and therefore likely to remain as influential as ever. According to the Structuralists, we are in for more Vietnams unless we make far-reaching and even radical changes at home.


23.
Richard J. Barnet: The Roots of War

The expansion of the Vietnam War in 1965, and the series of military and political reverses sustained by the American government as a result of the war, have led to the most searching re-evaluation of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. The decision to intervene in southeast Asia was based upon grossly mistaken estimates of the internal situation in Indochina, as well as of the effects of a protracted military engagement upon the American domestic economy and political temper. How could such a tragically misguided decision have been reached, and what does the episode tell us about our country?

Among writers who have addressed these issues, few can claim a published record of more perception, honesty, and comprehensiveness than Richard J. Barnet. He began to publish his reflections upon American foreign policy in 1965 (after writing two books on disarmament), and gave us successively an essay on the national security bureaucracy in No More Vietnams? ( 1967; edited by Richard Pfeffer), a full-scale account of postwar interventions in Intervention and Revolution ( 1968), and a study of the military-industrial complex in The Economy of Death ( 1969). Then, in 1972, Barnet offered a comprehensive analysis of the forces shaping American foreign policy in his latest book, The Roots of War ( 1972).

The sources of American policy are multiple, and in The Roots of War Barnet attempts to establish some rank order among them. There is now a considerable revisionist literature arguing that economic factors shape Ameri-

Richard J. Barnet, The Roots of War, pp. 48-49, 179-180, 52-60, 50-52, 333-341. Copyright © 1971, 1972 by Richard J. Barnet. Reprinted by permission of the author ana Atheneum Publishers.

-415-

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