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Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam Hardcover – 11 Jan 2001

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 548 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (11 Jan. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195134532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195134537
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 4.3 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,017,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Lawrence Freedman's Kennedy's Wars is an elegant work, incisively written, penetrating and dispassionate in analysis--the best account we have of President Kennedy's foreign policy."--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr."In this superbly researched and elegantly written book, Lawrence Freedman sheds new light on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' handling of foreign affairs. Freedman's analysis of the brinkmanship of the Cold War and Vietnam is original. While I do not agree with every interpretation, Kennedy's Wars challenges common knowledge about what happened and why and points to lessons we can apply to the future."--Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1961-1968"Combining remarkable insight into issues of nuclear strategy and a detachment from American controversies and emotions about Camelot, Kennedy's Wars powerfully illustrates both the intricacy and the horror of the Kenned administration's endless debates over issues such as 'program packages' and the SIOP. It not only evaluates what exactly was at stake; it does so with some of JFK's own coolness." --Ernest May, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University"An admirably rich and careful study."--The Economist"Lawrence Freedman's Kennedy's Wars is an elegant work, incisively written, penetrating and dispassionate in analysis--the best account we have of President Kennedy's

About the Author

Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College, London since 1982. He has written extensively on nuclear strategy and the Cold War, as well as commentating regularly on contemporary security issues. Elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1995, he was appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair as Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign in 1997.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Anne Fisher on 20 May 2003
Format: Paperback
Truly, very informative. This is a well structured book, easy to get to grips with and it really tackles the issues involved. I was using the book as a resource for a disseration on Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, so I didn't really look at the Berlin section but as for the other sections, I belive the true worth of this book lies in Freedman's ability to be almost totally unbiased in regards to Kennedy. Freedman uses this book to inform, not to impose a judgement although he does offer one at times. I believe that this book achieves exactly what it sets out to do, and my only criticism is that at times the word index is too high and thus some parts are confusing. Overall, though, a very informative read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Fiona Allen on 1 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The only reason I gave this 4 stars in place of 5 is that I've found it immensely detailed and as a consequence not that easy to read.
Also, since I'm a lifelong pacifist and not a historian, I'm sure there are nuances and areas of significance that are lost on me.
Having said that, it is really interesting, and I'm sure someone with a better grasp of history and, let's be fair, far better concentration than I have would find this exceptionally rewarding.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
"John F. Kennedy as Cold Warrior: One Crisis After Another" 8 Nov. 2000
By Steven S. Berizzi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book about John F. Kennedy's foreign policy focuses on the United States' confrontation with the Soviet Union over Berlin 1961, the nearly cataclysmic events in Cuba, and the deepening U.S. involvement in Indochina, which culminated in the overthrow and murder of the prime minister of South Vietnam just weeks before President Kennedy, himself, was assassinated. Is it appropriate to emphasize "wars" in a book about foreign policy? The answer, of course, is: Yes. Author Lawrence Freedman, one of Britain's leading authorities on the Cold War, does not expressly invoke Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means, but every reader knows that diplomacy and military power often are inextricably linked. On few occasions in American history has this been more true than during the "High" Cold War, the dangerous period between the first Berlin crisis in 1948 and the Cuba missile crisis in 1962. Freedman's fascinating, if occasionally frustrating book, examines the relationship between foreign and military policy at a time when U.S. and the Soviet Union confronted each other, directly or through surrogates, in venues throughout the world, several of which could have, by a single miscalculation, led to nuclear Armageddon.
If John Kennedy genuinely deserves of the judgment of history as great, it is because of the remarkably cool judgment during the missile crisis. According to Freedman, Kennedy followed this advice in a book written by British military historian and strategist Basil Liddell Hart, which Kennedy reviewed shortly before his election: "Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save his face." The Soviet Union may have been foolish, if not reckless, to send nuclear missiles to Cuba, but, once they were there, the only way Nikita Khrushchev could remove them was through a political bargain which allowed his country to avoid international humiliation. If Kennedy had not allowed Khrushchev to save face, some sort of military confrontation, if not general nuclear war, would have been inevitable. Kennedy's decision not to take the advice of his more hawkish advisers was one of the great profiles in courage in the history of the American presidency.
Kennedy defused the Berlin and Cuban crisis, but the war in Vietnam was well on its way to disaster when Kennedy died. Would anything have changed if he had lived? It is, to be sure, impossible to say. Shortly before he was assassinated, President Kennedy met with George Ball, a senior State Department official, to discuss Vietnam. When Ball spoke of the possibility of a war involving 300,000 American troops and lasting five years, Freedman reports that Kennedy reacted with "asperity," stating: "George, I always thought you were one of the brightest guys in town, but you're just crazier than hell. That just isn't going to happen." Freedman notes that Ball was uncertain whether the president was "making a prediction that events would not follow this line or that he would not let such a situation develop." In any event, we now know that George Ball was, indeed, one of Washington's most astute policy-makers, that Kennedy's assassination prevented him from determining the course of American policy in southeast Asia, and that the American commitment in Vietnam reached a peak of over 500,000 troops and lasted nearly 12 years before it ended in failure.
I admire Freedman's cogent presentation of the Kennedy-era military crises in just over 400 pages. That includes a brief, but most welcomed, digression into the rift between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China in the early 1960s. The relaxation of the United States' confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Kennedy administration simply cannot be understood without reference to Sino-Soviet relations. I must candidly concede that, if Freedman had pursued other, similar digressions, the text would have approached 600 pages, and I then would be critical of its length. Nevertheless, I disagree with some of his choices. Every book must begin somewhere and the introduction to this one starts with a short summary of Kennedy family history. Most readers are familiar with the most salient points: The overbearing Joseph P. Kennedy was almost pathologically ambitious for his sons; after the eldest, Joseph, Jr., was killed in combat during World War II, the mantle fell to John, who had spent his early manhood as a playboy; after the war, JFK was elected first to the House of Representatives and then to the Senate but distinguished himself in neither body and was generally dismissed as a handsome, glib lightweight. Instead of rehashing that, Freedman should have devoted more space to Kennedy's role in the "missile gap" controversy of the late 1950s. It was one of the issues which brought Kennedy to national prominence, and it is significant for the fact that, by the time Kennedy was elected in November 1960, if any missile gap existed, it favored the United States. Consider this scenario: Within weeks of taking office, several of President Kennedy's key aides, principally National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara realized that the U.S. was superior to the Soviet Union in the missile race; having lost the missile gap as an issue, but under pressure to make good on Kennedy's campaign promise to increase defense spending, the administration decided to take a more aggressive stance elsewhere. The Soviet Union clearly provoked the 1961 Berlin crisis, but "Kennedy's wars" in Cuba and southeast Asia resulted from the new administration's deliberate effort to confront the international Communist menace wherever they found it.
I doubt that Kennedy's Wars will change many minds about John Kennedy's legacy. His partisans will continue to view Kennedy's unexpected and untimely death as one of the great lost opportunities of the 20th century. Critics will find in this book further ammunition for their position that Kennedy must be judged by what he did and based on his charisma and soaring rhetoric. Nevertheless, this book must be read by anyone who wants to understand why the 1000-day Camelot era was one military crisis after another.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Well Researched Objective History of Kennedy as Cold Warrior 10 Nov. 2003
By Q. Publius - Published on
Format: Paperback
Sir Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, since 1982 and is an outstanding researcher and writer. This book is a very scholarly look at President Kennedy's performance in four hot spots of the Cold War: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. It's must reading for anyone who wants to understand Kennedy's approach to crisis management, also for those who think that Kennedy would have kept the Vietnam War from being an American war--that is, with Lyndon Johnson's later deployment of large numbers of American ground troops. Unlike the recent book Death of a Generation, by Howard Jones, which argues that Kennedy would never have turned Vietnam into an American war, Freedman's view is that we can't know what Kennedy would have done in 1965 when the government of Vietnam was on the brink of being defeated by a stepped-up Viet Cong insurgency. The situation in Vietnam during the years 1961 to 1963, covered by this book, was very different from that in 1965, when U.S. choices were very limited: basically either insert significant numbers of U.S. troops, or see South Vietnam fall to the communists, an unacceptable outcome for any American president at that time. The South Vietnames army was weak, and U.S. air power alone, used both in North and South Vietnam, could not alone have turned the tide (airpower never does, though today it has become an increasingly significant key to victory). Sir Lawrence has researched thousands of documents, summaries of administration meetings, and state department cables. His views are both documented and balanced. No one studying this period in U.S. and world history, and conflicts in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam, can do without reading this first-rate book.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Kennedy's Wars: An Objective Look Back 25 Dec. 2005
By HMS Warspite - Published on
Format: Paperback
In "Kennedy's Wars," British historian Lawrence Freedman provides a detached, clear-eyed review of the foreign policy of the Kennedy Administration from 1961 to 1963. Freedman discusses in depth the Administration's responses to ongoing and somewhat overlapping crises in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Freedman provides vital context in terms both of the intermal dynamics of Kennedy's foreign policy and of the ongoing Cold War competition with the Soviet Union and its attendant shadow of potential nuclear war. Few modern readers, for example, remember the keen edge of the struggle over the status of Berlin in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Visible throughout is the education of a young John F. Kennedy as President, learning from the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs operation to become progressively more skeptical of his own advisors and more pragmatic about what could realistically be accomplished in foreign affairs and made palatable to the American public. Kennedy's insistence on keeping options open over foreclosing them through quick decisions was both a strength and a weakness, in that flexibility was seemingly preserved, at the price of a sometimes chaotic foreign policy process.

Freedman's research appears thorough and his presentation is consistently even-handed. His understanding of the dynamics and challenges of nuclear deterrence is worth savoring for its remarkable clarity. The concluding chapters on the long descent of America into involvement in Vietnam is especially poignant, as the reader knows the tragic outcome, but these chapters may also offer the most compelling lessons of the book. Freedman brings out how deliberations over Vietnam policy were warped by an inability to understand either Saigon or Hanoi from Washington, where Kennedy's foreign policy advisors fought over the correct characterization of a messy conflict. The lack of understanding of the conflict made it difficult for Kennedy and his advisors to recognize how few viable or palatable options they really had with respect to Vietnam.

Freedman devotes some analysis to the proposition that Kennedy would have avoided the quagmire that his successor, Lyndon Johnson, plunged into headfirst in 1965. Freedman emphasizes that Kennedy was in no hurry to deepen the U.S. committment to South Vietnam and may have formed the working assumption in late 1963 that a withdrawal was likely after the 1964 Presidential Election. But Freedman also documents the vital counterpoint that Kennedy's assumption was based on a faulty understanding of progress in countering the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam; the assumption of a withdrawal was based on an expectation of reasonably favorable political conditions in which to do so. Freedman grants that Kennedy might have been more inclined to resist escalation of the war in 1965 than Lyndon Johnson.

This book, written with the advantage of some 30 years perspective on events, is highly recommended to the student of U.S. foreign policy and of the short but turbulent administration of John F. Kennedy.
Comprehensive. 14 Jun. 2015
By Terry Tucker - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a comprehensive look at the interactions,players and mindsets-- a tactical look at political science and decision making in the administration. You can read the entire book, or you can skip to select chapters. This is at times both an excellent read, yet sometimes tedious. Never the less, the detail and skill of theauthor makes this book required reading.
Read it twice 19 Mar. 2014
By Aaron VanAlstine - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has an excellent account of the Cuban Missile crisis, as well as the less well-known Berlin crisis. Also covers the early years of U.S. involvement in SE Asia.
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