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Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975 (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – 15 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (15 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700616349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700616343
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,275,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Prados has given us a great gift - a fresh, original, and fascinating synthesis of a long and complicated war by one of the nation's foremost experts." Christian G. Appy, author of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides "A monumental work of passionately engaged scholarship, written in an easy, conversational style. There is no other history of the war quite like it." Marilyn B. Young, author of The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 "Should be read by the lawmakers and opinion leaders who habitually babble on about the 'lessons of the Vietnam War.'" Ronald Spector, author of After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam "An awe-inspiring achievement in epic form." Lloyd Gardner, author of Pay Any Price and The Long Road to Baghdad"

About the Author

John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. His numerous books include The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, and most recently Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By redrx7 on 23 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
As with his other books Prados brings a wealth of detail and documentary sources but presented in an eminently readable and balanced approach, something which can certainly not be said of his critics from the usual revisionist lunatics of the American right. The latter seem incapable of grasping any of the historical and political dynamics of the Vietnamese Revolution from August 1945 onwards...so they don't even bother trying.
Instead,they prefer to ignore the historical record in order to excuse the US intervention in creating a wholly subsevient client regime in the southern part of the country and when that was on the verge of collapse ,to present the subsequent US invasion as part of some noble crusade to "defend" something or other.
One wonders why they bother to read anything other than the ideological prattle of the revisionist apologists for the American assault on Indo-China.
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6 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dave on 24 Aug. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975 (Modern War Studies)

`Vietnam' is not a study of the war in Vietnam. It is an avowedly leftist portrait of the war as a struggle for the soul of America; a struggle between the heroes of what is always referred to, in hushed tones, as the `Movement' and the military-industrial complex [for which presumably one should read `parents, teachers and pigs']. The author, despite being one of the most informed students of the war, is not concerned to describe the American experience of the war in South-East Asia. There is not a single map of Vietnam in the hardback edition. The concern is to reaffirm the ongoing validity of the Left critique of the war, in the face of re-evaluations that have begun to emerge following the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

This is partly a `coming of age' saga; the author dramatises key moments in the developing opposition to the war by using his own experiences as a counsellor to draft evaders and as a McGovern campaigner. His heroes come to the fore: the `Vietnam veterans against the war' [men whose proven courage no doubt validated that of youngsters maligned for their refusal to participate in the war]. Anyone interested in the renewed debate on the war needs to read this book, because it is a brilliant evocation, and sometimes a moving one, of the spirit of the anti-war movement.

The book is also a `coming of middle age' saga. One can understand that opponents of the war, who have revelled in thirty years of `I told you so!' and `We made a difference' feel threatened by revisionist authors cutting steaks off their scared cow.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
A Contemporary History of the Vietnam War 12 May 2009
By C. Michael Hiam - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A up to date survey of the American experience in Vietnam to succeed the two aging standards of the genre, which are Stanley Karnow's work published in 1983 and Michael Maclear's book from 1981, is long overdue and John Prados, author of such originals as "The Hidden History of the Vietnam War" and "The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War," is evidently the person who has done it. As an independent historian Prados brings his penchant for rigorous research, original content, and good writing to bear on a massive and complex topic and "Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975" adroitly navigates difficult historical waters in a fast-paced and readable manner. My only expertise related to Vietnam is a very narrow one involving American intelligence issues prior to the 1968 Tet offensive but here I can validate that Prados has full command of the topic and covers it with detail not otherwise seen in books intended for a general audience. (I only wish that I had Prados as a source when researching my book.) Prados has a keen eye for both the military and political aspects of the conflict and his narrative moves smoothly between the two, as it does in handling the interplay between events and people in Vietnam and in the rest of the world-- principally, of course, in the United States. Prados has maximized use of the vast literature on Vietnam which has appeared over the past sixty years plus a tremendous amount of newly declassified information and material only now being made available by the Communist regime in Hanoi. The book's three photographic sections suffer from overly-long captions which squeeze the size of the pictures, and also from not being printed on glossy paper which render the otherwise interesting photographs dark and grainy. There is a brief introductory note, 550 pages of text, plus an extensive end-note section and comprehensive bibliographic essay. "Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975" is highly recommended for those making their first pass through the history of the war as well as those who have been bitten by the topic and want to read more.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A remarkable book 17 July 2009
By Charles Poncet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Many years after it ended, the Vietnam war can still be divisive in the U.S. and probably elsewhere as well. A quick look at the reviews published by Amazon suggests that politics - or visions of the world - are still involved here. This is why John Prados' book is remarkabe and should be read by anyone with an interest in the Vietnam tragedy. It is a perfect complement to Karnow's book of some years ago and it adds plenty of new materials. Prados starts with an unusual "disclosure statement" in which he confesses to having been an opponent of the war in his youth, particularly as a student at Columbia. So what ? He shows distinct antipathy towards Kissinger, ofen referred to in the book as "Dr. Kissinger", whilst general Abrams is "Abe" and neither does he come across as a member of Richard Nixon's fan club. So what ? This does not in any way affect the interest of the book, which is extremely well written and captivating from beginning to end. The story unfolds, with emphasis on the American policies followed at the time, as could be expected when telling the story of an American war. However, the byzantine politics of Saigon are well explained and there are very interesting insights into the thought process of the steely leaders in Hanoi.
The book also has a guided bibliography, which is pleasurable to read and where any Vietnam war buff will find what he needs.
I would have only one criticism: the editor, probably to save money, put the footnotes at the end ! This is a pity for their contents are of great interest, yet reading them requires a somewhat tedious page turning exercise. Perhaps the next edition will have the footnotes in the text itself, as they should be.
In short, Mr. Prados is a remarkable scholar, he knows his subject in depth and he does a splendid job in telling that story. Whatever his politics may be is quite irrelevant in my opinion.
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A Synoptic View of a Syndrome as Much as a War 4 Dec. 2009
By Robert T. OKEEFFE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As the book's first Amazon reviewer stated, Prados's history of the war in Vietnam supplements earlier well-known works (e.g., S. Karnow's). But it does more than this. While it introduces much new information (a great deal of that coming from Hanoi, but also from recently declassified materials from the LBJ and Nixon eras), it is also a "synthetic" history in a way earlier works were not. Prados goes to pains to point this out in his Introduction. What is he synthesizing? The brief answer is "topical threads" of history which have tended to be treated separately. So we get: (1) The military and political history of the war itself, in all three of its phases (French, U.S., and the final three years of the "Vietnamized" war). (2) A good picture of the capacities of the National Liberation Front (NLF) in South Vietnam and of the government and war-policy of the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam, aka North Vietnam). (3) The broad Cold-War political and diplomatic scenario into which this local conflict fit (or was squeezed by ideologues on both sides). (4) The emergence of the war protest movement in the U.S. as part of a larger trend of participatory democracy that started with the civil rights movement. And we get a record of the author's personal experience as an advocate-turned-opponent of the war during the years 1965-1972 (presented as italicized inserts in half a dozen parts of the history).

The summary discussion of the war during Truman's and Eisenhower's presidencies is especially interesting as establishing a restricting series of "choice points" that tended to define and limit American options in the long run (a process Prados calls "narrowing the envelope"). Especially long-lasting in this respect were the reactions of American politicians (LBJ and Nixon, importantly) to the events that culminated in the defeat of the French troops at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 (i.e., "never again" or "not on my watch" attitudes, which closed off a Geneva-style solution). According to Prados, JFK's ultimate role in the deepening of U.S. commitment to the Diem regime remains unresolved, due to his assassination in 1963. However, JFK's widening of the war in Laos is taken by Prados to indicate that he probably would have gone in the direction of more troops and assistance to South Vietnam, although no one knows if he would have reacted to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in the same manner as LBJ (Kennedy had been burned by expert opinion before during the Bay of Pigs fiasco and appeared to acquire a healthy skepticism about the opinions of military and CIA men on the viability and desirability of specific military responses to political crises). We shall never know.

But we do know now that even American naval intelligence is still mystified by the Gulf of Tonkin events (they can't confirm that an attack took place), and that LBJ was shopping for incidents like the Tonkin one that would allow him to go to Congress with strong demands about building up the military capacity of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) under Diem's political leadership. And therein - from Diem, through numerous coup leaderships, including the often installed and often dethroned General Khanh to Air Marshall Ky and finally Thieu - lay the problem of American ineffectiveness as Prados sees it: the absolute lack of leverage exercised by the U.S. over any of these men. Neither diplomacy nor massive economic and military assistance was able to be used to force our "clients" toward any systematic program of reform, anti-corruption, or serious democratic nation-building, which was the alleged point of U.S. involvement to begin with (that is, as the only effective means of preventing a North Vietnamese victory by creating a healthy alternative state). Then there is the other looming background problem: the fact that the RVN leaders were viewed as Western clients by many of their own countrymen, while the DRV's leaders were seen as national heroes who had ejected the French. The credibility of our enemies rested as much on this reputation as it did on their commitments to socialism/communism - Ho Chi Minh may be the Vietnamese Lenin, but he's also the Vietnamese George Washington, an unnatural hybrid to us but a natural one to many Vietnamese.

Along the way to disaster Prados defines and examines the "Vietnam data problem" that plagued American analysis of the war from the top (MacNamara) down: the total lack of accuracy concerning the NLF's and DRV's military capacities and their ability to politically control a large portion of South Vietnam even when they took a pasting in battles and campaigns (e.g., Tet 1968). This implied South Vietnam's inability to establish such control even after military victories secured by American troops. The lack of accurate data led to artificially optimistic American estimates of an approaching "light at the end of the tunnel" that always seemed to recede as soon as it was announced. Each new program (cultivating "third forces" such as the Hoa Hao Buddhists or the Cao Dai sect, fortified hamlets, rural pacification entailing huge population moves, Vietnamization of the military effort during 1968-72) generated questionable statistics that were trumpeted as pointing the way to victory. The disconnect between these statistics and the realities in the Presidential Palace of Saigon and in the disparate battlefields was almost total.

A very disheartening aspect of this book is its revelations about the extent to which American presidents, reacting to a burgeoning anti-war movement, went to war with their own people, lightly labeling all dissent as "subversion" and dictatorially authorizing surveillance, wiretaps, and (indirectly) crimes such as false prosecutions and burglary, all directed against protestors, civic organizations, and even their own presidential staff members, from the Cabinet level on down. These illegal operations directed against American citizens co-opted the services and tarnished the reputations of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, military intelligence, and local police forces with their theatrically-named "red squads". It's a sorry story, with the first presidential "enemies list" being put forward by LBJ and taken to a new level of vindictiveness by Nixon. LBJ's historical reputation rests upon his activism in the realm of civil rights, but this must be ultimately undercut by his cavalier disregard for civil liberties occasioned by his blinkered view of what victory and defeat in Vietnam might mean. It's a very sorry chapter of American political life - actually inexcusable -- that is described by Pardos in these pages.

Prados's post-war contacts with the current Vietnamese leadership, including its military men (many of whom were active during the decade of U.S. involvement in the war) provides details "from the other side" which put many events in a new light. For instance, the DRV leaders worked on the American leaders' fears that Khe Sanh might be another Dien Bien Phu, but the military action that encircled this base camp was actually a serious feint meant to mislead U.S. military intelligence while preparations were being made for the 1968 Tet offensive. Although the expected urban uprisings never occurred, and although the NLF (the "guerilla force", as opposed to North Vietnamese "main forces") was gutted by the Tet offensive, the DRV was still happy with the outcome. Though they had lost their battles to U.S. forces, they had also demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the ARVN in a crises situation. Their follow-on offensives in 1968 were also disappointing, but the South Vietnamese political leaders were still unable to capitalize on DRV and NFL military setbacks - political control of the countryside remained split between the enemy camps, and Saigon still refused to undertake any serious political reforms.

Prados gives a thorough account of the DRV's later, larger Nguyen Hue offensive (also called the Easter offensive) in 1972. This took place after U.S. forces had been in the main withdrawn or confined to air support and base defense duties. Here the DRV's main force army put to good use the lessons it learned during Tet, upping the ante with tank and heavy artillery and anti-aircraft missile support, capturing several provincial capitals, and almost severing South Vietnam from its northern coastal region. He also does an excellent job of analyzing Nixon's motives and aims in undertaking the Cambodian borderland invasion, and he provides an equally good analysis of its failed counterpart that was designed as both a way of shutting down the Ho Chi Minh supply trail and a test case of the efficacy of "Vietnamization" -- this was the burden of ARVN's main force incursion into Laos in 1971 (the extent of the war in Laos throughout this whole period, hitherto ignored by most writers on the Vietnamese war, is fully covered by Prados). The Laotian operation avoided total ignominy only as a result of U.S. troops grinding a way through to the border to get ARVN into Laos. Then, after ARVN took a serious beating its remnants were only saved by intense U.S. air cover and helicopter evacuations. ARVN failed this test, and the Ho Chi Minh trail continued to be expanded and even modernized, allowing it to play a major role in the DRV's successful offensive of 1975 that ended in the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and the hasty exit of remaining U.S. personnel and thousands of South Vietnamese retainers and clients.

On parallel tracks Prados covers the anti-war movement and Nixon's countermeasures during his first term in office, as well as the official and unofficial (Kissinger) negotiations in Paris as they stuttered along. From the outset in 1968 Nixon had encouraged Kissinger to create the impression that his boss was capable of acting "like a madman", and both the Cambodian campaigns and the last-minute Christmas bombing and air offensive (including mining Haiphong's harbor) were signs of Nixon's intransigence and his desire to appear implacable and unpredictable. On the other hand these moves were made in the broader context of "Vietnamizing" the war (which, at some point would result in only air-support, and then only economic and logistical support of the RVN by the U.S.). This was the program designed to bring "peace with dignity", which really meant an armed stand-down and jockeying for position while U.S. troops withdrew. Optimistic prospects for "Vietnamization" were based on the faulty premise that earlier U.S. military operations and training, plus current financial and logistical aid, had built up RVN and its army to the point where they could hold their own against any major North Vietnamese offensive. This was supposed to produce a Korean-style stalemate to be followed by another Geneva-style treaty recognizing two separate Vietnamese states. The illusion was shattered in 1975 when a series of local defeats along the northern coast and in the central highlands led to a "rolling collapse" southward, with Saigon being taken with minimal effort and casualties.

The war was over, but the debate about its conduct and meaning, with recriminations directed against both hawks and doves, survives. Prados covers these final developments in his last chapter and then raises the obvious question: just how similar are the situations in Vietnam during 1965-1975 and those in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001-2009. Some of the similarities are obvious, and demoralizing, especially the lack of any political progress (establishment of respected and capable governments in each country), indicating that once again, though it has vast military powers which allow it dominate the battlefield, the U.S. has failed to establish any serious political leverage with its two client states. The other lessons learned by the U.S. military in Vietnam - the political advisability of a volunteer army vs. a conscript army, and the necessity of clear goals and an exit strategy - have been tested again in the Middle East, and, with respect to goals and exits, honored only in the breach.
54 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Reading Prados 8 Jun. 2009
By Nguyen Ky Phong - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Two hundred fifty five pages into John Prados's Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975, I felt an urge to write a few comments about the book. I couldn't tell about the rest of the book yet, but up to the chapter on Tet Mau Than (Tet Offensive), the book has enough errors that warrant a critique. Not only the paucity of citation and reference frustrates the reader, nonessential literary embellishments (trivial details) cause burdens to cautious reader of history: In my case I had to stop to think about the facts cited ... only later to find out that the embellished details were wrong --- abeit some are trivial.

The author Prados is prone to make mistake when it comes to military ranks. He confuses reader when he lists officer's rank indiscriminately, without regarding the time line of the event vis-à-vis the rank of the subject officer.
To wit: the chief of MACV-SOG in 1968 was not Major General John Singlaub, but rather Colonel John Singlaub (p.223). As the matter of fact, no general ever commanded MACV-SOG during the war in Vietnam. During the battle of Ia Drang in November 1965 (p.135), Major General Stanley R. Larsen was the Commanding General of Task Force Alpha, a controlling command responsible for all American units operated in SVN's II Corps (Task Force Alpha preceded I Field Force). When I Field Force was officially activated in March 1966, Larsen took over with the rank of Lieutenant General. The Commanding General of the First Air Cav Division during the Ia Drang battle was Major General Harry W. O. Kinnard, not Douglas Kinnard (Prados perhaps was thinking about Douglas Kinnard of The War Manager, himself a Brigadier General and Chief of Staff of II Field Force in 1970).
Also at the time of the Tet Offensive (p.228) Phillip B. Davidson (author of a fine Vietnam book, Vietnam at War) was a Brigadier General, MACV-J2, when he worked for General Westmoreland (replacing Major General Joeseph McChristian, end of tour duty). BGen Davidson did not got his second star a year later, until he worked under General Creighton Abrams. General William B. Rosson (p. 226) did not command I Field Force; he commanded the XXIV Corps (which on the outset of the Tet Offensive, was under operational control of III MAF). General Fred Weyand did not command a brigade in Vietnam; he began Vietnam service as a division commander, a two-star general slot. Sometimes Prados gives the impression that he relies on memory to write history more than on historical sources. On page 16 he tells us that MGen Claire Chennault in 1945 was the U.S. China Theater Commander. In fact, LtGen General Albert C. Wedemeyer was the over all commander of US military personnel in China Theater. MGen Chennault was just the leader of the Flying Tigers, an air force unit which was privately funded and staffed by volunteers.
One of the most startling mistake Prados makes is to say that General Paul Harkins was "MAAG boss." And on the next page (p.81) the author writes "the advisory group [MAAG], reconstituted as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, received its new leader, General William C. Westmoreland." This all happened in early 1964, Prados tells the reader.
One instance where the author based his exposition on another sourse without checking the veracity of the source itself. On page 119 the author writes about the FULRO rebellion (Sept 19, 1964), in Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam's II Corps. Prados writes that FULRO leaders decided to revolt after their petition for better treatments to Lt. General Nguyen Huu Co, Commander of II Corps, went unheard. Prados further writes that the U.S. Army Special Forces commander, Colonel John Freund, was on scene to negotiate with the belligerent FULRO troops. I take issue with these facts. Regarding LtGen Co, I think Mr. Prados got this episode straight out of General William Westmoreland's memoirs, A Sodier Reports. But I do think General Westmoreland erred in this instance, when he writes that LtGen Co was in charge of II Corps at the time the revolt taken place. A careful examination of South Vietnamese Military Commands during the months of September to November 1964 shows that General Co was out of II Corps four days before the revolt: LtGen Vinh Loc replaced General Co on Sept 15. The replacement of commanding general in II Corps started a wholesale change in all four Corps during the next two months.
As General Westmoreland writes, on Sept 13 LtGen Duong Van Duc, commander of IV Corps, and MGen Lam Van Phat, a division commander, attempted a push. After the putsch was put down LtGen Nguyen Khanh, Chairman of the Armed Forces Council, replaced all current Corps commanders with his thought-to-be backers: LtGen Cao Van Vien took over III Corps on Oct 12; LtGen Nguyen Van Thieu was sent to the Delta IV Corps in Sept 15 to replace the dimissed General Duong Van Duc. And in mid-November LtGeneral Nguyen Chanh Thi (of 1960 coup d'etat fame) was promoted to take over I Corps. General Westmoreland admits in his book that he was so confused with all the promotions/ demotions/ replacements within the SVN Armed Forces during that time, that he generallly addressed South Vietnamese generals in rank (as in "general") without particular attached grade (as in, Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant General). Regarding Special Forces Commanding Officer Colonel Freund: the colonel was with the SF previously, but he was not the commander of the SF at the time. The SF commanding officer at the time was Colonel John H. Spears. Colonel Freund was doing the negotion because he was the deputy to the general who was in charge of the "advisory group" in SVN's II Corps.
Readers with military background would be amused with the book's inaccuracies: Cedar Falls Operation was in and about the Iron Triangle (true), but the author was wrong when he says Ben Suc in the vincinity of the C War Zone. It's in the D War Zone (p.178). The author also says the operation involed 16,000 Americans and 14,000 Vietnamese troops. This I have to beg the author for proof. The South Vietnamese contributed only two Assautl River Group (equivalent of two batailions; to ferry the people across Saigon River where the village of Ben Suc located.); two infantry and one ranger batailions. At D-Day, however, the ranger bn could not make it. Now, where did this 14 thousand troops came from? On the succeding page, Mr. Prados lends the impression that all of the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped en masse during Operation Junction City into the War Zone C (Tay Ninh). The fact was only one batailion of the brigade did parachuted in. The author writes the US suffered more than a thousand casualties during the battle of Hamburger Hill (Hill 937/ Ap Bia). The actual number was 56 killed and 367 wounded.

There are more mistakes, some are trivial, but it show the author was careless with historical details (Colonel Edwards Lansdale did not pack a Colt 45 in his pants' pocket when he came to talk to French General Gambiez; Do Cao Tri was not a mere major commanding a paratrooper batailion in 1955 ...). I would be a picky critic if I go on and on and on with the same vein. I stopped reading at the end of the chapter on Tet Mau Than. Before I end this critique, I want to cite one more example of the many unsupported historical facts that populated in Mr. Prados's Vietnam: Unwinnable War. On page 254 Prados writes about a friendly fire incident that wiped out many of Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky's supporters. On June 2, 1968 a helicopter gunship mistakenly fired a rocket into a high school building where a group of South Vietnamese military commanders were holding an impromtu meeting, in the middle of a raging battlefield. The rocket killed six and wounded two officers. The incident literally killed most of the important military commanders who had associated and sided with Ky during the Thieu-Ky rivalry period. After the shooting, the US ambassy did announce that the helicopter was one of theirs. But rumors had that the killing was arranged by President Nguyen Van Thieu to eliminate the last of Ky's supporters. What get me is that in recounting the story to the reader, Prados has fact and fiction mixed up. The author writes that one of the casualties of the incident was Brigadier General Loan, an ardent supporter of Ky. This is wrong. Loan was wounded during the second phase of Tet Offensive. But he was wounded on May 7 in Tu Duc section of Saigon (east of the city); whereas the rocket firing took place in Cho Lon area on June 2. Prados also writes about rumors (perhaps fed by Ky himself) had that the gunship was actually crewed by Colonel Tran Van Hai, SVN Ranger Commander at the time. Holly cow! We human do entertain rumors from time to time. But for a history writer like Prados to entertain reader with such a rumor is unthinkable. Prados did not fully comprehend the intensity of the fightings around Saigon, speciallly around airbase areas. One day after BGen Loan was wounded, Colonel Luu Kim Cuong, the 33d Wing Commader --- a close associated of Ky since the cadet days --- was killed inside the parameter of Tan Son Nhat airport, when he rallied air force pesonnel defended what seemed to be an enemy penatration inside Tan Son Nhat Airbase. A B-40 cut the colonel almost in half. Now, under such a condition all over the city, for an infantry colonel to walk up to a helicopter, armed the rockets and took off, as it was insinuated by the author? One of the officer killed in Cho Lon friendly fire incident was LtColonel Dao Ba Phuoc, the Commander of the Fifth Ranger Group, a dear friend of the SVN Ranger Commander Colonel Tran Van Hai --- the alleged shooter!

19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
By Robert A. Lynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover

America's most controversial war ended 34 years ago in April, 1975. There are two schools of thought about what happened in Vietnam. The version taught in colleges and high schools is that it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thanks to Cold War paranoia, the story goes, the U.S. wound up caught in the middle of a civil war that North Vietnam and its leader, Ho Chi Minh, were bound to win and that America and its ally, the Republic of South Vietnam, were bound to loose. The second, more recent, version, involving a re-examination of the evidence on the battlefield and at the Pentagon-and drawing on testimony from the North Vietnamese themselves-concludes that the U.S. military succeeded far better in Vietnam than was once supposed. The revisionist view suggests that the war wasn't only winnable but largely won by January, 1973, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed compelling North Vietnam to recognize South Vietnam and to honor the border between the two countries (an agreement the North immediately violated). By then, however, the U.S. Congress refused to support South Vietnam any further. So America stood on the sidelines while a tragedy ensued and perhaps as many as 2,000,000 innocent people lost their lives-and communism won an unearned Cold War victory. John Prados's VIETNAM: THE HISTORY OF AN UNWINNABLE WAR, 1945-1975 is, as its title suggests, an attempt to hold the barricades against the new version and resuscitate the old. John Prados, a senior fellow of the National security Archive at George Washington University and, as he tells us, once a Vietnam War protester, offers a detailed picture of a U.S. government unwilling to confront its mistakes and an American military baffled by a guerrilla insurgency. He weaves the story of the antiwar movement into his account of the war itself in an effort to show how he and other protesters grasped the futility of the war far earlier than the politicians in Washington. Prados argues, above all, that America failed in Vietnam because it "failed to understand the Vietnamese revolution," which, in his view, was essentially a long anticolonial struggle. But the tragedy that unfolded after America left Vietnam would suggest that America's leaders, starting with Harry Truman, understood the Vietnamese "revolution" only too well, seeing Ho Chi Minh not as a nationalist but as an ideological soulmate and willing tool of both Stalin and Mao-that is, as a man prepared to extend communism's reach regardless of the cost. In this, Ho resembled North Korea's leader, Kim Il Sung. In fact, the parallels between Korea and Vietnam become more striking over time. In both cases, a Stalinist regime in the north tried to overrun its neighbor to the south; in both cases U.S. military force was deployed to fend off the aggression. Prados glosses over this part of the story, saying nothing about how the regime that tok power in North Vietnam in 1954 systematically butchered its political opponents and terrorized the peasantry in ways that would prove to be frighteningly similar to those of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia twenty years later. Prados is particularly unwilling to concede that it was the intervention of U.S. ground troops that first halted-and then, during the Tet Offensive of January, 1968-finally broke the Hanoi-backed Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam, compelling the North Vietnamese Army to pull back to its sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia. The Nixon Administration's effort to smash those sanctuaries and to intensify the air war over North Vietnam was what finally forced Hanoi to the negotiating table. Prados gives us instead a war in which the Americans can never do anything right and the communists never do anything wrong, until finally thousands of antiwar protesters, including John Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), take to the streets to force Washington and the American public to face reality and get out of Vietnam. Far from seeing reality more clearly, however, the antiwar left constructed a fictionalized version of what was happening in Vietnam. The totalitarian Ho was portrayed as an Asian George Washington; a decisive victory like Tet was painted as an American defeat. The average American soldier was depicted as a murderous thug. Likewise, the bombing of Cambodia to prevent that country from being overrun by Hanoi-a move that Cambodia's leaders and members of their government knew about and approved-was branded as secret and illegal; and the American incursion into Cambodia in 1970 to break up North Vietnamese sanctuaries and wind down the war was presented as a move that widened it. Then, in 1975, when a massive North Vietnamese Army overran the South in blatant violation of the Paris Peace Treaty and the North's former allies, the Khmer Rouge, took over Cambodia, certain members of the left celebrated the communist victory as if it were their own-which, in political terms, it was. When Saigon fell, the headline to Sydney Schanberg's New York Times story read: "Indochina Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life." Now we know better. We know of the 65,000 South Vietnamese murdered when Hanoi took over and of the thousands of boat people who died fleeing the communist regime and of the perhaps 250,000 who died in re-education camps. But Prados ends his book by simply pulling a veil over what ensued when America left Vietnam and the communists took over. Other mistakes are made in this massive book but they have been covered by a previous book reviewer, Phong Ky Nguyen. This book should be read with reservations.

Lt. Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard
Orlando, Florida
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