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Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam Paperback – 6 Mar 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 558 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (6 Mar. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520229193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520229198
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 627,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"A brilliant book."--Kai Bird, "Washington Post"

From the Inside Flap

"Masterful. . . . Logevall presents a vivid and tragic portrait of the elements of U.S. decision-making on Vietnam from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the announcement of the American ground war in July 1965. In the process he reveals a troubling picture of top officials in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations persisting in efforts to boost the fortunes of sucessive governments of South Vietnam, even while they acknowledged that their chances for success were remote. In addition, he places the decision-making squarely in the international context."Robert D. Schulzinger, author of "A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975"
"Stunning in its research and highly sophisticated in its analysis, "Choosing War "is far and away the best study we have of Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the conflict in Vietnam."George C. Herring
"In this fine book, Fredrick Logevall offers the first detailed examination of why diplomacy failed to head off the Vietnam War. Grounding himself in documentary research and other sources from several countries, Logevall comes closer than anyone ever has to explaining what happened. His clear writing and deep analysis may well change our understanding of Vietnam as a quagmire."John Prados, author of "The Hidden History of the Vietnam War"
"A rising star among a new generation of historians, Fredrik Logevall has written the most important Vietnam book in years. By explaining the international context of that tragic conflict, "Choosing War" provides startling answers to the question, Why did the war happen? Controversial yet fair, this account challenges the reader to think through John F. Kennedy's and Lydon B. Johnson's individual responsibility for Vietnam. The effect is compelling, unforgettable history."Timothy Naftali, co-author of ""One Hell of a Gamble: " Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964""

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Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading this superb book. Of my collection of 450 books on the Viet Nam War this is without a doubt one of the most outstanding books I own. The author brilliantly demolishes the theory that the war was inevitable. He exposes the flawed thinking of the Johnson administration as well as the down right deceit of some of Johnson's people. Alongside 'Dereliction of Duty' this book should be required reading for anyone who is serious about understanding the origin and nature of the Viet Nam War. This is the book Robert McNamara should have written instead of 'In Retrospect'. The book is not some stuffy academic treatise but wonderfully readable, which I heartily recommend to any student of history.
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Format: Hardcover
CHOOSING WAR makes an important contribution to the literature on the Vietnam War. With cogent analysis, detailed research, and stunning clarity, Logevall has crafted a book that should become the standard account of the "Long 1964." Not only does he illuminate the heretofore understudied international angle of this period, he makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the role of domestic politics in the making of U.S. foreign policy.
The only reservation I have with the book is a small problem with the thesis. Logevall makes a persuasive argument that Lyndon Johnson (and members of his administration, but mainly LBJ) consciously chose war over other options in Vietnam in an attempt to preserve his personal credibility and domestic agenda. Yet at the end of the book, Logevall backs off this indictment, arguing that Vietnam was, in the end, America's war, with enough responsibility to go around. This is a minor point, but one that Logevall or his editor should have recognized and addressed before publication.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This superb book examines the policy choices made by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in 1963-65. Logevall shows that either of them could have rejected the route that led to war, but that both instead chose to refuse negotiations and to wage aggressive war.

From the start, "the Americans and not the North Vietnamese were the outsiders in the conflict." The US government violated the 1954 accords' neutrality provisions by giving huge support to the South. As the influential journalist Walter Lippmann wrote, "the easy way to avoid the truth is to persuade ourselves that this is not really a civil war but is in fact essentially an invasion of South VietNam by North VietNam. This has produced the argument that the way to stabilize South VietNam is wage war against North VietNam."

Logevall notes the US government's `determined opposition to negotiations'. In 1962, it rejected four DRV initiatives for a negotiated solution. "Nor did Washington follow up when Hanoi, at various points in 1963-1965, indicated a desire to enter talks. Said a State Department intelligence report at the end of the period under study: `Has Hanoi shown any interest in negotiations? Yes, repeatedly.' The same thing could never have been said of the United States."

Kennedy "rejected numerous appeals that he pursue a political settlement to the conflict." "In 1963, the Kennedy administration opposed any move to bring about an early diplomatic settlement, as it had since it came into office and as its predecessor had done before that. From January 1961 to November 1963, the administration adhered firmly to the position that the insurgency in the South had to be defeated and that no diplomacy should be undertaken until that result was ensured.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars 30 reviews
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for any serious student of the Viet Nam War 6 Jun. 2000
By J. McNeill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading this superb book. Of my collection of over 450 books on the Viet Nam War this is without a doubt one of the most outstanding books I own. The author brilliantly demolishes the theory that the was was inevitable. He exposes the flawed thinking of the Johnson Administration as well as the downright deceit of some of Johnson's people. Alongside 'Dereliction of Duty' this book should be required reading for anyone who is serious about understanding the origin and nature of the Viet Nam War. This is the book Robert McNamara should have written instead of 'In Retrospect'. The book is not some stuffy academic treatise but wonderfully readable which I heartily recommend to any any student of history.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lucid, persuasive account 8 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this masterful study of how the United States committed hundreds of thousands of ground troops to the war in Vietnam, Fredrik Logevall persuasively argues that the war was a choice, not an inevitable outcome of the Cold War. Based on exhaustive research, Logevall conclusively demonstrates that President Johnson had a variety of viable options and that the escalation of the war was not the only possible or feasible course of action. Even at the time, Johnson and his advisers knew that they had a variety of options, yet as Logevall shows, they chose to escalate the war, with terrible consequences. This book is a powerful study of miscalculation and cowardice and a reminder of just how misguided the American war in Vietnam was. A must read.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary research and compelling arguement 18 Aug. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
CHOOSING WAR makes an important contribution to the literature on the Vietnam War. With cogent analysis, detailed research, and stunning clarity, Logevall has crafted a book that should become the standard account of the "Long 1964." Not only does he illuminate the heretofore understudied international angle of this period, he makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the role of domestic politics in the making of U.S. foreign policy.
The only reservation I have with the book is a small problem with the thesis. Logevall makes a persuasive argument that Lyndon Johnson (and members of his administration, but mainly LBJ) consciously chose war over other options in Vietnam in an attempt to preserve his personal credibility and domestic agenda. Yet at the end of the book, Logevall backs off this indictment, arguing that Vietnam was, in the end, America's war, with enough responsibility to go around. This is a minor point, but one that Logevall or his editor should have recognized and addressed before publication.
40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scathing & Illuminating Examination Of Why Vietnam.... 8 Oct. 2000
By Barron Laycock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This fascinating, extremely readable, and carefully researched book by historian Frederik Logevall has an intriguing thesis closely paralleling that of several other emerging scholars regarding the origins and prosecution of the Vietnam War. Like David Kaiser's provocative indictment in "American Tragedy; Kennedy, Johnson, & The Origins Of The Vietnam War" of both the military and civilian advisors to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, the author presents a damning and quite convincing stream of evidence proving that it was in fact a series of individuals like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense Dean Rusk, and General William Westmoreland who arrogantly chose to pursue a war that many around them actively questioned and discouraged. The author's careful research shows a flood of documentary evidence indicating that these people and a number of like-minded others, deliberately chose to prosecute a war for which they had good reason to believe would not likely succeed.
Unlike Kaiser in his excellent book, Professor Logevall chooses to concentrate impressively on a critical eighteen-month period spanning from the summer of 1963 to the early winter of 1965, and the fateful steps taken during that period toward a policy of escalation and direct involvement of American combat units. The author contends that any one of a number of important opportunities to step aside were deliberately ignored, often based on important information provided by key insiders such as McNamara. As the record also shows, this information was anything but the disinterested and objective assessment of the political, economic, and military situation on the ground in South Vietnam it was presented as. In this sense both President Kennedy and President Johnson were victims of a quite deliberate campaign of misinformation and self-serving worst-case analysis by Rusk, McNamara, and Westmoreland.
It was in such a poisonous and duplicitous environment that Lyndon Johnson made a fateful series of decisions to escalate the war by "Americanizing" it, something Kennedy before him had quite insistently denied permission to do. The author also argues quite persuasively that both Kennedy and Johnson had stepped away from opportunities for disengaging from the involvement in Vietnam for domestic political reasons, including a concern with being seen as "soft" on communism in the period preceding the coming national elections of 1964. This is substantiated by Johnson's actions after Kennedy's assassination; while secretly initiating actions to escalate the war, Johnson self-consciously campaigned saying exactly the opposite. He understood the potential firestorm American involvement could have for both liberal and conservative criticism, and was therefore careful to mitigate his vulnerability by neutralizing it as a political factor until after the Presidential elections of 1964.
Likewise, once committed to a policy of massive American participation in the war, Johnson feared the personal consequences both domestically and internationally were he to decide to withdraw and admit defeat. Yet world leaders almost uniformly distanced themselves from American involvement, and privately counseled Johnson to "cut and run". In addition, Johnson's own lack of appreciation for the potential damage our involvement in Vietnam might have on international relations resulted in a number of lost opportunities for détente and improvement in relations with both the Soviet Union and China. Based on his own personal frailties and the bad counsel of both his military and civilian advisors, he pursued the single most disastrous course imaginable; further escalation, condemning not only his own domestic program but nearly 60,000 American soldiers to untimely (and absolutely unnecessary) death.
This is am intriguing, insightful, and important book, and the author writes both in an entertaining and accessible style. He mirrors the evidence presented in other recent books such as the aforementioned Kaiser tome, and also in Major H.R. McMaster's absorbing recent book, "Dereliction Of Duty; Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, And The Lies That Led to Vietnam", and handily helps to put the lie to the kind of neo-revisionist saber-rattling of armchair conservatives like Michael Lind ( one wonders if Lind was ever in the military; or if he is a "George W. Bush" kind of born-again macho clebrant of combat who has never had a shot fired at him, an armchair enthusiast who cheered from the sidelines as a passive noncombatant member of the Texas Air National Guard). Gee, let's fly planes over the vacant Texas tundra and we can call ourselves patriots! Lind would have us believe this was all God's work in his silly and wrong-headed narrative "The Necessary War". Since he was likely still in his nappies when the firestorm was raining all over the heads of the more than half million uneducated, largely blue-collar men and women we deployed at any one time to Vietnam, I wonder how he would know. Did he read about it at Yale? "Choosing War", on the other hand, is an excellent and carefully crafted work of scholarship, and one that helps to nail together a much more comprehensive understanding of how it was we were so badly and quite unnecessarily led into this most unfortunate of American wars.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincing 1 July 2010
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This interesting and well written book is a close examination of the decision to "Americanize" the Vietnam War. Logevall provides a close analysis of what he calls the long 1964, the period from the late summer of 1963 to the spring of 1965, to examine the dynamics of the decision to make the American Vietnam commitment essentially an American war with Vietnamese assistance. Logevall's thorough research includes careful analysis of documentation about the American decision makers, study of international responses to the Vietnam situation and American choices, and domestic American discussion of Vietnam, the last focusing on important Congressional figures and influential journalists.

Logevall begins with the general failure of the Diem regime and the American-Kennedy administration decision in 1963 to support a coup against Diem in the hope of finding a more vigorous, but paradoxically less independent, client administration in South Vietnam. This decision was made against the background of the failure of Diem to erect a creditable defense against the NLF, the considerable challenges to Diem from other groups in South Vietnam like the Buddhist clergy, and concerns on the part of the Kennedy administration that Diem would attempt to negotiate with the NLF or the Hanoi government to pursue a "neutral" policy. The fear that Diem's or a successor government would attempt to make a separate deal with Hanoi and/or the NLF would be a recurrent concern of American policy makers. This fear was reinforced by recurrent suggestions made by American allies and influential members of the American establishment that neutralization of Vietnam would be the most effective policy. Something like the original 1954 Geneva process that resulted in the partition of Vietnam would have been used to cover the withdrawal of American involvement in Vietnam. While in most of these scenarios, South Vietnam would have been at least nominally independent, it was anticipated that Hanoi would reunify Vietnam as a communist regime. The prediction, generally borne out by later events, was that reunified Vietnam would have been a "Titoist" independent communist state, generally hostile to China. The most prominent advocate for this type of solution was Charles De Gaulle, whose open support for this option would consistently infuriate American policy makers.

From the evidence presented by Logevall, it appears that neutralization was a real possibility and that such negotiations could have been pursued effectively at several times during the long 1964. This type of policy was urged upon Kennedy and Johnson repeatedly by a succession of American allies, neutral parties like the UN General Secretary U Thant, and quite a few influential American figures such as Walter Lippmann and several experienced Congressional leaders. All these individuals feared that greater American involvement in Vietnam would lead to a fruitless and destructive major conflict that would greatly impair American interests. These issues were also laid out well by a number of administration figures in the White House, the State Dept., and the CIA.

Throughout 1963, the Kennedy administration continued to support South Vietnamese clients and deflected opportunities for a negotiated settlement. Following Kennedy's death, Johnson did much the same. Johnson, however, not only resisted the idea of a negotiated withdrawal but also became increasingly attracted to the option of increased involvement, pursuing contingency plans for such involvement and setting the stage with the notorious Tonkin Gulf resolution. Wary of appearing too aggressive to the American voting public, the Johnson administration pursued what was essentially a duplicitous course, trying to reassure Congressional skeptics and the public that major US involvement in Vietnam was not in the offing while preparing for major involvement. Many influential Democratic Party figures with fears of larger US involvement in Vietnam and serious concerns about Johnson administration policies were publicly silent because of the perceived need for solidarity prior to the 1964 elections.

After the 1964 elections, Johnson felt secure enough to embark on an aggressive Vietnam policy, even though he essentially adopted the approach of the defeated Goldwater. In Logevall's analysis, the personal characteristics and rigidity of the major American policy makers - Johnson, McNamara, Rusk, and Bundy - appear paramount. Johnson, in particular, with his dogmatic anti-communism and fear of appearing weak, is the key figure. Logevall suggests that if Kennedy had not been killed, the outcome would have been different. Another competent historian who has been over much of the same ground, David Kaiser, reached much the same conclusion. Logevall is very careful to note that deferential environment with respect to Presidential foreign policy primacy and domestic political concerns were key factors in this disastrous decision.

Logevall's final conclusion is that the concentration of foreign policy decision making in the White House and the lack of responsible actions on the part of Congress is intrinsically dangerous. His conclusion, published in 1999, turns out to be prescient.
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