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Vietnam: The Necessary War Kindle Edition
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For those rejecting even the thought of a superpower struggle for hegemony, Linds reasoning may be difficult to swallow. He is unsentimental about war, althou mentioning the moral aspect several times. With a down-to-the-core practical view of the world it does at least make me look upon the wars of the US in a new, more favorable way.
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Having said that, I don't agree with Lind's conclusion. His basic premise is that the war was unwinnable, but that it had to be fought for American credibility. I don't think you should fight wars and expend blood for something as abstract as credibility. Nor do I believe wars should be fought unless they can be won. Lind says 20,000 casualties would have been acceptable to keep American prestige high in our allies' eyes. I would not have spent one American life in Vietnam.
Lind ruefully notes that a half-baked consensus about Vietnam has found vogue. The U.S. need not have intervened in the first place, but "unlimited" force should have been used against the Viet Cong and North Vietnam once the U.S. did intervene. Liberal isolationists are presumed to have been correct about geopolitical considerations while conservative hawks are presumed to have been correct about military tactics. As Lind demonstrates, both halves of this consensus are misleading:
1) LBJ did not invent America's interest in preserving a non-Communist South Vietnam; it was a commitment dating back to Truman and Eisenhower. Furthermore, it's naive to assume that the U.S. would have suffered little or no damage to its international credibility or security if it allowed South Vietnam to go down the drain without a fight in 1965, especially so close on the heels of the Bay of Pigs and the construction of the Berlin Wall. In fact, the eventual victory of Moscow's North Vietnamese clients did lead to a more aggressive Soviet foreign policy, culminating in the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
2) LBJ, according to Lind's account, made just one significant stumble, but it was a big one. He should never have given the green light to General Westmoreland's war of attrition. Conventional tactics were an inefficient way to battle the VC, which was waging a mostly guerrilla insurgency in the make-or-break years between 1965 and 1968. The problem was not that Westmoreland was losing the war; the problem was that too many American casualties piled up too quickly. Even after the Tet Offensive, which was a defeat for the VC from a purely military standpoint, the war remained "winnable." But it was being "won" at an obscenely high price, more than the American people could bear.
An alternative was the doctrine of "counter-insurgency" a.k.a. "pacification" or "population security." As Lind explains: "[A] pacification strategy ... would have permitted a more discriminating and less expensive approach to the use of firepower while reducing American losses ... The insurgency would have withered if the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces cut off the recruits and supplies flowing to the Viet Cong from South Vietnam's densely populated coastal rim ..."
Lind does not claim that pacification by itself would have won the war. "[T]he point of pacification would have been to force Hanoi to choose between waging a conventional Korean-type war (in which the U.S. had a comparative advantage) or abandoning its attempt to conquer South Vietnam."
This book has its imperfections. For example, Lind talks from both sides of his mouth regarding America's disengagement from Indochina in 1973-75. "If any Americans deserve a share of the blame for the Khmer Rouge massacres and famine," Lind writes on page 174, "it is anti-war members of Congress ... [who denied] military aid and air support for America's Cambodian allies." Whoa! Lind spends much of the previous 173 pages explaining why the U.S. needed to get out of Indochina after 1968 (to preserve the domestic consensus in favor of the Cold War on other fronts). Now he chastises Congress for doing exactly that!?! The cutoff of aid to Lon Nol's Cambodian government came more than two years after Nixon and Kissinger signed a treaty that Lind himself calls "a thinly disguised capitulation to Hanoi." Quick fixes were futile by 1975. Recognizing this, Lind writes on page 136: "Even without the congressional cutoff of U.S. military [aid], it seems unlikely that any endgame that did not lead to an indefinite Korean-style commitment of U.S. forces to Indochina probably would have doomed South Vietnam, along with Laos and Cambodia." Thanks for clearing that up, Mike.
But overall, Michael Lind refreshingly challenges the cliches at both ends of the spectrum that have distorted discussions of the Vietnam War for too long.
He also debunks much of the liberal mythology surrounding the war. There were no "missed opportunities" to befriend the murderous North Vietnamese Communists. There was no opportunity for a Coalition Government in South Vietnam. South Vietnam's government was at least as legitimate as the North's and certainly preferable. The U.S. and South Vietnam did not violate the 1954 Geneva Conference requiring Vietnam wide elections because neither nation ratified this agreement.
Lind also debunks some of the right wing orthodoxy too. An invasion of North Vietnam would have been counterproductive if not disasterous. Also, lavish use of bombing was probably counter productive.
The only criticism I have is that this book is relatively short compared to its theme. Despite this, Mr. Lind makes compelling arguments and backs them up with quality research. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all who seek truth!
At times the book reads like it was designed for domestic political consumption and winning points on one of the cable talk shows that are broadcast from various parts of the Washington, D.C. area. It is far more sophisticated than what anyone will find on those shows, though.
Lind basically calls it like he sees it and manages to rankle almost anyone who has a stake in American public life: Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, the religious, the military, the antiwar movement and pacifists, the American intellectual community, and the civil rights movement to name just a few. Those few groups that do not get offended in some form from this book are probably not all that important in the first place. In the process, he punctures many myths. Chapter three on the failure of the U.S. military in Vietnam--rejecting the idea popular among veterans that the politicians kept them from winning the war--alone is worth the price of the book. He also goes after the antiwar movement and argues in convincing fashion that it became the witting pawn of the North Vietnamese and that many of the leaders crossed the line between dissent and disloyalty. The chapter on American politics and culture is interesting, but he makes the United States far more historical conscious than is actually the case. It is also difficult to take serious an argument that claims Wisconsin and Oregon are part of New England. Few people will buy all his arguments, but he will make you stop and think a bit.