Four scholar-critics of American foreign policy--William Appleman Williams, Thomas McCormick, Lloyd Gardner, Walter...


AMERICA IN VIETNAM: A Documentary History

Four scholar-critics of American foreign policy--William Appleman Williams, Thomas McCormick, Lloyd Gardner, Walter LaFeber--present four sets of documents which together cover US involvement in Vietnam from the earliest missionary and trade connections to the 1975 troop pullout. Decide-for-yourself, says Williams--but there is no doubt, in the first section (""The Roots of Intervention, 1776-1945""), where he stands: ""It was a mindless hunger,"" for American capitalist hegemony, ""that led first to war with Japan, second to opposition to the Chinese Revolution, third to war in Korea, and finally to intervention in Vietnam."" In the documents--like Henry Luce's call for an America century vis-à-vis a Vietnamese account of ""the mobilization of the masses""--he of course finds backing for his interpretation. In section two (""Crisis, Commitment, and Counterrevolution, 1945-1952""), Thomas McCormick takes an equally stringent line--writing of American support for ""a sort of pseudo-nationalism to legitimize French efforts,"" of the US bestowing on postwar Japan ""the legitimacy of a peace-loving nation."" But apart from predictably damning Cold War memos and reports, the section does bring demonstrations of US and Japanese like-thinking, some prescient warnings (most notably from the Philippines' Carlos Romulo), and a sequence of crucial policy papers. Lloyd Gardner, in charge of the third section (""Dominoes, Diem, and Death, 1952-1963""), is less the prosecutor, less acidulous--and the documentary material too is more ambiguous, not-suggestive of mindless power-mongering. (See JFK's conflicting statements in two successive TV interviews, the Administration's seesawing on Diem.) Walter LaFeber then writes vigorous, multi-factoral history in section four (""The Rise and Fall of American Power, 1963-1975""). ""Johnson's political needs dictated his view of historical reality. He interpreted Vietnam within two historical contexts. The first was the 1930s. . ."" (Or: ""The battle at home went no better and had as much irony."") The documentary armament--for what was the Vietnam War per se--is understandably light in view of the many predecessor volumes. Some of this is off-the-beaten-track, however, and quietly mesmerizing. Senator Fullbright to State Department witness Katzenbach: ""You think it is outmoded to declare war?"" Henry Cabot Lodge, at the 1968 ""Wisemen"" meeting that advocated disengagement: ""We should [help] South Vietnamese society to develop as well as North Vietnamese society has been able to do."" An erratic compilation altogether--some of which might substitute for the Pentagon Papers, parts of which flesh out the standard histories. But as an entity it falls between scholarship and indictment, student needs and popular interest.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 1984

ISBN: 0393305554

Page Count: -

Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984