An epic account of America’s involvement in Vietnam by a historian who covered much of the war for the New York Times.
Langguth (A Noise of War, 1994, etc.) uses the same technique he employed in his previous military histories: a painstakingly constructed narrative described through the eyes of participants. In the case of Vietnam, he has the advantage of having witnessed the events himself, and he was also able to interview various policymakers (from Saigon, Hanoi, and Washington) who plotted the course of the war, as well as to examine thousands of declassified documents. The result is a revision of the Vietnam revisionists—those who would argue that the war could have been won if the US had been able to commit all its resources and an unrelenting will to the war effort. The major events of the period are all here: the 1954 collapse of French control over its former colony at Diên Biên Phú; the flawed leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem that ended in a coup, ambivalently abetted by the Kennedy administration; the comic-opera succession of short-lived, corrupt South Vietnamese regimes that followed; the grueling guerrilla warfare; the My Lai massacre; the stop-and-start attempts at peace negotiations; and, finally, the April 1975 Communist takeover. A sprawling cast of characters is revealed with complexity and, sometimes, great sympathy: North Vietnamese Communists, as resentful toward their Chinese and Soviet allies as toward their American foes; American political and military leaders, starting out ignorant of the inept and corrupt regime they back, increasingly certain that the war effort is doomed, but thrashing about in the quagmire for craven electoral considerations; and common soldiers on all sides, enduring harrowing conditions and often fighting heroically for years.
A grimly powerful procession of folly and tragedy.