ANATOMY OF A WAR: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience by Gabriel Kolko
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ANATOMY OF A WAR: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Once again, the revisionist historian, whose books include The Limits of Power, The Triumph of Conservatism, and The Politics of War, proves that committed scholarship need not be reductive. In this eye-opening, objective study of the Vietnam War, he's also quite expansive; the ""longest, most sustained revolutionary effort in modern history"" demands an epic of this scope and magnitude. Unlike previous books on Vietnam, Kolko's grand synthesis deftly balances the three sides in the protracted struggle: the Communist Party, the Republic of Vietnam, and the US. Relying on a wealth of official documents and benefiting from the research of his predecessors, Kolko attends to ""the larger military, economic, social, international, and political-ideological. . .trends operating simultaneously"" on each side. Supplementing standard sources with countless interviews--of Vietnamese peasants as well as American policy-makers--he explains in detail how the tiny Communist Party grew in strength and numbers as it met the practical and theoretical challenges of post-colonial rule in the North and continued guerrilla warfare in the South. In Kolko's estimation, the Party endured not through the application of ironclad Marxist-Leninist principles but by remaining decentralized, responsive to the mobilized masses, and flexible in its military tactics. The story of the Republic, in contrast, is largely a tale of two venal men and their thoroughly corrupt regimes. Diem and Thieu, whose fortunes rose and fell in accordance with US backing, proved powerless on all fronts--political, military, and economic. So why were we in Vietnam? That's the toughest question. Kolko's research into American foreign policy provides his answer. Halfway around the globe, in a country they barely understood, American decision-makers put to the test their rigid doctrines of ""containment, dominoes, and intervention."" These unrealistic notions are what failed miserably in Vietnam, not American will, as many post-mortems have had it. Sure to be controversial, this meticulously documented work will become a pivotal starting point for all future discussions of the Vietnam war.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1985
Publisher: Pantheon