A gripping history of US involvement in Vietnam, focusing on political events in Washington and Saigon. Based largely on 12,000 pages of previously classified government documents, including US cabinet deliberations and cables between various administration officials, this hefty volume shows in detail how successive American presidents became locked in to a hopeless policy toward Vietnam. Kahin, political science and Asian history professor at Cornell and coauthor of The United States in Vietnam, shows convincingly that the main considerations of US thinking about Vietnam over the years had little to do with the reality of Vietnamese politics (most observers agreed that Ho Chi Minh would have easily won the nationwide election called for under the 1954 Geneva agreements). Instead, each president from Truman to Johnson (Kahin's account ends in 1966, when the goal of having a fully compliant government in Saigon was attained) was most concerned domestically with not being accused of ""losing"" Vietnam and internationally with ""sending messages"" to Moscow, Peking, and our allies. Thus when Washington saw that the political solution worked out at Geneva would not lead to the desired anti-communist bastion in the south of Vietnam, it then decided to gamble all or nothing on a military solution. This involved creating certain fictions: assertions that the Viet Cong were ""infiltrators"" from the North, that no one but anti-communists had legitimate political interests in South Vietnam, that there were two countries of Vietnam, that the Geneva agreements meant something different from what the signatories had in mind. Besides showing the how and why of administration decisions, this valuable book traces US meddling in South Vietnam, from the coups against Diem, Minh, Khanh, and Quat to the complete militarization of the region, resulting in the domination of the hardline Communists, whom American policy was supposed to limit. Thorough and insightful, this is essential reading.