AN INTERNATIONAL HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR: The Kennedy Strategy by R.B. Smith

AN INTERNATIONAL HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR: The Kennedy Strategy

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Nearly all histories of the Vietnam War available to American readers have been two-dimensional: the events and decisions that occurred in Washington and those that occurred in South Vietnam, with only super. ficial reference to what was occurring among the other players--Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow. This, the second volume in a projected series on the Vietnam conflict, by a British historian does a fine job of weaving into the international tapestry of events some important blank spaces that have until now surrounded the Vietnam experience. For instance, Smith relates the thinking of Kennedy administration officials during the Cuban missile crisis to their thinking on Vietnam. Smith's first volume covered 1955-1961. The present work covers the period of the Kennedy and Johnson decisions 1961-1965. In his introduction, Smith explains that his research ""looks at both sides of the conflict simultaneously. . . The question for the historian is how [Vietnam] became. . .a strategic focal point which had to be protected. . .by the deployment of US combat troops. That is not a question we can hope to answer by studying events in Washington and in Vietnam alone. The war was the product of a global pattern of conflict which must be analysed in global terms."" On the American side, Smith had a wealth of research material, including internal memoranda of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that were highly classified when they were written; on the Communist side, he had to rely on newspaper and radio reports, speeches by officials and the occasional decision paper that Hanoi, Peking and Moscow have made public. This, then, is a first cut at the definitive history of the US involvement in Vietnam; the final cut probably will not come for another decade or two, when the Communist side releases more of the documents and discussions that formed the basis for their thinking and strategy. When that version does come, Smith would be a good person to do it. His research and his source notes are meticulous, and his style makes the material easily accessible to the general reader. He is also free of the political/cultural shibboleths about Communism most Americans have unwittingly absorbed in recent decades. As he points out: "". . . The way the Chinese and Vietnamese Communists viewed Western 'imperialism' certainly deserves to be taken seriously in a stud), of an international conflict in which they were leading protagonists.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's