MASTERS OF WAR by Robert Buzzanco


Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era
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 An extensive and unsparingly critical reappraisal of America's prolonged presence in Vietnam, which places virtually all responsibility for the war's loss on the US military. Historian Buzzanco (Univ. of Houston), who takes a middle-of- the-road stance on America's involvement in Vietnam, comes down hard on Pentagon brass at almost every turn. In a chronological format that commences with an evaluation of Indochina's perceived importance to Washington's strategic objectives after WW II and effectively ends with the Tet offensive early in 1968, the author documents the consistent wariness with which armed-forces chieftains viewed intervention from 1945 on and the divisiveness that convulsed their ranks once troops had been committed en masse. Buzzanco also addresses the arguable containment policies embraced by the military's civilian masters during the early stages of the Cold War, noting that they pinned their hopes for a quick return to the domestic agenda on battlefield attrition and overkill. Concerned they could be held accountable for failure, he observes, uniformed leaders began maneuvering the White House into untenable positions, e.g., with requests to mobilize reserves and permit unhindered escalation. In the meantime, upper-echelon commanders fought among themselves not only about whether massive firepower offered the best chance of winning an increasingly unpopular war but also over individual branches' share of the budgetary and mission action. Buzzanco asserts that by the time it became clear that military victory in Vietnam was an impossible dream, positions had hardened on the civilian as well as military sides of the debate. Although US forces soldiered on (at no small cost) for nearly five years after Tet, Buzzanco concludes that it was communist troops (not Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, or Richard Nixon) who defeated them. A diligently researched and thought-provoking contribution to the literature of Vietnam, a conflict that may never be resolved to the complete satisfaction of either the left or right.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-521-48046-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Cambridge Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995