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America’s Descent into Vietnam

by Robert Mann

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-465-04369-0
Publisher: Basic

A comprehensive history of the political causes of the American conflict in Vietnam.

As the extreme divisiveness that marked the Vietnam War slowly fades into America’s cultural consciousness, historians have busied themselves trying to place the conflict in an appropriate historical perspective. Mann, a veteran US senatorial staffer and acclaimed author (The Walls of Jericho, 1996), combines his insider’s understanding of the era’s political climate with a keen talent for narrative history to produce an insightful analysis of the American experience in Indochina. He casts the conflict as a series of false assumptions and miscalculations, and argues that Ho Chi Minh’s struggle against South Vietnam was not a Cold War expansion of communism so much as it was a nationalist struggle against western colonialism. After having presented Vietnam to the public as conflict over the containment of communism, Mann suggests that US presidents faced the unhappy dilemma of either appearing soft on communism or further miring the nation in an unwinnable war—and he demonstrates the heavy political price paid by Mike Mansfield, George McGovern, and others who opposed the fighting on principle. Mann further implies that such political risk led to Johnson’s gradual and ineffective escalation of the hostilities and Nixon’s equally cautious reduction of American commitment to the region. His research attempts to convince readers of how and why key politicians and policymakers led the nation into the foreign and domestic tumult caused by the war. His focus on political history provides a fresh view of the conflict and allows his account to rise above the many ideologically tainted histories of America in Southeast Asia.

A credible and intellectually honest reevaluation.