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Introduction 1. The Eisenhower Administration and Indochina: 1954-1960 2. No War in Laos: January-June 1961 3. A New Effort in Vietnam: January-August 1961 4. War or Peace? September-November 1961 5. Limiting the Commitment: November 1961-November 1962 6. The War in Vietnam: 1962 7. A Gathering Storm: January-July 1963 8. The Buddhist Crisis and the Cable of August 24: 1963 9. The Coup: August-November 1963 10. A Decision for War: November 1963-April 1964 11. To the Tonkin Gulf: April-August 1964 12. Planning for War: September-December 1964 13. Over the Edge: December 1964-March 1965 14. War in Secret: March-June 1965 15. War in Public: June-July 1965 16. Bad History, Wrong War Epilogue: Tragedy and History Dedication Abbreviations Notes Acknowledgments Illustration Credits Index
American Tragedy is a superb analysis of the debate within the United States government thirty-five years ago over what we should do about South Vietnam. David Kaiser shows in impressive and meticulous detail how we stumbled into an unnecessary war. -- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. David Kaiser has written a remarkably thorough, detached, yet sensitive book about the U.S. war in Vietnam. His previous scholarship has ranted over the whole history of modern warfare, and he sets the Vietnam War in that context. -- Ernest R. May, co-author of The Kennedy Tapes (Harvard) With newly declassified cables and high-level memoranda and policy instructions, good supporting research and clear prose, David Kaiser has written a very important book on Vietnam and the movement to disaster. Not before has there been such a compelling account of the pressures to which Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were subject from the military and its civilian acolytes, whose terrifying irresponsibility extended on to the proposed use of nuclear weapons. To repeat: a most important book, still relevant as to warriors advising on war. -- John Kenneth Galbraith In the vast literature on American intervention in Vietnam, David Kaiser has added an indispensable and revelatory new book. Based on exhaustive research and profound scholarly insight, Kaiser makes clear that the nation's tragic involvement in Vietnam was neither arbitrary nor inevitable. No other study presents a fuller or more persuasive picture of this critical moment in our nation's history. -- Alan Brinkley, author of Liberalism and Its Discontents (Harvard) American Tragedy is a splendid reinterpretation of U. S. Involvement in Vietnam. David Kaiser has unearthed fascinating new archival material which helps us better understand why this remote Asian peninsula was such a contested Cold War prize. You cannot properly comprehend the Vietnam War without reading this first-rate book. -- Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center, University of New Orleans David Kaiser's book on the origins of the American tragedy in Vietnam is now the finest study on this much discussed subject. Kaiser's prodigious research and keen analysis gives us persuasive answers to the many questions journalists and historians have been asking for years about the roots of our involvement in the conflict. Kaiser's book will stand as the principal work on this compelling subject for years to come. Every one interested in the recent history of the United States will want to read this book. -- Robert Dallek, author of Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times
David Kaiser is an independent scholar.
Kaiser (strategy and policy, Naval War Coll.; Politics and War) offers the second excellent investigation of the roots of the Vietnam War in as many years, following Fredrik Logevall's Choosing War (LJ 7/99). Having spent nine years researching recently declassified documents, the author describes in exacting detail the evolution of Vietnam policies from 1961 to 1965, the year that Johnson committed the United States to a war it couldn't win. Kaiser differs from Longevall by portraying Kennedy as skilled at keeping under control the prowar instincts of top cabinet members. The first-rate research is complemented by an intriguing model of intergenerational policy-making, whereby Kaiser attributes much of the failure to the heavy-handed actions of the "GI generation," the successful leaders of World War II. Highly recommended for specialized academic and larger public collections.--Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kaiser has worked his way through the archives and emerged with an impressive account of what he terms 'the greatest policy miscalculation in the history of American foreign relations.' The book is a detailed narrative of the war-related decisions of the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations, tracing American involvement from the late 1950's to the dispatch of ground troops in 1965. All the familiar elements of the story are here--the early crisis in Laos , the hapless military advisory mission, the choices of 1964-65 that Americanized the war--along with some new tidbits as well, like a transcript of John F. Kennedy's private post-mortem on the 1963 coup against the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. -- Gideon Rose New York Times Book Review It's been a long time since we had a 'big' book on the war in Vietnam. American Tragedy is that book. -- Shimshon Arad Jerusalem Post As revisionists continue their hallucinatory attempts to re-write Vietnam as another WWII--if only we had had the will to win--careful scholarship is deepening our understanding of very different, painful story, from which wisdom to shape a better future still might come, giving belated meaning and significance to the lives of those who died there for other men's folly. American Tragedy is a landmark of such scholarship, and of the struggle to redeem something of value from the most wantonly destructive episode of our history in the past 50 years. -- Paul Rosenberg Denver Post Kaiser's grasp of the broader sweep of the flow of history enables him to analyse how the lessons of the history of the 1930s were misapplied by the G. I. Generation to Vietnam in the 1960s. Moreover, Kaiser's military background leads him to discuss in more detail and with greater authority than in most accounts the military aspects of the conflict. -- Peter Boyle Times Higher Education Supplement [Kaiser's] Vietnam book is strongest on the Kennedy period...[He] persuasively argues that Kennedy would have avoided a major American war in Vietnam had he lived. Foreign Affairs [Kaiser] presents an excellent, comprehensive chronological accounting of Vietnam War policymaking in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The book's strongest point is Kaiser's extensive use of newly released primary materials. Along with his narrative, the author also offers an opinionated analysis of what he calls 'the greatest policy miscalculation in the history of American foreign relations.' -- Marc Leepson Dallas Morning News 20010107 In American Tragedy, David Kaiser examines the origins of the war and the fateful decisions that resulted in issues that haunted the country in subsequent decades. With new evidence from the State and Defense Departments, Kaiser documents Kennedy's wariness of intervention Kaiser writes very good history; he deserves a wide serious audience. -- Stanley I. Kutler Chicago Tribune His historiographical argument is sure to antagonize the military establishment, the CIA, surviving key policymakers like William Bundy and McNamara, anti-war critics on the left, defenders of the American commitment to fight Asian communism--and even some of his fellow historians...Kaiser is spectacularly persuasive in placing nuclear weapons at the pregnant center of the Joint Chiefs' assumptions in Vietnam. There were indeed 'wild men waiting in the wings,' as McGeorge Bundy later put it, ready to invade North Vietnam with tactical nuclear weapons. And that would have even been an even greater disaster than what happened. It is in this light that Kaiser's book is an invaluable contribution to the on-going task of peeling back further layers of the history. -- Kai Bird Washington Post Book World What Professor Kaiser exposes fully is the early American preparation for nuclear war in Southeast Asia and, if necessary, with China. Skeptics may dismiss this as mere contingency planning, but the Joint Chiefs went beyond preparing for a contingency to advocacy; and Kaiser shows how superiors were willing to go along with them...Kaiser's theme throughout his fascinating but depressing study is that the main actors, defying expert knowledge, could not see that their project was doomed and never defined their ultimate objectives apart from keeping Hanoi from winning. -- Jonathan Mirsky New York Review of Books Kaiser, a professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College, bases his account of Vietnam policy-making not on the abstractions of international relations theory but on an exhaustive examination of the documentary record. The portrait he paints of Cold War liberalism is a frightening one. -- Bill Boisvert In These Times The Vietnam war has been studied exhaustively but never, in many minds, satisfactorily...That makes American Tragedy a valuable, even indispensable, addition to the long, groaning shelf of books examining the path the United States took when it stumbled into its most disastrous foreign war. David Kaiser has done prodigious documentary research, studying material that had not been previously available, and has arrived at a thesis that is sure to be controversial and to open, once again, the old and painful wounds. -- Geoffrey Norman American Way This masterpiece of governmental history locates the roots of the Vietnam War not in the Johnson era or even Kennedy administration, but back in the military policies of the Eisenhower era...Drawing on a host of documents from recently opened government archives and tape recordings of White House meetings, Kaiser offers voluminous and meticulous evidence that Kennedy repeatedly rejected, deferred or at least modified recommendations for military actions--most notably in Laos...President Johnson, less skilled than Kennedy in foreign affairs, readily reverted to Eisenhower's narrow policy framework, despite the emergence of critics among his advisers whose thinking echoed Kennedy's. Kaiser repeatedly says they ignored problems they couldn't solve and failed to heed clear evidence that their assumptions were flawed, making defeat a foregone conclusion. This is a commanding work that sheds bright light on questions of responsibility for the Vietnam debacle. Publishers Weekly An important addition to the sad--and growing--library devoted to the Vietnam war. Kaiser is a longtime professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College--an important qualification, given the provocative news he brings in his heavily documented tome...Highly useful to scholars, and certain to excite discussion and even controversy, Kaiser's book is a valuable contribution. Kirkus Reviews [An] excellent investigation of the roots of the Vietnam War...Having spent nine years researching recently declassified documents, the author describes in exacting detail the evolution of Vietnam policies from 1961 to 1965, the year that Johnson committed the United States to a war it couldn't win...The first-rate research is complemented by an intriguing model of intergenerational policy-making, whereby Kaiser attributes much of the failure to the heavy-handed actions of the 'GI generation,' the successful leaders of World War II. Highly recommended. -- Karl Helicher Library Journal Kaiser [attempts] to shift a significant share of the responsibility [for the Vietnam War] to those military and foreign-policy specialists in the Eisenhower administration who believed that Communist 'aggression' has to be resisted everywhere at all times. In Kaiser's scenario, a cautious President Kennedy consistently resisted the entreaties of State and Defense Department professionals (many of them Eisenhower holdovers) to dramatically expand our commitment in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Kaiser asserts, President Johnson was far more willing to accept the advice of those same men. Kaiser, utilizing substantial and newly available source material, deftly organizes a vast amount of data into a provocative and important contribution to the controversy. -- Jay Freeman Booklist The question of the [Vietnam] war's nobility will be debated for years, but Kaiser's deeply researched, thoughtful and fresh look at the origin of America's stumble into war sets the standard for all future books. Kaiser invokes 'tragedy' in its classical sense: good men, devoted to a worthy cause, putting in motion actions that would bring unplanned, dreadful consequences. -- Bruce Clayton Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio
This masterpiece of governmental history locates the roots of the Vietnam War not in the Johnson or even Kennedy administration, but back in the military policies of the Eisenhower era. Eisenhower and his advisors took an aggressive attitude--including an openness to using nuclear weaponsÄtoward communist advances anywhere, "especially in Southeast Asia," Kaiser finds. Neutralist, nonaligned governments in emerging nations, such as in Laos, were treated as enemies; Kennedy was more open to nonaligned governments and more interested in d‚tente than in war. But the positions of the Eisenhower administration were entrenched institutionally among both civilian and military advisors in the State and Defense Departments. Drawing on a host of documents from recently opened government archives and tape recordings of White House meetings, Kaiser offers voluminous and meticulous evidence that Kennedy repeatedly rejected, deferred or at least modified recommendations for military actionsÄmost notably in Laos. Misled by aides into thinking we were winning in Vietnam, even after Diem's overthrow, Kennedy never aggressively redirected policy there. President Johnson, less skilled than Kennedy in foreign affairs, readily reverted to Eisenhower's narrow policy framework, despite the emergence of critics among his advisers whose thinking echoed Kennedy's. Kaiser repeatedly says they ignored problems they couldn't solve and failed to heed clear evidence that their assumptions were flawed, making defeat a foregone conclusion. This is a commanding work that sheds bright light on questions of responsibility for the Vietnam debacle. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.