Even after two decades, the memory of the Vietnam War seems to haunt our culture. From Forrest Gump to Miss Saigon, from Tim O'Brien's Pulitzer Prize-winning Going After Cacciato to Robert McNamara's controversial memoir In Retrospect, Americans are drawn again and again to ponder our long, tragic involvement in Southeast Asia. Now eminent historian Robert D. Schulzinger has combed the newly available documentary evidence, both in public and private archives, to produce an ambitious, masterful account of three decades of war in Vietnam--the first major full-length history of the conflict to be based on primary sources.
In A Time for War, Schulzinger paints a vast yet intricate canvas of more than three decades of conflict in Vietnam, from the first rumblings of rebellion against the French colonialists to the American intervention and eventual withdrawal. His comprehensive narrative incorporates every aspect of the war--from the military (as seen in his brisk account of the French failure at Dienbienphu) to the economic (such as the wage increase sparked by the draft in the United States) to the political. Drawing on massive research, he offers a vivid and insightful portrait of the changes in Vietnamese politics and society, from the rise of Ho Chi Minh, to the division of the country, to the struggles between South Vietnamese president Diem and heavily armed religious sects, to the infighting and corruption that plagued Saigon. Schulzinger reveals precisely how outside powers--first the French, then the Americans--committed themselves to war in Indochina, even against their own better judgment. Roosevelt, for example, derided the French efforts to reassert their colonial control after World War II, yet Truman, Eisenhower, and their advisers gradually came to believe that Vietnam was central to American interests. The author's account of Johnson is particularly telling and tragic, describing how president would voice clear headed, even prescient warnings about the dangers of intervention--then change his mind, committing America's prestige and military might to supporting a corrupt, unpopular regime. Schulzinger offers sharp criticism of the American military effort, and offers a fascinating look inside the Nixon White House, showing how the Republican president dragged out the war long past the point when he realized that the United States could not win. Finally, Schulzinger paints a brilliant political and social portrait of the times, illuminating the impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Americans and Vietnamese. Schulzinger shows what it was like to participate in the war--as a common soldier, an American nurse, a navy flyer, a conscript in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, a Vietcong fighter, or an antiwar protester.
In a field crowded with fiction, memoirs, and popular tracts, A Time for War will stand as the landmark history of America's longest war. Based on extensive archival research, it will be the first place readers will turn in an effort to understand this tragic, divisive conflict.
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