Official Optimism and Vietnam

I’m currently writing a review of Brian VanDeMark’s Road to Disaster: A New History of America’s Descent into Vietnam. The book is due to go on sale on 18 September 2018. Once my review is published, I’ll post a URL here.

I’m impressed with VanDeMark’s grasp of the history of the Vietnam war and the detail he includes. A theme that recurs throughout the narration is how official optimism misled Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in their decision making about the war.

During the entire period covered by the book I was in Vietnam at least four months each year. I had two complete tours there and so many shorter trips that I lost count. I remember being struck by the upbeat portrayal of the war from the administrations then in power. I scratched my had in wonder that they could see only the bright side of the picture and ignore the more foreboding news from the battlefield. Optimism was becoming wishful thinking. Self-delusion was quick to follow.

I know that some of the misunderstanding came from reporting by U.S. forces in Vietnam. I know that the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and many U.S. generals stressed, for example, the huge losses suffered by the North Vietnamese. But I also knew that those figures were exaggerated. And what the numbers did not take into account was the determination of the North Vietnamese to seize all of South Vietnam even if every member of their forces had to die in the process. The U.S. had no such resolve.

I’ll have more to say about the book over time, but I’ll conclude this post by pointing out that U.S. forces won every major battle in Vietnam, but we lost the war.

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