cover image America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War

America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War

David Milne. Hill & Wang, $26 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-374-10386-6

British professor Milne borrows the title of his book from a comparison made by a critic of Rostow’s influence on Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, but the Rostow presented here has none of the Russian monk’s cynicism or pragmatism. Rostow began as an idealist who put his faith in the American Dream’s exportability in both its political and economic contexts. Like President Kennedy, he believed in taking the Cold War to America’s enemies—and extending it to those likely to fall under Communist influence. With the force of a powerful intellect and a persuasive personality, Rostow supported intervention in Vietnam, the war’s successive Americanization and “staying the course.” His idealism hardened into ideology in the Johnson years. Milne describes Rostow’s principled refusal to concede that the war was un-winnable and his inability to recognize the consequences of a truncated Great Society and intensified Cold War. An unrepentant Rostow spent the remaining years of his career indicting others for their irresolution in waging what he still considered a necessary war. Milne’s indictment of Rostow depends on his interpretation of Vietnam as “misguided” and its consequences as “uniformly bleak.” Both interpretations are becoming debatable enough to make this book a polemic as well as a scholarly study. (Mar.)