cover image Vietnam: The Necessary War

Vietnam: The Necessary War

Michael Lind. Free Press, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-684-84254-7

In a very opinionated and sharply reasoned attempt to debunk three decades of conventional wisdom about Vietnam, Lind (The Next American Nation), the Washington, D.C., editor of Harper's, attacks both the right-wing contention that the U.S. could have won the war if only the politicians hadn't interfered with the military and the leftist orthodoxy that maintains the U.S. should never have become involved in the first place. Lind treats Vietnam as simply another battle in the Cold War, no different in principle from Korea or Afghanistan or any other Cold War confrontation. As such, it was both necessary and proper to intervene in Vietnam; a failure to do so, he asserts, would have permitted the Soviet Union and China to tighten their grip on the Third World. But once the U.S. committed itself, Lind argues, presidents Johnson and Nixon were obliged to fight a limited war in order to avoid the very real possibility of China entering the fray (just as it had done in Korea). If anything, Lind says, ""the Vietnam War was not limited enough."" Johnson allowed the U.S. military commanders to wage an expensive war of attrition that killed too many U.S. soldiers too fast and eroded public support for both the conflict in Vietnam and for the Cold War in general. The principal culprits in Lind's analysis are Johnson, General Westmoreland and other U.S. military commanders for their misguided tactics; Nixon, for his quixotic attempt to salvage ""peace with honor,"" during which an additional 24,000 soldiers died needlessly; and the antiwar left, which swallowed much of Ho Chi Minh's propaganda. Lind's arguments, if not always persuasive, are always provocative. His book, with its intelligent analysis of U.S. intervention in Kosovo and other current foreign policy quandaries, is likely to shift the debate on Vietnam and to color future debates about U.S. military intervention abroad. (Oct.)