cover image Lyndon Johnson's War

Lyndon Johnson's War

Michael H. Hunt, Tristram Hunt. Hill & Wang, $18 (146pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-5023-9

History professor Hunt (Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, etc.) first encountered the ""real Vietnam"" in the early 1960s when, as a college student, he spent two summers in Saigon, where his father was stationed in the U.S. military mission. Expecting to find an endangered nation that could be rescued by can-do Americans, he instead saw a country engaged in a complex struggle that had already confounded the French. Now, 20 years after the war's end, Hunt--who served in the Army but not in Vietnam, and who currently teaches at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill--has undertaken a ""long-delayed exercise in exorcism,"" in which he examines why the U.S. became involved in Vietnam. The result is a scholarly, clearly argued work that presents the various decisions to increase American commitment as having been made neither by maniacal warmongers nor by righteous visionaries. Rather, Hunt contends, those decisions--for good or ill--were made within the context of the times, by leaders blind to the fact that an iron-willed enemy was prepared to absorb our worst blows until we, like the French and the Chinese before us, abandoned their land. Drawing on new documentation from Hanoi, Washington and the LBJ library in Texas, Hunt offers an intense, penetrating study that will likely inspire continued reasoned examination of the gestation of a national tragedy. (Aug.)