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Apocalypse Then

American Intellectuals and the Vietnam War, 1954-1975

Robert Tomes

Publication Year: 1998

Prior to the Vietnam war, American intellectual life rested comfortably on shared assumptions and often common ideals. Intellectuals largely supported the social and economic reforms of the 1930s, the war against Hitler's Germany, and U.S. conduct during the Cold War. By the early 1960s, a liberal intellectual consensus existed.

The war in Southeast Asia shattered this fragile coalition, which promptly dissolved into numerous camps, each of which questioned American institutions, values, and ideals. Robert R. Tomes sheds new light on the demise of Cold War liberalism and the development of the New Left, and the steady growth of a conservatism that used Vietnam, and anti-war sentiment, as a rallying point. Importantly, Tomes provides new evidence that neoconservatism retreated from internationalism due largely to Vietnam, only to regroup later with substantially diminished goals and expectations.

Covering vast archival terrain, Apocalypse Then stands as the definitive account of the impact of the Vietnam war on American intellectual life.

Published by: NYU Press



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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

My interest in American intellectuals and the Vietnam War developed, and subsequently became my dissertation topic, during my years as a graduate student at New York University. I thank my professors, who constantly challenged and motivated me: Paul Baker, Patricia Bonomi, Vincent Carosso, Carl Prince, David Reimers, Albert Romasco, Frederick...

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pp. 1-8

Looking back on his years of service as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, novelist Philip Caputo wrote, “I was full of turbulent emotions and disordered thoughts, and I could not shake that weird sensation of being split in two.”1 One of the best-received American authors of the war, Caputo highlighted the turmoil, confusion, and moral ambiguity of the experience....

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Chapter 1: A Long Time in the Comin’: American Intellectuals and the Cold War, 1945–1963

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pp. 9-32

“It is one of the marks of a great power that it never admits a mistake or failure, and the United States is no exception.”1 Carey McWilliams and the Nation’s editorial board were thus among the first American intellectuals to call attention to and protest American policy in Southeast Asia. Both the Nation and the New Republic repeatedly addressed...

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Chapter 2: Consensus and Commitment: American Intellectuals and Vietnam, 1954–1963

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pp. 33-84

American involvement in Vietnam began during World War II, when operatives of the Office of Special Services (OSS) aided the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, and various other guerrilla groups opposed to the occupying Japanese. The Americans provided military advice and arms during the war, and attempted to change their role from a military...

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Chapter 3: The Search for Order: From Diem to Pleiku, November 1963–January 1965

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pp. 85-116

On November 2, 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in Saigon. Three weeks later, on November 22, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, thirty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. In retrospect, both events proved to be highly significant turning points in the histories of their respective nations. Diem’s death marked...

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Chapter 4: Skepticism and Dissent: From Rolling Thunder to Tet, February 1965–January 1968

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pp. 117-166

On February 7, 1965, Viet Cong guerrillas staged a series of attacks on American military installations in South Vietnam, most notably the airfield in Pleiku, just outside Saigon. Eight Americans were killed, and over a hundred injured. Within hours, President Johnson convened top security advisers in Washington, and authorized “Operation...

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Chapter 5: The Collapse of the Liberal Consensus, 1968

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pp. 167-203

During the week of January 31, 1968, on the occasion of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year celebration, Hanoi launched a major offensive. The North Vietnamese intended to jolt American military operations in South Vietnam through this series of coordinated military escalations, many of which were staged in conventional rather than characteristic...

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Chapter 6: The Twilight of Liberalism, 1969–1975

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pp. 204-235

The embattled intellectual camps which had been formed by the end of 1968 provided the basis for a new intellectual diversity, which intensified during the remainder of the Vietnam era. However, intellectuals themselves frequently disliked this new diversity, and increasingly came to view it as part of an overall national decline. These camps shared...


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pp. 237-268


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pp. 269-280


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pp. 281-292

About the Author

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p. 293

E-ISBN-13: 9780814784358
E-ISBN-10: 0814784356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814782347
Print-ISBN-10: 0814782345

Page Count: 298
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 45844118
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Apocalypse Then

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Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Influence.
  • Intellectuals -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States.
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