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  • America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives
  • Robert J. McMahon
Andreas W. Daum, Lloyd C. Gardner, and Wilfried Mausbach , eds. America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 371 pp. $65.00 cloth. $22.00 paper.

An outgrowth of an international conference held in November 1998 at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, this edited collection aims to broaden—and complicate—our understanding of the international dimensions of the Vietnam War. Although insistent on the centrality of the United States to the events that transpired in Indochina from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, the editors rightly observe that the historical literature on the conflict has become so totally Americanized that an unfortunate "self-referentiality" has resulted (p. 6). They offer the sixteen original essays in this sprawling collection as a counter to that trend and as part of an effort, in their words, "to relocate the Vietnam War in a comprehensive setting" (p. 24).

This is an ambitious and important undertaking, one for which Andreas W. Daum, Lloyd C. Gardner, Wilfried Mausbach, and their collaborators should be commended. The contributors' comparative, international, and transnational frames of reference manage, in many cases, to coax strikingly fresh insights out of this most studied of contemporary conflicts. The collection's strongest essays range widely. They include John Prados's incisive comparison of America's peripheral military involvement in Vietnam with Japan's peripheral conflict in China in the late 1930s and early 1940s; Sabine Behrenbeck's search for similarities between Germany's efforts to commemorate the sacrifice of its soldiers following World War I and America's efforts to commemorate its Vietnam-era veterans; Hubert Zimmerman's careful assessment of the impact of the Vietnam War on the international monetary system; Arne Kislenko's succinct summary of Thailand's important yet surprisingly understudied involvement in both Vietnam and Laos; Leopoldo Nuti's exploration of the war's galvanizing role in Italian domestic politics; and Mausbach's penetrating discussion of the West German anti–Vietnam War protest movement of the 1960s.

At the same time, the volume has a jarring unevenness, a failing not uncommon with edited collections. Several of the chapters add little or nothing to existing knowledge, and a few probably should have been dropped altogether. Neither the simplistic overview offered by Michael Adas of Vietnam as a colonial war nor the superficial attempt by Barbara L. Tischler to connect antiwar activism to the emerging feminist movement in the United States warranted inclusion here. Adas's statistically implausible reference to "the tens of millions of people maimed and killed" during the Indochina conflicts should not have escaped a careful editor's scrutiny. Readers interested in the complex nature of Hanoi's relations with its chief patrons in Moscow and Beijing would learn far more from the works of Ilya Gaiduk and Zhai Qiang than from the thin essay by Eva-Maria Stolberg featured in this book.

America, the Vietnam War, and the World remains, nonetheless, a highly useful and significant volume—especially if judged on the basis of its most, rather than its least, accomplished essays. The book's three-part division works well. The opening [End Page 147] section features a series of disparate, comparative-oriented chapters, each employing what historian George Fredrickson has termed "exotic analogy" as a means of illuminating a similar phenomenon across space and time. The next section highlights international aspects of the war, with essays on Australia, Thailand, U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the international monetary system, and the Chinese-Soviet role. The contributions by Fredrik Logevall and Peter Edwards, on NATO and Australia respectively, nicely condense key themes each author has developed at much greater length in monographic treatments of the same subject.

The final section seeks to link the Vietnam War with diverse domestic developments in Italy, West Germany, East Germany, and the United States. Nuti's and Mausbach's essays highlight the extent to which the Vietnam War became a rallying cry for the Left across Western Europe. "The image of the United States changed," Nuti provocatively observes, "from the...