- MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, 1962–1967
A publication of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, MACV is the ninth volume of the "United States Army in Vietnam" series. It covers the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) from its creation in February 1962 to the end of 1967, just before the explosion of the Tet Offensive. The first eight chapters provide a chronological narrative of the command that ran the American war in Vietnam, and are followed by thematic chapters on control of U.S. forces, pacification, the theater beyond South Vietnam, and strategy. Employing a tremendous volume of sources, Cosmas provides extensive analysis of a very broad range of topics. Many of the sources cited by Cosmas will be familiar to scholars of the period, but his copious footnotes also contain a large quantity of new sources from the Center of Military History's internal archives.
Cosmas's description of the organization and inner workings of MACV is thorough and mercifully clear. His facts are not merely stacked in sequence but are instead thoughtfully analyzed and carefully arranged. The military situation on the ground in South Vietnam receives abbreviated treatment, because the fighting has been, or will be, addressed in other Center of Military History volumes. Cosmas does not focus narrowly on the MACV commanders during this period, General Paul Harkins and General William Westmoreland, but he does of necessity cover each in considerable depth. By setting decisions in the proper context and delving into neglected sources, Cosmas casts Harkins and Westmoreland in a generally favorable light, unlike most other historians, aside from this reviewer. For instance, Cosmas contends that Harkins did not mention unpleasant facts because he was blind to those facts, as is often imagined, but because he feared the harmful impact on South Vietnamese and American personnel should he acknowledge those facts in public. Cosmas notes that Westmoreland's use of large units in search and destroy tactics made sense in light of the enemy's large conventional capabilities. On other big issues of the war, Cosmas is closer to the conventional wisdom, much of which was challenged in this reviewer's recent book (which was not published until after Cosmas had completed MACV). Like most historians, for example, Cosmas contends that Harkins failed to see grave military and political flaws in the Ngo Dinh Diem government prior to its overthrow in November 1963. According to this reviewer's research, Harkins's optimism about Diem was actually well grounded in reality. [End Page 1313]
Anyone interested in the American war effort in Vietnam from 1962 to 1967 should read Cosmas's book. An exemplary work of official history, it is loaded with information on every major aspect of the U.S. military command in Vietnam. Together with its planned sequel, MACV should become the standard reference on the subject.