- The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War
Dedicated to the renowned Vietnam War historian George Herring, The War That Never Ends contains an introduction and sixteen essays, each of which is nicely structured, well written, and based on judicious research. (Regrettably, as often happens with an edited book, this review cannot mention every essay.) A number of the essays add significantly to the literature on the Vietnam War. For example, David L. Anderson presents an insightful historiographical discussion centered around differing interpretations of the phrase "no more Vietnams." Does it mean that the United States must abstain from virtually all military interventions abroad, or that the nation must never again lose a war? A former intelligence analyst with the Department of American Affairs in Hanoi's Foreign Ministry, Luu Doan Huynh, reveals how misguided U.S. perceptions of Southeast Asian events were from North Vietnam's perspective. He also admits that Hanoi's judgment was hardly flawless, arguing that it should have offered to negotiate without demanding the removal of the Thieu government much sooner than it did, and that "Vietnam bungled the normalization of relations with the United States because of its poor understanding of post-1975 U.S. politics. . . . " (p. 96) Contrary to much previous scholarship, Robert K. Brigham's essay postulates that Confucianism had only a limited impact on Ho Chi Minh, whose appeal rested on social, not cultural, factors.
Despite the essays' overall high quality, the book is mildly disappointing in two respects. First, the sub-title is misleading because some essays do not provide new perspectives. Three of them—Sandra C. Taylor's on Vietnamese women, Herring's piece on why the war remains so vivid in American memory, and Howard Zinn's "A Speech for LBJ"—have been previously published. Others merely recapitulate well-known information. As examples, Terry H. Anderson recounts a familiar story in "Vietnam Is Here: The Antiwar Movement;" Charles R. Wyatt's "The Media and the Vietnam War" provides a mini-summary of his Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War (1993); and in "The Buddhist Antiwar Movement" Robert Topmiller draws heavily on his The Lotus Unleashed: The Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam, 1964-1966 (2002).
Second, despite the promise implied in Marilyn Young's introduction ("Why Vietnam Still Matters"), some essays make little effort to explain its continuing relevance. Doing this would have required little additional space, as demonstrated by Robert Buzzanco's discussion of military dissent during the Vietnam War; he devotes less than a page to Iraq, but makes a compelling case that when so many generals spoke out against that war, they deserved a more honest hearing than the Bush Administration gave them. On the other hand, Kyle Longley's discussion [End Page 619] of Senate "doves" during Vietnam makes no allusion to their counterparts during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while Yvonne H. Baldwin and John Ernst paint a lively portrait of Vietnam infantrymen, they do not compare and contrast their experiences with those of today's soldiers.
In general, however, the book's positive features outweigh these two modest criticisms. Those who study the Vietnam War will want to add it to their libraries and consider the money well spent.