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1 INTRODUCTION Verlorene Siege Americans have fought two prolonged wars about Vietnam, both of which began in the 1960s. One took place in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia and ended in 1975. The other was fought at home and continues to this day. The war at home has always been far more important to most Americans , and the side one took was usually determined more by one’s stance on domestic social and political issues than by what actually happened in Vietnam . Even now, forty years after the fall of Saigon, both sides are still chiefly concerned with using the lessons of Vietnam as ammunition against their domestic political opponents. The war at home has often spilled over into the halls of academe, duplicating there the deep fissures that sunder American society on this highly divisive issue. In recent decades, this rift within the historical fraternity has been cast in terms of two competing schools of interpretation —the Orthodox and the Revisionist. The former, which argues that the Vietnam War was unnecessary, unduly brutal, and ultimately unwinnable , was established by outspoken critics of US policy in Vietnam such as Frances Fitzgerald and Gabriel Kolko, but it also includes some of those responsible for making that policy, most notably former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara, whose earnest mea culpa In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam was published in 1995. John Prados, author of Vietnam : The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945–1975 (2009), is currently the Orthodox school’s most outspoken champion, but it is supported by a strong consensus among Vietnam War historians. The Revisionist school began to challenge the Orthodox consensus as early as 1978 with the publication of Guenter Lewy’s America in Vietnam, and it received a major boost three years later when Harry Summers’s On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War first appeared in print. William Colby, who had been the top US pacification official in Vietnam— and later became the director of central intelligence—joined the Revisionist camp in 1989 with his memoir Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America’s Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam. It was not until the late 1990s, however , that Vietnam War revisionism reached maturity with the publication of Mark Moyar’s Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: The CIA’s Secret Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong (1997), Lewis Sorley’s A Better War: The Unexam- 2 Introduction ined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (1999), and Michael Lind’s Vietnam—The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict (1999). The Revisionist school gained even greater prominence in the first decade of the twenty-first century thanks to Moyar’s controversial Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (2006), which brought a new intensity to the Orthodox-Revisionist debate. This was manifested in Triumph Revisited: Historians Battle for the Vietnam War (2010), edited by Andrew Wiest and Michael Doidge. Despite its great influence, the Revisionist school still counts only a handful of supporters among academic historians. Some claim this continuing minority status reflects an ideological bias within academe that suppresses challenges to the Orthodox premise that the Vietnam War was unnecessary, unjust, and unwinnable. Although this may have been true of some of the earliest Orthodox historians who wrote three or four decades ago, most of the school’s current adherents are far less doctrinaire. Moreover, some of the Revisionists are themselves dogmatically committed to a rival creed that insists the conflict was indisputably necessary, just, and winnable, and view all Vietnam War historiography through an ideological lens of their own. Moyar goes so far as to describe several unnamed Orthodox historians as “the VC’s American supporters”!1 Thus, it would be more accurate to characterize the ongoing debate as one between Orthodoxy and Neo-Orthodoxy, though for the sake of clarity, the term “Revisionist” is used throughout this book. The prominence of the Orthodox-Revisionist debate in recent Vietnam War scholarship also tends to obscure the fact that many works do not fit neatly into either camp. One example is James Willbanks’s Abandoning Vietnam : How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War (2004), which analyzes the final years of the Vietnam War in a commendably evenhanded fashion. Another is Gregory Daddis’s No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War (2011), which sifts through the “metrics” the United States used to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780700623532
Related ISBN
9780700623525
MARC Record
OCLC
965716347
Pages
400
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-19
Language
English
Open Access
No
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