‘Embers of War,’ by Frederik Logevall

In 1968, a colleague of his went to see Henry Kissinger, who was then the incoming architect of the Vietnam War, and he urged Kissinger to meet Kellen. But Kissinger never did. Maybe if he had, the course of history would be different.

via BBC News – Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War?.

To the question, “Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War,” the answer is, obviously, Yes. Really, a person could start anywhere. And much earlier than 1968. Inside or outside Vietnam. But how about we limit ourselves to presidents?

To wit, President Johnson, in 1964, noted to himself that “there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam, there’s not a bit.” That’s before the Army even had full combat units in the area. And it was not a passing thought. Such gloom permeated the Defense and State Departments at the time.

But you can go back to President Kennedy. He was in Vietnam in 1951 as a young senator on, I guess, a fact-finding mission. He interviewed numerous people and rankled French officers with his probing questions. “Foredoomed failure” is how he described it when giving a speech that year in Boston.

How about President Roosevelt? During the war, he was adamantly opposed to France’s proposed return to so-called Indochina, and many of his adviser feared a continuing war in Asia. So much so that it led to minor rifts with Winston Churchill, who was afraid the Hyde Park sentimentality for colonial peoples would bleed over into British Malaya and India. Had Mr. Roosevelt lived a few months longer, he might have blocked the slow, stuttering consolidation of French power in Vietnam at the end of 1945.

But there were many others, like Konrad Kellen, who were merely advisers or were outside government altogether. Bernard Fall’s book “Street Without Joy” came out in 1961 with gloomy lessons, albeit too late for the French.

In short, “the skeptics had been there all along,” writes Frederik Logevall in “Embers of War.” The Vietnam War, for both sides, never seems to have been about trying to win.

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's VietnamEmbers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indulgent, especially with the Graham Greene references. But thorough, engaging and complete. Recommended.

View all my reviews

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