Road to Disaster: A New History of America's Descent Into Vietnam is a brilliant book and a maddening one. Like most academic historians, Brian VanDeMark regards the Vietnam War as a catastrophe, not only for the country that was bombed, napalmed, and defoliated, but also for the one that inflicted most of that damage. (He teaches at the Naval Academy, but I can find no evidence he ever wore a uniform.) Nothing the United States did with respect to Vietnam, except to abandon it, ever gets a good word from such people. A second flaw in Road to Disaster is the author's explanation for each American misjudgment, trotting out a psychological experiment by a "cognitive scientist" for instant pscychoanalysis. But I enjoyed the book, and I came away from it feeling rather sorry for Lyndon Johnson, trapped as he was by Jack Kennedy's legacy, the ever-receding "light at the end of the tunnel," and his own inner demons. I also found myself with renewed respect for two of the war's primary architects, Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford. Perhaps a cognitive scientst somewhere can explain why, of the hundreds of men who paved the road to our inglorious retreat from Vietnam, the two who come looking good also happen to be the two for whom Mr VenDerMerk worked as a research assistant and ghost-writer.
I am reading David Kilkullen's The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West and will have something to say about it next month, along with my worries about what's going these days in Russia and China. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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