Book Review: A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975


by Robert D. Schulzinger

New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 397 pp. Illus, notes, bibliog, index. . ISBN:0-19-507189-1

This book, the first of a two volume work, covers all aspects of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam, beginning in World War II and ending with the defeat of the Republic of Vietnam by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the evacuation of the last Americans from that country. A second volume, to be published shortly, will deal with the less frequently studied relationship between the two countries since 1975.

Covering a broad and complex period, Schulzinger does not go into great depth on any specific aspects of America's relationship with Vietnam. He does present a clear and well-balanced narrative that provides the reader with a basic understanding of this turbulent era. All aspects of the Vietnamese conflict are explored - American foreign and domestic policy, the actions of the other nations involved in Vietnam, especially the French, the workings of the South Vietnamese government, the conduct of battle, and the rise of the American anti-war movement.

A view held by many Americans is that the United States became involved in Vietnam because we decieved ourselves into believing that the mightiest nation on earth couldn't possibly lose to, in L.B.J.'s words, a "little pissant country". Schulzinger points out that our leader's self-deception was not about our ability to win the war. Rather, the self-deception went to the root of the issue -- the reasons for America’s involvement in Vietnam in the first place. Almost all of America’s political and military leaders doubted we could win in Vietnam, but nonetheless felt we that we needed to fight there to contain the spread of Communism.

This book, while not strictly military history, is a worthwhile introduction for anyone seeking to understand this troubled period in our nation's history.

Reviewer: Thomas Goetz   

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