The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the twentieth century. Fought over a period of three decades, the conflict drew in all the world’s powers and saw two of them—first France, then the United States—attempt to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces. For France, the defeat marked the effective end of her colonial empire, while for America the war left a gaping wound in the body politic that remains open to this day.
How did it happen? Tapping into newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations and making full use of the published literature, distinguished scholar Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to lose their way in Vietnam. Embers of War opens in 1919 at the Versailles Peace Conference, where a young Ho Chi Minh tries to deliver a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson. It concludes in 1959, with a Viet Cong ambush on an outpost outside Saigon and the deaths of two American officers whose names would be the first to be carved into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In between come years of political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering and miscalculation, as leaders on all sides embark on a series of stumbles that makes an eminently avoidable struggle a bloody and interminable reality.
Logevall takes us inside the councils of war—and gives us a seat at the conference tables where peace talks founder. He brings to life the bloodiest battles of France’s final years in Indochina—and shows how from an early point, a succession of American leaders made disastrous policy choices that put America on its own collision course with history: Harry Truman’s fateful decision to reverse Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policy and acknowledge France’s right to return to Indochina after World War II; Dwight Eisenhower’s strenuous efforts to keep Paris in the fight and his escalation of U.S. involvement in the aftermath of the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu; and the curious turnaround in Senator John F. Kennedy’s thinking that would lead him as president to expand that commitment, despite his publicly stated misgivings about Western intervention in Southeast Asia.
An epic story of wasted opportunities and tragic miscalculations, featuring an extraordinary cast of larger-than-life characters, Embers of War delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another. This book will become the definitive chronicle of the struggle’s origins for years to come.
About Fredrik Logevall
Fredrik Logevall is John S. Knight Professor of International Studies and professor of history at Cornell University, where he serves as director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
Logevall (International Studies and History/Cornell Univ.; Terrorism and 9/11: A Reader, 2002, etc.) opens his long, deeply complex narrative with a little-known event: namely, a fact-finding mission to Vietnam on the part of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1951, reporting on his return home that France was foolishly trying to cling to an empire even as the people of Vietnam rejected the French-installed Vietnamese puppet government. But much as President Obama inherited George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, by the time Kennedy became president, he was saddled with Truman’s and then Eisenhower’s Vietnam. Logevall is careful to point to roads-not-taken without belaboring the point, to which readers will respond all the same by wishing, for one thing, that Franklin Roosevelt had lived beyond 1945—for it was he who was urging a postwar world without overseas empires, who “had reached the conclusion that, for good or ill, complete independence was foreordained for all or almost all the European colonies.” In the real development of early events, there was nothing foreordained, however; much of what shaped up in Vietnam was the result of historical accidents, such as the fact that, as Logevall notes, the Potsdam Agreement favored Ho Chi Minh by placing northern Vietnam under Chinese control, which allowed his Viet Minh to build up its armaments and political power. The opposition mounted by Ngo Dinh Diem, though, was ineffectual; he had enough on his hands trying to deal with the organized crime gangs that really ran South Vietnam. By the end of 1963, things really were locked into inevitability, especially after Ho decided to escalate the war precisely in order to make the Americans go home. – Kirkus Reviews
“Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam” by Fredrik Logevall
The Washington Post Book Review – September 28, 2012 (Excerpt)
Why do the most thoughtful national security strategists and policymakers perpetually grapple with the lessons of history? Because there are few truly original problems in world politics that have not been confronted before, as scholar Fredrik Logevall’s superb new work reminds us. Over the centuries, strategic overextension by great powers acting on the periphery of their national interests has hobbled ancient empires and modern states alike, in past decades consuming both France and the United States in a dual narrative of disaster in Southeast Asia. This is the subject of Logevall’s voluminous, penetrating and cautionary new study, “Embers of War.”
Logevall, the John S. Knight professor of international studies at Cornell University, is a specialist in U.S. foreign relations and the author of, among other works, “Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam,” a seminal exercise in historical scholarship that persuasively refutes the thesis that the massive intervention engineered by President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers beginning in 1965 was a preordained inevitability of the Cold War and domestic politics. In “Embers of War,” Logevall has conceived a prequel to his past work, examining two powerful, interdependent historical dramas. One is the French struggle to hold its colonial empire in Asia; the other is the progressive American entanglement in the war, first as a patron of the French and then as their successor in the effort to suppress the communist and nationalist Viet Minh insurgency. [Read the full article...]
‘Embers of War,’ by Frederik Logevall
SFGate.Com Book Review – November 2, 2012 (Excerpt)
A central issue in the contentious scholarship on the Vietnam War centers on whether American military intervention in 1965 was doomed to fail or had the potential to achieve its objectives.
To orthodox historians, the relative strength of the two Vietnamese sides meant that the tides of history worked against the United States, which fought a fundamentally unwinnable war. To revisionists, the war was eminently winnable – the Americans failed to adopt military strategies that would have exploited the enemy’s weakness and strengthened America’s ally.
Both orthodox and revisionist historians thus acknowledge the significance of the political-military context of American involvement.
Fredrik Logevall’s “Embers of War” stands as the definitive history of the critical formative period from 1940 to 1960. A Cornell University historian who wrote the well-received “Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam” (1999), Logevall draws on a substantial secondary literature and archival research to analyze the interplay of Vietnamese nationalism with international upheavals marked by World War II, the Cold War and the demise of Western imperialism. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS
A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
The Bleeding Hills is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.