Monday, May 16, 2011

Essay on America's Longest War

America's Longest War Book Review

The author of this informative "America's Longest War" book series is Dr. George C. Herring. Dr. Herring is a pioneer in his own right as a leading Vietnam War historian. Dr. Herring holds a massive amount of accreditations to his name, ranging from serving in the U.S Navy, to his tenure as a leading historian. George C. Herring began his illustrious and vivid career in history by acquiring his Ph. D. from the University of Virginia. Shortly after, he began his thirty plus year career of teaching at the University of Kentucky, where he has been since 1969. In 1990 Dr. Herring was elected President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and has been awarded numerous accreditations, namely fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. Dr. Herring is perhaps most notable for his extensive work of literature covering the Vietnam War and the politics surrounding it. Including such works as, "The secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers" and "Vietnam: A Different Kind of War."

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George C. Herring wrote "America's Longest War" in a linear, chronological order. Herring does this by separating, and giving each paragraph a specific number of years in which the material covered actually occurred. The book starts out with the happenings of the First Indochina War in the opening chapter, which covers 1950-1954. The chapters in "America's Longest War" give detailed information on the people, battles, leaders and societies state of mind during and after the war. This book ends the coverage of the years during Vietnam in chapter seven, which highlights the end of the battle in Vietnam and covers 1969-1973. The last chapter in this edition of "America's Longest War" goes into great depth about politics surrounding American government at the time, society and the fighting that continued in Vietnam after the treaty was signed. With that in mind, the reason that there is no date prearranged for chapter eight is because the postwar effects of Vietnam can still be felt to this day.

Vietnam is perhaps one of, if not the most controversial war in United States history. Everything surrounding the war has controversy including, most importantly, the thoughts and opinions of the average American at that time. When different opinions and mindsets start to appear, the consideration of picking sides in a domestic forum over an international problem (that in itself is a plethora of multisided ideas), starts to loom over the policy makers like a dark cloud of misguided thoughts. Meaning that once a nation goes to war, there has to be a closely unified public opinion of the war, and support for troops in the war, so that political heads make the right decision. In the Vietnam era there were so many different public opinions on the war that, the decision to go to war or avoid war was, and still is disputed to this day. To support his thesis, the author gives historical evidence as to the nature and threat of communism spreading through Asia and then onto other parts of the world. With the information the book has provided, I support the author's thesis that the Vietnam War was inevitable.

Many history books one may read can begin sluggish, and throughout the whole book, remain sluggish. "America's Longest War" begins slightly different, in supporting the authors thesis he starts the book with different facts that lead up to the war. For instance, Herring goes into great detail about Ho Chi Minh's communist roots. "When the Paris Peace Conference ending World War I rejected his (Minh) petition for democratic reforms for Vietnam, he became a founding member of the French Communist Party" (5 Herring). Herring spends the majority of chapter one bringing to light the roots of the Vietnam War starting with the first Indochina War. In addition, the United States long running relationship with France is dissected and scrutinized throughout the beginning of the book. In the closing chapters Herring begins to take on the feel of the times, and how exhausting the war was on America. The majority of the final selections are focused more on the political aspects and the public outcry for hope, and peace. The war began as a fragment on the proverbial "radar screens" of the American citizens and ended up taking family, friends and hope for a future from many. As the disparity of the war grew throughout the years, so does the book's format evolve from a history lesson in the beginning to lives and legacies in the closing chapters. "Demonstrations erupted at campuses across the nation, and the protest took on new force when four students at Kent State University in Ohio and two at Jackson State College in Mississippi were killed in angry confrontations with the National Guard and police" (293 Herring). When U.S. forces invaded Cambodia, the public outcry was phenomenal, and unfortunately in the out lash, public lives were lost.

The Vietnam War was one of choices and decisions, ultimately made by a certain select few world leaders. Perhaps it is possible that the outcome of the war and events surrounding it would have a different product if others held power. That is why personalities during the Vietnam War era are so vital to the history and preservation of the war. Dwight D. Eisenhower held the Presidency at the beginning of the war. Ike was a former general in WWII and his personality was fitting of that position. Eisenhower and his Sec. of State, John Foster Dulles, were believers in the domino theory of Indochina, and wholeheartedly believed and endorsed the idea to stop the spread of communism. The most influential personality of the war was Ho Chi Minh, leader of the NVA and mastermind of the Northern Vietnamese offensive. The NVA would not have existed if it were not for the influential Soviet and Chinese communists. John F. Kennedy defines the personality of the era when he reigned as president. He was always aggressive and colorful about the war, and his presidency. He was ready to endure the hardships of failure to ensure a victory in the future. The president that got the US out of war was less than a hero in the minds of the American people. President Nixon sent troops into Cambodia and was directly involves in the Watergate scandal surrounding his presidency. Both of which caused frustration, anger, and disappointment in America's eyes.

Herring uses a vast arrangement of quotable sources in order to more effectively relay his message and support his thesis to the reading audience. His array of sources range from a biography of Ho Chi Minh, to a small quote from New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1950. The author has researched even the smallest detail to bring the truth behind the Vietnam War to life.

"America's Longest War" is the most detailed, orderly, and informative history book I have read which covers such a short time span in relation to US History. Dr. George C. Herring puts a personal touch on the book, with famous picture clippings from the Vietnam War. The pictures are specifically controversial, and are used to show the emotion and struggle that the world went through at that time. In addition, Herring uses vivid details to make the influential figures of the time come to life, so the reader has a better understanding of the decisions that were made. This book has made a significant impact on Vietnam as a historical study, and is now the most widely used book for history of the Vietnam War on college campuses. Herring backs his thesis, "I think U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a logical, if not inevitable, outgrowth of a world view and a policy- the policy of containment- that Americans in and out of government accepted without serious question for more than two decades" with all of the important facts that make it seem true. It is seemingly evident that Herring has proved a much-debated topic surrounding the war. Being, Should we have gone, or not?

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