➵ [Read] ➯ Vietnam: A History By Stanley Karnow ✤ – Motyourdrive.co.uk

Vietnam: A History chapter 1 Vietnam: A History, meaning Vietnam: A History, genre Vietnam: A History, book cover Vietnam: A History, flies Vietnam: A History, Vietnam: A History 82b00a60022cc A Landmark Work The Most Complete Account To Date Of The Vietnam Tragedy The Washington Post Book WorldThis Monumental Narrative Clarifies, Analyzes, And Demystifies The Tragic Ordeal Of The Vietnam War Free Of Ideological Bias, Profound In Its Undertsanding, And Compassionate In Its Human Portrayals, It Is Filled With Fresh Revelations Drawn From Secret Documents And From Exclusive Interviews With Participants French, American, Vietnamese, Chinese Diplomats, Military Commanders, High Government Officials, Journalists, Nurses, Workers, And Soldiers Originally Published A Companion To The Emmy Winning PBS Series, Karnow S Defining Book Is A Precursor To Ken Burns S Ten Part Forthcoming Documentary Series, The Vietnam War Vietnam A History Puts Events And Decisions Into Such Sharp Focus That We Come To Understand And Make Peace With A Convulsive Epoch Of Our Recent History

10 thoughts on “Vietnam: A History

  1. says:

    The bookshelves lining every wall of my office attest to the many different historical topics that have interested me over the years There are books on the Romans, the Zulus, and the Irish A history of Israel leans against a biography of Woodrow Wilson An entire shelf is sagging beneath my recent fascination with World War I There are books about Nazis than I m proud to admit Curiously lacking from what I humbly perceive to be a wide ranging selection of topics, are books about the Vietnam War To be sure, I have three books about Dien Bien Phu, the famous final battle of the First Indochina War But I only owned one volume concerning America s involvement, and that book had sat unread on my shelf for over twenty years and ten different residences The reason in my opinion, there s been too little time for the dust to settle Good history does not come out of passionate emotion There needs to be a fair passage of years before we can start to look objectively at an event America s Vietnam War is still too firmly imbedded in living memory and experience It is also far too politicized if you ask a person on the street to give their thoughts on Vietnam in one sentence, I m fairly certain you can determine their political outlook based on that response So that s the reason I had not read that book on my shelf, Stanley Karnow s Vietnam A History, from 1983 a book published in conjunction with a PBS miniseries.The reason I read it is much simpler It really bothered me that I had had left a book unread on my shelf for over two decades Karnow s Vietnam A History bills itself as a complete account of Vietnam at war And it is certainly comprehensive It begins in 1787, with Monsignor Pierre Joseph Georges Pigneau de Behaine ironically, we share the same name returning to France to sell his King on the idea of a Christian empire in Asia It ends almost seven hundred pages and almost two hundred years later, with America s exit from Vietnam Peace with Honor and the subsequent fall of American backed South Vietnam The story in between is a sad one, a tale of colonizers and the colonized, of insurgencies, terrorism, torture, and eventually wide scale modern war If Karnow establishes any kind of tone, it is one of mournfulness His first chapter is titled The War Nobody One His last chapter is called The Peace that Never Was The thing that most stood out to me while reading Vietnam A History was its readability Vietnam is a thorny, complex, fraught subject Karnow has created an accessible primer The book is designed for readers, such as myself, who are new to the subject Each chapter begins with a photo montage that previews events to follow At the end of the book, Karnow includes a detailed chronology and a dramatis personae These little touches do wonders in making a new for me and difficult subject easier to understand Vietnam A History also has the advantage of being written by a respected journalist and historian Karnow was educated at Harvard and the Sorbonne He covered Asia for fifteen years, working for a variety of media outlets During that period, he saw the entirety of the Second Indochina War, pitting America against North Vietnam His book is deeply sourced, and includes his own experiences on the ground, as well as numerous interviews that he did, both contemporaneously and after the fact He was able to visit a newly reunified Vietnam and speak with many of the Vietnamese principals, which was no small thing back then, the war being over only a handful of years The first third of the book covering the early French colonial experience, the Japanese and Vichy French co occupation during World War II, and the First Indochina War, which saw the withdrawal of France from Vietnam is informative but relatively dry There are certainly better and energetic books about the First Indochina War I m thinking, here, of Bernard Fall Things become better paced and engaging with the fall of Ngo Dinh Diem assassinated following a coup and the increased participation of the American military Some of the uptick in quality arises from Karnow s ability to draw on his personal experiences Obviously, Karnow was not reporting from Vietnam during the time of Monsignor Pierre Joseph Georges Pigneau de Behaine Due to the vast subject matter involved, Karnow takes a necessarily macro point of view Certainly, this is not a military history For the most part, battles are not even mentioned though the chronology fills in a lot of gaps Karnow s narrative is heavily tilted toward the political machinations, with the military and experiential aspects of the war mostly on the sidelines As I mentioned above, the Vietnam War remains a polarizing issue Karnow s book hovers above the fray He is equable in his handling of the major figures Ho Chi Minh, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and never really advances a unified argument or attempts to place blame Mostly, his book reads as cosmic tragedy rather than the result of any particular mendacity Stanley Karnow did end up on Nixon s enemies list, but I ve come to the conclusion that that really wasn t a singular achievement, and probably happened to anyone who dared report the actual conditions in Vietnam Ultimately, I found this to be a very good intro book Intellectually, it gave me a great framework from which to start a wider study of the Vietnam War I was less impressed by its literary merits When I first cracked the cover, I had an outside hope that this might rise to the level of James McPherson s Battle Cry of Freedom a seminal one volume work on the American Civil War Unfortunately, it does reach or even strive for those heights Karnow s achievement with Vietnam A History is clarity For a topic like this, that is a worthwhile accomplishment.

  2. says:

    This book is probably the essential one for any person interested in learning the history of the Vietnam War It s a reread for me I also recommend the PBS series that goes along with it The saddest part is all of the missed opportunities, many that I had forgotten about General Giap had been embittered by the death of his young wife in a French jail along with her infant child Her sister was guillotined in Saigon for terrorism during the war with the French The Cao Dai cult was founded in 1919 by Ngo Van Chieu, a mystic who claimed to commune with a spirit he called Cao Dai It appealed to the Vietnamese taste for the supernatural It held that the best creed ought to combine the best religious and secular beliefs Jesus, Buddha, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Sun Yat sen, among others Its main temple was in Tayninh, north of Saigon It had many followers Ho Chi Minh once said, You fools Don t you realize what it means if the Chinese remain The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years The French are foreigners They are weak Colonialism is dying The white man is finished in Asia But if the Chinese stay now, they will never go As for me, I prefer to eat French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life On the morning of June 11, 1963, a 66 year old Buddhist monk named Quang Duc set himself on fire He climbed out of one car in a motorcade One monk doused him with gasoline, another lit him Malcolm Browne, an AP photographer, was there His photo made an immense impact in the world In a final document, he urged President Diem in a respectful plea to show charity and compassion to all One student said monks often burned a finger or a toe as a symbolic protest Two other monks had volunteered but his seniority prevailed Americans tried to get Diem to change after the immolation but to no avail Madame Nhu called it a barbecue and said, Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands The whole chapter on the assassination of Diem is fascinating And hugely regrettable Miscommunication everywhere Karnow claims one disservice done by the Pentagon Papers of 1971 was to convey the idea that all plans drafted by bureaucrats was official policy There are always incredible proposals drawn up that are not even considered Tran Do dispelled the myth that many Westerners believed in that the Vietcong was an indigenous and autonomous insurgent movement America was much to blame for the idea that there was some sort of headquarters for the movement Tri Quang was a leader of Buddhists protests It is interesting to note that when the Communists took over in 1975, they banished him to a monastery to not have to deal with him themselves They can get such things done without much of a peep from the rest of the world Funny story about a Texas clergyman who mistakenly kept referring to the South as South Vietcong The Communist fighting forces had minimal needs I can attest to the fact that it was not the same for American soldiers, much to my chagrin The cost of providing beer, cigarettes, and other luxuries must have been enormous The bombing of the North appears to have heightened rather than dampened the spirit of the people of North Vietnam Karnow speaks of a hint of nostalgia for the war Dealing with the reality of Communist life now without war is not as much fun The John Wayne Syndrome affected a lot of young Americans who enlisted War goes from horrible boredom to intense excitement Guard duty in particular can be very boring, which leads to mistakes being made There was almost a beauty to war But there was nothing romantic about mines, booby traps, and mortars Especially with no achievable goal in sight When the Vietcong captured Hue in the 1968 Tet offensive, they went on a merciless house to house search About 3,000 bodies were found later shot, clubbed to death, or buried alive Yet these atrocities were barely noticed by the American public compared to atrocities by American soldiers Karnow found it difficult to find any Communist who would clarify what happened in Hue Some even denied it Among the dead at Hue were a group of German doctors and their families who were teaching at a local medical school About 150 Marines were killed in the battle to retake Hue I have a relative who was involved in that effort, and he refuses to speak about it The Communists made a strategic mistake and did not retreat and were killed There are those who wonder if the North Vietnamese leaders were using their members in the Vietcong as sacrificial lambs The city had to be destroyed in order to be saved Karnow found that the CIA s Phoenix program had decimated the Vietcong It was criticized at home here as a waste of time Many of the South Vietnamese Communists found they were treated poorly by the Northerners I found that there was a lot of prejudice between the North and South even without the war Why did the Communists submit to the losses at Khesanh Some think of it as a subterfuge to distract Westland from protecting cities and to aid the Tet offensive It is interesting to note that Communist leaders think they miscalculated the Tet offensive Their main objective was to spur uprisings in the South It was a defeat, but it turned into a victory by the effect it had on American public opinion It is believed that some people voted for Eugene McCarthy in 1968 thinking he was the anti Communist fanatic Joe McCarthy who died in 1957 I wonder how often that type of thing happens The U S command in Saigon estimated that 65,000 soldiers were on drugs in 1970 One official linked it to idleness, loneliness, anxiety, and frustration The war effort seemed useless urban Vietnamese did not care for the behavior of American soldiers For ten dollars you could buy a vial of pure heroin Prepacked, prerolled marijuana cigarettes soaked in opium were available for almost nothing More than 200 incidents of fragging were recorded in 1970 I can attest to soldiers who claimed to having done that What I don t know is if they were only trying to shock or were telling the truth On August 20, 1968, Soviet tanks invaded Alexander Dubcek s government in Czechoslovakia Brezhnev said he would intervene in any Communist country where he feared change of policy That terrified the Chinese This was an opportunity for the US to build a relationship with China Vietcong motto When the head passes through, the tail will follow easily By 1972, only 6,000 of 70,000 American troops remaining in Vietnam were combat soldiers That s an incredible ratio Why would any of them be willing to die for a failing cause Saigon had over a million soldiers, but they were rushed around the country and stretched thin It was an impossible situation for those poor men A leopard spot arrangement was finally made in the peace talks, allowing Communists to hold on to territory they claimed It was a disastrous arrangement for the South The damage done by Nixon s famous Christmas bombing was greatly exaggerated American antiwar activists in Hanoi wanted the mayor to lie about casualties, but he refused to his credit President Thieu was forced to accept the peace proposal It was certain to bring about the end Communist General Tran Van Tra wrote a fabulous book about leading forces in the south, but he was purged for disagreeing with the North Eventually Congress cut off all funding and abandoned the South The collapse just snowballed In Hue women swam into the ocean trying to reach fishing boats with their babies fearing another Hue massacre as in 1968 Thousands died Finally it would be Big Minh who would surrender.

  3. says:

    Karnow presents a spectacular historical look at the War in Vietnam and how things got out of hand for numerous US Administrations It also gives an excellent historical context of where things went wrong and how the war that seemed so simple on paper went so wrong It was, truly, one that tore a nation apart and divided generations of Americans, still healing from the Second and Korean Wars Karnow uses his journalistic abilities to properly place Vietnam in the larger scale of things and to show how the US entered the war, the apparent Goliath, and exited with their tails between their legs A major gaffe for Presidents Johnson and Nixon, Vietnam surely ruined their administrations, as greedy inebriated them with a splash of power.Karnow does not stand on the sidelines and simply lament the losses from a US perspective, he gives as full a picture as he can, using interviews with many on both sides of the war to better illustrate what was going on inside the war rooms, in the jungles, and within the Oval Office He pulls no punches and does not leave anyone unscathed Where things went wrong, the spotlight shines down on them and where praise is deserved, it is surely showered upon the victors I remained stunned throughout that the juggernaut known as the US military could not penetrate the rag tag North Vietnamese Communists It was not even a puppet war both Cold War powers backing their respective sides , but hundreds of thousands of US troops died for what Having not lived through it whatsoever, I relied solely on the famous photos and news clips I d seen on the entire debacle I can now say that I have a much better idea of the follies and their creators I can see just how disgraceful the US ended up being as a small Communist country booted them out, wounded and afraid of staying any longer While the parallels are not as apparent, could the current two wasted wars be similar Iraq and Afghanistan are surely spheres where the US does not belong, as they poked their Bush led noses to flex their Popeye muscles Too bad they come out looking like Jabba the Hut, without the intelligence Only time will tell how long the US will keep their heads in the sand and pray for victory, even as the last chopper pulls away and all that s left is disgrace and ruin.Kudos Mr Karnow Well written, spendidly presented, and thoroughly enjoyable

  4. says:

    I recently watched the excellent Ken Burns PBS Documentary on Vietnam and wanted to learn about the war This book was written by a journalist who covered Asia from 1959 thru 1974 Due to his honest, thorough reporting of the Vietnam War, he gained a place on Nixon s Master List of Nixon s Political Opponents He began writing this book in the 1980 s and, as part of his research, interviewed many of the key players on both sides of the conflict It s a very well written book and a great overview of the war If you are interested in a general understanding of the conflict, especially the political decision making that occurred, this book would be well worth considering.

  5. says:

    Is this a good book It depends on what you re looking for This book has many merits It is comprehensive, it attempts to explain Vietnamese history, and it is full of on the spot interviews and remembrances This remains the basic history text of record on American involvement in Vietnam There is a breadth of perspective here that is lacking in many accounts of this most up close and personal of wars.He spends time discussing North Vietnam s insane economic policies and the Communist massacre of civilians at Hu in 1968 than he does any U.S atrocities e.g., My Lai And I was impressed by his descriptions of bravery on both sides of the conflict This is no mean feat for someone that was placed on Richard Nixon s enemies list as Karnow was.Despite these advantages, the book has some real limitations The writing is pedestrian, the characterizations if one can say that about history tend to be thin, and Karnow fails to convey a sense of wholeness in many chapters The book at times feels like a collection of dispatches from a reporter in the field which Karnow was in Vietnam rather than the work of a historian who has integrated fact and theory based on deep understanding and research As comprehensive as the book tries to be, Karnow s reach may have exeeded his grasp with his project.Unfortunately, Karnow buys into Ho Chi Minh s propoganda that he led a popular revolution against the Japanese In reality, the surrendering Japanese in 1945 handed over power to a variety of local groups with the goal of causing the Allies trouble Contrary to Karnow s poor research, there was no revolution in 1945 and there was no Viet Minh government except on paper The Viet Minh were so weak that they were pushed aside by the local french within a few weeks without even support from the outside.Karnow disposes of the French war in Vietnam in around 30 pages Following the mythology script, he focuses most of his attention on Dien Bien Phu and ignores the complexity and details of the French phase It s a superficial account at best.The Eisenhower and Kennedy chapters on Diem aren t all that great, either Rather than being about Vietnam, its like Vietnam as seen by Washington in those years There is no attempt at understanding the actual politics of the Diem era The information on North Vietnam or as Karnow strangely refers to them the communists is completely lacking The internal politics of North Vietnam are ignored as much as possible.As an example of Karnow s strange views In May 1959, the North Vietnamese leadership created a unit called Group 559, its task to begin enlarging the tradtional communist infiltration route, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, into the south Group 559 in reality launched an invasion of Laos putting a large part of the territory of that counry under Vietnamese rule which continues on even now Karnow s notion of a traditional infiltration route is completely false North Vietnam invaded Laos to flank the border of south vietnam and to use occupied Laos as a base for attacking Vietnam.As the book goes on, Karnow presents the traditional mythology about peaceful neutral Cambodia What he fails to say is that Sihanouk was a dictator who murdered his opponents and kept power by alternately allying himself with the left and the right He also fails to mention the well known fact that rather than being neutral, Sihanouk and Cambodia had signed a deal with China were their rice crop would be bought at an inflated price in exchange for opening Cambodian ports to arms shipments and allowing Vietnamese bases on Cambodian soil The so called neutrality story that Karnow repeats is nonsense.And Karnow gets how the war ended completely wrong The war ended because the entire North Vietnamese army launched a conventional military invasion with tanks over the border In the end, the invincible insurgency in the countryside couldn t win anything.Other than those gripes, this a fine book if you re looking for an introduction on the war.

  6. says:

    Stanley Karnow s Vietnam A History is a monumental undertaking for both the author and the reader tracing the history of Vietnam and its quest for freedom through the ages up until the 1980 s when the book was published Karnow is well qualified to write this text, with a career reporting on Vietnam that dates back to the 1950 s I was impressed with the interviews he did to write the book in many cases interview people who fought on both sides of a battle It was enlightening to read the North Vietnamese perspective.The first half of the book was slow going for me providing a history of Vietnams struggle for independence and the difficulty the French had in trying to maintain it as a colony I was very interested in learning about Ho Chi Min who was little than a picture Karnow was able to flesh him out and I have a found a great respect for the man, who worked so hard for an independent country.The book began moving along for me during the sixties when I was growing up Kennedy , Johnson and Nixon seemed to be repeating the same mistakes which the French had made in Vietnam Karnow was also able to give us insight into the politics and mechanizations behind the presidential politics He tells about a study done during Johnson s presidency in 1966 which found The bombing campaign, the study said, was having no measurable direct effect on enemy military activities and it restated the familiar reasons for that evaluation North Vietnam was basically a subsistence agricultural economy that presented an unrewarding target for air raids the volume of supplies sent south was too small to be stopped by air strikes and, in any case, the country had ample manpower to keep its primitive logistical net work intact intelligence estimates showed that infiltration into the south had risen since the bombing began and could continue to increase and Chines and Soviet assistance was than compensating for the damage being inflicted And yet the bombing continued.Karnow recounts how a speech writer for Johnson, MacPherson s opinion shifted by what he saw on television as many Americans opinions shifted watching the images on tv I watched the invasion of the American embassy compound and the terrible sight of General Loan killing the Vietcong captive You got a sense of the awfulness, the endlessness of the war and though it sounds naive, the unethical quality of a war in which a prisoner is hot at point blank range I put aside the confidential cables I was persuaded by the tube and by the newspapers I was fed up with the optimism that seem to flow without stopping from Saigon And then there was Nixon who wanted to get America out of Vietnam honorably but continued to make the same mistakes of the previous administrations The real problem he wrote, is that the enemy is willing to sacrifice in order to win, while the South Vietnamese simply aren t willing to pay that much of a price in order to avoid losing Nixon s observation was not original It merely restated the dilemma that had confounded the United States since the very beginning of its intervention in Vietnam the Communist were prepared to accept appalling casualties for the sake of minimal gains The Vietnam War was truly a trying time for America and as someone who came of age in this time period I wanted to understand it better It was indeed a bog, a quagmire which we wandered into with noble intentions without understanding the intentions or the tenacity of the Vietnamese people I highly recommend Karnow s book for anyone interested despite it being such a prodigious work.

  7. says:

    At around 270,000 words, Stanley Karnow s Vietnam A History is something of a monster, as is its subject Even those who did not live through the era when reports of the conflict dominated most international news, the title itself is still probably recognised as something iconic, something that sums up the third quarter of the twentieth century The word iconic would be inaccurate, however Icons are small images that suggest something bigger Vietnam, as a subject, as a reality, was always a big issue It was fought over for thirty years, toppled US Presidents, claimed untold thousands of lives and effectively involved the whole world This was superpower conflict by proxy.Stanley Karnow s book is replete with detail, analysis, fact, some fiction and much posturing It benefits from being written largely from experience The author was a respected journalist who covered the war at its height and his encounters with political elites, combatants and victims bring the story of death and destruction to life, if that phrase is not in bad taste.This was no minor skirmish, confined to a far corner of the North American world view World War Two devastated Europe and significant other parts of the world And yet a greater tonnage of explosives was dropped in the Vietnam War than in all the Second World War s theatres of conflict combined It s worth taking a moment to reflect on that In addition, chemical weapons, defoliants and napalm were sprayed around with apparent abandon before the United States, defeated, left for their territorially unaffected, unattacked home.There are those who thought the war was counter productive There were those who still think that the war was fought by a USA that had one hand tied behind its back An all out onslaught would have brought decisive victory But, given the above, what would that victory have looked like Just how close did the world come to a second nuclear war Stanley Karnow reminds us how truth becomes a casualty He describes how US officials, civilian and military alike dared not communicate negative messages or attitudes about the war To do so was seen as defeatism and there were no promotions for defeatists, no opportunities for pessimists, their positions being interpreted as merely unpatriotic In contrast, positive reports were rewarded, even if they bore little resemblance to reality And the author s portrait of Walt Rostow, a prominent member of LBJ s team, casts him squarely in the role of anti communist hawk, a guise in which we should view him when today we approach his still respected work on economic change and development.But what is perhaps most troubling was the ease with which those in power used the mechanisms of their state to hound dissenters, to tap their phones, block their careers And, it has to be remembered, this culture did lead though perhaps indirectly to the near impeachment and actual removal from office of an elected US President.Stanley Karnow s book captures the conflict ideologically, historically and politically Alongside Gabriel Kolko s book on the same subject, it ought to be required reading for anyone left in the world who thinks that war can solve conflict.

  8. says:

    Although I grew up during and was significantly affected by the invasion of Vietnam by the USA, although I had been substantially active in opposing the war and had read a great deal of material on the subject, this is the first real history of Vietnam I have completed.It is not a perfect history Based on research Karnow had conducted for a multipart, award winning television documentary, it is too focused on the United States to constitute a real history of Vietnam Further, his treatment is shallow in that it does little to explain why not how, but why the United States has had such an historical affinity for unpopular dictatorships and antipathy for popular movements Finally, although he mentions the book as a source, Karnow fails to discuss the material covered in McCoy s The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, particularly the economic importance of the drug trade for sustaining, if not motivating, much of American foreign policy.On the positive side, however, Karnow did have substantial on the ground experience working as a journalist in Vietnam and did interview many of the Vietnamese principals, North and South Further, he does attempt to give some historical background to the country and its culture in his first couple of chapters.Finishing it today, I was left with the sobering enigma of the evils committed and or countenanced by the leadership of the United States in my, in our name Some of it is ignorance, of course, and Karnow gives many instances of that at the highest reaches of government and the military, but some of it is simply mysterious to me How can anyone justify the killing of over a million people, most of them civilians, in our campaigns in SE Asia How, indeed, now, can President Obama and his administration carry on our aggressive occupations of Afghanistan the current primary source of the world s heroin, q.v McCoy s The Politics of Heroin and Iraq What is it in the system that promotes such morally depraved persons to power

  9. says:

    This is a big one It was the basis of one of the best documentary series ever broadcast Vietnam A Television History on PBS in the early 80s It was one of the great multi part limited series, like Ken Burns The Civil War or Eyes on the Prize III.I had this book in my collection for at least 15 years before finally tackling it almost two years ago I found the earlier parts of the book fascinating, the long history of Vietnam, its culture and rulers and politics and the unfortunate legacy of constant conquest and invasion It s a history that most Americans still do not know any than they do when they stumble into other countries that have also had long histories of outside occupation If we did know, we might understand why the natives get a little resentful, regardless of our own self perceived good intentions The book is primarly Vietnam focused until the American part of the Vietnam war begins and then it shifts often than not into the war room with LBJ and less on the ground in Vietnam Still, this is a fair and balanced book a good place to start to learn about this country and the great war that defined it in the 20th century.

  10. says:

    When I asked an expert for the best book about Vietnam, this is the one he recommended It is great It has the full sweep and pageantry of history However, if you are the type of person who gets a headache when they watch a country do something incredibly stupid in slow motion, then DON T read this book.

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