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Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learnedby Rufus C. Phillips
Synopses & Reviews
In The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam describes Rufus Phillips coming before President Kennedy during the Vietnam War and "admitting the failures of his own program, in itself a remarkable moment in the American bureaucracy, a moment of intellectual honesty." With that same honesty, Phillips gives an extraordinary inside history of the most critical years of American involvement in Vietnam, from 1954 to 1968, and explains why it still matters. Describing what went right and then wrong, he argues that the United States missed an opportunity to help the South Vietnamese develop a political cause as compelling as that of the Communists by following a "big war" strategy based on World War II perceptions. This led the Americans to mistaken assumptions that they could win the war themselves and give the country back to the Vietnamese. Documenting the story from his own private files as well as from the historical record, the former CIA officer paints thumbnail sketches of such key figures as John F. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara, Hubert Humphrey, and Ngo Dinh Diem, among others with whom he interacted. Phillips details how the legendary Edward G. Lansdale helped the South Vietnamese gain and consolidate their independence between 1954 and 1956, and how this later changed to a reliance on American conventional warfare with its highly destructive firepower. He reasons that the Americans' failure to understand the Communists, their South Vietnamese allies, or even themselves took them down the wrong roads. In summing up U.S. errors in Vietnam, Phillips draws parallels with the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests changes in the U.S. approach that the American public can support. Known for his intellectual integrity and firsthand, long-term knowledge of what went on in Vietnam, the author offers lessons for today in this long awaited account that must not be overlooked..
"Beginning in 1954, Phillips spent almost 10 years doing undercover and pacification work for the CIA and the U.S. Agency for International Development in South Vietnam. In the high-level power struggle over America's Vietnam policy. Phillips, then a government adviser, was a strong proponent of helping build a stable democratic government that the South Vietnamese would willingly fight to preserve from the Communist North — and a vocal opponent of sending in American combat troops. In this sober and informed memoir, Phillips provides a fascinating look at the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' refusal to give more than lip service to pacification, with revealing portraits of such figures as the 'singular' Maj. Gen. Edward Lansdale, South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem, President Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and other prominent officials. Phillips states firmly that those 'best and brightest,' especially McNamara, exhibited 'poor judgment, bureaucratic prejudice, and personal hubris' as they steered Vietnam War policy on a disastrous course. Phillips's short chapter on lessons the U.S. should have learned from the Vietnam War should be mandatory reading in Washington, D.C. Maps." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
As part of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Phillips engaged in military, pacification, and counter-insurgency operations in Vietnam from 1954 to 1968. He recalls his experience, pointing out the mistakes that were made and how they affected not only the later stages of the war, but also US foreign affairs to the present. His fundamental message is that the Americans never noticed what the natives were actually doing, just kept going on with the war they wanted to fight. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Rufus Phillips gives an extraordinary inside history of the most critical years of American involvement in Vietnam. Describing what went right and then wrong, he argues that the U.S. missed an opportunity to help the South Vietnamese develop a political cause as compelling as that of the Communists by following a big war strategy based on World War II perceptions.
About the Author
Rufus Phillips became a member of the Saigon Military Mission in 1954 and the following year served as the sole adviser to two Vietnamese army pacification operations, earning the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work. He later worked as a CIA civilian case officer in Vietnam and Laos, then joined the U.S. Agency for International Development's Saigon Mission to lead its counterinsurgency efforts. In 1964 he became a consultant for USAID and the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He lives in Arlington, VA.
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