Triumph Forsaken
Mark Moyar
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Buy *Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965* by Mark Moyar online

Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965
Mark Moyar
Cambridge University Press
542 pages
August 2006
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Dr. Mark Moyar, currently Associate Professor and Course Director at the U.S. Marine Corps University located in Quantico, Virginia, unveils, details, and then derails the popularly-supported history of America's intervention in this Asian conflict. The author is an armchair scholar whose pen has probably shot down more theories than the in-person accounts of the soldiers who were there on the battlefield.

He debunks and then re-shapes commonly held notions of how and why the U.S. became entangled here. He explains that China and Vietnam were not at war for much of this latter country's history; rather, there were just a trio of battles that ensued from the end of the tenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. That's simply one of the early myths he re-fleshes.

The main players like Minh and Diem are exposed and explained; key battles are investigated and put in proper perspective; and at the end of this extraordinarily documented book, where the footnotes alone take up nearly 100 pages, the professor sums it up in a wonderfully eloquent final paragraph:

"In the end, what drove Lyndon Johnson to put American ground forces into the Vietnam War was a conviction that a chain of disastrous events would unfold if he did not. North Vietnam would soon conquer South Vietnam, which would then lead to Communist control or domination of many other Asian dominoes, which in turn would severely damage America's global strategic position. Lyndon Johnson had never intended to intervene in the war with U.S. ground troops unless South Vietnam's life depended on it, for he did not think that such intervention would result in a quick or easy victory. In the middle of 1965, he concluded that South Vietnam's life did, in fact, depend on it, a correct judgment based on the evidence of Communist military capabilities and intentions available then and since. Johnson was also correct in predicting that many of the other dominoes would come crashing down if the Communists topped South Vietnam in 1965. What would ultimately doom Johnson was neither the illness of the patient nor a faulty diagnosis but a poor choice of remedy. His refusal to order some very feasible actions in Laos and North Vietnam, the result of misplaced fears and faulty intelligence and unwarranted confidence in brainy civilians, forfeited opportunities to deny the Communists the great strategic advantages that they were to enjoy for the next ten years. The war in Vietnam that America's young men were about to fight, therefore, was not to be a foolish war fought under wise constraints, but a wise war fought under foolish constraints."
Succinct and insightful. In fact, it bears a resemblance to our current war and the situations surrounding it. This is a deep and probing work and requires some thought. Upon completion, however, you'll come away with a far greater understanding of what this tragic war really meant.

Nixon was a bundle of emotional contradictions, belying his obsessive need to plan and control. Congressman Nixon bulldogged the Alger Hiss case, fierce on containing Communism and keeping the Cold War simmering as long as was necessary to accomplish the goal; yet when he was languishing in disgrace in his own country, the Chinese offered to give him asylum. Nixon was an icon of failure to young people who viewed him on the country's first televised debates, squaring off against the probably unbeatably savvy, handsome and well-heeled John Kennedy. By comparison onscreen, Nixon looked dark and dowdy, and he lost. He lost again in a race for governor in California, and any rational person would have figured his political career was finished. But he re-birthed himself, scraping by Hubert Humphrey to win the presidency at last in 1968, by appealing to what he called the "silent majority" of conservative voters. Yet despite his hard-line views and his politics of expediency, once in office Nixon proved to be an international statesman with a flair for detente (a concept he invented) and a domestic politician who brooked no compromise in issues such as desegregation without busing.

As president, Nixon had more on his plate from the outset than most officials face in years of public servitude. He was landed in the middle of the Viet Nam conflict (Black calls it "an utterly hopeless war"), the school desegregation conflict, and the Red Scare with its insistent drumbeat of nuclear holocaust as the price to be paid for failure. The youth of America were on the streets, and they didn't like Nixon. Blacks were no longer easily appeased. The author states that despite Watergate and Vietnam, "Nixon achieved as much as any American political leader since Abraham Lincoln...and he did it against his own troublesome anxiety and limitations and awkwardness."

Nixon was a desperately insecure man who habitually called his staff to see how he was doing in their estimation, thereby reducing their estimation of him over time. He chose aides who had a nefarious streak mirroring his own, then allowed them to tap into his own dark side. Nixon once declared, "You've got to be a little evil to understand those people out there. You have to have known the dark side of life."

This highly revealing portrait of a man more disliked than respected, but more competent and supported than his detractors would like to avow, will raise questions and provoke controversy. Its author has had his own long look at the "dark side of life," and possibly his legal troubles have given him a more than usual sympathy for Nixon, whom, it seems, he would like to have had the chance to counsel, and save.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Steven Rosen, 2007

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