A military history book analyzes the source of America’s failures in the Vietnam War.
People have been arguing about what went wrong in the Vietnam War since before it ended. Some say it was an unwinnable conflict from the start and that the United States should never have gotten involved. Others believe that the American military could easily have won the war, but its hands were tied by civilian leaders who didn’t have the stomach for more aggressive tactics. Rothmann (None Will Surpass, 2014), a West Point graduate, retired Army colonel, and a veteran soldier who led infantry units into combat in Vietnam, has his own theories: “Leader misjudgments and miscalculations were not the only reasons for this failure…they were more a result of personal faults and a lack of trust, honesty, and understanding among and between American civilian leaders and their military counterparts.” Furthermore, neither the U.S. military commanders nor the nation’s civilian leaders had an adequate understanding or respect for their adversary, an expertly organized and dedicated force that pursued its clear goals through subterfuge and strategy. The author uses firsthand accounts from both sides to analyze the conflict from its beginnings in 1950s Cold War politics to the Fall of Saigon in 1975. He also critiques the (incorrect) lessons that American leaders took from the Vietnam War and how these have been applied to the country’s subsequent conflicts. Rothmann writes in an accessible prose that reads mostly as general history (with a few of his own reflections and opinions scattered throughout): “I missed much of the sixties in America….My wife had been closer to it. She related that she had a tough time getting a place to stay while I was in Vietnam. No one in her hometown in New Jersey would rent a place for her to stay since she was a soldier’s wife whose husband was away at war.” At nearly 700 pages, this comprehensive, rigorous volume spreads the blame around fairly evenly and justifiably. In the author’s view, there’s no one-sentence explanation for America’s loss in Vietnam.
He’s here to lead readers unflinchingly into the nuances.
A thought-provoking, well-researched diagnosis of the Vietnam War.
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive retrospective on the Vietnam War, and the reasons America's leaders failed to deliver victory
By L. Izzo on June 1, 2018
The Vietnam War remains an enigma in American history. It was a war in which the victor lost every battle; a war in which a cabinet hailed as the ‘best and brightest’ seemed to stumble across every tripwire they came across. There are so many baffling angles about Vietnam that it’s safe to say we have only begun the effort to understand what happened - both in the jungle and back home in Washington.
In that vain, Harry Rothmann has put together one of the most comprehensive retrospectives on the war- diving deeply into the dysfunction of the relationships between US military and civilian leadership. Leveraging recently released classified material, Rothmann offers rare insights into the complex dynamics of the relationships between LBJ, Taylor, Westmoreland, Abrams, Lodge, Bunker, Kissinger, Nixon, etc. Through comprehensive research he sheds light on how Washington and its top brass got it wrong, while America’s brave troops fought a war they had no chance of winning. Rothmann thoughtfully contrasts the US resolve and strategy against that of its enemy. Accessing a trove of interviews with North Vietnamese leadership, Rothmann sheds light on the evolution of the North Vietnamese’s winning strategy.
For those looking for a deep and thoughtful look at the mistakes America made during the prosecution of this war, and those who enjoyed Ken Burns/Novick PBS series but want even more insight, Rothmann’s “Warriors and Fools” is a great read..
Warriors and Fools: How America's Leaders Lost the Vietnam War and Why It Still Matters