It is dangerously easy to overstate the parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. For instance, with no North Vietnam, USSR, China, etc. to support them and an overwhelmingly Shi'ite native population that hates them, Iraqi insurgents are considerably weaker than the Viet Cong. However, Mark Moyar's study of the early years of America's experience in Vietnam do have some important lessons to teach us. Indeed, while Mr. Moyar will apparently be penning a second volume that concludes the history, Triumph Forsaken for now can be read with Lewis Sorley's outstanding A Better War as the definitive account of the War and of the mistakes we made that cost us and, more importantly, the South Vietnamese victory.
The essential case that Mr. Moyar makes here is that the South Vietnamese Ngo Dinh Diem was a far more competent leader than most ever understood and was almost uniquely qualified to go toe-to-toe with the North. Drawing upon North Vietnamese archives and other sources that have become available in recent years, Mr. Moyar demonstrates both the respect that even his foes had for Diem and chronicles the surprisingly high level of success that his regime was enjoying. The author also details the various vagaries of Vietnamese history and culture that made a man like Diem -- more authoritarian than we preferred -- a near perfect fit for the society he led. The inescapable conclusion is that America should have trusted his judgment and supported his actions.
Instead, as we know, he was undercut by activist journalists and figures in the American government who insisted on judging him by standards more appropriate to the mayor of a town in Iowa than the leader of an embattled post-colonial Asian nation with thousands of years of its own history and traditions. The particular culprits in the press include David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, while the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, ends up with Diem's blood on his hands, at least figuratively. One of the most interesting episodes the author uses to illustrate Diem's competence and the utter ignorance of his American critics is the Buddhist protest movement. In the hands of Western journalists the Buddhists came across something like Mother Theresa confronting the KKK. The truth that Mr. Moyar reveals is that not only was this opposition movement more Machiavellian than moralist but had actually been infiltrated by the Communists. It is significant that Diem always remained popular with the wider South Vietnamese population, which understood and appreciated the steps he took to protect their fragile society. What doomed him was losing the support of Americans with their own private agendas, who could them draw upon disgruntled factions in the South Vietnamese military and the bumptious political sphere to eventually overthrow him.
This story has the arc of a tragedy, not just because Diem ended up being killed and his good work wasted, but because those who were responsible for these disasters thought they were acting from the best liberal motives. It seems never, or only seldom, to have occurred to them that by hammering the Vietnamese peg into an America shaped hole they were so weakening the structure that it became less and less suited to supporting a stable state and defending against the dire internal and external threats it faced. While it is truly maddening to read about the series of mistakes we made and the way our own politics and the manipulation of American public opinion fed into those errors, it is haunting to read this history while so many of the same dynamics swirl around Iraq. Mr. Moyar is, naturally, aware of the overlaps and has written a couple of excellent opinion pieces addressing them: An Iraqi Solution, Vietnam Style (Mark Moyar, 11/21/06, NY Times) and Knowing When to Let Go (Mark Moyar, December 6, 2006, Washington Post). Such is the quality of this book and the rewriting of history it effects that you will not only see the Vietnam War in a different light but understand current events in Iraq more clearly. That's quite an accomplishment and makes this the best book you're likely to read for some time.
-BOOK SITE: Triumph Forsaken (Cambridge University Press)
-BOOK SITE: Triumph Forsaken
-BOOK SITE: Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar (Written Voices)
-EXCERPT: from Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar
-ESSAY: An Iraqi Solution, Vietnam Style (MARK MOYAR, 11/21/06, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Knowing When to Let Go (Mark Moyar, December 6, 2006, Washington Post)
-INTERVIEW: Analysts Discuss Possible Iraq-Vietnam Parallels: When President Bush recently traveled to Vietnam for a meeting with Asian leaders, he was asked what lessons the Vietnam war offered for Iraq. Analysts discuss tactical and political comparisons between the two wars. (Online Newshour, 11/23/06)
-INTERVIEW: Mark Moyar: Q & A with the author of a revisionist history of the Vietnam War
-ARCHIVES: "mark moyar" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar (Mackubin Thomas Owens , Weekly Standard)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (GUENTER LEWY, NY Sun)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (Robert Scales, Wall Street Journal)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (JOHN M. TAYLOR, Washington Times)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (Karl Helicher, Forward)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (Marc Leepson, Vietnam Veterans of America)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (Alan Knight, Empire Page)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (George Mellinger, Old War Dogs)
-REVIEW: of Triumph Forsaken (Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty, Radical Academy)
-REVIEW: of Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: The CIA's Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong, by Mark Moyar (John D Waghelstein, Journal of Political and Military Sociology)
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