Fresh Eye on the US Fail­ure in Viet­nam

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Nils­son-wright

Fifty years on from the 1968 Tet Of­fen­sive that marked a de­ci­sive turn­ing point in Amer­ica’s Viet­nam tragedy, there has been a re­newed in­ter­est in un­der­stand­ing the roots of the US fail­ure in In­dochina. Max Boot’s magisterial and mas­sive new bi­og­ra­phy of Ed­ward Lans­dale — a former ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive turned CIA field op­er­a­tive who played a crit­i­cal role in US Cold War na­tion-build­ing ini­tia­tives in the Philip­pines and South Viet­nam — of­fers a fresh and com­pelling re­assess­ment of what went wrong as well as new in­sights into an ar­guably much mis­judged and ma­ligned his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. Not only was Lans­dale not the model for Gra­ham Greene’s ma­nip­u­la­tive and disin­gen­u­ous Quiet Amer­i­can in the novel of that name, he was also a far more nu­anced and em­pa­thetic in­di­vid­ual than the fig­ure in the stan­dard his­tor­i­cal ac­counts. His achieve­ments in counter-in­sur­gency and na­tion­build­ing ini­tia­tives in South­east Asia were far less a func­tion of tra­di­tional in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties or the use of mil­i­tary force (which Lans­dale felt was of limited util­ity), and much more of his ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand lo­cal cul­tures and de­velop a gen­uine rap­port with a wide cross-sec­tion of in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing lead­ers such as Ngo Dinh Diem in South Viet­nam and Ra­mon Magsaysay in the Philip­pines. This more re­li­able pic­ture of Lans­dale of­fers valu­able in­sights into how US in­volve­ment in Viet­nam might have played out very dif­fer­ently had cir­cum­stances been dif­fer­ent; it also pro­vides lessons for how the US might bet­ter ap­proach the chal­lenge of na­tion­build­ing to­day.

The Road Not Taken: Ed­ward Lans­dale and the Amer­i­can Tragedy in Viet­nam By Max Boot US: Liveright Pub­lish­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, 2018, 768 pages, $21 (Hard­cover)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.