Editorial Note

To paraphrase Record, his comments on Triumph Forsaken are testimony to the continuing tumultuousness of the Vietnam War's historiography.
The fact that the leftist orthodoxy is the dominant school of thought in US universities now does not mean that it is correct. The fact that the communists won the war does not mean that they are nationalists or that they care about the country. Far from it. Ho was known to be an internationalist before being a nationalist. He was the one who aggressively pursued communist expansion--a foreign ideology to Vietnamese--lengthily praised Lenin, and could not wait to rejoin Lenin and Mao in the other world--sorry, since communists do not believe in the other world, where would Ho like to meet his idols and teachers?
Yes, the war waged by Ho and the communists was immoral. Ho "roasted" 1.1 million soldiers to conquer South Vietnam. He did not care about losing "20 of his soldiers to one American" because he knew America would flinch first. He ordered the killing of thousands of southern nationalists and hundreds of thousands of southern civilians. The South Vietnamese lost 300,000 soldiers during that war; 60,000 others following a communist purge after the war, thousands in reeducation camps and hundreds of thousands at seas during their escape from Vietnam. Since Ho and his men made the decision to conquer the South, they should be held accountable of this holocaust.
To protect their country, the South Vietnamese had asked for US help because they were militarily weaker and regained their independence 11 years later than the communists. The French did not leave Saigon only in 1956. To defend South Vietnam was thus a noble cause and the South Vietnamese are indebted to the US for their help. Unfortunately, because of differences in strategic thinking, Diem had to accept US demands. Diem wanted a small army capable of dealing with insurgency. The US decided Vietnam should fight a conventional war with a huge army--a mirror image of the US army-- that Saigon could not afford. Diem did not want too many US soldiers in Vietnam, although they were needed mainly to interdict the HCM trail. The US disagreed and decided to replace him with more pliable men. Diem was not perfect, but he was good for the Vietnamese in Vietnam at that time. His strategy and thinking may appear strange to Americans, but they fit well in local people's thinking. The US thought otherwise. Once Diem was killed, South Vietnam went into a tailspin that required a massive infusion of US soldiers to stabilize the situation.
After the communists won the war in 1975, they continued their march eastward to try to dominate Laos then Cambodia. Unfortunately, they were checked by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Burdened by the war in Cambodia, then against the Chinese in 1978, with the economy going south after more than two decades of war and with opposition by world's opinion, Hanoi finally relented. Lee Kwan Yew once remarked, that had the South Vietnamese not held and weakened the communists during a two-decade war, Hanoi would have gone straight to Malaysia. Yes, the domino theory was correct and valid. Hanoi simply quit because they finally realized their limitations.  
Was Vietnam a strategic place to hold? The Indochinese peninsula has been throughout the millennia a launching pad for expansion to/conquest of America and Oceania. It was there that the Chinese-Confucian and Hindu cultures clashed resulting in the building and formation of the southern Confucian-Vietnamese culture in 1698 (date of birth of the Vietnamese Saigon). The Japanese used South Vietnam during WWII to conquer Burma and the Pacific islands. The Cold War between the US and the communists took place there. Vietnam today is the place to contain Chinese expansion and eventually, this will be the place WWIII will certainly take place--I hope I'm wrong.
No, Vietnam was not a strategic place for the US during the Vietnam War, but it was the place to control communist expansion. Had South Vietnam not withstood the war for two decades, Southeast Asia would have become a red zone at this time all the way to Malaysia, Singapore Indonesia, Burma, maybe India, Indonesia. This is indeed a frightening thought although the leftists who have a weakness for the communists do not think so. The communists, however, understand only one thing: force.
In sum, all these discussions may not stop the war of words to go on as orthodoxy followers and revisionists would go at each other again. Both sides forget that this was a tripartite war between the South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese and the US. Neglecting one side would lead to empty discussions.

Feb 2012

 

Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965

                                                         Mark Moyar

Mark Moyar. Cambridge University Press, 2006, 542 pp., $32.00.

   

Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken is testimony to the continuing tumultuousness of the Vietnam War’s historiography. The nature of the war, the causes of America’s defeat—even that we were defeated—remain hotly disputed. The war itself may have ended in 1975, but it continues to be waged among American historians and political commentators. Indeed, much of what has been written about the war is ideologically adulterated. Leftist orthodoxy, still the dominant school of thought, holds that the war was both immoral and strategically mistaken, whereas an emerging neoconservative revisionist school sees the war as a noble and strategically imperative, albeit poorly executed, undertaking.
Moyar—who received his doctorate from Cambridge, now teaches at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, and considers himself a victim of liberal academic bigotry—stands firmly on the revisionist Right. Indeed, Moyar’s book is the Vietnam War book for those who still believe that the United States had vital interests in South Vietnam’s survival; that US abandonment of South Vietnam in 1965 would have triggered the communization of the rest of Southeast Asia; that Vietnamese nationalism was a minor force on the Communist side of the war and had little to do with the war’s outcome; that Ho Chi Minh was simply a stalking horse for Chinese imperialism; that South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was a wise and effective leader who had the Communists on the run until the United States stupidly incited a coup against him; and that journalists David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan were unwitting accomplices of Hanoi.
It is no wonder that Triumph Forsaken has received loud applause from neoconservative organs—e.g., the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, National Review, Washington Times, New York Sun—which continue to preach that America’s defeat in Vietnam was self-inflicted by presidential meddling in military operations, a hostile media, and a near-treasonous antiwar movement. Moyar makes no bones about his determination to challenge what he terms “the reigning ideological orthodoxy” on the war, which is centered among liberal American university professors guilty of “haughty derision and ostracism” of those who, like Moyar, take a contrary view. Indeed, Moyar once told a colleague of mine at the Air University that, as an undergraduate, he determined the liberal orthodoxy in the war to be so wrong that he decided to go to graduate school in part to obtain the academic credentials necessary to credibly challenge that orthodoxy.
There is no question that the liberal orthodoxy on the war is well-entrenched among university social science departments across the country and that the very nature of orthodoxy, liberal or otherwise, makes it intolerant of those who question fundamental assumptions. There is also no question that Triumph Forsaken, which covers American policy and events in Indochina from 1954 to the commitment of US ground combat forces in 1965 (a second volume covering the remainder of the war is in the works), is the most detailed revisionist work published to date. Thoroughly researched, well written, and focused as much on the Communist side of the war as on the American side, Triumph Forsaken builds on previous revisionist works, notably Michael Lind’s Vietnam: The Necessary War (2002) and C. Dale Walton’s The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam (2002), by offering (in Moyar’s own words) “many new interpretations” and by “challeng[ing] many orthodox interpretations that have hitherto gone unchallenged.”
Yet, in attempting to refute virtually every tenet of the liberal orthodoxy— and some, especially of the Marxist variety, are untenable—Moyar establishes a counterorthodoxy of his own, replete with evidence-challenged assertions and counterfactual hindsights. (Hindsight is never 20/20 vision; it is, rather, a refraction through the lens of subsequent events. The Munich Conference of 1938 is notorious only because it was followed by World War II and the Holocaust; we would have long since forgotten it had Hitler dropped dead after his last meeting with Neville Chamberlain.)
Moyar announces that “the domino theory was valid,” that Vietnam was “a wise war fought under foolish constraints,” and that the United States could have won the war early on had it stuck with Diem and invaded Laos and North Vietnam—bold moves that would have provoked “a Chinese abstention from the fighting.” He further announces that the stakes were enormous. A US decision to relinquish South Vietnam in 1965 would have triggered “the crumbling of American power in Asia,” including the “defection of Japan” and the loss of “access to vital Indonesian sea lanes.” (The United States would then “have [had] to invade Indonesia” to restore that access.) Worse still, “forfeiture of South Vietnam” would
decrease America’s national strength and undermine confidence in the United States across the world, thereby reducing America’s long-term ability to resist Communism on the remaining Cold War fronts in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, which then might lead to the termination of key alliances and to major alterations in the trajectory of . . . the Cold War.
Sound familiar? It should. It is the same kind of apocalyptic rhetoric the Johnson administration used to mobilize public support for intervention in a war that was just as unnecessary as the neoconservatives’ strategic fantasy-driven American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Triumph Forsaken is as ideologically contaminated as the liberal orthodoxy it seeks to refute. As such, it contributes little to a better understanding of an exceptionally complex war that continues to arouse American political passions.
Jeffrey Record, PhD
Air War College