In This Review

Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953-61
Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953-61
By David L. Anderson
Columbia University Press, 1993, 276 pp.

"The Eisenhower administration simply postponed the day of reckoning in Vietnam." This is the essential thesis of Professor Anderson's (University of Indianapolis) study, which carefully mines recently declassified National Security Council, State Department and other documents to reach the not very startling conclusion that in the 1950s Eisenhower failed to solve the problems of Vietnam for the 1960s and 1970s. Anderson's details on policy-making for Vietnam are fresh and instructive, but in his eagerness to challenge the so-called Eisenhower revisionists he overstates his case.

According to Anderson, "Eisenhower charted the course that President Lyndon Johnson followed to the fateful decisions of 1964 and 1965 to drop the bombs and land the Marines." Eisenhower "oversimplified and overcommitted" because he was "more skilled in tactics than in strategy." Anderson praises Eisenhower for resisting the pressure to intervene in 1954 to save the French at Dien Bien Phu, but criticizes him for supporting Ngo Dinh Diem from 1955 to 1961. "Prepared neither to retreat nor fight, the Eisenhower administration turned to nation building." What Anderson wishes Eisenhower had done he does not say. The only real alternative was to abandon Vietnam and all of Indochina in 1954, which was a political impossibility for a Republican president elected, in part, by drumming on the question, "Who lost China?" In short, this is a first-rate account of policy-making in Vietnam, 1955-61, weakened by an academic desire to criticize and stretch the evidence to blame Ike for the mistakes of Kennedy and Johnson.