In This Review

A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975
A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975
By Robert D. Schulzinger
Oxford University Press, 1997, 397 pp

A finely drawn portrait of the American involvement in Vietnam. Schulzinger, a historian at the University of Colorado, writes deftly of virtually every facet of the war. He is equally at home in examining the dilemmas of U.S. military strategy as in assessing the impact of the war on American society. Apart from a mean-spirited analysis of Nixon and Kissinger (toward whom contemporary historians are far less forgiving than they are toward Lyndon Johnson), the author treats with sympathetic understanding the outlook of all parties to the conflict. Unlike many other professional historians, the author is unafraid of venturing onto the counterfactual terrain where causation is dissected and weighed. Though he considers as deeply flawed the big unit war of attrition fought by Westmoreland, he shows why the principal alternative -- a small unit war of posts -- would also have meant fighting on terms dictated by the enemy. Here, as elsewhere, Schulzinger demonstrates how the two sides' differing conceptions of time (and capacity for endurance) are of crucial significance in explaining how the war was fought and why it was lost. An annoyingly large number of typographical errors constitutes an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise exemplary work -- one of the best general studies of the war in all its dimensions.