In This Review

Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy
Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy
By Robert S. Mcnamara, James G. Blight and Robert K. Brigham, w
PublicAffairs, 1999, 479 pp

This book grew out of an oral history project to get American and North Vietnamese scholars and former officials together to learn lessons from the war. South Vietnamese voices were apparently unwelcome. The Americans offered mea culpas and a few pointed questions. The North Vietnamese participants offered polemics, some courteous interest, and several undocumented opinions. The book, however, is much worse. As in the old days back in the Cabinet Room, McNamara's insistent voice sets the tone, now convinced that the war was produced by ignorance and mutual misunderstanding. This is McNamara's redemptive mission, and it hijacks the book. His evidence does not sustain his many conclusions. In fact, some of the exchanges are grimly amusing precisely because McNamara still seems to have no head for diplomacy or politics (especially the other side's political world). Herbert Schandler adds a chapter on the war's military unwinnability that would have been more convincing if he had bothered to discuss the contrary evidence of 1968-72. The awful irony of this book is that, in a mission to overcome misunderstandings, it introduces a whole raft of new ones.