In This Review

Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam
Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam
By Fredrik Logevall
University of California Press, 1999, 529 pp.

The finest history to date of America's decisions to escalate war in Vietnam. Looking back at the decisions up to 1965 that ultimately committed hundreds of thousands of American troops to defend South Vietnam, Logevall argues that most of the Cold War establishment was against escalation, as were practically all of America's allies. Although the dissents of George Ball and William Fulbright are better known, the opposition of Johnson's own mentor, the conservative Senator Richard Russell, is more interesting. The puzzle deepens as Logevall shows how well the top leadership understood their problem. Using extraordinary research in American, British, French, and Canadian archives and sensitively reconstructing the mindset of the times, Logevall tries to find just when opportunities to avoid escalation were genuinely present. His search narrows down to the few months after President Johnson's election in November 1964. Rusk's diplomacy was conscientious but unimaginative, while Logevall regretfully concludes that Johnson, Bundy, and Robert McNamara blurred concern for their own personal credibility with their concern for the credibility of their country. More than just a Vietnam book, Choosing War offers a rare and beautifully crafted example of how to study a turning point in history.