In This Review

Nixon's Vietnam War
Nixon's Vietnam War
By Jeffrey P. Kimball
University Press of Kansas, 1998, 528 pp.

The most detailed assemblage of evidence about the Nixon-Kissinger Vietnam policies to date. More of a chronicle than a narrative, the book is hard to follow. But the level of scholarship is high. Kimball argues that Nixon relied on a "madman" theory to coerce Hanoi while still withdrawing U.S. troops -- a theory of the intimidating power of "brutal unpredictability" (Kissinger's term). Seeing Nixon as the strategist and Kissinger as the tactician, Kimball finds their machinations self-defeating and believes that their "brutal unpredictability" and deceptive ways undercut the domestic political base for support of South Vietnam. But he tells a Washington story with little integration of the interesting Saigon side, told by Lewis Sorley's A Better War (see Eliot Cohen's review in this issue). Nixon and his field commander, Creighton Abrams, had different visions of winning the war; Abrams had no "madman" theory, but he did have a strategy that was working reasonably well. How did all this fit together? Kimball does not explain. A better analysis is still needed of the crucial decisions in this period about negotiation and escalation.