In 2006, the historian Mark Moyar published a lively and vigorously revisionist account of the Vietnam War. He challenged all aspects of the orthodox view. This view, he argued, underplayed the viciousness of the North Vietnamese Communists, the genuine concerns of other countries in the region about the implications for them should South Vietnam collapse, and the fact that with a little less timidity, the Communists could have been beaten. If instead of overthrowing the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, the Americans had worked on taking the battle to the North, the war would now be viewed in a quite different light. Hence the title of his book, Triumph Forsaken. In Triumph Revisited, Wiest and Doidge have collected Moyar's critics (and there are many) to explain why the standard explanations for the United States' failure in Vietnam -- its exaggerated Cold War fears, its hopeless client, and its incoherent strategy -- remain compelling. Moyar is allowed a spirited defense. The collection demonstrates the importance of debate as a way of illuminating important issues and questioning established positions.
Anderson, who contributes a fair and considered chapter to Triumph Revisited, is also the editor of The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. Although the contributors to this volume acknowledge the various debates surrounding the war, they all tend to follow the mainstream view on it, and so there is none of the cut and thrust of Wiest and Doidge's collection. No new theories about the main features and turning points of the war are advanced. Nonetheless, the quality and authority of the authors ensure that The Columbia History will have a place as an accessible and coherent account of the war's course, from before the United States' involvement to the North's eventual victory.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Military, Scientific, and Technological From This Issue