The reports in this novel are prefaced with a quote by Robert Shaplen, which sums up the feelings of those Americans involved in the Vietnam conflict. He states, "Vietnam, Vietnam . . .. There are no sure answers." In this novel, the author gives a detailed historical account of the happenings in Vietnam between 1950 and 1975. He successfully reports the confusing nature, proximity to the present and the emotions that still surround the conflict in Vietnam. In his journey through the years that America was involved in the Vietnam conflict, Herring "seeks to integrate military, diplomatic, and political factors in such a way as to clarify America's involvement and ultimate failure in Vietnam."
Herring begins his account with a summary of the First Indochina War. He reports that the Vietnamese resisted French imperialism as persistently as they had Chinese. French colonial policies had transformed the Vietnamese economic and social systems, giving rise to an urban middle class, however; the exploitation of the country and its people stimulated more radical revolutionary activity. Herring states that the revolution of 1945 was almost entirely the personal creation of the charismatic leader Ho Chi Minh. Minh is described as a frail and gentle man who radiated warmth and serenity, however; beneath this mild exterior existed a determined revolutionary who was willing to employ the most cold- blooded methods in the cause to which he dedicated his life. With the guidance of Minh, the Vietminh launched as a response to the favorable circumstances of World War II. By the spring of 1945, Minh mobilized a base of great support. When Japan surrendered in 1945, the Vietminh filled the vacuum. France and the Vietminh attempted to negotiate an agreement, but their goals were irreconcilable.
With all of this occurring in Vietnam, it was bound to draw attention from the United States. Herring reports that President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized that colonialism was doomed and that the US should identify with the Vietminh. In 1945, however, Roosevelt retreated from that earlier stance and endorsed a program in which colonies would be placed in trusteeship only with the approval of the mother country. After Roosevelt's death in April 1945, the US adopted a stance even more favorable to the French under the rule of the new president Harry S. Truman. Herring states that the "Truman administration had no interest in championing schemes of international trusteeship that would weaken and alienate the European states whose help we need to balance Soviet power in Europe"(10).
By 1950, the domino theory was a main concern to the United States. It was thought that the fall of Indochina would cause in rapid succession the collapse of the other nations of Southeast Asia. Therefore, in 1950 there was a strategic reassessment of US's involvement. Henceforth, the United States felt that it held a vital interest in the goings on in Vietnam. A commitment was produced in early March to furnish France with military and economic assistance for the war against the Vietminh.
By the time that the US committed itself to France, Ho Chi Minh controlled an estimated two-thirds of the countryside, and Vietminh regulars and guerrillas numbered in the hundreds of thousands. At first the US was not willing to involve itself in this situation, and they requested that France bear the primary responsibility for the war. Subsequently, by 1952, the United States was bearing one-third of the cost of the war, but was unhappy with the results and with the interaction with French military policy. Nevertheless, the State Department feared that if it "pressed the French too hard they would withdraw and leave us holding the baby"(25). In this chapter, Herring successfully shows that "what had begun as a localized rebellion against French colonialism had expanded into an international conflict of major proportions"(25).
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