Argument Without End: In Search Of Answers To The Vietnam Tragedy

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9781891620225: Argument Without End: In Search Of Answers To The Vietnam Tragedy

Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara is the lead author in a remarkable study of how the Vietnam War happened and why it could not be stopped before three million people died.. Did the Vietnam War have to happen? And why couldnt it have ended earlier? These are among the questions that Robert McNamara and his collaborators ask in Argument Without End, a book that will stand as a major contribution to what we know about the Vietnam War. Drawing on a series of meetings that brought together, for the first time ever, senior American and Vietnamese officials who had served during the war, the book looks at the many instances in which one side, or both, made crucial mistakes that led to the war and its duration. Using Vietnamese and Chinese documents, many never before made public, McNamara reveals both American and Vietnamese blunders, and points out ways in which such mistakes can be avoided in the future. He also shows conclusively that war could not be won militarily by the United States. Did the Vietnam War have to happen? And why couldnt it have ended earlier? These are among the questions that Robert McNamara and his collaborators ask in Argument Without End, a book that will stand as a major contribution to what we know about the Vietnam War. Drawing on a series of meetings that brought together, for the first time ever, senior American and Vietnamese officials who had served during the war, the book looks at the many instances in which one side, or both, made crucial mistakes that led to the war and its duration. Using Vietnamese and Chinese documents, many never before made public, McNamara reveals both American and Vietnamese blunders, and points out ways in which such mistakes can be avoided in the future. He also shows conclusively that war could not be won militarily by the United States. McNamaras last book on Vietnam was one of the most controversial books ever published in this country. This book will reignite the passionate debate about the war, about McNamara, and about the lessons we can take away from the tragedy.

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Review:

Between 1995 and 1998, Robert S. McNamara led a series of blunt conversations between American and Vietnamese scholars and officials. "The discussions were frank and tough throughout, as befits the first-ever discussion by former enemies of this tragic war," writes McNamara, author of the controversial bestseller In Retrospect and the U.S. secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968. "Had this dialogue occurred in real time, rather than in retrospect, I believe the tragedy could have been prevented." That's probably an overstatement, but it's a useful starting point for this inquiry, in which many contributors probe the causes of the war and try to draw lessons from them.

The structure of Argument Without End is unconventional, with McNamara writing introductions and conclusions to most of the chapters, which sometimes read like excerpts of transcripts and often like pieces of analytical history. Readers will get the sense of observing a graduate-level seminar on the war, with some of its most knowledgeable participants and critics making presentations. The result is a provocative text eager to challenge assumptions. McNamara's presence hangs over everything--this really is his book, despite the numerous coauthors sharing credit--and his sense of optimism is eerie. "Both Hanoi and Washington could have accomplished their purposes without the appalling loss of life," he writes. A statement like that shows 20/20 hindsight, yet it's an awfully candid remark from a man who had much to do with America's humiliation in Southeast Asia. This is an important contribution to our understanding of that terrible conflict. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Robert S. McNamara was Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. A former president of Ford Motor Company and the World Bank, he lives in Washington, D.C.

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Robert S. McNamara; James Blight; Robert K. Brigham; Thomas J Biersteker; Col. Herbert Schandler
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