I have been looking for a good overview text on the Vietnam War. Something around 600-1000 pages that explores how the war was fought, the various participants, and the politics. So far I have come across few texts that fits that criteria. Most texts I have come across are from the perspective of the soldier on the ground, others only cover the American involvement. Are there any suggestions?
I found this text Vietnam at War: The History: 1946-1975 by Phillip B. Davidson any while it is close to what I want it seems to only cover the American perspective. Has anyone read the text?
“Texts” are a misnomer. You should take things in order, by starting at the end and going backto the beginning. To follow most texts,you will end up in the thickets of misunderstanding that played such a role in the War, and still mislead leaders today.
For instance…. You will see overviews that discuss repeated,titanic NVA invasion efforts, complete with tank battalions, heavy artillery,massed assaults, and then the author will begin to discuss the challenge of local guerilla forces… and the failure of nation-building in SVN, without even a pause to wonder about the disconnect. “Hearts and minds” never stopped an armored division.
Start with these two books.
Summons of theTrumpet: US-Vietnam in Perspective by Dave Palmer. At about 300 pp, by far the best overview ofthe military side of the war… and remember, whatever percentage of the war the military side represented, it was always the FIRST percentage.
Then read On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War by Harry Summers. Only about 200 pages, but it is the best overview of the US strategic philosophy as applied in Vietnam, at home and in the field.
Keep in mind that understanding what war the US leadership (Johnson and MacNamara), and the people,THOUGHT they were fighting and thus how they went about it one of the most important points. Summers and Palmer discuss the NVC side, but it is the US actions, in context with internal politics and world-wide eventsthat are most important in deciding the ultimate outcome.
The only thing they do not address much is the geo-politicalenvironment world-wide, from Sukarno in Indonesia, to Korea, to Cuba, to Cuba’sexpeditionary force in Africa, the Congo, Angola, Malaya, etc.
But for a clear overview of the salient points about thatwar, those two books are classics. Only then can you dive into the thickets of campaigns and battles.
One more thing. Understanding Viet history is important… but don’t confuse the events of the Vietnam Warwith Vietnamese history. To rationally discuss Hitler, Nazism, WWII, you do not necessarily have to recount the history of the WWI, Kaiser Whelheim, German militarism. Likewise, what happened to the French, etc., is not necessarily germane to the Vietnam War except as background. You can easily start about 1961 and have afull understanding.
Books about “the Vietnam War” that like to start in 1946 areusually written by authors who are enamored with “the historical imperative” … re: communist triumph was inevitable. And they usually concentrate on “hearts andminds” issues. They usually have a pretty slanted point of view toward the political-sociatal side of events, as if these were the keys tothe war. Somehow they tend to ignore the military historical imperative of 19 infantry divisions, 2 armoreddivisions, 12 independent AA regiments, etc.