Sunday, February 12, 2012

FORUM - A Book Review by and for Undergraduate StudentsThe Vietnam War: A Concise International History - Reviewed by Luke Rogers

The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. Mark Atwood Lawrence, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN #978-0-19-975393

Reviewed by Luke Rogers

Ashland University

The Vietnam War: A Concise International History, attempts to explain the causes, examine the course, and reflect on the consequences of international warfare in Vietnam.

Lawrence introduces his work with several questions, but then gives the text direction by narrowing his thesis to four major questions. For example, “First, what were the basic motives of the Vietnamese who fought against the United States?” [1] Perhaps more importantly, the author establishes positive rapport with readers by affording them intellectual independence. Lawrence concludes the introduction with, “If the book brings greater awareness to ongoing debates over the Vietnam War, its mission will be accomplished. If it sparks interest in further reading about the war and its meaning, so much the better” [2].

Lawrence begins his investigation with a brief summary of foreign intervention in Vietnam. A constant theme is the maturation of Vietnamese nationalism. For example, there was widespread resentment against the Chinese among the different factions of Vietnamese society. That resentment transitioned from the Chinese to the French and eventually to the American presence. Throughout the rest of the text, Lawrence simultaneously analyzes the American, South Vietnamese, Chinese, North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and Russian rationales for independent and interdependent decisions in warfare and politics. For example, Lawrence explains how American President Lyndon Johnson believed the United States could achieve victory by escalating bombing in North Vietnam and increasing American ground troops in South Vietnam. On the other hand, the North Vietnamese believed they could force an American withdraw by absorbing American fire power and waging successful guerilla campaigns. Lawrence uses this compelling combination to examine all the major events from initial European interloping into Southeast Asia to the fall of Saigon. Lawrence also analyzes the effects of foreign policy and conflict on American domestic culture.

The author is one of America’s leading Vietnam scholars and as a result, the evidence he presents in support of his thesis is reliable and accurate. Lawrence makes his thesis even more compelling by varying the type of evidence he uses to support it. For example, Lawrence utilizes primary sources, secondary sources, photographs, political cartons, and time-specific maps to examine all aspects of the wars in Vietnam. Finally, Lawrence encourages the reader to further verify his thesis by providing extensive footnotes and a continued reading list.

I would recommend this book to any adult interested in the Vietnam era. Lawrence effectively communicates relevant information without burdening the reader with unnecessarily detailed tangents. For example, Lawrence explains necessary military abbreviations such as ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, LZ, landing zone, and NLF, National Liberation Front, without bombarding the reader with an endless stream of military jargon. Finally, I would recommend this book to any student enrolled in a modern American history and or political science class. In an interesting addendum, Lawrence compares and contrasts the socio-political and military circumstances of yesterday’s Cold War and today’s War on Terror.

[1] Lawrence, The Vietnam War, 4.

[2] Lawrence, The Vietnam War, 6.

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