Ghosts of Vietnam

Ghosts of Vietnam

The Vietnam war was beyond doubt the most demanding test of American foreign policy and its makers since the Second World War. The war in Vietnam was not just another crisis in 30 years of successive crises; it was by far the most costly and most stultifying. It lasted longer than any other war and ended in the most humiliating failure in American history. It resulted in over 210,000 American casualties, including almost 57,000 dead and over 150,000 wounded. The monetary cost has been officially estimated at from $180 billion to $210 billion. This bill for the war ignores all the indirect costs, such as the corrosive economic inflation it stimulated and the feverish social turmoil it provoked. As for the havoc inflicted on North and South Vietnam, it belongs to a different order of magnitude. No wonder that the memory of Vietnam is so oppressive that Americans seem to want to stuff it away in their collective unconscious.

One might well assume that the present custodians of American foreign policy had been chosen because they were proven right in their judgment of the war. It could come as a surprise that, in order to rise to the top of the post-Vietnam American political system, it was almost necessary to be wrong, hopelessly and certifiably wrong. Yet, in some odd way, this is what happened. The false counsellors were rewarded with more power than they had had before they made their ghastly mistakes about the war.

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tote | University of California Press Lima