The Vietnam War was one of the deadliest wars encountered in American History. Stanley Karnow, the author of “Vietnam: A History” has written many books such as “Paris in the fifties” “In our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines” and several other books. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in 1947, and he served with the United States Army Air Force in the China-India Burma Theatre during World War II. He had witnessed the Vietnam war and watched people suffer from it as he was present in Vietnam during 1959.
The book “Vietnam a history” is a result of the human suffering he witnessed during the Vietnam war. This book is not like the other ones that were written during the 1960s and 70s, as Mr. Karnow addressed all the sides of the conflict and traced Vietnam’s culture and history in this book. The book was widely praised and was a best seller. Mr.
Karnow became a journalist, historian and known for writing history books after he published his second book and won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize Award. The book “Vietnam A history” begins with the French Colonization of Vietnam and it talks about every specific event in a descriptive way ending it with the creation of the Indochinese Union in 1887. “The Vietnam war was being misinterpreted to the people-the way its conducted, its ultimate purpose” (Karnow 26). It also talks about the Presidencies of the United States like LBJ and how they had failed to make the right decision in this war as it was “probably the greatest single error made by American in its history”(Karnow 24).”History is an organic process, a continuity of related events, inexorable yet not inevitable” (Karnow 11). The central message that Karnow conveys in this book is that the “Vietnam had essentially been a civil war in which the United States supported its anti-communist client against a Communist adversary backed by the Soviet Union and China” (Karnow 28) and also to address every single aspect of the Vietnam war in a very descriptive manner and with a global perspective. In the first two chapters, Karnow mostly focused on after-war and memorials of “the young men who died in the war” and how “they symbolize a faded hope or birth of new awareness”(Karnow 9).
Besides this, these two chapters also give a headstart to the causes and effects of war. Starting by addressing the causes of the war, which Karnow describes was the phrase manifest destiny and how “American Expansionism was evangelic-as if the United States is fulfilling some sacred responsibility” (Karnow 13). It also focused on many other significant reasons. Communism was one of them, which Karnow broadly discussed in the book. During the 1950s and 60s, many people in developing regions living in Vietnam were interested in trying to approach a communist government. In America, in the late 50’s the fear of Communism was increasing with people understanding that Communism was taking over the world “if Indochina fell to communism, so would the other countries of the Southeast Asia” (Karnow 184).
Karnow also mentioned that it’s not the communism that tempted America to go to war, but it is the fear of communism because they wanted “Indochina to be a self-governing nationalist, uncontaminated by Communism”(Karnow 186).The significance of Karnow’s book did not lose on his readers. Karnow did his best to break down the parts of Vietnam war and explain everything briefly.
“Presidents from Harry S. Truman through Richard M. Nixon had justified America’s commitment to Vietnam as a part of its policy to contain global Communism” (Karnow 30). Moving on to the presidents who were present before, during and after the war occurred and how their presidencies had a direct effect on the causes of the Vietnam War. Starting with Truman’s presidency, his troubles in Asia exploded on the Korean peninsula after “North Korean forces surged across the thirty-eight parallel”(Karnow 184) with the Soviets supporting a communist regime in the north. Because of that Truman “added a new dimension to American foreign policy: containment of Communism” and henceforth ordered military “to be deployed to reserve Indochina and Southeast Asia from further Communism” (Karnow 184). It was nearly impossible for the next presidents to not get involved in the war.
Though Karnow formed a descriptive analysis of the Vietnam War and provided evidence to support his point, however, he still missed out some significant information about the war, which was abbreviated. According to a New York Times Review, “Much important history is reduced to a sentence or two, and slightly less important history is ignored entirely” “His book also tends to lack continuity since he presents the war as a series of self-contained events that are fixed in neat time periods rather than as a river of always changing currents” (Pike). The opinion is valid because firstly, Karnow misses out to provide Eisenhower’s presidency in a detailed manner. For instance, he did not mention Eisenhower’s first term and how he refused to commit to the Vietnam war.
The other thing is that the war was split up in every chapter, and there is no continuity of the events that happened during the war. It made it difficult to connect it to the War. In Conclusion, Communism was one of the major cause for the United States to enter the war. “Vietnam is still with us. It has created doubts about American judgment, about American credibility, about American power-not only at home, but throughout the world” (Karnow 25).