Revisiting America’s steps towards war

The June 10 issue of the NYRB has an article by William Pfaff reviewing Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to the War in Vietnam by Gordon M. Goldstein. Bundy was a National Security Adviser for both J F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. In his old age, and particularly after McNamara publicly announced he had been wrong, Bundy came to reconsider his role in guiding America to war in South East Asia.

Pfaff, in this article gives a potted history of America’s involvement prior to and after Dien Bien Phu (after which the French withdrew) and leading up to the Gulf of Tonkin incident. What I found particularly fascinating was an account of Douglas McArthur’s opinion given to Kennedy:

‘With respect to Vietnam, the new President sought the advice of another eminent American soldier. He invited Douglas MacArthur to Washington. According to Robert Kennedy’s account, MacArthur said that it would “be foolish to fight on the Asiatic continent,” and that “the future…should be determined at the diplomatic table.” Kennedy’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell has added that MacArthur said to Kennedy that “there was no end to Asia and even if we poured a million American infantry soldiers into that continent, we would still find ourselves outnumbered on every side.”’

Kennedy was persuaded, and it seems that had he not been assassinated America would have drawn down its troops and advisers in Vietnam.

The article is interesting, too, in its description and analysis of America trying on the role of the disinterested policeman of the world after the Second World War, and where that has led us all. Find it here

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