In the 1980 presidential election campaign, Ronald Reagan played the patriotic card and referred to America's Vietnam war as having been a "noble cause". But Gerry DeGroot, chair of the department of history at St Andrews University, disputes Reagan's verdict. He contends that the war has been misunderstood. Too much attention has been given to the US military role and to the antics of the 1960s student generation, too little to the real battle, in which Vietnamese was pitted against Vietnamese. Because of such distortion, Americans have been unable to achieve "closure", to conceive of the war in realistic terms and to put it behind them.
DeGroot's aim is to contribute to closure by writing an authoritative synthesis. His narrative embraces not just the topics one usually finds in textbooks on the Vietnamese war, such as the fall of Saigon, but also a thorough analysis of the role of the Vietnamese on each side of the conflict. Sadly, his bibliographic overview fails to match the historiographical chronology with political and cultural developments in America during and after the war. On the other hand, the fair-minded should recognise the underlying wisdom in DeGroot's view that the conflict's longevity highlights weaknesses in the domestic opposition movement. But the real hallmark of this book is its vibrant and provocative style. Some may drool, and others gnash their teeth, over such phrases as "deconstructionist masturbation" and "sixties sentimentalists". This is a book for undergraduates, who will just love it.
Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones is professor of American history, University of Edinburgh.
A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War. First Edition
Author - Gerard J. Degroot
ISBN - 0 582 28718 9 and 28717 0
Publisher - Longman
Price - £55.00 and £17.99
Pages - 391