THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO THE VIETNAM WAR
By Phillip Jennings
Regnery, $19.95, 244 pages
Reviewed by James S. Robbins
America won the Vietnam War. You hadn’t heard? Then check out “The Politi- cally Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War,” Phillip Jennings’ new entry in the popular Regnery series. Mr. Jennings wrote the book with a specific purpose: “To settle scores with the pernicious mythmakers of the Vietnam War.” These include journalists, politicians and academics, who both created the myths of Vietnam and profited from them. For this group, Mr. Jennings has three words: “Shame on you.”
Mr. Jennings’ book is a well-researched, brisk review of the central myths of the Vietnam War, set in historical context. It is not a comprehensive history of the war, nor does it claim to be, but an all-out assault on the negative and misleading way in which the war has been portrayed.
The two most critical myths Mr. Jennings attacks are that the Vietnam War was immoral and unwinnable. These are the major underpinnings of the liberal view of Vietnam, and arguments that have been recycled in every American war since. Most mainstream accounts start with at least one of these two premises, either explicitly or implicitly. But neither is true.
The immorality argument hinges on the ideas that the South Vietnamese government was hopelessly corrupt, that the South Vietnamese people did not want the United States to be there, that the war by its nature was a civil war and the U.S. was playing the role of a neocolonialist occupier. Mr. Jennings closely traces the origins and conduct of the war to show that none of these arguments holds water. And compared to the brutal totalitarian dictatorship erected in North Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh, darling of the left, the freedoms enjoyed by most South Vietnamese were positively Jeffersonian.
Critics began saying the war was unwinnable practically from its inception, and when Saigon fell in 1975, they trumpeted that they had been right all along. Yet Mr. Jennings demonstrates that at every critical juncture of the conflict, from the introduction of major U.S. combat forces in 1965, to the 1968 communist Tet Offensive, to the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive, the enemy was dealt heavy blows that took years to recover from. The war was not only winnable, it was won, until Democrats in Congress defunded aid to South Vietnam in 1974 and left our allies to their fate. Those who sanctimoniously cloaked themselves in morality committed the most immoral act of the war.
Mr. Jennings also pierces the myth that Vietnam veterans were largely spaced-out drug addicts driven to despair by the war. Mr. Jennings has strong bona fides to address veterans issues, having served as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam and later with “Air America,” the CIA sponsored anti-communist mission in Laos. This latter effort was roundly denounced by the left as the “secret war in Laos,” even though it was well-known to Congress and would not have been necessary had it not been for flagrant North Vietnamese violations of Laotian neutrality, a nuance usually overlooked by the critics.
This book offers common-sense, factually-based rejoinders to the mythmakers who continue to misrepresent the causes and course of the Vietnam War. It is ready ammunition for anyone faced with defeatist arguments comparing Vietnam to Afghanistan, Iraq or any other conflict. The book is also a public service. Former South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Bui Diem said, “History is written by the victors, but over time the truth comes out.” This book is part of that continuing process of discovery. There is much yet to be learned - and unlearned - about America’s just and heroic involvement in the Vietnam War.
James S. Robbins is senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at The Washington Times and author of “This Time We Win: Rethinking the Tet Offensive” (Encounter Books, 2010).