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By John Ketwig (reviewer)
Blind Nation: How Ignorance and Arrogance Fueled Our Vietnam Involvement
by Frank C. Nelson
(Nelsofrank Enterprises, 2012)
For many years, I've relied upon a 1985 book, Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us Into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did, (William Morrow and Company) for in-depth analysis and understanding of the early years of America's involvement in Southeast Asia. That is still a treasured book, but now I will also rely upon this dynamite book by retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Nelson.
In his introduction, Nelson writes, "It is time to explore the largely unexamined history of our early involvement and learn the real lessons of Vietnam." He presents that history in an accessible and continuous fashion, communicating without resorting to exotic or mysterious words that might impress the reader with his prestigious vocabulary. His telling is clear and concise as he creates a scalding indictment of the political, military, and media personalities (American, French, and a wide variety of other international players), and the rigid boundaries within which they were required to work. The foundation of this book is the assertion that the French were cruel and heartless in their treatment of the Vietnamese, and Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist hoping to gain independence for his oppressed people, and not a Communist at all. Very few American diplomats or government officials were familiar with the situation in Southeast Asia after World War II, but they were indelibly influenced by the environment in Washington. Senator Joseph McCarthy was conducting high-profile hearings and accusing a wide variety of government and military leaders of being covert agents of Communism. Throughout our government and military, anyone in a position of responsibility had to be concerned that any action they might take could be questioned at the highest level.
Since Ho Chi Minh had visited Moscow and communicated with the Chinese communist leadership in Peking, he was certainly a commie, and his Viet Minh movement was obviously part of the communist plan to take over the world country by country. Vietnam was an unknown, backward, even primitive nation on the opposite side of the world, but if it fell to the communists, surely Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, New Zealand and Australia would be endangered. This "Domino Theory" failed to acknowledge that China and Vietnam had been bitter adversaries for centuries, or that Ho Chi Minh never claimed to be a communist. Failure to deal in facts from the first created decades of suffering and devastation throughout Southeast Asia, and a great deal of turmoil and distress here at home. Blind Nation does not go into detail beyond the assassination of President Kennedy, but we are all too familiar with the end results.
Frank Nelson describes the personalities and events of the Vietnam tragedy in convincing fashion. As the subtitle suggests, he tells a well-documented story of Americans who were blinded by their own ignorance and arrogance. As a result, somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 million people died, the vast majority of them were Southeast Asian civilians caught in the crossfire.
The back cover of the book contends that "just before he died, super-hawk McGeorge Bundy admitted that 'the doves were right', and 'it was a war we should not have fought,' but that profound bit of introspection is being disregarded." (Note the present tense.) "Convinced that the US should not have "lost" that war, historians and future generals reprise the feel-good fantasies that got us into that mess 60 years ago. That is an unproductive process. Truly useful lessons can only be determined by confronting the realities, however painful, of that haunting experience, and accomplishing that is the purpose of this book." Have America's leaders taken their blinders off? We have waged war in Afghanistan for 17 years, to no avail. The Middle East is suffering in much the same way Southeast Asia suffered under American occupation. Blind Nation is available from Amazon, and I highly recommend that you get a copy and give its message every consideration.
John Ketwig is the author of ...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam, which remains in print after 32 years and 27 printings (Macmillan, 1985). John is a lifetime member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.