Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of "The Bitter Heritage: Vietnam and American Democracy 1941-1966," by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Review of
The Bitter Heritage: Vietnam and American Democracy 1941-1966, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 

Five out of five stars
 With the United States currently embroiled in combat operations in at least four countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the justifications for the original intervention and remaining in the fight sound familiar to people that have followed such things. This book was written in 1966, at a time when the American military involvement in Vietnam was peaking. Schlesinger was a top-notch historian and his perspective on the situation in Vietnam at the time of writing was very prescient.
 He understood that the goal of an American military victory in Vietnam was simply not possible and he explains very clearly why. Schlesinger understood the forces at work in Vietnam as well as the role that China and the Soviet Union were playing in supporting the North Vietnamese government. The modern reader of government pronouncements as well as the media supporters of the armed interventions in the four countries will see that the new excuses are just reworded translocations of what Schlesinger is referring to.

 Being the astute observer that he is, Schlesinger doesn’t restrict himself to repeating the George Santayana line, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” He points out that interventionists often cite the events of Munich in 1938 and Yalta in 1945 as justification for taking hard military lines against real or perceived threats. On page 98 Schlesinger states:

“Santayana’s aphorism must be reversed: too often it is those who can remember the past who are condemned to repeat it.”

His point is that many times the real danger is drawing false conclusions from what were unique historical events.

 This is a great book in two ways. As a look back at a point in history where things were going wrong and as a look at the situation of today where many things are being repeated, and not in a positive way.

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