After Myths of the Antiwar Movement

Despite the bow that nearly everyone makes to the need for historical perspective, contending interpretations of the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement that began to emerge even before the war ended still define the debate today. The hawks’ version holds that the war was both nobly motivated and winnable, but that antiwar hippies, the press, and micromanaging civilian game-theorists in the Pentagon lost it. Had military professionals been given free rein, the hawks contend, they would have been able to prevail in the field before an antiwar movement spread sufficiently to complicate politics on the home front. The doves’ version, by contrast, holds that the war was unwise (and possibly immoral) and unwinnable no matter what strategy was employed. Inasmuch as the United States was attempting to suppress a genuine nationalist peasant uprising in what amounted to a civil war, the antiwar movement, in this view, reflected a higher patriotism and, by forcing de-escalation, spared American and Asian lives. In light of the available data, examined from a quarter century’s perspective, both hawks and doves are wrong on virtually all their main contentions.

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