McNamara and the Civil War at Home

Today there is no longer any doubt: the Vietnam War was indeed a civil war-among Americans. To be sure, North Vietnam (aided by the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, China) attacked and conquered South Vietnam. In the process, it set up the National Liberation Front, a puppet insurgency that foreigners so inclined took to be the main antagonist to the government of South Vietnam (and of which nothing has been heard for twenty years). But the outcome of the war never hinged on the “hearts and minds” of Vietnamese villagers caught in the crossfire. Nor did it hinge on clashes between Soviet-manufactured and American-manufactured military equipment. Rather, it hinged on struggles among Americans at home, above all on the evolution of the mentality of American elites. In short, the Vietnam War came to be less about what way of life would predominate in Southeast Asia than about who, and whose values, should rule in the United States of America. That is why, although the shooting in Vietnam stopped two decades ago, the sniping over Viemam shows no signs of abating in America.

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