My interest in the Vietnam War began in the early 1990s, when I took a college course on the history of the conflict. Part of what drew me to the subject was the visceral contempt that my peers, professors and intellectuals generally had not just for the war, but for its veterans. It seemed to me a profound wrong that the young men who had risked their lives in Southeast Asia were deemed less worthy than those who had stayed safe at home.
The history of the war, as taught in my college classes, rested on two assumptions. First, that the war was unnecessary; the “domino theory,” the idea that a Communist takeover in Vietnam would cascade through the rest of Southeast Asia, was wrong. Ho Chi Minh was more of a nationalist than a Communist — and therefore, America needn’t have worried about “losing Vietnam.” The fact that most of the dominoes did not fall after South Vietnam’s defeat in 1975 was Exhibit A.
The second assumption was that the war was unwinnable. According to the orthodox historical narrative, the United States never could have won the war because of the dedication of the Vietnamese Communists, which was said to be far superior to that of America’s South Vietnamese allies. No alternative strategies could have achieved success, and hence America was fated to abandon South Vietnam after sustaining prolonged casualties.