Cover image for Argument without end : in search of answers to the Vietnam tragedy
Argument without end : in search of answers to the Vietnam tragedy
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Public Affairs, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 479 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
The theme and structure of the book -- Enemies: Washington's and Hanoi's mindsets by January 1961 -- The evolution of Washington's and Hanoi's mindsets, 1945-1960 -- A neutral solution: was it possible? -- Escalation: 1961-1965 -- Negotiating initiatives, 1965-1967: why did they fail? -- U.S. military victory in Vietnam: a dangerous illusion? -- Learning from tragedy: lessons of Vietnam for the twenty-first century.
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DS558 .N439 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DS558 .N439 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The former Secretary of Defense, and leading scholars from the U.S. and Vietnam, offer a groundbreaking new study of exactly how the Vietnam War happened-- and why it could not be stopped before three million people died.

Author Notes

Robert S. McNamara was born in San Francisco, California on June 9, 1916. He received a degree in economics and philosophy from the University of California (Berkeley) in 1937 and a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1939. He worked for one year at the accounting firm of Price, Waterhouse in San Francisco, and then in August 1940 returned to Harvard to teach in the business school. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force.

In 1946, he started working for the Ford Motor Company as manager of planning and financial analysis and on November 9, 1960, he became the first president of Ford Motor Company from outside the family of Henry Ford. He was the Secretary of Defense for both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and served from 1961 to 1968. He served as the head of World Bank from 1968 to 1981. He died on July 6, 2009 at the age of 93.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Former Defense Secretary McNamara received as much criticism as praise for In Retrospect (1995), his effort to understand Vietnam. But his quest has not ended. Over the last several years, McNamara has participated in meetings of U.S. and Vietnamese leaders and military figures from the '60s as well as contemporary scholars on the war, struggling to identify and clarify "missed opportunities, either for avoiding war before it started or for terminating it before it had run its course." (The Cuban missile crisis was subjected to a similar process.) The Americans came to Hanoi with five issues: the mind-sets of the two nations in 1961; the potential of taking a neutral position; escalation of the war from 1961 to 1965; negotiating initiatives, 1965^-67; and the possibility of a military victory for the U.S. A sixth issue was added at the Vietnamese's insistence: Washington's and Hanoi's missed opportunities to prevent war between 1945 and 1960. This book takes up these subjects by summarizing the views of each nation on the issue and then providing excerpts from the dialogues. Each chapter reveals key misunderstandings and miscommunications; in a final chapter, McNamara summarizes lessons the U.S. must learn for the future. A vital source of insights on history; an appropriate acquisition for all libraries. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Erroneous mindsets, mutual ignorance and misunderstandings between Washington and Hanoi drove the escalation of of the Vietnam War, concludes former Secretary of Defense McNamara in a challenging report full of revelations both fascinating and appalling. Based on six sets of talks held in Hanoi between 1995 and 1998 that brought together U.S. and Vietnamese scholars, policy makers and former military officers, this major reappraisal of the war is presented as a critical oral history. Among the meetings participants were McNamara, Nicholas Katzenbach (former deputy secretary of state), General Vo Nguyen Giap (ex-North Vietnamese defense minister) and Vietnams retired foreign minister Nguyen Co Thach. During the talks, McNamara writes, he was amazed to learn that Hanoi saw U.S. peace initiatives as part of a sinister plot to establish a permanent colonial regime in Saigon. Washington, misperceiving North Vietnam as a communist puppet bent on conquering all of Southeast Asia, let a mind-boggling number of opportunities slip by that might have averted war or brought a negotiated settlement. We learn that elements within Hanois top leadership wanted to accept a neutral Saigon coalition government; we are told that key escalation points (e.g., the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin attack) were not ordered by Hanoi to target Americans, as Washington assumed, but were decentralized decisions made for essentially local reasons. While it would be easy to dismiss this book as a self-flagellating exercise in hindsight, its unprecedented testimony by key players on both sides makes it an invaluable sequel to McNamaras 1995 bestseller, In Retrospect. Photos not seen by PW. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

McNamara, the former secretary of defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, argues that the war was a tragedy for both sides primarily because American and North Vietnamese leaders missed opportunities for avoiding war and later for ending it earlier. He and his coauthors detail the sometimes intense talks they and other American scholars and former officials had with 16 of their former Vietnamese adversaries in meetings held in Hanoi, from 1995 to 1998. The authors' presentation of Vietnamese analyses and other documentation greatly aids American understanding of the war and prevents the book from merely restating McNamara's In Retrospect (LJ 4/15/95). This work, bound to be controversial, is a crucial addition for public and academic libraries.√ĄCharles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Unlike Robert McNamara's earlier apologia, In Retrospect (CH, Sep'95), which provided cliches as lessons and scant new insight, this book addresses central Vietnam War questions. The product of meetings in Hanoi and an international conference in July 1998, the volume is a dialogue between Vietnamese and American officials, policy makers, scholars, and military leaders. Although structurally awkward and redundant, the book counterposes the adversaries' varying perspectives on several crucial junctures. These include opportunities for a neutral solution during the Kennedy years, the survival of the Diem Regime in 1963, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the process of military escalation, failed negotiation efforts, and the possibility of a US military victory. McNamara's theme is that the war was a tragedy of missed opportunities. He argues that adroit and timely diplomacy could have allowed both sides to accomplish their purposes without the devastating costs of the war. The best sections elucidate Vietnamese perspectives, which vary from ideological pomposity to clarification of their thinking at the time. From an American perspective, Herbert Schandler's well-reasoned, if controversial, essay rejects oft-proposed alternative military strategies and contends that US military victory was simply not possible. Critics may dismiss this book as they did In Retrospect, but this reviewer disagrees. This volume merits consideration. All levels. J. P. Dunn; Converse College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Biographical Sketches of Participants in the U.S.-Vietnamese Dialoguep. xiii
Mapsp. xxiv
1 The Theme and Structure of the Bookp. 1
2 Enemies: Washington's and Hanoi's Mindsets by January 1961p. 21
3 The Evolution of Washington's and Hanoi's Mindsets, 1945-1960p. 61
4 A Neutral Solution: Was it Possible?p. 99
5 Escalation: 1961-1965p. 151
6 Negotiating Initiatives, 1965-1967: Why Did They Fail?p. 219
7 U.S. Military Victory in Vietnam: A Dangerous Illusion?p. 313
8 Learning from Tragedy: Lessons of Vietnam for the Twenty-First Centuryp. 373
Appendix A Additions to History: Corrections to the Historical Record, 1945-1968p. 399
Appendix B Three Alternative U.S. Strategies in Vietnam: A Reexamination Based on New Chinese and Vietnamese Sourcesp. 409
Appendix C Participants in "The Vietnam War Reexamined: Its History and Lessons," a Conference in Bellagio, Italy, July 27-31, 1998p. 421
Notesp. 423
Photograph creditsp. 455
Acronymsp. 457
Acknowledgmentsp. 459
Indexp. 463