Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War. By Henry Kissinger. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. 635 pp.
Another tome from Henry Kissinger! There is no shortage of publications available regarding America's involvement in Vietnam as myriad scholars seek to put their stamp on the final lessons of this all-encompassing period of American history. Yet few if any can compare to the insight provided by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Henry Kissinger. The academic from Harvard who served as Richard Nixon's national security assistant and after 1973 also as secretary of state provides readers with what initially seems an apologia of the Vietnam War. Ending the Vietnam War, however, is not in the same class of readings as Robert McNamara's In Retrospect (1995). Instead, Kissinger presents the reader with a multilayered reading of the history of the Vietnam War.
In fourteen chapters, Kissinger carefully provides both a chronology and an insider's perspective of how Richard Nixon and his successor extricated the United States from what George Herring has called America's Longest War (1995). From the outset, Kissinger provides the reader his methodology and reasons for writing this book. He draws from his three memoirs and his study Diplomacy, reshaping the "narrative from the anecdotal tone of memoirs to a more general account of the period, provid[ing] connecting text where necessary, and add[ing] new material" (p. 11). Unlike McNamara, who looks back on his years as secretary of defense to settle debates or to apologize for decisions, Henry Kissinger offers no apologies. Rather, his goal is to "leave for a new generation, hopefully untouched by the passions of the past, an opportunity to obtain as accurate an account as possible of how one group of America's leaders viewed and tried to surmount a tragic national experience" (p. 11).
On a second distinct level is the writing of the Harvard professor. Beginning with the observation that "[i]n the crucible of Vietnam, American exceptionalism turned on itself" (p. 13), Kissinger informs and warns his audience of the reasons that the United States goes or should go to war. He contends there must always be moral responsibility and a core ideology guiding America's entry into conflict. In support, he explores how engaging the North Vietnamese brought America face to face with conflicting ideologies of containment, anticolonialism, the Domino Theory...