(PBS television series)
Shalom ev Jesus Christ.
Reviewer: Scott Carpenter (see more about me) from Irvine, CA United StatesLooks like a short read, and my library carries it, so I'll check it out the next time I go, thanks. I doubt I'll find it as praiseworthy as you, because I tend to find books that have "a real bias against American involvement and the American establishment" tend to not be my cup of tea.
This book has many merits: It is comprehensive, it attempts to explain Vietnamese history, and it is full of on the spot interviews and remembrances. This remains the basic history text of record on American involvement in Vietnam. There is a breadth of perspective here that is lacking in many accounts of this most up-close and personal of wars.
Despite these advantages, the book has some real limitations. The writing is pedestrian, the characterizations (if one can say that about history) tend to be thin, and Karnow fails to convey a sense of wholeness in many chapters. The book at times feels more like a collection of dispatches from a reporter in the field (which Karnow was in Vietnam) rather than the work of a historian who has integrated fact and theory based on deep understanding and research. As comprehensive as the book tries to be, Karow's reach may have exeeded his grasp with his project.
The book also suffers from a real bias against American involvement and the American establishment, Republican and Democratic. When "Uncle Ho" commits murders in the thousands the book makes one feel like this is a natural outpouring of exuburant nationalism rather than good old fashioned absolutism. But when the admittedly corrupt and inept Diem regime or confused ARVN or American soldiers commit atrocities, the condemnation is acid and biting. Communists are presented as "golden," or "tough," while Southerners or Amercians are usually charactured as "greedy," or "arrogant."
There is also an irony in the book's approach. Karnow should be complemented for attempting to fit American involvement in Vietnam into the wider context of Vietnam's history. However, Vietnam's history is presented mostly through lense of Western or Colonial contact. There is little sense of Vietnam as a nation, and its people, religion and history are merely players on the stage of American Imperialism. In suggesting that the policy of containment as expressed in the Vietnam war was a misjudgment of Vietnamese Nationalism (which is now common wisdom), Karnow ironically describes that nation as through an American TV camera, rather than a Vietnamese watercolor.
Now, almost 20 years after it was written, the Vietnam: A History still has valuable perspective and information. But be forewarned: This is still a myopic document of American liberal self-analysis.