In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam^ by Robert S. McNamara. Times Books, a division of Random House, hardback, pp. 414, special Indian price Rs. 672.
More than twenty years after it concluded with the resounding victory of national liberation forces, the Vietnam War continues to weigh on the collective consciousness of the United States. The two decades since the unceremonious, panicky departure of the last American helicopters from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon have seen the world's most powerful nation struggle to come to terms with its historic defeat. So great was the negative impact on domestic opinion of US military intervention in Southeast Asia that for a while US foreign policy was seen to be constrained by the Vietnam Syndrome'—the unwillingness of the American people to countenance a possible repeat of the war aggression that had brought 47,000 of their young men home in body bags.
Nowadays, one hears little talk of the Vietnam Syndrome, supposedly exorcised by such demonstrations of US military might as the victory over Iraq in the Gulf War of 1990-91. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its European socialist allies has also accorded the US more scope for interventionist strategies in what is now perceived to be a 'unipolar' world.
Yet the reality of military defeat by a small Third World nation continues to rankle. For apologists of the American system, for those who basically uphold the US right to intervene wheresoever it chooses, the task has been one of rationalizing this debacle, of finding 'explanations' that leave its basic causes unexplored, that deflect public attention away from the central issues, from basic moral questions of right and wrong.
One line of 'explanation' maintains to this day that the war could have been won; the problem was that the US military was denied the means to finish the job. Subscribers to this view have particularly targeted the American press for the role it allegedly played in alerting public opinion to the scale of the barbarity and destruction, thereby
Serial Srimiist Vnl 74. Nos. 7-8. Inly-August 1996