In their own time, American policymakers dismissed them as unwise or crazy. Vietnam was subordinate to concerns about peace in Europe in 1919. In 1955, Ho Chi Minh was too bound up in communism during a global Cold War to win favor in Washington.
There are thousands of books about the Vietnam War. Amazon.com lists 3,443. A lot of them render harsh judgments on former presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and the military leadership they chose to lead the American war effort. Logevall offers “Embers of War" as a history of how it all began. The how takes some telling — nearly 800 pages. It is very much worth the read, though, both for the story and the writing.
Logevall opens with an invitation to muse.
“Ho visited Boston and New York in 1913 and a few years later read Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The United States, he came fervently to believe, could be the champion of his cause. (In the French nightmare, he was right.) In 1919, at the end of the Great War, with Wilson due in Paris to negotiate a peace ‘to end all wars,’ the unknown young nationalist set out to make his case. It’s here that our story begins."
“Embers of War" has the balance and heft to hold hindsight’s swift verdicts at bay. French and Vietnamese sources and accounts help inform the story, including some that describe how close Ho’s forces came to defeat and how badly and cruelly they governed once they’d taken over in the north.
This is an excellent, valuable book.