September 18, 2012
Why Vietnam? Explaining the War
Fredrik Logevall, Cornell professor and author of the just-published Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, spoke to a crowded Bass Lecture Hall at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Policy about his motivations for researching and writing his recent work. Strauss Center Director Dr. Francis J. Gavin introduced Dr. Logevall.
Dr. Logevall began by outlining his main reasons for researching and writing the book; that the current analysis of the period leading up to Vietnam is both short and poor. He argued that there was no full-fledged international history of the chain of events beginning in World War I to World War II to the French Indochina War to an interregnum between conflict to heavy U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the region. In addition to the need for thorough research and analysis, Dr. Logevall highlighted the importance of counterfactual analysis in understanding the complex history, and offered some insights into substantial “what if’s?” Comparing the French-Indochina War and the de ja vu of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Dr. Logevall explained how the political, social and economic context of each era resulted in strikingly similar outcomes.
During the Q&A session, The Lyndon B. Johnson School’s own Dr. Jeremi Suri followed up on the contextual comparisons by asking Dr. Logevall for his opinions on how the transition of U.S. presidential power surrounding each conflict, Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson, may have influenced decisions leading up to and during the respective conflicts. Other questions from the audience led to discussions on the relationship between Ho Chi Minh and the French Communist Party and exactly how the French were able to wage a war halfway around the globe immediately following the devastation of World War II.
To hear Dr. Logevall’s full responses, please listen to the full lecture below:
Fredrik Logevall is John S. Knight Professor of International Studies and Professor of History at Cornell, where he serves as director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. His recent published works include America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (with Campbell Craig; Belknap Press/Harvard UP, 2009); and A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 9th ed. (with Mary Beth Norton et al; Cengage, 2011); and Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (co-edited, with Andrew Preston; Oxford UP, 2008). A former Leverhulme Professor at the University of Nottingham and Mellon Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, Logevall has also taught at Yale University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.