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The period associated with the Vietnam War is surrounded by disputes and controversy, not to mention the extensive amount of literature and the emergence of different schools of thought (orthodox, revisionist, and neo-orthodox). While, for example, America and Vietnam by George Herring comprised only nineteen pages, the Vietnam War Era: A Personal Journey by Dr. Bruce O. Solheim can be considered a scholarly treatise on one of the most disturbing and haunting subjects of modern history.
The Neo-orthodox Argument
Compared to the interpretations of the majority of wars in which America participated, views regarding the Vietnam War’s significance have changed drastically from the ‘typical’ opinions inherent at the time to more traditional schools of thought. While many official accounts of World Wars I and II defended the position of America, the dominant opinion with regard to the conflict in Vietnam leaned significantly towards criticism of United States policies. The relatively modern approach towards the Vietnam War, neo-orthodox scholarship (popularized by Herring), placed emphasis on the argument of “flawed form of containment” (Solheim 198).
The “flawed containment” was the “flawed” U.S. policy that relied upon the indifference to the interests of Southeast Asia and its history. The key opinion held by the proponents of the neo-orthodox interpretation of the Vietnam War was that the United States misread its interests and misunderstood Vietnamese realities, which subsequently led the United States into its unsuccessful attempt to build an independent South Vietnam. This effort ended in the United States participating in a military intervention that was impossible to win. As mentioned by Solheim in his concluding statement, the neo-orthodox view makes the most sense, even in the current state of America’s external affairs and can also be applied to the war in Iraq.
Failure to Assess the U.S’s Importance
The neo-orthodox perspective on the war in Vietnam consisted of criticism towards United States policies in the sense that civilian and military leaders of the country were unsuccessful in developing achievable and realistic plans with regard to America’s involvement in the conflict. The leaders were also unsuccessful in accurately analyzing their war rivals’ capabilities and intentions. Lastly, the American side of the conflict failed to conduct effective battlefield tactics and implement a strategy that would have secured its position in the war.
The “flawed form of containment” argument regarding the neo-orthodox perspective also contended that the involvement of America in the Vietnam conflict could have been avoided if the key policymakers and stakeholders did not overexaggerate the importance of the country’s participation and did not misunderstand the events taking place in Southeast Asia. Overall, those opinions that stated that the conflict in Vietnam would be impossible to resolve through military actions were disregarded by the American policymakers that overstated their importance and tried to win a war that could not be won.
To conclude, the neo-orthodox interpretation of the Vietnam War can be considered the most logical and applicable to other conflicts in which America participated. The opinion that U.S. policies failed to include considerations of the Southeast Asian perspective and forced America to participate in another war essentially describes the thought process of the majority of politicians. It is unfortunate that more analysis and thought did not go into the decision-making process so that historians later had to put forward an argument of “flawed containment” to explain the actions of the U.S’s authorities.
Solheim, Bruce. The Vietnam War Era: A Personal Journey. Praeger, 2008.