Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama

Brookings Institution Press
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The United States had never lost a war—that is, until 1975, when it was forced to flee Saigon in humiliation after losing to what Lyndon Johnson called a "raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country." The legacy of this first defeat has haunted every president since, especially on the decision of whether to put "boots on the ground" and commit troops to war.

In Haunting Legacy, the father-daughter journalist team of Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb presents a compelling, accessible, and hugely important history of presidential decisionmaking on one crucial issue: in light of the Vietnam debacle, under what circumstances should the United States go to war?

The sobering lesson of Vietnam is that the United States is not invincible—it can lose a war—and thus it must be more discriminating about the use of American power. Every president has faced the ghosts of Vietnam in his own way, though each has been wary of being sucked into another unpopular war. Ford (during the Mayaguez crisis) and both Bushes (Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan) deployed massive force, as if to say, "Vietnam, be damned." On the other hand, Carter, Clinton, and Reagan (to the surprise of many) acted with extreme caution, mindful of the Vietnam experience. Obama has also wrestled with the Vietnam legacy, using doses of American firepower in Libya while still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The authors spent five years interviewing hundreds of officials from every post war administration and conducting extensive research in presidential libraries and archives, and they've produced insight and information never before published. Equal parts taut history, revealing biography, and cautionary tale, Haunting Legacy is must reading for anyone trying to understand the power of the past to influence war-and-peace decisions of the present, and of the future.

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About the author

Marvin Kalb is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice (Emeritus) at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and founding director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. His distinguished journalism career covers thirty years of award-winning reporting and commentary for CBS and NBC News, including stints as bureau chief in Moscow and host of Meet the Press. His eleven previous books include The Nixon Memo (University of Chicago) and Kissinger (Little Brown). He hosts the Kalb Report at the National Press Club.

Deborah Kalb, a freelance writer and editor, worked as a journalist in Washington for two decades, including writing for Gannett News Service, Congressional Quarterly, U.S. News & World Report, and The Hill. Both authors live in the Washington, D.C. area.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Jun 1, 2011
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Pages
364
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ISBN
9780815721321
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / General
History / Military / United States
History / Military / Vietnam War
Political Science / International Relations / General
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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A chronicle of the year that changed Soviet Russia—and molded the future path of one of America's pre-eminent diplomatic correspondents

1956 was an extraordinary year in modern Russian history. It was called “the year of the thaw”—a time when Stalin’s dark legacy of dictatorship died in February only to be reborn later that December. This historic arc from rising hope to crushing despair opened with a speech by Nikita Khrushchev, then the unpredictable leader of the Soviet Union. He astounded everyone by denouncing the one figure who, up to that time, had been hailed as a “genius,” a wizard of communism—Josef Stalin himself. Now, suddenly, this once unassailable god was being portrayed as a “madman” whose idiosyncratic rule had seriously undermined communism and endangered the Soviet state.

This amazing switch from hero to villain lifted a heavy overcoat of fear from the backs of ordinary Russians. It also quickly led to anti-communist uprisings in Eastern Europe, none more bloody and challenging than the one in Hungary, which Soviet troops crushed at year’s end.

Marvin Kalb, then a young diplomatic attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, observed this tumultuous year that foretold the end of Soviet communism three decades later. Fluent in Russian, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, he went where few other foreigners would dare go, listening to Russian students secretly attack communism and threaten rebellion against the Soviet system, traveling from one end of a changing country to the other and, thanks to his diplomatic position, meeting and talking with Khrushchev, who playfully nicknamed him Peter the Great.

In this, his fifteenth book, Kalb writes a fascinating eyewitness account of a superpower in upheaval and of a people yearning for an end to dictatorship.

Not since Pearl Harbor has an American president gone to Congress to request a declaration of war. Nevertheless, since then, one president after another, from Truman to Obama, has ordered American troops into wars all over the world. From Korea to Vietnam, Panama to Grenada, Lebanon to Bosnia, Afghanistan to Iraq—why have presidents sidestepped declarations of war? Marvin Kalb, former chief diplomatic correspondent for CBS and NBC News, explores this key question in his thirteenth book about the presidency and U.S. foreign policy.

Instead of a declaration of war, presidents have justified their war-making powers by citing "commitments," private and public, made by former presidents. Many of these commitments have been honored, but some betrayed. Surprisingly, given the tight U.S.-Israeli relationship, Israeli leaders feel that at times they have been betrayed by American presidents. Is it time for a negotiated defense treaty between the United States and Israel as a way of substituting for a string of secret presidential commitments?

From Israel to Vietnam, presidential commitments have proven to be tricky and dangerous. For example, one president after another committed the United States to the defense of South Vietnam, often without explanation. Over the years, these commitments mushroomed into national policy, leading to a war costing 58,000 American lives. Few in Congress or the media chose to question the war's provenance or legitimacy, until it was too late. No president saw the need for a declaration of war, considering one to be old-fashioned.

The word of a president can morph into a national commitment. It can become the functional equivalent of a declaration of war. Therefore, whenever a president "commits"the United States to a policy or course of action with, or increasingly without, congressional approval, watch out—the White House may be setting the nation on a road toward war.

The Road to War was a 2013 Foreword Reviews honorable mention in the subject of War & Military.

These candid conversations capture the difficulties of reporting during crisis and war, particularly the tension between government and the press. The participants include distinguished journalists—American and foreign, print and broadcast—and prominent public officials, past and present. They illuminate the struggle to balance free speech and the right to know with the need to protect sensitive information in the national interest. As the Information Age collides with the War on Terrorism, that challenge becomes even more critical and daunting. "We are very careful in what we talk about publicly. We do not want to paint a picture for the bad guys. So we don't talk very much at all about what we're going to do going forward."—Victoria Clarke, Department of Defense "This was a war that was very different. It was conducted primarily by about 200 to 250 special forces soldiers on the ground. There were no reporters with those soldiers until after the fall of Kandahar, until the war was essentially over. There were no eyes and ears, and that's the way the Pentagon wants it."—John McWethy, ABC News "I covered Capitol Hill for a very long time and was always astounded by the nonpolitical motivation of a lot of people that are up there who really do want to make the world better, want to make the U.S. better. So don't come away believing that because there are political implications that there are always political motivations."—Candy Crowley, CNN "There is a feeling among the community, Muslim Americans, and also overseas that we might become the new enemy. But so far nobody knows whether it is just because of the war or if it's going to last."—Hafez Al-Mirazi, Al-Jazeera

Cosponsored with the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School, Harvard University.

These candid conversations capture the difficulties of reporting during crisis and war, particularly the tension between government and the press. The participants include distinguished journalists—American and foreign, print and broadcast—and prominent public officials, past and present. They illuminate the struggle to balance free speech and the right to know with the need to protect sensitive information in the national interest. As the Information Age collides with the War on Terrorism, that challenge becomes even more critical and daunting. "We are very careful in what we talk about publicly. We do not want to paint a picture for the bad guys. So we don't talk very much at all about what we're going to do going forward."—Victoria Clarke, Department of Defense "This was a war that was very different. It was conducted primarily by about 200 to 250 special forces soldiers on the ground. There were no reporters with those soldiers until after the fall of Kandahar, until the war was essentially over. There were no eyes and ears, and that's the way the Pentagon wants it."—John McWethy, ABC News "I covered Capitol Hill for a very long time and was always astounded by the nonpolitical motivation of a lot of people that are up there who really do want to make the world better, want to make the U.S. better. So don't come away believing that because there are political implications that there are always political motivations."—Candy Crowley, CNN "There is a feeling among the community, Muslim Americans, and also overseas that we might become the new enemy. But so far nobody knows whether it is just because of the war or if it's going to last."—Hafez Al-Mirazi, Al-Jazeera

Cosponsored with the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School, Harvard University.

Through an expansive collection of primary source materials and original, informative introduction and headnotes, State of the Union: Presidential Rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush explores ways in which modern U.S. presidents have appealed directly to the public and how the public has responded.

State of the Union: Presidential Rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush is a comprehensive reference containing all the state of the union addresses as well as each inaugural address delivered from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush. This unique single-volume resource presents over 100 full-text addresses. Headnotes accompanying each address provide valuable context for each address by outlining the events leading up to the address and exploring the ensuing public reaction.

An introductory essay to the volume provides readers with an in-depth look at the history of state of the union addresses and examines how presidents have crafted their speeches to meet changing styles and circumstances. State of the Union also includes a bibliography of sources related to presidential rhetoric, a chronological listing of all addresses included in the volume, a timeline showing major events as highlighted in the addresses, and a comprehensive index.

A valuable research tool for students and scholars of U.S. history, government, politics, and public policy, State of the Union: Presidential Rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush will be a frequently-used resource in almost any academic or public library.

A chronicle of the year that changed Soviet Russia—and molded the future path of one of America's pre-eminent diplomatic correspondents

1956 was an extraordinary year in modern Russian history. It was called “the year of the thaw”—a time when Stalin’s dark legacy of dictatorship died in February only to be reborn later that December. This historic arc from rising hope to crushing despair opened with a speech by Nikita Khrushchev, then the unpredictable leader of the Soviet Union. He astounded everyone by denouncing the one figure who, up to that time, had been hailed as a “genius,” a wizard of communism—Josef Stalin himself. Now, suddenly, this once unassailable god was being portrayed as a “madman” whose idiosyncratic rule had seriously undermined communism and endangered the Soviet state.

This amazing switch from hero to villain lifted a heavy overcoat of fear from the backs of ordinary Russians. It also quickly led to anti-communist uprisings in Eastern Europe, none more bloody and challenging than the one in Hungary, which Soviet troops crushed at year’s end.

Marvin Kalb, then a young diplomatic attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, observed this tumultuous year that foretold the end of Soviet communism three decades later. Fluent in Russian, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, he went where few other foreigners would dare go, listening to Russian students secretly attack communism and threaten rebellion against the Soviet system, traveling from one end of a changing country to the other and, thanks to his diplomatic position, meeting and talking with Khrushchev, who playfully nicknamed him Peter the Great.

In this, his fifteenth book, Kalb writes a fascinating eyewitness account of a superpower in upheaval and of a people yearning for an end to dictatorship.

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