Transcript

PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite
Style:MLAAPAChicagoClose

loading...

The Decline and Fall of Colonial Vietnam

2013 Arthur Ross Book Award

Speaker: Fredrik Logevall, Stephen and Madeline Anbinder Professor of History, Cornell University; Author, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of Americaís Vietnam
Presider: Gideon Rose, Peter G. Peterson Chair and Editor, Foreign Affairs
December 18, 2013
Council on Foreign Relations

Media

Share

ROSE: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon. My name is Gideon Rose. I'm the editor of Foreign Affairs. And it is my distinct privilege and honor and pleasure to welcome all of you to the 12th Annual Arthur Ross Book Award Ceremony today. I'd like to acknowledge and give a warm welcome to Janet Ross, who is the reason we're all here.

(APPLAUSE)

So as you all know, this award was endowed by Arthur Ross in 2001 to honor non-fiction works in English or in translation that merit special attention for bringing forth new information that changes our understanding of events or problems, developing analytical approaches that allow new and different insights into critical issues or providing new ideas that help resolve foreign policy problems.

In practice, what that has meant is, what is the best book in the last year or so that has focused on international affairs, public policy more generally, serious non-fiction that changes our view of the world and how it's constituted and what should be done in it?

This year, we had an extraordinary crop, and we had five finalists, all of which were excellent, excellent books: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's "Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty"; Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956"; Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan"; Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's "The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama"; and Fred Logevall's "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam."

The committee, the jurors, myself, Bob Kagan, Mary Sarotte, and Stephen Walt -- as you can imagine, are a pretty diverse group, just hearing those names -- we were all struck by how impressive the finalists were and what a pleasure it actually was to -- you know, when you get these big, giant tomes, your heart sinks a little bit, because you are duty-bound by your professional responsibilities and diligence to actually read the damn things.

But they don't always live up to their reputation, and so sometimes it's a hard slog doing what we have to do for the field. This year, we actually raced through them, and we're better for doing so, and we all were commenting to each other during the deliberations just how great they were.

Two of the finalists, Mick Trainor and Michael Gordon's book on Iraq, "The Endgame," and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book, "Little America," had incredible strengths, but ultimately didn't make it into the top three. But I want to encourage you to look at those and read them, and they're really -- they were excellent to consider.

In third place, and gaining $2,500 prize for honorable mention, was Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's "Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty." Unfortunately, Daron and James are unable to join us today, but that's a really impressive book and definitely worth strong consideration in your holiday reading.

The silver medal and a prize of $7,500 went to Anne Applebaum for the "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956," a spectacular book, which, in fact, shares many of the same qualities with the ultimate winner, and which actually brought forth an interesting discussion about, can we really give the two top prizes to books that are in many respects very, very similar in their detailed, historical, qualitative reconstruction of high political events in the 1950s, you know, '40s and '50s and so forth? And the answer was, absolutely, because these were the absolute two best books, and so quality is all, and so even though they were very similar, they got -- they went one, two. And it's a wonderful book. Unfortunately, Anne's also unable to join us today, but I definitely encourage you to read that one, as well.

And the -- the winner, the Arthur Ross Book Award gold medal and $15,000 goes to Fred Logevall for the "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam."

Before I ask Fred to come up and discuss it with me, let me just say a little bit about the book and about Fred. This is one of those books that really makes you jealous if you're an award judge, because you read it and you say, damn, I wish I could write this book. I wish I could have written this book. I'm reading it with pleasure. How is it possible for someone to take such a major topic that we all know so much about and yet add to our knowledge? How is it possible to write with such incredible research showing, but yet still have it be literally a page-turner? How can you be a serious diplomatic historian and yet write prose that actually sings on the page? It's unfair, and it's annoying, frankly.

(LAUGHTER)

What I would say is that the measure of the author of this work is that one could not feel jealous or angry or in any way spiteful or upset about him, because he is one of the nicest, the sweetest, the gentlest, the kindest people in the field, and one of the most unassuming creatures around, and it -- it is a deep pleasure and honor to be able to give him this prize that he so richly deserved.

When he first started on this book, lo these many years ago, and as he was working on it -- this is a long time in gestation -- he had written another wonderful book on Vietnam about the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' decisions and about the early to mid-1960s, the crucial turn of America's intervention in Vietnam. And when I did my book on the ending of America's wars, and was working intensively on the Nixon policies in Vietnam, I was talking a great deal with Fred, as the country's perhaps leading historian of Vietnam, about the later stages of the war.

And we talked about it, and he disagreed with me, but I forgave him for that, because he knew so much more than I did about what happened in those years. But I said, you know, you really should write this history of the exit from Vietnam, because nobody has made the case that you should be -- that you can make, and nobody's done it in the way that you could do it. And I know, because I'm writing a chapter, but nobody's written the book that needs to be written on this. And he said, "Well, maybe you're right," kind of thing.

And instead, what he ends up doing -- had already embarked on and what he continued to do -- was to disregard my advice entirely and write a book on the pre-history, rather than the later history. And I kind of felt like there wasn't a need for this book, because we all know a lot about the French war, we all know a lot about the origins of American involvement in Vietnam.

And yet when I read it, I finally understood why he had done it and why he had been so passionately devoted to doing it. And my only hope now is that he will, in the greatness of his spirit, follow on to do the third book in the trilogy, as it were, which was not just sort of how he got in and not just the decision to -- not just the pre-history, not just the decision to get in, but also the ultimate decision to get out, which would make it the definitive three-volume history of America's Vietnam conflict.

But in lieu of later book, we have a discussion on the earlier book today. With that, I'd love to have Fred come up, accept his award, and we can discuss the details of the book in detail.

(APPLAUSE)

Are we going to have the picture -- are we having the picture -- yes, we're having the picture. Let me give you the -- let me present this medal. I think you actually -- I feel like de Gaulle in "The Day of the Jackal."

(APPLAUSE)

That's it. OK. Take a seat. I have my copy here marked up. We'll put this here, so people (inaudible)

You know, Kennedy famously said once on getting an honorary degree from Yale that he now had the best of all possible worlds, a Harvard education and a Yale degree. This book has been given so many awards and such recognition, you know, the Pulitzer and various other kinds of trivial things, that you can now feel free that it's gotten the real badge of true accomplishment, which is the Arthur Ross Book Award, and maybe the next edition should have a little doohickey on the cover saying that, as well as its Pulitzer.

LOGEVALL: Indeed.

ROSE: A far more discerning honor. So for those people who may not have read the book, why don't we start out by having a very brief summary of what you would say the book is about?

LOGEVALL: Well, it's a book about really how the Vietnam struggle happened. And I -- as Gideon mentioned, I worked early in my career on, really, the Kennedy and Johnson escalation in what I call the long 1964, which was really the summer of '63 under Jack Kennedy to the spring of '65 under Johnson. And I wanted -- and this was a dissertation. This then became my first book -- I wanted to understand why that Americanization of the war happened and whether there were alternatives, not just in the context of history, not just in hindsight, but in the context of the time.

But in the course of doing that work, I became more and more interested in what came before. And this is also, I think, a function of my teaching Cornell students -- well, before that, UC Santa Barbara students, and then Cornell students, this early history. And I came to realize that there was a lot I didn't know about the French war. I also determined that the French war just in -- in narrative terms seemed to me frightfully interesting and that I could actually do something that had scholarly heft, but also told a really interesting story.

But I think most important is that I thought what I want to do is to give a sense of why the French war happened, why it had the outcome that it had -- the French were militarily superior to the Viet Minh, and yet the French were defeated -- and see the connections, if they existed, between that French war and the American war.

And so that's what the book does, is it goes from -- it goes from the end of World War I, when the future of European empires seemed secure, at least to many people, through the interwar period. World War II, I argue in the book, is of immense importance to everything that will happen later in the war. The French war itself, which, as I think you all know, lasts from '45 or '46, depending on your terms, to the climactic French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in '54, and then the final part of the book gets the French out and the Americans more fully in.

And I end the book with the deaths of two Americans in the summer of 1959, whose names are the first two names on the Vietnam War memorial. They were killed in the summer of '59, as I said, and then I have an epilogue that gallops forward through Kennedy and Johnson a little bit, but it's really -- really this earlier history, Gideon.

ROSE: How many of you here knew that Ho Chi Minh was a sous chef to Escoffier in Paris? OK, I'm impressed, actually. I hadn't known that one. And as someone who has an interest in both Vietnam and in Escoffier, I thought that was actually -- but the story goes from there all the way to the deaths of Americans in Vietnam and is a really -- Ho is really an amazing character -- actually, why don't you say a little bit about Ho? You lived with him for a while in writing this book.

LOGEVALL: Well, I certainly did.

ROSE: And tell us a little bit about Ho.

LOGEVALL: Well, it's fair to say, if you have not read the book, that it's in many respects a sympathetic portrayal. And I do find him to be an extraordinarily interesting character. Maybe what I'll say here is that he had views of the French colonial overlord that I didn't expect to find when I started my research and views of the United States that I don't think I expected to find.

He had deep admiration for French culture and literature and had a, I think, complicated view of France and of the French. And I write about early in the book his experience in Paris after the end of World War I, for two or three years, when he is very immersed in Paris life, in the cafes, in writing theater reviews. He even staged a play that closed after just a few days in Paris.

But he had what I think a lot of Vietnamese revolutionaries had, which is they had a deep attachment to this place. And, in fact, I think some of them experienced at the moment of great triumph in '54, they experienced feelings that they didn't anticipate they would have, which is something has been lost that is a part of our lives, and it wasn't an altogether comfortable feeling for them.

I interviewed a few older Vietnamese who had been -- who had fought against the French and against the Americans, and that's what they said to me, that they had grown up with French literature, French poetry, French institutions, and it was hard for them to let go. And I think that was true of Ho, even though he also hated the French as the colonial master. He was determined, of course, to win independence. But there was a kind of love-hate, I guess is what I'm suggesting.

And with respect to the Americans, I think Jack Langguth, who wrote a fine book called "Our Vietnam," and who was a reporter for the Times in Saigon, Jack writes about Ho's lifelong admiration for the United States. I think that's an exact quote. I think it's right.

I think for a long time, he thought that the United States would be his ally in his quest for independence. After all, the Americans had been born out of an anti-colonial reaction. He believed what Franklin Roosevelt said during the war about being opposed to the French returning. And even in -- at least for two or three years after the end of the war, Ho thought the Americans are going to be with me when push comes to shove, and that's a tragic part of this story.

But no question, Gideon, that Ho is central to the narrative. It's really a book in large part about the French and the Americans, but I do want to do justice to the Vietnamese part of the story, and he's key.

Last thing I'll say here is that we also need to be mindful of the losers on the Vietnamese side, and there were nationalists on the Vietnamese side who were not with Ho, they suffered in some respects for their close association with first the French and then the Americans -- and we can come back to this -- but Ngo Dinh Diem, of course, is a very important figure in all of this, as well, even if he doesn't rise to Ho's level of importance.

ROSE: There's a lot of background as to how the story plays out. To me, the real sort of -- the war, essentially, gets -- we're on the path to war once the decision is made to allow the French to try to re-establish control.

LOGEVALL: Yes.

ROSE: So -- because even if the earlier history had played out the way it had, if that decision hadn't been made, then all things would have been different.

LOGEVALL: Yes.

ROSE: What is it that happens and why does the United States -- which had initially not been in favor of this -- why does it allow the French or go along with the attempt to re-establish control after World War II?

LOGEVALL: Well, I refer to August of 1945, which I think is an absolutely fascinating month. I refer to it in the book as the open moment, because I do believe that the future course of Indochina was anyone's guess at that particular moment. The Germans had been defeated in Europe. Japan was about to formally surrender in Asia. Roosevelt had just passed away, and I believe -- and I argue in the book that Roosevelt went to his grave firmly opposed to a French return.

Truman is still making his way in the White House, doesn't know all that much about foreign affairs, certainly doesn't know very much about Indochina, and I think the most interesting part of this is that the French -- and we know this from French archives -- the French were fearful that the Americans under Truman would oppose their effort to reclaim Indochina, again, in August-September of '45, very fluid picture.

So what happens? Well, Truman and his advisers feel pressure from the French and from the British -- the British, I think, are a very important part of this story -- to allow the French to return. And, of course, they say, yes, you may reclaim Indochina, and they do it in part because of a skillful diplomacy on the part of the French and the British. A theme in the book is that the -- the French military performance is to some extent mixed, but they're really good at diplomacy.

And so they make this sale to the Americans. For their own reasons, the Americans under Truman also believe that they need a strong France in the center of Europe. There's already an emerging set of tensions with the Soviets. The grand alliance, as you know, collapses pretty quickly. And I think, for reasons that have really nothing to do with Indochina, per se, Truman and his aides say, all right, we don't like colonialism, we really do think its day has passed, but we need to allow the French and we will allow the French to come back. That's a decision that's made, really, over a period of months. I think it's firmly decided upon by the end of '45.

"And I think, for reasons that have really nothing to do with Indochina, per se, Truman and his aides say, all right, we don't like colonialism, we really do think its day has passed, but we need to allow the French – and we will allow the French – to come back."

ROSE: One of the great things about this book is, as you essentially say in the introduction -- I'm paraphrasing a little bit -- it tells you how history could have been different and yet why it wasn't, in other words, that it goes over the key turning points and explains what happened, while at the same time giving you enough of a sense of the contingency that could have entered the story and put things on different tracks. So not all -- lots of different options were open, but not all of them were equally probable, and the ones that were followed, there's a reason why they're followed.

After that decision in late '45, what are the key turning points in the story that -- oh, because one of the things you -- one of the things you come away from this book with, right, is a wonderful sense of just how much we were on tracks by the time the American, you know -- by the time Kennedy took office, how deeply, you know, grooved our policy was and how difficult it would have been to jump off.

So how do you go from a complete contingency or a high contingency in '45 to sort of very tracked policy by, let's say, '60? What are the key turning points that don't turn?

LOGEVALL: Yeah, I would say the key turning points are the one I've already articulated, '45 and '46, when Truman and his aides go down this path. And, by the way, I would say that even then -- and this is critical to me as a historian -- even then, in late '45 and '46, there are voices within the American government -- not just FDR, until his death -- but others who say don't do this, we are on the wrong side of history, we're going to pay if we support the French for this. But they make this decision. So that's a turning point.

A decision in early 1950, after the -- after Mao's forces, Mao Zedong's forces have emerged victorious in China, a decision to formally back the French with much more military hardware and other kinds of assistance by the Truman administration is a second key turning point. Because what happens after the spring in '50 -- and it's fascinating to look at this -- over a period of a couple of years, gradually the Americans become more committed to the French war than the French are themselves, so that by the time we get into '53, which is now Eisenhower, who is interesting in his own right, Eisenhower and Dulles, by the time we get into the early part of '53, the French in so many words are saying to the Americans, "We want to negotiate our way out of this thing. This is a dirty war," as they say. "And you guys, after all, are negotiating with communists in Korea. Why can't we negotiate with communists in Indochina?"

The Americans, in effect, say, no, we're supporting you with this thing, you need to prevail. One of the arguments they make is that, in fact, Indochina in strategic terms is more important than Korea, and that's why we need you to do this. And the French stay in.

So I would say '50 is crucial, '54, obviously, with the French defeat, Eisenhower and Dulles make a really important decision to build up this independent South Vietnam. Could that have gone differently? Yes, although maybe the more interesting possibility there is '56 as a turning point. In '56, as you know, Gideon, there were supposed to be elections for reunification. This was in the Geneva Accords that the French signed in '54.

I think a very plausible counterfactual, what if, is had the United States allowed those national elections to occur, and everybody agreed that Ho Chi Minh would win those elections, I think you could have avoided, obviously, everything that happened later. You could have established an American presence -- strengthened the American presence in more, shall we say, hospitable terrain in Thailand, in the Philippines, elsewhere. And, again, this was something that was actually discussed at the time, which matters a great deal to me as a historian.

The other thing I would add into this mix right here is the figure of John F. Kennedy. I open the book with Kennedy's visit to Indochina in '51. He's 34 years old. He's there with Bobby and Patricia. He's on an around-the-world tour, because he's running for this -- he's intending to run for the Senate the next year, or at least his father is intending for him to run for the Senate the next year.

But Kennedy even now in '51 is raising all the right questions, asking prescient questions about whether the French or, by extension, any Western power can prevail in Indochina. And yet, as we all know, in a decade later, he as president begins to oversee a large-scale escalation of the war, so the last thing I would say, Gideon, on your question is that how we get from here to there, which is to Gideon's question, I don't think we can understand the American war in Vietnam without due attention to domestic politics.

I think one thing that begins to happen, especially after the so-called fall of China, so-called loss of China, is that with the McCarthy period, but even long after McCarthy has passed from the scene, politicians -- and Democrats in particular -- feel a sense of importance -- attach a sense of importance to the Indochina story that I don't think privately they actually felt.

I would go as far as to say that -- and Gideon may disagree, especially about the last figure I'm going to name -- for all three -- I don't think that any of the three presidents who dealt with Vietnam in a central way -- Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon -- I don't think that as presidents -- we can talk about the pre-presidential years -- I don't think as presidents they were true believers on Vietnam and on its importance. Therefore, I think that the domestic political imperatives are critical.

ROSE: My reading of Nixon, by the way, is that he was ambivalent and that you can see different things at different times. I think there's one classic exchange in which he actually asks Kissinger, "Can we get away with it if it goes?" And you get the sense it's somebody actually asking this question, because he's not sure he wants to hear the -- you know, he's trying to debate just how connected we have to be...

LOGEVALL: And when he's asking, "Can we get away with it?", do you think he means in domestic terms? Or is it more in terms of credibility on the world stage?

ROSE: I see it as the globe.

LOGEVALL: OK.

ROSE: But we -- again, that's why I want you to write the book. There's a lot of revisionism and historical speculation of various kinds about both of the American and the French wars. Was, in your opinion, there anything that the French could have done in terms of strategy or tactics if -- as long as they had kept their basic goal the same -- could different military tactics, could a different strategy have produced a different result? Or was it essentially foregone from the beginning of the decision to try to re-establish control?

LOGEVALL: It's a really good question. I do believe -- and I suggest this toward the latter part of the book -- I do believe that the outcome of Dien Bien Phu could have been different. And the battle was extremely important, as I think we all know. And I think that, in fact, the Viet Minh came very close to defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

And, therefore, the rather pregnant question in historical terms of a possible American aerial intervention in the spring of '54 to save the French garrison takes on, I think, great historical importance. I think that the Viet Minh were on the ropes, and they were as desperate for a truce later as the French were. That suggests that there are opportunities.

I would also say that the French Expeditionary Corps fought quite well. There was a common view among Americans which went something like this. We really have nothing to learn from the French war, because the French are a decadent people, they were vainly trying to prop up a fading colonial empire, we don't have that problem, the Vietnamese will have something to fight for. Moreover, the French were lousy on the battlefield. We, on the other hand, have the greatest military power in the history of the world and so forth. I think they undersold what the French did.

The deeper answer or the more fundamental answer to your question, Gideon, is that I don't think that anything the French could have done would have staved off ultimate defeat. They didn't have enough manpower, and they weren't going to have enough manpower to be able to commit to this place so far from metropolitan France. The various -- I guess I can call them puppet governments -- the various governments that supported the French didn't have remotely enough popular support to do this.

But I think what you could have seen -- and it could have had implications for the nature of the peace -- you could have seen Dien Bien Phu held in '54 until the beginning of the monsoon, at which point General Giap would have had to call a halt. It could have had interesting implications; the ultimate result is the same.

ROSE: By implication, extension, do you think the same is true about the American war?

LOGEVALL: I think so, at the end of the day. Of course, there's a lot of -- as you know, a lot of debate about this still among scholars and other authors. And would an alternative strategy have worked for the Americans or a better application of Westmoreland's strategy? I don't think so.

I say in the beginning of the book that it's not impossible to imagine -- it's not impossible to imagine South Vietnam surviving South Korea-style into the indefinite future. But the next sentence goes something like this. But it's also not easy to imagine that outcome.

So I think for me the ultimate answer is no. I say, in a different piece -- which I actually published in Foreign Affairs...

ROSE: Of course.

LOGEVALL: ... toward the end of that piece, I say that the South Vietnamese faced an insoluble dilemma, and the smarter South Vietnamese understood this. The dilemma was this. We can't win without the Americans, and we can't win with the Americans. I think there's a lot of truth in that, that as long as you were as beholden to the Americans as you were, and as long as you faced the kind of determined foe as you -- that you did in North Vietnam, you and I have discussed before, you know, the importance of the sanctuaries and the particular geography and the difficulty that that meant. played, but I think that that -- at the end of the day, that dilemma is key.

ROSE: Let me press you on the North Vietnamese. So if you keep everything on the French side and/or the American side constant, but you vary the opponent, could it have worked? In other words, how much of this was the extraordinary passion, devotion, military skill, endurance, will to suffer, everything, on the Vietnamese side of this?

In other words, when I look at these histories, I think, gee, if you replaced this with -- part of the problem in judging these things is the same strategy could have worked on a different opponent. If you had a less world-class enemy, the same policies might well have worked, I think. And one of the failures was not recognizing -- and maybe you couldn't recognize this at the time -- that you happened to be up against some of the wiliest, some of the most passionate, some of the most willing to endure people around.

Do you get that sense? Are the Vietnamese -- not just the Western powers trying to suppress them or direct their destiny -- but do the Vietnamese agents in this story deserve credit as an extraordinary people who, in effect, earned their own destiny, rather than just having it be the product of mistakes on the other side?

LOGEVALL: Oh, no question. And I think you've articulated it very well; I wouldn't disagree with anything you've said. I think it's crucial to this. And to consider the counterfactual here, I do think that a different adversary, it could have been quite different.

I think we need to think about this in two ways. There is, in addition to the North Vietnamese, there is also the insurgency in the South, and there's a long -- as I think you all know -- scholarly debate that continues to this day about the nature of that southern insurgency, to what extent was it truly indigenous, to what extent was it wholly directed by the North? But one of the problems here that the South Vietnamese and the Americans face is that they have determined opposition, I think it's fair to say, in the South and also in the North.

But, you know, I think that if we look at Ngo Dinh Diem, who's a very interesting character -- he's the leader of South Vietnam from '54 until his death in a U.S.-backed coup in '63, just three days before Kennedy's own assassination. Diem is in some ways a rather remarkable character. He has -- he's a committed patriot. He's personally very courageous. He has his own vision for South Vietnam's future that is really quite developed. He had shortcomings, severe shortcomings as a leader, but I do think that against a different foe, against a different adversary, as I suggested earlier, one can imagine South Vietnam surviving, if not until today, at least beyond the spring of '75.

ROSE: One of the things that struck me reading all the finalists this year in sequence was how all of them were ultimately about the same thing, which was what could -- institutions and what could be done to promote them or foster them. Three of the books out of the five were about failed American attempts to redirect the institutional course of foreign polities, Fred's book on Vietnam, Mick Gordon -- sorry, Mike Trainor and Michael Gordon's book on Iraq, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book on Afghanistan. And reading three of those books in sequence was -- you know, you could talk about sort of deja vu all over again. It really was astonishing.

One of the books -- the Acemoglu and Robinson was a general study of institutions, which concludes -- I'll give away the punch line, which is they're very, very important, but we don't really know that much about how to get them going. And Anne's book, Anne Applebaum's book, was a sort of opposite side of this, which is here's how the Soviets managed to create strong, durable institutions in their own image in Eastern Europe after World War II. And the short answer there is you make it a totalitarian project and you fully get behind it, and you can actually create something that, you know, will endure for several decades. It may not be what you want or very nice, but it can be done.

So this question -- the larger question of, if you are not prepared to go to Soviet lengths and literally create a totalitarian system in your proxy country, in your local client, is it possible to intervene in some kind of relatively benign way? Because unlike the previous colonial efforts, the American of colonial attempts at least in the mid-20th century on, have generally been benignly inspired, I would argue, but they still haven't worked.

Is it possible even to direct or redirect a country's course from the outside, the way we tried to do in all these different countries?

LOGEVALL: That's a good question. The historian in me wants to beg off by saying that, unlike political scientists, you know, we focus -- we go from the particular to the general, and so I'm reluctant in a way to draw large conclusions. But I would say this, Gideon, that it's extremely difficult to do.

And one reason I think it's difficult in whatever context is that it's hard, it seems to me, for a -- let's say an -- let's call them an indigenal peoples, an indigenal people. It's hard for them to see a foreign occupying army as their friend. And I just think it's extremely difficult, in any setting, to come in -- if you're the -- let's say that you're the United States in this case and believe, even if it's through benign institutions, even if it's through building schoolhouses and roads and hospitals, and focusing on the hearts and minds, as the phrase goes, that you're going to have lasting support on the part of the people there. I just think that's a really difficult challenge.

I also think that what has happened too often -- and I'm not prepared to say that there is a close correlation -- but is that -- and the examples that you bring to mind strengthen this, it seems to me -- that you have, for example, in, say, the late 1960s in Vietnam under Thieu and Karzai in Afghanistan more recently, you have governments that do not have, it seems to me, broad popular backing, that have difficulty maintaining stability and security in the country, that are corrupt to one degree or another, that are very dependent on that American assistance, that makes it just really hard to pull this off.

It's a partial answer to your question. I'm tempted, Gideon, to throw it back to you, because you've read these books, you've thought a lot about this. Do you think it's -- do you think it can be done?

ROSE: Longer question for another day. Have you read the Applebaum book, though? You should, because -- if you haven't -- because it literally is same era, and it's a reverse case, in which it's about the construction of a horrible, but durable -- at least for a while -- system in another part of the world.

LOGEVALL: Which on its own terms is successful, it works.

ROSE: On its own terms to a certain extent.

LOGEVALL: Yeah.

ROSE: They fundamentally totalitarianize Eastern Europe and lock it in for several decades. It takes until '89 for that one to crack.

LOGEVALL: Which begs the question, I suppose, if that's what's required.

ROSE: Exactly. That's what I took out of it, which is, gee, if you have to be the Soviets, then it's not worth the game. But it's an open question. There are a lot of people here who know a lot more, certainly, than me, almost as much as you about these questions. Many of them lived it. I want to get the discussion to them.

But, first, let me just take a little bit on methodology and disciplinary politics, because the people in this room may not know this, but Fred is a little bit -- he's a sort of stodgy, fuddy-duddy in academic terms. He's like a coelacanth, one of those weird prehistoric creatures that's still found floating around in today's waters, even though most of them are extinct.

LOGEVALL: I've never been compared -- OK, all right. That's good.

(LAUGHTER)

"I just think it's extremely difficult, in any setting, to come in -- if you're the -- let's say that you're the United States in this case and believe, even if it's through benign institutions, even if it's through building schoolhouses and roads and hospitals, and focusing on the hearts and minds, as the phrase goes, that you're going to have lasting support on the part of the people there. I just think that's a really difficult challenge."

ROSE: So one of the things that struck us, again, on the jury this year was the wealth and great virtues of what you might call traditional diplomatic history in a very classic way. This is a very old-fashioned book in a very good sense.

Your field is dying. Diplomatic history is dying in America. Is -- this is like a late flowering of a field under stress. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but they don't know this. So this is an opportunity. How difficult is it -- first of all, explain what I'm talking about. And, second of all, explain how you could manage to sort of go against the tides in the academy to conceive of and execute a book like this.

LOGEVALL: Well, I suppose I should say, first, that I don't want you to think that the field is dying, notwithstanding Gideon's point, and I maybe need to say that, because on January 1st, I become president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations...

ROSE: The leading diplomatic historian institution.

(LAUGHTER)

LOGEVALL: So this -- which is our diplomatic historians organization. So, by golly, I believe in the field. I think, though, that Gideon makes a very fair point, that the field has gone in a different direction. What direction is that?

ROSE: In general.

LOGEVALL: It's a direction -- the history field in general, but certainly this particular one is one that seeks in many cases to de-center the United States, to give as scholars like to say agency to other players in the story, to focus less on state-to-state relations, to talk more about culture and to talk more about -- to write more in terms of transnational history that has less to do with high politics and with governments.

I think much of this work is actually quite interesting. And I think even among those who write what we might call traditional diplomatic history, there is a growing attachment to international history and to making sure that we are not only focusing on decisions as made in Washington -- in this case, this is an example, I think, of international history -- so it's not wholly there for a kind of throwback book.

ROSE: So explain what that means, by the way. What archives did you consult? By the way, the difference between someone like this and someone like me, the historian and the political scientist, is that we read their books and we do a little bit of archival stuff when we can, but we claim to be really taking our time to explain the story, and they claim to be actually sort of finding out what actually happened. And so the -- if you can't trace it to some sort of actual primary source, it might as well not have existed, and you can't take anybody else's word to that, so you've got to do all the damn primary source stuff yourself. So what archives did you visit?

LOGEVALL: A whole slew of archives in this country. The French materials, for anybody who's interested, the French materials are an absolute goldmine. And it helps that some of them are in Aix-en-Provence.

(LAUGHTER)

Not that -- not that Paris isn't lovely, too. So the French archives, I've had some of my best research in England at what I still lovingly refer to as the public record office, which is what they should still call it. For some reason, the Brits decided we should call it what everybody else calls it, so it's now the National Archives. But it's in Kew Gardens, you know, easily accessible on the subway, the Tube, and a smattering of Vietnamese documents, although you make -- you raise an important question. We do not have nearly the kind of access that we should have to Vietnamese materials.

And it's funny in a way, because the Vietnamese beat the French, they beat the Americans, or at least fought them to a standstill. You'd think that they would be OK with opening up their materials, but they have been unwilling to do it, certainly for the period of the American war, but even the period that I'm describing in here, the top stuff, politburo stuff is not available.

Now, they were in the jungle. Ho Chi Minh would carry his typewriter around. They had to move from headquarters to headquarters. There may be fewer documents that in my mind's eye I'm imagining, but nevertheless, I wished we had -- and I would -- would say that the Vietnamese should release more of this stuff.

And then a smattering of materials from Australia and New Zealand, Canada, various other countries, as well, and then, of course, memoirs, secondary sources, newspapers, very important resource.

Last thing I just want to say on this question, I do think it's fair to say, going back to Gideon's original question here, this is not the kind of book I could have written in graduate school.

ROSE: Why?

LOGEVALL: For the reason Gideon said. I think there's a -- and I think this is unfortunate -- there is a belief that this kind of more traditional study...

ROSE: Ah, so you had to ascend to a status in the field where you could buck the trends in order to be able to write this book?

LOGEVALL: Yes, if I -- if I want a tenure-track job, if you want to remain in academia -- and not all Ph.D. students do -- if you're interested in getting a Ph.D. and then being a journalist or doing something else, then by all means you could do this, because as a doctoral adviser, I would allow this. But I must confess to you that I would -- I would recommend to one of my doctoral advisees...

ROSE: Not to do this.

LOGEVALL: ... that they wouldn't do this...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: OK. So that's what I was saying, by the way. This book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, which won the Arthur Ross Book Award, which is a spectacular contribution, if he had published it as a dissertation, he would not have gotten a job in a history department today. Is that true?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: OK. There you go.

LOGEVALL: A policy school, maybe, which is interesting, but not a history department.

ROSE: OK. With that, let me turn -- well, last question. How many years did you work on this book?

LOGEVALL: Well, my wonderful editor is seated to my left, and that's David Ebershoff, and David can probably tell you the exact number of years, months and days. But suffice it to say that from -- that in meaningful terms, in terms of when I began the research in a serious way, to when I submitted a finished version -- and then we had some editing to do and so forth -- it's about a decade.

And I didn't work on it continuously. I wrote another book in the interval that I didn't tell David very much about. And then we moved across the country, but it's about -- it's a...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: OK. Actually, one more last question. David, who gets credit for the writing, him or you?

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: OK, that's what editors are supposed to say, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

We don't always mean it, but in this case, I think it's too much for the writing to have come from the outside, so an impressive job.

LOGEVALL: Yeah, although on -- even on style and on substance, fantastic editing from David.

ROSE: With that, let me turn it over to Q&A. I'm going to call on you. Stand, state your name. We'll give you the mike. Keep questions short. This is on the record. And so, yes, right up here, first question here.

QUESTION: Stephen Schlesinger from the Century Foundation. First question. Did Ho try to reach the Americans in 1945 and request some sort of meeting with them? I've heard something along those lines. And also, when Ho became an elderly man, was he shoved aside by his own government, in terms of his power?

LOGEVALL: Yeah, yes, so on the first question, Ho tried to reach the Americans. He started in 1919, when he rented a morning coat and tried to get an audience with Woodrow Wilson at Versailles and failed. And in '45-'46, he wrote at least seven, possibly as maybe as nine letters to Harry Truman, in which he requested support from the United States, referred to the Declaration of Independence. And, by the way, in his own declaration, he borrowed from the Americans, and that was a kind of -- well, it was in part a play for support from Washington. Those letters, obviously, were not answered.

So, yes, he tried to get support. And I believe as late as '48-'49, he really hoped and believed that ultimately that the Americans would come to see what he was doing. The Americans had given independence to the Philippines. He attached a lot of importance to that. The Americans had basically forced the Dutch to give up the game in Indonesia. That he thought was a great sign. And he believed -- maybe naively -- that now it's going to be our turn.

On your second question, no question that -- that Ho became increasingly marginalized, beginning already in the mid-'50s in a serious way. And the figure who becomes critical is Le Duan, who becomes then, little by little, with certain periods of jockeying and uncertainty, becomes certainly by the time you get into the American war, the key player.

Ho, however, we should be careful not to underestimate his continued importance, because Ho remained a very important diplomatic figure for Hanoi, he had great symbolic importance. As far as I can tell, the leadership did not want to go and make decisions that were wholly against his positions, and he was often consulted. So I think sometimes in the more recent literature we exaggerate the degree to which he becomes marginalized.

It also ebbs and flows. I think there's more -- we're learning more that there is infighting in the -- in the Hanoi leadership and that there are periods when he is in the ascendancy -- by the way, he is considered kind of a moderate within that leadership -- and other times when they are very much shoved to the side. But long before his death, he is a kind of father figure in the government.

ROSE: Yes, over here? To your -- behind you.

QUESTION: Fredrik, as you're very much aware, and I became very much aware, of course, when I covered the war on the ground...

ROSE: Could you identify yourself, Seymour?

QUESTION: Seymour Topping, Columbia University.

ROSE: Thank you, for the record.

QUESTION: There was an enormous amount of aid given to the Viet Minh, to Ho, by the Chinese, in terms of arms, training, and also strategic guidance and even in the field the advisers that was with them. If the Chinese had not given that aid to Ho Chi Minh, do you think there is any possibility that the French could have survived and, in a sense, won the war?

LOGEVALL: It's a very good question, Mr. Topping. I would say that it bears keeping in mind that, in the fall of 1949 -- well, let's take the whole year of 1949 -- the Viet Minh are making steady gains, especially in Tonkin, Tonkin being the northern part of Vietnam. Also in the extreme south of Cochinchina, the Viet Minh are making gains before this Chinese aid begins to flow. And you can see in the French documentation growing despair or at least growing concern on the part of commanders that the odds are -- the time is not with us on this thing and that we face a very long road ahead. So that could suggest that, even without that Chinese aid, the odds are against the French.

That said, as you indicate, Chinese assistance is of monumental importance, especially after the American aid begins to flow in large amounts to the -- to the French. So if you separate this out, if you imagine that the American aid comes even without the Chinese aid, then I think it's a very difficult task, indeed, for Ho Chi Minh and his subordinate commanders.

But, of course, part of the reason why the Americans upped their aid so much is precisely because the Chinese have extended diplomatic recognition to the DRV, and the Soviets have done the same, and they've begun to funnel these materials to the revolution. So it's kind of hard to separate those out.

I think -- I guess what I'm suggesting is this. In the absence of large-scale American assistance to the French, the Viet Minh, at least in the short term, cannot win this thing militarily. But if we don't have that corresponding American assistance, then I think -- I think that ultimately the Viet Minh prevail anyway. That would be my guess.

ROSE: OK. Yes, over here?

QUESTION: Carole Artigiani from Global Kids. Could you speak a little bit more about the voices of dissent? Because there were dissenters from the very beginning in this country...

LOGEVALL: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: ... in academe, politics, and in the public. And why is it that they had so little influence in the long run -- well, and then they changed, so -- we know there was a change, but I'd be really interested in knowing more about what happened to them.

LOGEVALL: Yeah. It's a very, very good question. And there are, as you say, from the very start people who are -- and here I think there's an interesting comparison between France and the United States. In both countries, there are voices of dissent and skepticism from a very early point.

QUESTION: Inside, as well as outside the system?

LOGEVALL: Inside, as well as outside the system. You know, part of the answer is an easy one, and it'll sound flippant, but it's not -- I don't mean it that way -- and that is that there's simply not enough of them, that in positions of power in the -- in the succession of French governments in the Fourth Republic, the -- the key voices are always those who are saying, no, we need to press ahead and we need to add a little bit more to this and we can prevail. Ho is on the ropes, he's struggling, we know we can do this, we're going to build up the Vietnamese indigenous army, the Vietnamese national army, you know, and so on and so forth. So the easy -- but also, I think, an important part of the answer is that there were not enough of them.

Moreover, I would say this, and this is a theme in the book, and this is something that I think is interesting even in terms of our present day. I think what you find in the French case and in the American case is that -- and maybe this is partly human nature -- I'd be interested to know if you agree -- that it's difficult for policymakers to acknowledge a mistake, to convince themselves and each other, you know, we went down the wrong road, we're going to pull back. And I think that even when they expressed private misgivings, which they did to an extraordinary degree -- in other words, they agree with the dissenters, they agree with the dissenters -- they can't bring themselves to actually follow that line of thinking and begin either negotiations for a kind of fig leaf solution or to get out.

And so what you find -- and this is -- you know, this is true, I think, of the French after 1950, this is true of the Americans later, that though they've stopped believing in the war, in terms of its importance to French national security considerations, year after bloody year, the thing continues, because they're not willing to act on those beliefs.

ROSE: Is the implication there that a change in leadership would create more of a blank slate that could have resulted in policy shifts earlier...

LOGEVALL: I think so.

ROSE: ... with no sunk cost mentality or no internal barriers to re-thinking?

LOGEVALL: I think -- I think in many -- yes, I would say the answer to that is correct. And some have suggested, as you know, Gideon, that you do need a Republican in the White House in January of '69 -- even though it takes Nixon arguably, some would say, much too long to do this -- it does change -- it does take a new administration to begin to -- to alter the policies late in the American war, and that a Humphrey ticket would have had a harder time doing so. Who knows?

"I think that even when they expressed private misgivings, which they did to an extraordinary degree -- in other words, they agree with the dissenters, they agree with the dissenters -- they can't bring themselves to actually follow that line of thinking and begin either negotiations for a kind of fig leaf solution or to get out."

But I -- certainly, it's true with respect to the French. And Pierre Mendes France comes in, most interesting figure. Mendes France comes in, in '54, and he's willing to do what his predecessors have not done. And Georges Bidault, in particular, is really interesting in this, because Bidault is there sort of from the beginning to the end, and he's so closely associated with this. Mendes France comes in and says, I'm going to get us out within 30 days or I resign. And that's what it took.

ROSE: Yes, over here and then over here, next to each other.

QUESTION: Rita Hauser. My question follows a little bit. When Robert McNamara was here, whatever the date was, to justify himself on the publication of his book...

(LAUGHTER)

... he was met very hostilely at that time. But his explanation, which most of us found incredible, was that the U.S. policymakers were unaware of what was Vietnam and that this was a war of liberation, and there was no knowledge about it, and so on. So I ask you, as a historian, did the American academics and policy people not know of all the vast literature in France? I mean, I was a student in France at the time, and there were books galore on Vietnam...

LOGEVALL: Yeah.

QUESTION: ... and analysis. Were the Americans that ignorant of another body of knowledge?

ROSE: And, Malcolm, tie yours in with that.

QUESTION: I mean, look -- I thought Rita's question was an excellent one. I can't wait for the answer. Malcolm Wiener. May I first say that the problem that Gideon noted exists in ancient history, as well.

I have two brief questions. One is that during the 1952 campaign, it's been said that the Republican candidate, General Eisenhower, met in New York with Cardinal Spellman, who said that, in fact, he would do everything he could to switch the Catholic vote in New York to the Republicans, but wanted one favor in return. He wanted his protege, Diem, in the Maryknoll Seminary to be put in charge of Vietnam, so to speak. I wonder, first, whether you found any evidence of that.

And, secondly, you referred to the fact that the British were very keen initially for us to support the French, but that turned quickly.

LOGEVALL: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, Anthony Eden begged Foster Dulles not to -- and Bedell Smith not to sabotage his Geneva Accords of '54 and even asked Eisenhower, please, not to appoint Dulles as secretary of state.

LOGEVALL: Yeah. Let me take those two first. I have not found evidence in terms of the '52 campaign any kind of agreement, quid pro quo or anything with respect to what would happen to Diem in terms of U.S. support. When Diem becomes the leader in '54, I think he does so -- at least in part -- because Bao Dai, the emperor, believed that he'll have American backing for this and that there has been pressure applied by -- at least implicitly -- by the United States on Bao Dai to appoint Diem. And I think Spellman and various other players are important in boosting him in that regard. And so the American connection, I think, is important. I don't know about that particular case.

Your second question was...

QUESTION: About the role of the British...

LOGEVALL: Oh, the British. Well, yeah, no question that -- a couple of chapters that I will confess I really enjoyed writing had to do with the feud between Dulles and Eden in the spring of 1954. And I think -- I think the British role -- one of the things we haven't talked about here, but I argue in the book that Eisenhower and Dulles came much closer to military intervention on behalf of the French than has been suggested. I think the evidence that I amassed tells me that they were really serious about this.

They did say, we're not going to do it without congressional backing, especially this soon after a truce in Korea. This would be a nonstarter. We have to have Congress onboard. Congress, I think, was willing to go along, provided that the British signed off. And so Eden and Churchill become crucial.

And one of the things that I detail is the very strong efforts by the Americans to get the British to agree. And Eden, some might say to his credit in historical terms, resists to the nth degree. And it's a really interesting personal feud between the two of them, because they come to dislike each other, I think, greatly, but also in terms of the relationship between the two governments.

The question about what Americans knew and didn't know, I think, is of profound importance. And McNamara is a very interesting figure in all of this, because I believe that McNamara privately was an early skeptic, precisely because he knew what was going on. I think even in late Kennedy -- so we're talking August, September, October '63, I think if you listen carefully on some of the Kennedy tapes, McNamara is really doubtful that this thing is going to go well. He says at one point in the tapes, "We need a way out of Vietnam."

So I think that he's actually very knowledgeable about the problems on the ground. And he's not alone. In fact, I think this is a theme in American officialdom in this period, including Lyndon Johnson himself, and we know this from the Johnson tapes. Kennedy, I think, is a skeptic, as I suggested earlier.

So when he comes here a few years ago to suggest that, you know, if only we had known, if only we had been aware and known our Vietnamese history, you know, I think he sells himself short in a very interesting way. But...

(LAUGHTER)

But in a self-serving way, because, in fact, Robert McNamara -- I'm not suggesting that they were experts on Vietnam or Vietnamese history, not at all. But believe me, they were not stupid. Believe me, they saw the problems that existed in political terms, in military terms, even with a major U.S. escalation.

I don't think Lyndon Johnson thought that the Americanization was going to work, and yet he did it. And we all know the result in terms of 58,000 American deaths, perhaps 3 million Vietnamese deaths. But your question is -- is of great importance. And they knew. They knew, both academics knew, but senior policymakers did.

ROSE: So, wait, let me just press you on that, because when you say they knew, they obviously knew that there were a hell of a lot of problems and challenges ahead. But I think there's a difference between saying...

LOGEVALL: Yes.

ROSE: ... they had a can-do spirit which somehow made them think that even in the face of all these challenges they could still somehow eke out a positive outcome, because we were different from the French or because we had more positive -- a can-do spirit or whatever, and saying they knew that it was going to be failure and they proceeded anyway, particularly because presumably they felt the domestic consequences of acknowledging it before everybody else acknowledged it would be disastrous.

LOGEVALL: Well, and I don't -- yes, good point.

ROSE: So which of those two is it?

LOGEVALL: I don't mean to say that they knew it was going to be a failure. "There is no way we can win this thing, but we're going to do it anyway." What -- I guess what I'm suggesting -- and it's a subtle distinction and an important one. I'm glad you said this -- I think it was about hope for them, not expectation. They hoped that these measures would work.

And they did have a feeling that these pajama-clad guerrillas, as they would have said, will not in the end be able to stand up to the might of the United States. I just don't sense great conviction in this -- in this. I think it was more a hope than an expectation. And they proceeded accordingly.

Now, you could say -- and one of them used the so-called good doctor analogy -- that you have to be seen as trying to save the patient -- in this case, South Vietnam -- even if the patient ultimately is going to die, you have to go in and see that you did all you could, in terms of global credibility terms. That, I think, entered into the picture, although even there I think there were more doubts among senior U.S. officials about the importance of the stakes.

Lyndon Johnson famously said in one of these tapes -- I'm sure you've heard it -- what the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What's it worth to this country? I don't think it's worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get out.

I think he -- I don't think that's just, you know, something he says because the person on the other line, that's what he wants to hear. I think that represents Johnson's position on this. And it's, I think, a troubling finding, given what then is about to happen.

ROSE: In the back there, yes, on the right?

QUESTION: You mentioned the importance of...

ROSE: Identification, please.

QUESTION: Sorry, Henry Breed. You mentioned the importance of Nixon winning in '68, and yet the length of time after that, when -- before America ultimately withdrew, do you think that that is a decision or would have -- and perceived as a decision that could only be taken in a second term?

LOGEVALL: Well, Gideon has written on this. I'd like to know what he thinks. I would say -- I would say that one of his concerns -- and I think there's good evidence for this. Again, I keep coming back to the tapes. And the tapes -- like any other source, the tapes have to be used with caution. I don't mean to attach undue importance to the tapes.

But one of the things that's nice about tapes is that politicians who may or may not forget that the tape is going will say things that they wouldn't put down on paper. You're not going to see a politician on paper generally say, "I'm going to do this, because if I don't, I won't be re-elected," or, "I'm going to postpone this for a second term."

We do get, I think, tantalizing hints in the tapes that Nixon doesn't want an agreement in Vietnam to happen too soon, because he worries that it'll affect his chances in '72, because things, as you know, are building up in '72 in advance of the election. And Kissinger's making progress in the negotiations. Nixon, I think, is worried about the timing of all of this and I think would like for there to be, generally speaking, a status quo.

He wants an agreement by then, I believe. I don't know if Gideon agrees. But I think he's concerned about those electoral implications, so I would at least say this, that he sees all Vietnam options through the lens of his election. That's arguably not as dramatic as it sounds; this is what politicians do; we shouldn't be, you know, shocked by this, as long as it's not the only thing that's motivating him. But I think he is thinking about it in -- yes, in second-term terms.

ROSE: I disagree slightly, in the sense that I think that you have to distinguish between the first Nixon strategy and the second Nixon strategy. He comes in thinking, like so many other presidents do, that if he just rejiggers things, he can actually achieve the goals his predecessors were trying to achieve with a different sort of set of strategic things. And Kissinger certainly thinks that he is a better negotiator and can do the results.

They realize by the fall of '69 that's not going to happen, and they really have this heart-to-heart thinking in the fall of '69 about what's going to happen next. And at that point, they put themselves on a glide path out.

I actually think he wanted substantially accomplished by the election so he can get credit in the run-up to the election that, look, I actually have gotten us out in a very Obama-esque kind of way, not so much the Vietnam Obama -- the Iraq Obama, but the Afghanistan -- look, I've put us on a glide path out. The details of when the final thing occurs, he wants it to occur sort of not so much before the election that any bad things that happen, happen right away, but they actually are trying to do that, and the details of how things play out, they would have been happy to have it happen in -- before the election in late '72, that Thieu does it.

The difference -- the real interesting question there is, what do think going to happen after the accords? And I think they don't actually -- they leave it open. For me, the key thing with the Paris Accords is the fight continues with the U.S. extricating itself, exactly, for example, as what's going to happen in Afghanistan. And the interesting question there is whether you could have had a significantly different outcome much earlier.

The reason I want him to write his book on the end of the war is, Fred thinks that you could have had a somewhat better -- an equal -- an outcome no worse than what you got much earlier. I just don't buy that, because I think all those -- and I think the people who think you could have gotten it, as they famously say, you could have gotten '73 in '69, are wrong. You could have gotten '75 in '69, but there was a chance that '73 wouldn't turn into '75.

And the interesting question that I want to see you write the book about is showing how you could have withdrawn substantially quicker in Nixon's first term and not produced '75 right away. And that's an interesting question.

But with that, let me just take one last question, and then we -- I'm sure he'll stay for a little bit more -- over here, and then we'll just finish up.

QUESTION: Thank you. Inger Elliott, IME Limited. I recently saw a documentary about the early days of -- or the late days of colonialism in Hanoi, everyone dressed in beautiful white and so forth, and everyone speaking French, et cetera, et cetera, leading up to Dien Bien Phu and to the end of Dien Bien Phu, with the French soldiers being marched off, and the narrator saying, "And what was left, of course, were all the armaments which, of course, the Americans had provided." Was that true?

LOGEVALL: Well, the first thing I would say is that I'm interested in this documentary. I don't think I know about this documentary, so if I could -- it sounds really interesting.

Oh, no question that there were huge amounts of armaments really throughout Indochina -- so we're not talking just about Vietnam, which the French had divided into three sections, Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina -- there's also a lot of French armaments supplied in many cases by the Americans in Cambodia and Laos. And that's something that the French and also their American advisers grapple with and have to figure out how to deal with.

A lot of that weaponry comes into then the hands of the North Vietnamese military after the agreements. And some of it is used a decade later against Americans, no question, and before then is used against Vietnamese revolutionaries or against the Diem regime's forces, the so-called ARVN, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, even in the late '50s and early 1960s. So there's a lot of weapons, no question.

ROSE: To paraphrase a comment of Jon Stewart's on "The Book of Mormon," this book is so good, it makes me angry.

(LAUGHTER)

With that, we're going to close. Let me just say that, since there are so many questions, that we can continue. I'm going to hereby propose from the platform to the council hahum (ph) that are here that, you know, it would be entirely appropriate to do a Arthur Ross Book Award Winner Book Club, because the books that we have been giving this prize to are so damn good that they cannot be contained -- the discussion about them can't be contained in one session with the author. And I would be happy to help coordinate an ongoing, you know, special award committee book club.

(APPLAUSE)

Anyway, Fred Logevall, "Embers of War." Thank you.

LOGEVALL: Thank you.

More on This Topic

Audio

The Decline and Fall of Colonial Vietnam

Speaker: Fredrik Logevall

Fredrik Logevall, winner of the 2013 Arthur Ross Book Award, discusses his prize-winning book, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the...

Op-Ed

Robot Wars

Author: Micah Zenko
Politico Magazine

In the debut issue of Politico Magazine, Micah Zenko discusses the current drone market and implications of inevitable proliferation of armed...