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The Path to Vietnam: a Lesson in Involvement

This paper provides an analysis of the book “The path to Vietnam: a lesson in involvement” written by William P. Bundy in 1967. It is necessary to underline that it is a speech presented by William P. Bundy as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs describing the U.S. policies affecting Vietnam. The book is divided into the concise chapters covering French attempts to restore and set the colonial control, the competition between the communist North Vietnam and nationalist South Vietnam and international forces that were present on the political stage, the attitude that the United States imposed to the Soviet Union and Chinese communist threat. 

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The author classifies all actions and main ten policy efforts taken by the U.S. and distinguishes the main phases and the most critical steps. It is necessary to underline that the most important question that “permeates” every chapter of the book is the question of the self-determination and independence in the South-East Asia. Moreover, the author describes U.S. involvement in the political, economic and military realms as the desire to prevent the threat to the national security and the possible activation of the Communist regime in the world beginning the South-East Asia.

The author of the book was foreign affairs adviser to Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, a member of Central Intelligence Agency, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs.  Moreover, he is considered to be the main player in planning the Vietnam War. Therefore, this book is written based on his deep understanding of the processes in foreign relations with Vietnam.

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Regarding the question whether the author tries to influence the reader to have a specific opinion or not, it is important to recognize the following. From the beginning of the book, the author states that it is not his power, right and responsibility to justify and defend actions taken before 1961, but he considered their description and explanation as necessary prerequisites for the understanding of a decision-making process in the period after 1961.

Despite the fact that the author constantly reminds his unwillingness and no right to comment on the political decisions of the Presidents, he still focuses on those moments where historians misinterpret certain decisions. Thus, not intrusively but firmly, he tries to shape readers’ opinions about the decisions that have been taken. For instance, he indicates inaccuracies in interpreting the fact that the USA considers the Soviet Union and China as an identical threat, in particular forces the reader not to believe that “Soviet Union was still united with Communist China and North Vietnam in a single Communist threat to the world” (Bundy, 1967, p.6).

The most significant and interesting thing that I have learned from reading this book was the interpretations given by the author relating to the fact that all historians report. It is the fact that the USA began the war in Vietnam by itself. Bundy gave facts-denial about the invasion of North Vietnam’s regiments on the territory of South Vietnam and other supportive information. Moreover, it was a surprising fact that Bundy underlines that the biggest aggression and threat to the further spread of the communist regime the U.S. had only seen from the side of China and not the Soviet Union.

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I would recommend reading this book because it is written by one of the prominent adviser on foreign affairs to two Presidents. People who are interested in obtaining various interpretations of the events that took place before and after the U.S. direct involvement in the Vietnam War will value this book as a source of useful knowledge. It is composed in a chronological order with a clear description of the actions taken by the U.S. and the reasons for making such decisions. 

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