Beyond America: Russell Freedman’s Vietnam
Vietnam: A History of the War
By Russell Freedman
The incomparable Russell Freedman untangles the Vietnam War and follows its aftermath to the present day.
If I thought my knowledge of the war in Vietnam was sufficient enough, Russell Freedman certainly proved me wrong. In his latest title for young readers and up, Vietnam: A History of the War, the much-honored Freedman expertly weaves the entire history of the Vietnam conflict (war was never officially declared; who knew?). That includes before, during, and after American involvement, all the way to the present day. Freedman writes in such a way that makes this confusing conflict accessible not just to its intended audience but perplexed adults as well.
The narrative begins at the end of World War II and the great hopes and dreams a young Ho Chi Minh had for his country. Freedman continues with French colonialism and Vietnam’s persistent fight for independence. U.S. involvement really began with President John F. Kennedy sending military advisers, in addition to 400 Green Berets, “to help train the South Vietnamese army in counterinsurgency warfare.” It seemed a smart strategy, but wound up leading to more and more American troops being sent over to the conflict.
Outside of Vietnam itself, Freedman discusses the antiwar movement back in the States. “It was a time of turbulence on the one hand, but also a period in which citizenship took on the form of real action,” he quotes one war protester.
The Vietnam timeline runs through five American presidencies, from FDR to Richard Nixon. Freedman goes so far as to detail current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam through President Obama’s meeting at the White House with the head of Vietnam’s Communist Party in the summer of 2015. Obama himself noted “the remarkable progress that’s taken place in the relationship between our two countries over the last twenty years.” This peaceful reconciliation is perhaps the biggest takeaway from Freedman’s Vietnam: A History of the War.
With his simple writing style, Freedman creates a narrative that is detailed and engaging. The images throughout Vietnam assist with understanding the conflict, particularly a diagram of the domino theory that was so prevalent in U.S. doctrine. The back matter includes a detailed timeline, glossary, and selected bibliography. In summary, Freedman takes an all-encompassing approach to the war in Vietnam—considering all sides and angles, from the very beginning to the bitter end and the aftermath.