In The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam described Rufus Phillips as a man one could trust telling President Kennedy during the Vietnam War about the failures of the Strategic Hamlet Program in the Delta, "in itself a remarkable moment in the American bureaucracy, a moment of intellectual honesty." With that same honesty, Phillips gives an extraordinary inside history of the most critical years of American involvement in Vietnam, from 1954 to 1968, and explains why it still matters. Describing what went right and then wrong, he argues that the United States missed an opportunity to help the South Vietnamese develop a political cause as compelling as that of the Communists by following a "big war" strategy based on World War II perceptions. This led American policy makers to mistaken assumptions that they could win the war themselves and give the country back to the Vietnamese. Documenting the story from his own private files as well as from the historical record, the former CIA officer paints striking portraits of such key figures as John F. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara, Henry Cabot Lodge, Hubert Humphrey, and Ngo Dinh Diem, among others with whom he dealt.
Phillips details how the legendary Edward G. Lansdale helped the South Vietnamese gain and consolidate their independence between 1954 and 1956, and how this later changed to a reliance on American conventional warfare with its highly destructive firepower. He reasons that our failure to understand the Communists, our South Vietnamese allies, or even ourselves took us down the wrong road. In summing up U.S. errors in Vietnam, Phillips draws parallels with the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests changes in the U.S. approach. Known for his intellectual integrity and firsthand, long-term knowledge of what went on in Vietnam, the author offers lessons for today in this trenchant account.
Rufus Phillips became a member of the Saigon Military Mission in 1954 and the following year served as the sole adviser to two Vietnamese army pacification operations, earning the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work. He later worked as a CIA civilian case officer in Vietnam and Laos, then joined the U.S. Agency for International Development's Saigon Mission to lead its counterinsurgency efforts. In 1964 he became a consultant for USAID and the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He lives in Arlington, VA.
View the author's webpage at: http://whyvietnammatters.com
"Why Rufus Phillips Matters" by George Packer The New Yorker, 10/9/09
"The Vietnam War Guide to Afghanistan" by Eric Etheridge, The New York Times, 10/12/09
Click here to read an article about the book in Small Wars Journal.
Praise for WHY VIETNAM MATERS
"A sobering read from a man who knows what he is talking about." —Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times
"Phillips's short chapter on lessons the U.S. should have learned from the Vietnam War should be mandatory reading in Washington, D.C." —Publisher's Weekly
"Why Vietnam Matters gives us a straightforward and hard assessment about U.S.successes and failures and is unblinking about Vietnam and our involvement there. But beyond that, the book closes with a tightlywritten evaluation of howthe lessons we should have learned during Vietnam might be applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. One can only hope those who might profit from these lessons read this book." —Robert Bateman, book review in Vietnam magazine by the author of The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War
"An extraordinary memoir and history that sheds fresh light on the American experience in Vietnam. A combination of personal experience and incisive analysis, Why Vietnam Matters illuminates the ideological, political, psychological, and human dimensions of the Vietnam War. Phillips makes an important contribution not only to understanding the Vietnam War, but also to understanding the complex conflicts in which the United States is engaged today." —H. R. McMaster, PhD, Colonel, U.S. Army, and author of Dereliction of Duty
"Why Vietnam Matters is in itself a lesson of what not to do today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and wars not yet imagined. . . . If you want to know why Vietnam matters, read this brilliant memoir and find out why those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to make the same mistakes, with much the same results, endlessly." —Joseph L. Galloway, nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of We Are Soldiers Still
"Phillips takes the reader into new firsthand accounts of his interactions with the legendary Edward Lansdale, President John F. Kennedy, South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem, the spy Pham Xuan An, and a veritable roll call of a generation's so-called best and brightest. Why Vietnam Matters may be the year's most important new book on the war because it adds to rather than repeats the historical ledger." —Larry Berman, professor of political science, University of California at Davis, and author of Perfect Spy
"This book is not just another Vietnam memoir. It is the personal history of a remarkable American who served in Vietnam from the early days of U.S. involvement. Rufus Phillips was one of the rare few who moved with ease between the Vietnamese countryside and the corridors of power in Saigon and Washington and who acquired a true appreciation of South Vietnam's social and political complexity. Many of the Americans and Vietnamese who appear in this book are familiar, but the stories that Phillips tells about them are full of new revelations and insights." —Edward Miller, assistant professor of history, Dartmouth College
"Rufus Phillips is widely known and admired as an iconic figure in the early days of pacification in Vietnam. Now, at long last, he has given us an authoritative, insightful, modest, and intensely interesting account of what was accomplished, and a saddening perspective on what might have been. In the flood of books on every aspect of the Vietnam War, this is one that will endure as among the most valuable, accurate, and important." —Lewis Sorley, author of A Better War