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Max Boot Resurrects the Lansdale Legend

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, Max Boot, Liveright, 768 pages [1]

Max Boot is a journalist, historian, and unabashed imperialist. Not long after 9/11, but prior to the invasion of Iraq (which he enthusiastically promoted), Boot took to the pages of The Weekly Standard to make “The Case for American Empire.” The unvarnished title was aptly chosen. “Afghanistan and other troubled lands,” Boot wrote with trademark insouciance, “today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” The moment had arrived for self-confident Americans to heed the charge of Rudyard Kipling a century prior: to take up the “White Man’s Burden,” guiding “silent, sullen peoples” from darkness into light, from backwardness and oppression toward freedom and democracy.

To my knowledge, events since that essay appeared in October 2001 have not persuaded Boot to revise his views. He remains today a staunch proponent of empire, even if the term itself has since fallen from favor. Whether this qualifies as evidence of principle or madness is a matter of taste, I suppose.



In that regard, Boot’s new book comes as something of a curiosity. In recent years, he has taken considerable flack for his stubborn bellicosity. One might think that he would take on his critics, rebutting those who judge Boot-supported post-9/11 misadventures, especially the Iraq war, as needless, costly, and counterproductive. Instead, in The Road Not Taken, Boot trains his sights on an earlier needless, costly, and counterproductive war: Vietnam.

Based on truly prodigious research and written with exemplary clarity, the resulting account is both long and generously padded with extraneous material. Yet the argument Boot makes is commendably straightforward: The United States need not have succumbed to defeat in Vietnam. Failure was self-imposed. From the very beginning, the recipe for victory was at hand, if only the big shots in Washington and Saigon had heeded the sage advice of Edward Lansdale, a once-legendary, then-controversial, and now largely-forgotten ad-man-turned-CIA-operative. Lansdale had the answer: winning hearts and minds.

Boot’s admiration for his hero is boundless. He describes Lansdale as “a shrewd observer and operator,” “canny strategist,” “virtuoso politico-military adviser,” “master of political warfare and propaganda,” “master of psychology,” “counterinsurgent par excellence,” and “singular visionary.” His record of accomplishment, writes Boot, was “rivaled only by that of T.E. Lawrence.”

The comparison with Lawrence is especially telling. Since bursting onto the world scene a century ago, the British archaeologist-turned-soldier has become an object of fascination for romantics swept up by the imagery of a single charismatic figure, unconstrained by orthodoxy, transforming entire societies, and redirecting the course of world history. The Road Not Taken is the legend of T.E. Lawrence transported to Southeast Asia.

That said, the resulting book bears as much resemblance to the reality of the Vietnam War as David Lean’s famous 1962 film does to the actual events that occurred on the Arabian Peninsula during World War I. Lean employed wide-angle lenses and a sweeping score to create his mythic Lawrence. Boot relies on analogous literary techniques to create a mythic Lansdale. Given a choice, I prefer the movie.

Like Lawrence, Lansdale was more than a little odd. A hail fellow well met who possessed a salesman’s store of self-confidence, he developed an absolute certainty that he could, as Boot puts it, “transform Pacific societies to live up to American ideals.” Although he spent years serving in Asia, Lansdale spoke no languages other than English. Able to charm Asians of whatever station in life, he exhibited a remarkable ability to annoy and alienate his American superiors. While nominally married to an older American woman whom he rarely saw, but wrote to regularly, he strung along a Filipina mistress who exhibited Job-like patience and was also the recipient of letters expressing Lansdale’s undying devotion.

“Overcome evil with good,” according to Boot, was Lansdale’s “unspoken mantra throughout his years on the front lines of the Cold War” (emphasis in the original). Boot wants to persuade readers that if senior policymakers had recognized Lansdale’s unique capacity to overcome evil with good, the United States might well have prevailed in Vietnam.

In all, The Road Not Taken consists of 37 chapters. Yet discard the filler and you’re left with four substantive episodes. Label them Success, Delusion, Fantasy, and Humiliation.

“Success” describes Lansdale’s mission to the Philippines from 1950 through 1953. He had served in the archipelago at the end of World War II, falling in love with the place and its people. Now as an employee of the recently-created CIA, his task was to prevent the newly independent nation, threatened by Huk insurgents, from falling to communism.

Upon arriving in Manila, Lansdale quickly identified defense minister Ramon Magsaysay as the most formidable figure in the Philippine government. Playing “the role of a Boss Hague or Rasputin,” as Boot puts it, Lansdale worked assiduously to cultivate and befriend Magsaysay and help him formulate a sound counter-guerrilla strategy. The strategy worked, the Huk rebellion withered and, with Lansdale maneuvering Magsaysay into the presidency, the Philippines remained in the American orbit. This was no small achievement, even if the Cold War-era Philippines did not exactly qualify as a liberal democracy.

Exhibiting more than a tad of ethnocentrism, Boot allocates the lion’s share of credit for this accomplishment to his fellow countryman. “Magsaysay did pretty much everything that Lansdale wanted,” he writes. The creativity and insights were Lansdale’s, with the accommodating Magsaysay smart enough to defer to his American comrade. One imagines Filipino historians taking umbrage with that interpretation, as would Americans if some French historian credited Lafayette with securing American independence just because he befriended and advised General Washington.

Nonetheless, Lansdale’s triumph in the Philippines created expectations that he might repeat his magic elsewhere. In 1954, the CIA dispatched him to South Vietnam where, according to Boot, Lansdale was “charged with accomplishing an act of state creation armed with little more than his wits.”

The credibility of Boot’s entire argument, both in depicting Lansdale as an unappreciated genius and in insisting that the Vietnam War was winnable, rests here: on making a persuasive case that during his brief two-year stint in Saigon during the mid-1950s Lansdale succeeded in making the Republic of Vietnam a viable nation-state.

Unfortunately, where The Road Not Taken needs to be the strongest, it is weakest.

What makes a state viable? Among the essential qualities are these: legitimacy, that is, broad public acceptance of the existing political order; a constitution, whether written or unwritten, that prescribes basic political norms and responsibilities, while guaranteeing individual rights; a court system that enforces the rule of law; mechanisms to limit corruption; effective security forces; civilian control of the military; and processes to provide for the peaceful transfer of power.

In 1954, South Vietnam possessed none of these. Neither did it in 1956 when Lansdale departed. Indeed, Boot never suggests otherwise, even while blandly endorsing Lansdale’s own claim that “the secret mission he had been given by [CIA director] Allen Dulles—to build a viable South Vietnamese state as an anti-Communist bulwark in Southeast Asia—had been accomplished.” Yet this is on a par with President Trump claiming to have attracted the largest ever Inaugural Day crowd in U.S. history: the evidence says otherwise.

What Lansdale actually accomplished was to avert (temporarily) the overthrow of South Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. Upon his arrival in Saigon, Lansdale had quickly identified Diem as the most formidable figure on the local political scene. As he had with Magsaysay, he immediately set out to cultivate and befriend the prime minister, while selling Diem on a strategy that he insisted would win him the support of the South Vietnamese people.

With his government dependent on U.S. funding to survive, Diem went through the motions of playing along, signing off on a Lansdale-drafted plan of “National Security Action (Pacification).” Yet the obstacles to the implementation of that plan were monumental, not least because the dour, stubbornly nationalistic Diem differed considerably from the honest and agreeably pliable Magsaysay.

In fact, as Boot’s own account demonstrates, Lansdale’s most noteworthy achievement was to help suppress the various sects and militias, both in Saigon and out in the countryside, whose leaders had no intention of taking their marching orders from Diem. This involved not winning hearts and minds but employing bribery, assassination, and large-scale violence to eliminate Diem’s political adversaries. In prosecuting this dirty internal war, Lansdale helped mightily. Yet the upshot was not to foster democracy, but to deepen Diem’s authoritarian tendencies.

“By saving Diem from his enemies in Saigon and Washington,” Boot writes, “Lansdale had made a powerful and on balance positive impact on the course of Vietnamese history.” Boot provides not a shred of evidence to sustain this extraordinary claim. Lansdale’s impact on the course of Vietnamese history during his mid-1950s tour of duty proved to be superficial and transitory, hardly more than a sneeze or a hiccup. To fancy otherwise, as apparently Lansdale himself did, is to succumb to a vast “Delusion.”

The third major episode in Lansdale’s career makes it even more difficult to buy Boot’s depiction of him as a politico-military genius. In 1961, after the humiliating defeat of U.S.-supported anti-Castro forces at the Bay of Pigs, Lansdale found himself assigned to serve as operations chief of Operation Mongoose, the Kennedy administration’s covert program of dirty tricks intended to get rid of Fidel Castro once and for all. Here was a “Fantasy” if there ever was one, and Lansdale was in the thick of it from the beginning.

If Lansdale believed in overcoming evil with good, as Boot contends, Mongoose found him suspending that conviction. Whatever one’s judgment of the Cuban revolution, Mongoose entailed a campaign of sabotage, terrorism, and attempted assassination. It was illegal, immoral, and profoundly stupid. Not so incidentally, it contributed to Castro’s willingness to station Soviet nuclear forces on Cuban soil.

As principal orchestrator of this bizarre enterprise, Lansdale designed a package of nefarious activities projected to culminate in October 1962 with Castro being gone for good. The project, which even Boot describes as “delusional,” came nowhere close to succeeding. When Lansdale’s self-imposed deadline arrived, Castro remained firmly in power, and Kennedy was grappling with a missile crisis that his own folly had helped instigate.

Boot explains Lansdale’s participation in this bizarre enterprise—which among other things envisioned using biological and chemical agents to sicken Cuban farm workers and thereby “induce failure in food crops”—by lamely suggesting that Lansdale had “succumbed to the temptation to tell his superiors what they wanted to hear.” Here is an alternative explanation: Lansdale willingly embraced the reckless zealotry then running rampant through the higher precincts of the Kennedy administration. Boot also insists, “It was unfair to blame Edward Lansdale for not toppling Castro.” Maybe so, but his role in Mongoose makes it impossible to accept Boot’s description of Lansdale as wise or well-intentioned or even minimally competent.


Undaunted by the failure of Mongoose, Lansdale moved on. In 1965, he returned to South Vietnam for a second tour, the last major episode of his career. By now Diem had been overthrown and murdered. U.S. combat troops were arriving in large numbers. Although commanders like General William Westmoreland paid lip-service to winning hearts and minds, the name of the game was now body count.

Lansdale’s assignment was to serve as “chairman of the U.S. Mission Liaison Group to the Secretary General of the Central Rural Reconstruction Council,” the length of his title inversely proportional to the authority he wielded. In his Saigon villa, he hosted a salon of sorts, complete with plenty of booze and musical entertainment. No one gave better parties. Yet neither U.S. officials nor their Vietnamese counterparts took Lansdale’s ideas seriously. Hearts and minds had fallen from favor. The high point of his tour came after the 1968 Tet Offensive when he proposed a PR campaign built around the battle cry “Remember Hue!” There were no takers.

In truth, Lansdale’s job was akin to running the EPA during the administration of Donald Trump. He accomplished nothing. Nor, it seems likely, was he expected to. For “a ‘king-maker’ who had previously molded entire countries”—the words are Boot’s, but they accurately summarize Lansdale’s self-image—the result can only be described as “Humiliation.” In June 1968, with the war now all but lost, Lansdale left South Vietnam for good. Few took notice.

How had things gone so disastrously wrong? Boot endorses Lansdale’s conviction that in assenting to Diem’s removal, the United States had committed an irretrievable error. He also agrees with Lansdale’s critique of Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” strategy as radically ill-advised. Yet these do not qualify as novel judgments, to put it mildly.

What neither Lansdale then nor Boot today offers is an alternative course of action that amounts to more than reciting platitudes. Given actually existing conditions in mid-1960s South Vietnam, with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces gaining strength and the South Vietnamese government and army flailing about ineffectually, we may doubt that even T.E. Lawrence could have salvaged the situation.

At any rate, Lansdale was now finished. Back in Washington and retired from government service, he penned a dishonest memoir, which was savagely reviewed and sold poorly. When his wife passed away, he finally made an honest woman of his longtime lover. From time to time, he wrote articles or floated proposals to U.S. officials in hopes of getting back in the game. No one paid him any attention. He died in 1987.

As a postscript to his account, Boot appends a call for “Lansdalism in the Twenty-First Century.” If the ranks of the United States government today were to include people with Lansdale’s qualities—“soldiers who would interact on a sympathetic basis with embattled societies and spread the gospel of freedom”—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he believes, might well have come out differently. With jodhpurs and pith helmets back in fashion, the empire could revive, bigger and better than before.

Well, as Jake Barnes says to Lady Brett at the end of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Andrew J. Bacevich is TAC’s writer-at-large.

42 Comments (Open | Close)

42 Comments To "Max Boot Resurrects the Lansdale Legend"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 15, 2018 @ 11:12 pm

good grief . . . Col/Dr. Bacivich are you still on about losing a war we didn’t lose – stop it


#2 Comment By Allenbard Woodison On March 16, 2018 @ 12:51 am

Diem was “overthrown and murdered” by agents of the U.S. government. The author omits this fact. Diem was assassinated just three weeks before JFK was murdered in Dallas.

#3 Comment By john On March 16, 2018 @ 1:26 am

Well of course he has to believe there is at least one way to win, otherwise the neocons would merely be proposing a series of hopeless losing wars, and who wants that.

If however we had tried Lansdale in Vietnam (I bet it wouldn’t have worked) Boot would have latched on to the path not taken as the correct path (boy that Westmoreland he had it right shame we didn’t try that)

#4 Comment By Crown Court On March 16, 2018 @ 3:14 am

A fine review. It would have been well crowned by mention of Lansdale’s implication in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, commentators on both left and right in America invariably throw a blanket over poor old JFK, for their respective reasons, and that is too bad.

In his book on Lansdale, Boot dismisses the allegations of L. Fletcher Prouty, who knew Lansdale well and believed his superior was not only in Dallas on 22 Nov 1963, but actually in Dealey Plaza at the time of the killing. Many high-level CIA operatives were proven to have been in Dallas on that fateful day, even though the CIA at the time was not allowed to operate within US borders, according to its charter. What were they all doing there? Lansdale was very likely one of them.

Boot is scathing of Prouty, who was not as good a writer as Boot and could have used an editor. He will always be best known as the character on whom ‘Man X’ (played by Donald Sutherland) was based in the Oliver Stone movie JFK, not for anything he actually wrote or said. But underlying the truths that Prouty tried to bring to light is an unavoidable and very disturbing fact: JFK’s assassination marked the moment when the US was politically transformed once and for all into a banana republic.

Dazzled by American achievements in technology, the human race as a whole has proven unable to grasp the essential third-worldism in which America’s socio-political culture is grounded. At the end of the day, Lansdale was just another American banana republican trying to create more banana republics far from home. Boot and others’ contempt for the naive Kennedy prevents them from seeing that. More’s the pity.

#5 Comment By Realist On March 16, 2018 @ 3:46 am

“If only we’d listened to an eccentric CIA operative, we might have won the Vietnam War.”

If we had stayed the hell out of the war it would not have been an issue.

#6 Comment By Moss Roberts On March 16, 2018 @ 9:29 am

So grateful to you for publishing this exercise in common sense. Neocons like Boot deserve a goodly share of the blame for the violence in the Middle East. So do their forerunners for the genocide in Indochina, which damaged America’s standing among nations. It is a sin to play games with the lives of others. Our government is neither exceptional nor indispensable and neither are our “values.” The constant reminders of all the bad things the Chinese have done, in no way justifies the militarist interventions of Washington.

#7 Comment By collin On March 16, 2018 @ 10:08 am

This sounds like a bunch of fan fiction of Lansdale legend and judging by his experience in Cuba, it would have failed in Vietnam as well. It is hard to win the hearts and minds with some CIA medicine show work that suddenly turn a nation in freedom loving capitalist. It might work with short goals like the Argo mission which helped rescue 8 Americans from Iran.

And consider the experience of East Europe that communism failed because the people no longer believed the ideology worked much better in the long run.

#8 Comment By Michael N Moore On March 16, 2018 @ 11:05 am

Our imperial adventures are all holding actions to maximize the extraction of wealth and military contracts. It is all just buying time at the cost of millions of lives.

#9 Comment By connecticut farmer On March 16, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

As Perry Como crooned “Dream Along With Me.”

Would somebody please give Max “the boot” and be done with it already?

#10 Comment By Old West On March 16, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

Empire building requires one major irreducible quality that Americans have thankfully never possessed: a stomach for the dirty busines of keeping uncooperative locals in line, sustained over many decades.

That the Max Boots of this world don’t understand this is a testament to their limited intelligence.

#11 Comment By Steve On March 16, 2018 @ 12:24 pm

On the 50th anniversary of the massacre at My Lai, the local paper mentions this in passing, focusing more on trade relationships. Not even a mention of the fall guy for that tragedy, or the role of the fake-news press in bringing it to light. It really makes the wishful counterfactuals seem pretty weak.

#12 Comment By Jake On March 16, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

Sounds like an evaluation of Ramon Magsaysay is in order. Maybe Ramon was the genius who gave Lansdale his vicarious hall.

#13 Comment By Jake On March 16, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

*halo, rather.

#14 Comment By Robert D. Crane On March 16, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

Lansdale was indeed an imperialist in the “best” British tradition, but, perhaps because of this, he was clever enough to advocate reversing the Communist slogan, “Defend the North, Liberate the South, and Unify the Nation”. Lansdale’s guideline for American strategy was, “Defend the South, Liberate the North and Unify the Nation”. The core dynamics of Vietnam after the French quit was nationalism, which moved front and center during the fight against the Japanese occupation. General Thi, who was the only Buddhist general in the south, and could have won an election to replace Ky by 99% to 1%, proved by an insurgency from northern Burma that it was easy to liberate a large swatch of Vietnam bordering China, with its own radio stations, schools, and village elections. This was headed by Tran Van Dinh, who was the youngest Vietnamese general against the Japanese. When the U.S. decided to stage an election for the presidency in the South, General Thi decided to run against the U.S. stooge, General Ky. The two were asked to meet at the Tran Sun Hut airbase, where Thi was immediately captured by the CIA and flown to America. He tried to return twice but was arrested as soon as he landed in Vietnam. The U.S. has been repeating this same disastrous policy for 17 years in Central Asia today by opposing the nationalist movement of the Pushtuns, otherwise known as the Taliban, who for centuries were the major nation there. The Brits split Pushtunistan between the new country of Pakistan and the new artificial country of Afghanistan, but the Pushtuns will never give up their national liberation struggle. And then we have, raq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and now Yemen, where we try either to force pre-existing nations into an artificial sovereign state by so-called “nation-building” or do the opposite by trying to split organic nations into two artificial states. Trying to do the same thing over and over without success is called insanity.

#15 Comment By Rick Johnson On March 16, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

Could we have won? Did we actually win and then give it away? I left in1970 after 3rd. mil/civ tour.

But look at a map and consider the Krulak recommendation. North agreed they could not have won if we had followed.

Does anyone have a stgrategic view of the war, much less the grand-strategic environment then?

#16 Comment By jon On March 16, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

Sounds like this book belongs in the fiction section

#17 Comment By humpty On March 16, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

Calling Max Boot a journalist is an insult to all real journalists (not that there’s too many of those left in America.)

#18 Comment By Charlieford On March 16, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

Has the US ever successfully prosecuted a war in a 3rd world nation that was previously colonized by Europeans (or where colonization had been attempted)? The Philippines is probably the closest we came.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 16, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

“That the Max Boots of this world don’t understand this is a testament to their limited intelligence.”

I think this is accurate. But Vietnam was not about owning S. Vietnam as a colonial outpost. That is often the contend advanced in discussions about Vietnam. But i think that is an absolute spot on understanding of the men we send to fight. They carry with them an ethic that for most does not include the level of brutality required to transform an entire society. And attempting to breed it by the excursions in the middle east and elsewhere will not succeed in my view.

But Vietnam for all of its pain and error was not the US attempt to beat democracy into the heads of the S. Vietnamese.

#20 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 16, 2018 @ 6:05 pm

“Does anyone have a strategic view of the war, much less the grand-strategic environment then?”

Laugh.. I won’t redebate much of the squirrelly comments here. But there are numerous articles on TAC with lengthy debates on our defense of S. Vietnam. If you care to look them up. You read several narratives on the grand strategic aims in Vietnam.

#21 Comment By JohnPerth On March 16, 2018 @ 6:50 pm

“Given actually existing conditions in mid-1960s South Vietnam, with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces gaining strength…”

With such a perverse view of facts, you ought to be able to identify fantasy when you see it!

Tet finished the Viet Cong, it was a desperate final all-in effort resulting in annihilation. After Tet the VC mostly consisted of North Vietnamese regulars in black pjs.

What Tet provided was the opportunity for the MSM to craft an image of disaster for the US, which for the venal was a great seller of newspapers and airtime, and for the left-leaning was a contribution to the North Vietnamese war effort, propaganda.

The USA won, then pulled out, then the decimated North military was rebuilt for a couple of years, then it re-invaded and was successful. If it defeated the USA it sure took a long time to move South and secure its new territory!

#22 Comment By ludo On March 16, 2018 @ 6:52 pm

Castro, that old Spanish crypto-Catholic, was brilliant, Lansdale, the WASP ‘supercapitalist,’ not so much.

#23 Comment By Whine Merchant On March 16, 2018 @ 7:09 pm

I propose that the US was never supposed to win in Viet Nam in the military sense. The Government was supposed to look like it was ‘doing something’ about ‘the red menace’. Camelot banished the extremism of McCarthy, but the unease about those pesky ‘reds’ was rekindled by Cuba, especially the Bay of Pigs. The Pentagon convinced the public and Congress that the invasion would have succeeded if the military had been allowed to assist [like Reagan in Granada]. The White House needed to put on a show of confronting ‘the reds’ and the farther from home, the better. Unfortunately, LBJ was so far out of that loop that he believed the propaganda, and saw military spending as a way to prop-up the economy as well as draft many of the underclass into something useful.

It was never supposed to be a clean victory, just a ‘police action’ with a Korea-like stand-off at the end.

Thank you –

#24 Comment By Antiwar7 On March 16, 2018 @ 7:56 pm

Which Lansdale?

1) The effective one?
2) The internally ruthless one?
3) The external saboteur and terrorist?
4) Or the ineffectual one, wasting public money?

And how can you know which one you’re going to get?

“Regime change”, as a strategy, works about as well as breaking an egg to create a new egg.

#25 Comment By len osanic On March 16, 2018 @ 8:33 pm

The Ballad of Ed Lansdale

#26 Comment By john macdonald On March 17, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

Old west, what do you think American Specops troops are doing in 132 countries? And it’s not a novel concept to imagine that the British didn’t think they had the stomach for such a dirty business as empire most surely was and is.

#27 Comment By Daniel Baker On March 17, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

So, just to be clear, Boot says the road to victory in Vietnam was to stand by Diem? That was the “road not taken”?

I think it would have been a good idea to at least discuss Boot’s reasons for believing that, although it sounds pretty dubious to me. My understanding was that by 1963 Diem had alienated essentially everyone, and that was why the Kennedy administration didn’t object when some of Diem’s generals asked what America would do if they deposed him. I don’t see how Diem was supposed to build a nation larger than his own family. But if Boot thinks otherwise, I’d at least like to know why.

#28 Comment By connecticut farmer On March 18, 2018 @ 11:11 am


These days anyone with an agenda is deemed a “journalist.”

#29 Comment By Rossbach On March 18, 2018 @ 1:48 pm

Neocons have a lot in common with Liberals. Their answer to every policy failure is to do more of what caused the original problem.

#30 Comment By Arnold Ian Reeves On March 19, 2018 @ 3:48 am

Diem was a real Catholic. So of course his very existence (and his family’s very existence) stuck in the craw of JFK, the quintessential fake Catholic.

Incidentally, despite or because of Madame Nhu’s obvious charm and good looks, JFK referred to her as a “g*ddamn b*tch.” If she had joined JFK’s harem, does anyone suppose that he would ever have been so insolent to her?

#31 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2018 @ 4:26 am

“The USA won, then pulled out, then the decimated North military was rebuilt for a couple of years, then it re-invaded and was successful.”

I think is spot on. And bravo to you — for having the courage to say so.

It would be nice to stop the the needless “self flagellation”, over Vietnam.

#32 Comment By bjdubbs On March 19, 2018 @ 4:34 am

Nobody reads Graham Greene these days, apparently. No mention of Greene in Boot’s book or Bacevich’s review, even though Lansdale was the model for The Quiet American.

#33 Comment By Fourth Force On March 19, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

“Nobody reads Graham Greene these days, apparently. No mention of Greene in Boot’s book or Bacevich’s review, even though Lansdale was the model for The Quiet American.”

Greene’s been cited quite a few times here over the years. Likely not mentioned in this context because Lansdale arrived a bit late to have been Greene’s model. The colonel in The Ugly (as opposed to Quiet) American is a possibility.

Of course Greene’s tagline “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused” applies nonetheless.

#34 Comment By Jim Feliciano On March 19, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

Max Boot, we hardly knew ye . . . but thanks for the laugh!


#35 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2018 @ 8:10 pm

I think it’s clear we can dispense with the term “neoconservative” and simply refer them as interventionists. As it’s clear political or ideological affiliation is no bar to being an advocate for “needless” intervention.

#36 Comment By less “specops” / more border cops On March 20, 2018 @ 6:29 am

John McDonald asks “what do you think American Specops troops are doing in 132 countries”

Who knows. But most are only posing as special operations troops. In our deteriorating 21st century US military, as in our deteriorating educational system, every child is special because every commander and parent wants them to be special, so “special” means “average”.

#37 Comment By Professor Nerd On March 21, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

Max Boot is dangerously delusional. I do give him some credit (just a tiny bit), however, for not having his finger in the wind like so many Republicans who change their minds based on the rantings of a reality-TV host.

#38 Comment By Michael Fumento On March 21, 2018 @ 4:11 pm

Very interesting review! I never heard of the guy! (Not Boot.) As to Vietnam, yeah we could have won if we hadn’t made the earlier mistakes. Tet and then mini-Tet left the communists utterly exhausted. But by then public opinion was turning.

That’s the nature of guerrilla wars. If the Brits had done X,Y, and Z they would have won against the patriots. They didn’t.

All that said, you usually become wiser with failure not with success. If we could have learned from Vietnam, it would not have been in vain. But Afghanistan indicates we did not.

#39 Comment By Chris H. in northern VA On March 23, 2018 @ 10:17 pm

“…we might have won the Vietnam war”…? I urge readers to consult any source, including google, on Vietnam’s millenium preceding the US involvement there. From around 1000 AD until the French arrived with ‘modern’ weapons the Vietnamese fought off almost continuous efforts of China to swallow Vietnam. Yes, for over 800 years! The French took Saigon in 1859, but didn’t “control” all of Vietnam until the 1880s, and yet for the next half-century the Vietnamese did not acquiesce; large parts of the country remained outside French control. When the Japanese supplanted the French in the ’30s, a stubborn resistance continued, although the harsh treatment of the ‘conquerors’ limited its level of activity. After WW II, the Vietnamese briefly could claim independence, but the US backed the return of the French, triggering another ten years of vigorous Vietnamese efforts resulting in a convincing military victory.
So wouldn’t it have been reasonable for US military and CIA analysts with the barest knowledge of the previous Vietnamese history to consider that the people of Vietnam might continue as they had for a thousand years, resisting any and all foreign intervention. Today we shudder at the 17 year quagmire we have found ourselves in in several nations of the Middle East. But had we not brought our “boys” and our hardware home in the early and mid ’70s we would by now be entering the 7th decade of an unwinnable war to subjugate a people whose deepest urge was to protect their independence. Fortunately domestic voices of reason (and the financial and human costs of the war) gradually persuaded our “leadership” to cut our losses after ‘only’ two decades- from our abrogation of the Geneva agreements in 1956 till our final withdrawal in 1975. Lesson learned? Well, it seems not, as evinced in the Middle East.

#40 Comment By Douglas Baker On March 24, 2018 @ 9:36 pm

Listen to Max Boot tout his book upstairs in the new San Francisco Commonwealth Club in conversation with the club’s president. Little of substance said. Author Boot could function as a rewrite heavy hand at any of the Unite States monopoly media outlets as though the cleaning crew at a crime scene with the murdered victim’s murders and those that purchased them, invisible, as was the case with the Dallas death of President Kennedy, November 22, 1963, with Lansdale as witness to the crime, with the official crime scene report, “The President’s Commission of the Assassination of President Kennedy” still touted as trump. Just as the United States clandestine services were able to monetize recovered stolen property take by The Third Reich (with some restored to surviving victims or their heirs), property stolen by the late Japanese Emperor with his kin supervising the extraction (with not returned to the victims), an opportunity to open secret Swiss bank accounts was taken, with “mad money” available for off the books black ops working like world wide pirates with Lansdale as participant. Boot ignores this.

#41 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 25, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

“So wouldn’t it have been reasonable for US military and CIA analysts with the barest knowledge of the previous Vietnamese history to consider that the people of Vietnam might continue as they had for a thousand years, resisting any and all foreign intervention.”

With just a little hicup that tumbles your rhetoric into a hap of humprty dumpty.

South Vietnamdesired to remain S. Vietna. their choice our aide made that a real possibility. And that against the communist desires of China, Russia and North Vieth Vietnam.

Since the US was not occupying a hostile state, it’s safe to say while cultural knowledge would have been helpful. It wasn’t necessary, the US was not ever going to establish S. Vietnam as a colony.

But your contention does make sense when consideriung that shortly after the North defeated S. Bientnam they commenced persecuting and “cultural chinese” in Along the border regions and lo and behold ended up in a war with China — again.

And now they want our capital markets to reboot their communist economy devastated not by war, but by communist reeducation and purging. A primary reason — because they are afraid of the growing power of China that may decide they have had enough of Vietnamese maltreatment of the Chinese living in Vietnam.

it’s not hard to imagine how this would be a minimal issue had they not violated every peace agreement since the 1950’s.

Given that the Vietnam culture seems heck bent on being dishonest brokers, the impact of cultural understanding would be but of little use. They don’t honor agreements with each other, it’s hard to see how cultural knowledge would have matters. All one need have a history of how Soviet and Chinese communism evolved and was implemented to to know what communist Vietnamese intended for their fellows.


I guess now we know. The former protesters of Vietnam war are not going to cleanse their error by making war elsewhere in the name of democracy and this on people who apparently aren’t interested in democracy as we see it.

We did not stoke a war in Vietnam. We went to the aide on a war forced by communist Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union.

Quite a different matter.

#42 Comment By Paul On July 17, 2018 @ 10:05 am

Just one small thing. I didn’t get the impression, after reading only the first 80-85 pages, that Lansdale was essentially or at bottom an imperialist.

His concern for the Huk warriors in the Philippines, at least, was based on his — I think genuine — concern for economic conditions among agricultural workers which bordered on feudal. His concern to counter “terrrorism” took into account the political and historical basis of the society in which he was then operating.

What this might say about the rest of his involvement in SE Asia I cannot say.

And it is important to note that Lansdale can be quoted as telling his superiors that the Viet Nam war would be well-nigh unwindable, given the morale of the North Vietnamese.