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Argument Without End:
Between 1995 and 1998, Robert S. McNamara led a series of blunt conversations between American and Vietnamese scholars and officials. "The discussions were frank and tough throughout, as befits the first-ever discussion by former enemies of this tragic war," writes McNamara, author of the controversial bestseller In Retrospect and the U.S. secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968. "Had this dialogue occurred in real time, rather than in retrospect, I believe the tragedy could have been prevented." That's probably an overstatement, but it's a useful starting point for this inquiry, in which many contributors probe the causes of the war and try to draw lessons from them.
The structure of Argument Without End is unconventional, with McNamara writing introductions and conclusions to most of the chapters, which sometimes read like excerpts of transcripts and often like pieces of analytical history. Readers will get the sense of observing a graduate-level seminar on the war, with some of its most knowledgeable participants and critics making presentations. The result is a provocative text eager to challenge assumptions. McNamara's presence hangs over everything--this really is his book, despite the numerous coauthors sharing credit--and his sense of optimism is eerie. "Both Hanoi and Washington could have accomplished their purposes without the appalling loss of life," he writes. A statement like that shows 20/20 hindsight, yet it's an awfully candid remark from a man who had much to do with America's humiliation in Southeast Asia. This is an important contribution to our understanding of that terrible conflict. --John J. Miller [via]