In this informative book, Stephen B Young makes a fulsome argument that Henry Kissinger abandoned our allies in Vietnam long before he negotiated the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.
As Richard Nixon’s national security advisor starting in 1969, the controversial Kissinger led the administration’s support for Nationalist South Vietnam in its defensive war against Communist North Vietnam. Young argues that Kissinger dishonorably abandoned our ally when he negotiated the Paris Accords, ending U.S. involvement in its proxy war with the Soviet Union, but knowingly setting the stage for the North to overpower the South within two years.
Young’s scholarly and nuanced explanation of the conflict, and important events that preceded and succeeded it, is grounded in first-hand knowledge and genuine care for Southeast Asian people. Married to a Vietnamese woman, the author is a Vietnamese-speaking regional expert who served as a U.S. diplomat during the war and later assisted with refugee resettlement.
Young writes with as much detail and enthusiasm about U.S. policy discussions as he does about the people and culture affected by them. He cites numerous official documents, frequently uses local terms like uy tin (trustworthiness), and references personal flaws and qualities of Vietnamese leaders. This adds richness to his analysis and helps readers empathize with both parties in this shaky alliance.
The book has a few flaws, as well. The author could have more clearly spelled out exactly what Kissinger could have done differently, and readers may not be entirely persuaded that Kissinger alone deserves singling out for betrayal. Young also displays a grudge against anti-war demonstrators at home and the left in general, which introduces some doubt into Young as a reliable narrator.
Young has had a productive and prolific career, and this is his third book about the region. Despite the issues noted, this is an excellent account for readers with all levels of knowledge of the region, and will be especially meaningful for Vietnamese-Americans.