Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

McAllister rips Caverley over shoddy scholarship in ‘Who Lost Vietnam?’

I’ve rarely seen as thorough a demolition job as the one done by Williams College political scientist James McAllister on an article by Jonathan Caverley, "The Myth of Military Myopia," that ran last year in International Security. McAllister’s article, "Who Lost Vietnam?: Soldiers, Civilians, and U.S. Military Strategy," is in the new (Winter 2010/11) issue ...

ArmyHeritage.org
ArmyHeritage.org
ArmyHeritage.org

I've rarely seen as thorough a demolition job as the one done by Williams College political scientist James McAllister on an article by Jonathan Caverley, "The Myth of Military Myopia," that ran last year in International Security. McAllister's article, "Who Lost Vietnam?: Soldiers, Civilians, and U.S. Military Strategy," is in the new (Winter 2010/11) issue of the same magazine, but I can't find it online for free.

Caverley, who now teaches at Northwestern University, argues that Gen. Westmoreland would have pursued a counterinsurgency strategy in Vietnam if only his civilian overseers had permitted him to do so. This would be an amazing revelation if it were true, of course. But Caverley, a former submariner, makes this case, McAllister charges, by confecting an argument out of a few bits of theories and misquoted documents, while ignoring a mountain of contrary evidence. (Hey, prof, that worked for the Bush administration in making a case for invading Iraq.…)

McAllister's bottom line:

I’ve rarely seen as thorough a demolition job as the one done by Williams College political scientist James McAllister on an article by Jonathan Caverley, "The Myth of Military Myopia," that ran last year in International Security. McAllister’s article, "Who Lost Vietnam?: Soldiers, Civilians, and U.S. Military Strategy," is in the new (Winter 2010/11) issue of the same magazine, but I can’t find it online for free.

Caverley, who now teaches at Northwestern University, argues that Gen. Westmoreland would have pursued a counterinsurgency strategy in Vietnam if only his civilian overseers had permitted him to do so. This would be an amazing revelation if it were true, of course. But Caverley, a former submariner, makes this case, McAllister charges, by confecting an argument out of a few bits of theories and misquoted documents, while ignoring a mountain of contrary evidence. (Hey, prof, that worked for the Bush administration in making a case for invading Iraq.…)

McAllister’s bottom line:

Ultimately, Caverley delivers a theoretical and historical synthesis that does not explain why the United States fought the way it did in Vietnam. The source of the problem is not hard to discern; his theoretical framework leads him to simplify and distort the history of the war. There is nothing inherently wrong in approaching the history of the Vietnam War armed with a simple and elegant theory. There is something wrong, however, in making the complex history of the war conform to that simple and elegant theory.

Tom again: One thing I learned by toiling as a reporter for 26 years is that there is always another side to the story, so I will invite Professor Caverley to respond to this, if he likes.

Update:
Here is a quick comment from Prof. Caverely:

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the charge of shoddy scholarship, defend my argument, and present elements of the historical record that back it up.  But for now, allow me to note that I have a response to Prof. McAllister in the same issue of International Security that does this at considerable length.

And he also generously has passed along a link to his original article. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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