MY EAGLE EYED E-PAL SOL S. ON BARBARA TUCHMAN—–“….. to Vietnam wherein she accepts every stupid false cliché of the time. http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Tuchman-s-folly-6466
Tuchman’s folly by Paul Johnson
A review of The March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman.
In The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, Barbara Tuchman discusses in detail four totally different and widely separated instances in which, she argues, foolish leadership produced disaster: the Trojan acceptance of the Trojan Horse, the handling of Protestantism by the papacy in the early sixteenth century, English policy during the American Revolution, and America’s conduct in Vietnam. These four instances are enveloped in a more general theoretical treatment of the role of folly in history. Thus, there are five areas in which to test the validity of the book. What I propose to do here is to examine only one of them in detail: the Vietnam experience, which (I imagine) provided Mrs. Tuchman with her chief motive in producing this work.
My old tutor A. J. P. Taylor used to say that the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons of history. If he believed that literally he would not, I think, have spent a lifetime writing and teaching history, for the object of studying history is not merely to discover what happened but to learn something about the nature of human societies, obviously with a view toward safeguarding or improving our own. To that extent I am with Mrs. Tuchman. Taylor’s real point, however, was the intrinsic difficulty of discovering true lessons and the obvious risks of applying false ones. Thus, Anthony Eden came to grief over Suez in 1956 because he applied a lesson—concerning the dangers of appeasement—wrenched out of its true historical and geographical context. Mankind is on a voyage from an irrecoverable past into an unknown future. All historical situations are unique and unrepeatable; they are usually complex too, and the more closely they are observed, the less easy does it appear to draw thumping great conclusions from them which can be applied elsewhere.
Mrs. Tuchman’s examination of American policy in Vietnam inclines one to endorse Taylor’s scepticism. It follows the conventional, not to say threadbare, lines which the liberal media developed in the 1970s: that American involvement in Vietnam was, ab initio, an error which compounded itself as it increased and was certain to fail all along. She thereby falls into a trap which a historian who seeks to draw lessons from the past should be particularly careful to avoid: to assume that what in the end did happen, had to happen. The inevitability of failure in Vietnam is a bad starting point from which to begin an analysis. It presupposes the same kind of determinism which infests Marxist history and which invalidates it as an objective re-creation of the past. Mrs. Tuchman appears to believe that the Marxist form of nationalism pursued by Ho Chi Minh and his associates was bound to triumph, that it was in some metaphysical sense an irresistible force. This seems to me a dangerous posture for a historian to adopt in general, and especially in this case, since she has considered only half the evidence. We do not know what happened on the other side of the hill, or how close Ho Chi Minh’s enterprise came to failure, as did similar ones in Malaysia and Burma. The sources are simply not available. The Allied expedition to the Dardanelles in 1915 seemed, immediately after it was abandoned, a foredoomed failure, “inevitable”; when the Turkish sources eventually became available, they suggested it might well have succeeded, if persisted in a little longer.