In an afterward to David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War,” Russell Baker wrote that Halberstam was “constantly trying to understand why a nation with such high aspirations, led by the most excellent people, so often ended up in one quagmire or another.”
Halberstam, best known for “The Best and the Brightest” about how we got bogged down in Vietnam, says that domestic political accusations against Truman of appeasing Communists by not sending troops to China — long before they crossed into Korea — to prevent Mao Zedong’s peasants from overthrowing Chiang Kai-shek’s corrupt regime indirectly played a role in Lyndon Johnson’s decision to dramatically expand American involvement in Vietnam.
Johnson never thought Vietnam was strategically important and knew the majority of Americans opposed the war, but did not want to suffer Truman-like accusations of appeasing Communists.
LBJ made no distinction between Communism as a monolithic force versus nationalistic issues in individual countries.
Because of politics-driven paranoia about Communism, the U.S. never understood the tensions between the Soviet Union and China, nor China and North Vietnam.
Beyond the horrific bloodshed in a civil war actually driven by anti-Colonial-rule and internal dynamics, the greatest American casualty in Vietnam — sacrificed for political reasons while our real enemies cheered our quagmire — was comprehension.