The Cold Warrior Who Never Apologized


Jonathan Stevenson in the NYT:

In his 1960 book “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto,” Rostow posited that robust growth was a nation’s best insurance against the political emergence of Communism, and cast growth as a multistage process that depended crucially on a “takeoff” period propelled by rapid expansion in key segments of an economy. Though criticized as tendentiously Western-centric, the book attracted Kennedy’s attention. In a matter of months, Rostow moved from holding forth in the academy to planning America’s strategy in Vietnam, tightly guided by his ideas about economic development.

Most leading civilian strategists, who were so inventive and authoritative on nuclear strategy, steered a safe middle course between withdrawal and escalation in Vietnam, and did not enunciate big strategic concepts to guide the prosecution of the war. Rostow was different. He believed that the Vietcong were impeding South Vietnam’s advancement to the takeoff stage, and that the United States therefore needed to expend all necessary military and diplomatic means to stop the Vietcong’s guerrilla infiltration. This was a neatly packaged but narrow vision that both opened the door to expansive military action but also reduced it to an adjunct of politics and economics.

More here.