A new biography considers what might have been in Indochina

BOOKS-VIETNAM-600x315Charles Trueheart at The American Scholar:

A half century on, the Vietnam reckoning continues. The recent Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary and a yearly tide of books challenge us to think about America’s fateful descent into a war it had every reason to know was a bad idea. And the choices political leaders made—or had forced upon them, by their lights—elicit from historians a fascination with might-have-beens, prophets without honor, roads not taken.

Max Boot’s Cassandra was Edward Geary Lansdale. A California advertising man, he was recruited into the OSS during World War II and served in the CIA, under military cover, through its early Cold War glory days. Boot calls his subject a “covert warrior,” except that covert no more describes Lansdale’s style than collegial or consensual. Only his paymaster remained a secret.

Trim and mustached, artless and idealistic, Lansdale beguiled a generation of politicians, Asian and American, with his plainspoken nostrums for meeting unconventional threats posed by communist insurgencies. He was a patron saint of the hearts-and-minds school of warfare.

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