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American Wars, American Peace

By: Philip D. Beidler
Reviewed by: David T. Morgan
University of Georgia Press, 2007
$28.95, Hardcover

In this book Philip Beidler emphasizes that one cannot discuss war without also discussing politics, since it is politicians who lead the American citizenry into conflict. He raises a question about “misperceptions and outright falsehoods brought forth to justify large-scale military commitment ….” He cites Congress’ dutiful response to President Lyndon Johnson’s “carefully orchestrated pretext of alleged attacks…in the Gulf of Tonkin” and President George W. Bush’s shaky claims to Iraq’s having weapons of mass destruction as examples of making war under false pretenses.

Beidler is particularly interested in the Vietnam War, because he served in it as a junior officer. In his view, the war was conducted largely by incompetent “squad leaders in the sky,” circling around in helicopters in their “clean fatigues” with “mapboards and grease pencil,” and this frequently caused “command gridlock.” Sometimes, it even provoked officers on the ground to resort to “open insubordination.” Beidler believes there were only a few air mobile officers who worked effectively with troops on the ground.

In general, the author is down on politicians and presidents from Kennedy to the present. Beidler’s view of JFK is surprising, since he originally bought into the New Frontier and Kennedy’s vision for America—even the Vietnam War. Eventually, though, Beidler lived long enough “to find out how completely…cynical he [Kennedy] was about himself and the packaging job and everything else he moved Americans of my generation to do in the world…. Our
philosopher-king turns out to have been nothing of the kind.” In a word, according to Beidler, Kennedy was the consummate phony.

The rage Beidler has toward devious politicians is also extended to “people who don’t [care] about the war as long as it’s not their kid or the price of gas doesn’t spike too badly or they don’t see too many disturbing things on the evening news while they try to eat supper.” His sympathies clearly lie with American soldiers who are sent to die while men like President Bush prance “around in a flight suit on the deck of an aircraft carrier.”

No reader can doubt Beidler’s patriotism—or his cynicism. Thoughtful Americans who refuse to endorse every governmental policy will appreciate this fascinating book. Super patriots are more likely to look askance at it.

David T. Morgan is a retired history professor from the University of Montevallo and is author of a number of books and articles.

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