The Postwar Years 1945 To 1974

In his kaleidoscopic novel U.S.A., a trilogy published between 1930 and 1936, John Dos Passos offered a descriptive line that has always stayed with me. America, he wrote, is “a public library full of… dog-eared history books with protests scrawled on the margins.” Historical writing at its best is composed not only of facts but of thoughts and directions. And in this fastpaced country, where currents are very much subject to abrupt change, it is often hard for a history book to take root.Read more »

Anatomy Of A Crisis

Forty years ago the USS Maddox fought the first battle of America’s longest war. How it happened—and even if it happened—are still fiercely debated.

From the combat information center (CIC) of the Destroyer USS Maddox, Commodore John Herrick radioed: “Am being approached by high speed craft with apparent intention of torpedo attack. Intend open fire if necessary.” America claimed the Tonkin Gulf was international water; the North Vietnamese thought otherwise. Read more »

Airpower’s Century

Powered flight was born exactly one hundred years ago. It changed everything, of course—but most of all, it changed how we wage war.

Walter Boyne’s résumé makes for unusual reading. He is the author of 42 books and one of the few people to have had bestsellers on both the fiction and the nonfiction lists of The New York Times. A career Air Force officer who won his wings in 1951, he has flown over 5,000 hours in a score of different aircraft, from a Piper Cub to a B-IB bomber, and he is a command pilot. Boyne retired as a colonel in 1974 after 23 years of service (in 1989 he returned for a brief tour of duty to fly the B-IB).Read more »

Hill 102

How a patch of ground forged a man’s future, stole a part of his soul, and gave it back to him 30 years later

Although I never met him, I have been connected to Oliver Noonan since the day he died in a helicopter crash on a green mountainside in Vietnam. I was not far away, just 1,600 feet or so, in fact, when I heard the ripping crack of the rocket-propelled grenade as it slammed into the helicopter—and the subsequent duller explosion as the chopper fell to earth.

 
 
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The Meaning Of Tet

A historian argues that in Vietnam America’s cause was just, its arms effective, and its efforts undermined critics back home—and that this is how things must work in a free society

MORE THAN 2,000 YEARS AGO, THUCYDIDES wrote in his history The Peloponnesian War a passage about the Athenian campaign in Sicily that summarizes not only the conflict between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 B.C. but the war between the United States and Vietnam from A.D. 1965 to 1973.

 
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Would JFK Have Pulled Us Out Of Vietnam?

A tantalizing archival discovery suggests the perils of historical evidence

As director of the American History Project for High School Students at the John F. Kennedy Library, I spend a great deal of time in classrooms exploring the critical connection between reliable evidence and the conclusions reached by historians. Most students, of course, have limited experience with historical evidence. They are eager to express opinions about history but, asked to back them up, often cite “facts” from television, films, or the Internet.

 
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Offerings At The Wall

FOR MORE THAN A DECADE NOW, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS HAVE BEEN LEAVING LETTERS AND SNAPSHOTS, CIGARETTES AND CLOTHING AND BEER FOR THEIR FRIENDS, LOVERS, AND PARENTS WHO NEVER MADE IT BACK FROM VIETNAM

The faces of the American Dead in Vietnam” was Life magazine’s cover story on June 27, 1969. Photographs and brief biographies of the 242 Americans killed in action during one week, from May 28 to June 3, marched on for pages. When the issue appeared, American troop strength in Vietnam was at an all-time high; President Richard M. Nixon had begun the secret bombing of Cambodia in March, and just days before press time he had announced plans to withdraw twenty-five thousand troops from Southeast Asia. Read more »

The Warfare State

A scholar searches across two centuries to discover the main engine of our government’s growth—and reaches a controversial conclusion

Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835 that America had no neighbors and hence no enemies. Indeed, the New World Republic was the ultimate island power, with the Atlantic Ocean providing a protective moat nearly a hundred times as wide as the English Channel. The German philosopher Hegel, writing at about the same time as Toque, cited this isolation as one reason “a real State”—a powerful, centralized, European-style state—could never exist in America.Read more »

“Hope Is Not A Method”

It is dawn in Washington as Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, walks quickly from his helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base to board the jet bound for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Waiting for him there is a classroom full of the Army’s most successful and promising officers, colonels, and lieutenant colonels newly chosen to command brigades and battalions. Some of these officers will have fought in Grenada, in Panama, in the Gulf War, or all three. It is possible they will have to lead their soldiers in some other conflict before they leave command. Sullivan wants them to know who leads them.

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Present At The Apocalypse

Jan Wollett found herself on the last flight of refugees out of a crumbling Da Nang in 1975

Early in 1973 a woman named Jan Wollett applied for a job as a flight attendant with World Airways, based in Oakland, California. Her previous job had been as a secretary for the actress Jennifer Jones; she loved to travel and felt that working for an airline would give her a chance to see the world while earning a living. Read more »