This book considers the Vietnam war in light of U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam, concluding that the war was a direct result of failed state-building efforts. This U.S. nation building project began in the mid-1950s with the ambitious goal of creating a new independent, democratic, modern state below the 17th parallel. No one involved imagined this effort would lead to a major and devastating war in less than a decade. Carter analyzes how the United States ended up fighting a large-scale war that wrecked the countryside, generated a flood of refugees, and brought about catastrophic economic distortions, results which actually further undermined the larger U.S. goal of building a viable state. Carter argues that, well before the Tet Offensive shocked the viewing public in late January, 1968, the campaign in southern Vietnam had completely failed and furthermore, the program contained the seeds of its own failure from the outset.
1. Introduction; 2. The Cold War, colonialism, and the origins of the American commitment to Vietnam, 1945–1954; 3. 'The needs are enormous, the time short': Michigan State University, the United States operations mission, nation building, and Vietnam; 4. Surviving the crises: Southern Vietnam, 1958–1960; 5. 'A permanent mendicant': Southern Vietnam, 1960–1963; 6. A period of shakedown: Southern Vietnam, 1963–1965; The paradox of construction and destruction: Southern Vietnam 1966–1968; 8. Epilogue: war, politics, and the end in Vietnam.
"James Carter has written the most important book to appear in the last decade about the U.S. experience in Vietnam. Using new evidence, he shows just how cynical was the nation-building project that consumed American energies and Vietnamese independence. Carter's book is a persuasive alternative to current revisionist scholarship about the Vietnam war." - William O. Walker III, University of Toronto
“Despite repeated announcements of its demise, the American effort to build nations where none existed before -- or to transform those already in place -- is alive and well and as full of contradictions as ever. James M. Carter pursues these themes with immense vigor in his compelling account of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1968. Inventing Vietnam takes the brief history of South Vietnam seriously and makes clear why it still matters.” -Marilyn B. Young, New York University
"Mistaken assumptions that the United States was in some manner defending an already existing state in South Vietnam has helped mask what policy-makers at the time understood all along<-->that the United States was engaged in a massive state-building enterprise that was doomed to failure by its own logic. So argues Carter (history, Drew U.) as he reviews the history of this aspect of the US involvement in Vietnam, from the initiation of the Michigan State University Vietnam Advisory Group in the mid-1950s through to 1968." - Reference & Research Book News
"James Carter presents a concise story of American aid programs in Vietnam..." -David Briggs, Military History
"...Carter provides a fresh and important perspective on the Vietnam War." -Robert J. McMahon, Journal of American History
"...James Carter has produced a fascinating, impressive, and original book on the topic, a must read for anyone interested in the origins of American involvement in Vietnam." -Edwin Martini, The Sixties
"Carter has much to offer readers beyond his insistent orthodox positions." -H-1960s
"Carter has written an original and compelling treatment of an important topic." -Andrew Preston, Journal of Cold War Studies