Triumph Forsaken covers the years of 1954-1965 of the Vietnam War, just afterFrance’s defeat but before the United States entangled itself.Author Mark Moyar does his homework to establishthat the Vietnam War was not “wrongheaded and unjust” but rather”a noble but improperly executed enterprise.”1 The author is ahistorian, holding his Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University and is morethan qualified to speak on the subject of Vietnam because of the diligence involvedin his work.
In Triumph Forsaken,Moyar offers a “revisionist” take on the war. The overarching argument Moyarmakes is that the United States could have won the war if they ardentlysupported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dihn Diem and never allowed for hisassassination. To corroborate his central theme, Moyar reviews the majorcharacters, battles, and policy decisions involved in the war during thisperiod. In this dissection, I will argue that Moyar is seeminglyobjective in his revisionist version of the Vietnam War. I will do so bypointing towards Moyar’s use of sources throughout the book.
I will also thendemonstrate how Moyar did a great job in illustrating events for the reader ina clear and articulate manner, however I will also provide few critiques of hisbook.Moyar’s educational background in history and Vietnam make himqualified to talk about the subject of Vietnam. It might not be a first personaccount, but he is able to pull from a wide variety of resources in order toenlighten people about the war. The amount ofdetail in the description and the meticulous research revealed by the 93 pagesof references and index is truly notable.2What sets this book apart from others is that Moyar presents an account that isreflective of nearly every side of the conflict.
He does so by crafting fullusage of groundbreaking declassifiedUS Intelligence files, records from the Eisenhower, Kennedy and JohnsonAdministrations, and access to North Vietnamese historical archives. Moyar utilizes many resources to help strengthen thevalidity of his claims. For example, when Moyarrightfully asserted that the Vietnamese culture and values conflicted withAmerican culture and values, leading to the fragmentation between President NgoDinh Diem and American leaders, he cites President Diem himself to make thispoint. Moyar quotes Diem’s resistance to turning Vietnam into a Little Americafrom one of his interviews with a reporter from the New York Herald Tribunenamed Marguerite Higgins: “I cannot seem to convince the Embassy that this isVietnam- not the United States of America … Procedures applicable to oneculture cannot be wholly transplanted to another culture.”3 In showing how self-servingreporters knowingly bended facts to influence public opinion, Moyar takesthe accounts of reporters David Halberstam and Neil Sheehanand to challengesmuch of what became the U.
S. interpretation of it’s involvement there. Moyarrather convincingly exposes the evidentiary problems of the Halberstan/Sheehannarrative and exposes the dangerous consequences of falsifying the facts. Forexample, Moyar cites multiple instances where Halbertson falsifies accounts andpublic opinions regarding the pagoda raids and never retracts them.
“One otherfalse massacre story emerged from Halberstam’s typewriter on August 24, neverto be retracted,” that Catholic and Buddhist troops fought each other with 60killed and 120 wounded.4 Moyar later points out that Halberstan grossly exaggeratedthe opposition against President Diem when really there were plenty of Diemloyalists who would defend Diem. Unfortunately, in Moyar’s perspective,Halbertstam’s contempt for the Diem regime and his biased and false reports ledto a reduction in Diem’s prestige and eventually his demise. 5Diem’sforced downfall inevitably led to the irreparable destabilization of SouthVietnam. Afew critiques of Moyar’s work is that it lacks anunderstanding of how the veterans of the war actually observed things.
He alsotakes his sources and original documents from varied governments at face value.There is also a concern that his view that one cansucceed if one just intervenes a little more harshly only broadcastsimperialist sentiments. Lastly, is Moyarpracticing selective use of historical data? Is he sharing all that can beshared from his primary and secondary sources when he quotes key players? It’s difficult to tell without deeperinvestigation of the sources he cites. Taken as a whole, Triumph Forsaken details how the SouthVietnamese could have won the war against the North if the U.S. government hadshown patience and understanding toward Diem, not vigorously imposed Americanprinciples upon Vietnam, and if the American public was not swayed by biasedmedia. Mark Moyar diligently provides resources and authorities to make his caseand provides a generally well-rounded and refreshing perspective on the VietnamWar.
1 MoyarMark, Triumph Forsaken: the Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2009), xi.2 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 417-512. 3 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 229.4 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 234. 5 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 235.