We’re still living with the effects of the Vietnam War. Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam explores the possibility that the war in Vietnam could have been avoided if Edward Lansdale’s advice had been taken. Lansdale was a CIA operative who managed to stop a Communist group in the Philippines with an anti-insurgent strategy. Lansdale believed in political and social reform at the village level to build support for the Government.

Max Boot does a great job of setting the scene in the Philippines (including Lansdale’s long-term affair with a local woman) where Lansdale and the CIA learn how counter-insurgency techniques work. With that success, Lansdale and others are recruited for the effort to stop the Communist threat in Vietnam. Of course, Vietnam was an entirely different problem. Massive government corruption, political instability, and American military ineptness mixed with politics made the situation a giant mess. And Lansdale’s sound advice was ignored.

I’ve read a couple histories of the Vietnam War, but The Road Not Taken shows events through the activities of Lansdale and other operatives at the local level. Instead of the macro view, this book shows you the micro view of the events that lead to disaster after disaster. If you’re interested in a different approach to our involvement in Vietnam, I highly recommend The Road Not Taken. GRADE: A
Maps xii
Dramatis Personae xv
Prologue:The Day of the Dead: Saigon, November 1-2, 1963 xxiii

Introduction: The Misunderstood Man xli

Part 1 Ad Man (1908-1945)
1 In Terrific Flux 3
2 Enfant Terrible 16
3 An Institution Run by Its Inmates 33

Part 2 Colonel Landslide (1945-1954)
4 The Time of His Life 47
5 In Love and War 65
6 The Knights Templar 87
7 “A Most Difficult and Delicate Problem” 104
8 “All-Out Force or All-Out Friendship” 118
9 The Power Broker 136
10 “A Real Vindication” 157

Part 3 Nation Builder (1954-1956)
11 La Guerre sans Fronts 171
12 A Fortress Falls 185
13 “I Am Ngo Dinh Diem” 196
14 The Chopstick Torture 214
15 Pacification 233
16 The Viper’s Nest 254
17 “Stop Calling Me Papa!” 277

Part 4 Washington Warrior (1957-1963)
18 Heartbreak Hotel 301
19 Guerrilla Guru 311
20 A New War Begins 332
21 The Ambassador Who Never Was 347
22 “The X Factor” 363
23 “Worms of the World Unite” 376
24 “Washington at Its Nuttiest” 400

Part 5 Bastard Child (1964-1968)
25 “A Hell of a Mess” 419
26 “Concept for Victory” 433
27 Escalation 444
28 The Impossible Missions Force 457
29 Waging Peace in a Time of War 471
30 To Stay or to Go? 490
31 Waiting for the Second Coming 502
32 The Long Goodbye 515

Part 6 The Beaten Man (1968-1987)
33 The War at Home 533
34 A Defeat in Disguise 549
35 The Abandoned Ally 564
36 The Family Jewels 575
37 The End of the Road 586

Afterword: Lansdalism in the Twenty-First Century 599

Acknowledgments 607
Notes 611
Select Bibliography 661
Index 677


  1. wolf

    We thought the US involvment in Vietnam was a big mistake even then – but we already had seen the stupidity of the French occupiers there.
    Vietnam was for us young ones in Germany “the last drop” that made the US antipathy bucket overflow …
    I still remember the chants:
    Hey, hey, hey, LBJ – how many kids did you kill today?
    Demonstrations at the America House (where before I had got so many wonderful books …) – sometimes even the Americans working there agreed with us students!
    At least it helped the left democrats in Germany aganst the old “Clerical Fascists”, those so called Christian politicians who had been in power for 20 years. Some of them still had quasi Nazi ways of thinking …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, I signed up for R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in 1967 because I saw many of my friends drafted for Vietnam. I chose to specialize in Tanks figuring that I might likely be sent to Germany instead of Asia. I’ll never know if my strategy would have worked. Nixon instituted a “Draft lottery” in 1969. My Draft number was 335 which meant it was unlikely I would be drafted at all. I resigned from R.O.T.C. the next day.

  2. Patti Abbott

    Have you ever seen GO TELL THE SPARTANS. It documents some of the earliest mistakes in the conflict. Really worth seeing.

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    I’ve read a number of books (some fiction, too) about Vietnam, including Neil Sheehan’s book on John Paul Vann. Maybe someday I’ll read this, but not now.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    I saw GO TELL THE SPARTANS (Burt Lancaster) when we first got HBO in the early ’80s and was watching the more interesting, and diverse, fare they were showing then, like a lot of movies from New Zealand (all of which seemed to star Bruno Lawrence), including SMASH PALACE and THE QUIET EARTH.

  5. wolf

    Totally OT:
    What about the storms hitting the northern east coast?
    Hope you all weathered them – just read on snopes there are still many people without electricity.
    And more snow is expected …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, the “Nor’easter” storms have been powerful this year (mostly because of Global Warming). There’s another one due to hit the East Coast later this week. We can feel some of the effects here in Western NY which tells you how big and strong these storms are.

      1. wolf

        Wish you all the very best!

        You know we came to NYC, the Finger Lakes and Niagara Falls seven years ago in late March ago after the big snow – just admired the Frozen Falls, it was a wonderful experience!

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