In the annals of Vietnam War history, no figure has been more controversial than Ngo Dinh Diem. During the 1950s, U.S. leaders hailed Diem as “the miracle man of Southeast Asia” and funneled huge amounts of aid to his South Vietnamese government. But in 1963 Diem was ousted and assassinated in a coup endorsed by President John F. Kennedy. Diem’s alliance with Washington has long been seen as a Cold War relationship gone bad, undone either by American arrogance or by Diem’s stubbornness. In Misalliance, Edward Miller provides a convincing new explanation for Diem’s downfall and the larger tragedy of South Vietnam.
For Diem and U.S. leaders, Miller argues, the alliance was more than just a joint effort to contain communism. It was also a means for each side to pursue its plans for nation building in South Vietnam. Miller’s definitive portrait of Diem—based on extensive research in Vietnamese, French, and American archives—demonstrates that the South Vietnamese leader was neither Washington’s pawn nor a tradition-bound mandarin. Rather, he was a shrewd and ruthless operator with his own vision for Vietnam’s modernization. In 1963, allied clashes over development and reform, combined with rising internal resistance to Diem’s nation building programs, fractured the alliance and changed the course of the Vietnam War.
In depicting the rise and fall of the U.S.–Diem partnership, Misalliance shows how America’s fate in Vietnam was written not only on the battlefield but also in Washington’s dealings with its Vietnamese allies.
[Miller] mines new Vietnamese and French sources to advance important arguments. Miller offers numerous new details of Diem’s early career to present him as a serious modernizer seeking to retain traditional principles. He illuminates Diem’s close personal friendship with the iconic Vietnamese anticolonialist Phan Boi Chau, with whom he spent long hours discussing the relevance of Confucianism—its moral and philosophical precepts—to modern politics and society.
[Miller’s] book skillfully places the establishment of the new nation in the great debate after World War II between the high modernist (Walt Rostow et al.) and low modernist (The Ugly American) development schools. Miller’s command of the various parties and factions that jostled for power at the collapse of, first, Japanese occupation and then French rule is exhaustive, and his analysis of the economic development programs—land reform, the Agrovilles, the Strategic Hamlet program—is fascinating in its own right.
An extraordinary book, brilliantly conceived and cogently argued. Miller transcends the scholarly and political polemics of Vietnam War literature, presenting readers with a fresh and original take on Ngo Dinh Diem and South Vietnam’s relationship with the U.S. Misalliance is sure to be greeted with widespread acclaim.
Miller rejects the simplistic and partisan interpretations that have dominated earlier accounts of America’s partnership with Vietnam. Misalliance will be not only a major advance in our understanding of Ngo Dinh Diem and U.S.–Vietnamese relations, it will fundamentally alter the direction of scholarship on the Vietnam War.
A monumental contribution to our understanding of America’s misguided intervention in Vietnam. Great books advance knowledge as well as historical debate, and this is exactly what Miller achieves. Misalliance could easily be the best new book of the year.
An exemplary work of research and scholarship. Miller dispels in definitive fashion the myth that Ngo Dinh Diem owed his appointment as prime minister of a nascent South Vietnam to American intercession or that he was ever a ‘tool’ of the Americans.
- 432 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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