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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam

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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam
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A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERIn chronicling the adventurous life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale, The Road Not Taken definitively reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War.In this epic biography of Edward Lansdale (1908– 1987), the man said to be the fictional model for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, best-selling historian Max Boot demonstrates how Lansdale pioneered a “hearts and mind” diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam. It was a visionary policy that, as Boot reveals, was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy, steered by elitist generals and blueblood diplomats who favored troop build-ups and napalm bombs over winning the trust of the people. Through dozens of interviews and access to neverbefore-seen documents—including long-hidden love letters—Boot recasts this cautionary American story, tracing the bold rise and the crashing fall of the roguish “T. E. Lawrence of Asia” from the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the humiliating American evacuation in 1975. Bringing a tragic complexity to this so-called “ugly American,” this “engrossing biography” (Karl Marlantes) rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened. With reverberations that continue to play out in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Road Not Taken is a biography of profound historical consequence.

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A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
In chronicling the adventurous life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale, The Road Not Taken definitively reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War.
In this epic biography of Edward Lansdale (1908– 1987), the man said to be the fictional model for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, best-selling historian Max Boot demonstrates how Lansdale pioneered a “hearts and mind” diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam. It was a visionary policy that, as Boot reveals, was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy, steered by elitist generals and blueblood diplomats who favored troop build-ups and napalm bombs over winning the trust of the people. Through dozens of interviews and access to neverbefore-seen documents—including long-hidden love letters—Boot recasts this cautionary American story, tracing the bold rise and the crashing fall of the roguish “T. E. Lawrence of Asia” from the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the humiliating American evacuation in 1975. Bringing a tragic complexity to this so-called “ugly American,” this “engrossing biography” (Karl Marlantes) rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened. With reverberations that continue to play out in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Road Not Taken is a biography of profound historical consequence.

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Product Details
Sales Rank:
11,863
Pages:
768
Publication Date:
01/09/2018
ISBN13:
9780871409416
Product Dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x2.00(d)
Publisher:
Liveright Publishing Corporation
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About the Author

A renowned military historian and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations, Max Boot is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, the Los
Angeles Times, and other publications. The author of The Savage Wars of Peace and the New York
Times best-selling Invisible Armies, and The Road Not Taken, he lives in New York.

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Table of Contents

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

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Editorial Reviews
…judicious and absorbing…What emerges is a picture of a man who from an early point possessed an unusual ability to relate to other people, a stereotypically American can-do optimism, an impatience with bureaucracy and a fascination with psychological warfare.10/30/2017
Military historian and neoconservative commentator Boot (Invisible Armies) outshines everything ever written about the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale (1908–1987) in this exhaustive, fact-filled, and analytical biography. Lansdale was initially an OSS man who was instrumental in defeating a Communist insurgency in the Philippines known as the Huk Rebellion in the early 1950s. He then headed the first undercover U.S. operation in the nascent nation of South Vietnam in June 1954, remaining an important voice in Vietnam War policy until the early 1960s as the debate raged over how to stop North Vietnam and the Vietcong. According to Boot, Lansdale consistently advocated what has come to be known as counterinsurgency—winning “hearts and minds”—and strongly opposed bringing in massive numbers of U.S. combat troops. Throughout, Boot argues forcefully that ignoring Lansdale’s advice was a big reason that the Vietnam War turned out to be a disaster. In his afterword, Boot urges American leaders to adopt a form of “Lansdalism”—learn, like, and listen—and apply it to foreign interventions as was done in 1980s El Salvador and 2000s Colombia. This is a detailed, warts-and-all examination of Lansdale’s complex professional and personal lives. Maps & illus. (Jan.)“A superb history of the Vietnam conflict and includes fascinating military detail and a firm grasp of both American and Vietnamese politics. Boot’s expertise in counterinsurgency makes his arguments compelling, and his rich portrait of Lansdale as a creative if unpredictable maverick adds a new level of understanding not only to Lansdale himself, but also to the entire Vietnam era. This important book—substantially enhanced by excerpts from Lansdale’s own writing and augmented by outstanding maps—deserves to be read alongside Neil Sheehan’s award-winning A Bright Shining Lie (1988).”
“A brilliant biography of the life—and a riveting description of the times—of Edward Lansdale, one of the most significant figures in post-WWII Philippines and then Vietnam. Just as David Halberstam did in The Best and the Brightest, Max Boot uses superb storytelling skills to cast new light on America's agonizing involvement in Vietnam. The Road Not Taken not only tells Edward Lansdale's story with novelistic verve but also situates it wonderfully in the context of his tumultuous experiences—and offers important lessons for the present day.”
“Max Boot, one of the premier military historians writing today, has created a fascinating portrait of Edward Lansdale, a maverick in the mold of T.E. Lawrence. But The Road Not Taken is much more than a biography, begging comparison with monumental narratives like Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie. Boot gives us a compelling look back on the Vietnam tragedy, showing that it was by no means the inevitable result of forces beyond the control of our political and military leaders.”
“I couldn’t stop reading this engrossing biography of Edward Lansdale, a man who loved his country’s ideals and who secretly fought for them in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Washington, DC. Lansdale’s story is relevant today, because he was a key figure in the debate over how and how not to use military force to achieve American foreign policy aims. Through Lansdale’s efforts we got it right in the Philippines, but no one listened to him in Vietnam. He was forgotten by the time we moved into Afghanistan and Iraq. I fervently hope our policy makers read this book.”“As one of the last few links to Lansdale, who was also one of his closest on-the-ground collaborators, I can attest that this biography of him is the best, most accurate, revealing and complete portrait yet produced. Even with all I knew, I learned a great deal more that was new which broadened my understanding of this extraordinary man. The very human way he helped the Filipino and Vietnamese people defend their inalienable rights is a shining model to be followed by current and future generations of Americans assigned abroad to assist fragile nations.”“A remarkable piece of work, superbly researched and documented. In an ideal world, it would be required reading for all senior American diplomats being posted to underdeveloped nations. Having worked with Lansdale during an important period in his career, I particularly noted how Max Boot skillfully dissected his modus operandi.”“Judicious and absorbing…Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, brings solid credentials to this enterprise…Here he draws on a range of material, official and personal…What emerges is a picture of a man who from an early point possessed an unusual ability to relate to other people, a stereotypically American can-do optimism, an impatience with bureaucracy and a fascination with psychological warfare.”“The Road Not Takenis an impressive work, an epic and elegant biography based on voluminous archival sources. It belongs to a genre of books that takes a seemingly obscure hero and uses his story as a vehicle to capture a whole era.... Mr. Boot’s full-bodied biography does not ignore Lansdale’s failures and shortcomings—not least his difficult relations with his family—but it properly concentrates on his ideas and his attempts to apply them in Southeast Asia. ... The Road Not Takengives a vivid portrait of a remarkable man and intelligently challenges the lazy assumption that failed wars are destined to fail or that failure, if it comes, cannot be saved from the worst possible outcome.”
“In this fine portrait of Edward Lansdale, Max Boot adds to his well-deserved reputation as being among the most insightful and productive of contemporary historians. This is a superb book. Diligently researched and gracefully written, it builds on a comprehensive analysis of Lansdale’s triumphs in the post–World War II Philippines to provide much new material, and expose old myths, about one of the most fascinating, and in many ways ultimately saddest, members of the supporting cast in the later war in Vietnam.”“Boot marshals sharp, devastating anecdotes to show how Lansdale’s ideas were dismissed or misunderstood by his contemporaries. . . . The stories this volume tells about voluntary isolation and lack of knowledge, vision, or respect for anything outside U.S. security culture, in all its violent, self-reinforcing whiteness and maleness, have a terrible timelessness to them . . . . We are in his debt for writing a book about another time that challenges us to raise those questions in ours.”“Edward Lansdale is probably the greatest cold warrior that most Americans have never heard of. Max Boot has written a fascinating account of how this California college humorist, frat boy and advertising executive evolved into a counterinsurgency expert before the term was even coined…. Max Boot has become one of the master chroniclers of American counterinsurgency efforts, and his biography of Mr. Lansdale is a tribute to a guy who recognized the threat of insurgency in a post-World War II environment where most American leaders saw only brute force as a solution to any political-military problem…. This book should be read in Baghdad and Kabul, not only by Americans, but by local leaders.”“Max Boot capably and readably tracks the fascinating but ultimately depressing trajectory of this shadowy figure, who, as a murky undercover operative and a literary and cinematic avatar, looms over or lurks behind some of the crucial moments in U.S. foreign policy in the decades following World War II, culminating in its greatest disaster.”“An exceptionally well-written, captivating tale of one of the most distinctive characters in American Cold War history…. The Road Not Taken is highly recommended reading for historians of the Cold War and military leaders, Foreign Service officers, and intelligence personnel wrestling with America’s current challenges in the small wars of the 21st century, as well as general readers looking for an exhilarating story of a fascinating character in American history.”
“'The Road Not Taken'… is expansive and detailed, it is well written,
and it sheds light on a good deal about U.S. covert activities in postwar Southeast Asia….. [Boot] believes that Lansdale's approach was the wiser one, but he is cautious in his analysis of what went wrong…
A lot of his book is committed to restoring a sense of proportion to his subject's image as a political Svengali, or "Lawrence of Asia."”“A brilliant, extremely well-written book about a forgotten figure who was one of the most extraordinary and utterly unorthodox espionage agents in history.”“Deeply researched and evenhanded, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam is a superb scholarly achievement. . . . [Boot] comes at Lansdale having already written two major books on small wars and counterinsurgency, a solid foundation that he takes to a new level here with rigorous research and dogged investigation into little-known corners of Lansdale’s life.”
“Comprehensively researched and insightfully written—Boot is, as always, an extremely talented writer.”“A capacious biography…. The book is chock-full of operational information on Lansdale’s deeds, both quiet and ugly…. This book might work as a star vehicle for Tom Hanks or Matt Damon…. A useful addition to the literature on US foreign policy during the half century bracketed by the US occupation of the Philippines and the disastrous 2003 intervention in Iraq.”“Superb biography.”★ 2017-09-24
A probing, timely study of wrong turns in the American conduct of the Vietnam War.A historian of America's "small wars" with a keen eye for the nuances of counterinsurgency, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Boot (Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, 2013, etc.) finds a perfect personification of America's Vietnam in Edward Lansdale (1908-1987), much as Neil Sheehan did with John Paul Vann 30 years ago with his book A Bright Shining Lie. Lansdale was even less inclined than Vann to make nice with the top brass; as Boot writes, "he viewed the bureaucracy as an enemy and, by so doing, turned it into one." Never underestimate the power of a bureaucrat to thwart one's aims. But Lansdale, an architect of the policy shorthanded "hearts and minds," had a number of convictions hard won in the field, including the truth that no insurgency can be resisted if it has popular support. The idea, then, is to battle official corruption—no easy task given that Boot's narrative takes off during the coup that, to John Kennedy's consternation, ended in the assassination of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem—and to make sure that the leaders of villages, military cadres, and so on are worth following. Fighting corruption and bureaucracy were battles enough, to say nothing of a huge communist army. Furthermore, the American military, mistrustful of South Vietnam and packed with careerist officers, took over the fight from the people whose war it was, making it "an increasingly Americanized war" as early as 1965. Like Lansdale, Boot understands the role of nation-building in such struggles as Iraq and Afghanistan, and he takes to heart Lansdale's pointed lesson in shunning vast compounds of invading foreigners that "overwhelm the recipients" of American aid, as happened in Vietnam and beyond.Controversial in some of its conclusions, perhaps, as Lansdale's arguments were in their day, and essential reading for students of military policy and the Vietnam conflict.
★ 11/15/2017
Air Force officer Edward Lansdale (1908–87) remains a controversial figure in the history of the Vietnam conflict. In their books, David Halberstam and Michael Herr excoriated him. He's a hero in Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer's The Ugly American. Here, military historian Boot (Invisible Armies) argues that Lansdale's ideas offered our best attempt at success in this new kind of war. While in the Philippines (1950–53), Lansdale orchestrated reformer Ramon Magsaysay's victory at the polls, which led to peace with the Communist Party. But in Vietnam, he faced tougher adversaries. Lansdale was recalled from Vietnam in 1957. Six years later, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown with U.S. support. Rule by the military ensued, with each new leader as corrupt as the previous one. Lansdale never regained his old touch. His approach of building friendships with indigenous leaders lost out to advocates of big guns and blanket bombing. VERDICT Boot has done a masterly job resuscitating the reputation of a man whom CIA director William Colby called "one of the ten greatest spies of all time." A solid military history and biography, this book will appeal to lovers of both genres.—David Keymer, Cleveland
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Customer Reviews (1)
A must read to try to understand US involvement in SE Asia. The au ...
A must read to try to understand US involvement in SE Asia. The author separate myth an legends about the man from facts - but the facts still need to be known, considered and understood.
- troutrivers
February 26, 2018
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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam
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