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 and South Vietnam could have won the war ifthey ardently supported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dihn Diem and neverallowed for his assassination. To corroborate his central theme, Moyar reviewsthe major characters, battles, and policy decisions involved in the war duringthis period. 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.”3The words are from President Diem, himself.Later, in showing how self-serving reporters knowingly bendedfacts to influence public opinion, Moyar takes the actual pivotal accountsof American reporters David Halberstam and Neil Sheehanand to challenge much ofwhat became the U.S. interpretation of it’s involvement there.4Moyar rather convincingly reveals the inaccuracies of Halberstan and Sheehan thatled to dangerous consequences.
For example, Moyar cites multiple instanceswhere Halbertson falsifies accounts and public opinions regarding the pagodaraids and never retracts them. “One other false massacre story emerged fromHalberstam’s typewriter on August 24, never to be retracted,” that Catholic andBuddhist troops fought each other with 60 killed and 120 wounded.5 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. 6Thisdemise unfortunately led to a destabilized South Vietnam.
MarkMoyar carries the reader through the Vietnam War journey in a chronological,detailed, and coherent manner despite that his basic premise flips over orthodoxnotions of the War. One way he does so is by providing photographs whereneeded. 7Eachchapter is also organized sequentially according to key interval controversiesduring the period Moyar covers in the conflict. This allows the reader toclearly understand where in the timeline of events they are in the book. Forexample, under the title of each chapter Moyar provides an exact time frame thechapter is discussing as seen in Chapter 16 “The Prize for Victory: January-May1965.”8 Afew critiques of Moyar’s work are that it lacks anunderstanding of how veterans actually observed things. He also takes hissources 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. In conclusion, TriumphForsaken details how the South Vietnamese could have won if the U.S. governmenthad endured President Diem and not allowed for his assassination, not vigorouslyimposed American values upon Vietnam, and if the American public was not swayedby biased media. Mark Moyar diligently provides resources and authorities tomake his case and provides a generally well-rounded and refreshing perspectiveon the Vietnam War.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, xvi.5 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 234.
6 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 235.7 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 228-229.8 Moyar, TriumphForsaken, 350.