To Build as Well as Destroy

To Build as Well as Destroy

American Nation Building in South Vietnam

For years, the so-called better-war school of thought has argued that the United States built a legitimate and viable non-Communist state in South Vietnam in the latter years of the Vietnam War and that it was only the military abandonment of this state that brought down the Republic of Vietnam. But Andrew J. Gawthorpe, through a detailed and incisive analysis, shows that, in fact, the United States failed in its efforts at nation building and had not established a durable state in South Vietnam.

Drawing on newly opened archival collections and previously unexamined oral histories with dozens of U.S. military officers and government officials, To Build as Well as Destroy demonstrates that the United States never came close to achieving victory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gawthorpe tells a story of policy aspirations and practical failures that stretches from Washington, D.C., to the Vietnamese villages in which the United States implemented its nationbuilding strategy through the Office of Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support known as CORDS. Structural factors that could not have been overcome by the further application of military power thwarted U.S. efforts to build a viable set of non-Communist political, economic, and social institutions in South Vietnam.

To Build as Well as Destroy provides the most comprehensive account yet of the largest and best-resourced nation-building program in U.S. history. Gawthorpe's analysis helps contemporary policy makers, diplomats, and military officers understand the reasons for this failure. At a moment in time when American strategists are grappling with military and political challenges in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, revisiting the historical lessons of Vietnam is a worthy endeavor.

Andrew J. Gawthorpe

Andrew J. Gawthorpe is a University Lecturer at Leiden University. He previously held positions as a teaching fellow at the UK Defence Academy, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a civil servant in the British Cabinet Office. You can read his work in publications such as Foreign Affairs, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Stars and Stripes, and The National Interest, and follow him on Twitter @andygawt.