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Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965

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From World War I to Operation Desert Storm, American policymakers have repeatedly invoked the lessons of history as they contemplated taking their nation to war. Do these historical analogies actually shape policy, or are they primarily tools of political justification? Yuen Foong Khong argues that leaders use analogies not merely to justify policies but also to perform sp From World War I to Operation Desert Storm, American policymakers have repeatedly invoked the lessons of history as they contemplated taking their nation to war. Do these historical analogies actually shape policy, or are they primarily tools of political justification? Yuen Foong Khong argues that leaders use analogies not merely to justify policies but also to perform specific cognitive and information-processing tasks essential to political decision-making. Khong identifies what these tasks are and shows how they can be used to explain the U.S. decision to intervene in Vietnam. Relying on interviews with senior officials and on recently declassified documents, the author demonstrates with a precision not attained by previous studies that the three most important analogies of the Vietnam era--Korea, Munich, and Dien Bien Phu--can account for America's Vietnam choices. A special contribution is the author's use of cognitive social psychology to support his argument about how humans analogize and to explain why policymakers often use analogies poorly.


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From World War I to Operation Desert Storm, American policymakers have repeatedly invoked the lessons of history as they contemplated taking their nation to war. Do these historical analogies actually shape policy, or are they primarily tools of political justification? Yuen Foong Khong argues that leaders use analogies not merely to justify policies but also to perform sp From World War I to Operation Desert Storm, American policymakers have repeatedly invoked the lessons of history as they contemplated taking their nation to war. Do these historical analogies actually shape policy, or are they primarily tools of political justification? Yuen Foong Khong argues that leaders use analogies not merely to justify policies but also to perform specific cognitive and information-processing tasks essential to political decision-making. Khong identifies what these tasks are and shows how they can be used to explain the U.S. decision to intervene in Vietnam. Relying on interviews with senior officials and on recently declassified documents, the author demonstrates with a precision not attained by previous studies that the three most important analogies of the Vietnam era--Korea, Munich, and Dien Bien Phu--can account for America's Vietnam choices. A special contribution is the author's use of cognitive social psychology to support his argument about how humans analogize and to explain why policymakers often use analogies poorly.

30 review for Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mark Uberuaga

    Yuen Khong explains how analogies are used to simply describe complex events. Analogies are useful in conversation because people with the same conceptual framework, or schema, can refer to shared experiences and relate them to current situations and decisions. In Analogies at War, Khong demonstrates that analogies are frequently used by statesmen in debate and in developing policy. Khong describes how three analogies, Korea, Munich, and Dien Bien Pho were used by the Johnson administration, all Yuen Khong explains how analogies are used to simply describe complex events. Analogies are useful in conversation because people with the same conceptual framework, or schema, can refer to shared experiences and relate them to current situations and decisions. In Analogies at War, Khong demonstrates that analogies are frequently used by statesmen in debate and in developing policy. Khong describes how three analogies, Korea, Munich, and Dien Bien Pho were used by the Johnson administration, all based in the schema of Cold War containment, during its debates about whether or not to escalate the conflict in Vietnam. The Korea analogy was the most recent and its main point was that the conflict should be limited to avoid Chinese intervention, which happened in Korea. The Munich analogy was born from the appeasement given to Hitler regarding Czechoslovakia and its main thrust was that aggression left unchecked will result in aggression unleashed. (Supported the Domino Theory) Finally, George Ball used the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu as a warning for possible defeat. He had it right, but could not convince the other members of the cabinet because LBJ couldn’t relate and felt like the analogy didn’t fit, i.e. “that’s not us.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    M. Lloyd

    This book uses the Analogical Explanation(AE) framework to understand why decisions were made, and more importantly, why other options were discarded. The AE framework aims to define the situation, understand the stakes involved, provide options, predict success, evaluate the moral component, and warn about the dangers associated with a decision and situation. Khong uses the case study of Vietnam to show how the AE can be a useful predictor of outcomes. He states that the analogy of Korea was the This book uses the Analogical Explanation(AE) framework to understand why decisions were made, and more importantly, why other options were discarded. The AE framework aims to define the situation, understand the stakes involved, provide options, predict success, evaluate the moral component, and warn about the dangers associated with a decision and situation. Khong uses the case study of Vietnam to show how the AE can be a useful predictor of outcomes. He states that the analogy of Korea was the most cited, publically and privately, among policy makers as to the course of action needed to be successful in Vietnam. He shows how previous examples in Laos do not account for the normal thinking that the US had to intervene based on containment of communism or reputation in the region. His arguments are compelling and although he tries to answer the skeptics that say analogies are only used to justify a pre-determined answer to a situation, he fails to fully close the case. He never is able to specifically show how or why an analogy was chosen, nor at what point the decision was made before being discussed.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nate Huston

    Describes the role analogies play with decision-makers vis-a-vis foreign policy. Posits that decision-makers do indeed learn from and use analogies (vice the skeptical view that they are used only post facto - to justify an already decided upon course of action). Uses public announcements and private discussions of senior leaders during the Viet Nam war to argue that the specters of Korea and Munich played key roles in determining what options were considered and ultimately chosen in the conflic Describes the role analogies play with decision-makers vis-a-vis foreign policy. Posits that decision-makers do indeed learn from and use analogies (vice the skeptical view that they are used only post facto - to justify an already decided upon course of action). Uses public announcements and private discussions of senior leaders during the Viet Nam war to argue that the specters of Korea and Munich played key roles in determining what options were considered and ultimately chosen in the conflict, with special attention paid to the decision to begin bombing (Rolling Thunder) and, ultimately, to commit ground troops. Also uses George Ball's position that Dien Bien Phu was actually a more apt analogy to strengthen the argument that analogies matter - use of Dien Bien Phu would have led to a different set of "lessons" to be learned and ultimately, a different set of options chosen to confront the problem. Overall, this book was insightful insofar as it furthered an argument that analogies are more than convenient justifications for previously determined decisions. I think the author could have made the point as effectively in less words.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tara Lindahl

    A fascinating blend of my two favorite subjects--politics and psychology--and an analysis of a war that forever shaped opinions and lives in our country.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Justin Michael James Dell

    This is probably one of the best books I've ever read. This is where history meets social science.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Secrest

  7. 4 out of 5

    Luca Trenta

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jp

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Gordons

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jxb

  12. 4 out of 5

    William Patterson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tan

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lion/Kareen

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nate

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hussein Magdy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ian

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jason Richie

  22. 4 out of 5

    Max Vollkommer

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eric Murphy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trav

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matti Pesu

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike Kanner

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ben Denison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Glen

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