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This article explores the impact of one of the key non-military events in the U.S. war in Vietnam, at least in the crucial years from 1964 to 1968. During a two-day U.S.–South Vietnamese conference held in Honolulu in early 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk laid out a series of overarching strategic objectives, both military and political, that shaped the allied war effort through the 1968 Tet offensive, and even beyond. The goals outlined at the summit remained the touchstone of U.S. military strategy until they were superseded in 1969 by a policy of “Vietnamization” under the Nixon administration. These political-military objectives, however, suggested a fundamental problem with the U.S. approach to Vietnam, based as it was on a dangerous mixture of naïveté and idealism stemming from faulty assumptions about the efficacy of U.S. power abroad during the Cold War.


This article was originally published in Journal of Cold War Studies, volume 21, issue 3, in 2019. DOI:10.1162/jcws_a_00897

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President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology



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