America’s intervention in Vietnam has often been compared to the Civil
War in terms of the disunity it engendered among the American peo-
ple.∞ Fittingly, it was a Civil War general who best perceived the impact
of nonmaterial factors in bringing about military defeat—an issue that
historians of the Vietnam War inevitably confront. When an admirer
asked the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee how his Army of
Northern Virginia managed to overwhelm a much larger and better-
equipped force led by the di≈dent Union general George McClellan in
the Peninsular Campaign of 1862, Lee responded, ‘‘McClellan brought
the mightiest army ever mustered on North American soil to the gates
of Richmond. But he also brought himself.’’≤
American policymakers brought the might of history’s greatest eco-
nomic and military superpower to the task of creating and preserving a
noncommunist nation in South Vietnam. Five presidential administra-
tions pumped billions of dollars into America’s Southeast Asian client
and sent thousands of experts to tutor the South Vietnamese on every
aspect of national superintendence. The American military performed
logistical miracles, constructing airfields and harbors and distributing
tons of equipment to field U.S. and native forces. In terms of material
wealth and brute force, the United States overshadowed North Vietnam
as completely as one belligerent has ever dwarfed another. But Ameri-
can policymakers also brought themselves to Vietnam—their ethnocen-
trism and parochialism, political arrogance and cultural blindness, all
the mental baggage that had accumulated in their minds since child-
hood. Specifically, they brought interdependent ideologies of religion
and race that, analyzed in conjunction with the anticommunist hysteria
of the early cold war, can help historians answer Robert Wiebe’s an-
guished question of why ‘‘sophisticated advisers . . . thought they could
create a nation of South Vietnam through a puppet Catholic in Saigon
and forced relocation in the countryside.’’≥ To respond to Wiebe accord-
ing to his convention: those advisers—Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles, Senator Mike Mansfield, and others—thought they could ac-
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