Hess examines Vietnam War literature

The seventh book by Dr. Gary Hess, Distinguished Research Professor of history and nationally known authority on U.S. foreign relations, addresses seven critical issues in the literature about the Vietnam War.

Dr. Gary Hess

Vietnam: Explaining America’s Lost War, published recently as part of Blackwell Publishing’s Contesting the Past Series, examines the vast war literature, much of which focuses on differing interpretations of American failure.

Beginning with the debate as the war was being waged, Hess traces the works of historians, journalists, participants and others, and the often contentious and emotional argument about whether the war was “lost” because it was “unwinnable” from the beginning or because of “blunders” in strategy and leadership.

The seven critical issues examined are the “necessity” of holding South Vietnam, the reasons President Lyndon Johnson took the nation to war, the bombing of North Vietnam, the land war against communists in South Vietnam, media coverage of the war, the Tet Offensive of 1968 and President Richard Nixon’s pursuit of “peace with honor.”

Hess became, in 2006, the 10th recipient of the Norman and Laura Graebner Award for lifetime achievement as a historian of U.S. foreign relations. His nominator was the 2004 winner, Dr. Warren Cohen of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, who also praises his colleague’s latest book.

“Hess, one of America’s leading diplomatic historians, has written the most useful book to date—for both teachers and students—of the nation’s ordeal in Vietnam,” according to Cohen. “It is a magnificently balanced study of the issues and the literature.”

Hess’s previous book, Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2001, led to his service the following year as a consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency on long-range planning of U.S. foreign policy. Also among his books is Vietnam and the United States: Origins and Legacy of War, published in 1990 by Macmillan/Twayne.

Another outgrowth of his expertise on U.S.-Asian relations has been his work as a consultant and lecturer in the officer training program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

Hess is past president of both the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the Ohio Academy of History. He is a former editorial board member for the journal Diplomatic History and former chair of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.

The Pittsburgh, Pa., native joined the BGSU faculty in 1964 and has held the rank of professor since 1972. He was named Distinguished Research Professor in 1988 in honor of his work on U.S. foreign policy and Asia. That same year, he received the Olscamp Research Award from the University, which subsequently presented him with its Distinguished Faculty Service Award (1997) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2000).

Also the recipient of three Fulbright awards and two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, Hess was chair of the BGSU history department from 1973-81 and 1985-92, as well as acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences during the 1981-82 academic year.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, in 1959, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia, in 1962 and 1965, respectively.

July 7, 2008