The Vietnam War has gone down as one of American history’s most frustrating and frivolous, a military effort that can only be looked back upon with a sigh and a shake of the head. In The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, author and military historian Max Boot tells the historic account of the U.S. foreign policy failures through the very personal account of the undeniably incredible man that was Edward Lansdale. Lansdale. Though originally working in advertising, forged an incredible, though ultimately disappointing, career path that distinguished him as a genius, master of counterinsurgency to some and a radical, ill-informed idealist to others.
With his avant-garde warfare strategies, Lansdale stood apart from the majority of Washington officials, whose traditional warfare strategies largely contributed to the loss of the Vietnam War. Because of the differences in policies, there was not only a mutual lack of respect between Lansdale and his Washington peers, but an antipathy. Boot illuminates how truly detrimental these antipathies were to the Vietnam war effort by citing example after example.
One of many examples Boot highlights is President Kennedy’s refusal – though influenced by another State Department official – to allow Lansdale to act as an advisor to South Vietnamese President Diem, as requested by Diem himself.
This incidence was but one of many that demonstrates how powerless and disrespected Lansdale had become within Washington despite his inarguable intelligence on counterinsurgency. These reciprocal ill-feelings between Lansdale and government officials cultivated a system built on power plays and selfishly driven decisions, a system that in turn helped pave the way for the U.S. failure in Vietnam.
In The Road Not Taken, Boot reveals the faulty inner workings of the U.S. government that hugely affected foreign policy in the past and continue to affect it in the present. With the current political climate – specifically U.S. involvement in countries such as Libya and Syria – the past failures of the U.S. government should be taken into serious account in order to prevent the past from repeating itself. As Boot acknowledges in his afterword, Lansdale’s failures and successes remain abundantly relevant in today’s society and should act as a “what to do – and what not to do” in American foreign policy.
In the meticulous detailing of Lansdale’s life from childhood to his death, Boot portrays Lansdale as a government man, as an individualistic man, as a loyal man, but most importantly, as just a man. Boot wisely doesn’t sugarcoat or soften Lansdale’s flaws, nor does he downplay Lansdale’s incredible achievements; Boot presents Lansdale as who he was, a man of flaws and incredible genius intertwined. With his objective, and even witty, writing, Boot casts Lansdale in a light that does full and honest justice to his career and life.
The Road Not Taken is engaging, intriguing, and incredibly relevant, shedding light on a seminal historic event in global history, as well as on the widely unknown man intertwined with that event. Boot conveys the true genius of Edward Lansdale, due to both the deep-rooted respect he had for the Eastern cultures and the impressive intuition with which he handled the situations that affected the culture and the people he so deeply admired. Despite the many things that defined him, Lansdale should be remembered, above all, as an “extraordinary man,” and a “first-class man.” In leaving this incredible legacy for the ever-deserving Lansdale, Boot allows him to be remembered exactly how he deserves.