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Any Western traveler to Vietnam can only shake his or her head in disbelief at the mere thought that, half a century ago, the Americans stumbled into what is known in Vietnam as the “American War.” Clearly American eyes and minds must have been completely shut. If military planners back then had open eyes, they would have seen the futility of their creeping invasion. Worse, for all its might and resources, Washington never brought the most important of all strategic questions — should we or shouldn’t we? — into play.

Instead, it charged right away into the mere “how to?” — that is, tactics. Almost immediately, U.S. political and military leaders let themselves be drawn in by three self-defeatist forces — pride, vanity and groupthink. Any one of them can quickly turn into a losing proposition. In combination they are lethal.

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