Triumph Forsaken covers the years of 1954-1965 of the Vietnam War, just after
France’s defeat but before the United States entangled itself.
Author Mark Moyar does his homework to establish
that the Vietnam War was not “wrongheaded and unjust” but rather
“a noble but improperly executed enterprise.”1 The author is a
historian, holding his Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University and is more
than qualified to speak on the subject of Vietnam because of the diligence involved
in his work. In Triumph Forsaken,
Moyar offers a “revisionist” take on the war. The overarching argument Moyar
makes is that the United States could have won the war if they ardently
supported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dihn Diem and never allowed for his
assassination. To corroborate his central theme, Moyar reviews the major
characters, battles, and policy decisions involved in the war during this
period.

In this dissection, I will argue that Moyar is seemingly
objective in his revisionist version of the Vietnam War. I will do so by
pointing towards Moyar’s use of sources throughout the book. I will also then
demonstrate how Moyar did a great job in illustrating events for the reader in
a clear and articulate manner, however I will also provide few critiques of his
book.

Moyar’s educational background in history and Vietnam make him
qualified to talk about the subject of Vietnam. It might not be a first person
account, but he is able to pull from a wide variety of resources in order to
enlighten people about the war. The amount of
detail in the description and the meticulous research revealed by the 93 pages
of references and index is truly notable.2
What sets this book apart from others is that Moyar presents an account that is
reflective of nearly every side of the conflict. He does so by crafting full
usage of groundbreaking declassified
US Intelligence files, records from the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson
Administrations, and access to North Vietnamese historical archives. Moyar utilizes many resources to help strengthen the
validity of his claims. For example, when Moyar
rightfully asserted that the Vietnamese culture and values conflicted with
American culture and values, leading to the fragmentation between President Ngo
Dinh Diem and American leaders, he cites President Diem himself to make this
point. Moyar quotes Diem’s resistance to turning Vietnam into a Little America
from one of his interviews with a reporter from the New York Herald Tribune
named Marguerite Higgins: “I cannot seem to convince the Embassy that this is
Vietnam- not the United States of America … Procedures applicable to one
culture cannot be wholly transplanted to another culture.”3

 In showing how self-serving
reporters knowingly bended facts to influence public opinion, Moyar takes
the accounts of reporters David Halberstam and Neil Sheehanand to challenges
much of what became the U.S. interpretation of it’s involvement there. Moyar
rather convincingly exposes the evidentiary problems of the Halberstan/Sheehan
narrative and exposes the dangerous consequences of falsifying the facts. For
example, Moyar cites multiple instances where Halbertson falsifies accounts and
public opinions regarding the pagoda raids and never retracts them. “One other
false massacre story emerged from Halberstam’s typewriter on August 24, never
to be retracted,” that Catholic and Buddhist troops fought each other with 60
killed and 120 wounded.4
 Moyar later points out that Halberstan grossly exaggerated
the opposition against President Diem when really there were plenty of Diem
loyalists who would defend Diem. Unfortunately, in Moyar’s perspective,
Halbertstam’s contempt for the Diem regime and his biased and false reports led
to a reduction in Diem’s prestige and eventually his demise. 5
Diem’s
forced downfall inevitably led to the irreparable destabilization of South
Vietnam.

A
few critiques of Moyar’s work is that it lacks an
understanding of how the veterans of the war actually observed things. He also
takes his sources and original documents from varied governments at face value.
There is also a concern that his view that one can
succeed if one just intervenes a little more harshly only broadcasts
imperialist sentiments. Lastly, is Moyar
practicing selective use of historical data? Is he sharing all that can be
shared from his primary and secondary sources when he quotes key players?  It’s difficult to tell without deeper
investigation of the sources he cites.

Taken as a whole, Triumph Forsaken details how the South
Vietnamese could have won the war against the North if the U.S. government had
shown patience and understanding toward Diem, not vigorously imposed American
principles upon Vietnam, and if the American public was not swayed by biased
media. Mark Moyar diligently provides resources and authorities to make his case
and provides a generally well-rounded and refreshing perspective on the Vietnam
War.

1 Moyar
Mark, Triumph Forsaken: the Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2009), xi.

2 Moyar, Triumph
Forsaken, 417-512.

3 Moyar, Triumph
Forsaken, 229.

4 Moyar, Triumph
Forsaken, 234.

5 Moyar, Triumph
Forsaken, 235.