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Chester Bowles, Memorandum to the President on “Recommendations for a Fresh Approach to the Vietnam Impasse,” 1962.
Chester Bowles Papers. Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.

Habib Moody ’10, Chester Bowles on Expertise

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Again a contrarian, Bowles shows a distrust for statistics and predictions and instead emphasizes current political realities, foretelling the course of the Vietnam War with frightening accuracy. In this policy memorandum Bowles explains the implications of the underappreciated role of popular legitimacy. Viet Cong mobilization is dynamic; in Vietnam, every Western advance merely recruits additional soldiers for Ho Chi Minh—fighters for whom the urgency of war is based not on domino theory abstractions, but on the fates of families, livelihoods, and the potential for national self-determination. In America, popular sentiments risk producing the twin nightmares of full-scale international warfare or a protracted, shameful departure from the region. At the same time, Bowles suggests that defeating Communism overseas—a task whose heft and urgency he recognizes—requires first and foremost the popular support of American efforts among the Vietnamese themselves.