TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS
Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
45: Fredrik Logevall, 2-26-07
Teaching Position: Professor of History at Cornell University and, in 2006-07, Leverhulme Professor at the University of Nottingham and Mellon Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge.
Area of Research: U.S. Foreign Relations, International History
Education: PhD, History, Yale University, May 1993
Major Publications: Logevall has published numerous books and articles on U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, including Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (1999) and The Origins of the Vietnam War (2001). He is also the editor of Terrorism And 9/11: A Reader, (Houghton Mifflin, 2002); and the co-author of A People and A Nation: A History of the United States (7th ed, 2005), co-editor of the Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, and co-editor of The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis (2007). He is also the co-editor of Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (with Andrew Preston; Oxford University Press) whih will be published in 2008. Logevall is currently at work on an international history of the struggle for Indochina after 1940.
Awards: Logevall is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Mellon Senior Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, 2006-2007;
Leverhulme Professor, University of Nottingham, September 2006-June 2007;
George W. Morgan Lecturer, Thomas Watson Institute, Brown University, April 2006;
Stuart L. Bernath Lecture Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2003;
UC Regents’ Humanities Faculty Fellowship, 2003;
Warren F. Kuehl Book Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2001;
Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize (co-winner), Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2000;
W. Turrentine Jackson Book Award, Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association, 2000;
Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 2000;
The Charles Griffin Lectureship, Vassar College, 2000;
UCSB Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Prize for the Humanities and Fine Arts, 1998;
Outstanding Faculty Member Award (UCSB Residence Halls), 1996;
Interdisciplinary Humanities Center Faculty Grant, 1995, 1996, 2000;
Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Moody Research Grant, 1994;
Stuart L. Bernath Article Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 1994;
Whiting Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, 1992-93;
W. Turrentine Jackson Article Prize, Pacific Coast Branch, AHA, 1992;
MacArthur Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, 1991-92.
Prior to coming to Cornell, he taught at UC Santa Barbara, where he co-founded the Center for Cold War Studies.
One day in the fall of 1989 I was in the library going through back issues of scholarly journals when I came upon an essay by Walter LaFeber, now my colleague at Cornell. LaFeber asserted that an American scholar of either U.S. foreign policy or international relations is hindered by an “occupational hazard.” He or she is supposed to act as an outsider in analyzing the policy or the system but in reality is an inhabitant of, and indeed has grown to intellectual maturity in, a nation that has dominated global affairs in the post-1914 era. LaFeber cited another Cornellian, Carl Becker, who believed that the professor’s obligation is to “think otherwise,” but LaFeber noted that such an obligation can be difficult to fulfill when the scholar is also a citizen of the world’s leading hegemonic power. It is a problem to act as an outsider when one operates at the center of the system.
Wow, I thought, LaFeber was suggesting that I, a Swede who had also lived for some years in Canada and who was just beginning my doctoral studies in U.S. foreign relations history, potentially had a small advantage over those American intellectual heavyweights whose books and articles I was encountering in my classes. Perhaps I could heed more easily than they Becker’s call to “think otherwise.”
Over the years I continued to think LaFeber’s assertion had merit, and I still think it does, even though I too now live in the center of the system. An outsider perspective can often be an insightful one-though of course there’s no guarantee. At the very least it will be a different perspective, and I have no doubt that my own foreign heritage and upbringing have shaped my research on U.S. foreign relations in significant ways. It has made me interested in comparative questions, in exploring notions of American exceptionalism (in the sense of difference, not superiority). Why, for example, did the Manichean anti-communism permeating much of American political discourse after 1945 have no real counterpart anywhere else in the Western world-including in my native Sweden, one of the most Americanized countries in Europe? (Only in the United States among the Western democracies, Eric Hobsbawm has noted, was the “communist world conspiracy” a serious element in domestic politics.) What was the effect of this difference on foreign policy-making in the U.S. and in Europe, on perceptions of the Soviet threat, on the willingness to enter negotiations with communist adversaries?
Likewise, my interest in the Vietnam War-which has been the focus of much of my scholarly research-grew in part out of that war’s divisive impact on politics in neutral Sweden, a country about as far removed from the scene of the fighting as it was possible to be. Though too young to have any real memories of the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Stockholm and other cities (Sweden was the first Western nation to extend diplomatic recognition to North Vietnam), I developed early on a deep interest in the conflict, and a desire to learn why it happened and whether it could have been avoided.
Ultimately, of course, having an outsider perspective does not require being foreign- born or raised. Carl Becker hailed from Waterloo, Iowa, the heart of Middle America. Walter LaFeber, similarly, is the proud son of Walkerton, Indiana. Yet from the start both showed in their work a marvelous capacity to question the received wisdom, to dig deeper, to think otherwise. It’s a standard all of us who love history should strive to meet.
By Fredrik Logevall
- And there is this, finally, to say about America’s avoidable debacle in Vietnam: something very much like it could happen again. Not in the
same place, assuredly, and not in the same way, but potentially with equally destructive results. This is the central lesson of the war. The continued primacy of the executive branch in foreign affairs – and within that branch of a few individuals, to the exclusion of the bureaucracy — together with the eternal temptation of politicians to emphasize short-term personal advantage over long-term national interests, ensures that the potential will exist. . . . If future Vietnams are to be prevented, the American people and their representatives in Congress will have to meet their responsibilities no less than those who make the ultimate decisions. Otherwise, American soldiers will again be asked to kill and be killed, and their compatriots will again determine, afterward, that there was no good reason why. — Fredrik Logevall in “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
About Fredrik Logevall
- “Logevall’s book amounts to one of the most effective indictments of the Americanization of the Vietnam War that has yet been written.” — salon.com reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “Thorough and nuanced, and expressed with admirable clarity. Rarely is diplomatic history so well written these days.” — New York Times Book Review reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “Those who think Vietnam was a ‘tragedy’ owe it to themselves to factor ‘contingency’ out of the historical record. Fredrick Logevall has written a great book. Vietnam studies will never be the same. May he win all the prizes.” — Philadelphia Inquirer reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “The finest history to date of America’s decisions to escalate war in Vietnam. . . . More than just a Vietnam book, Choosing War offers a rare and beautifully crafted example of how to study a turning point in history.” — Foreign Affairs reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “Masterful. . . . Logevall presents a vivid and tragic portrait of the elements of U.S. decision-making on Vietnam from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the announcement of the American ground war in July 1965. In the process he reveals a troubling picture of top officials in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations persisting in efforts to boost the fortunes of sucessive governments of South Vietnam, even while they acknowledged that their chances for success were remote. In addition, he places the decision-making squarely in the international context.” — Robert D. Schulzinger, author of “A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975” reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “Stunning in its research and highly sophisticated in its analysis, Choosing War is far and away the best study we have of Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the conflict in Vietnam.” — George C. Herring reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “In this fine book, Fredrick Logevall offers the first detailed examination of why diplomacy failed to head off the Vietnam War. Grounding himself in documentary research and other sources from several countries, Logevall comes closer than anyone ever has to explaining what happened. His clear writing and deep analysis may well change our understanding of Vietnam as a quagmire.” — John Prados, author of “The Hidden History of the Vietnam War” reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- “A rising star among a new generation of historians, Fredrik Logevall has written the most important Vietnam book in years. By explaining the international context of that tragic conflict, Choosing War provides startling answers to the question, Why did the war happen? Controversial yet fair, this account challenges the reader to think through John F. Kennedy’s and Lydon B. Johnson’s individual responsibility for Vietnam. The effect is compelling, unforgettable history.” — Timothy Naftali, co-author of “One Hell of a Gamble:” Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964 reviewing “Choosing War The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam”
- In this important book an impressive international group of historians sheds fresh light on the First Indochina War. The years 1945 to 1954 are not just a crucial, formative period for the Vietnamese-American relationship, but also a significant chapter in the international history of the twentieth century. This work will prove most welcome to scholars and general readers alike. — Robert J. McMahon, Ohio State University reviewing “The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis”
- A fresh collection of stimulating and impressive essays on the First Vietnam War. Lawrence and Logevall have brought together the leading scholars of the period in what will be essential reading for anyone interested in colonialism and the early Cold War. — Robert K. Brigham, Vassar College reviewing “The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis”
- A splendid collection of essays based on sources from across the world and covering a wide range of topics. An indispensable addition to the literature on the First Vietnam War. — George C. Herring, University of Kentucky reviewing “The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis”
- The First Vietnam War beautifully illustrates the complex interplay between the emerging Cold War, the disintegrating colonial order, and the vibrant social, political, and cultural forces inside Indochina. The volume confirms the promise of the new international history?-multi-archival, multi-national, and multi-causal. — Melvyn P. Leffler, University of Virginia reviewing “The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis”
- “Really good professor, always willing to help, leads very interesting and thought-provoking discussions for the history honors seminar.”… “Great guy, very nice. Really enjoys history a lot, you can tell. Always runs out of time but is so passionate. Get him as your section leader.”… “He is very clear and concise…lectures are interesting and well-organized. He is always willing to meet with students. Definitely one of the best profs I’ve had at Cornell!!”… “Great teacher. He is clear, concise, and articulate. He keeps the class interesting (be sure you get him for section).”… “Best class I have ever taken and quite possibly the most inspiring professor I have ever had the privalege to learn from! Logevall is clearly passionate about his students and his subject and I was sorry when the quarter came to an end. Do not let the opportunity to take his class pass you by; his class alone is well worth your entire tuition!”… “The best class I took at UCSB. I became a history teacher because of Logevall! Fabulous class!”… “Outstandig professor of US History and Vietnam War in particular. Excellent lectures. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.” — Anonymous Students
Posted on Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 8:25 PM