As printed in the January issue of Diplomatic History, the full text of the 2014 SHAFR President Address is temporarily available online for free. (A video version of this lecture is embedded on this page from SHAFR's YouTube channel).
In "Structure, Contingency, and the War in Vietnam," Fredrik Logevall focuses on
a particular historical problem: How do we account for the reality, as I see it, that three American presidents, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon, escalated and perpetuated a war in Southeast Asia that they privately suspected was neither winnable nor necessary, one that before it was over would claim that lives of more than 58,000 Americans and some three million Vietnamese, two million of them civilians? (In April 1967, the month SHAFR came into being, 436 U.S. soldiers were killed in action.) It seems unfathomable on some level, it cries out for explanation, yet I’m not sure I have an adequate one to offer, even twenty-five years after I began researching the struggle’s origins. But I believe it’s a question of profound historical importance, and I shall examine it here by zeroing in on the buildup under Kennedy and Johnson in the first half of the 1960s. (The Nixon decisions will be a subject for another day.)
Fredrik Logevall was the president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) during 2014. He is the Stephen and Madeline Anbinder Professor of History at Cornell University, where he serves as vice provost for international affairs and director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. He is the author or editor of nine books, including, most recently, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America¹s Vietnam (Random House, 2012), which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for History, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the American Library in Paris Book Award; A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 9th ed. (with Mary Beth Norton et al; Cengage, 2011); America¹s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (with Campbell Craig; Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2009); and Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (co-edited with Andrew Preston; Oxford University Press, 2008). A co-founder of the Center for Cold War Studies and International History at UC Santa Barbara, Logevall received his PhD from Yale University.