Vietnam and Beyond

Back to Diplomats and Diplomacy

Vietnam and Beyond: A Diplomat’s Cold War Education

Robert Hopkins Miller’s forty-year Foreign Service career, from 1951 to 1991, spanned virtually the entire Cold War. Miller worked on America’s unsuccessful Vietnam venture and its aftermath for nearly one-third of his career, and this account demonstrates his exceptional “hands-on” knowledge and his own critical evolution. The Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s dominates this book as it dominated U.S. foreign policy at the time. Vietnam and Beyond delves most deeply into those years but also covers Miller’s postings in Europe and his assignments as ambassador to Malaysia, 1977–1980, and to Cote d’Ivoire, 1983–1986.

During the Vietnam War, Miller served as a young political officer and deputy chief of the political section in the U.S. embassy in Saigon and later worked with Ambassador Philip Habib at the Paris peace negotiations. In between he served as director of the Vietnam Working Group at the State Department. Later, as the war ended, he served as deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs. As a player in the events of the years from 1962 to the war’s end, Miller has much of value to say about pre-Diem and post-Diem Vietnam; about the policy context and critical debates in the Washington bureaucracy as the war dragged on; about the personalities and tortuous events of the Paris talks; and about the flood of Vietnamese “boat people” arriving, unwelcomed, in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Miller draws on published accounts and official files as well as personal recollections. He provides informative and fascinating observations on such leading players as Maxwell Taylor, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Bundy, Phil Habib, David Bruce, Robert Komer, and the South Vietnamese leadership. As the story of these years unfolds, he poignantly reveals how his own views on Vietnam evolved over time, from a young officer’s enthusiastic acceptance of John F. Kennedy’s challenge to “bear any burden, pay any price” in the defense of liberty to a maturing officer’s growing doubts and frustrations regarding a policy—and a war—gone awry.

Ambassador Miller’s early diplomatic career involved him in the NATO buildup in Europe, presidential travel and summitry, and the Congo crisis of the early 1960s. Later, post-Vietnam, in addition to his ambassadorships in Kuala Lumpur and Abidjan, he held senior policy and management positions in the State Department and served as vice president of the National Defense University. Since retiring, he has taught at Georgetown and George Washington universities and lectured in a number of East Asian countries. He is the author of The United States and Vietnam, 1787–1941, Inside an Embassy: The Political Role of Diplomats Abroad, and articles on Vietnam and Southeast Asia.