Alumni News | David Prentice's book about Vietnam echoes questions about Afghanistan withdrawal

Published: October 18, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Historian David Prentice is making important contributions to the history of the Vietnam War and to the question of how wars end, building upon his dissertation research in his upcoming book, "Unwilling to Quit: America and Vietnam in the Era of Vietnamization, 1969-1975."

Prentice earned a Ph.D. in History from the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University in December 2013. Since then he has won awards for his teaching at Oklahoma State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This summer, Prentice’s article “’Waltzing Matilda’ Out of Vietnam: Grand Strategy, Politics, and the Decision to Remove Australian Military Forces from Vietnam,” appeared in The Journal of Military History.

"As an award-winning instructor and author, I’m ever using—and continually honing—the research and writing skills I gained as a graduate student. OHIO’s faculty laid the foundation that enabled me to consider important historical questions, conduct global research, and then publish and present my work to scholarly and popular audiences," said Prentice, whose doctoral work at OHIO emphasized U.S. foreign relations with Chester Pach. He also studied U.S. cultural and intellectual history with Kevin Mattson, the British Empire with John Brobst, and America and the West with Robert Ingram. He earned a Contemporary History Certificate while at OHIO.

"Unwilling to Quit: America and Vietnam in the Era of Vietnamization, 1969-1975" examines the United States, South Vietnam, and the end of the Vietnam War and will be published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2023.

"Prentice, who wrote his dissertation on defense secretary Melvin Laird and the policy of Vietnamization (i.e., gradually reducing the presence of American combat soldiers in Vietnam while further building up South Vietnam’s armed forces) in the Nixon administration, hits a nerve in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan," noted Ingo Trauschweizer, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences. "How does one get out of a protracted war? How to balance operational needs, the requirements of friendly governments in so-called host countries (e.g., South Vietnam into the 1970s or Afghanistan in the 21st century), public opinion at home, political will, the economics of a long war, and global questions of security?"

"Prentice’s work is a terrific example of contemporary history, and it is no surprise that he thrived in the History Department and the Contemporary History Institute," Trauschweizer added.

Q&A with David Prentice

This interview was conducted in October 2022.

Q: What classes and/or professors shaped your studies and your research? Did you start out with a clear idea for a dissertation, or did it evolve from your coursework and exam preparations?

A: Robert Ingram helped me think deeply about history, contingency, and teleology. His courses fundamentally changed not only how I understood early modern Europe, but how I approached our discipline. And as one of his teaching assistants, I benefited enormously from watching him work (though I remain, at best, an in-frequent bow-tie wearer).

Chester Pach was critical to the dissertation. I knew I wanted to write about Richard Nixon’s grand strategy, but I didn’t know how to transform that interest into a manageable topic. Pach wisely suggested I narrow my focus to how and when Nixon began removing U.S. troops from Vietnam—his Vietnamization strategy. From there, the topic grew, particularly post-dissertation, to include international perceptions of the same. My recent Journal of Military History article on Australian withdrawals was one of these off-shoots. I also expanded the dissertation (now a forthcoming book titled "Unwilling to Quit") to include Vietnamese voices and archives. But none of this publishing would have happened without Pach.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your faculty?

A: I should do better at staying in touch—the perennial excuse of being too busy. That said, Robert Ingram has been a good source of advice and encouragement as was the late Bruce Steiner.  Ingram’s effort to stream the George Washington Forum’s events was a real blessing during the pandemic. My wife and I loved tuning in!

Paul Milazzo has been fantastic at helping me get my undergraduate courses off the ground. Few professors put in as much effort into planning and refining their classes as he does. Often, he has generously shared his syllabi, reading lists, and other ideas. I am very grateful for his thoughtfulness and his kindness.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: In 2010, my M.A. thesis was OHIO’s nominee for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. It didn’t win, but I was deeply honored at being nominated. Indeed, that praise encouraged me to keep on writing and work at publishing to a wide audience.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: My fellow alum, Jeremy Hatfield, introduced me to Buffalo Wild Wings while we were both at OHIO.  I have many fond memories of hanging out there with my colleagues.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss? 

A: By nature, I tend to work long hours, so I missed much of the OHIO experience. I would tell new students to take advantage of something I overlooked: the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway and park. It’s on my to-do list of top scenic drives!

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