1. TITLE (AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INFO): Analogies at War, 1992, Princeton University Press

2. AUTHOR:Yuen Foong Khong

3. AUTHOR’S BACKGROUND: The Author is a Professor of International Relations, John G. Winant University Lecturer, and Faculty Fellow at Nuffield College at Oxford University. He was formerly Director and Professor at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore; he is currently a Senior Research Adviser to the Institute. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard Universityin 1987 and was Assistant/Associate Professor inHarvard University’s Government Department from 1987-1994. He was also a former Social Science Research Council-MacArthur Foundation Fellow on International Peace and Security and a United States Institute of Peace Fellow. His book, Analogies at War (Princeton, 1992; fifth printing 2002), won the American Political Science Association’sPolitical Psychology Book Award (1994). He also received the Erik Erikson Award for distinguished early career contribution to political psychology in 1996. In 1997, he became a member of the Social Science Research Council Committee on International Peace and Security; he has also served as Vice President of the International Studies Association (U.S.A).

4. BRIEF OUTLINE ILLUSTRATING SCOPE AND RANGE (time period, geographic areas, countries or organizations, etc.): The Book focuses on analogies affecting U.S. decisions during the Vietnam war during 1965. The analogies date as far back as the 1930s (Munich-WW II).

5. AUTHOR’S ARGUMENT/THESIS/CONCLUSIONS: Analogies allow human beings to process new information easier and are often used in 3 ways by politicians: a). help analyze a situation, b). justify a past decision, c.) advocate for a specific point of view. Skeptics have argued that most people use analogies for b + c. The author also strove to indicate why analogies are used poorly (out of context) by policy makers.

   MAIN IDEAS:  Analogies (specifically Munich and Korea) influenced key U.S. decision-makers during 1965.  Specifically the decisions to incrementally expand the air campaign in Feb and to increase ground forces by 100,000 in July.

Analogical Explanation (AE) framework: shows how analogies can influence decision making: 1. Define nature of the situation/problem 2. Assess the stakes/cost 3. Provide prescriptions (solutions/COAs) 4. Predict probability of success 5. Evaluate Morality 6. Warn of dangers/feedback of COAs

   SUPPORT (MEANS OF PRESENTING MAIN IDEAS):  Khong used a 3-step method to demonstrate how analogies affect choices:

a) ID the most important analogy b) Specify lesson of analogy / evidence that lessons were heeded c) Document role of analogy in the policy selection process (consistent w/ options chosen/rejected?)

Khong did a quantitative analysis of analogies used by key U.S. policy makers, both in public and in private, then analyzed the two that were publicly used the most (Korea, Munich,) as well as the analogy of French adventurism in Vietnam (Dien Bien Phu), which as the analogy used second only to Korea (most likely because it was the one analogy that indicated the U.S could be defeated in Vietnam.

6. SUB-THEMES OR SUB-ARGUMENTS: Top-down thinking vs. bottom-up thinking. Bottom-up thinking which requires an individual to gather data then make a conclusion is superior to Top-down thinking where an individual cherry-picks data to fit into his pre-existing schema (framework of ideas).


Khong clearly stated there may be non-analogous reasons associated w/ decisions. For example key non-analogous reasons for President Johnson’s decisions were executing the policy of Containment and “fear of failure in Vietnam hurting his domestic agenda.

8. SUMMARY: Chapter 1: A HISTORICAL ANALOGY can occur when two or more events separated in time agree in one-or-more aspects. World leaders have long used analogies when making key decisions (Kennedy- strike during Cuban Missile Crisis would be another “Pearl Harbor, Deng Xiaoping – Tiananmen Square protester similar to rebels during the Cultural Revolutionand must be stopped). The danger in using historical analogies is that they are often over-generalized by top-down thinkers (i.e. only a few key characteristics of the analogy are used to make a connection to an unrelated event).

Chapter 2: Humans rely on Schemas (intellectual framework used to more efficiently organize thought and ideas) during learning – we need to be aware that long-held schema will often continue to exist even in the face of contradictory evidence.. An individual is more likely to choose an analogy that is more recent than one that occurred farther in the past. Another factor deciding what analogy a person uses is based on “fit” – if one analogy has more surface commonalities than another analogy, the one that has more commonalities will be used.

Chapter 3: 1965 was a key year in the Vietnam War due to the fact that President Johnson made 2 key decisions that year. The first was to launch Operation Rolling Thunder (the air war) and the second was to add 100,000 troops to the ground forces. These two decisions were selected from various COAs, such as:

Air War: Continue Present Course, Continuous heavy bombing, Graduated Air Attacks Ground War: Withdraw, Continue present course, Send 100,000 more troops, Use SAC, Mobilize reserves.

Before these decisions were made, the U.S. leaders used multiple analogies in both public and private to describe the actions: The two used most often were comparing Vietnam to the Korean War and comparing a lack of American action to UK/French unsuccessful appeasement of Hitler at Munich before WWII. The third analogy the author explored was that of comparing French actions in Vietnam in the 1950s w/ U.S. policy in the 1960s. This analogy was used mostly in private sessions due to the fact that equating U.S. policy w/ the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu would have been unpopular.

Chapter: 5: Comparing the Vietnam War with the Korean was the most common analogy used by key U.S. decision makers. While this viewpoint has championed by President Johnson as well as members of his key staff there was one dissenter (George Ball) who showed that while the two wars had some similarities (Asia, U.S. involvement) that they were clearly different (e.g. UN mandate in Korean War, Stable S. Korean Government, etc). The primary potential negative consequence that this analogy focused on was potential Chinese intervention (similar to the Chinese crossing the Yalu river and driving back U.S. forces in Korea) – it was this fear that helped guide Johnson to decide on a gradual bombing campaign vice a larger-scale operation

Chapter 6: Ball, who did not support an increased U.S. presence in Vietnam, focused analyzing the U.S. issues in Vietnam with those experienced by the French in the 1950s. He framed the potential Vietnamese reaction as a continuation of the Vietnamese war against French Colonialism instead of a war to liberate South Vietnam (e.g. this would be seen by Asians as another “White Man’s War”). Gen Westmorland also used the analogy when comparing the battle of KheSan to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the author contends that Westmorland’s focus on winning at Khe San may have let to the initial success of the Tet Offensive b/c he failed to focus on Saigon.

Chapter 7: The final analogy studied was that of the 1930s appeasement of Hitler at Munich. President Johnson was a firm believer in this analogy, though it was not used often Kennedy. The comparison to WWII changed the nature of the Vietnam Nam war from a regional issue to a high-stakes war of massive levels. Mostly this analogy was used to convince others about the importance of not giving in to the North Vietnamese, especially in contract to the French analogy. While the general lesson that “appeasement isn’t the best plan” was correct, there were numerous disconnects between the two events (Czech Gov’t was more stable than the South Vietnamese one, WWII had an external force (Nazis) attacking another state (Czechoslovakia)).

In conclusion, it’s apparent that the Korean War analogy resonated with key U.S. policy makers during the Vietnam War as was a reason why the U.S. escalated its presence vice withdrawing or maintaining the status quo. It’s important to note that Ball who used the French analogy to argue for a U.S. withdrawal phrase was highly accurate when he stated “We cannot win, Mr. President. This war will be long and protracted. The most we can hope for is a messy conclusion” ‘(p126)

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Analogies at War Precis

In Analogies at War, Oxford University political scientist Yuen Foong Khong explores both the how and why policay makers use historical analogies in their foreign policy decision-making and the implications of their doing so. Khong asserts that the unifying theme of previous works on the relationship between the lessons of history and policy has been that statesmen frequently turn to historical analogies for guidance when confronted with novel foreign policy problems, that they usually pick inappropriate analogies, and as a result, make bad policy decisions. Khong specifies what it is that historical analogies do and demonstrates how, if at all, such tasks influence decision outcomes. Khong proposes an Analogical Explanation (AE) framework, which suggests that analogies are cognitive devices that “help” policy makers diagnose tasks central to decision-making. The six tasks are (1) help define the nature of the situation confronting the policymaker, (2) help assess the stakes, and (3) provide prescriptions. The analogies help decision-makers evaluate alternative options by (4) predicting their chances of success, (5) evaluating their moral rightness, and (6) warning about dangers associated with the options.” The lessons of Korea had an especially powerful influence on Vietnam decision-making because they not only predisposed the policymakers toward intervention but also predisposed them toward selecting a specific option among the several pro-intervention options. The Korean analogy shaped the form and the fact of the US intervention. Khong asserts that decision-makers typically invoke inappropriate analogues that not only fail to illuminate the new situations but also mislead by emphasizing superficial and irrelevant parallels. Therefore, Khong believes that there is something about the psychology of analogical reasoning that makes it difficult, though not impossible, to use historical analogies properly in foreign affairs. Khong finds that people tend to access analogies on the basis of surface similarities, and once the analogy or schema is accessed, it (1) allows the perceiver to go beyond the information given, (2) processes information “top-down”, and (3) can lead to the phenomenon of perseverance.

The AE Framework

· “Analogies can be viewed as intellectual devices often called upon by policy-makers to perform a set of [six] diagnostic tasks relevant to political decision-making.” (20 – 21)

o Define the nature of the problem or situation confronting the policy maker by comparing the new situation to previous situations with which the policy maker is more familiar.

o Give the policymaker a sense of the political stakes involved

o Imply or suggest possible solutions to the problem so define

o Help evaluate the implied solution or other alternatives by “predicting” their likelihood of success

o “Assessing” their moral rightness

o “Warning” of dangers associated with them

· “A schema is a generic concept stored in memory…a person’s subjective “theory” about how the social or political world works…The difference between a schema and an analogy is that an analogy is specific and concrete, while a schema is abstract and generic.”

· “Schemas persist in the face of contradictory evidence. What is true of schemas should also be true of historical analogies: pointing out to policymakers the nonparallels between their favorite analogue and the actual situation is unlikely to erode their faith in their analogy.” (39)

American’s Vietnam Options

· One of the book’s major empirical findings it that “policymakers’ analogies are almost always challenged by colleagues in internal deliberations and that such challenges tend to have little impact on the proposer of the analogies.” (51)

· Khong’s method: (1) ID most important analogies, (2) specify what the analogies teach, (3) document the analogy’s role in the process. (58)


· “The historical analogy that played the most influential role in the decision-making of the 1960s was that of Korea.” (97)

· Bundy drew three lessons from Korea: (1) aggression needed to be met earl and head-on, (2) a defensive line did not adequately define US vital interests, and (3) a power vacuum was an invitation to aggression. (100)

· “A fundamental lesson of Korea was, therefore, that international communism was at work.” (101)

· “IF the Korean analogy defined the problem in Vietnam as one of external aggression, its implicit solution was of course the use of military force to check communist expansionism.” (112)

· “Psychologically…the decision-makers overcompensated for the ghost of MacArthur.” (147)

Dien Bien Phu

· “Dien Bien Phu suggests that the problem is one of the Vietnamese fighting colonial domination…It follows that the moral position of such a Western nation is untenable…The implicit policy prescription is that one might want to be doubly cautious…the Vietcong’s adversaries would be likely to experience serious internal dissent…predicts that the Vietcong’s adversary would be unlikely to win.” (149)

· “If the main lesson of Dien Bien Phu was the prediction of failure, the other lessons all seemed to reinforce that prediction.”

· “Uncertainty, more often than not, pervades foreign policy decision-making; it is also a major reason decision-makers look to the past for policy guidance.” (165)

Munich and the 1930s

· “Memories of the 1930s – and of Munich in particular – foreclosed the nonintervention options suggested by George Ball and the Dien Bien Phu analogy.” (174)

· “Aggression unchecked is aggression unleashed. Aggression unleashed is particularly dangerous because it leans eventually to general war just as the unchecked fascist aggressions of the 1930s led directly to WWII.” (175)

· “The Munich analogy was the intellectual basis of the domino theory.” (184)

· “If the lessons of Munich appear overly broad and categorical, and ultimately shallow, it is because such was the level of discourse held by its proponents, none of whom probed into the reasons Chamberlain and Daladier felt unprepared to fight Hitler in September 1938.” (187)


· “Because policymakers often encounter new foreign policy challenges and because structurally uncertainty usually infuses the environment in which responses to such challenges must be forged, policymakers routinely turn to the past for guidance.” (252)

· “When historical analogies have the strength, and when they command the acceptance that Gelb and Betts write about, they are also at their most dangerous. Analogies that are immune to critical questions, such as Korea and Munich in the 1960s, are unlikely to serve as a basis for genuinely productive analyses. Analogies that invite too many questions, such as the Vietnam analogy in the 1970s and 1980s, may be divisive, but at least they encourage their users to seek their answers elsewhere.” (263)


Analogies at War Yuen Foong Khong (1992)

Khong assumes that people and policy makers use historical analogies to make decisions.

1 – Specifies what analogies do in that process

2 – Provides an explanation why policymakers often use analogies badly

Outlines that analogies are used as frameworks to understand new information and situation.

Corrolates analogies to schemas in the psychological literature.

Tend to have top-down analysis and persist in the face of contradictory evidence

Shows how three historical analogies were used or not used in the 1965 decisions about Vietnam

1) Munich – don’t appease your opponent, get involved earlier

2) Diem Bien Phu – don’t get involved in Vietnam, French lost and so will US

3) Korea – Important to oppose spread of communism but do it in a gradual way to win.

Vicarious – learning from someone else

Visceral – learning from your own experience

Recent – closer in history tend to be used

Success – successful outcome tends to be used

History is a dangerous lover (our hindsight is always distorted by knowledge of what happened)

Is it similar enough to use? Is it different in essential ways or non-essential ways?

6 part structure: Analogies used to:

1- Help define the nature of the situation confronting policymakers

2- Help assess the stakes

3- Provide prescriptions

Then to evaluate alternative options by

4- Predicting their chances of success

5- Evaluating their moral rightness

6- Warning about dangers with the options