It is commonly thought that the U.S. Army in Vietnam, thrust into a war in which territory occupied was meaningless, depended on body counts as its sole measure of military progress. In No Sure Victory, Army officer and historian Gregory A. Daddis uncovers the truth behind this gross simplification of the historical record. Daddis shows that, confronted by an unfamiliar enemy and an even more unfamiliar form of warfare, the U.S. Army adopted a massive, and eventually unmanageable, system of measurements and formulas to track the progress of military operations that ranged from pacification efforts to search-and-destroy missions. Concentrating more on data collection and less on data analysis, these indiscriminate attempts to gauge success may actually have hindered the army's ability to evaluate the true outcome of the fight at hand--a roadblock that Daddis believes significantly contributed to the multitude of failures that American forces in Vietnam faced. Filled with incisive analysis and rich historical detail, No Sure Victory is a valuable case study in unconventional warfare, a cautionary tale that offers important perspectives on how to measure performance in current and future armed conflict.
Commonly mistaken for the locally raised Viet Cong, the NVA was an entirely different force, conducting large-scale operations in a conventional war. Despite limited armour, artillery and air support, the NVA were an extremely politicized and professional force with strict control measures and leadership concepts. Gordon Rottman follows the fascinating life of the highly motivated infantryman from conscription and induction through training to real combat experiences. Covering the evolution of the forces from 1958 onwards, this book takes an in-depth look at the civilian and military lives of the soldiers, whilst accompanying artwork details the uniforms, weapons and equipment used by the NVA in their clash against America and her allies.
On April 16, 1972 at 15,000 feet in the skies near Hanoi, North Vietnam Major Dan Cherry first met Lieutenant Nguyen Hong My. In an intense five minute aerial battle Dan shot down the MiG-21 piloted by Hong My. Major Cherry returned safely to base. Lieutenant Hong My lived but was severely injured during the ejection. Both men returned to the cockpit to fly aerial combat again. Thirty-six years later Dan Cherry and Hong My met face to face in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam for the first time since that fateful day.
The first comprehensive study of the massacre's reception in the United States and its place in American memory Contrary to common interpretations of the Vietnam conflict as an unhealed national wound or trauma, it argues that, if anything, Americans have assimilated the war and its violence rather too well and that they were able to do so even when the war was at its height Incorporates a wealth of different source materials - government papers, military records and legal papers, newspapers and television, opinion polls, memoirs, psychological studies and philosophical reflections, interviews, film, art, novels, poetry and popular song, as well as a visit to the site of the massacre itself Attempts to restore the perspectives of the Vietnamese victims, neglected in most American accounts, to the written record of the massacre.
Drawing on a wealth of new evidence from all sides, Triumph Forsaken overturns most of the historical orthodoxy on the Vietnam War. Through the analysis of international perceptions and power, it shows that South Vietnam was a vital interest of the United States. The book provides many new insights into the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 and demonstrates that the coup negated the South Vietnamese government's tremendous, and hitherto unappreciated, military and political gains between 1954 and 1963. After Diem's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson had at his disposal several aggressive policy options that could have enabled South Vietnam to continue the war without a massive US troop infusion, but he ruled out these options because of faulty assumptions and inadequate intelligence, making such an infusion the only means of saving the country.
Vietnam : The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975
The Vietnam war continues to be the focus of intense controversy. While most people—liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, historians, pundits, and citizens alike—agree that the United States did not win the war, a vocal minority argue the opposite or debate why victory never came, attributing the quagmire to everything from domestic politics to the press. The military never lost a battle, how then did it not win the war?
Stepping back from this overheated fray, bestselling author John Prados takes a fresh look at both the war and the debates about it to produce a much-needed and long-overdue reassessment of one of our nation's most tragic episodes. Drawing upon several decades of research-including recently declassified documents, newly available presidential tapes, and a wide range of Vietnamese and other international sources—Prados's magisterial account weaves together multiple perspectives across an epic-sized canvas where domestic politics, ideologies, nations, and militaries all collide.
Prados patiently pieces back together the events and moments, from the end of World War II until our dispiriting departure from Vietnam in 1975, that reveal a war that now appears to have been truly unwinnable—due to opportunities lost, missed, ignored, or refused. He shows how—from the Truman through the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations—American leaders consistently ignored or misunderstood the realities in Southeast Asia and passed up every opportunity to avoid war in the first place or avoid becoming ever more mired in it after it began. Highlighting especially Ike's seminal and long-lasting influence on our Vietnam policy, Prados demonstrates how and why our range of choices narrowed with each passing year, while our decision-making continued to be distorted by Cold War politics and fundamental misperceptions about the culture, psychology, goals, and abilities of both our enemies and our allies in Vietnam.
By turns engaging narrative history, compelling analytic treatise, and moving personal account, Prados's magnum opus challenges previous authors and should rightfully take its place as the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and accurate one-volume account of a war that—judging by the frequent analogies to the current war in Iraq—has not yet really ended for any of us.
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Prados argues that the USA acted within the context of political, military, social, economic, foreign policy. He refers to this as an envelope. As events progressed from 1945 forward, that enveloped . Читать весь отзыв
Vietnam: the history of an unwinnable war, 1945-1975
Prados (senior fellow, National Security Archive, George Washington Univ.), who has written prolifically on the Vietnam War, here provides a copiously detailed general history of that conflict. He . Читать весь отзыв
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By Philip Caputo
You’re recommending books about the Vietnam War. Tell me about the first book on your list, A Rumor of War (1977).
Philip Caputo was a marine who later became a very well-known journalist. In my mind it’s one of the first really well-written books that describe the moral ambiguities and difficulties faced by a young marine officer in this particular war. Before that you had World War II when they took Iwo Jima and, OK, there was horrendous fighting, but it was much more clear-cut. Caputo was the first one to describe the terrible ambiguities. He got into trouble over something that happened, I can’t remember what, but he spoke very honestly about the difficult part of trying to be a man leading troops in combat in a difficult war.
Moral ambiguity sounds like a euphemism for something. Are you talking about atrocities?
No. I think it’s that there wasn’t the clear-cut good versus evil that you had in the Second World War. It wasn’t clear. We were involved in fighting the North Vietnamese, who weren’t nice! They committed terrible atrocities themselves. And we were involved in supporting a government, the South Vietnamese, and they weren’t nice and, obviously, getting thrown into the situation when it’s like – what really is going on here?
“I wake up every day and I think about death, dying, things I did every day. It doesn’t go away.”
And, quite frankly for my generation, when we were little boys in the 50s we were raised on the knights in shining armour idea – we’re going to go and defeat evil Nazis. Vietnam didn’t have that. That’s what I meant by the ambiguity. There were no white knights on either side any more.
That must have been terribly distressing.
It was difficult, yes. But what happens — and I think it’s important to understand that when you commit to something like joining the military — these issues are important, but when you’re actually fighting you are no different from World War II soldiers. My own father was in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and my uncles fought in Italy and the Pacific and they all said that we didn’t think once about whupping fascism or anything of the sort. It was just: ‘How do we get out of this alive and help our friends get out of this alive and not let them down?’ It quickly boils down to those around you so there’s a point at which the issue of who’s the white knight disappears.
The Cham of Vietnam : History, Society and Art
The Cham people once inhabited and ruled over a large stretch of what is now the central Vietnamese coast. The Indianized civilization of this Austronesian-speaking group flourished between roughly the third and fifteenth centuries, and they competed with the Vietnamese and Khmers for influence in mainland Southeast Asia, but the Cham territories eventually became part of modern Vietnam. Written by specialists in history, archaeology, anthropology, art history, and linguistics, the essays in The Cham of Vietnam contribute to a revisionist overview of Cham history by re-assessing the ways the Cham have been studied by different generations of scholars of what "Champa" has represented over the centuries of its history. Several chapters focus on archaeological work in central Vietnam and position recent discoveries within the broader framework of Cham history, but there are also discussions of Cham economy, society and culture.
Through this study of a people that did not become a nation-state, the book provides penetrating insights into the history of Vietnam and on the broader dynamic of Southeast Asian history.
Vietnam : A History
Stanley Karnow, born in New York City in 1925, served in the U.S. army in the China - Burma - India Theater during World War II, graduated from Harvard and attended the Sorbonne and the Ecole des Sciences Politques in Paris. He began his journalistic career in Paris in 1950 as a Time correspondent. He went to Asia for Time and Life in 1959 and subsequently reported from there for The Washington Post. He was a correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post, the London Observer and NBC News. While serving as an editor of the New Republic, he was also a columnist for Newsweek International King Features. Mr Karnow won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines.
His other books include Mao and China: From Revolution Revolution. He served as chief correspondent for the series "Vietnam: A Television History," for which he won six Emmys and shared in the Dupont, Peabody and Polk Awards. He was also chief correspondent and narrator of "The U.S. and the Phillippines: In Our Image."
A resident of Potomac, Maryland, Stanley Karnow is married, and has three children and two grandchildren.
Best Vietnam Fiction Books
Find below a list of the best Vietnam novels 2021 has to offer! You can find suggestions for the best books set in Vietnam.
1. Best Books Set in Vietnam
Find below suggestions of books to read before visiting Vietnam.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement
by Camilla Gibb
The Beauty of Humanity Movement was one of the first books I read and I still feel like it is one of the best novels set in Vietnam that looks at daily life beyond the war.
Every morning in Hanoi, people line up to breakfast on a bowl of pho, traditional noodle soup, made by Old Man Hung. An itinerant soup vendor living in a shantytown, Hung once owned a café where a group of dissident artists and intellectuals called the Beauty of Humanity Movement met until the Communists shut it down.
If Hung is a link to Vietnam’s past, Tu, the grandson of one of the artists, is a link to its future. It is Tu’s job as a tour guide to show the sites of Hanoi to visitors from the West. One of these is Maggie, a Vietnamese American art curator who has come to Hanoi to catalogue the art collection of the refurbished Hotel Metropole. She also hopes to learn something about her father, an artist, who stayed behind when Maggie and her mother fled to the U.S.
Through the very different perspectives of these three, Gibb fluidly takes the reader from the bitter years of war to the Hanoi that has emerged in the reform era, which, despite all its modernization, is still a mystery to many of us.
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The Best We Could Do
The Best We Could is a national bestseller!
It is an illustrated memoir of one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam. It is a graphic novel and the story is told in a beautiful emotional voice. It is about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. The book explores the anguish of immigration. It also shares the emotions of a family dealing with the lasting effects that displacement has on a child.
The book looks at the story of a family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970's. It looks at the realistic challenges they faced whilst trying to rebuild a new life for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love.
The important of the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home are some of the main themes that runs throughout this incredible book. It is the best book about Vietnam family life and the realistic struggles of lost identity.
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2. Best Vietnam War Books
Find below a collection of the best books on the Vietnam war! Whilst some of these books are a bit older, they are still brilliant to read and give you great insight into the war. Some of these are fiction books about Vietnam war (based on factual information), whilst others include some of the best books on Vietnam history of the war.
Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam
by Anthony Grey
‘Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam by Anthony Grey' happens to be one of the best books on Vietnam War so if you are after a bit of war history then this one is the perfect book for you!
This book centers around twentieth-century Vietnam. It tells the story of Joseph's first visit to Saigon in 1925. He returns back to Vietnam many times, sometimes as a traveler, other times as a soldier and finally as a reporter. He falls in love with the exotic land and with Lan, a mandarin’s daughter he cannot forget.
Over five decades Joseph’s life becomes enmeshed with the political intrigues of two of Saigon’s most influential families, the French colonist Devrauxs, and the native Trans—and inevitably with Vietnam’s turbulent, war torn fate. He is there when the hatred of a million coolies rises against the French, and when the French Foreign Legion fights its bloody last stand at Dien Bien Phu. He sees US military “advisors” fire their first shots in America’s hopeless war against the red tide of Communist revolution and tries to salvage something of lasting value on a desperate helicopter flight out of defeated Saigon.
A great read! If you haven't read this one yet, then it might be the time for it today!
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The Vietnam War: An Intimate History
by Geoffrey C. Ward
Even in the year 2021, there still seems to be an argument around about who was right and wrong in their response to the conflict of the Vietnam War.
What we do know is that when the war divided the country, it created deep political fault lines that continue to divide us today. It has been over 40 years since the war ended, but yet it still haunts their country.
This book is not however about taking sides, the book is all about seeking to understand why this war happened, why it went the way it did.
The authors have done their research, they have interviewed dozens and dozens of people from both America as well as Vietnam to get the true perspectives from people that were actually involved in the war.
People interviewed include U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers and their families, high-level officials in America and Vietnam, antiwar protestors, POWs, and many more.
This book is beautifully written and the illustrations are rich. The book aims to launch a new national conversation. Have you read it yet??
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Fields of Fire
by James Webb
One of the best books on Vietnam
This book is a great read if you enjoy reading books about the Vietnam war! This book happens to be one of the best novels about Vietnam and will give you some great insight into what it was like to be in this war!
Fields of Fire is a brilliant book about the Vietnam War. The book includes some great observations and agonizing human truths about the nonstop combat of the war.
The book looks at unformed men through a man-made hell, following along with their journey until eventually, they face their fate.
The book centers around three young men who were thrown into the murderous realm of the jungle warfare of 1969. They were unaware of what exactly waited for them and there was no way that they could have prepared themselves for the chaos and madness to come.
All of this madness made them take on new identities, take on each other, and each was reborn in fields of fire on the battlefield.
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Catfish and Mandala
by Andrew X. Pham
Catfish and Mandala is the story of an American Odyssey, a book that tells its story through a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam.
A young Vietnamese-American man was born in Vietnam but raised in California. He sets off in pursuit of his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland.
After the suicide of his sister, Pham decides to leave everything behind and sets off on a year-long bicycle journey.
He crosses the Mexican desert, bicycles from Narita to Kyoto in Japan and, after five months and 2,357 miles, bicycles to Saigon.
In Vietnam, he's taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen. Only his relatives know that he is truly Vietnamese.
A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity. And in my opinion, a great Vietnam book to read.
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The Sympathizer: A Novel
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This book won six awards! The Sympathizer has the pace and has the suspense of a thriller, but yet the writing style is compared to other popular authors such as Graham Greene and Saul Bellow.
The Sympathizer is a story of two opposites: love and betrayal.
It tells the story of a communist double agent, a half-French, a half-Vietnamese army captain. He makes his way to America after the Fall of Saigon, and finds other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles, where he tries to build a new life. He secretly reports back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.
The Sympathizer is a book that explores identity and America. It is a powerful novel of both love and friendship.
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Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
by Karl Marlantes
Vietnam Novels Bestsellers
A very popular book and one of the most bought of the Vietnam Novels Bestsellers! New York Times bestseller, a National Indie Next and a USA Today bestseller.
Matterhorn was written by a Vietnam veteran. Matterhorn has been hailed as a “brilliant account of war”.
This book is an epic war novel that centers around the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company. They are dropped into the jungle of Vietnam as boys and are forced to fight.
They have the challenge of dealing with the North Vietnamese, with monsoon rain, mud, leeches, tigers, disease and malnutrition.
On top of all of those challenges, they are faced with obstacles that relate to racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers.
The experience of the war will change them forever. As they fight as a man right into manhood. It is a brilliant novel that will take emotions from the tragedy of Vietnam and turn them into a powerful story of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice.
A great read! Why not grab it now!
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When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
by Le Ly Hayslip
What an incredibly emotional novel set in Vietnam. If you are after a Vietnamese novel that will pull at your heart string then this is the one!
Some believe that during the war, heaven and earth change places not once, but many times.
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places is a novel in the format of a memoir of a girl on the verge of womanhood, stuck in a world that is turned upside down.
She is the youngest of six children, she is part of a close-knit Buddhist family. She was only 12 years old when U.S. helicopters landed in her tiny village in central Vietnam.
The government and Viet Cong troops recruited children as spies and saboteurs. Le Ly was one of those children.
Le Ly had a childhood that nobody should have, before the age of sixteen, she had already suffered near-starvation, imprisonment, torture, rape, as well as witness the deaths of family members.
But yet, even through all these obstacles, she still holds fast to her faith in humanity.
Eventually, Le Ly manages to escape to America, and when she is older she returns to the devastated country and family she left behind.
The book is a book of contrasts, with scenes of a joyous reunion, but with the history and emotions of the brutal war years. The book is about Le Ly, a courageous woman who experienced the true horror of the Vietnam War—and survived to tell her unforgettable story.
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The Quiet American
by Graham Greene
The Quiet American is perhaps the most controversial novel of Graham Greene’s career.
The novel centers around the main character, Pyle, who is a brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon. In Saigon, the French Army is struggling against the Vietminh guerrillas.
As young Pyle’s well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer.
But Fowler’s motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and himself, for Pyle has stolen Fowler’s beautiful Vietnamese mistress.
A great read, even though it is an older release, it is still one of the most popular books about Vietnam.
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Vietnam, a History
This monumental narrative clarifies, analyzes, and demystifies the tragic ordeal of the Vietnam war. Free of ideological bias, profound in its undertsanding, and compassionate in its human portrayls, it is filled with fresh revelations drawn from secret documents and from exclusive interviews with participants-French, American, Vietnamese, Chinese: diplomats, military commanders, high government officials, journalists, nurses, workers, and soldiers. Originally published a companion to the Emmy-winning PBS series, Karnow's defining book is a precursor to Ken Burns's ten-part forthcoming documentary series, The Vietnam War. Vietnam: A History puts events and decisions into such sharp focus that we come to understand - and make peace with - a convulsive epoch of our recent history.
This is history writing at its best. -Chicago Sun-Times
Even those of us who think we know something about it will read with fascination. -The New York Times
“If a soldier wanted to stay safe, his best course was to remain absolutely still, preferably in a hole: every movement made him more vulnerable. Yet it was the duty of infantrymen to move. They spent much of their field time seeking out the enemy in platoon, company, or battalion strength. For fifty thousand Americans fulfilling that role at any one time, exotic Asian nature became the new normal: the brilliant green of rice paddies, darker green of palm groves, small boys leading out water buf “If a soldier wanted to stay safe, his best course was to remain absolutely still, preferably in a hole: every movement made him more vulnerable. Yet it was the duty of infantrymen to move. They spent much of their field time seeking out the enemy in platoon, company, or battalion strength. For fifty thousand Americans fulfilling that role at any one time, exotic Asian nature became the new normal: the brilliant green of rice paddies, darker green of palm groves, small boys leading out water buffalo, farmers plodding with the patience of centuries behind ox-drawn wooden plows. At dusk grunts watched the buffalo being driven back home, flanks caked with mud from their wallows, pretty much like themselves. And somewhere concealed within all this rustic charm, there was the enemy…”
- Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75
This is a book I have been waiting for a long time.
This is the Battle Cry of Freedom of the Vietnam War. A beautifully and pungently written single volume history that valiantly attempts the impossible task of capturing and clarifying this multilayered military, political, and human catastrophe.
The Vietnam War (encompassing the First Indochina War, between the French and Vietminh, and the Second Indochina War, pitting the U.S. and South Vietnam against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong) is a historical subject I have mostly avoided. First, like World War I, it is an imposingly complex subject. Adding to the complexity is the westerner’s difficulty in pronouncing the proper nouns – both people and locations – that are required to understand the story. Finally, and most importantly, Vietnam does not feel like settled history. It is still firmly implanted in living memory. I was born after the wars of Vietnam had concluded, but I grew up surrounded by people who had experienced parts of it firsthand. We are still collectively sorting out what it all meant. The war is still controversial and still being refought.
Max Hastings has convinced me that now is the time to start learning more about these tumultuous decades, which cost millions of lives and damaged many millions more that dramatically reordered one society, and shattered another that killed one president (Diem), destroyed another (Johnson), and tarnished a third (Nixon) that cost untold billions of dollars in military spending and economic aid and that nearly squandered the trust that Americans have for government.
In Inferno, Hastings showed a magical touch for boiling down a titanic struggle, delivering perhaps the best one-volume history of World War II. He exceeds that triumph with Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy. While smaller in terms of numbers involved and casualties incurred, the Vietnam War is far more fraught and tangled, a moral gray zone as vast as the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Hastings starts with the briefest of overviews of the land over which so many people would come to grief:
After that, he begins his story proper in 1945, with the French (who had been thrashed by the Germans, collaborated with the Germans, and who had fired on American troops in North Africa) being allowed to retain their colony in Indochina. (One of the terrible ifs of the Vietnam War is what might have happened if the anti-colonialist Roosevelt had not died). Vietnam ends in 1975, with the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. This thirty-year interval is crammed with a library’s worth of incidents.
The Vietnam War defies an easy presentation. There is no linear progression of events to follow. This is not World War II, for instance, where it is easy to track the ebb and tide of fortune by tracing territory that is lost and recaptured, decisive battles that are lost or won. The Vietnam War was fluid and ever-changing, with no front lines, no clear demarcation between friend and foe, with few large battles, and certainly no decisive ones. (An American advisor once compared the Vietnam War to an NFL game in which one team is dressed as the spectators and periodically hides the ball and runs up into the stands).
With this level of narrative difficulty, Hastings’s major accomplishment is in his structure and framework, his ability to take this massive and multifaceted tale and pare it down to something that is not only comprehensible, but also a joy to read.
Overall he employs a straightforward chronology, coverings events as they appear along the timeline. Though this is not a military history by any means, but he does provide set-piece reconstructions of some of the major engagements, including Dien Bien Phu, Hue, and Dai Do. Hastings also periodically employs a thematic method of approach. There is a chapter solely dedicated to Rolling Thunder, for instance, which allows him to focus on one facet of the war without distraction. Hastings also breaks his chapters down into smaller subsections, and he devotes many of those subsections to discussions on specific topics, such as the role of helicopters, the danger of booby traps, and a comparative analysis of the relative merits of the AK-47 versus the M-16.
Through this all, he pays close attention to the relationship between parties. While covering the obvious strain between the U.S. and South Vietnam, he also recognizes the strife between the North Vietnamese and their guerilla allies in the south. He is also conscious that the terminology of the war can be unfamiliar and often shifts over time. Thus, when the Vietminh (devoted to throwing out the French) transformed into the Vietcong (dedicated to throwing out the Americans), Hastings is sure to let you know.
Hastings is also incredibly successful in using individual stories as representative samples from which to extrapolate larger meaning. Throughout Vietnam, he continues to return to a discrete number of characters who we follow throughout the book. (A dramatis personae would have been helpful in this regard). This provides a lens that is at once wide-angled and intimate, that gives you the vast swath of experiences while also reminding you that history is not the recounting of dates and occurrences but a big story made up of countless smaller human dramas. To that end, Hastings utilizes a variety of voices: C.I.A. spooks and U.S. grunts NVA infantrymen, VC guerillas, and communist cadres and, of course, there are the peasants caught between impossible and opposing forces. You meet Dang Thuy Tram, a young revolutionary, the daughter of a Hanoi surgeon, whose diary was found when she was killed by an American patrol in 1970. You also meet Doug Ramsey, who spent seven years as a prisoner-of-war in unimaginable conditions.
One of the things that sets Hastings apart from many other author/historians is that he writes with a distinctly sharp tone. He can be caustic, sardonic, and witty. When discussing French officers Michel Bigeard and Pierre Langlais at Dien Bien Phu he notes: “[They] were better suited to enduring crucifixion than inspiring a resurrection.”
On the allocation of frontline troops as against support forces: “Maybe two-thirds of the men who came home calling themselves veterans – entitled to wear the medal and talk about their PTSD troubles – had been exposed to no greater risk than a man might incur from ill-judged sex or “bad shit” drugs.”
On the circularity of the war: “This was a Groundhog Day conflict, in which contests for a portion of elephant grass, jungle, or rice paddy were repeated not merely month after month, but year upon year, with no Andie McDowell as prize in the last reel.”
(I don’t know exactly why, but I am absolutely tickled at the idea of Max Hastings, the tough old foreign correspondent, sitting down to watch Groundhog Day).
Vietnam was an incredibly divisive conflict, but Hastings does an admirable job maintaining his neutrality. To be sure, he often repeats conservative/hawkish complaints (that the brutality of North Vietnam’s Stalinist regime is ignored that antiwar protestors were hopelessly naïve that the American press didn't tell the full story), but his overall position is that of skeptic. He is constantly questioning everyone and everything. Indeed, he seems to model himself after The Quiet American’s cynical Fowler. His scathing tongue knows no political party, and he unleashes a variety of slashing attacks on Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that reminded me of the Velociraptors from Jurassic Park. And despite his handwringing about soldiers smoking marijuana and college students hanging North Vietnamese flags, his overall conclusion is that the American effort in Vietnam was doomed. In his view, no amount of military success could have changed the fact that South Vietnam was corrupt, tainted, and hopelessly disconnected from her citizens.
The struggle over the meaning of Vietnam has only just begin. We are, after all, still grappling with the American Civil War, which ended over 150 years ago. To his credit, Hastings does not attempt to draw any pat lessons. He understands that the answer to Vietnam will not be found in John Wayne’s blatantly propagandistic The Green Berets, and it will not be found in Jane Fonda’s reprehensible decision to sit on an NVA antiaircraft gun. The answer is not even in the middle, equidistant between two poles.
Instead of answers, Hastings provides experiences. He superbly traces the contours of this epochal disaster by charting the courses of the people who lived through it, and those who did not survive. . more
Kudos to my friend Matt for reviewing this book on here and thus piquing my interest. I am not very well-read in history (or anything else) and have read maybe 3 or 4 books on the Vietnam War and own perhaps a dozen more. Most of these are books about different major or minor battles, memoirs, books about specific divisions, e.g., the tunnel rats, etc. I had no overview of the war setting aside an old version of Stanley Karnow&aposs Vietnam, a book I could never get into.
The great aspect of Sir Max Kudos to my friend Matt for reviewing this book on here and thus piquing my interest. I am not very well-read in history (or anything else) and have read maybe 3 or 4 books on the Vietnam War and own perhaps a dozen more. Most of these are books about different major or minor battles, memoirs, books about specific divisions, e.g., the tunnel rats, etc. I had no overview of the war setting aside an old version of Stanley Karnow's Vietnam, a book I could never get into.
The great aspect of Sir Max Hasting's new book on Vietnam is that it is an almost complete history of the war era, beginning with the French, humiliated in WW II, trying to recapture some of their old glory by reasserting themselves in this distant colony where they had given the people culture and taught them to read Racine, in return for extracting a great deal of natural resources the country had to offer, along with the labor of the people.
Some historians have said that the lessons of history are never learned. Vietnam was ruled by various Chinese Dynasties, beginning around the early first Millennium, finally evicting their Chinese overlords. They successfully repulsed the Mongol Hordes on three separate occasions in the 13th Century. The fact they repulsed the Mongols three times might have given the French pause before they sent their priests in to convert the Viets from their Mahayana Buddhism and ancestor worship to the "true" faith, a conversion process which began when French traders first came to Vietnam in the 17th Century and evolved over a span of several hundred years into the French asserting increasing control until they ruled all of Vietnam by 1884. Their dominion there was not without its troubles and there were constant portents of uprisings, along with actual uprisings against the French encroachment.
Sir Max doesn't go into much detail about the country's history before the French returned in force in 1945 to reassert themselves over their lost colony. The French have made many blunders throughout their long history but this attempt to dominate Vietnam, where a rebel movement had begun stirring in the early 1940s--i.e., the Viet Minh, a communist group of reprobates with the effrontery to wish to run their country by themselves using whatever ideology they pleased, may have been their worst mistake since Napoleon invaded Russia.
The French might have been wise to let well-enough alone, but in their hubris they attempted to subdue the communist malefactors. France, with aid from British and Japanese, stemmed the initial Viet Minh rebellion-- but this control proved tenuous and in 1946 a guerilla war broke out, resulting in a 9-year battle in which the Viet Minh, aided with weapons and money by Russia and China, outfought and outmaneuvered the French, who suffered a particularly ignominious defeat in 1954 at the Battle of Dien Ben Phu (excuse my lack of diacritical marks). At this point, the French finally realized that perhaps they were not going to win this war and talks were held at Geneva where it was agreed the French would cease fighting in Vietnam and that elections would be held in a couple of years to determine the political fate of the nation. Not everyone in Vietnam supported the communist party and a 300-day grace period was given where people from north and south could migrate wherever they saw fit. About a million Viets fled south to escape living under communist rule.
Sir Max masterfully chronicles the French hubris and failure to realize the indomitable will of the Viet Minh to rid the land of croissants and mannerist playwrights. The French recruited other of their colonial minions--Algerians and various other Africans--to aid in their recolonization
Meanwhile, the Americans were watching this attempt to subdue the commies quite closely. This was the Cold War era, and those of you that lived through it know that democratic nations around the world quaked in fear of world communist takeover. There was also the notion of "the domino effect," where it was assumed that if Vietnam "fell," all of SE Asia would quickly follow suit and become part of the communist hegemony slowly engulfing the "free" world. Previous to WW II, the French had wrested control of what they called "French Indochina," including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Sir Max does an excellent job of limning the paranoia of the time prevalent in the US and Russia. Of course, some of this paranoia was a byproduct of past events, but much was overkill.
One thing Sir Max's book taught me was that it takes a lot of reading of a great many books to arrive at some idea of the "truth" of historical events. In other history books, for example, I had read that President Eisenhower had been approached to have the US intervene to aid the French and had dismissed this notion unceremoniously. Sir Max's account show a President far more hawkish and anxious to intervene militarily but restrained only by the caution of his close advisors and lack of congressional support. He does send a fair amount of Americans to Vietnam to act in "advising" (read: spying) roles. Ostensibly, these "advisers" were there to shore up the S. Vietnamese army and to instruct the self-appointed President Ngo Dinh Diem who had been appointed Prime Minister and usurped the Presidency where he proved an unpopular and ineffectual leader.
Meanwhile, more "advisers" streamed in so that by the time of President Kennedy's assassination there were over 60,000 Americans in Vietnam. Diem fell out of favor with his US handlers and was himself assassinated in a military coup shortly before President Kennedy's death.
And on and on it goes, as Sir Max tells how the US rigged the now infamous Gulf of Tonkin affair to gain popular support to enter a full-scale war--a war that saw increasingly more American youth being conscripted into service and a great many American casualties (58,000 known by the end of the fighting. Not to mention the estimated millions of Vietnamese citizens and Viet Cong and NVA soldiers who were routinely outgunned by the superior weaponry and air power of the US and lost an estimated ten men to every one American casualty.
And Sir Max drives home the point that Americans in power saw a war with Vietnam as a lost cause, a war that would be a guerilla war, which Americans were not especially skilled in fighting, and which would probably be a long war of attrition that we would probably lose. Not all American advisors felt that loss was inevitable but most felt that we would need to become more involved in helping South Vietnam since we had emerged as the "leaders of the Free World" after WW II.
Another common theme running through his book is that, as with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to come, the US never had a plan for a strong leader in Vietnam who could rally the people behind a common cause. The war seemed to have become a matter of honor, and Sir Max notes that some historians are now coming round to the notion that though the war was a horrible debacle, it was necessary for the US to fight it to make a stand against the communists.
Sir Max is not a "value-free," just the facts sort of historian and the journalist in him often comes out as he makes clear that Ho Chi Minh was not the avuncular "Uncle Ho" now depicted and revered by young Vietnamese who have been indoctrinated. Rather, Ho is depicted as a ruthless revolutionary in the tradition of China's Chairman Mao, a leader who perpetrated many atrocities upon his countrymen and had an "end justifies the means" mentality.
Also noted are the many changes that took place among US soldiers and the American people as the war progressed and more lives were lost with seemingly no end in sight. Likewise, he recounts the malaise felt by the average Vietnamese peasant, who just longed for peace, and the fractiousness the war caused among the Vietnamese people, a people not united ideologically but definitely of one mind in wishing the American invaders to to go home. The gung-ho attitudes of the early US soldiers gave way by 1970 to many US soldiers using drugs, particularly heroin, "fragging" (killing) their superior officers if they deemed them to be incompetent, and refusal to engage in fighting or go on senseless patrols became far more commonplace as American society turned against the war in huge numbers and US fighting men often followed suit.
The venality of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon in continuing the war for political gain is disdainfully noted, as is the illicit bombing in Laos and Cambodia authorized by the diabolical duo. The history continues to the bitter end with the final assault by the NVA on Saigon in 1975 and the communist takeover of the nation, with imprisonment for ARVN (S. Vietnamese Army) officers for long periods in "reeducation camps." Sir Max also touches on US prisoners of war and describes some of the gruesome conditions they lived under in captivity.
The Vietnam war is far too complicated to sum up in a 752-page book, but, so far, Sir Max's history is the best and most complete I have come across. It is a well-written overview by someone who has the advantages of being both an outsider and someone who was there reporting from Vietnam and who also lived in America during some of its most troubled times in the late 1960’s. I highly recommend it for the reader who wants an introduction to the Vietnam War, or as a precursor to studying more specific battles and political intrigues and citizen unrest (in both countries) during this conflict that destroyed many lives and human spirits. . more