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How Partisanship Trumped National Interest In Vietnam

REVIEWS BY MARC LEEPSON

Politics, both domestic and foreign, was as much a part of America’s Vietnam War as were firefights, search and destroy missions, and winning hearts and minds. That was especially true about domestic politics, which often seemed to drive Vietnam War policymaking more than any threat to the national interest did.

Andrew L. Johns’s insightful Vietnam’s Second Front (University Press of Kentucky, 472 pp., $40) offers a unique look at the politics of the war. Johns, an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, focuses on the role of Congress, public opinion, and—above all—the Republican Party, in making Vietnam War policy during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. The book goes a long way toward proving that those three presidents’ preoccupation with domestic political considerations (the “second front” of the war) in their Vietnam War decision-making led directly to their failed policies in the war.

Johns looks closely at the Republican Party’s Vietnam-era leaders, politicians, and grassroots organizations, focusing on the hawk-dove divisions within the GOP; the frequent failure of the three presidents to overcome congressional opposition to their war policies; Congress’s “complicity” in the war; and the similarities of the war policies of the three very different presidents.

He makes a convincing case that Republicans “exerted significant influence” on U.S. policy in Vietnam in all three administrations. The GOP, he concludes, “acted as a pillar of support for all the presidents in the Vietnam era.” In all three presidents’ cases, he says, the fear of appearing “soft on communism” and “losing Vietnam” strongly motivated their big Vietnam War decision-making. “Even Richard Nixon,” Johns notes in this well-written, exhaustively researched book, “the archetypical anti-Communist, worried about charges of being soft on Vietnam.”

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

David Hunt’s Vietnam’s Southern Revolution: From Peasant Insurrection to Total War, 1959-1968 (University of Massachusetts, 288 pp., $80, hardcover; $28.95, paper) is a well-researched, in-depth analysis of the Vietnam War as experienced by the Vietnamese peasantry. This is social history, examining how people lived their lives on a day-to-day basis in the war zone during the war. Hunt, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who specializes in the Vietnam War, makes excellent use of, among many other sources, extensive interviews conducted by the RAND Corporation during the war with informants from My Tho Province in the Mekong Delta.

After VVA presented its first President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts to Bobbie Ann Mason at the 1989 National Convention in Chicago, the novelist and short story writer gave a moving, emotional acceptance speech. Her theme was how the Vietnam War strongly affected millions of Americans who did not take part in the war, herself included. “We are all Vietnam veterans,” she said in conclusion. That idea is the overall theme of Maureen Ryan’s wide-ranging collection of essays, The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War (University of Massachusetts, 352 pp., $34.95, paper; $98, hardcover).

Ryan, an English professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, includes Mason’s great novel, In Country, among scores of novels, short stories, memoirs, and films cited in the book that show the still-resonating impact of that war on the very wide home front, especially among women.

The Price of Blood (Bonus Books, 320 pp., $24.95) is a compilation of profiles of ten disabled veterans written by the late Jesse Brown, the former Marine and VA head who was severely wounded in Vietnam and who died of ALS in 2002. These inspiring essays include looks at five Vietnam veterans: Michael Naranjo, Roberto Barrera, Charles A. Thompson, Jr., Chad Colley, and Richard M. Romley.

Nguyen Anh Tuan is a former high-ranking South Vietnamese government political advisor who has been a U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development senior advisor. In his very long, very detailed book, America Coming to Terms: The Vietnam Legacy (Xlibris, 794 pp., $34.99, hardcover; $23.99, paper), Nguyen Anh Tuan argues that that the U.S. war effort was a successful one in Vietnam, largely because it led to the American triumph over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Michael Hirsh, who served as a combat correspondent with the 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi, is a former radio and TV journalist and producer who has turned to writing first-class nonfiction. His latest, The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust (Bantam, 338 pp., $27), is a powerful look at the discovery of Germany’s concentration camps by American GIs in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

David Cortright, the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and Chair of the Board of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana, began his life’s work as a peace activist after being drafted into the Army. Cortright then became an active member of the antiwar GI movement during the Vietnam War. No surprise that his book, Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas (Cambridge University Press, 376 pp., $90, hardcover; $29.99, paper), an in-depth history of efforts to prevent war, includes Cortright’s take on the Vietnam War peace movement. The author’s website is http://davidcortright.com

Harold F. Hester’s Our Naked Veterans (91 pp., $11.68, paper) is the author’s guide through the VA system designed to help veterans with service-related medical problems receive their VA benefits. For ordering info, go to the author’s website, www.haroldhester.com

MEMOIRS, ETC., IN BRIEF

The title of Gary W. Bray’s clean and evocative memoir tells it all: After My Lai: My Year Commanding First Platoon, Charlie Company (University of Oklahoma, 180 pp., $16.95). Bray joined the Army shortly after graduating from high school in 1967, and set foot in Vietnam in the fall of 1969 as a second lieutenant. He tells the story of the year he served as a platoon commander with Lt. William L. Calley’s former unit.

Gene R. Dark joined the Marines at age 19. His The Brutality of War:
A Memoir of Vietnam
 (Pelican, 168 pp., $24.95) centers on Dark’s eventful 1969-70 Vietnam War tour with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. The author is the son of Alvin Dark, the great New York (baseball) Giants shortstop and manager who served in the Marines during World War II.

Marc Phillip Yablonka’s very readable Distant War: Recollections of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (Merriam Press, 258 pp., $36.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) is a series of thirty-one journalistically written profiles of people, many of them veterans, who took part in the American War in Vietnam. There are profiles of, among many others, Pat Sajak, Adm. James Stockdale, the photographer Nick Ut, and the journalist Catherine Leroy. Many originally were written for magazines such as Stars and Stripes and Army Times. For more info, go to http://www.merriam-press.com/distantwar.aspx

Korean War veteran Arnold Rosen’s Before It’s Too Late: Our Aging Veterans Tell Their Stories (Xlibris, 238 pp., $19.98, paper) contains forty-seven oral histories of veterans from three wars, including fifteen from the Vietnam War. Jim Little’s Brotherhood of Doom: Memoirs of a Navy Nuclear Weaponsman (BookLocker.com, 440 pp., $24.95, paper) is an extremely detailed look at the author’s long Navy career, which included being involved in the Tonkin Gulf incident during one of his five Vietnam War deployments.

R.C. Morris’s The Ether Zone: U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment B-52, Project Delta (Hellgate, 390 pp., $24.95, paper) is an in-depth look at the most highly decorated Vietnam War unit of its size. The detachment operated in the
war from 1964-70. The author served 26 years in the Army Special Forces, including three Vietnam tours. His web site is http://www.raycmorris.com/book.htm

Ray Gleason’s A Grunt Speaks: A ‘Devil’s Dictionary’ of Vietnam Infantry Tales & Terms (Unlimited Publishing, 202 pp., $14.99, paper) lists the author’s definitions of Vietnam War words and terms. Gleason, a lecturer in Medieval literature at Northwestern University, served as an infantryman with the 2/35th Infantry and as a LRRP with the 75th Infantry in the Central Highlands from 1968-70.

Edward T. “Ted” Gushee’s smoothly written 52-Charlie: Members of a Legendary Pilot Training Class Share Their Stories about Combat in Korea and Vietnam (Wheatmark, 299 pp., $22.95, paper) is a compendium of stories told to the author by his fellow Aviation Cadet class, all of whom received their wings in May 1952. Most of them flew jet fighters in Korea and Vietnam.

VVA member James W. Milliken’s Enter and Die! (Xlibris, 266 pp., $19.99, paper; $29.99, hardcover) is a memoir of his action-filled 1968-69 tour as an infantryman with D Co., 2nd/60th of the 9th Infantry Division. The author, whose nickname in Vietnam was “Milkman,” has a website at http://enteranddie.com

Robert Carson Krause’s War and Living with PTSD: Vietnam 1969-1970
and the Cambodian Incursion in 1970 
(AuthorHouse, 133 pp., $39.99, paper) is based on the journal that the author kept while being treated for PTSD at a VA hospital. Krause served an eventful tour as a radio telephone operator (RTO) with Delta Company, 2nd/14th of the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.

Stan Bowen’s In Veritas’ Shadow: Truths Behind KIA-MIA-POWs in Special Forces (Bennett & Hastings, 362 pp., $29.95) recreates the author’s Vietnam experiences as a Special Forces sergeant. Bowen served two tours, but focuses on his second one, in 1967-68, with A Team 255 at Plei Me in II Corps. Frederick Malphurs’s My Life in the VA: Lessons in Leadership (iUniverse, 279 pp., $21.95, paper) chronicles the author’s 37-year (1969-2006) career working in the VA’s Veterans Health Administration.

Thomas Petri’s Lightning From the Sky, Thunder From the Sea (AuthorHouse, 401 pp., $23.99) details the exploits of the Marines’ 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, known as 1st ANGLICO, a little-known outfit made up of small mobile fire control teams that served throughout Vietnam, providing support to American, South Vietnamese, and ROK units. Petri served with Sub Unit One as a tactical air controller in Vietnam, attached to the ROK 2nd Marine Brigade.

You don’t have to read the subtitle to figure out what Osha Neuman’s memoir, Up Against the Wall Motherf***er (Seven Stories, 240 pp., $16.95, paper), is about. If you guessed “A Memoir of the ’60s, with Notes for Next Time,” you would be correct. The author founded an anarchist street gang in ’67 that, among other things, helped take over Columbia University in 1968 during that mainly anti-Vietnam War protest. Kenneth D. Williams’s Blue Tiger (1st Books, 237 pp., $14.50, paper) is a memoir of his combat-intense 14-month tour of duty as an infantryman with D Troop, 3rd Squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry Regiment.

 

 

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