The world’s two most influential military strategic thinkers,
historians agree, are the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu
(c.500–320 B.C) and the Prussian General Carl Phillip
Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831). In John Boyd: The
Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little Brown,
496 pp., $27.95), Robert Coram makes a case that hitherto
virtually unknown U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd (1927-97)
stands in their lofty company.
Boyd was a brilliant and
blazingly eccentric man. He was a crackerjack jet fighter
pilot, a visionary scholar, and an innovative military
strategist. Among other things, Boyd wrote the first manual on
jet aerial combat, was primarily responsible for designing the
F-15 and the F-16 jet fighters, was a leading voice in the
post-Vietnam-War military reform movement, and shaped the
smashingly successful U.S. military strategy in the Persian
Gulf War. His writings and theories on military strategy
remain influential today.
Boyd also was a brash,
combative, iconoclastic man who made enemies (and fiercely
loyal acolytes) everywhere he went. His strange, mercurial
personality did not mesh with a military career, and Boyd was
in constant trouble during his 24 years in the Air Force
(1951-75). Coram’s worthy biography is throughly researched,
detailed, and reads well.
Jonathan Shay, a longtime VA
psychiatrist and Tufts Medical School professor, also is a
Homeric scholar. In his book, Achilles in Vietnam, Shay
compared and contrasted the war and postwar experiences of the
legendary Greek hero and Vietnam veterans. In his latest book,
Odysseus in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Trials of
Homecoming (Scribner, 352 pp., $24), Shay uses a similar
technique to examine the age-old problem of how serving in a
war affects the psychological well being of those who were
closest to combat. You don’t have to have a working knowledge
of The Odyssey to understand all that Shay presents.
Nor do you have to be familiar with the ins and outs of PTSD
among Vietnam veterans. But it wouldn’t hurt.
NONFICTION IN BRIEF
Charlene Edwards, whose husband
is a Vietnam veteran, has put together a unique, powerful
book, Voices from Vietnam (Journeys, 264 pp., $40,
hardcover; $25, paper), a collection of her photographs of
Americans and Vietnamese, along with first-person interviews.
Edwards augments her first-class photography with evocative
photos of her subjects during their Vietnam-War days. She
tells many stories, many of them moving, of people on all
sides of the conflict. For more information go to
Sen. John McCain’s new book,
Worth the Fighting For (Random House, 396 pp., $25.95),
written with his longtime aide Mark Slater, begins in 1981,
eight years after he was released from the Hanoi Hilton. In
that memorable year McCain retired from the Navy, his father--Adm.
Johns S. McCain, Jr., who was the Commander-in-Chief of Navy
operations in the Pacific when he son was held by the North
Vietnamese - died, and the son embarked on his political
career. The latter is the main subject of this readable,
Sen. McCain has a role in
Gregory A. Freeman’s Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on
the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It (Morrow,
320 pp., $254.95), an excellent recounting of the July 1967
disaster on the aircraft carrier in Yankee Station in the
Tonkin Gulf in which 134 sailors were killed and 150 injured
after a Zuni rocket went off on deck and hit McCain’s A-4
Skyhawk. Freeman, a former AP reporter, tells the story well,
including how many of the Forrestal survivors have
suffered emotionally in the years since the disaster.
Mitchell B. Lerner’s The
Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American
Foreign Policy (University of Kansas, 408 pp., $34.95)
examines the January 1968 seizure by North Korea of the
American intelligence-gathering ship just outside its
territorial waters. Lerner, an Ohio State University history
prof, combines research with interviews of former Pueblo
crewmen in this detailed, smoothly written account.
The Real Lessons of the
Vietnam War (Carolina Academic Press, 507 pp., $60),
edited by John Norton Moore and Robert F. Turner, is made up
primarily of papers given at a 2000 Vietnam War conference at
University of Virginia Law School where Moore and Turner
teach. Many of the papers are from top Vietnam War scholars,
including Jeffrey Record, the late Douglas Pike, Gary D.
Solis, and Michael Lind. The book also includes a VVA-bashing
paper by B.G. Burkett.
Philip Gutzman’s Vietnam: A
Visual Encyclopedia (PRC/Sterling, 448 pp., $24.95, paper)
is an A-Z accounting of the Vietnam War filled with hundreds
of color and black-and-white photographs to back up the short,
concise entries. Gutzman is a multiple-tour Vietnam veteran.
The worthy third edition of American Naval History: An
Illustrated Chronology of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps,
1775-Present (Naval Institute, 408 pp., $55, hardcover;
$38.95), edited by Jack Sweetman is presented chronologically.
The bulk of the entries from 1964-75 deal in detail with the
prime events involving Navy and Marine sea, air, and land
operations in the Vietnam War.
The Twenty-Five Year Century
(University of North Texas, 448 pp., $32.95) is former ARVN
Gen. Lam Quang Thi’s look at the war. Gen. Lam fought for the
French against the Viet Minh and was a top ARVN commander
during the American War. His book offers a strong
anticommunist viewpoint and contains a sharp attack against
the American news media for practicing "one-sided journalism."
Samuel Brantley’s muscularly
written Zero Dark Thirty (Hellgate, 288 pp., $15.95,
paper) is the story of his unique and momentous Vietnam War
tour and his rocky homecoming. Brantley enlisted in the
Marines and fulfilled a life-long ambition by qualifying as a
jet fighter pilot. He flew A4s into North Vietnam dodging SAMs
and coming out unscathed. Then, in a strange quirk of fate, he
found himself on the ground as a Forward Air Controller in
firefight after firefight. Brantley evokes his Marine
training, his amazing tour of duty and his extreme
readjustment difficulties well.
Daniel Ellsberg gives his
version of his notable life in the very long, very detailed,
and quite well written and revealing Secrets: A Memoir of
Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking, 498 pp., $29.95).
This is the place to look if you hanker to know how Ellsberg
went from warhawk Marine to the man the spilled the beans
about U.S. Vietnam War policymaking by spearheading the
copying and distribution of the secret military history of the
war known as The Pentagon Papers.
Three Australian university
professors - Jeff Doyle, Jeffrey Grey, and Peter Pierce - have
put together Australia’s Vietnam War (Texas A&M
University, 218 pp., $39.95) a top-notch collection of
incisive and insightful essays that cover many aspects of the
subject, including the antiwar movement, the veterans
movement, Australia’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the
literature of the war.
Retired Army Gen. E.M.
Flanagan, Jr.’s Airborne: A Combat History of American
Airborne Forces (Ballantine/Presidio, 496 pp., $27.95)
contains only a seven-page chapter on the Vietnam War. That
chapter deals mostly with the war’s only combat jump, which
took place in February 1967 when the 2nd Battalion, 503rd
Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade went
after suspected VC headquarters north of Tay Ninh during
Operation Junction City.
TANS: The TANS Collection,
Volume I (Writer’s Showcase, 210 pp., $14.95, paper) is a
compilation, edited by John Klawitter, of recollections of a
group of undercover Army Security Agency operatives, mainly
dealing with the Vietnam War. That includes Dennis St.
Germaine’s evocative "The Best Can of Beer I Ever Had," which
tells of a memorable can of warm Schlitz he consumed one hot
day in the field in Vietnam.
VVA plays a small role in Eric
Hamburg’s JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone and Me (PublicAffairs,
305 pp., $26), a memoir of his time as a legislative aide on
Capitol Hill and as a Stone-affiliated Hollywood producer.
Hamburg met Stone at VVA’s 1987 National Convention when we
gave awards to Hamburg’s then boss, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, and
to Stone. Kerry and Hamburg had been friends of VVA, helping
get our congressional charter and working hard on VVA’s top
legislative priority in the mid-eighties, Judicial Review. He
characterizes VVA as "a very enlightened and progressive group
In Armed Conflict: The
Lessons of Modern Warfare (Ballantine/Presidio, 269 pp.,
$17.95, paper) active duty Army Capt. Brian Steed deconstructs
five American military battles with an eye toward how they
apply to future wars. One is the Battle of LZ Albany during
the November 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Steed says
one big problem of that battle was "the lack of preparedness
at the grand strategy level for the acceptance of so many
R.J. Sinsigalli’s Chopper
Pilot: Not All of Us Were Heroes (Turner Publishers, 192
pp., $24.95) is a memoir of his two tours as a helicopter
pilot with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Tom Lacombe’s
Light Ruck: Vietnam 1969 (Loft Press, 240 pp., $20, paper)
is a memoir of the author’s tour of duty as a rifleman with
the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South
A handful of The 50 Greatest
Letters from America’s Wars (Crown, 242 pp., $20) edited
by David H. Lowenherz are from the Vietnam War. That includes
a missive from CWO Bruce McInnes of the 155th Assault
Helicopter Co. to his mother, dated July 20, 1969, and the
final letter, written by Eleanor Wimbish to her son William R.
Stocks in 1984 and left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Jerald W. Berry and Joe R.
Alexander’s The Stand Alone Battalion: A Pictorial
Chronology of the 3-506 Vietnam Odyssey (1967-1971) (Scott
Company, paperback) is a reader-friendly, scrapbook-like look
at Alexander and Berry’s old Vietnam War outfit, the 3rd
of the 506th of the 101st Airborne
Division. For more info, go to
Chananie’s Not Yet at Ease: Photographs of America’s
Continuing Engagement with the Vietnam War (Capturelife
Press, 153 pp., $59.95) contains black-and-white wartime
photos and a collection of Chananie’s evocative color photos
shot at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
My Vietnam: Photographs by
Australian Veterans of the Vietnam Conflict (My Vietnam
Trust, 198 pp., $59.95) is a collection of mostly color
photographs taken in Vietnam during the war by our Aussie
allies. It’s the work of Stephen Lewis, who did a 1967-69
Vietnam War tour and today runs a graphic arts business. For
more info, go to
New in paperback reprints:
Decent Interval (University Press of Kansas, 590 pp.,
$24.95), Frank Snepp’s heralded tale of the CIA’s handling of
the end of the war, with a new introduction by Gloria Emerson,
and Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr.’s The 25 Year War: America’s
Military Role in Vietnam (University Press of Kentucky,
236 pp., $19), in which the former Field Force II commanding
general provides a thorough analysis of the conflict from his
high-ranking vantage point.
Robert Mooney’s first novel,
Father of the Man (Pantheon, 228 pp., $23), is a
well-crafted, ambitious tale that melds serious writing with
the conventions of the thriller.
The plot deals with the quest
of a seriously emotionally troubled man, Dutch Potter, to come
to terms with his beloved only son’s disappearance in the
Vietnam War. The time is 1982. Dutch has a classic case of
PTSD stemming from his horrific World War II experiences.
One morning Dutch dresses up in
his World War II uniform, arms himself with his 1940s weapons
and hijacks his own city bus. He demands that the government
turn over his long-missing son in exchange for freeing his
seven innocent civilian prisoners.Father of the Man
satisfies. The plot is clever and riveting. The climax is
surprising and believable. The characters are well drawn.
FICTION IN BRIEF
Richard H. Dickinson’s The
Silent Men (Rugged Land, 302 pp., $19.95) is a fast-paced
in-country Vietnam War novel that tells the thriller-like tale
of several snipers, two Americans, and a North Vietnamese. It
was odd reading the intimate details of the snipers at work at
a time when the Washington, D.C. area was the target of random
snipers. It was also odd reading a Vietnam War novel in which
one of the heroes is a smart, competent, moral, brave Army
Michael McGarrity’s seventh
novel, The Big Gamble (Dutton, 272 pp., $23.95), has
Vietnam veterans in two key roles: as a murder victim and as
one of the detectives who discovers his killer. The dead vet
is a down-on-his-luck guy; the cop is Santa Fe, N.M., Police
Chief Kevin Kerney. The plot of this undistinguished
procedural has Kerney solving half the crime and his
biological sun, a small-town cop, solving the other.