BOOKS IN REVIEW
New, Revealing Look At
The CIA's Role
In The Diem Assassination
BY MARC LEEPSON
the noted historian and author who specializes in the Vietnam War
and whose work often appears in these pages, includes a good deal
about America's longest war in his well-crafted, exhaustively
researched Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director
William Colby (Oxford University, 380 pp., $35).
War played a central role in Colby's career. He first went there
in 1956 as a young CIA agent. He was CIA station chief in Saigon
from 1959-62, was deputy director of the CORDS program in 1968,
and - most famously - headed the controversial Phoenix program in
1969. Colby headed the CIA's Far East Division until he was named
CIA director in 1975.
Colby's Vietnam War experiences thoroughly and includes detailed
and fascinating accounts on many of the war's most crucial events,
from the 1963 Diem assassination through the collapse of South
Vietnam in 1975. In the former case, Prados clearly shows that
Colby was a Diem friend and backer and believed that the
controversial Premier's death was a big blunder, not because of
the political chaos that ensued in South Vietnam, but because
Colby believed the notoriously corrupt Diem regime, given big
American support, would have mended its ways and defeated the
communists. "That is speculation," Prados says, "supported by not
a shred of evidence."
book to claim that President Kennedy would have withdrawn from
Vietnam had he not been assassinated three weeks after Diem's
death - Howard Jones's Death of a Generation: How the
Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War
(Oxford University, 562 pp., $35) - condemns Kennedy for his role
in the Diem coup. JFK, Jones says, "and his advisers [were] not
only accomplices in a coup but accessories to murder." In this
enormous work, University of Alabama history professor Jones
offers an engagingly written, minutely detailed record of American
policy-making in Vietnam from 1961-63. His section on the coup and
the assassination is riveting and revealing.
FORAY INTO FICTION
riveting Slingshot (Bedford Press, 210 pp., $31.95,
hardcover; $21.95, paper) is based on his experiences as a
brown-water Navy LT commander who saw plenty of action with the
River Patrol Flotilla 5 in the Mekong Delta and in the waters near
Cambodia in 1968-69.
readable and evocative novel centers on a sea-borne rescue mission
by a riverboat crew that ventures into dangerous VC-held territory
in search of a downed American pilot. Vick took part in such a
mission in 1969, and in this, his first novel, makes excellent use
of detailed notes he took after he came home.
retired as the chairman of Young and Rubicam Worldwide in 2001, is
donating half the book's profits to the Gamewardens of Vietnam
Association, an nonprofit organization that benefits River Patrol
veterans and their families. For more info about the book, go to
Burnam's a mission is to garner recognition for the 4,000 dogs and
their 10,000 or so handlers who served, as he did, in the Vietnam
War. A Soldier's Best Friend: Scout Dogs and Their Handlers in
the Vietnam War (Carroll & Graff, 384 pp., paper) is a
combination war memoir, history of dog teams in the Vietnam War,
and a plea for the construction of a National War Dog Memorial in
two tours in Vietnam. He was an infantryman with the First Cav's
1st of the Seventh and a scout dog handler with the 44th Scout Dog
Platoon. He saw plenty of action during both tours. The most
valuable part of the book is Burnam's description of his second
tour when he bravely led dangerous infantry patrols with his two
scout dogs, Timber and Clipper. Of the countless number of
American Vietnam War memoirs, none has provided such an in-depth
look at the training and operations of scout dogs and their
heroes" in the Vietnam War, Rick Rescorla once said, "are dead."
Rescorla acted heroically in Vietnam during the Battle of the Ia
Drang Valley. And on September 11, 2001, he paid with his life as
he directed thousands of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter employees to
safety during the World Trade Center catastrophe. Rescorla, MSDW's
director of security, led the rescue of some 2,700 people out of
the burning building and was last seen climbing up the stairs on
the 10th floor searching for stragglers.
Stewart, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author (Den
of Thieves, et al.), tells Rescorla's life story and tells it
very well in Heart of a Soldier: A Story of Love, Heroism, and
September 11th (Simon & Schuster, 321 pp., $24). Stewart
traces Rescorla's life from his birth in England, through his
mercenary service in the former Northern Rhodesia, to his death on
September 11. He includes a great deal about Rescorla's romance
with his second wife, Susan Greer. His last words to her were in a
frantic cell phone call: "Stop crying. I have to get these people
out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know
I've never been happier. You made my life."
understood the reasoning behind the title of the For Dummies
series of books. It seems to be based on the idea of selling books
to people who think of themselves as dumb. That sounds
counterintuitive to me, but what do I know? The For Dummies
books keep on coming and keep on selling. Which brings us to
The Vietnam War For Dummies (Wiley, 362 pp., $19.95, paper) by
Ronald B. Frankum, Jr., and Stephen F. Maxner.
Maxner, a Vietnam veteran, are no dummies. The co-authors, who are
affiliated with Texas Tech University's Vietnam Center and
Archive, do a worthy job of piling on the statistics and providing
interpretations of virtually every aspect of the war. They do it
in the straightforward For Dummies style, and they get
nearly everything right. That includes the political aspects of
the war, the antiwar movement, and the story of Vietnam veterans'
homecoming. There's also an excellent list of resources for
readers who want more detailed information. Two nit-picks: the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial is misnamed "The Vietnam War Memorial,"
and VVA is not mentioned, even though there's a brief section on
Vietnam veterans' associations.
In Song of
Saigon: One Woman's Journey to Freedom (Warner Faith, 283 pp.,
$17.95), Anh Vu Sawyer, with Pam Proctor, tells her life story.
Sawyer fled Vietnam in 1975 at the end of the war and settled in
this country. Her journey was fraught with extreme hazards, but
Sawyer overcame them by relying heavily on her Christian faith.
This well-executed book ends with a moving description of Sawyer's
first trip back to Vietnam 1998.
Leary's Perilous Missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA Covert
Operations in Asia (Smithsonian Institution, 281 pp., $24.95,
paper) is a well-researched, well-written account of the secret
CIA Air Force that operated first in China then throughout Asia
(including in French Indochina) after WWII until 1954. It later
was reborn as Air America.
Post reporter Dana Priest's The Mission: Waging War and
Keeping Peace with America's Military (Norton, 429 pp.,
$26.95) focuses on four four-stars and how they're waging war and
peace around the globe. That includes Gens. Wesley Clark and
Anthony Zinni, both of whom had formative military experiences as
company commanders in the Vietnam War.
Sign Rustic: The Secret Air War Over Cambodia, 1970-1973
(Smithsonian Institution, 186 pp., $24.95), Richard Wood details
one aspect of the least secret "secret" war in history, the one
waged by this country and South Vietnam in Cambodia. Wood, a
retired USAF colonel, focuses on Task Force Rustic, which
undertook countless bombing runs over Cambodia from June 20, 1970,
to August 15, 1973. Wood was a Rustic FAC.
Three of the
generals profiled in Owen Connelly's valuable On War and
Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the
Great to Norman Schwarzkopf (Princeton University, 347 pp.,
$29.95) have Vietnam War connections: Gens. Vo Nguyen Giap, Hal
Moore, and Schwarzkopf. Connelly, a prolific author and Korean War
Army Ranger, is a University of South Carolina history professor.
Holzer and Erika Holzer's Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North
Vietnam (McFarland, 216 pp., $39.95) is a strident
condemnation of the Hollywood actress for her anti-American,
pro-Communist actions during the war. The authors, a retired law
professor who served in the Korean War, and his wife, a lawyer and
a novelist, say Fonda was guilty of treason and that her
subsequent apologies are "hollow," "self-serving," and
A Time for Everything (204 pp., paper) is a tribute to her
late husband, Larry Mart, a Vietnam veteran who died in 1997. It
consists primarily of photocopied letters sent from the war zone.
For information, e-mail VVA member Larry Dakken,
excellent collection, At the Water Puppet Theater (Word
Press, 110 pp., $16, paper), is made up of sharp, evocative poems,
most of which deal with the author's experiences in the Vietnam
War and his reflections on the war after returning to Vietnam as a
tourist. Fairhall, an English professor at DePaul University,
served as a 101st Airborne Division infantryman in Vietnam in
excerpt from "The Jungle Pimp": "He held his rifle gingerly,/like
an unasked-for loan,/with sliding loose-limbed ease,/like one of
the smaller cats/or a lemur, perhaps/he had those large, dark,
wistful eyes,/suggesting gentleness/that I, the college
boy,/lacked in my soldier's dreams."
Tango (Vergin Press, 92 pp., $12.95) is a collaboration
between Vietnam veteran Nichols Sands and writer Arden Tice. The
book is made up of deeply felt poetry and essays, much of which is
based on Sands's tour of duty as corpsman with the Marines in
Vietnam in 1970-71 and his post-war PTSD. That includes the
concluding lines from the poem, "Names." "Rusty's name is on the
Wall./I can't find it./I can't find the name./I can't find the
first novel, Grass Roof, Tin Roof (Mariner/Houghton
Mifflin, 231 pp., $12, paper), deals with a woman and her two
young daughters, Vietnamese immigrants, who find refuge after the
war in northern California. This high-minded literary work looks
at the family through the shifting perspectives of all of its
members. Strom does well in shedding illuminating light on the
first novel, Beneath Buddha's Eyes (Welcome Rain, 240 pp.,
$25), is an in-country and post-Vietnam War novel that focuses on
the love affair between an Army correspondent and a female
civilian reporter. Anthony, a former Army Stars & Stripes
Vietnam War correspondent, offers up a readable, evocative tale.
of the Intruder) Coonts's latest swashbuckling Jake Grafton
thriller, Liberty (St. Martin's, 420 pp., $25.95), has our
hero slugging it out with nuke-wielding terrorists.
Wayne's massive The Mindworks Project (Evergreen House, 720
pp., $28.95) is a tale about a brainwashing scheme designed by the
CIA and tested illegally on Americans in the Vietnam War. It has
disastrous consequences, especially for one Vietnam veteran who
unaccountably goes on a murder spree. Wayne, who served in a USAF
special ops unit from 1967-73, is a New Jersey mortgage banker.
veteran Diego Rayle's The Trial of Billy Running Dog
(1stBooks, 227 pp., $25.45, hardcover; $14.50, paper) is a
hard-hitting fictional examination of a Native American and former
Vietnam War CIA op's psychic post-war problems. Rayle's Cast
From Shackles (1st Books, 213 pp., $25.45, hardcover; $14.50,
paper), which was inspired by actual events, follows a Latino
American from war protester to Army infantryman in Vietnam, to a
severe bout of PTSD after returning home. For more info, go to