BOOKS IN REVIEW
Tour of Duty: Historian Brinkley's
John Kerry's Life
BY MARC LEEPSON
presidential campaign biography is a poor stepchild in the
publishing world. More often than not put together in a hurry by a
hack writer, it is little more than a self-serving political
advertisement with a price tag. One would reasonably think that a
biography of Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry published in
January, at the height of the Democratic presidential primary
season, would fall into the campaign biography category. But
Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (Morrow, 546 pp.,
$25.95) by Douglas Brinkley is an exception to the rule. This book
is a well-researched, highly detailed look at Kerry's life and
times, concentrating on his service in the Vietnam War. It is not
the work of a writer for hire.
The author, Douglas Brinkley, is a prominent and prolific
historian, the director of the
Eisenhower Center for American Studies and a history professor at
the University of New Orleans. Brinkley has written deservedly
well-praised biographies of Henry Ford, Dean Acheson, and Rosa
In Tour of Duty, Brinkley sketches John Kerry's life,
concentrating on his service in Vietnam where Kerry was a Navy
swift boat commander from November 1968 to March 1969. Kerry was
wounded in action three times during his action-heavy brown-water
tour and received the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor.
Brinkley also chronicles Kerry's disillusionment with the way the
Navy waged its war in the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta
and with the way the Pentagon and White House waged the American
war in Vietnam. And Brinkley describes Kerry's role as a Vietnam
veteran in the antiwar group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Brinkley based much of the book on Kerry's extensive wartime
journals and letters and on interviews he conducted with Kerry and
with dozens of his friends, family members, and colleagues.
Brinkley includes words from Kerry's critics, but he clearly is a
John Kerry fan. The image that emerges from this long book is of a
man of conscience and conviction
One smallbut to my mind, significantomission in this otherwise
dead-on portrait of Kerry's life and times: Brinkley does not
mention Kerry's role in helping found Vietnam Veterans of America
in 1978. In fact, Brinkley never mentions VVA, even though he
quotes VVA founder Bobby Muller several times.
Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty
(Artisan, 251 pp., $40) is an elaborately produced book that pays
homage to 116 recipients of the nation's highest military award.
This handsome volume, produced by photographer Nick Del Calzo and
author Peter Collier, comes with a preface by President Bush and
introductions by Tom Brokaw and U.S. Senator John McCain.
The book consists of Del Calzo's striking full-page black and
white photos of the MOH recipients from WWII and the Korean and
Vietnam Wars, descriptions of the actions they took beyond the
call of duty, along with war-time photos. The Vietnam War MOH
profiles include: Paul W. "Buddy'' Bucha, the VVA 2003 National
Convention keynote speaker; George E. "Bud'' Day, the USAF pilot,
Admiral James B. Stockdale, and USAF Major Leo K. Thornsness, all
of whom survived years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton; Ed W.
Freeman and Walter J. Marm, Jr., heroes of the 1965 Battle of the
Ia Drang Valley; former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator Joseph
R. "Bob'' Kerrey; the late John L. Levitow, the first USAF
enlisted man to
receive the MOH; and Alfred V. Rascon, who received his medal in
2000 after a campaign on his behalf that VVA supported.
NOT A PRETTY PICTURE
The Welsh-born photographer Philip Jones Griffiths took
provocative photos of the American war in Vietnam as a freelance
photojournalist. Many were contained in his antiwar book,
Vietnam, Inc., which was published in 1971. Griffiths' latest
book, Agent Orange: ``Collateral Damage'' in Viet Nam
(Trolley, 174 pp., $39.95), focuses on the effects of American
defoliant spraying. This large-format book contains dozens of
stark black and white images of human beings, many of them
children, who suffer from deformities and other maladies caused by
Agent Orange exposure.
"In these pages are the Vietnamese and Cambodians the American
tourists never see, never hear about,'' Gloria Emerson notes in
the book. "Never has [Agent Orange's] effects on humans been so
clearly shown as in this book by Philip Jones Griffiths, one of
the great photographers of the war, who feels we should see what
Agent Orange has done. It is almost unbearable, but to turn away
and not see the photographs is to compound the crime.''
In his 1998 book, Nixon's Vietnam War, University of Miami
history professor Jeffrey Kimball made a convincing case that
President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry
Kissinger had no concrete plan to end the Vietnam War as they
claimed, and that, moreover, their four years of war-making
"unnecessarily prolonged the war.'' In his latest book, The
Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era
Strategy (University of Kansas, 384 pp., $34.95), Kimball
makes use of recently declassified documents, including taped
White House conversations, to buttress his previous conclusion. In
doing so, Kimball concludes that Nixon and Kissinger's postwar
writings on Vietnam are "self-serving, incomplete, and obfuscatory.''
Nixon and Kissinger's "vision of history,'' Kimball says, "turns
out to be demonstrably untrue in whole or substantial part.''
Nixon, for example, maintained that beginning in 1969 his
overriding goals were to end the war, bring home the troops, and
force Hanoi to release our POWs. "In practice,'' Kimball says,
"these policy goals were held hostage to his other policy goal of
protecting the credibility of the United States as a loyal and
effective counter-revolutionary power and his personal political
goal of winning the 1972 election.''
NONFICTION IN BRIEF
Sophie Quinn-Judge's Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years
(University of California, 356 pp., $39.95) is an informed and
detailed look at the Vietnamese leader's life from 1919-1941.
Quinn-Judge, a journalist who specializes in Southeast Asia, has
mined a ton of material on Ho's journeys in Russia, France,
England, and the United States during the years following his
fruitless attempt to convince the world after World War I that
Vietnam should be independent. In doing so, Quinn-Judge shows that
Ho Chi Minh was much more complicated than either of the two
common contradictory stereotypes of him: "the Machiavellian
apparatchik'' portrayed in the noncommunist world, and the
"nationalist saint'' pictured by the Vietnamese and other
Former U.S. Air Force Secretary Thomas C. Reed includes a brief
chapter on the Vietnam War in At the Abyss: An Insider's
History of the Cold War (Ballantine/Presidio, 368 pp.,
$25.95), which examines the Cold War primarily through analyses of
how nuclear firepower influenced American-Soviet confrontations in
the second half of the 20th century. "In the sixties,'' Reed says,
"while some of my generation were forging the weapons of nuclear
war, others [in Vietnam] were paying a terrible price for our not
using them.'' At times during the war, he notes, policy-makers
advocated "quick shot of nuclear firepower, or a violation of
long-honored diplomatic principles.'' Cooler heads, Reed says,
"always prevailed, but nowhere was the price of forbearance more
painful than'' in Vietnam.
John Fass Morton's Mustin: A Naval Family of the 20th Century
(Naval Institute, 460 pp., $32.95) is a well-researched,
well-written chronicle of four men in three generations of a
family that served in important Navy posts beginning with the
Philippine Insurrection in 1899. Brothers Hank and Tom Mustin both
served in the brown-water Navy in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The
book was published last year to coincide with the commissioning of
the U.S.S. Mustin, the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class
Michael S. Foley's Confronting the War Machine: Draft
Resistance During the Vietnam War (University of North
Carolina, 472 pp., $49.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) is an
exhaustive examination of one aspect of the antiwar movement:
those who resistednot dodgedthe draft. Foley, assistant
professor of history at the City University of New York's College
of Staten Island, concentrates on Boston's draft resistance
community and places what happened in the context of other
dissident movements in American history.
James Lewes' Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers
During the Vietnam War (Praeger, 256 pp., $67.95) is a
well-researched look at the antiwar publications produced by
American military personnel from 1968-70. Lewes, who holds a Ph.D.
in journalism and mass communications, provides information and
analysisand reproductions of some coversof more than 120 of
these often radical periodicals, several of which produced only
one or two issues. He also includes a list of each of the papers
in one of the book's appendices.
MEMOIRS IN BRIEF
Robert Tonetic's Warriors: An Infantryman's Memoir of Vietnam
(Ballantine/Presidio, 198 pp., $7.50, paper) is a well-written,
first-person account of the author's 1968 tour as a 199th Light
Infantry Brigade rifle company commander with Charlie Co., 4th
Battalion, 12th Infantry. Tonetic did a second 1970 Vietnam War
tour as an ARVN adviser and retired from the Army in 1991. Also
from Ballantine/Presidio: the paperback reprint of John Corbett's
short, readable Khe Sanh memoir, West Dickens Avenue (256
Richard Hogue tells his Vietnam War story in We Were the Third
Herd (Richlyn, 322 pp., paper, $17.95), a well-crafted
chronological war memoir. Hogue, who grew up in Iowa, was drafted
into the Army soon after he graduated from Wayne State College in
1968. He had basic and AIT at Ft. Lewis and NCO school at Ft.
Benning. In July 1969 Hogue began his tour of duty with the 25th
Infantry Division. Hogue was severely wounded in January 1970,
losing his left leg below the knee.
Arthur C. Farrington's Pacific Odyssey: Connections
(Sunflower University, 313 pp., $22.95, paper) is a breezily
written account of the author's tours of duty in WWII, Korea, and
Vietnam. Farrington served with the 2nd Marine Air Wing in Chu Lai
beginning in September 1967, doing a variety of
explosive-ordnance-disposal jobs. His next duty station, in
January 1968, was Khe Sanh. "The closest I can come to describing
the Khe Sanh fire base,'' Farrington says, "is comparing it to the
island of Peleliu in 1944. And yet, the battles we had at Peleliu
with the Japanese were horrific, but they did not occur every day,
all day, and all night as they did up there at Khe Sanh on top of
that isolated bull's eye.''
Bill VandenBush's If Morning Never Comes: A Near-Death
Experience in Vietnam (The Old Hundred and One Press, 238 pp.,
$14.95, paper) is a spiritual look at the author's life, including
his tour in Vietnam as an Americal Division infantryman.
VandenBush joined the Army in 1968, had basic at Ft. Ord and
Infantry AIT at Ft. Lewis before heading off to Vietnam, where he
was nearly died on April 17, 1969, in a friendly fire incident
involving misplaced U.S. air ordnance.