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January / February 2008

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The Other Side: A Psychological Vietnam War Horror Story
Reviews by Marc Leepson

The ghost of Gus Hasford haunts the spooky, dark, and bloody Vietnam War graphic novel (aka comic book) The Other Side (DC Comics, 144 pp., $12.99), written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Cameron Stewart. The reason: Author Aaron has long been an acolyte of Hasford, the iconoclastic, troubled former Marine best known for his semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers (1979), which was the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s monumental Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket. Hasford, who died in 1993, wrote another excellent Vietnam novel, The Phantom Blooper (1990). Both novels center on the off-beat exploits of Hasford’s literary alter ego, Private Joker.

Aaron’s admiration for Hasford began at an early age and stems from a family connection: they are cousins. “Gus was quite simply one of the finest writers to ever tackle the Vietnam War in fiction,” Aaron, who runs the website, told an interviewer last year. “Any scholar worth their salt will tell you that The Short-Timers ranks high on the list of the most important Vietnam War novels ever written [and] The Phantom Blooper, which details Private Joker’s eye-opening stint as a prisoner in a Viet Cong village, is a work of equal intensity and importance.”

In The Other Side, the American Marine co-protagonist, Private Bill Everette, is from Alabama, Hasford’s home state. He gets sent to Khe Sanh during the siege, where Hasford spent time while a combat correspondent. Three characters are named after Hasford’s former Marine buddies: Bernie Bernston, Earl Gerheim, and Bob Bayer. “If it weren’t for Gustav Hasford, this book would not exist,” Aaron says in a remembrance of his cousin in the back of the book. “It was because of Gus that I wrote The Other Side the way I did.”

The Other Side tells two parallel stories: Everette’s and that of a young NVA soldier. We are presented with an in-depth and revealing portrait of the war from opposing points of view. Both stories are grim and disturbing.

They are filled with scene after scene of comic-book-style, in-your-face depictions of murder and mayhem, as well as terrifying other-worldly beings that haunt both men. It makes for an often-discomfiting reading experience, living up to Aaron’s description of the book as a “dark-toned and horrific tale,” a “psychological horror story, and an epic tragedy about America’s most haunting war.”

Since we started reviewing books in this newspaper in March 1986, our goal has been to review every book that deals with the Vietnam War or Vietnam veterans. No other publication does this; in part, that is why we are so inclusive. We are happy to fill the void, especially at a time when the amount of space given to book reviews has shrunk drastically in magazines and newspapers. Sometimes—and this is one of those times—the pile of books we need to get to grows so high that in order to call them to the attention of our readers in a timely manner, we must greatly truncate our reviews to just a sentence or two. So, with apologies to the authors and publishers, what follows are very brief descriptions of 31 recently published nonfiction books that deal with our war and with us, Vietnam veterans.

Stalkers and Shooters: A History of Snipers (Berkley Caliber, 372 pp., $24.95), military historian and Navy SEAL expert Kevin Dockery’s examination of American long-range riflemen from the Revolution to Iraq. It includes a chapter on the Vietnam War.

Why Marines Fight (Thomas Dunne Books, 302 pp., $24.95), a series of extensive interviews with Marine veterans from World War II to Iraq by Korean War veteran James Brady, best known for his popular Parade magazine column and his memoir, The Coldest War.

The Son Tay Raid: American POWs in Vietnam Were Not Forgotten (Texas A&M University Press, 332 pp., $29.95), an account of the noted November 20, 1970, Vietnam War POW rescue mission by former Air Force Special Ops Col. John Gargus, who helped plan it and flew as a lead navigator for the strike force.

The Road to Freedom: A History of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (Orchid Press [Thailand], 196 pp., $29.95) in which author Virginia Morris and photographer Clive Hills trace the history of the famed NVA infiltration route and offer many present-day photos and maps. For ordering info, go to

The Tet Offensive: A Concise History (Columbia University Press, 272 pp., $29.50), a history and an interpretation of the turning point of the Vietnam War. Author James H. Willbanks, who directs the Military History Department at the U.S. Army Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, argues that Tet ’68 was a strategic victory for the Vietnamese communists.

Tet: The Turning Point in the War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 385 pp., $21.95, paper), a reprint of former Washington Post correspondent Don Oberdorfer’s well-received 1971 book, with a new preface by the author, who did not change a word of the 36-year-old text in which he concludes that Tet ’68 was a military defeat, but a “resounding” political success for the other side.

The Big Red One: America’s Legendary 1st Infantry Division from World War I to Desert Storm (University Press of Kansas, 594 pp., $34.95), a chronicle by Army veteran and author James Scott Wheeler of the oldest continuously serving U.S. Army division, including three chapters on the Big Red One’s 1965-70 deployment in the Vietnam War.

A Military Miscellany (Bantam, 208 pp., $15), a grab bag of facts, anecdotes, and stories involving the American military, including tidbits on such Vietnam War subjects as Hamburger Hill and My Lai, by Thomas Ayres, a veteran newspaper reporter, columnist, and author.

The Art of War: Sun Zi’s Military Methods (Columbia University Press, 208 pp., $19.95), the latest English edition of the famed ancient Chinese war text, translated by University of Pennsylvania Chinese language and literature professor Victor Mair, who claims that the often-quoted book was not written, as is commonly believed, by Sun Wu.

Military Justice in Vietnam: The Rule of Law in an American War (University Press of Kansas, 256 pp., $34.95), a detailed analysis of the workings of the military justice system as it played out in Vietnam, by William Allison, a Weber State University history professor who has taught at the Air War College.

After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai (University of California Press, 217 pp., $19.95, paper; $50, hardcover), a look at how Vietnamese villagers have coped with what happened at My Lai and Ha My, a village near Danang where South Korean troops killed many unarmed civilians, written by South Korean-born Heonik Kwon, a social anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh.

Black Sailor, White Navy: Racial Unrest in the Fleet During the Vietnam War Era (New York University Press, 343 pp., $35). U.S. Naval Historical Center historian John Darrell Sherwood’s examines the racial situation in the Navy during the sixties and seventies and the Navy’s attempts to deal with it.

Vietnam’s Orange, White and Blue Agents and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Corps Productions, 328 pp., $18.95), U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran and Agent Orange activist Charles Kelley’s “fact-finding book” about the stew of toxic chemicals American fightingmen and women were exposed to in Vietnam during the war.

Women at War: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Conflicts (Naval Institute Press, 234 pp., $29.95), which looks at women in the military and in civilian capacities, including during the Vietnam War, co-written by retired Navy Captain James E. Wise, Jr., and Scott Baron, an author and teacher who served with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War.

Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military (Seal Press, 409 pp., $15.95, paper), a deeply researched and strongly argued book by former Army Reserve officer Erin Solaro, who believes that women should fully participate in all aspects of military service, including combat.

Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and The High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture (Beacon Press, 264 pp., $26, paper). University of California at Irvine English professor Carol Burke examines the “cult of masculinity” in the military today, with references to past wars, including the conflict in Vietnam.

The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (Harvard University Press, 320 pp., $49.95), an analysis of the role that Bundy and the NSC had in making Vietnam War policy under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, written by University of Victoria (in Canada) history professor Andrew Preston.

Debating Vietnam: Fulbright, Stennis, and Their Senate Hearings (Rowman and Littlefield, 199 pp., $24.95), a look at the 1966 and 1967 hearings held by Arkansas Sen. William Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee and Mississippi Sen. John Stennis’s Armed Services Committee that challenged the Johnson administration’s Vietnam War policymaking, written by UNLV history professor Joseph A. Fry.

Ho Chi Minh: From Revolutionary to Icon (Cambridge University Press, 300 pp., $35), French historian Pierre Brocheaux’s biography of the famed Vietnamese communist leader, replete with many details of Ho’s personal life, translated by Clair Duiker.

The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan (University Press of Kansas, 435 pp., $34.95). Author Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis, a Buena Vista University history professor, looks at one intriguing aspect of Ho’s life and times: when he worked hand-in-hand with American OSS agents during World War II fighting the Japanese in Indochina.

The Cambodian Campaign: The 1970 Offensive and America’s Vietnam War (University Press of Kansas, 222 pp., $34.95), a look at the controversial American move into Cambodia and an argument that the operation was a big military success, written by former military history professor John M. Shaw, who has taught at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton University Press, 241 pp., $29.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper). University of Pennsylvania history professor Bruce Kuklick examines scholars-turned-government-bigwigs’ roles in making American war policy, starting with George Kennan in World War II and ending with Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy, and Walt Rostow in the Vietnam War.

ATime For Peace: The Legacy of the Vietnam War (Oxford University Press, 252 pp., $30), in which the prominent historian Robert D. Schulzinger of the University of Colorado examines the political, social, and cultural ramifications of the Vietnam War in this country. The author briefly mentions VVA and its lobbying of Congress for the Vet Center program.

Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950-1963 (Rowman and Littlefield, 207 pp., $21.95), a concise analysis of the many defects and more than a few strengths of the first leader of the Republic of South Vietnam by Boston College history professor Seth Jacobs.

Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam (University Press of Kentucky, 378 pp., $45), an in-depth examination and analysis of how and why the United States took over the fight against Indochinese communism from France, focusing on the 1954-59 period and the Diem regime, written by University of San Diego history professor Kathryn C. Statler.

Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN (New York University Press, 338 pp., $35), a biography of two accomplished ARVN officers (Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue) that also looks at the minuses and plusses of our South Vietnamese ally’s armed forces, written by University of Southern Mississippi history professor Andrew Wiest.

Corpsman Up! (BookSurge Publishing, 157 pp., $16.95, paper), Charlie “Doc” Rose’s recounting of his time as a Navy corpsman with the Fleet Marine Force in Vietnam in 1966-67 and his emotional difficulties since then.

I Can Still Hear Their Cries Even in My Sleep: A Journey Into PTSD (Outskirts Press, 60 pp., $11.95, paper), a narrative dealing with the ramifications of author E. Everett McFall’s 1966-67 tour of duty as a medical corpsman with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, featuring poetry by the author and fellow Marine Jay E. Keck.

Gun-totin’ Chaplain: A True Memoir (Airborne Press, 301 pp., $14, paper). Jerry Autry, who retired after 29 years in the Army, offers a look at his 1968-69 Vietnam War tour as a chaplain with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

Red Clay on my Boots: Encounters with Khe Sanh, 1968 to 2005 (Kirk House, 208 pp., $16, paper). Robert J. Topmiller describes his time as a Navy corpsman in Vietnam with the Marines during the Siege of Khe Sanh and his eleven subsequent trips back to Vietnam.

The Only War We Had: A Platoon Leader’s Journal of Vietnam (Texas A&M University Press, 310 pp., $19.95), a reprint of Michael Lee Lanning’s well-received 1987 memoir based on the journal he kept from April to October 1969 in Vietnam while serving with Charlie Co., 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade.



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