A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2001/September 2001

Books In Review

Historian Revises Nixon's And Kissinger's 'Peace With Honor'

Reviews by Marc Leepson

Henry Kissinger shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho for brokering the Paris Peace Treaty. Le Duc Tho declined the prize; Kissinger accepted it. Larry Berman's eye-opening No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam (Free Press, 368 pp., $27.50) makes a good case--although he does not say so--that Kissinger should have turned down the prize as well.

Making perceptive use of a large cache of recently declassified American and North and South Vietnamese documents, Berman, a historian who directs the University of California's Washington Center, paints a decidedly negative picture of Kissinger's motives and machinations during the four years he negotiated with the North Vietnamese. Berman's research also shows that President Richard Nixon duplicitously and disingenuously claimed he achieved "peace with honor," while knowing full well that the terms the United States agreed to would lead to a North Vietnamese military victory.

The North Vietnamese, Berman shows, were far from blameless during the negotiating. Their leaders regularly deceived American negotiators and never planned to live up to the peace terms. Surprisingly, the one group of leaders that comes out relatively unscathed is the notoriously corrupt South Vietnamese regime headed by Nguyen Van Thieu, which reluctantly agreed to peace terms dictated by North Vietnam and the United States--terms that all but ordained the communist takeover in April 1975.

Controversial journalist and author Christopher Hitchens adds fuel to the fire in The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, 160 pp., $22). Hitchens, a Vanity Fair columnist, argues that Kissinger is guilty of perpetrating mass killings throughout the world, including in Indochina during the Vietnam War. Kissinger, Hitchens says, knew that the war "had been settled politically and diplomatically" before he became National Security Adviser in 1969. Therefore, he "had to know that every additional casualty, on either side, was not just a death but an avoidable death."


Daniel Ellsberg, the former Marine and DoD analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers, is the subject of Tom Wells's decidedly negative biography, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg (Palgrave/St. Martins, 692 pp., $32.50). This unfriendly narrative of Ellsberg's life weighs in at just over 600 pages, much of it filled with unflattering comments from former friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. Wells is the author of The War Within about the antiwar movement.

George W. Allen went to work as a mid-level civilian Pentagon intelligence analyst after serving in World War II. In 1964, he switched to the CIA, where he served until his 1979 retirement. Allen spent virtually all of that time in Vietnam and Washington compiling intelligence about the French and American wars. He tells all in None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam (Ivan R. Dee, 320 pp., $27.50), a wide-ranging, illuminating memoir. One message shines through: for three decades the top State and Defense Department officials continually ignored those in the intelligence community who warned against a large-scale American military commitment to stop communism in Vietnam.

In her smooth autobiography, Autumn Cloud: From Vietnam War Widow to American Activist (Capital Books, 288 pp., $26.95), Jackie Bong Wright tells three stories: her own, her family's, and Vietnam's. The most effective sections are Wright’s straightforward depictions of the many and varied events of her life--including growing up in affluence in Cambodia, marrying a bold reformist politician, and leaving Vietnam just before the communist takeover--and her explanations of Vietnamese society and culture. The least successful are the sketchy historical sections and the author's staunchly anticommunist analyses of the reasons behind the American defeat.

John Steinbeck IV, the son of the famed novelist, died of a heart attack at age 44 in 1991. He had been drafted into the Army in 1964 and served as journalist in Vietnam in 1966-67. He later was a war correspondent there, won an Emmy for his work on the TV documentary, The World of Charlie Company, and wrote an excellent memoir, In Touch (1969), which focused on drug use in the war. The Other Side of Eden (Prometheus, 360 pp., $27) is a compelling dual memoir containing Steinbeck's last writing (much of it about his Vietnam tours, including a zany episode when the elder Steinbeck manned an M-16 during a visit to his son's mountaintop outpost near Pleiku), interspersed with his wife Nancy's perspective.

Jack Todd had an all-American boyhood growing up in Nebraska. A star athlete at the University of Nebraska, he joined the Marines to fight in Vietnam. Todd, though, was bounced out of the Corps because of old sports injuries. He then turned against the war and was drafted into the Army. In 1970, Todd fled Fort Lewis and went into exile in Canada. Now a Montreal Gazette columnist, Todd spins out his Vietnam wartime tale in Desertion in the Time of Vietnam (Houghton Mifflin, 293 pp., $24), a readable memoir that describes his difficult and painful decision to flee his native land.

In A Young American Hero (Craftmaster Printers, 69 pp., $9.99, paper), retired U.S. Army Col. H. Kenneth Seymour tells the life story of Hammett L. Bowen, Jr. A 25th Infantry Division staff sergeant, Bowen received the Medal of Honor in 1969 after he threw himself on a grenade during a recon mission ambush and died saving three of his men. Gary Hook's One Day in Vietnam: The True Story of an Army Bird Dog Pilot (Writer's Showcase, 271 pp., $14.95, paper) tells the story of the author's cousin, Lloyd Taylor Rugge, a U.S. Army recon pilot who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967. Hook, a California attorney, did a great deal of research that included interviews with Rugge's former buddies.

In Shadows of a Vietnam Veteran: Silent Victims (Truman Publishing, 153 pp., $19.95, paper), Alicia J. Boyds tells the personal and often painful story of how she and her husband Jack--an Army helicopter pilot--coped with his PTSD after he returned from his Vietnam War tour of duty. William T. Coffey, Jr.'s Patriot Hearts: An Anthology of American Patriotism (Purple Mountain, 430 pp., $16.95, paper) is a compilation of dozens of letters, poems, essays, and other words by American soldiers on the themes of duty and patriotism. Coffey's father served in Vietnam; the author is a Major in the U.S. Army Reserves.


Gil Dorland, a former Army officer who did two tours in Vietnam, has accomplished something remarkable in Legacy of Discord: Voices of the Vietnam War (Brassey's 249 pp., $26.95). The film producer and writer got a who's who of Vietnam War participants and observers to sit down with him individually and answer hard-hitting questions about the war. That includes Peter Arnett, Daniel Ellsberg, Alexander Haig, David Halberstam, Sen. John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Sen. John McCain, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, James Webb, and Gen. William Westmoreland. Dorland chose a group of people with strongly held opinions. Their thoughts on the war range from hawk to dove and make for illuminating reading.

Andrew Carroll's War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars (Scribner, 493 pp., $28) is a sterling collection of 200 previously unpublished letters from the Civil War through the present entanglement in Bosnia. It includes 40 pages of letters from the Vietnam War, along with Carroll's illuminating notes. The letter writers include President John F. Kennedy, replying to a distraught sister of a soldier killed in 1963; Gen. Westmoreland, in a private letter written in 1965; and Chaplain Ray Stubbe, writing from Khe Sanh during the 1968 siege.

Richard Linnett and Roberto Loiederman's The Eagle Mutiny (Naval Institute, 295 pp., $32.95) is a riveting account of the events surrounding the March 14, 1970, takeover of the tramp steamer Columbia Eagle, which was delivering a cargo of napalm to Thailand. Linnett, a journalist, and Loiederman, a TV writer and former merchant seaman, did a ton of research and interviewed many of the event's participants.

The Vietnam War is one theme in Bruce J. Schulman's engagingly written The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics (Free Press, 334 pp., $26). Schulman, a Boston University history professor, paints a multifaceted portrait of the social, cultural, and political events that shaped that pivotal decade, which began with many of the trappings of what we now call "the sixties," and ended with the seeds of the economic boom times of the early eighties.

Victor Davis Hanson devotes a long chapter in Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (Doubleday, 512 pp., $29.95) to Tet ’68. Hanson, a classics professor at Cal State, Fresno and a military historian, has harsh words for the VC, calling them "truce breakers and terrorist killers." In his analysis of the war, Hanson lays blame for its outcome on the news media and those Americans who went to Hanoi during the war.

The Vietnam War plays a small role in Larry Tart and Robert Keefe's The Price of Vigilance: Attacks on America's Surveillance Flights (Ballantine, 566 pp., $26). This is a worthy history of U.S. Navy and Air Force airborne recon programs from the Cold War to the present day. The authors are USAF veterans.

If you want an analysis of the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the socialist's perspective, go to Jonathan Neale's The American War: Vietnam, 1960-1975 (Bookmarks, 235 pp., paper). Neale relies heavily on the voices of Vietnamese peasants and American GIs in this short history, virtually eschewing the words and deeds of "the American ruling class," as he refers to the government's war policy-makers.

World-renowned British military historian John Keegan's latest book, War and Our World (Vintage, 87 pp., $10, paper), is a concise look at the impact of war on the planet in the 20th century. The book is a distillation of a series of lectures Keegan delivered several years ago on the BBC.

Bradley S. O'Leary and Edward Lee look at the pivotal November 1963 assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem in The Deaths of the Cold War Kings (Cemetery Dance, 368 pp., $25). This is a JFK assassination theory book that postulates that Kennedy's death was a conspiracy involving the Mafia, French drug dealers, and South Vietnamese leaders angry at JFK's order to unseat Diem.

VVA member Jan Barry, a founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, today is a journalist with the Bergen Record in New Jersey. His new book, A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns (Rutgers University Press, 224 pp., $48, hard cover; $19, paper), is a well-written, useful guide for civic action. Barry offers concrete, proven ideas for effective action on many causes. He uses proven examples that include the Agent Orange campaigns in New Jersey and nationwide and the movement to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

University of California, Berkeley, historian Peter Zinoman takes a long, analytical look at the influence of the repressive French colonial prison and judicial systems in Indochina on the communist-inspired independence movement in The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940 (University of California, 351 pp., $48). One example: Massive imprisonment of communists in 1930-31, Zinoman notes, "provided a curiously stable environment for the reconstitution and expansion" of the Indochinese Communist Party.

Harold Truman's A Country, Not a War: Vietnam Impressions (Pale Bone, 260 pp., $24) is a wide-ranging look at the Vietnam War, including its history and its aftermath. Truman served with the U.S. Army Security Agency during the war as a German linguist in Europe. He made a 1998 trip to Vietnam. Shirley Peck-Barnes' The War Cradle: The Untold Story of Operation Babylift (Vintage Pressworks, 318 pp., paper) is a well-researched, in-depth recounting of the heroic evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans to the United States in April and May of 1975.


E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org

     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America ® 
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright © 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.