Books in Review
Reviews by Marc Leepson
Among the many litmus tests to
uncover historians’ political
views about the Vietnam War is the question of whether
Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist or communist. Historians
who are hawks trumpet the fact that Uncle Ho was a founding
member of the French and Vietnamese Communist Parties and
worked for the Communist International, a.k.a. the Comintern.
Historians who are doves, on the other hand, take pains
to point out that Ho lobbied the United States after World
War I for Vietnamese independence, worked with the Americans
against the Japanese during World War II, and was the George
Washington of Vietnam.
In Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam
War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge University, 400 pp., $30),
historian Mark Moyar puts himself firmly in the hawk camp.
He goes to great lengths to stress Uncle Ho’s communist
ties and ideals, and he turns the father of his country
idea on its ear, making a case that South Vietnamese Premier
Ngo Dinh Diem, not Ho, was the George Washington of Vietnam.
a U.S. Marine Corps University professor and the author
of Phoenix and the Birds of Prey:
Secret Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong, trumpets
his membership in what he calls the “revisionist
Vietnam War historians. He firmly believes that the war
was “a worthy but improperly executed enterprise.” His
fiercely argued book covering the early years of American
involvement in the war is a salvo against what he calls
the “orthodox school” of Vietnam War historians.
Said school sees American involvement in the war, he says,
as “wrongheaded and unjust.”
Members of that
cohort include liberals, intellectuals, and newspaper correspondents.
The main villains in Moyar’s
book are former Vietnam War correspondents David Halberstam
and Neil Sheehan, former U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam
Henry Cabot Lodge, and just about anyone else who had bad
things to say about Ngo Dinh Diem and good things to say
about Ho Chi Minh.
Moyar marshals a good deal of evidence
to make his points. Nearly all of the primary sources he
uses buttress his political point of view. He disparages
those he disagrees with (calling Sheehan and Halberstam,
for example, “indignant,” “vengeful,” and “self-righteous”)
and showers praise on those who backed Diem, the autocratic
leader who stifled the press and muzzled his political
opponents. “Revisionists” will embrace the
book; the “orthodox” will see it as more evidence
of a vast, right-wing conspiracy.
SAM ADAMS REDUX
In 1994, six years after his death from
a sudden heart attack, Steerforth Press published War
of Numbers, the unfinished memoir of former CIA intelligence
analyst Sam Adams. In 1982, Adams had made national headlines
when he went public with convincing evidence that the American
military purposely underestimated the size of the enemy
forces in Vietnam prior to and during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The media vehicle he chose was “The Uncounted Enemy:
A Vietnam Deception,” a CBS-TV documentary that contained
the evidence that
Adams had first uncovered while working
in and out of Vietnam in 1966.
The documentary portrayed Gen. William Westmoreland, the
MACV commander, as the mastermind of a conspiracy to convince
the Pentagon and the American public that the war effort
was going well. Westmoreland reacted by suing CBS for libel.
At the very last moment, just as his $120-million suit
was about to go to jury, Westmoreland dropped the suit,
and CBS issued a statement saying it never meant to say
that he was unpatriotic.
Adams’ working title for
his memoir was “Who
the Hell Are We Fighting Out There?” Hence the title
of C. Michael Hiam’s engaging biography of Sam Adams:
Who the Hell Are We Fighting? The
Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars (Steerforth, 326 pp., $25.95).
Hiam does a good job of telling Adams’ compelling
life story, complete with blow-by-blow accounts of his
muckraking at the CIA, and fascinating details of the CBS-Westmoreland
trial, which some people called “the libel trial
of the century.”
NONFICTION IN BRIEF
Glenda Carter’s husband, Bruce
Landon Carter, was killed in Quang Nam Province on September
11, 1968, less than a month after arriving in country and
joining Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. He was
18 years old. Glenda Carter received the “we regret
to inform” news
three days later. It took her more than three decades to
come to grips with the impact of her young husband’s
Glenda Carter tells the story of her life after September
14, 1968, with grace and power in Sacred
Shadow, Sacred Ground: A Vietnam War Widow’s Journey
Through Unresolved Grief (Two Rainbows, 188 pp., $18.95, paper). The journey
was a painful one in many ways. Glenda Carter grieved,
tried to go on with her life, then floundered emotionally
for many years with a severe case of PTSD. Her pain only
began to ease in recent years after a religious experience,
after contacting several of the men her husband served
with, and after writing this heartfelt book. For more info,
go to www.tworainbowspublishing.com
Tom A. Johnson’s
To the Limit: An Air Cav Huey Pilot
in Vietnam (Potomac
Books, 396 pp., $26.95) is an evocative retelling of his
June 1967-68 tour of duty as a young warrant officer flying
Hueys for the 1st Cav’s 229th Assault
Helicopter Battalion. Johnson accumulated 1,150 combat
hours, including many precarious missions during the Battle
of Hue and at Khe Sanh during and after Tet ’68.
He tells his war story mostly in the present tense and
with lots of recreated dialogue.
“We were aviation specialists who had contempt for
everyone outside the aviation family,” Johnson says
in his introduction. “Most of us sported a strictly-against-army-regulation
mustache, and our don’t-give-a-crap attitude kept
us in hot water with other ‘non-rated’ military
Dr. Ronald J. Glasser is best known as
the author of 365 Days (1971), a powerful chronicle
of his 1968-69 tour in the medical trenches at the U.S.
Army Hospital in Camp Zama in Japan in 1968-69. That book,
which is still in print, is regarded as a Vietnam War classic,
revealing as it does the war stories and the physical and
psychic pain of the wounded Americans Glasser treated after
they were medevaced to Japan.
Glasser’s newest book,
Wounded: Vietnam, Iraq (Braziller, 151 pp., $15.95, paper),
covers similar territory. Glasser describes the advances
in technology and medical science that have led to fewer
deaths on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those same
breakthroughs, though, also have led to more servicemen
and women surviving the war with more severe wounds—a
situation that is similar to what happened in the Vietnam
War compared to Korea and World War II. In this short,
incisive text, Glasser also includes an instructive chapter
on combat-related PTSD, past and present. Much of what
is in the book is not easily digestible; then again, neither
is the personal cost of war.
The latest between-covers tribute
to American Medal of Honor recipients is Barrett Tillman’s
Heroes: U.S. Army Medal of Honor
Recipients (Berkley Caliber,
273 pp., $26.95), a chronological recounting of 100 Army
MOH stories, beginning with the Civil War. The 40-page
Vietnam War section includes sidebars, such as a list of
the fifteen Army medics who received the award from 1965-70.
of the legends profiled by military historian Dick Camp
in Leatherneck Legends: Conversations
with the Marine Corps’ Old
Breed (Zenith, 320 pp., $24.95) are Ray Davis and
Bob Barrow, multi-starred generals who commanded Marine
units in the Vietnam War. Davis fought in World War II,
received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Chosin
Reservoir in Korea, and commanded the 3rd Marine Division
in Vietnam. Barrow also served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam,
commanding the 9th Marine Regiment in the latter war. He
went on to become the 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
M. Hawley, a government professor at Eastern Washington
University, offers a highly detailed analysis of the continuing
Vietnam War POW/MIA issue in The
Remains of War: Bodies, Politics, and the Search for American
Soldiers Unaccounted for in Southeast Asia (Duke University, 296 pp., $22.95,
paper). Hawley takes into consideration, among other things,
political, cultural, and literary factors to come up with “a
genealogical perspective” on what’s behind
what he calls “an effort unlike any undertaken by
any nation in history.”
Andrew Dodds’s American
Heroes Remembered: 230 Years of American Military History (Braveheart Publishers, 175 pp., paper) is a collection
of poems, historical facts, photos, and stories that pay
tribute to America’s
fightingmen and women throughout our history. For info,
write: 271 County Road 1000, Booneville, MS 38829.
war in Iraq another Vietnam? That’s the question
Vietnam War specialist Robert K. Brigham, a Vassar College
history and political science professor, addresses in the
appropriately titled Is Iraq Another
Vietnam? (Public Affairs,
207 pp., $24). The answer, according to Brigham, is, in
many ways, yes. There are “overwhelming differences” between
the two wars, he says. But there are three striking similarities.
are: overwhelming political problems despite overwhelming
American military power; declining public support; and
what Brigham believes is the most important similarity, “the
challenge that each war presented to American beliefs about
the use of power.” In both wars, he says, “the
United States learned that there were limits to what it
could accomplish through force.”
looking for a book that trashes Jane Fonda, Mary Hershberger’s
Jane Fonda’s War: A Political
Biography of an Anti-War Icon (The New Press, 228
pp., $24.95) is not for you. Hershberger, who wrote Traveling
to Vietnam, a book about American peace activists who went
there during the war, documents Fonda’s antiwar work
and examines the bitter controversy that continues to this
day over what she did back then. Hershberger’s conclusion: “allegations
that Fonda betrayed her country and caused harm to American
POWs in Hanoi are false.”
How does James Lee Burke do it? His 15th
Dave Robicheaux detective novel, Pegasus
Descending (Simon & Schuster,
354 pp., $26), closely follows the pattern of the earlier
books but still has the immediacy and appeal of a brand
new exemplary work of genre fiction. Burke offers yet another
fast-moving melodrama set in Cajun country in southern
Louisiana, in which our morally upright but demon-battling
sheriff’s detective hero tries to solve three grisly
murders and deal with a fearsome line-up of murderous sociopaths.
The murders may have something to do with the violent death
of an old friend twenty years earlier—a death that
Dave has on his conscience.
As usual, Dave is abetted in
his unorthodox crime fighting by his former fellow New
Orleans beat cop and fellow Nam vet buddy, Clete Boyer,
a “jarhead who still [hears]
the downdraft of helicopter blades in his sleep.” Burke,
as usual, puts many roadblocks in Dave’s path, including
his own ferocious temper and his constant battle to stay
sober. You know Dave is going to overcome, but you have
your doubts, and you really don’t know what will
happen till the last few pages of this great read.
Thomas Holland’s One Drop
of Blood (Simon & Schuster,
337 pp., $24) is a spell-binding detective thriller set
in the present day that delves into two murders that took
place in 1965 and 1966—one in a small Arkansas town
and one in Quang Nam, Republic of Vietnam. Holland, who
directs the Pentagon’s Central Identification Laboratory
in Hawaii, skillfully brings together a northern, fish-out-of-water
FBI agent and a put-upon forensic anthropologist to clear
up both interlocked mysteries.
Stephen (Flight of the Intruder,
et al.) Coonts’s
latest thriller, The Traitor (St. Martin’s,
370 pp., $25.95), is a fast-paced, cleverly plotted production.
Former Vietnam War A-6 Intruder pilot Coonts brings back
the intrepid Intruder hero Jack Grafton in this novel to
help undo a nasty Al Qaeda plot with a big French accent.
Boucher’s first novel, Frank’s War (Aventine,
104 pp., $10.95, paper), deals with 18-year-old Frank Prince
and a band of anarchist-terrorists in the wake of the September
11, 2001, attacks, as well as the discovery of his father’s
Vietnam War journal. Boucher based the fictional journal
on the real war journal kept by his late father-in-law.
For more info, go to http: //chrisboucher.net
The Poison Pill (iUniverse, 289 pp., $18.95, paper) is
billed as a “business (Gothic)
thriller.” This fast-moving novel tells the strange
tale of what happens to two Vietnam War veterans turned
business entrepreneurs when their empire is threatened.
The novel follows the quest of the son of one of the founders
of Bates Pharmaceuticals, an MIT professor who tries to
outwit an unscrupulous corporate raider. Guerrero served
in the Vietnam War.