Throughout Duc: A Reporter’s Love For the Wounded People of Vietnam (CreateSpace, 278 pp., $25, paper) German journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto takes us into the Vietnamese Theater of the Absurd. With him we witness events of the Vietnam War from 1965-69.
From the chapter “Uwe’s In Memoriam” to the final page of his epilogue, the author makes his case that the war in Vietnam was not a war of liberation. Siemon-Netto was not a fan of body counts, but the number of casualties and displaced persons listed in the book’s the memorial page is staggering.
Following the sequence of events in the book is sometimes difficult, but then war doesn’t always follow an orderly manner. The author describes scenes of torture, death, and loss endured by the Vietnamese people. While there are also comedic moments, they exist under a cloud of dread.
The author is a survivor of the World War II bombings in Germany, and perhaps that explains why he seldom mentions his own fears while under fire. He has enough close calls to make Duc as exciting as any war fiction. The treatment of some of his colleagues captured by the VC, Siemon-Netto claims, shows that the conflict was one of hatred and killing—not a war of liberation.
Siemon-Netto defines “comedy of the absurd” as juxtaposing two opposite realities. One such pair of opposites was the reporting of journalists on the scene and what he says was the distortion of events told to the people in America. Another was the need for a necessary commitment for a long protracted war in contrast to a quick victory expected by Americans. Both of these situations, the author says, led to the communists’ victory in the war.
This theater of the absurd had a cast of characters unequaled in any Hollywood production. Children who commandeered the author’s car for a home and women who drastically altered their bodies to be more enticing to Western males might have been dark comedy in a fictional work. But the war and his stories are not fiction.
One of the author’s colleagues had the habit of coming drunk to press conferences and asking inane questions. At the U.S. government press conferences, the “Five O’clock Follies, ” as the reporters called them, seldom was anything of importance released. In one such press conference an entire hour was dedicated to the discussion of a G.I. urinating on a temple wall.
The 1968 Tet Offensive was perhaps the greatest performance in the theater of the absurd. It would prove to be a major turning point in the war. The absurdities lay in the fact that while the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong clearly lost the conflict on the field, the American public turned against the war. While the end was becoming inevitable, the bloodshed would continue for nearly five more years.
Siemon-Netto opens his heart to us as he describes the battle for the city of Hue in which thousands of men, women, and children were systematically murdered by the North Vietnamese. The author describes the mass graves of the dead and sometimes of the living.
The author’s wife Gillian joined him in Saigon. She, too, experienced being under fire in street battles. Siemon-Netto describes the daily violence and dangers experienced by the people of Saigon while little of this was being reported back home.
Seimon-Netto accomplishes his goal of taking us into the heart of a wounded people. Though he exposes us to the darkness in the heart of evil men, he also takes us into the light and resilience of self-sacrificing people who loved their country and their families.
Many readers of Duc will gain much information about the war in Southeast Asia, or will at least be reminded of things forgotten.
Uwe Seimon-Netto argues that the war crimes perpetrated by the communists were part of their policy. While Americans were sometimes guilty of war crimes, our crimes were not a part of our combat policy. That gives me hope for our future.
The author’s website is www.siemon-netto.org