Reckoning by Neal F. Thompson | Books in Review

VVA member Neal F. Thompson’s Reckoning: Vietnam and America’s Cold War Experience, 1945-1991 (Charlevoix Books, 588 pp., $22.95) is an analytical look at the post-1945 wars in Vietnam—an “exercise in identifying facts that have been hiding in plain sight, ” as Thompson puts it.

Thompson, a lawyer who flew helicopters in the Vietnam War with Troop F of the 8th Cavalry Regiment’s 1st Aviation Brigade, spent sixteen years researching and writing this book on the Cold War. What he found was “a grossly dysfunctional political system and political class, focused primarily on domestic politics, ” he writes, that “mostly stumbled, bumbled, lied and connived its way through the Cold War from one election cycle to the next, deceiving itself, its citizens, and their allies and enemies alike.”

The end of Soviet-era communism, he says, came about “due far more to dumb luck, unintended consequences, and the relentless stupidity of our adversaries than any bi-partisan, long-term strategy.”

Thompson also has harsh things to say about chickenhawks—those who have never served in the military, but are happy to see the nation get involved in wars. “It is my firm belief, ” he says, “that the overwhelming majority of Americans today, both Left and Right, can fairly be labeled ‘Chickenhawks, ‘ who provide their taxes and go about their business while others, in a so-called volunteer military, pay the price and bear the burden of interventionism. This is the one and only reason why tens of millions of people acquiesce so easily in imperial adventures of questionable utility.”

As for the book’s title, Thompson sees a reckoning coming for the United States. “As run since 1945, this country cannot go on forever, ” he concludes. “Just what will stop, how and when, remains to be seen. But sooner or later, there will be a reckoning. Either we will reckon with our history, learning what we should have learned and changing our ways accordingly, or our history will surely reckon with us.”

—Marc Leepson

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