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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Vietnam War

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Vietnam War The Battle for Vietnam. .

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  #31  
Old 16 Jun 07, 15:10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DeltaOne View Post
'heroes for their cause' as 'Traitor Jane' liked to refer to them.

D1

She also said that we should all hope to be communists. Funny how all those in Hollywood and ivory towers who talk like this never take their own advice and go live in places like North Vietnam.

Last edited by Miss Saigon; 16 Jun 07 at 15:12..
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  #32  
Old 17 Jun 07, 06:51
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I've read a good few on Vietnam,

Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall (met his sister once!)

Bright and Shining Lie

Battle of Dien Bien Phu by General Giap (not a great read but rare one to own)

My favorite book is Sand in the Wind by Robert Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Sand-Wind-Robe.../dp/0523426011

some say Kubrick's FMJ is based heavily upon it - it struck me that might be so when I first saw the film too.
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  #33  
Old 17 Jun 07, 13:30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfe Tone View Post
I've read a good few on Vietnam,

My favorite book is Sand in the Wind by Robert Roth

some say Kubrick's FMJ is based heavily upon it - it struck me that might be so when I first saw the film too.

I believe that FMJ was based on "The Short-Timers" by Gustav Hasford
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  #34  
Old 17 Jun 07, 14:11
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Thanks for the info Miss

That got me on the Google Trail and I came across this Site:

http://www.gustavhasford.com/home.htm

This could be interesting!
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  #35  
Old 17 Jun 07, 16:31
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I came across this interview with R. Lee Ermey by following your link. You can read what R.Lee Ermey had to say about the accuracy of the book versus the film. Among other things.

http://www.tv-now.com/intervus/ermey/
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  #36  
Old 17 Jun 07, 20:31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DeltaOne View Post
Jester, the problem is that we have little mention of the 'whole' war in 'American' history books in school. Almost everything there tells only of the negative aspects, included every mistake we made and makes little or no comment on what the enemy was up to and the atrocities they committed. I was there, saw it first handed and can honestly say Americans students are misinformed. There is little mention of the medical help we provided in villages etc. All we get is the dope smoking, losing, My Lai type stories. We want the WHOLE story told.
If you were there and saw what we did (villagers skinned, raped, beheaded, children shot or tortured, bodies desecrated by the enemy) and knew it wasn't being told, you would feel as we do.
Um...exactly? This whole discussion illustrates my point beautifully. At the moment Vietnam historiography seems to be divided into two camps - you either focus on My Lai or Hue. There are very few works that attempt to balance the two, put them in context, or assess something beyond them.
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  #37  
Old 17 Jun 07, 20:47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss.Saigon View Post
This is correct. Until recently all that was available was critical. Today all the "Classic" texts about the VN war that are routinely assigned in High School and College level course work are still the critical ones. Books like "The Best and the Brightest", "Bright and Shining Lie", "Once upon a distant War", "Fire in the lake", "Four hours in My Lai", and "Dispatches" are what you find in academic reading assignments.
Here's the general reading list from the unit I just did on Vietnam:

Quote:
General Reading:

Bui, Tin, Following Ho Chi Minh : the memoirs of a North Vietnamese colonel, translated from the Vietnamese and adapted by Judy Stowe and Do Van with an introduction by Carlyle A. Thayer, London : Hurst & Company, 1995.

Bui Tin, trans. by Nguyen Ngoc Bich, From Enemy to Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002.

Chan Khong a.k.a. Cao Ngoc Phuong, Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced Social Change in Vietnam. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

Lu Van Thanh, The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls: Memoir of an ARVN Liaison Officer to United States Forces in Vietnam who was Imprisoned in Communist Re-Education Camps and then Escaped. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997.

Nguyen Dinh-Hoa, From the City Inside the Red River: A Cultural Memoir of Mid-Century Vietnam. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.

David Lan Pham, Two Hamlets in Nam Bo: Memoirs of Life in Vietnam Through Japanese Occupation, the French and American Wars, and Communist Rule, 1940-1986. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

Mann, Robert A grand delusion : America's descent into Vietnam, New York : Basic Books, 2000.

Lind, Michael Vietnam, the necessary war : a reinterpretation of America's most disastrous military conflict, New York : Free Press, 1999.

Chong, Denise. The girl in the picture : the story of Kim Phuc, the photograph, and the Vietnam War, Penguin Books, 2001

Nguyen Thi? Thu-Lam. Fallen leaves : memoirs of a Vietnamese woman from 1940 to 1975, William Joiner Center, c1989.

Nhat Ha?nh Thich Fragrant palm leaves : journals, 1962-1966, Riverhead Books, 1999

Nguyen, Thi Tuyet Mai, The rubber tree : memoir of a Vietnamese woman who was an anti-French guerrilla, a publisher, and a peace activist, McFarland, 1994

Bradley, Mark, Imagining Vietnam and America : the making of postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950, University of North Carolina Press, c2000

Hammond, William M. Reporting Vietnam : media and military at war, University Press of Kansas, 1998

Roser, Iris Mary, Ba Rose : my years in Vietnam 1968-1971, Sydney : Pan, 1991

Bich, Thuan Mountain trail Viet Nam Women’s Union 1970
Bright Shining Lie was certainly in the library, and Four Hours in My Lai was on the prescribed reading list for the assignment topic on the My Lai massacre.

Quote:
There is a nice discussion here about "Dispatches." The book portrays the American fighting man as a sicko. Yet look at what the Vets here say about Dispatches in the threads. Michael Herr presents his sickos as being representative. The Vets who where there say that such behavior was an extremely rare aberration that most never had contact with. It was not represetative at all. Yet Herr's Dispatches is routinely elevated as writing about "How it really was", and is popular in academic settings.
*shrug* Herr doesn't make the additional material list, but Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning does, as do books by Australian soldiers such as Gary McKay's In Good Company and Lex McAuley's Contact: Australians in Vietnam.

Quote:
These days we are fortunate enough that we have had a wave of Vets coming forth, writing books, and telling their stories and giving a different perspective. These are widely available to people such as me who seek them out, but these books are never assigned as high school or college level reading about the history of the VN conflict.
See above. Students coming out of a university that was the centre of anti-war resistance in Australia are getting assigned these books - yet you're telling me those in America (and all the exchange students we have come from waaaay more conservative colleges) don't?

Quote:
Whenever there is an "intellectual" discussion about the literature pertaining to the war, the only books mentioned are those that are critical. America enjoys being self critical over the VN war. I refer you to the thread on Stone's new movie for more on this concept.
Americans being self-critical about the war? I should hope so!
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Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.
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  #38  
Old 17 Jun 07, 21:36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thejester View Post
Here's the general reading list from the unit I just did on Vietnam:
First, let me thank you for the bibliography. Some of these titles I was not aware of. I have done some searches and many of them are not readily available here.

I am not sure what you are saying though. You said this is a reading list from a unit you did on Vietnam. You were required to read all of these books?

As an undergraduate I took a semester long course on the Vietnam war at an American university. I can say for a fact that none of the books you listed, other than the ones that are also on my short list, were ever assigned reading. The course I took sounded more like an apology course for the war. The conclusions being that the US could not have won the war, had no business fighting the war, committed atrocities while doing so, and the Vietnamese didn't want the Americans there. It was hardly a balanced approach, although it claimed to be. Just my presence in the class should have underlined how unbalanced it was.

Quote:
Herr doesn't make the additional material list
Herr is still being assigned at several Universities in Texas for VN war reading. He is very popular among the intellectuals when speaking of "How it was". He also paints a terrible picture of the American soldier.

Quote:
, but Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning does,
This book does find itself on reading lists here. This book is less political, and more about the lives of the soldiers. His other book is more political.

Quote:
as do books by Australian soldiers such as Gary McKay's In Good Company and Lex McAuley's Contact: Australians in Vietnam.
I have tried to find McKay here and cannot. He is even rare among used book purveyors.

Quote:
See above. Students coming out of a university that was the centre of anti-war resistance in Australia are getting assigned these books - yet you're telling me those in America (and all the exchange students we have come from waaaay more conservative colleges) don't?
Yes. That is what I am saying. Obviously I cannot speak for all academia in the United States, but my personal course experience doesn't even come close to the reading list you present in terms of balance. And I believe this to be true of most University courses on the Vietnam war in the United States. The University environment in the United States, with the exception of Business and Economics programs (And some law), is heavily skewed to the left. I even read an article recently where a University president dismissed this accusation saying that it makes sense because leftists (liberals in the American parlance) are more intelligent than conservatives. If you believe that American universities are very conservative I think you are mistaken. And I say this from the perspective of being on the inside, not the student side.

Quote:
Americans being self-critical about the war? I should hope so!
Why? Because SEATO was only meaningful to the extent that it would protect the Australians and New Zealanders from Communism? Otherwise the US had no business trying to protect a weak Asian nation from the onslaught of international communism? Again to quote Winston Churchill, "Only English speaking people matter".

M.S.

Last edited by Miss Saigon; 17 Jun 07 at 21:50..
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  #39  
Old 17 Jun 07, 22:02
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I personally went more for individual biographies. My favorite are:

Low Level Hell by Hugh Mills
HeadHunters & Hunter Killer Squadron by Matthew Brennan
Tunnels of Chu Chi by Tom Mangold
Choppers by J.D. Coleman
SOG by John L. Plaster
Commanche Six by James L Estep
Danang Diary Tom Marshall
Rangers at War by Shelby Stanton
Brown Water, Black Berets by Thomas Cutler.
ChickenHawk by Robert Mason
Maverick by Dennis Marvicsin (I know it's more fiction than fact, but it was my first 'Vietnam' book)

Last edited by Naffenea; 18 Jun 07 at 11:06..
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  #40  
Old 17 Jun 07, 22:39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Naffenea View Post
I personally went more for individual biographies. My favorite are:

Low Level Hell by Hugh Mills
HeadHunters& Hunter Killer Squadron by Matthew Brennan
Tunnels of Chu Chi by Tom Mangold
Choppers by J.D. Coleman
SOG by John L. Plaster
Commanche Six by James L Estep
Danng Diary Tom Marshall
Rangers at War by Shelby Stanton
Brown Water, Black Berets by Thomas Cutler.
ChickenHawk by Robert Mason
Maverick by Dennis Marvicsin (I know it's more fiction than fact, but it was my first 'Vietnam' book)
I agree. The histories are an intellectual exercise that I feel I must engage in, but the personal memoirs are my favorites. I have read several of these that you mention, and the ones I have not read are in my library waiting to be read.

Some fictional accounts are supposed to be very accurate depictions such as the books by Leonard B. Scott.
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Old 06 Jul 07, 20:10
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A House in Hue

I recently completed reading "A House in Hue" by Omar Eby. This is the story of seven Christian Service aid workers who were trapped in Hue during the Tet offensive in 1968. The story is primarily told through the experience of June Sauder, one of the Christian women.

This is a very short book and quick read. I had it done in an evening. The story is mostly about the fear that the Americans felt as they hid while Communist soldiers were active in the street and neighborhood outside of the house. The Christian workers were pacifists and disassociated themselves with the military aspect of the war. It is this fact that I found particularly interesting.

These Christian workers portrayed themselves to the local population as being against the war and not associated with the military. Many of the Vietnamese they provided relief for openly expressed to these Americans how they disliked all other Americans. It was a point of Pride to June Sauder when a VN told her that she hated all Americans except her. There is a clear political perspective here. OK, fine. Everyone has one.

My problems with this story have to do with incredulity and hypocrisy. The Christian workers were terrified when they first saw Communist soldiers on the street in front of their house and they hid for the entire time. They disassociated themselves with the military, yet their greatest desire during the siege was for a return of the United States Marines. They were terrified of the Communists and wanted the Marines to return.

"I see em! 'someone shouted from the door. 'U.S. Marines! Hundreds of them!' Rarely were Americans so glad to see U.S. Marines as were the seven VNCS volunteers, pacifists or no pacifists".

They were grateful to receive the rescue of the Marines and then immediately availed themselves of the food, medical care, showers, and other facilities of the United States Military. They were happy that it was over. However, with the bellies full and a clean bill of health from American doctors behind them, they began to turn critical of the military. Sauder ruminated that she hoped no marine had discharged his weapon at any time for her personal protection. She believed not.

Come on! They would never have been able to re-capture the city and rescue them at their hide out had they not used their weapons. They used them, and killed a lot of people. Had they not, the relief workers would never have been rescued.

She was critical of the force used by the Marines as they went house to house clearing the city of the enemy. Sometimes civilians would be caught in the middle. Of course there are two sides to this. The middle is just that. On one side are the Communists, the other side the Marines. Naturally being in the middle is not a safe place to be. But does that make it exclusively the fault of the Marines??

Sauder also speculated as to why the communists had not found and killed them. She believed that they must have known that the relief workers were there and concluded that they Communists chose not to kill them because they know how much good they were trying to do for the local people.

This conclusion was flawed in several ways. While she was speculating as to why they were not killed, she reveals that relief workers found in other hiding places by the communists were killed. Some of whom she believed to be even better relief workers who had done more for the local people than she and her group had. Yet they were killed and her group was not. So how can she conclude she was spared because of her groups care of the locals when others who did as much or more were not spared? Also, she was a Christian. Relief work or not, the Communists looked at everyone politically. And Christians were a political enemy. The communists routinely placed ideological necessity above any sort of recognition of contribution. How many middle class business people, small land owners, and the families of such were executed even though they supported the Communist movement? Political considerations always came first with the Communists. If the communists had no compunction about killing people who actively supported them for political reasons, they would not have spared Christians just because they cared.

Finally, when the Relief workers finally returned to their house they found it looted. Everything was taken. EVERYTHING. No plates, furniture, household items of any kind were left. Some of the local Vietnamese told her that the American Marines had taken everything and then complained that if this is what Americans are like they don't want them. Of course, these are the same Vietnamese who said they didn't like the Americans in the first place. Sauder took at face value that the Marines had stolen everything. The Marines who she prayed would rescue her. Now, if the house had been vandalized I could see a bunch of grunts doing this to blow off steam. If somethings had been missing from the house that a Marine might use in his quarters, I could see this. But for the house to be emptied of absolutely everything without any evidence of Vandalism strikes me as strange. What is a combat Marine going to do with dinner plates and glass cups in a combat zone? Maybe the isolated item a Marine might steel and take with him, but everything int he house. Furniture and all? I have a hard time believing that combat soldiers would empty a house in its entirety. What could they have used the stuff for.

The locals, on the other hand, could have put household items to very good use. I think it is more likely that the locals looted the house while the relief workers were away availing themselves of the US Military food and care. Sauder never even considers this idea. She believes the big bad Marines did this. After they rescued her.

The locals also told her how the Communists soldiers while they were occupying Hue were always proper. They were polite and if they took something they paid for it. Again, she takes this at face value.

If the communists were so benevolent and proper, why wasn't there the mass rising among the civilian population of Hue in support of them? Where did they get the money to pay for everything? Most of the times during the war the Communist soldiers weren't paid and didn't have any money. And finally, what about all the executed civilians and mass graves of the thousands murdered by the communists while they held control of the city?

No, I think it is clear that some of the people that were taking handouts from Sauder and her group of relief workers were Communists or Communist sympathizers who had her ear. She wanted to believe them and she did. And they looted her house.

Sauder and this book were gullible and naive.

But the Marines did rescue her and the other Americans. That is a factual conclusion.

Semper Fi

M.S.
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Old 09 Jul 07, 01:36
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The walking dead

The Walking Dead by Craig Roberts and Charles Sasser

Before I talk about this book, I must make a few clarifications. The Marines are a proud and idiosyncratic bunch. So one runs up against these things when discussing anything Marines.

If you read the Amazon reviews of this book you will see that the author comes under fire from some Marines. The book is called the "Walking Dead", which specifically refers to the 1st battalion, 9th Marines. Apparently unit designations and their corresponding nick names can be very serious business in the Marines. However, the author was not in the 1/9. He was in the 2/9 (Hell in a Helmet) and the 3/9 (Shadow Warriors). So some Marines criticize the author by saying that if he is wrong about the nick names of the battalions, serious business for these Marines, then the accuracy of his story comes into doubt. A reasonable argument, so I wondered about this myself. Since I happen to have acquaintance with several die hard Marines I asked them what they thought. All three of the Marines that I spoke with didn't think it was such a big deal. They didn't seem to think I should doubt the veracity of the book based on this. One even suggested that the name "Walking Dead" was a better title than "Shadow Warriors" or "Hell in a Helmet" and the author probably did it for that reason. So, I accepted that, and went on with the book.

Now that we have established the framework, let me say something else. Over the years, on and off, I have met a variety of military men. And one thing that seems to be almost totally universal with the ones I have met is that they all seem to have a fun sense of humor. Even at the gravest of times, they will often rattle off something that will make you laugh. I like this characteristic of military men. And I liked this book. Because one of the things this book did was make me laugh a few times, even if at other times the story was about loss.

"I had no reason to curse my recruiter; he hadn't lied to me. He'd resembled the uniformed gorilla with an armful of stripes, a chestful of ribbons, and hair so short he looked unshaven on top. He growled when I walked into the recruiting station fresh out of high school and tanned from the summer, a kid off the block. I almost turned back around and ran out, except Kipling had written about tough guys like him, all iron on the surface with a heart in the middle. A warrior who could kill an enemy without batting an eye and die for a friend the same way. 'well, uh......' i stammered. 'We don't offer nothin', the gorilla snarled. Kipling may have been wrong about the heart in the middle. He kept staring at me like he could see right down into my guts, checking them out to see if I had any. 'We don't offer nothin', he growled again, pushing back from his desk, 'but I'll tell you this, lad. When you're in combat and you're standing in the mud with fixed bayonets and no ammo and there's a thousand screaming Chinese commies charging up the hill toward you - your buddy won't bug out on you'"

Of course, later on in the story he would find that statement to be true in a critical situation.

"Seargent Shireman said, 'Men, this is Lt. John Rowe. This is your new platoon commander. He just graduated from Quantico. He played football.' He turned to the officer. 'Sir, the platoon is formed. They're awaiting your command.' Lt. Rowe squared his corners and stood at attention centered on the platoon. Even though he raised his voice to address his very first command, his speech remained soft and unsure of itself around the edges. Sergeant Shireman tells me I have a good platton of men,' he began. 'We're not just going to be good - we're going to be the best the Marine Corps has ever seen.' I kept my eyes locked straight ahead, but mentally they rolled back in my head. Oh God, another one of those. The Grim look on Sergeant Shireman's face promised quick and certain retribution if one single eyeball clicked off center. 'I have an open door policy, men.' Lt. Rowe said. 'If any of you have a problem, you are welcome to come directly to me with it.' He gave his peep talk then he marched off, squaring his corners. Sergeant Shireman waited until he was out of hearing range. Then he said, 'All right, listen up, shitbirds. If I find one of you shitbags going to see the lieutenant without going through me first, I'll have your balls in my locker. There ain't no reason for you to bother that lieutenant. If I can't handle it, it can't be handled."

After reading that section I thought that I was going to find that Lt. Rowe would turn out to be a bad platoon leader, not respected by his men. The opposite turned out to be the case. The men respected him and he evolved into a good combat leader.

The military produces interesting characters, and in this book Sgt. Shireman was one such character.

"The big engines had been idling. Suddenly, they began to rev. My boat vibrated like a shockless old Ford over the washboard dirt roads in eastern Oklahoma where I grew up. I took a chance and copped a peek over the side. It was awesome. Long lines of gray flat-bowed boats had lined up across the sea. On some signal, their props kicked up a giant washing machine of water and we charged toward the beach, leaving wakes that broadened behind us and made even the Pickaway start to bob like a fishing cork. Spray hissed over the bow. All that was missing was the bugles. And the rest of the Navy. 'I thought they were supposed to shell it or something to soften it up for us,' some worrywart said. 'Marines don't need that sissy ****,' Sergeant Shireman growled. 'lock and load. Lock and Load.'"

"I thought I would never escape the sea. As soon as I felt solid land beneath my boots, I dove into it face first and did a combat roll to the left to keep the VC from marking my position. I quickly unfolded the bi-pod on my automatic rifle and swung the gun ready for action'.... Phil Leslie kicked up sand and he ploughed onto his belly next to me. He was my ammo bearer. All I heard was my heart pounding in my trigger finger and the cries of Marines as they hit the beach belly down and heads and rifles up. Then I saw the kid. He was about eight years old with an eight year old's grin, yellow skin, no shirt, and a baggy pair of too short black trousers. My first gook. Holding out two bottles, he positioned himself directly in front of my weapon. 'Hey Joe.... you buy Co'Cola?'"

"The Army set up a club in one of its tents and stocked it with cold beer and a juke box. Some of us ambled into it one afternoon to check it out, bellying up to a bar constructed of old ammo cases and rocket boxes. We heard our first protest song' screaming out of the juke box: 'the eastern world, it is explodin....' It was called 'Eve of Destruction.' We listened to it in surprise and wonder. The Armed Forces Radio Service rarely told us what was going on back home. I laughed uncomfortably. 'Sounds like Vietnam,' I said. Smitty snorted and broke it down to its simplest terms: 'what do them ******* know about Vietnam?' O'Brian walked around the music machine like he considered putting a foot through it. 'Jesuz Keerist,' he said. The Army ain't nothing but a bunch of commies and democrats. it's about time to bust the place up, ain't it, Roberts?' Seargent Shireman had already taken insurance against that. 'If I catch just one of you assholes ****ing with the doggies or tearing up their club,' he'd growled, 'I will personally cut your ******* out with my K'bar and drag your intestines all the way to Chu Lai.' The thing with Sergeant Shireman was, you believed him."

The book has amusing little anecdotes like that mixed in with descriptions of patrolling, combat, and military boredom. This made the book interesting for me.

One significant event covered in the book was the battle of Cam Ne, which the author participated in. This is significant because it was an early watershed moment in how the press covered the war. The Marines had taken fire from the village and several casualties over a period of days. It was an enemy stronghold. When the Marines finally secured the village they found extensive tunnels and fighting positions, thus village was ordered destroyed. A CBS news crew reported none of that. Instead it focused on a Marine setting fire to a hut with Morely Safer narrating: "If there were any Viet Cong in the Hamlet, they were long gone". This caused quite a stir back in the USA.

All in all, this was an easy, enjoyable read because of the Author's writing style. It is replete with the humorous antics of the fighting men. And it conveys the feelings of the Marine Rifleman in the early stages of the ground war. There are not as many memoirs on the first year of the war as there are of later years. This is one of the few.

M.S.

Last edited by Miss Saigon; 09 Jul 07 at 01:40..
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Diem's Final Failure

There need to be more studies of the Vietnam era in English by people who speak Vietnamese. Things have been mostly one sided thus far. However, I found this review of a book on Diem to be very interesting. The review is by:

Colonel Stuart A. Herrington, USA Ret., author of Stalking the Vietcong: Inside Operation Phoenix, Peace with Honor: An American Reports on Vietnam: 1973-1975

I have read Col. Herringtons books and found them very interesting. His review of "Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam" by Philip E. Catton:

Like many former soldiers with a few years of his life invested in Vietnam, I learned over the years to avoid most books about Vietnam. For years, the marketplace was inundated with "oral histories" that purported to tell it like it was in "Nam," books that all too often showcased vivid and suspect war stories, contributed little to our understanding of the war, and reinforced mythology and prejudice. (One wonders how many five year-old Vietnamese children really handed a live grenade to an American soldier, or how much spit could really have been rained down on returning GIs in America's airports.) At the other end of the spectrum are books authored by university professors whose purely academic credentials deny them the authenticity that comes from having helped make the history that goes between the covers. Add to the equation a book originally written as a graduate dissertation, and the prospects for a good read plummet.

This said, Philip E. Catton, an assistant professor of history at Stephen F. Austin State University, has made a fine contribution to the serious literature of the Vietnam War in Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam.

The first clue that Catton's work might be worth reading comes in the Preface and Acknowledgments, where the reader learns that the author made extensive use of Vietnamese documents, which he can read, that he traveled to Vietnam and conducted research in archives and libraries in Saigon, and that he interviewed Vietnamese sources. For years after the painful debacle of April 1975, the way Americans wrote about the war mirrored the way we tried to fight it. If linguistic-cultural barriers, historical ignorance, and a dose of arrogance kept us from really understanding our Vietnamese allies during the war, in the wake of our defeat we seemed equally incapable of including the Vietnamese perspective in the histories and memoirs we produced. By the early 1980s, Vietnam books were flooding the market, most of which paid scant attention to what the Vietnamese could have told us about the war that cost them their country. Not until ten years after the fall of Saigon did we see quality works that offered readers the Vietnamese perspective. Jerrold L. Schecter and Nguyen Tien Hung's The Palace File conveyed fascinating insights of the South Vietnamese perspective during the final years, while author David Chanoff's three remarkable works, Portrait of the Enemy, A Vietcong Memoir, and The Vietnamese Gulag, enabled readers to see the war through the prisms of the former enemy.

Author Catton has taken an important step by including among his sources Vietnamese documents and interviews with Vietnamese actors, some of whom made the history he writes about. Catton makes clear in his Introduction that, in the words of Vietnamese author Huynh Kim Khanh, the time has passed when histories of the Vietnam War should treat the Vietnamese as "passive bystanders in a historical process engineered elsewhere." Plumbing the archives, Catton has unearthed primary documents from both Vietnamese sides of the conflict and availed himself extensively of extant oral history testimonies of key American players. Catton's focus is the period between the defeat and withdrawal of the French, when Ngo Dinh Diem, an idealistic, exiled anti-communist and nationalist politician, returned to his country to assume the reins of political power.

A common treatment of the Diem era, which ended tragically with the assassination of President Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, scant weeks before Lee Harvey Oswald ended the life of President John F. Kennedy, is to treat Diem as a naive, out-of-touch, Catholic bureaucrat, ensnared between Washington and Hanoi, whose regime was marked by various ill-advised schemes to counter the communist insurgency, the most infamous of which was the strategic hamlet program. Diem is characterized as distant, difficult for his American contacts to read, afraid of his own military, insensitive to Vietnam's Buddhist majority, and handicapped by the heavy-handed advice and machinations of his brother and his femme fatale sisterin-law, the infamous Madame Nhu. Diem's burdens, the story goes, made him incapable of mobilizing his nation to fight the burgeoning insurgency masterminded by Hanoi, and resulted in the Kennedy Administration's decision to abandon him to the fate of a military coup in 1963.

Professor Catton's take on Diem is, not surprisingly, somewhat different. While acknowledging Diem's ineffective leadership style, and without claiming that Diem could have succeeded in stemming the tide of the communist onslaught, Catton puts forth a persuasive case that the Americans simply did not understand Diem, whom he characterizes as a nationalist with a firm determination to ward off Hanoi's aggression with a Vietnamese solution. Diem, Catton points out, believed that to defeat the insurgency, he would have to modernize Vietnam. While recognizing intellectually that American assistance was vital, Diem knew that a greater American role intruded on Vietnamese sovereignty and exposed him to the communist charge that he was a puppet of Washington.

In 1980, as I was completing my first book on the Vietnam insurgency, I had lunch with retired Brigadier General Edward Lansdale. Lansdale, a legendary character in the Vietnamese drama, and a former close confidant of Diem, told me with some bitterness that Washington had "never understood Diem," and that the 1963 assassination of Diem and his brother was the beginning of the end for South Vietnam. At the time, I didn't grasp the full meaning of Lansdale's lament. Professor Catton's work sheds light on the Diem era, and, one suspects, would have Lansdale nodding in agreement as Catton describes how Diem and various senior American functionaries could talk past one another. Diem's stubborn insistence that the Vietnamese had to fashion a Vietnamese solution to the communist threat might have made more sense to US Ambassador Lodge, for example, were Hanoi not being lavishly armed and supported by both Moscow and Beijing, and if Diem's poorly trained and equipped forces were not suffering repeated defeats each time they engaged the increasingly bolder communist units in 1963.

Professor Catton's portrait of Diem, one senses, is probably far closer to the truth than other treatments of the same subject. As Americans, however pure our motives, we tend not to excel when we must function in distant places, among people whose language, history, and culture we know little of. One is reminded of Hanoi's 1972 Easter Offensive, after fallen North Vietnamese army (NVA) tankers were found chained inside their T-54s. Many Americans quickly crowed that Hanoi was in deep trouble if NVA commanders had to resort to chains to get their tank crews to fight. (Reality was that high-spirited NVA tankers chained themselves to their tanks to show their determination to fight to the death.) In reminding readers of our tendency not to understand the forces at work in situations like Vietnam, Professor Catton has served up a lesson that is most relevant to the times, as American forces and administrators struggle mightily to exploit military success in tribal environments like Afghanistan and Iraq.
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So I picked this up Friday afternoon and finished it Saturday night, despite having work etc inbetween:



Crossfire: An Australian Reconnaissance Unit in Vietnam.

Written by Peter Haran (Vietnam vet and noted author) and Robert Kearney, Crossfire covers Kearney's time as a section leader in 5RAR during its 66-67 tour, first in the battalion proper and then in its specialist reconnaissance platoon. The narrative is in essence a roughly chronological series of anecdotes about Kearney's experiences, equally matched by excerpts taken from a vetreans hike in the Flinders Rangers. It's pretty engrossing stuff; 5RAR along with 6RAR were the first battalions in 1 ATF, and had the duty of establishing the task force base at Nui Dat and securing it. The work for the entire tour was intense, and while undoubtedley succesful few general histories of the war will mention the toll on the men who persevered. Kearney's description of himself and his mates at the end of the tour is very, very powerful. Although it'd probably be hard to pick up outside Australia, definitely worth a look.
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Here is a book I recently finished reading while occupying my hospital bed. I would recommend it highly as an exceptional read.



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