Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where are the Good Histories of the Viet Nam War?

Mrs. Buce asked if I could suggest a good history of the War in Viet Nam.  I said, "oh sure," and quickly bogged down.  I dug out an old copy of Stanley Kranow's  Vietnam: A History, which I remember as instructive if not exactly mind-bending (I see from the Amazon blurb that it's in available in audio but not Kindle--the old fashioned way).  And beyond that--

Well--beyond that, there are any number of accounts written with high intensity and great personal engagement, about aspects of the war.  I'm thinking of stuff like Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, or Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War, or Frances Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake, or Neil Sheehan's  A Bright Shining Lie.  And as I scan, I'm remembering the movies: Apocalypse Now of course, and Deer Hunter, which I actually liked better.  There are some remarkable postmortems of the strictly military aspects--books like Harry Summers' On Strategy, or Andrew Krepinevich's The Army and Viet Nam.  If I'm not careful, I'll find myself getting sucked back into the undertow before the American involvement, to books like Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy  Graham Greene's The Quiet American or even Marguerite Duras' The Lover.

But it still seems to me like there is something missing here.  I suppose it is precisely because the war was such an open wound and because, yes, it remains so unfinished, that we seem never to have learned how to package it into a narrative.  So, Kranow it may have to be.


Chuck Kelly said...

Michael Kerr's "Dispatches"?

Anonymous said...

Karnow is still the best, and it's damn good.

marcel said...

For a different perspective, this book (and other stuff by/with the author) are pretty interesting:

Hanoi's War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (New Cold War History) Hardcover
by Lien-Hang T. Nguyen


plus an interview with the author:


an op-ed piece by the author

and this (which I’ve not yet finished):


Soccer Dad said...

Dispatches by M Herr

I always thought most of nam history was pretty simple:
W Wilson electrified the world with his 14 points, which included self determination
at the Versaille conf, the nam delegation, led by a young med student studying in France , one H C Minh, asked for self determination, only to find that US/English/French didn't actually mean that for wogs....
the only people to support Minh were the russians....
so much of history, so much suffering, from the racism and colonialism of France....