RIDE THE THUNDER
By Richard Botkin
WND Books, $29.95, 650 pages
Reviewed by Rear Adm. Jeremiah Denton
Thirty-six years ago this month, after the North Vietnamese suffered utter destruction of their military complex from Linebacker II air operations and the blockade of all North Vietnam ports, the Democratic Congress passed a bill prohibiting any further U.S. aid to South Vietnam. The bill’s passage was the death sentence to the nation we had vowed to protect from communism.
President Nixon knew his veto of the bill would be overridden, making any veto effort futile. Even though the North was ready to sign a treaty to free South Vietnam, Congress’ demands to pass the bill nullified Linebacker II and provided the communists with a free ticket to walk into South Vietnam.
This exercise of off-battlefield politics resulted not only in the loss of a near conquest by American armed forces but in a dreadful loss of American credibility. No history pundit has since given account to Vietnam’s true victory — until now. Richard Botkin, author of “Ride the Thunder,” provides indispensable, historic details of the Vietnam War, dispelling the notion that all was lost.
The aftershock of Vietnam resulted in the tragic realization among veterans and citizenry alike that the gallant, sacrificial effort of American, South Vietnamese and allied forces to preserve a free South Vietnam had been futile and flagrantly unappreciated by America. Following Vietnam, no American promise of prolonged commitment to any cause would be of concern to antagonists or trusted by allies.
The precedent is being applied tragically by the current administration in its signals to our antagonists that we will withdraw our troops from Iraq and other Middle East trouble spots before we achieve our objectives. Unless we can dismiss the applicability of the precedent, we are destined to repeat our failures, thus ensuring our ultimate demise as a nation. However, we will not dismiss it until the truth about our Vietnam experience is revealed in its totality.
Now at last, “Ride the Thunder” provides this indispensable revelation. Anyone who reads it will finally have the facts to perceive the answers to long-held questions: Was the cause in Vietnam worth our waging a war? Did the media’s reporting and false antiwar influences cause us to surrender? Was military victory indeed forfeited by Congress’ unilateral political act? Was the bill prohibiting any further commitment there the coup de grace in efforts to free South Vietnam?
The book delivers the truth comprehensively and authoritatively. Evidence is presented in the true stories of persons engaged over the entire time frame of the war. Incontrovertible facts and details are presented on Vietnam.
“Ride the Thunder” painstakingly sketches the history of Vietnam, revealing its remarkable ethnic characteristics: its peerless work ethic, an unequaled awareness of the importance of family, compassion for the elderly and an awareness of the importance of rearing wholesome children. It relates how Vietnam in early ages became a powerful nation in military, political and economic terms.
However, Mr. Botkin also relates Vietnam’s history of often being overtaken and ruled by more powerful nations whose soldiers and officials mistreated innocent Vietnamese with unbelievable savagery. From China, Japan and other powerful oppressors to devastating natural disasters, Vietnam’s people have been tempered by sufferings for centuries.
“Ride the Thunder” traces its historical origins in relationship with the United States. The book exemplifies how the Korean War predisposed the United States to regard Ho Chi Minh’s invasion as directly related to U.S. containment of communist expansion. The Korean War ended with the United States settling on a stalemate for the first time in our history. This created a pattern of quitting and foretold the possibility we would settle for even less in a future war — as we did in Vietnam and show signs of doing in the Middle East.
Naturally, Vietnam’s history takes the sharpest focus as it deals with the American involvement in the Vietnam War. In this light, “Ride the Thunder” chronicles the individual personal experiences of the Vietnamese and U.S. military and political personages, the sum of which presents a comprehensive tapestry depicting all the complex facets, revelations and implications of the war and its aftermath.
The persons chronicled have well-known names, including Maj. Le Ba Binh, U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Gerry Turley, Capt. John Ripley and Sgt. Chuck Goggin, to name a few. The sum of their collective experiences displays the events and true significance of every ground and air campaign, battle and strategic tactical decision. The truth derived is in sharp contrast to the way the war was reported, written into history and remembered by us as a nation.
As I reviewed “Ride the Thunder,” though I have come to be regarded as one of the more authentic writers on what is significant about that war, I learned much I had not known.
However, more than any author can convey in words, one thing that I and other former prisoners of war witnessed with our own eyes was the absolute total destruction of the enemy’s military during Linebacker II and the full realization by the North Vietnamese that they no longer had the means to continue the war.
A few days before my release from prison, I was subjected to an interview and briefing by the top military and political leadership of North Vietnam. The leaders told me they accepted defeat and were eager to sign an agreement to keep South Vietnam free. Their earnest plea to me upon return was to prevent the POWs from exaggerating the brutality of the treatment inflicted on us, which would incite U.S. public opinion to the degree that Mr. Nixon would find it inadvisable to sign the agreement.
The interview is written up briefly in “American Admiralship” by Edgar F. Puryear Jr., published by Naval Institute Press.
I hope Mr. Botkin’s “Ride the Thunder” and my review will establish an accurate perspective on the meaning and significance of Vietnam and result in a renewed, honorable depiction of the war.
Rear Adm. Jeremiah Denton, U.S. Navy (retired), is a former U.S. senator from Alabama.