- - Sunday, April 29, 2018

With the anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North on April 30, 1975, veterans of that war, those who lived through the era and those interested in history, may want to read Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns’ coffee-table companion book to the PBS series “The Vietnam War.”

“America’s involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended, thirty years later, in failure, witnessed by the entire world,” the book begins. “It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American over-confidence, and Cold War miscalculation.”

The book also reminds us that 58,000 Americans died in the war, and at least 250,000 South Vietnamese also died. More than a million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Communists died in the war, as well as an estimated 2 million North and South Vietnamese civilians.

“For those Americans who fought in it, and for those who merely glimpsed it on the nightly news — the Vietnam War was a decade of agony, the most divisive period since the Civil War.”

The book goes on to state that the war seemed to call everything into question: The value of honor and gallantry, the qualities of cruelty and mercy, the candor of the American government, and what it means to be a patriot.

“And those who lived through it have never been able to erase its memory, have never stopped arguing about what really happened, who was to blame, why everything went so badly wrong — and whether it had all been worth it.”

“The Vietnam War: An Intimate History” is an impressive-looking book, with a vast array of photos that accompanies a look back at the long and complicated war. Unfortunately, the companion book suffers from the same bias we saw in the television series.

Like the TV series, John Kerry telling Congress Vietnam atrocity stories is covered in the book, but the fact that Mr. Kerry’s tall tales were later discredited by others who were there with him is not mentioned. Also notably absent from the book are the views of gung-ho Vietnam veterans like Oliver North.

Notably absent as well are the views and stories of former Sen. James Webb, a decorated Marine and author of perhaps the best novel on the war, “Fields of Fire.”

The book, like the series, offers the views of former North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers and both American anti-war protesters and Vietnam veterans, but most of the American veterans interviewed for the series and book ultimately turned against the war and became anti-war protesters.

This selected roster appears to have been calculated to stack the deck in favor of the anti-war narrative.

The Richard Nixon Foundation discovered a good number of errors in the book, such as the notion that Operation Linebacker, the 1972 bombing campaign against the North, was so named due to President Nixon’s fondness for football.

“Military operations were named by the Pentagon, or by commanders in the field. This statement makes as much sense as saying that Operation Pocket Money, which began on May 8, 1972, and included the mining of Haiphong harbor, was named because President Nixon was fond of loose change,” the foundation stated on their website.

“Although this error may seem minor, or even trivial, it reflects the approach to President Nixon throughout the book. His actions and decisions about Vietnam are oversimplified, presented as ad hoc, devoid of strategic vision, motivated by political calculations, or the results of fits of pique.

“The many hours of tapes and vast collections of documents dealing with Nixon’s strategy for Vietnam, and for Vietnam as part of his grand strategy involving China and the Soviet Union (his blueprint for what he called “a generation of peace”) are bypassed. But his supposed fondness for the film Patton and its alleged influence on the Cambodian incursion finds space. Anecdotes should be supplements to history, not substitutes for it,” the foundation added.

Many veterans believed in the war, many volunteered to serve in Vietnam, and many Vietnam veterans are proud of their service. Many Americans, then and now, believe we should have gone all out to win the war. Certainly, the many South Vietnamese murdered and imprisoned by the Communists after the fall of the South, and the many Vietnamese “boat people” who endured hardships and sacrifices to escape the Communists, wish we had stayed the course.

Despite the book’s bias and flaws, “The Vietnam War” is a good addition to one’s library on the Vietnam War. But I recommend that one should also read Lt. Gen. Philip B. Davidson’s “Vietnam At War,” to name one example, for a bit of historical balance.

Paul Davis, who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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