As long as there is war, and as long as the printing press continues to exist, there will be books about war. Yet as media proliferates, the content of these books changes dramatically. With the dearth of eyewitness accounts of earlier wars, save the journals and varying forms of correspondence of the soldiers themselves, the horrifying scope of war remained an unknown for much of the world. That changed with Vietnam. Just as television would bring the war to the average citizen, tuning in for the evening news, books were candidly exposing the truths of what war really was. The modern understanding of war, therefore, is a product (if not of direct experience, then) of the media's portrayal of it. Books thereby have an increased importance in the transmission of war stories. One might then ask what makes a book important for our understanding of war. The answer to that question is the pith of this essay. The Vietnam War, being as recent as it is and as widely covered by the media as it was, lends itself very easily to both historical-fictional accounts, in movies such as Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July (both based on true stories, though Platoon was indirectly so), as well as in no fictional tales, such as those found in books.
[...] It is in his language, in his attention to detail, and his understanding of the psychology of the Vietnam soldier that shows us what was really happening during the war. He writes of how soldiers died from exhaustion, but not from simple physical expiration. Soldiers would be too tired to remember to snap their flak jacket closed, or too tired to clean their rifle. These little mistakes would end up costing them their lives, and Herr nails the sentiment when he writes that they often were, . [...]
[...] The book shows that the lessons that French took from their loss in Vietnam were lessons that the Americans should have considered at great length. The Vietnamese were highly motivated, and they would not lie down before the feet of a military juggernaut. All these points, so brilliantly argued, would make Halberstam's books such an enduring classic. What McNamara's In Retrospect adds to the nation's understanding of the Vietnam War is similar to Halberstam. He gives reasons for why things happened the way they did. McNamara, however, is both at odds with Halberstam and yet somehow an agreement with him. [...]
[...] However, believing so fiercely that any “break in the ‘containment dike'” (McNamara) would mean the realization of the domino theory, the war was waged regardless. Max Taylor, an advisor on Vietnam to Johnson at the time, suggested that Washington disengage from South Vietnam to let them fight their own war, as was the given intention all along. McNamara writes, reflecting on Taylor's cable, is clear that disengagement was the course we should have chosen. We did (McNamara). While the first two books discussed were based on the foreign policy surrounding the war, Michael Herr's Dispatches drops the reader into the combat. [...]
[...] Perhaps it is the obvious detachment that the novel has from the American war in Vietnam that gives it the ability to reach its audience. Regardless, The Quite American stands as a scathing, but largely accurate, political commentary on American foreign policy, and the subtle brush strokes Greene uses captures the American essence better than Halberstam and McNamara openly expressed. Greene's novel is set during the French conflict in Vietnam, before the division of the country that would act as one of the catalysts for American entrance. [...]
[...] The books describe what went wrong, and possible scenarios that could have made the war turn out differently (perhaps not so much a victory, but at the very least a lesser loss). Herr best summarizes America in this era while speaking on what he witnessed in Vietnam: The problem was that you didn't always know what you were seeing until later, maybe years later, that a lot of it never made it in at all, it just stayed stored there in your eyes. [...]
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