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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

A Review of Brother Number One

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2016

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol PotBrother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot by David P. Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first “review” I read when I came across reviews for Brother Number One was one by “Annie,” which stated, “More objective, non-sensational and honest than than ‘Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare’.” Funny, having finished both books now, I couldn’t agree with that statement less. I’ll get to the Nightmare book in another review (I think it’s an excellent book), but Brother Number One is for this one. It’s an interesting book. Since this is the “political biography of Pol Pot,” a mysterious man who I have wanted to know something of for quite some time, I thought this book would help me. And in a way, it did. But only in a way. For this book was published in 1992, five years before Pol’s death in 1997. It’s therefore an incomplete work. Moreover, and more importantly by far, the author claims that the subject is so very mysterious and so little is known about him and he has hidden himself in shrouds of mystery, at times for many years at a time, that it’s impossible to know anything of his whereabouts for years at a time. So that gives the author free reign to speculate as much as he wants, and boy, does he do that. First, he includes everything he possibly can about Pol’s, or Saloth Sar – as he was known most of his life – upbringing, including his childhood in a country village, to his upbringing with a brother and other relatives in the king’s palace, essentially, to his French education, first in Cambodia, then later as an elite student, in Paris where he became a communist, most likely around 1951. We learn of his return to Cambodia in the mid-50s, his rise in the Indochinese Communist Party, his helping to form the Cambodian Communist Party in 1960, his dealings with the Vietnamese, whom he needed yet always resented, his dealings with the Chinese, his resentment toward the French, toward the Cambodian monarchy, toward the US, his paranoia, his marriage, etc. But whole years are eliminated in this book. His whereabouts are claimed to be unknown. But that doesn’t stop the author, who begins numerous sentences with things such as, “It would be interesting to suppose,” or “One might assume,” or “It might be possible to guess,” etc, et al. If I had a dollar for every time the author speculates about Pol’s thoughts, feelings, or motives, I would be a wealthy man. Because that is all the author can do. He can only guess. There is very little recorded documentation at all, anywhere. The Vietnamese have some. The Chinese have some. Pol conducted some interviews in the late 1970s. Other than that, little accounts for the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s.

The author relies on numerous interviews for this book, but I’m assuming, as he often does, as Pol was still alive while the book was being written, that so many interviewees were aware of that fact and were scared to death of him, that few of them were willing to share many details of him or say many negative things about him. For instance, many of his secondary and college classmates were interviewed. He was known as a mediocre student, at best, but seemed to be liked by most. He had a pleasant smile, a decent laugh, and people differ on his effect on people and groups. Some say he had no influence on the Parisian communist groups, while others say he played a leading role. As a teacher in the 1950s, even though he never came close to completing his degree, he was known as a wise and good teacher, patient, well spoken, thoughtful, etc. The image doesn’t jibe with the genocidal maniac of the 1970s.

In fact, it’s hard to reconcile any image of him, pre-1970 or so, until 1975 really, when he started coming out of the woodworks and into the public eye. When he became public circa 1976, it was a shocker. No one knew who he was. He was alleged to have been a rubber plantation worked named “Pol Pot,” but when former colleagues saw him on TV making speeches, they knew at once he was Saloth Sar, the former teacher, childhood friend of the king and themselves, and they were shocked. How could this kind, good man be their new revolutionary prime minister, responsible for the deaths of a half a million people in the civil war which had just ended in 1975, and unbeknownst to anyone, about to become responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people in a probable genocide of epic proportions over the next three years? That’s over one fifth of the country’s population. Yes, Mao and Stalin killed many more people, but there were many, many more people to kill from. They didn’t kill one fifth of their country’s population. So, this was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

And the sweeping changes. Doing away with money. I mean, what the hell??? Emptying the cities? Seriously? Driving everyone out into the countryside, no matter where you were from or where your relatives were. Who cared if you lived or died? No one. Least of all the 12 and 13-year old Khmer Rouge soldiers. Illiterate peasant boys who couldn’t even read passports that were expected to be presented at all times. It was insane. Doing away with virtually all exports except for rice, and then if/when the rice crop fell through, what the hell happens to your country then? And the “base” people versus the “new” people. If you weren’t fighting with the revolutionaries when they “liberated” Cambodia in 1975, you were a “new” person, meaning you weren’t one of them, meaning you were an enemy combatant. Even if you were a peasant refugee who had merely fled to the city to escape the countryside fighting and had no irons in the fire one way or the other. You were the enemy.

S-21. It was the torture/interrogation center. Every communist regime has one, right? Hell, every regime of any sort has one. We have Guantanamo. The French had theirs too. S-21 was a former school. Over 20,000 people were processed through there in the three plus years it existed. Unless my facts have gotten jumbled up, and they may have, only about a half dozen people survived. All were tortured extensively, confessions of up to thousands of pages extracted, and all were killed, most brutally. The confessions typically said the person was a CIA agent, a KGB agent, and a Vietnamese agent. That the likelihood of one Cambodian person being all three, let alone any of these, was absurd as hell appeared to not have sunk in to Pol Pot and his colleagues. It made perfect sense to them that the Russians, their Vietnamese protégés, and the US, whom the Khmer Rouge believed they had defeated militarily in 1975 and who they thought had it out for them and was willing to work with its adversaries, would all be working together. Insanity sees reason everywhere.

This book is only 250 pages long, less than half as long as Nightmare is. It’s not nearly as detailed or in depth. It’s not nearly as well researched nor as well written. It relies far too extensively on speculation; at least 70% of the book is nothing but speculation. But as an introduction to Pol Pot, it’s an interesting book. I would suggest that, if it’s read, it’s read with this information in mind and then one would immediately read something more recent, ideally written after Pol’s death, such as Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, which as I said, I think is an excellent book and which I hope to review soon. It relies on speculation almost not at all. One of the things that struck me most about Pol, the man, was that in one of these books, and I can’t remember which, sorry, he was asked if he knew how many people his administration was responsible for killing after he had been deposed. His answer was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand and that was because he had been kept out of the loop, or it would have been fewer than that. Stunning, really. Interesting to know if he really believed that or not. Somehow I doubt it. But there does seem to be evidence that he was actually kept out of the loop on a lot of the executions and that many of the “zones” were self sufficient and didn’t really report much back to headquarters and communications were so bad that it could take weeks or more to communicate by messenger, so by that time, things would have happened with or without permission. So things happened. How much was due to Pol? I guess we’ll never know. Of course, since Pol set the tone, ultimately it was all his responsibility. Everything and everyone was ultimately under his control. Anyone who displeased him was purged. He had complete control. Virtually all of his old communist colleagues from Paris and the old days in early communist Cambodia were purged to ensure his power. So, if he thought anyone were abusing their authority by acting genocidal without his permission, he could have done something about it. And he didn’t. So, obviously, the buck stopped with him.

So, I could go on and on, obviously. But I won’t. I’ve got to save some stuff to say for my next Pol Pot book. I learned a lot about a bizarre, incredibly secretive, insane man, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It was surreal to read about, because this occurred during my lifetime and I remember a great deal of this, although of course not personally, obviously. The book itself is interesting, but for reasons already mentioned, not very good. Even though the author probably tried hard, he didn’t try hard enough. It’s probably a two star book at best, but I believe I’m going to give it three stars for effort because it’s one of the early Pol Pot books and it did make an impact of Pol Pot research, so that’s worth something. Still, it can’t be relied upon on its own. It’s not that trustworthy. It’s got to be supplemented by something more current in its research, so keep that in mind. I’m really not sure that I can recommend it. I can suggest reading it if interested in the subject matter, but only if you intend to read more than one source on the subject. If you intend to read only one book on Pol Pot, don’t let this be that source. It’s not reliable enough.

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A Review of The Green Berets

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 7, 2015

The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces UnitThe Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army’s Elite Special Forces Unit by Robin Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I first read it many years ago in high school and it’s stuck with me ever since, so when I saw it in a used bookstore, I bought it and reread it and I’m glad I did. The Green Berets is journalistic nonfiction being marketed as fiction to protect the identity and locations of the people and places involved. Since this book was published in 1965, the north Vietnamese could have read it and done some damage with it if it named actual people or locations. Since it was published in 1965, you can guess that it’s about American military “advisers,” not actual servicemen as the war hadn’t started yet. But it had, secretly. This book has stories on green berets in Laos with local militias they’ve recruited and trained hitting the Viet Cong and the NVA (Viet Minh, as they’re referred to here). This book shows real life heroes in action, in harm’s way, far from safety, doing a lot of damage to Uncle Ho. Makes one wonder if Special Forces had been allowed to keeping fighting the war their way how differently things might have gone. There’s a sweet, but sad, love story in the book. There are some humorous moments. I think one thing that really has stuck with me over the years is the fact that this book started my disrespect for the South Vietnamese military, which was full of crooked pansies who wouldn’t fight at night, wouldn’t get up early in the morning to march, wouldn’t land their helicopters in “hot”” DZs, demanded to be in charge but when the fighting started, would run away and let the Americans do it. This surprised me, but as I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the Vietnam war over the years, this fact is told over and over again. Yet I’ve never understood why. The northern Vietnamese army was tough as nails, to be feared, would charge into machine gun fire without thinking. The south Vietnamese army was a bunch of pussies. Why? They were supposed to be fighting to save their country. Didn’t they care? I have read accounts where some of them said let the Americans do it, we won’t. That’s a sick attitude. Frankly, it was a civil war and the US had no business being there. I’m glad the country’s reunified, even if it is communist. It’s just a shame that so many had to die. However, the book is not for the squeamish. There are accounts of Viet Cong atrocities that turn your stomach. But that’s war and it happened, so it had to be reported. I’m sure Moore could have made his book twice as big with all of the stories he collected while he was over there serving in the field himself, and I sometimes wonder why he chose the ones he did, but they’re all good. By the way, before the green berets let him tour with them, they made him become, essentially a green beret. He had to go to jump school, get scuba training, jungle warfare training, all of it. He earned his beret. Great book. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of The Last Man Out of Saigon

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it’s deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it’s about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It’s not. If you’re a die hard American “patriot,” you’ll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it’s not a bad book.

A CIA agent, MacShane, who’s never been to Vietnam and who’s worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it’s about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you’re into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone’s heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he’s treated well. He’s surprised. He’s interrogated, yes, but it’s not bad and he’s not tortured and he’s given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he’s transported to Hanoi, where he’s taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it’s not referred to as such in this book. Again, he’s treated well. It’s been decided that he’s going to be “re-educated,” so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country’s action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.

After a couple of months of this, he’s told he’s going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it’s closed. And he’s recaptured. And the military is pissed! He’s embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He’s taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there’s a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It’s made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren’t the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren’t the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn’t it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won’t hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane’s heart back in Vietnam forever.

Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he’s a British left wing Labour Party politician who’s written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He’s so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he’s rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My “patriotic” inclination is to not like that, but since I’m feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I’ll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn’t have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I’m sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do that, it’s an interesting book. Although, frankly, it’s not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.

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A Review of The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973 by Shelby L. Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been an interesting book if the author hadn’t gotten so bogged down in minute details. It’s about the American military in Vietnam, circa 65-73, and it’s pretty comprehensive, at least through 1969. One of its faults, though, is that it spends an inordinate amount of time going over each year of the 1960s and then lumps all of the 1970s into one final chapter. It’s like the author gave up, just like the military did. Another fault I found was that the author made the US military out to be virtually unbeatable and told countless stories of us giving the VC and NVA beatdowns in the jungle, which didn’t actually happen all that often. He’s really gung ho about the US military and it’s just not authentic. He does go into detail on Tet ’68 and the US did win the battles of Tet, but we lost the war then and there — the war of public opinion — and from that moment on, we tried everything possible to extract ourselves from Vietnam and turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, who were worthless as fighters. Granted, I didn’t necessarily want to read an entire book of battlefield failures, but it should have been more balanced and it wasn’t. Another — major — bone I have to pick with the author is that he went on and on about the specific US, VC, and NVA units engaged in battle, to the point where it was simply mind numbing. Witness:

“Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, airfield, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters…. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout companies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back…. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary, fused them with the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor….”

Oh my freakin’ God!!! And on and on he drones. It’s a real snoozer. If the author had just said some soldiers and Marines were fighting the enemy, he could have shortened the book and made it a lot more readable. Only mega-history geeks will like this because it’s mind numbingly boring.

The author also kind of goes elitist on us. He attributes our loss to the draft, specifically to drafting poor men from racially diverse backgrounds, many of whom were allegedly on drugs. “By 1969 the US soldier in Vietnam usually represented the poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced sergeants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and motivation.” Poor, inexperienced men on one year rotations just wanted to get home alive and stopped fighting, per the author. I really think Stanton thinks we could have beaten the NVA if we had kept fighting an offensive war without one year rotations. I don’t believe that, but I think he does.

I did enjoy reading about the various battles, but Stanton had this annoying habit of slimming them down to five sentence paragraphs, which obviously left a lot out, and then incredibly just jumping right into another conflict with no real transition visible. It’s bizarre!

I am giving this book three stars because I’m interested in the subject matter, but it’s a poorly written book that will bore the hell out of most people. As such, it really deserves a two star rating and I certainly can’t recommend it at all.

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A Review of Secrets

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 21, 2012

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon PapersSecrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a lengthy but fascinating book to read. I’d had it for awhile, but had never opened it. Now I’m glad I did. Daniel Ellsberg was an analyst with the State Department, Department of Defense, was a Marine in Vietnam, and worked for the infamous Rand Corporation. He knew details about the Vietnam War that most did not, and in the late ’60s, he worked to uncover even more. Why? During his time in Vietnam, he had come to the conclusion that it was an immoral, unwinnable war, and he found in his research that it had largely been one war with first France and later America acting as the aggressors. Five — count ’em, five — US presidents lied to Congress and the American people about our involvement in the war and about the administration’s attempts to escalate, with Johnson being very bad and Nixon perhaps even worse. This war was fought in spite of good advice being available to these presidents. It’s personally perplexing to understand what was going through the minds of these bipartisan presidential efforts. What’s made clear is the South Vietnamese didn’t care about who won the war — they just wanted it over. They weren’t anti-communist, and the antipathy displayed by so many South Vietnamese turned it into an American war, one we never should have been involved in.

So the historical stuff is interesting, but the book picks up the pace to become a political thriller when Ellsberg starts copying what will become the Pentagon Papers he ultimately releases to the newspapers and the subsequent Watergate fiasco which resulted, in part. It was fascinating to read what he did when he went “underground” to avoid arrest by the FBI.

This book should be required reading for everyone today. It’s got important lessons to reveal, about US presidents, the government, the military, freedom of the press, the right of the people to know, American imperial aggression and much more. With the state of things today, it’d be great if Ellsberg would give lectures around the country to people very willing to listen and learn. This was a good book, and it might not merit five stars on its writing alone, but the subject matter takes it over the top and earns its five stars. Read it.

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A Review of Dereliction Of Duty

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 1, 2012

Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to VietnamDereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by H.R. McMaster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very detailed and somewhat shocking book telling of how America sunk itself into the Vietnam war fiasco, and it’s truly a sorrow to read. I never knew Johnson, McNamara, the Bundy brothers and Taylor were such lying assholes, as well as Rusk, McNaughton and the other civilians in charge of planning the war. They lied to the Joint Chiefs, to Congress, to the American people and to the world (sounds like Bush, doesn’t it?) in order to downplay the role America was taking in Vietnam, all for varying agendas that sometimes met and more often didn’t.

The book starts with 1961 and Kennedy but quickly moves on to Johnson, who wanted his Great Society domestic program passed so badly that he literally flat out lied — continuously — to the Congress and America about his efforts to sink us into Vietnam — without any goals or exit strategies, I might say.

One thing the author, McMaster, hammered home really shocked me. We never thought we could win, never expected to win, and wanted to escape Vietnam just “bloodied.” Excuse me, but WTF??? Why delve into a war if you have no intention of winning? Idiots! From page 184:

“McNaughton, Forrestal, and William Bundy concluded that it would be preferable to fail in Vietnam after trying some level of military action than to withdraw without first committing the United States military to direct action against North Vietnam. They thought that the principal objective of military activities was to protect U.S. credibility…. Indeed, the loss of South Vietnam after the direct intervention of U.S. armed forces ‘would leave behind a better odor’ than an immediate withdrawal and would demonstrate that the United States was a ‘good doctor willing to keep promises, be tough, take risks, get bloodied, and hurt the enemy badly.'”

On page 237:

“For McNaughton the objective of protecting American credibility had displaced the more concrete aim of preserving a free and independent South Vietnam. Even as Rolling Thunder began and Marines landed at Danang, McNaughton continued to plan for failure. He concluded that to avoid humiliation the United States must be prepared to undertake a ‘massive’ effort on the ground in Southeast Asia involving the deployment of 175,000 ground troops. Even if the Communists won, McNaughton believed that the United States would have protected its international image.”

Isn’t that just batshit crazy? Johnson and McNamara didn’t listen to the Joint Chiefs, who wanted to ramp things up immediately and hit North Vietnam hard, because they were afraid if we went after Hanoi, China and/or the Soviets would come to their aid and it would become another Korean War.

As America begins to send troops to South Vietnam to start conducting offensive operations for the first time while refusing to mobilize the reserves, General Harold Johnson, the JCS in charge of the Army, “was to preside over the disintegration of the Army; a disintegration that began with the president’s decision against mobilization. Harold Johnson’s inaction haunted him for the rest of his life.”

McMaster really throws Johnson and McNamara under the bus, but apparently for good reason. He paints the JCS as little more than stooges kept out of the loop of actual military planning. It’s not until the book’s epilogue does he place some blame on the JCS, writing “the ‘five silent men’ on the Joint Chiefs made possible the way the United States went to war in Vietnam.” His ultimate conclusion can be found on page 332:

“Over time the maintenance of U.S. credibility quietly supplanted the stated policy objective of a free and independent South Vietnam. The principal civilian planners had determined that to guarantee American credibility, it was not necessary to win in Vietnam. That conclusion, combined with the belief that the use of force was merely another form of diplomatic communication, directed the military effort in the South at achieving stalemate rather than victory. Those charged with planning the war believed that it would be possible to preserve American credibility even if the United States armed forces withdrew from the South, after a show of force against the North and in the South in which American forces were ‘bloodied.’ After the United States became committed to war, however, and more American soldiers, airmen, and Marines had died in the conflict, it would become impossible simply to disengage and declare America’s credibility intact, a fact that should have been foreseen.”

The only reason why I’m giving this book four stars instead of five is that it stops at July 1965. I would have liked to read more about what went on after inserting troops for offensive operations, how things escalated, what Johnson, McNamara and the rest did in educating America on what was happening (or not), etc. In other words, I think the author cut the book short and that was disappointing. Otherwise, it was a fascinating, while sobering, read and should be required reading of all active politicians to ensure we never repeat the stupid mistakes made during the ’60s regarding Vietnam.

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A Review of The Secret War Against Hanoi

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 5, 2012

The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North VietnamThe Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam by Richard H. Shultz Jr.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author of this book used declassified material to give readers an inside view of “The Secret War Against Hanoi.” Unfortunately, it’s almost all from the operational level, or I guess more accurately, from a top down perspective. What I mean is we learn about special forces (SOG) fighting in the Vietnam area (N Vietnam, S Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), but with almost no personal stories behind what went on. Instead, we get directives and papers argued about and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House itself. It’s a book about politics and the resulting failures of SOG due to bureaucratic bullshit. It took years for a covert war to get off the ground, and just when North Vietnam started to publicly admit they were feeling the heat, the White House pulled the plug due to political reasons.

The book covers four main areas within SOG, including psyops, maritime ops, efforts to “cross the wire” to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and frankly, it’s a book about frustrations and failures. It was disappointing in that regard, because I’ve read plenty of books about SOG heroism in Vietnam, and that’s rarely reflected in Schultz’s book. In fact, it would have helped to add some stories of courage or valor or even cowardliness to give the reader a better feel for what he’s getting at, but the author doesn’t do this. Instead, you have military and civilian commanders running around subverting each other at every opportunity and it gets old after awhile. The jokers never learned to work together and they never learned in general. It’s amazing SOG accomplished anything with these people in charge. Sadly, the author portrays most SOG operations as blunders and failures. The truth is, there are no real metrics with which to measure SOG success — people went in to territories they weren’t politically supposed to be with no identifying information. We don’t know the true number of dead and missing SOG vets. It’s a pity.

This book is fairly dry and it gets boring and repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of information overlap between the chapters. I think a better book to read about the subject is John L. Plaster’s “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam.” It’s sad and tragic, but it gives you a real feel for what took place and just who fought these battles.

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