If there was a danger of Americans forgetting the Vietnam War, as Washington Post subeditor Home contends, it has been...



If there was a danger of Americans forgetting the Vietnam War, as Washington Post subeditor Home contends, it has been dispelled by the recent publication of Everything We Had (p. 340) and The Ten Thousand Day War (p. 1211), among others. But this stock-taking volume has a place too--even though its lust third consists of excerpts from well-known, widely available works. The concept is unusual. First we have those excerpts, a stunning array: the incantation (""They did not know even the simple things. . ."") from Tim O'Brien's Waiting for Cacciato; Baksir and Strauss (Chance and Circumstance) on the ""Darwinian social policy"" of the draft; James Fallows' memory (""What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?"") of snagging a physical deferment with fellow Harvard students; Philip Caputo's recollection (Rumors of War) of the ""senseless,"" cathartic obliteration of Ha Na; Michael Herr (Dispatches) at the shelling of Khe Sanh (""The nights were very beautiful. Night was when you had the least to fear and feared the most""); James Webb's wounded vet (Fields of Fire) returning to belligerently antiwar Harvard. These, in effect, are the texts for the symposium that follows. Organized by the Washington Post in early 1980, it brought together Fallows, Caputo, Webb, and four others of their split generation who also identify, with the war: paraplegic vet Robert O. Muller, of Vietnam Veterans of America; Silver Star medalist Dean K. Phillips, a legal reformer with the VA; Lucian Truscott IV, apostate West Pointer and author of Dress Gray; staff officer John P. Wheeler III, a cofounder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Each introduces himself-how he got into the war (or didn't), what he did, what he's doing. Then, with reference to each other's experiences and writings, they talk--and argue--about ""the polarization, almost culture by culture, within our age group"" (Muller); about the embitterment and rage of the returned vet (Caputo: ""I wanted to go in there and wipe that restaurant out""), the feeling of being discriminated against, of being regarded as ""suckers"" or ""killers""; about what made the Vietnam War different from other wars (the long periods in actual combat, the death rate, the abrupt, no-decompression return); about what they might contribute, now, beyond proving (Wheeler) ""that we are a screwed minority."" Reconciliation, all agree, is a must--to forestall ""the danger of mass civil disobedience."" Six pointed essays then illumine the war's diverse legacies--among blacks, women, antiwar activists, the post-Vietnam generation. Speaking for the latter, Nicholas Lemann writes of disaffection (""The America I grew up with was always a loser"") giving way, in surprise, to allegiance. Says Tim O'Brien, contrapuntally: ""I wish we were more troubled."" An exceptional enterprise--for the caliber of Vietnam War writing in evidence; for the contributors' vigor; for making many things clear--and nothing simple.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Prentice-Hall

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981