The American way of war""--and the ""stage play"" of Khe Sanh: a scouring quasi-documentary, heavy with irony and rhetoric,...


THE END OF THE LINE: The Siege of Khe Sanh

The American way of war""--and the ""stage play"" of Khe Sanh: a scouring quasi-documentary, heavy with irony and rhetoric, totally without documentation. From the publisher we learn that Pisor was in Vietnam in 1967-68 (for the Detroit News); but on what he bases his reconstruction of happenings at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in January-February 1968, we haven't a clue. In chapter one, set at a Marine outpost on January 20: ""Captain Bill Dabney's shoulders shivered for a moment before he willed them still""; then, thematically, he calls down ""a GÖtterdammerung of firepower"" on the unseen enemy. Chapter two is a voice-over number on Westmoreland--which also fills in the US background. ""No, Westmoreland's confidence was rooted in richer soil [than racial superiority]: the absolute certainty that American troops would go into combat with overwhelming, unconquerable superiority in 'firepower, mobility, and flexibility.'"" (""This was the American way of war. . . ."") ""The best place to find large concentrations of enemy forces, Westmoreland decided, and the best place to employ his superior firepower, were the jungled mountains near Cambodia and Laos."" ""Westmoreland could see the national will unraveling before his eyes."" ""Khe Sanh, he believed, might be the turning point. . . . Never, Westmoreland thought. . . on January 20, had he been more ready."" Then we advert to idyllic pre-war Khe Sanh and the disruptive US advent; to the arrival of a North Vietnamese ""defector,"" with details of a forthcoming onslaught (""Lownds believed. . . Westmoreland believed. . . so did the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even President Johnson""), followed by the start of shelling; to the universal US preoccupation with avoiding another Dienbienphu (""The Marine base became. . . the symbol of American determination""); and to North Vietnamese General Giap, the victor of Dienbienphu--seen, with his wholly-committed forces, as Westmoreland's antithesis (""There was no one-year bout in this army. . .""). With the start of Giap's Tet Offensive, the narrative straightens up and takes off--the irony more immediately justified (""Westmoreland was certain the attack on the cities was a trick""), the dramatization more inherently factual. Come the end of Tet and the ""victorious"" abandonment of Khe Sanh (to still-unseen foes), we believe that it might have been so--but we haven't the certainty that scrupulous historical writing could have given us.

Pub Date: June 21, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982