They wore many uniforms but shared the same hell: a wide-ranging collection of oral histories, à la Studs Terkel, drawn from veterans of the Vietnam War.
To make this sprawling anthology, Appy (Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, not reviewed) ranged across the US and Vietnam, eventually interviewing 350 participants in the war (and the antiwar movement). Some refused to speak to him—notably, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, and Nguyen Van Thieu—but most were quite forthcoming, and one of the best qualities of this already exceptional gathering is its thoroughgoing candor. Todd Gitlin, an antiwar activist and historian, recalls, for example, that “everything in our experience contributed to a rather grandiose sense that we were the stars and spear-carriers of history”; Alexander Haig, a chief player in Nixon-era Vietnam policies, admits, “I was very instrumental in the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia. To claim that it was done without legislative knowledge is hogwash”; Time correspondent H.D.S. Greenway remembers that before the Tet offensive “we would write something and the magazine would ignore it if it wasn’t upbeat,” but later allowed criticism of the war. Of great value are the words from Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters, though American veterans will likely be upset by some of what they have to say, as when cadre Tran Thi Gung, then a teenage girl, recalls, “As soon as I started to fire, I killed an American. After he fell, some of his friends came rushing to his aid. They held his body and cried. They cried a lot. This made them sitting ducks. Very easy to shoot.” Even Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son, joins in, remarking that the Americans were wrong in thinking that Moscow was guiding the war: his father, he remarks, mistrusted the Communist Vietnamese, who in all events were fighting their own war and “had their own ideas.”
An excellent addition to the literature of the Vietnam War, instructive and moving—but also likely to reopen old wounds.