A crisp account of a messy war, focusing on two Nebraska brothers, one of whom would later become a senator and Secretary of Defense.
Chuck Hagel supported the Vietnam War even before he enlisted, and his younger brother Tom had his reservations, which turned into outright opposition from his battle-scarred experiences. Yet the two fought beside each other even as the war deepened into an unwinnable quagmire. Bolger (Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, 2014, etc.), who won five Bronze Stars during his Army career, brings a unique perspective to the story, as he understands the intricacies of modern warfare and also acknowledges the wide gap between those who fight these wars and those who lead them. He maintains a tight, precise focus on the military campaigns in Vietnam while providing context from back home as anti-war efforts intensified. From the start, Chuck was a natural leader, excelling at whatever he attempted, and he fit well within the military culture—as did Tom, at least at the start, though he wasn’t quite the overachiever his brother was. Despite plenty of combat action, both thankfully returned home; Chuck was discharged first, and he embarked on a career as a radio broadcaster before going into politics. Tom saw his reservations deepen as he attempted but couldn’t quite numb himself with alcohol and marijuana, with too much time to think after his transfer from the battle lines. After he followed his brother home to Nebraska, an argument about the war resulted in a fistfight, one that alarmed the neighbors into calling the police. They resolved never to discuss it again, as Chuck became a conservative Republican legislator and Tom a more liberal lawyer and professor of law.
A little more of the before and after of their war experiences might have enriched the context, but Bolger ably conveys how Vietnam felt to those who fought it and what it meant.