THE FALL OF SAIGON: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War by David Butler
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THE FALL OF SAIGON: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War

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As a radio broadcaster for NBC News, Butler was on the scene when the North Vietnamese began their final assault on South Vietnam's remaining strongholds in March and April, 1975. His eyewitness experience is interwoven here with the stories of more than two dozen Americans and Vietnamese to form a dramatic narrative of a crisis. Butler implies that Congress, by cutting off funds to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), undermined those assurances. (The sequence of events will be familiar to readers of Frank Snepp's Decent Interval or Arnold R. Isaacs' Without Honor.) It's a sad tale for anyone who thinks that the Americans owed something more than assurances to the South Vietnamese who had worked or fought for them. His version, though not independent of Snepp, Isaacs, and other published sources, is chiefly based on interviews with Americans and Europeans, and with Vietnamese now living in the US; and by jump-cutting between the individual stories, while maintaining a chronological order (in Collins-and-Lapierre fashion), he builds toward the withdrawal/climax. There's the story of a Marine corporal, recently arrived in Vietnam, who died in a mortar attack; and of an American who kidnapped his half-Vietnamese daughter and took her out of Saigon just in time. There's the story of American missionaries captured by the North Vietnamese in the Central Highlands when a strategic city was suddenly surrounded by three Hanoi divisions; and of desperate Vietnamese civilians faced with a bureaucratic dictate that children over 18 could not accompany evacuating parents. There's tell, too, of disillusioned South Vietnamese communists who realized at the end that Hanoi's victory was not theirs; and of ARVN soldiers who fought until hope was lost, or killed civilians in order to get aboard departing planes. And there's the story of the American newsmen: Butler himself, unsure how long he'd stay as Saigon's defenses crumbled; New Yorker correspondent Robert Shaplen, crying quietly on the bus to the evacuation site; and the AP's George Esper, who remained behind and filed the agency's report as the city fell. Somewhat sensationalized, but tense and involving.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster