A Vietnam veteran reflects on his experience in this book that’s part memoir and part historical analysis.
The Vietnam War continues to be a hotly disputed subject generations after its conclusion, and it’s often used as a model of military and foreign policy failure. Mastran (Privateer!: Building a Business Reforming Government, 2012), however, proffers a nuanced interpretation that avoids triumphalist revisionism and serves as a thoughtful corrective to the regnant view of U.S. involvement in Vietnam as an intractable quagmire. He divides his book into three sections; the first is devoted to his time as a cadet at West Point, the second to a concise synopsis of Vietnam’s history as a nation, and the third to his service as an officer in the U.S. Air Force during the war. The author, following in his father’s footsteps, encountered austere discipline while at West Point that prepared him to weather the chaos of war in an unfamiliar land. While he was a cadet, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, making it a near-inevitability that he would be sent overseas. He was then sent to Stanford University to get a master’s degree in operations research, and he ultimately worked for the directorate of special weapons in Vietnam. Mastran was part of a special team that worked on “anti-infiltration” technology designed to stop enemy movements in South Vietnam by providing necessary intelligence for bombing raids. He also worked on developing computer-based war-game simulations. Over the course of the book, Mastran weaves his own personal reflections into a wider narrative fabric that includes an account of the United States’ entanglement in Southeast Asia and the Cold War as well as of the partisan politics that dominated discussion of the war on the domestic front. He also furnishes a provocative view of the infamous Tet Offensive as a major military victory and laments what he considers to be the American media’s unfair coverage of the war. Mastran’s analysis is notably restrained and temperate, given his personal involvement, and manages to seamlessly combine a moving remembrance with acute geopolitical insight. Some of his most affecting conclusions reach beyond both arenas into something grander and more philosophical: “I also confirmed that humor could carry me—and others—through any kind of misery, whether at West Point, in Vietnam, or anywhere else.”
An informative, potentially controversial introduction to the war in Vietnam.