A DEATH IN NOVEMBER: America in Vietnam, 1963 by Ellen J. Hammer

A DEATH IN NOVEMBER: America in Vietnam, 1963

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hammer (Struggle for Indochina) here focuses on Vietnam in the year that culminated in the assassination of South Vietnam's President, Ngo Dinh Diem, and his powerful brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. She claims that this US-abetted coup turned the Vietnam War into an ""American operation"" that ultimately led to the end of South Vietnam as a sovereign nation. In detailing the events of that year virtually week by week (and sometimes hour by hour), Hammer produces a complicated picture of a fractured society headed by a withdrawn, autocratic, but, she contends, honorable leader who at the time, was trying to extricate his country from the grip of some gung-ho Americans who, as Diem saw it, were destablizing his land. In 1961. faced with a spreading rebellion in the countryside, he had originally asked Washington for military supplies and equipment, economic aid and a limited number of military personnel to train his troops. He never envisioned, says Hammer, that two years later there would be 16,000 soldiers and CIA agents virtually running the war without his approval. Diem and Nhu (who was directing the ""strategic hamlets"" program) began to look to North Vietnam--which was proposing a cease-fire--for help. While the US government was growing increasingly uneasy, the American people had lost confidence in Diem in the wake of massive imprisonments of Buddhists following huge demonstrations. Henry Cabot Lodge, the brand-new Ambassador, who arrived right after the arrests, was advised to feel out disaffected Vietnamese generals on the possibility of a coup. The story of how the on-off and on-again plot was orchestrated and the debate it engendered in high Washington circles makes for fascinating reading. Up until the very last day, John Kennedy was raising serious questions about its advisability. He was profoundly shocked when he learned that the conspirators had murdered Diem and Nhu. The story is a complicated one, and Hammer does little to help the reader sort out or interpret the mass of details. She has an annoying tendency to drop a mention of an event or individual, then jerk the reader back in time to supply pages of background data without a transitional clue as to its purpose. Although she is obviously sympathetic to Diem, he remains inscrutable. As a result, this valuable document will probably appeal only to historians and the most ardent Vietnam War buffs.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1987
Publisher: Dutton