VIETNAM RECONSIDERED: Lessons from a War by Harrison--Ed. Salisbury
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Many aspects of Vietnam were reviewed by the 60-odd participants at a 1983 U. of Southern California conference whose views appear here: from the background and course of American involvement to the current situation of the veterans and the Vietnamese. But one dominates: the role of the press--or, was America ""stabbed in the back,"" as editor Harrison Salisbury puts it (with reference to Hitler's post-WW I claim), by a ""traitor"" antiwar press? On US involvement, the reader will find succinct, authoritative, stage-by-stage summaries--including Archimedes Patti and Robert Shaplen on the beginnings, John Mueller on the 1965-68 shift from ""security"" to ""honor"" as a rationale, Frank Snepp and John Stockwell on the CIA's checkered record. (Novelist Clancy Sigal also contributes a wrenching report-from-Britain on G.I. deserters; Todd Gitlin and David Dellinger are heard from--to rather banal effect--on homefront resistance.) Skipping to the veterans, there are sharp words for the ""myth of the demented vet,"" for the high casualty rate among blacks and Hispanics, for the effects of Agent Orange; and, from the floor, an anonymous vet voices ""the truth of frustration"": ""We take responsibility for what we have done; this country must also take responsibility."" The Vietnamese, of whatever persuasion, tend to agree that 1) ""It was never a civil war"" (all Vietnamese wanted to get rid of the colonialists, the Vietminh took the lead); and 2) because of US intervention, ""people had to leave their country."" ""The Lessons"" are trenchantly addressed by Frances Fitzgerald (across-the-board), Robert White (El Salvador), and Arthur Miller (""denial""). The press role, finally but centrally, is assessed from many points of view. TV producer Edward Fouhy notes not only that younger reporters were sent out when it became ""an American war"" (replacing WW Il-carry-overs), but they were pressed from New York to get pictures--""pictures of progress being made,"" evidence of Saigon and Washington claims. In the field, they found a different reality--verified, on check-up visits, by producers and anchors. David Halberstam, one of that young bunch, speaks of his shock at being denounced by his WW II hero, Richard Tregaskis; today, ""I was not pessimistic enough,"" he thinks. Overwhelmingly, however, they question the reputed importance of the reporting: the shock-images, the negativism, even Tet. (Lyndon Johnson knew the score, we're reminded, without word from Walter Cronkite.) Looking ahead, Philip Knightley vaunts America's free press, Seymour Hersh contends that a lying government can always outfox it. Altogether: the issues are vigorously re-joined.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row