A Moral Witness in Vietnam
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 This powerful account of poet and novelist Balaban's (Coming Down Again, 1985) volunteer missions of mercy to Vietnam from 1967-71 serves as a reminder of the awful price paid for that war, particularly by the innocent children caught in the bloody cross fire. A conscientious objector requesting alternative service, Balaban signed on with International Voluntary Services in 1967 and traveled to a town on the Mekong River in ``possibly the most insecure province in the Delta.'' A Harvard graduate, he was assigned to teach English at a new university at Can Tho. Good intentions aside, Balaban soon faced situations in which he wondered whether his ``conscientious objection seemed like so much vain posturing.'' Wounded during the 1968 Tet offensive, he later returned to Vietnam as a field representative for the Committee of Responsibility (COR), which sought to bring severely wounded Vietnamese children to the US for surgery and treatment. His job entailed coping with the often fatal maze of bureaucratic red tape and, occasionally, active resistance from government officials and US medical personnel who viewed some of their patients as dangerous enemies and COR as a ``left-wing organization.'' Balaban's heart-rending descriptions of maimed and brutalized children are only partially balanced by his joyful stories of those who made it to the US, recovered, and returned to their families. His ever-increasing involvement found him meeting with Viet Cong officials in Paris, helping AWOL GIs get to Sweden, and testifying before a Senate subcommittee on the extent of civilian casualties. Following a brief stint at Penn State, Balaban returned to Vietnam in 1971 to teach English and to record oral folk poetry all but lost to the ravages of war. While the subject matter is the ugliness of humankind at its worst, this labor of conscience and love is resounding in its humanity.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-69065-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991