VIETNAM VOICES: Perspectives on the War Years, 1941-1982 by John Clark--Ed. Pratt

VIETNAM VOICES: Perspectives on the War Years, 1941-1982

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A reductio ad absurdum of documentation and ""objectivity"": 660 pages of excerpts from all kinds of writing about the Vietnam War--official memos and reports, letters, histories, memoirs, novels, poems--pieced together chronologically to create a ""panorama [of] hundreds of differing perspectives."" This is supposed to take care of the hawks and the doves, and to conjoin diverse media: Pratt is a retired Air Force officer, now a professor of English at Colorado State University. The first, prevalent fallacy is to think that throwing everything into the pot is a good thing in itself; the second, that something meaningful will emerge; the third, that all ingredients are equal. The book is patchy, choppy, frequently unreadable (the pages and pages from US, South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese documents). Sparse and spotty annotation makes much of it unintelligible--and, as history, grossly inadequate. Take the 1968 election, and the transition from Johnson to Nixon: on the Chicago Democratic Convention, there are two eyewitness snippets, so introduced (""During the next five days, Private Chatain learns of events taking place at the Democratic National Convention""; ""Vietnam veteran Carl Rogers is one of the demonstrators""); the next entry, as of January 8, 1969, is a Nixon memo asking Kissinger to look into the Cambodian situation--with nothing about the Kissinger bombing-halt intrigues, the Republican-inspired peace-talk interventions. (Nothing about actual events, actual positions.) Other lapses are both flagrant and subtle. ""The 'Five O'Clock Follies '""--i.e., the daily news briefings--""as well as the role of the media in general, are described by reporter Elaine Shepard in her book, The Doom Pussy"": an intrinsically glamor-and-guts account of Vietnam flyers. (Later, we hear of ""the media-reported problem of civilian casualties""; earlier, that ""journalists in Saigon observe and write impressions that vary widely from officially released information. Quite a few write fiction too."" This is either unspoken bias or blind-sided writing.) What is introduced as a reporters' report of My Lai--seemingly, contemporaneous--turns out to be from a subsequent Calley book. ""Tet in Saigon: as described in the novel, Officers' Wives"" is an episode showing how one of the wives ""discovered that all these years she had been living with a real soldier but had never given him a chance to prove it."" (Some of the fiction excerpts are more apt, but all suffer from fragmentation.) Overall, anyone would be better off with Stanley Karnow or Arnold Isaacs for the history, and with Myra MacPherson's Long Time Passing (p. 482), if bona fide viewpoints on Vietnam topics are wanted.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1984
Publisher: Viking