A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR by Jonathan Neale

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR

KIRKUS REVIEW

As the title promises, a leftist (though not especially doctrinaire) reading of the 20-plus-year American misadventure in Southeast Asia.

In this volume in the New Press People’s History Series, modeled on the work of historian Howard Zinn, novelist/playwright Neale offers interpretations of the war that range from the stunningly simplistic to the satisfyingly nuanced. His middle-school-textbookish overview of events abounds in the former: “As long as the Vietnamese peasants could grow enough rice to live, they did not have to work for the low wages that business and industry wanted to pay.” “One reason [the American ruling class] intervened in Vietnam was that if they simply accepted a Communist victory there it would have weakened anti-Communism at home.” Neale (The Laughter of Heroes 1993, etc.) deepens his views as he progresses, however, and turns up episodes that other histories gloss over or miss altogether: the string of minor coups, for example, that followed the Kennedy-era ouster of the Diem government, installing Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky (“Both were corrupt in all the usual bribery and export-import ways. But both were also heavily involved in the heroin trade”), and the widespread resistance among American soldiers to the war, both at home and on the front. Neale is particularly strong on this second matter, turning up little-documented mutinies in places like Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as well as an astonishingly high incidence of “fraggings” throughout South Vietnam. So thorough is his account of such events that one wishes he had devoted his book to what he calls “the GIs’ Revolt”—though without such unhelpful asides as: “The GIs could often see that they were workers oppressing other poor people,” a sentiment guaranteed to tick off just about any veteran, to say nothing of historians.

So-so, even good in spots. Overall, though, for those inclined to a Jane-was-right view of a still-divisive war.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56584-807-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2003




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