'NAM: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There by Mark Baker

'NAM: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There

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KIRKUS REVIEW

With Everything We Had, edited by A1 Santoli (below), this is one of the first two books composed entirely of the words of Vietnam vets--the one that confronts the reader with every type of American atrocity, every form of brutalization, once alleged or reported. Baker purportedly interviewed 150 veterans, including several nurses, none of whom are identified; one passed him along to another, he says, but it is impossible to gauge the range or representativeness of his sampling. Their responses have been chopped up into brief segments, some as short as a couple of paragraphs, and apparently scattered through the book's four major sections: Initiation, Operations, War Stories, The World (i.e., Homecoming and Casualties). There is thus a very rough sequential structure; but except in the first section, when we learn something of the veterans' backgrounds and how or why they got into the service (usually, some snafu or other), there is very little to distinguish one person, or even one snippet of experience, from another. So the book is in many ways indefensible: a collage of horror stories without context or documentation. No one, of course, would have wanted to put his (or her) name to much of what is said here: ""Next I had to start kicking a dead body in the side of the head until part of his brain started coming out of the other side"". . . ""I used to fight with a couple of guys just to get an ear. . . It was encouraged to cut ears off, to cut the nose off, to cut the guy's penis off. A female, you cut her breast off"". . . As excerpted, very few of the men express so much as a misgiving (only in the last section does some unease surface); as excerpted, indeed, very few of them appear to think. Baker's remarks, introducting each section, are banal (and not infrequently self-serving). There is a truth, obviously, in the very sameness of the experiences and the attitudes; but there is a much fuller and deeper view of Vietnam in the Santoli collection.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow